Monday, June 7, 2021

"Milestones" v. "Masterpieces"

 There have been albums released during each of the last six decades that "pushed the envelope," that offered refreshing new ideas and/or innovations to music in general and progressive rock specifically that are not universally acknowledged as "masterpieces" or high and defining achievements of "the genre." I give the following as examples:

In the 1960s The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Moody Blues' Days of Future Past, and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew are all universally acclaimed for their effect on the course of music (and especially symphonic and jazz-rock fusion) while as albums of songs there is less of a consensus that these are complete and total "masterpieces of progressive rock music." Also, bands like Pink Floyd, The Soft Machine, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience are universally lauded for their innovative contributions to the course of music in the recording (and performance) arenas whereas their albums may not necessarily command that same level of praise or adoration. 

In the 1970s, people will extoll the effect that albums like Mahavishnu Orchestra's Inner Mounting Flame,  ELP's eponymous debut, or Henry Cow's Leg End were having as well as the effect that artists like Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Kitaro, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Rick Wakeman, and Klaus Schulze were having on the trends in progressive rock music, but they may be less generous when exclaiming their albums or songs as "masterpieces" of the genre.

In the much maligned 1980s, artists such as King Crimson, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Trevor Horn, David Sylvian, Daniel Denis, and Mark Hollis were integrating many of the new technological advances bursting forth from the computer age into old and new musical forms--creating attention-grabbing landmark or "milestone" albums and songs while not always earning blanket praise and admiration for their risk-taking innovations. 

In the computer-keyboard ubiquity of the 1990s many bands were experimenting with trying to blend new and old technologies and styles, employing ambient, classical, chromatic, and minimalist styles like Bark Psychosis and Sigur Rós, Thinking Plague and Meshuggah, and even Cynic and Death, in ways that were being noticed and addressed by journalists and critics but may not have resulted in albums or songs designated with "masterpiece" status.

The Naughties saw synthesis of the heavier elements from the Prog Metal and Tech/Extreme Metal sub-genres into the more traditional by the likes of Tool, Porcupine Tree (In Absentia, Deadwing, and Fear of a Blank Planet), Riverside, Toby Driver, Devin Townsend, and The Mars Volta (and their many imitators) with such seminal yet-devisive albums as Terria, Choirs of the Eye, De-Loused in the ComatoriumLateralus, and Anno Domini High Definition--all of which are recognized as landmark albums in the evolution of progressive rock music but which do not always receive "masterpiece" acclaim from the entirety of the Prog World.

In the Teens I've seen Bent Knee, District 97, Thank You Scientist, and, most recently, the UK-based black midi express their twist on the future of progressive rock music--all receiving mixed reviews through a plethora of attention.

This new release by black midi is getting a lot of attention. The musicianship is astonishing. The creativity and sense of humor conveyed is on a par with Spanish band Za!, Mr. Bungle, or old Talking Heads and 1980s King Crimson. The composition style is similar, to my ears, to Jem Godfrey and John Mitchell's Frost* productions: quick, compact, concise, packing big punches in a brief amount of time--as if trying to compress a 15-minute epic into a five minute engineering feat. The innovations are commensurate with values and attitudes of Millenials and Gen Z-ers: no fluff, no wasting of time and effort, living every moment for one's own enjoyment, refusing to conform to anyone else's demands or expectations. There are some incredibly refreshing and liberating ideas being expressed through this music. I'm just not sure it's for me--or whether I'm ready to proclaim this album (or it's wonderful predecessor, Schlagenheim) as "masterpieces" of progressive rock music. Maybe we proggers are trying to be too accommodating: bending over backward to welcome any newbies with a fresh idea into the prog realm when, in fact, perhaps we should let them fly free--acknowledge that they're creating something new--something that really goes beyond the planet we like to think of as Prog World. Give them their due: they want to be free, they want to break the chains that have bound us for 60 years--to express their own unique identities. I say we let them. (Do we really have a choice?) perhaps bands like Consider the Source, Fly Pan Am, Fuzz Puddle, PinioL, The Mercury Tree, Monobody, and Unaka Prong are trying to break out, to break away, get out from under the Prog and "classic" or "post punk" rock umbrellas but we won't let them! They've all released albums that are declarations of new directions--"milestones"--but may not receive the love and accolades from the Prog Rock old guard due to their crossing over into other non-prog-traditional stylistic choices, but, who knows! Maybe this is where prog is going! Let the young have their time in the sun!

 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The 2000s: Favorite Prog Metal / Heavy Prog / Post Metal Releases

 Though not really what I'd call a "fan" of the heavier styles of progressive rock music, I have found several albums from the 2000s that I quite like and appreciate, including:


"MASTERPIECES": 




SYLVAN Posthumous Silence (2006)

SYLVAN's Posthumous Silence has garnered a lot of praise from some very worthy reviewers--and rightfully so. In my opinion, Posthumous Silence is one of the crowning achievements of music from the Naughties, certainly one of the five best progressive rock album releases of the decade. The album is a masterful, insightful, emotional, empathic and introspective theatric/ musical rendering of the toll that the psychological pressures of modern human society can exert on its individuals. Theatrically and emotionally it is devastatingly powerful--especially the second half. As a vehicle for an amazing story, and as a vehicle for showcasing the extraordinary voice talents of Marco Glühmann, Sylvan have succeeded extraordinarily well.
 
There is a question of it's categorical place in the sub-genres of progressive rock music: is it Neo Prog, Prog Metal, Heavy Prog, or even prog at all (i.e. is it really more straight rock, e.g. like TRIUMPH, RAINBOW or JOURNEY?) 

Highlights for me include:  the gorgeous "Pane of Truth", despite being a little too long and drawn out), the psychologically powerful and disturbing, "Forgotten Virtue"; the beautiful and more progressive, "The Colours Changed"; the song that really sucks you into the disturbing world of mental illness, "Questions"; the classic rock anthem with a social-political message, "Answer to Life"; the theatric highpoint of the album, "The Last Embrace" (Wow!), and the final two songs which drive the two-sided message home, "A Kind of Eden" and "Posthumous Silence" (Wow! And, Whew! I'm worn out! Aren't you?).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marco Glühmann / vocals
- Kay Söhl / guitar 
- Volker Söhl / keyboards 
- Sebastian Harnack / bass 
- Matthias Harder / drums, loop programming, sound effects, conductor (1) 
With: 
- Guido Bungenstock / additional guitar 
- Stefanie Richter / cello 
- Ensemble Vokalkolorit / chorus vocals 
- Angela Reinhardt / choir conductor

1. "Eternity Ends" (2:03) (5/5)

-

2. (I) "Bequest Of Tears" (3:19) (9/10)

3. "In Chains" (8:38) (17.25/20)

4. (II) "Bitter Symphony" (1:20) (4.25/5)

5. "Pane Of Truth" (9:06) (20/20)

6. (III) "No Earthly Reason" (1:57) (4.5/5)

7. "Forgotten Virtue" (6:43) (9/10)
8. "The Colors Changed" (5:58) (9.5/10)
9. (IV) "A Sad Sympathy" (1:42) (5/5)
10. "Questions" (6:59) (12.75/15)
11. "Answer To Life" (5:56) (9/10)
12. (V) "Message From The Past" (3:00) (10/10)
13. "The Last Embrace" (3:27) (10/10)
14. "A Kind Of Eden" (4:55) (8.75/10)
-
15. "Posthumous Silence" (4:59) (10/10)

Total Time: 70:02

94.0 on the Fish scales = A/five stars; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music and an essential addition to any music lover's collection. Marco Glühmann may be the most gifted male vocalist of the 21st Century. (I bet this story is amazing to experience live!) An album that simply deserves to be heard in full, start to finish, for it's brilliant storyline.



MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Leaving Your Bodymap (2001)

I am absolutely blown away--once again--by a TOBY DRIVER project! It all started with 2009's brilliant and beautiful Part the Second, before I went scurrying back into Toby Driver World. Being a more recent focus of Driver's attention and energy, I dived into the KAYO DOT catalogue before circling back round to the earlier maudlin of the Well stuff. While Part the Second is out of this world, this one is within this world but still exploring and pushing boundaries and stylistic experimentation like no one--NO ONE--is doing (to my knowledge) in this 21st Century. Full of both abrasive power and stunning beauty, Leaving Your Bodymap--and its predecessor, Bath--are musical experiences that defy categorization because they defy precedents, constantly break into surprising territory and uncharted waters. 

1. "Stones of October's Sobbing" (7:25)  To start an album with spacious guitar notes and flute and then so smoothly flow into an unique pounding-yet-minimalistically-constructed moody jazz/pop metal song with slow (and easy to understand!) death metal growls is nothing less than astounding! Astounding! Then to have it evolve into a true metal song with angels of jazz flitting in and out, over and above, then decaying into a death scene with the odd spasm of metal guitar life. It defies description much less explanation. (15/15)

2. "Gleam in Ranks" (4:16) is an unbelievably fresh-sounding song with components and accents that defy definition or description. I can't tell you how amazed I am over the choice of vocal styling and effects (distant, very melodic human-emotional singing, interspersed with screams and growl-screams) over this amazing driving song. (9/10)

3. "Bizarre Flowers/A Violent Mist" (9:35)  as repetitive as it is, is probably my favorite song on the album. The amazing vocals, epic tubular bells, and weave of all kinds of tertiary and background instruments and effects, presents a wall of sound that strikes deep within my core. Then! it all cuts out at the three minute mark, leaving some cymbol play, electric guitar feedback, repeated electric guitar note play and voices screaming in the background like thunder rumbling--till it all builds to jump start the song's third section with its growl vocals--at first fast, then mysteriously slowing--as if the world is being played in slow motion. Then the odd, dissonant electric guitar and bass chords and double bass drum machine gun hits play a few seconds before everything switches to a very straightforward driving rock beat with an almost normal electric guitar solo playing over the top. Oops! Switch again! Slow down to that slow-mo heavier music only this time with the floating upper register male vocals singing till song's still and anti-climactic end. (19/20)

4. "(Interlude 3)" (4:17) is a beautiful acoustic guitar (and, later, tabla, and still later, violin) piece--almost like a CHOPIN étude. (10/10)

5. "The Curve that to an Angle Turn'd" (8:22) begins as a rather slow-paced study in electric guitar chords before turning into a proper albeit slow metal song with growl lyrics as in the opening song. This song's development and evolution are slow and subtle, then suddenly diverting to jazz, interrupted with metal power chords, then back to the jazz theme with quite pastoral female and (far in the background) male vocals. Kissing seems to be the topic of their woven discussion before we find ourselves left only with an slow laying electric guitar. Guitar is then joined by jazzy drums and some whipsered background voices before the scream-growl master reutrns with flayling drums (bass, mostly) and composed guitar chords. God this music is so fascintating! Like nothing I've ever reviewed! Not sure of the point of this song. (16/20)

6. "Sleep Is a Curse" (5:37) is a kind of folk ballad about the singer's own suicide. Acoustic guitars being picked at seem to be telling a story of their own--a kind of underlying confidence to go with the ethereal lyric. Almost three-quarters of the way into the song, the guitars are joined by bass, drums, and violin to finish out the song. The vocals only hum in the background. (Must be the angel getting to know himself and his boundaries.) Cool song. Melodic and probably poignant. (9/10) 

7. "Riseth He, The Numberless, part 1" (4:18) opens with low brass (baritone or French horn?) before meaty bass and drums and then guitars join in on a kind of military march with Post Rock/Math Rock leanings--that is, until the growl vocals enter. Later the tempo doubles, a virtuosic guitar solo spills out before the music suddenly cuts out, leaving the sounds of rain and wind with a screaming man far in the distance. (7/10)

8. "Riseth He, The Numberless, part 2" (5:12) is a kind of slowed down, angelic carry forward from "part 1" with a harp-like instrument playing a pretty melody in arpeggio. At the two minute mark, the music solidifies into a more heavy mode with fuzz guitar and a brief growl vocal. At 3:00 the music briefly adds some electronic keyboard arpeggio accents before returning to the death metal format and a brief lead guitar solo decaying with multiple fuzz guitars playing an odd chord progression over and over. (9/10)

9. "(Interlude 4)" (5:10) begins with sleigh bells (yeah: sleigh bells) which are joined by one and then a second Windham Hill-like acoustic guitar, playing off of one another (or are they each in their own separate universes?) before being joined by jazz-like drumming and violin/strings. (9/10)

10. "Monstrously Low Tide" (6:46) begins by giving the listener a true journey: from power metal to acoustic jazz to FRED FRITH sound experimentation to be unexpectedly joined by our female (think "JOANNE HOGG") and male (think "MICHAEL FRANKS") vocalist/lovers from Song 5 then turning down another electric guitar effects étude--where it stays until song's--(and album's)--conclusion. (13.5/15)

What a journey! I swear this album took/takes me to alternate universes I had never imagined! Just what I want my music to do! Just what truly PROGRESSIVE music should do.

90.38 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive music and definitely one of the most adventurous, exciting, and beautiful albums of the 21st Century! (And I don't really like metal or growling!)




PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel (2009)

In this 2009 release from Polish band, PROGHMA-C, self-proclaimed “musical evolutionists, I have found my favorite metal album of all time. Most songs feel as though I’m hearing the rhythm section of TOOL with lead guitar work akin to U2’ s THE EDGE Evans, keyboard work reminiscent of VANGELIS in his 70s, 80s, and ambient/New Age soundtrack era, and some of the most diverse vocal stylings I’ve ever heard on an album—coming from lone vocalist extraordinaire, Piotr 'BOB' Gibner. Gibner’s screaming/growling is actually fitting, melodic, and easy to decipher; his narration on “FO” is awesome, and his versatile singing voice crosses between that of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN, MR. BUNGLE/FAITH NO MORE’s MIKE PATTON, and DEPECHE MODE’s DAVID GAHAN.

1. “Kana” (9:05)
opens with some odd electro/world sounds before an awesome mix-meter rhythm section settles in. The treated vocal has a very cool TED NUGENT feel to it until the growling begins. Around 1:30 the music switches to muted guitar/bass rhythm with ‘BOB’ Gibner’s vocals taking on quite a Maynard James style and feel. But it’s such an awesome combination! The “chorus” is really a full-frontal return to the opening themes. Then in one of the band’s trademark surprise twists, the lead guitar stars doing some Edge/Adrian Belew like playing. With the return to the B section I notice for the first time the David Gahan timbre in BOB’s voice. Such an awesome voice! At 4:22 another unexpected turn occurs with an almost POLOICE “Synchronicity” section—definitely a jazzed up, ANDY SUMMERs-like lead section. 5:05 we return to the original rhythm but broken down to such sparse sound with snare, hi-hat and guitar doing their syncopated odd metered rhythm. Then at 6:03 enter the eerily echoing and slow decaying slow guitar arpeggios—like something from an Eno Ambient album—and yet the metal rhythm section continues! This is simply incredible music! These guys truly are innovators and “musical evolutionists.”  I urge all of you to at least listen to this first song—it’s available on YouTube (as are all of the album’s songs as well as the album as a whole). (20/20)

2. “FO” (6:40)
opens with some awesome Edge-like guitar play before Gibner’s slightly treated voice begins reading/reciting a narrative in English. At 1:28, the music breaks, some odd percussives fill the space, then we return to the odd-metered syncopation and vocal narration for a little while longer, until at 2:08 the growl-screams take over. Then, surprise!—at 2:42 a soft, beautifully sensitive voice similar to that of MARIUZ DUDA takes over the singing. But this guy is better! He has such amazing control and the ability to do some shockingly subtle things with his vocal instrument! At the four minute mark we are treated to a bare-bones breakdown of the rhythm while a BLADE RUNNER-like horn-synthesizer slowly shifts its pitches while at the same time At 5:14 all but the drums disappear while a series of slowly strummed chords fill the center while odd spacey synth noises float around behind and around. Incredible song! Incredible ending! Another song I URGE you to listen to! (10/10)

3. “Spiralling To Another” (9:31)
opens with some very spacey, etheric guitar play before the familiar syncopated, mixed-metered rhythm section establishes itself. Gibner’s voice enters with his Mariuz Duda sound—yet so much more sensitive and emotional. At 2:52 it gets heavy and the growling crashes into the field—but it never detracts or overwhelms the incredible music going on and lyrically can still be understood. Guitar chords strummed singly Then the music seems to ‘get stuck’ as guitar notes, bass line, cymbol play and choppy vocal play. A return to rapid rhythm sets up for guitarist Parweł 'SMAGA' Smakulski to do his awesome EDGE EVANS stylings. At 7:22 the full-force barrage of rhythms and growl/screams returns while SMAGA continues his trance-like guitar strumming. At 8:20 the music turns full metal, feeling like a TOOL song playing into infinity—then it stops! Another awesome song. While not quite as good as the first two, it too deserves a (19/20) in my opinion. (The other two should be turned up to eleven.)
4. “Spitted Out” (1) (3:20)
establishes itself with another heavy complicated rhythm—this one sounding/feeling quite like a FAITH NO MORE song. At 1:30 the vocalist enters with his growl/screams. 20 seconds later he switches to more normal screaming, again, not unlike the rap-styling of FAITH NO MORE’s MIKE PATTON, before returning to growls. (8/10)
5. “Spitted Out (Out)” (3:57)
is the album’s second (part? or version?) with this title. It starts out with a completely different sound—establishing a kind of KING CRIMSON “Discipline” weave amongst its musicians. Slowing down, breaking it down, speeding it up--the band toys around with the riffs and beat before letting the SMAGA break out with a proper metal electric guitar lead (the album’s first!) Though nothing earth-shattering, the guitarist’s confidence with bending the song’s key to his chormatically shifting scales is noteworthy and admirable. (9/10)
6. “So Be-live” (5:48)
opens with a fade in with electric (Fender Rhodes?) piano and jazzy bass and drums and finger icked electric guitar parts weaving into a slow and methodic tapestry. The whispery voice used by BOB is quite perfect for the litl and fluidity of the music. At 2:04 the music shifts toward the now more familiar TOOL-like rhythm structures. BOB’s “Duda voice” gives this section a very RIVERSIDE-like feel. But then--surprise!--the distinct shift to the DAVID GAHAN voice occurs as synth playing portamento in the background toys with the song’s mood in a VANGELIS-kind of way. Then—wow!--growl/screams take over and add an amazing intensity to this incredible song! (10/10)
7. “I Can't Illuminate with You” (2:29) 
(5/5) opens with what sounds like a sustained note being bowed on the lowest ranges of a stand-up double bass. As the intro plays out it becomes evident—with the help of all the other BLADE RUNNER-like “future”/space sounds—that the note is coming from a Vangelis-like synthesizer. The song, it turns out, is actually an intro to the next song, as it seamlessly bleeds into and becomes…

8. “Naan” (8:57) 
opens with another syncopated mixed-meter rhythm but this time the VANGELIS-like keyboards and playful JAN AKKERMAN-like rhythm work of the lead guitar pronounce something new and fresh. At the one minute mark all instrumentation merge into a 30-second single chord. Awesome. Then BOB’s sensitive Duda Voice enters to break the spell. The ensuing music scape is TOOL-like yet flittering about are the EDGE-like guitar effects. The vocals which follow are unmistakably DEPECH MODE-like. What an amazing vocal talent!! And an amazing lyric! So powerful! Not Duda, Gahan, Keenan, or Patton could hold a candle to the light of this singer! At 6:28 there is a shift into a discordant chord sequence with a whispered voice and syncopated snare and bass section. At 7:25 the music has evolved inot full band paly again, with BOB’s “Maynard voice” taking over. Echoed growls belnding into the cymbol play are the last vocals to be heard in this one. Awesome! Again! (20/20)
9. “Army Of Me” (Björk Cover) (6:33)
 opens with waxing and waning synth note—(sounds like a Prophet 5)
before the standard Proghma-C/Tool rhythm track establishes itself. Then the vocal is introduces—understated and delicate—before an absolutely stunning multi-tracked vocal chorus is unleashed on us. Alternating back and forth from controlled single voice to , passing through empty spaces and synth-solo-dominated sections, we are treated to a song whose original version is both lost to me and immaterial. This is an awesome song no matter who wrote it! (10/10)

I don’t think I’ve ever given out so many 10/10s in a review before, but that's how highly I think of each song—and is a reflection of how much I enjoy listening to this entire album. Probably my favorite driving CD during the past four months. I do want to mention how incredible I think the mesmerizing and yet tight is the work of drummer Łukasz 'KUMAN' Kumański and his cohort on bass, Michał 'VASKI' Górecki; they carry out the complicated, sometimes breathtaking rhythms flawlessly. Mega kudos, boys.
96.52 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece. This is one of those times that I wish I could post a rating of 6 stars—to indicate something incredibly special. The band claim that their music is intended to contribute to “Enhancing the palette of our musical universe.” I for one think that they are succeeding in this capacity. This is fresh stuff!  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to ALL progheads!




MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second (2009)

Up to hearing this album I had never heard of maudlin of the Well. Nor had I ever heard any Kayo Dot. But the hype for Part the Second (a free-off-of-the-Internet album) lured me in--for an amazing journey. That music--NEW music, like this--can be conceptualized, played, and performed at such a high level of mastery, (especially Mia Matsumiya's virtuosic violin playing), is, for me, so uplifting and hopeful. I was beginning to think that music would never get out of the ABACAB paradigm and never allow the mix of classic "orchestral" and "rock" instruments. But here we are. Thank you Toby Driver (and the donor/fans who pushed for this music).

Let me start by saying that "Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, theRevisitation of the Blue Ghost" (10:56) (20/20) and "Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)" (11:50) (25/25) (the album's first and last songs) are two of the most amazing songs I've ever heard in my life. Even after fifty listenings I find myself awed by these two creations, picking up new and defferent nuances and phrases. The three songs in-between ("Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying" [5:59] [9/10], "Rose Quartz Turning to Glass" [7:30] [13.5/15], and " Clover Garland Island" [8:18] [16/20]) seem to belong together, kind of like a suite, tied together by the strong presence of violin and cello--which are breathtaking in both beauty and virtuosity.

I cannot but help agree with those who have christened this LP as new classic, a true masterpiece. It is difficult for me to imagine even the possibility of a "better" album coming out this year.

94.21 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece, a classic, one of the greatest "progressive" rock albums ever made.




RIVERSIDE Second Life Syndrome (2005)

An album of nearly perfect production: There are not many albums out there whose sound clarity, engineering, and mixing can compete with the quality of this one. Simply breathtaking! While neither heavy prog nor prog metal are my favorite sub-genres, this was one of my first acquisitions during the 'prog listening renaissance' I've undergone since 2006. I immediately appreciated the sound, musician-ship, and production; it has taken me quite a while longer to decide whether I appreciate and/or like the music. The answer is: Mostly. I immediately loved "Conceiving You" (3:41) (10/10) and "Second Life Syndrome" (15:40) (30/30) and now love the PEARL JAM/PINK FLOYD-like "I Turned You Down" (9.5/10), the instrumental, "Reality Dream III" (5:01) (9/10), and "Before" (5:24) (9.5/10). "After" (3:32) (8.5/10) and "Artificial Smile" (5:28) (8.5/10) are both excellent songs, while "Volte-Face" (8:41) (16/20) and "Dance with the Shadow" (11:39) (20/25) are just not up to the level of the others. 

I have no doubt that this album should rank among the best of this 21st Century as it is so powerful, so well constructed, performed, recorded, and produced.

90.0 on the Fish scales = A-/five star album; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. While the album as a whole does not yearn for regular listening by me, the song "Second Life Syndrome" is among my favorite epics of all-time, and the incredible sound production brings me back from time to time.




KAYO DOT Choirs of the Eye (2003)

Kayo Dot is another monster project coming from the genius well-spring of creativity that is American Toby Driver. Kayo Dot is what has risen out of the 'ashes' of maudlin of The Well as it includes most of the former moTW members. It may, in fact, be more accurate to call Kayo Dot a natural progression of what started as maudlin of The Well.

I've just come to Choirs of the Eye after maudlin of the Well's Part the Second, after Kayo Dot's Blue Lambency, after Coyote, after Bath and Leaving Your Bodymap and I am STILL BLOWN AWAY!! Amazing music! Amazing vision and creativity! Amazing virtuosity! "Like nothing else you've ever heard"!
     Like other reviewers, "Manifold Curiosity" (10/10) is one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard by any band! Ever! This seals it for me: Toby Driver IS the future of 'progressive' music. He is pushing the envelope, finding beauty in places, sounds, and structures that no one--no one--has done before. Even from depression and suicide (Coyote).

1. "Marathon" (10:14) begins with such elusive, disparate soundings as to disarm the listener from being able to categorize it. Is this rock, is this metal, is this radio, is this jazz, is this classical? For the first two and a half minutes, all of it seems possible. Then, all of a sudden, the cemetery awakens: the coffins burst open and the voices of the dead begin shouting, playing their message, informing us of their pain, the enslavement of their addictions. Then at 4:40 the cacophony dissipates, the abrasive voices fade away and we are allowed to pass on, beyond, into a place of beautiful calm. we are, perhaps, transported into perhaps the Light, the Source, the safe and all-loving Space Between lives. Familiar, secure, yet unremembered and new. Toward the end, our guide, a former human himself, spews forth his perspective, his understanding of it all. We turn and find out that he is us; that I am he! (20/20)

2. "A Pitcher of Summer" (5:51) begins very much as Bath and Leaving Your Bodymap left off. Acoustic guitar and soft, floating voice, great use of space. At 2:40 the first notes of harsh distorted electric guitar strums seem to drive home the singer's point, after which the listener is left floating, in limbo, as if to try to process the message/information. 30 seconds to ruminate. Then guitars, dissonance, melody and harmony return all at once, all together, making the infinite emotional possibilities of major seventh chords seem small and limited! Amazing song! Awesome, powerful beauty! (10/10)

3. "The Manifold Curiosity" (14:30) opens uses pacing, electric guitar strumming and woodwinds to great, unusual effect. Gradually all fall away until we are left with the simple strumming of a single chord on an acoustic guitar. A rustle of paper introduces the reader to the writer's manifesto, "The Manifold Curiosity" which is then whisper sung in a very high register from a seemingly shy distance, until just after the five minute mark the reader takes a break and the orchestra enters to usher in its musical interpretation--avant rock-jazz-classical, yet quite poised and structured. At the seven minute mark an electric guitar is left to guide us, accompany the re-emergent reader(s), with its PAT METHENY-like arpeggios. Join in a (some?) upper register strings players, and the song becomes a serenade, a bed-time story, and, eventually (around 10:30), a cacophonous wake up call--no: a persistent nagging itch; the neighbor whose stereo is playing too loud, the rush hour traffic noise that you can't quite block out, the sudden but no longer avoidable realization that something has gone terribly wrong with the world, with our out-of-control society; the cancer that is eating away at your insides. It's out there. (31/30)

4. "Wayfarer" (10:43) opens with soft, dissonance coming from guitar, violin, and, eventually, voice. As if the violin is the butterfly flitting around the garden, the guitar the waiting spider in his web, and the voice is the wind and sun working their insidious, impersonal magic. Nearly halfway through the song the music comes together, amps up (gets backed by an organ!) as the singer moves forward, perhaps ending the deadly day. 6:00 (sunset?) and the stars begin to come out. A whole different set of instruments and sounds emerge from the twilight silence. A night time walk through the garden ensues--at first beautiful, then awesomely terrifying, jarring and awakening as the quietest, coldest, creepiest moments of night occur just before: Morning, with its majesty, simplicity, sultriness, constancy and mundane. (18/20)

5. "The Antique" (14:41) begins with strum and picking of the bass strings of a distorted (oddly- or un[?]- tuned) electric guitar. Towards the end of the third minute, other de-tuned stringed instruments begin to join the guitar. Then pitch-variant wind-whistled apparatus and drum kit join. Avant garde, Rock in Opposition at its most challenging. Is this what Robert Fripp referred to as "Cognitive Dissonance"? Not a melody or chord here makes sense; only rhythm and --until 6:15 when everybody comes together to drown out the death-growl vocals and screams of the angry/desperate vocalist. Scathing multiple guitar and piano soli duel (in different dimensions? alternate realities?) At the end of the tenth minute everything falls away to allow a HAROLD BUDD-like piano accompanying brush-kit drum and trumpet set the stage for healing and rebirth. The indecipherable, muted (like a trumpet gets muted) vocal that joins in is upsetting for the message that is blurred and goes unconveyed, uncomprehended. (Though, even the Internet provided lyrics bring little comprehension to this listener.) Not my favorite song but I can appreciate and perhaps understand the purpose. (21/30)

Despite the last song, this remains a highly, highly recommended, multi-layered treasure of musical experience. Every listen is different, revealing, awesome, amazing.

90.91 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of innovative progressive rock music and, were it not for a flawed final epic, a veritable masterpiece of PROGRESSIVE music!




THE MARS VOLTA Frances The Mute (2005)

I'm so glad for the existence of THE MARS VOLTA! Between they and any Toby Drive project, progressive rock is safe moving forward along its rougher edges. In his review of the same album, Neu!man made reference to two albums that I think of every time when I listen to TMV: YES Relayer and IL BALLETTO Di BRONZO's Ys--two if the most amazing boundary punching albums ever to grace the "classic prog" scene. The raw and sonically mind-twisting TMV debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium, coupled with this more-"controlled" chaos and frenzy here in Frances the Mute put TMV in that rarified company of innovators and, thus, true members of the moniker "progressive" rockers. I must add that I'm quite often hearing the spirit and genius of early LED ZEPPELIN in these compositions as well--which is such a refreshing sound to hear and feeling to have once more. (There was only ONE Led Zeppelin!)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Cedric Bixler-Zavala / vocals
- Omar Rodriguez-Lopez / guitars, synths, field recordings, producer 
- Isaiah "Ikey" Owens / keyboards 
- Juan Alderete / bass 
- Jon Theodore / drums 
- Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez / percussion, keyboards
With: 
- John Frusciante / guitar solos (3) 
- Roger Manning Jr. / piano 
- Larry Harlow / piano & treated clavinet (3,8-12) 
- Flea / trumpet (2,4) 
- Adrian Terrazas / tenor saxophone & flute (8-12) 
- David Campbell / strings and horns arranger & conductor 
- Nicholas Lane / trombone 
- Bill Reichenbach / bass trombone 
- The Coqui Of Puerto Rico / bass trombone 
- Salvador Hernandez / trumpet 
- Wayne Bergeron / trumpet 
- Randy Jones / tuba 
- Larry Corbett / cello 
- Suzie Katayama / cello 
- Diego Casillas, Erick Hernandez, Ernesto Molina, Fernando Moreno, Joel Derouin, Josefina Vergara, Mario DeLeon, Peter Kent, Roberto Cani / violin 
- Lenny Castro / percusssion

1. "Cygnus...Vismund cygnus" (13:02) aural and adrenaline bliss. Genius. (24/25)
- a. Sarcophagi 
- b. Umbilical Syllables 
- c. Facilis Descenus Averni 
- d. Con Safo

2. "The Widow" (5:50) pure LED ZEPPELIN blues rock. Robert Plant-worthy performance by Cedric. And then there's the experimental electronics. Cool! (8.75/10)

3. "L'Via L'Viaquez (12:21) opens with industrial percussive sounds before the song kicks into its Spanish-sung and Latin-infused heavy groove. The drums and bass are so solid! The two guitars here are awesome. 2;30 shift is a WOWzer! Great Cedric scream and then step off the diving board into a slow motion Latina world--as if we're underwater!--until 3:40 when we emerge from the Jello world back to breathe human air. The submersive section recurs again in a kind of pattern. Love the effected vocals in the seventh minute. It's an underwater cantina! Definitely unusual and innovative approach to song construction. While I appreciate the artistry and creativity, I prefer the hard-drivin' stuff. (21.5/25)

4. "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore" (13:09) opens like classic GONG--as if Gilli and Steve were here! Wow! Then we step into a reverbed and other-effected world in order for Cedric to add his sensitive singing. (He can really sing! Who knew?!) Love the horn play and other wildly inventive sound incidentals enfolded into this song--especially the slow, funereal, almost Post Rock strings arpeggi. A very different and fascinating (and, one might say, totally mesmerizing) journey. (24/25) 

- Vademecum
- Pour Another Icepick 
- Piscacis (Phra-men-ma) 
- Con safo 


5. "Cassandra Gemini" (32:27) (62/65)
- Tarantism 
- Plant a Nail in the Navel Stream 
- Faminepulse 
- Multiple Spouse Wounds 
- Sarcophagi

Total Time: 76:55

My first attempt to sit through all 77 minutes of this music met with a resounding success: I was glued to my seat, reveling in each and every moment, fully engaged and feeling every nuance and layer of the onslaught I was bathing myself in. Wondrous from start to finish (and around again we go!) (And so I did!) Maturity? Sanity? Clarity? Sobriety? Freedom? Unbound Joy? Transformation? Transcendence? Reinventing oneself? I don't know the secret to The Mars Volta's evolution from De-Loused to this one but it is, to my mind, radical as well as a step in the right direction. I have no qualms proclaiming Frances The Mute as a true masterpiece of progressive rock and a sign that the wild and adventurous spirit of contained nuclear fission is alive and well in 21st Century prog. Praise the Lord!

93.5 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of wildly progressive rock music. Awesome experience--highly recommended to any and every true lover of "progressive" rock music.




TOOL Lateralus (2001)

What a sonic treat! Now I finally understand all the hype around TOOL: They are the real deal!
     Because the whole is so much more than its individual parts, my mind couldn't help but draw comparisons to LED ZEPPELIN, KING CRIMSON, U2, and PEARL JAM--not that the individuals suck or anything! Au contraire!
     Drummer Danny Carey's playing and sound is so fresh, innovative, and creative--and with a willingness to think and feel 'outside the proverbial box' that I am reminded of the impact BILL BRUFORD or TRILOCK GURTU had on me upon first hearings. And how refreshing it is to hear a) a 'metal' drummer who is not obsessed with his multiple foot pedals and kick drums and, b) who uses something other than a snare as his beat-keeper.
     Bassist Justin Chancellor likewise plays with a style so fresh and unorthodox that again I find myself somewhat reminded of the impact PERCY JONES, JACO PASTORIUS, and TONY LEVIN had on me upon first hearing them.
     Guitarist Adam Jones is like an abstract painter using unusual SOUNDS drawn through his electronic apparati to add TEXTURALLY to the musical tapestry instead of through flash, speed or pyrotechnics.
     And Maynard James Keenan's vocal contributions are more akin to additional threads in the sonic weave.
     The clarity and depth of each individual instrument's recording is nothing short of astounding. This is so unusual in this era of mind-numbing walls of sound and infinite power chords that serve more to create sonic mush and chromatic washout. The clarity and distinctiveness and, dare I say it, SIMPLICITY of the contributions of Tool's individuals is, however, never bigger than or to the diminishment of the collective, instead, they are always adding perfectly to boost the whole, to create a strong, full, and rich sonic tapestry.

I have no single favorite song, though again and again, in song after song, I found myself thinking, "These guys are well versed in their Zeppelin" or "--in their Pearl Jam" or "--King Crimson" and especially "well rooted in U2's Joshua Tree." Awesome stuff. Kudos all around. Music like this is truly so very rare. Try the title song, "Lateralus" (9:37) (18/20) or "The Grudge" (8:35) for starters.

5 stars. Without question this is a masterpiece of progressive music--a veritable leap of fresh innovation.



Minor Masterpieces:



THE MARS VOLTA De-loused in the Comatorium (2003)

Rarely have I heard a post-1970s album that has taken me by such surprise and overwhelmed me as this one. The shear energy of the song-playing and reckless abandon of some of the performances is like listening to ADRIAN BELEW KING CRIMSON on amphetamines! Wow! "Cicatriz ESP" alone is a jaw-dropper every time I hear it. I've purposely avoided listening to other TMV or Omar songs for fear of blowing aside the mystical awe I hold for this raw and powerful album. Should I? Should I? I think not! I am not worthy! The Mars Volta have created one for the ages! A gargantuan and, IMHO, inimitable masterpiece. Favorite songs: "Inertiatic ESP" (8/10), "Televators" (9/10), "Eriatarka" (10/10), and, of course, "Cicatriz ESP" (10/10). 

Some "throw-away" songs devalue this album a bit, (enough that I rarely listen to it start to finish), but, still, it is full of such fresh, ground-breaking, energetic music that I cannot contain my recommendation for every music lover to give this one a listen. Decide for your self. A display of restrained free-for all, contained reckless-abandon!

4.5 stars, a near masterpiece!




ARCANE Chronicles of the Waking Dream (2009)

A wonderfully theatric concept story rendered to Prog Metal/Heavy Prog music similar to KARNIVOOL, TOOL, and even  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jim Grey / vocals
- Michael Gagen / guitars
- Matthew Martin / keyboards
- Mick Millard / bass
- Stephen Walsh / drums
With:
- Molly McLarnon / vocals (5)
- Anette Askvik / vocals (9)
- Daniel Johnston / narration as Acolyte Zero (10)

1. "Glimpse (3:36) sounds like an even more theatric version of TOOL and Maynard James Keenan. A little over the top, but a great start to a virtually seemless story exposition. (9.5/10)

2. "The Seer" (5:30) heavy prog carrying over the melodies from the opening song. Having been a long fan of fellow Aussies KARNIVOOL, I feel there are many similarities here to that later band. But vocalist Jim Grey is far more theatric and risk-taking than Ian Kenny--is more on a par with THAT JOE PAYNE--and may be even more talented than the Karnivool lead singer. The music is good, with lots of proggy time, theme, and stylistic variations, and the instrumental talents of the band members are very good, but there is something in the sound rendering that make the tracks seem a bit too clean, too separate, and too "constricted." But what a talent is this Jim Grey! (8.75/10)

3. "The Malice (7:21) Drums, bass, and keys shine the most for me on this heavy, at-time-brooding and dramatic number. Nice lead guitar and Hammond interchanges in the fourth minute, with the guitar sound and style beginning to sound more like AL DI MEOLA the further we get into the song. Great song! Jim Grey's That Joe Payne-like performance in the second half is worthy of all the superlatives you can come up with. (14/15)

4. "The First Silent Year" (1:19) cool effected organ with effected lead guitar soloing soul-fully over the top. (4.25/5)

5. "Secret" (7:18) "glockenspiel" takes up the main melody from the previous ditty before bursting into a oddly soft yet dynamic TOOL-like performance song. Jim Grey: Wow! A vocal performance for the ages. Intersting to hear Hammond soloing "metal"style within those power chords and then followed and teamed by searing electric guitar runs. Great ORPHANED LAND sound in the fifth and sixth minutes. Then a small children vocalising the main melody a cappella (!) before the band joins in! (13.75/15)

6. "Fading" (11:58) sensitive strumming around the electric guitar fretboard while Jim Grey sings in his most delicate upper register voice. So cool! Band with piano joins in to provide rolling, relaxing background for continued beautiful singing. At 3:30 the power chords begin to amp up the sound palette until the walls are fully built early into the fifth minute. Wow! I am so impressed by this band's capacity to support melody with its multi-varied musical textures! A wonderful song that somehow doesn't ever rise to the heights of its initial promise. (22.5/25)

7. "The Second Silent Year" (1:48) solo piano with a heart-felt Billy Joel feel to it. Nice exploration of other themes/motifs from the album. (4.5/5)

8. "May 26" (3:17) muted, scratchy guitar, bass, and drums weave a perfect triad of sequences while piano's upper register tinkles away as if in its own universe and Maynard Jim Grey sings a breathy vocal somewhere in the middle. Another surprisingly unique, original, and cool take on the heavy prog/prog metal sound palette. (9.25/10)

9. "The Third Silent Year" (2:29) (not present on my digital copy from Bandcamp of the album.)

10. "Asylum: Acolyte Zero" (13:04) opens with full-on walls of sound metal, once again conveying those Middle Eastern melodic sensibilities. Even when it moves into the rapid fire/machine gun guitar, bass, and drum playing in the second minute, it's still ORPHANED LAND/YOSSI SASSI I hear--even more pronounced int the stepped down 'scapes of the third and fourth minutes.  (22/25)

11. "Whisper" (1:45) the bookend finish to a great story rendering. Does a great job reminding us of the talents of this singer, Jim Grey. (4.5/5)

Total time: 59:25

90.40 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of wonderfully fresh-sounding heavy prog, one of my favorite prog-on-the-heavy-side albums of the Naughties and, in my opinion, an essential listening experience for any prog lover.   



Near Masterpieces:





SEIGES EVEN The Art of Navigating by the Stars (2005)

A German band led by the stalwart Holzwarth brothers (bass and guitars), the band has its roots in Prog Metal--where much of their previous music may have fallen, but this one would be more appropriately labeled Heavy Prog, in my opinion, or even Crossover (due to the remarkably smooth and harmonic CSN&Y-like multi-voice vocal harmonies.) 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Arno Menses / vocals
- Markus Steffen / electric & acoustic guitars
- Oliver Holzwarth / bass
- Alex Holzwarth / drums
With:
- Walter Dorn / flute (8)

1. "Intro: Navigating by the Stars" (0:30) effected baby noises with background synths. 

2. "Sequence I: The Weight" (10:14) heavy, rolling bass and guitars with solid drums and a few rounds of gattling guns set the stage for sparse musical support of vocalist Arno Menses opening salvos--which are surprisingly soft and pretty. His voice (and the music) sounds a bit like RUSH's "Fly by Night" but the music develops and shifts in many more surprising directions--especially the CSN&Y-like perfect harmonized choral voices. At 4:20 we shift a couple gears into a faster pace for an instrumental section --though still sounding surprisingly like RUSH. Great song with some incredibly engaging music and vocals (both Arno and the harmonized collective banks); where it falls short is in failing to deliver a "knockout punch." (18/20)

3. "Sequence II: The Lonely Views of Condors" (6:14) a good song with interesting music and lots of nice use of space; they just don't deliver enough melodic hooks in the music or in the vocals. (8.5/10)

4. "Sequence III: Unbreakable" (9:00) third song in a row in which the guitarist is using the same chorus effect. When the bass and drums join in to underline the slow pace, I'm reminded of both Nina Hagen's amazing debut band (SPLIFF). And then the vocals enter reminding me of soon-to-arrive on the scene IAN KENNY from Aussie band, Karnivool. At 3:50 we switch into another "Fly By Night" motif for 100 seconds of instrumental "discipline" and soli. Then everything cuts out save for some delicately picked acoustic guitar as Arno sings plaintively. When he is joined by choral bank harmony singers it signals a shift back into more upbeat pacing--where the music almost becomes straightforward classic rock. Though they're rather infrequent, the CSN&Y-like bolts of vocal lightning are so bewitching. Still, there is something lacking… (18/20)

5. "Sequence IV: Stigmata" (8:22) more RUSH ideas taken further and made Seiges' own. Until the fifth minute, I hear a lot similarities to WOBBLER's Rites at Dawn in this song, but then it almost goes Post Rock and Brothers Johnson "Strawberry Letter 23"! GREAT shift/change at 7:40--so close to the end--to give us a kind of TOOL ending! (17.5/20)

6. "Sequence V: Blue Wide Open" (5:13) a cappella choral vocals open this one before giving way to a weave of picked acoustic guitars (at least three). In the second minute, Arno's classic rock voice sings--using two tracks to time his continuos delivery--which the guitars continue to pick away. Just before the two minute mark, the guitars switch to strumming for the chorus, but then they cut back and turn to a display of classical flourishes (two or three tracks) before returning to the picking weave of the opening section. There's a little Steve Hackett/Genesis feel here--as well as FIREFALL ("Strange Way [to Say I Love You"]). Pretty song with some awful nice guitar play and recording ideas. (9/10)

7. "Sequence VI: To the Ones Who Have Failed" (7:26) if Rush were composing for TRIUMPH, TOTO, AMBROSIA, or REO SPEEDWAGON. Then it turns THIN LIZZY in the middle instrumental section before returning to the TRIUMPH motifs of the opening half. Nice song. (13.25/15)

8. "Sequence VII: Lighthouse" (7:41) guitar harmonics with plaintive singing by Arno, but then the harmonized choral approach enters to set up the slow ramp up to full power. As we get to third gear in the fourth minute, I'm again reminded of some of the country-tinged song and vocal sound palettes. Nice classical guitar solo in the fifth minute is followed by a relaxing pastoral flute solo before everything shifts into fourth gear. Little River Band and Ambrosia come to mind here. Very nice song--also very unexpected (on a "metal" album). (13.25/15)

9. "Sequence VIII: Styx" (8:55) sadly, this one has the weakest songwriting and instrumental showmanship on this otherwise-wonderful album--almost "RUSH--for-beginners, by-the-numbers". It's not until the 4:45 mark that the band seems to finally come alive--and it does in fine fashion, in a kind of KING CRIMSON way--at least until it returns to the Southern Rock sound/style with Arno's vocal. (What happened to all of those magical choral vocals?) Fortunately, the wonderful final two minutes help salvage some of the magic. (17/20)

Total Time 63:35

There is a lot of RUSH-influence in these songs: sounds, chords, riffs, changes/shifts, drumming, even the vocals. And yet, they manage to make it sound fresh and like it's all their own. Plus, they use--to great effect--much more space and spaciousness than Rush. I love the unusual prominence of the bass and the fascinating way in which the instrumentalists play off each other both harmonically and rhythmically. Truly in interesting and refreshing. Again, if this is "metal," then I'm a convert! (It's not: I'm not quite there yet.) Also, if this is a concept album, I've not found it (i.e. the common thread).

88.52 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a wonderful addition to any prog lover's music collection and one of my favorite "heavy" albums of the Naughties. 




MASTODON Crack the Skye (2009)

A much-praised 2009 release. That I was unprepared to hear and appreciate back in when it came out as I was, at the time, un-educated and under-exposed to the Prog Metal/Tech Metal and Heavy Prog scenes.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Brent Hinds / lead guitar, banjo, vocals
- Bill Kelliher / rhythm guitar
- Troy Sanders / bass, synth bass, vocals
- Brann Dailor / drums, percussion, backing vocals
With:
- Rich Morris / Mellotron, synth
- Scott Kelly / vocals (6)

1. "Oblivion" (5:52) bass and guitar machine gun arpeggi with singing performed by alternating voices of drummer Brann Dailor and lead guitarist Brent Hinds. I love the sound of this! A powerful, engaging, and impressive opener; good first impression. (9/10)

2. "Divinations" (3:32) give BLACK SABBATH a modern sound and more modern metal instrumental styles and this is what they might sound like. I like Brent Hinds soloing on the axe using three different sounds--as if he's duelling with himself in triplicate. (8/10)

3. "Quintessence" (6:35) a lot of MOTORPSYCHO sound to this one--especially in the drums and lead  vocal during the verses. The chorus takes us more into head-banging territory before a surprising BEATLES-like passage. Interesting. I'm also reminded a lot of the VON HERTZEN BROTHERS. Far more simplistic song structures and performance displays than I was expecting.  (8.5/10)

4. "The Czar" (10:55) (18.875/20)
- i. Usurper - nice trippy launch into psychedelia (4.5/5) 
- ii. Escape - ramping up to SABBATH territory. Cool bass 'n' guitar riff in the A Section to sink into; great drumming. (9.5/10)
- iii. Martyr - spacious psychedelic interlude is then filled with blues-metal walls of sound. (4.125/5)
- iv. Spiral - weird little instrumental decay.

5. "Ghost of Karelia" (5:24) very nice power metal/prog metal with a fairly simple song structure but high quality performances by all of the instrumentalists. This drummer is very impressive! (8.5/10)

6. "Crack the Skye" (5:54) Death metal growls with almost saccharine MOTORPSYCHO-like choral vocals! Interesting. LINKIN PARK taken one step further? A great weave of instruments and then, surprise! a keyboard and vocoder in the fourth minute. And, of course, Brann Dailor's drumming is all over the place (perhaps even detracting from the song a bit in the final minute). (9.125/10)

7. "The Last Baron" (13:03) great music over which tandem singing and guitars trade leads with a melody for the first 3:20. Then there is s tempo speedup and new machine-gun fabric established over which an Ozzy-like vocal sings. Incredible band cohesion in the sixth minute! An almost-country STEVE HOWE-on-steroids guitar solo at 6:00. (Perhaps where fellow Atlantan Jared Leach modelled his guitar style for his band GHOST MEDICINE's 2016 album, Discontinuance.) At 8:25 there is another shift as new ZZ TOP-like motif and tempo are established--and then another one at 9:35 into a slower MOTORSPYCHO-like drawn out style. Overall, an incredibly impressive song--one of the best mid-length epics of the decade! (23.5/25)

Total Time 50:06

The song structures and performance displays are far simpler than I was expecting from this band--especially after all of the hoopla surrounding the original release of this album. 

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and definitely a prog metal highlight of the 2000s; highly recommended as a wonderful addition to any prog lover's music collection.  




OMAR RODRIQUEZ-LOPEZ The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange (2007)

Wow! Combining high-powered, psychedelic rock and R & B like I've never heard it, Omar Rodriquez-Lopez--of THE MARS VOLTA fame--has created a monster of an album. Almost completely instrumental and, except for the guitar work and modern recording techniques, very reminiscent of lots of music and artists from the jazz fusion and electronic prog experimentalists fromt he 1970s.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Omar Rodriguez-Lopez / guitar 
- Juan Alderete / bass 
- Money Mark / keyboards, synthesizer 
- Adrián Terrazas-González / saxophone, clarinet 
- Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez / drums, percussion

1. "Melting Chariots" (3:51) starts off like something from a P-Funk album or TALKING HEADS' Remain in Light. The unusual staccato guitar solo is a quite inconsistent with the rest of the song's feel and sound. (8/10)

2. "Knee Deep in the Loving Hush of Heresy" (6:02) begins with ORNETTE COLEMAN-like free-for-all cacophony. The just as suddenly the music settles into a groove--an almost tongue-in-cheek 'sexy space' walk. The song flows intermmittently in and out of the opening cacophony, as well as into some stark bluesy sections. This sounds a lot like some of TODD RUNDGREN's wild sound/listener experiments from the 70s. The 'sexy space walk' jam is the overall dominant thread that keeps the song moving forward but there are many 'pauses' and 'interludes' into guitar and synthesizer 'tangents.' The song ends with a minute of straightforward heavy metal rock n roll. Interesting sonic and technical experimentation. (8/10)


3. "Jacob Van Lennepkade II" (18:25) is a wonderful multi-track (midi?) jam set over a very engaging, danceable groove laid down by the rhythm section. The occasional 'chorus' section is lead by saxophone melody--all the while the rhythm section keeps on groovin' away on the same pace, same riffs, same chords. The first five minutes are dominated by guitar(s) solo; second five by keyboard(s), third five by saxophone; and the final by guitars again. Awesome performances throughout. Great jam. (38/40)


4. "Fuerza de Liberacion" (5:33) begins with some odd synthesizer and vocal percussion 'noises.' At the one minute mark most of this fades away to be replaced by a kind of steady 'Carribbean' beat over which a heavily muted/treated male voice talks for over two minutes. Giving way to a multi-track guitar solo, beneath which the drummer--and then the keyboardist and saxophone player--has some real fun. The song's basic bass and keyboard structure remains steady and constant throughout. (8/10)


5. "Sparked From the Insult List" (6:08) is pure Latin groove rock--SANTANA at his jammin' best. Again, multi-track guitar (by which I mean that one guitar is being played but that it's sound is being channelled through two or more effects boxes and then into multiple recording tracks, giving it the feel that multiple instruments are being played). The presence of Rhodes-like keyboard and flute give this a very 1970s feel. Awesome feel and sound--one I can never get enough of. (10/10)


6. "Baby Fat" (2:47) has a very jazzy, KING CRIMSON feel to it--even down to the discordant free jam the song devolves into. (8/10)


7. "The Apocalypse Inside of An Orange" (11:14) is a true adventure in Psychedelic/Space Rock--even down to the "Indian" feel of the 'sitar' and bass sounds--a musical expression of pre-Big Bang (or post-apocalyptic) cosmic soup. It's actually quite entertaining and even engaging. (Again I am reminded of some of TODD RUNDGREN's work from the 70s--this time almost exactly like the middle 30 minutes of his 36 minute epic, "Treatise on Cosmic Fire"on Initiation). I quite like it! (17.75/20)


8. "Coma Pony" (6:36) is another throwback song, starting with a very cool, laid back jazz fusion (almost trip hoppy) groove set down by bass, drums, and very 60s/70s keyboard sound and style--over which the guitar again does his multi-track jamming. The ERIC GALE-like jazz guitar, BOB JAMES-like keyboard playing, TOM SCOTT/GROVER WASHINGTON-like sax play, and catchy melodies make this a very enjoyable and comfortable song--like a stroll through memory lane. (10/10)


Total Time: 60:36

Truly an exceptional album of adventurous music. Close to being a masterpiece; 89.79 on the Fish scales = definitely 4.5 stars.




LEPROUS Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009)

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. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Einar Solberg / lead vocals, keyboards
- Tor Oddmund Suhrke / guitar, backing vocals
- Øystein Skonseng Landsverk / guitar, backing vocals
- Halvor Strand / bass
- Tobias Ørnes Andersen / drums

1. "Passing" (8:31) cool bass play and acrobatic vocalist on display. Both are worthy of roles as front men. (17.5/20)

2. "Phantom Pain" (6:50) opens with some very delicate, almost operatic, singing over piano and some very jazz-Broadway like sound textures. Then the 2:00 minute mark comes and with it a metamorphic shift into heavy prog with death metal growl vocals. Spastic synth soloing takes us out of this until, at 4:20, we return to the Broadway music, until some melodramatic DEVIN TOWNSEND-like drama metal takes over--death metal growls and all, before piano is allowed to take us out. Interesting, surprising, and entertaining. (12.75/15)

3. "Dare You" (6:45) opens with some "Welcome to the Jungle" riffing before a more proggy odd-tempoed structure settles in. At 0:50 we're back to the opening motif. Nice display of drumming. Apparently we're going to shift back and forth between these two motifs for a bit. Around the two-minute mark we shift into a more funked-up PORCUPINE TREE prog for an instrumental section. This is good! This music must be a bit of a challenge to play. Ramping up in the 4:20s to a bare-bones rhythmic display. Then, at 5:00 we move back into the vocal chorus. Impressive! (14/15)

4. "Fate" (4:38) odd acoustic guitar and piano arpeggi woven together over which singer Einar Solberg moves in those sensitive theatric IAN KENNY/THAT JOE PAYNE-like vocals. At the two-minute mark, Einar amps it up, dumping out his guts, as the band spreads out in a very smooth, straighforward hard rock chord progression for the two guitarists to solo over. At 3:30 we're back to the opening motif and the virtuosic plaintive vocal. Master display of control and emotion. (9/10)

5. "He Will Kill Again" (7:31) ominous setup in the first minute before heavy music enters and, over that, a two-sided Enar Solberg performance. This sounds like Queen! (Maybe a little heavier.) And then there's this weird weave in the middle with multiple voices harmonizing over near-Latin rhythms giving way to growl vocals. The guitar tone here is so clean and clear (almost too clean and clear) not unlike that of Brian May or Buck Dharma. Piano chord play becomes dominating in the sixth minute, then takes over in the seventh before the layers again build into something metallic over the rumba going on beneath. Interesting but not my cup of tea--too theatric. (13/15)
 
6. "Not Even a Name" (8:46) pure prog metal open as everybody is on high octane. This could be 1997 Into the Woods, Fates Warning, or Symphony X. Then, at 0:45, piano and another near-Latin rhythm pattern take over to become the fabric over which Einar sings (in his upper registers) and the band softens--but not for long as the band soon re-launch into a THE MARS VOLTA-like all-out, multi-voice power expression. An intricate composition requiring near-virtuosic performances from all. (18.5/20)

7. "Tall Poppy Syndrome" (8:28) opens with a stark, ear-popping PORCUPINE TREE "Let's Sleep Together" audaciousness with confident drums playing at the apex. Each instrument gradually joins in and begins to add to and develop their contribution to the weave. Awesome! (And no piano!) 3:00: (Oops! Spoke too soon!) shift in style and pacing. At 3:40 another shift into more spacious guitar arpeggi-based section. At 4:25 a recorded voice enters preaching about the importance of the 10 Commandments of 21st Century cultural conformity while the band's music play turns funk-jazzy. Interesting! Another impressive display of song construction, complex ideation, and near-virtuosic execution. (19.5/20)

8. "White" (11:31) piano-led classic hard rock opens this before the 1:15 segue into scream singing over URAH HEEP Hammond-based sound and style palette. The multi-voiced vocal passage sounds so much like neighborhood (Finland) band KHATSATURJIAN. Though a step above the Heep in terms of complexity and intricate musicianship, this is not really my cup of tea. Too theatric. Too much chest pounding. (16.75/20)

Total Time: 63:00

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).

89.62 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you're into impressively executed theatric prog metal. I, too, am impressed by this band and its very polished performers, but this is not really my favorite kind of music.




FEN The Malediction Fields (2009)

The debut full-length major-label release from these from experimental British black metal artists.

Line-up / Musicians:
- The Watcher (Frank Allain) / electric & acoustic guitars, e-bow, keyboards, lead & backing vocals, producer
- Draugluin / keyboards, synth, backing vocals
- Grungyn (Adam Allain) / bass, lead (3) & backing vocals
- Theutus / drums

1. "Exiles Journey" (8:08) a truly engaging introductory piece: atmospheric and melodic turning into frenzied black metal while maintaining distinctive instrumental representation throughout. Great touch, those synths, acoustic guitars, and choral vocals. And the growl voices have an almost theatric effect in their unique contribution. (14/15)
 
2. "A Witness to the Passing of Aeons" (7:07) sounds as if it should come from some horror film soundtrack, but then that B part! What an awesome wall of sound! (13.5/15)

3. "Colossal Voids" (8:32) opens in such a pleasant, almost-Neo-Prog way! Even the growl-less vocals are, I have to admit, a surprise. One-time lead vocalist Grungyn" (Adam Allain) does not have the control or experience and command that brother Frank has; his voice is pleasant but weak (which is probably why it's been mixed so deeply into the music). There is a touch of Post Rock in the way this song slowly builds to its crescendo in the sixth minute. The post-coital malaise that follows is unexpected, but then things quickly amp back up for the second dénouement before finally slowly decaying into its dreamy weave of arpeggiating treated piano and guitar. Nice! A little more flawed than the previous two songs but, at the same time, more adventurous and creative. (18/20)

4. "As Buried Spirits Stir" (6:58) straight black metal delivered in a straightforward way. (12/15)

5. "The Warren" (7:10) opens with two minutes of étude-like instrumental threads weaving their way as if a folk or Celtic song. At 3:15 there is a breakdown and shift in tempo and sound palette, using arpeggiated guitar and e-bow lead to build another minimalist weave before drums, bass, and growl vocals jump in at the five-minute mark. Reminds me of Viking death metal--or Einar Selvik and Ivar Bjørnson. (13.25/15)

6." Lashed by Storm" (8:54) seems to quick-rise out of the ashes of the previous song, quickly establishing its quick pace, thick guitar-laden walls of sound, and growl vocals. Synth lines become more prominent with the second verse. Great chord progression in the instrumental interlude in the third minute. Quiet interlude of sparse, arpeggiated instruments (two guitars, bass, simple drums) in the fourth minute. This then slowly builds with more independently directed threads from each of the instruments until some vocal satisfaction growls signal a switch into more metallic sounds and quicker pacing. As the band achieves full return to walls of sound at 6:30 the growl vocals return, returning to verse singing as in the beginning. The final 90 seconds sees an unexpected return to melodic chords and "normal" voice singing (from, I believe, Grungyn). Interesting and, I have to admit, totally unexpected song development/twists and turns. (17.75/20)

7. "Bereft" (11:49) the song with, in my opinion, the most "shoegaze" sound that will become so integral to their wonderful next album, 2010's Epoch. Even the bass lines remind me of something from RIDE or Simon Raymonde. Tempo and key shifts as well as shifts in sound palette continue to impress and make this album one of the more remarkable heavy prog albums of the Naughties. At 7:40 everything drops out and becomes atmospheric and beautiful, but then "The Watcher" reenters with his growl vocals for a minute or so before he fades out and the synths and arpeggiated guitar chords take us out gently. Wow. Nice. (22/25)

Total Time 58:38

88.40 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a surprisingly refreshing album--one that portends great things for this creative band--and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




AGALLOCH The Mantle (2002)

An album I've owned for quite a while that at first I disliked because I thought it's songs long and boring--as well as due to the fact that this was my very first acquisition that contained growls for some of its vocals. I was put off by this, especially. Now, four or five years later, I've grown accustomed to growling in prog music and The Mantle has become one of those albums whose songs always interest, surprise, and, yes, I have to admit, excite me when they come onto my iPod shuffle's random play.
     The acoustic guitar-based music has always been attractive to me, I just resisted its magic because of the vocals. Now as I listen to these songs I am always surprised to check later and be reminded that these great songs so full of subtleties were from AGALLOCH!

Favorite songs: "...And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth" (7:14) (15/15) "The Hawthorne Passage" (11:19) (18/20); 3. "Odal" (7:40) (13.5/15), "In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion" (14:45) (27.5/30), 6. "You Were But a Ghost in My Arms" (9:18) (16/20), 1. "A Celebration for the Death of Man" (2:25) (4.5/5); 9. "A Desolation Song" (5:09) (8/10), and; 5. "The Lodge" (4:40) (8/10)

A solid album--one of the best from a . . .  well, a pretty poor year, in my humble opinion.

A solid 4 star effort whose esteem has raised in my mind over the years. I now find myself truly enjoying and tuning in to the songs from The Mantle when they come across my playlist.

88.0 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.

As an interesting aside to my review of The Mantle I want to say that every Agalloch release I've listened to is of a similar quality, sound, and impact (and I've listened to all of the Agalloch releases since The Mantle), but, on the downside, they all sound as if replications of the same sound, style, format, and emotional spectra; once you're heard one Agalloch release, you've heard them all.




MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath (2001)

Companion release to Leaving Your Bodymap, I find it quite difficult to articulate why it is that I am more attracted to the former than to Bath. They both certainly have songs and sections that are totally mind- and soul-blowing. Bath may actually have sections that are more beautiful than those of Bodymap but I think Bath's lows are just lower.

1. "The Blue Ghost, Shedding Qliphoth" (7:57) starts the album off quite mellowly, very delicate acoustic guitar play, when drums finally come in, during the fifth minute, they are played with brushes. Saxes play gently. Beautiful guitar melodies. Quite a deceptive intro for what is to come at the 6:42 mark (and later--in the next song). A powerful song even though it is a bit drawn out. (15/15)

2. "They Aren't All Beautiful" (5:37) is pure doom metal, growl singing, screams, machine gun bass drum play, and loud metal guitar power chords. Still, the song is filled with many bizarre and very fleeting twists--acoustic, ambient pauses, and jazzy chord twangs. Not my favorite TD song. (6/10)

3. "Heaven and Weak" (7:43) begins mellowly, almost acoustic jazz-like, with a bass, acoustic guitar and jazz-style drum kit. MICHAEL FRANKS-like beautiful male voice enters at the 1:30 mark. Song gets amped up into heavy rock at the three minute mark and soon begins to sound a little FRANK ZAPPA-ish--even DEVIN TOWNSEND-like. Amazing guitar riffs at 4:30 introduce full-blown metal dance. Treated voice takes the lead at 5:34, song comes a little down, then a bridge/interlude of harmonics and snare and bass drum beating before everything escalates into full-blown space shredding. Cue DEVIN to close. (12/15)

4. "(Interlude 1)" (1:38) is a slighlty jazzy instrumental of two acoustic guitars with delicate wah-pedaled electric guitar lead taking the melody over the top. Nice song! (4.5/5)

5. "The Ferryman" (7:51) opens with some dramatic and ominous solo organ play. This gives way in the second minute to some very subtly played drums which are then joined around the 1:30 mark by some equally delicate guitars, strummed and soloed. Then at 2:40 the wall of metal comes crashing in--with three different metal voices: a growler, a screamer, and a couple of melancholy disembodied ghosts. The fourth voice, a female, is actually quite lovely if a bit pitchy. The reappearance of the organ--over/under the metal thrashing--is quite cool, and supports the ghostly feel of the voices quite nicely--and actuallly takes the metal edge off of the guitar play, bringing them down to almost "rock" level. The Harry Potter-like death voices in the watery cave in the final minute are a bit bizarre, but, I guess, very effective in perpetuating and completing that Charon/River Styx theme here. (12/15)

6. "Marid's Gift of Art" (3:42) sounds of water splashes and drips (carrying over from Charon's pole-work of the previous song) opens the song before a pleasant, laid back picked/strummed acoustic guitar and background electric fade in. The vocal (to a child?) begins around 1:20. The vocal mirrors the guitar work throughout. Nice trumpet and cello integration in the last half of the song. (8/10)

7. "Girl with A Watering Can" (8:45) opens with some beautiful folkish solo from a read instrument (bassoon?) before an equally beautiful band sets up a full, delicate foundation for the beautiful female voice (the "Girl"?) to join in around the 1:30 mark. The tempo seems to be being played with a bit as the girl sings her tale, yet the constant bass rhythm betrays the truth. Very interesting. A coda and bridge into a new section is accomplished with the use of a sequence of heavy guitar chords. The new stand on which the female singer pours forth her public voice is still quite lovely. At 5:30 a soft male voice takes over vocal lead, as if to tell his perspective of the Girl. At 6:20 a metal guitar and synth solo section are played out to great effect and emotional display. The final minute maintains that open pace while the soft-spoken male returns to sing about the girl's flower garden and his missing her. Great song! One of my three favorites on the album. (20/20)

8. "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" (10:35) opens with a guitar, bass and drum foundation which has a bit of an Old West flavor to it. Very soothing as if played next to the fire under the midnight stars. Gentle saxophone joins for a bit just before the two minute mark at the same time a single sustained and wavering note from an electric guitar screeches menacingly in the background. By 3:30 the song shifts into heavy metal mode (though ever retain some calmer, less frenetic quality to it) as the doom growl voices emerge. At 6:40 Toby and the beautiful music side comes back. Great guitar work (lead and rhythm) in the ninth minute. One of my other favorites. (20/20)

9. "(Interlude 2)" (2:13) uses the splashing in a bathtub for its rhythm track with acoustic guitar and horns. Nothing special and a little gimicky but okay. (4/5)

10. "Geography" (4:26) is acoustic guitar based with a straightforward Toby vocal and some Frippertronics-like electric guitar sliding around in the more dynamic parts. Nothing too extraordinary. (8/10)

A very good album with some great TD/moTW highlights, just not as mind-blowing as its sister album.

87.6 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece of innovative progressive rock music rated down for its inconsistencies (one really bad song).




NEGURA BUNGET Om (2006)

Is an emotional aural ride like none other you have had. It is also a work of creative genius and instrumental and engineering virtuosity. As a matter of fact, on Om, like Dark Side of the Moon, it could be said that the recrding engineer and mixologist are as important contributors to the end product as the composers and musicians.

1. "Ceasuri Rele (intro)" (3:07) starts with a long silence before outdoor night noises creep in. At the end of the first minute a male voice whispers a couple of things, spooky Halloween-like noises flit in and out while the whispering man continues voicing his emotion-filled warnings (in a non-English language). Male chorale "aahs" and "ooos" crescendo as the whispering man seems to lose it. (9/10)

2. "Tesarul de lumini" (12:48) begins with guitars. Though this develops into, at first, a goth metal, and then a doom metal, song, the volume never goes overboard and the clarity and definition of sound never gets murky or clouded, the contributions of instruments and samples are never lost or disrespected. (8/10)

3. "Primul Om" (4:22) is more of an ambient soundtrack to some rural, gypsy scene. Interesting for a metal album. (8/10)

4. "Cunoaºterea Tãcutã" (7:11) begins with the ambiguity of crystal clear drums and synth with heavily distorted electric guitar metal strums. The doom metal growls are played off of by an almost priestly/cantor-like male church vocal. Acoustic tuned percussion play against the metal guitar while the singer growls. At 2:30 a strong tenor voice sings (sounding very much like RETROSPECTIVE's lead vocalist). At 3:03 the song's wall of sound drops off and a sophisticated weave (polyrhythmic?) of keys, guitars, tuned percussion, and bass perform for two and a half minutes before the heavy metal guitar and vocal growl return. Actually a pretty awesome, amazing finish! (10/10)

5. "Înarborat" (6:22) begins with some sounds that I'm more familiar with in association with sacred Tibetan or Siberian shamanic musical traditions--'skin and bone' percussives and big horns. Then, at 1:40, the acoustic instruments stop and a heavy metal section begins (sounding a bit like the chords to ALICE COOPER's "School's Out"). The growl vocalist enters, the metal guitars flatten out, eventually break into two channels, each one going off on his own adventure--keying one off of the other yet not mirroring or replicating each other. Very cool! At 4:20 the guitars disappear, a monastic choir appears, and a male voice says something in a quite matter-of-fact speaking voice. Then the metal section restarts, the vocals bevome a bit more crazed, insistent, and yet diverse. Amazing song! (9/10)

6. "Dedesuptul" (6:39) starts off with metal guitars and drumming, vocal screams and growl voice. Interesting additional "cave bell" sound and guitar chord changes. Then at 1:40 an Arabian melodic theme is shifted to, bringing with it a shift in feel, change in vocal and guitar approach. By 2:30 we are back to the B section, with its growls and quick-changing strummed metal guitar chords. Enter into the background a discordant, disconnected keyboard(? or is it guitar?). At 4:50 this keyboard comes to the fore, reveals itself as a heavily treated guitar, plays some odd riffs, and then steps off to be replaced by the plodding, spooky synthesizer keyboard playing as if for the soundtrack of a murder-mystery. Odd song. (8/10)

7. "Norilor" (3:00) is an instrumental that bleeds from the previous song, "Dedesuptul," carrying forward the eery soundtrack feeling, adding some of the 'skin and bone' percussives as well as other more orchestral percussion instruments to help tell the story. (9/10)

8. "De Piatrã" (5:36) puts us back into very traditional metal--and doom metal--territory. The growls here, however, sound much more diverse, as if Tasmanian Devil, Dracula, and some imprisoned-underground Titan from Greek mythology were all in conversation. The guitar work--and vocal work--evolve into some different, less metallic, more theatric (if that's possible) styles, though the basic rhythm section pace remains quite frenetic throughout. Interesting, entertaining, just not my cup of tea. (7/10)

9. "Cel Din Urmã Vis" (10:03) (my favorite song on the album) begins with two guitars playing different arpeggios in different channels, before the rest of the rhythm section joins in at the one minute mark. As the song settles into its structure and rhythm, a very cool Trevor Horn/Fairlight CMI-like keyboard "choir" hit plays a big part in drawing the listener in. Vocal growls enter and play for a brief spell before the song shifts into a surprisingly long, very calm, misty walking-through-the-graveyard-at-midnight-on-a-misty-Halloween keyboard-led section. In the seventh minute these two sections combine--sustained choral chords, growl vocals, over the metal music. Only this song, this music, this metal, has more melody, more interest (thanks to the 'Fairlight CMI'). The song's final minute and a half pick up the pace to a much more frenetic metal pace, but the keys join in for the last thirty seconds. What a ride! (10/10)

10. "Hora Soarelui" (5:55) starts right up in heavy metal mode until the 30th second, when al switches to a very colloquial folk sound (LES NEGRESSES VERTES anyone?)--like a silly drinking song! At 1:48 it feels like it's going to evolve again, but it just gets more synth and vocal harmony support. Beautiful. Kind of TALKING HEADS-like! Love the solo by the folk string instrument (guitar variation?) during the mellow mid-section. Things pick up and rock metal out again. (10/10)

11. "Al Doilea Om (outro)" (2:03) allows the album to fade out right where it started--eery, shamanic, meditative, with lots of "Aum"-ing. (9/10)

Like I said above, this album offers a lot of unusual and interesting stuff. It is so different, so unique (in my experience), and so enjoyable that I recognized it immediately as a masterpiece of sheer genius, and I still find myself awed by it.

88.18 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars, a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




PORCUPINE TREE Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)

My introduction to Steve Wilson and Porcupine Tree.  After a fifteen year hiatus from "progressive rock" and most new music, ProgArchives reviewers led me to this gem. Revived with a new intrigue and interest in the most artistic of music forms, progressive rock, I began my adventures into post-1970s prog with this CD. From the first listening I was impressed. A little heavier than I expected at times, I quickly keyed into the drummer: very impressive. Then found myself bewitched by the beautiful and diverse sound textures (helped out by old "friend" from my David Sylvian years, Richard Barbieri). Even nostalgically amused by the "guest appearances" by prog legends Robert Fripp, Alex Lifeson and John Wesley.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steven Wilson / vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards, string arrangements, mixing
- Richard Barbieri / keyboards, synthesizers
- Colin Edwin / bass guitar
- Gavin Harrison / drums, percussion
With:
- Alex Lifeson / guitar solo (3)
- Robert Fripp / soundscapes (5)
- John Wesley / backing vocals
- Dave Stewart / string arrangements & orchestration
- London Session Orchestra / strings
- Gavyn Wright / orchestra leader

1. "Fear of a Blank Planet" (7:28) Drums catch you from the start: Tight! Confident! Who is this guy! Google search! Pretty cool "metal-ish" feel in the guitars, the kick drum style, though mellotron/synths soften it some. Great mellotron background wash! Lyrics kind of cynical and depressing. Keyboard work is subtle but really absorbing. Good hard driving tune with excellent electric guitar and synth soli at the end. The end is the best part (and more typical of older PT, I will find out). Impressive song, just not as melodically engaging as I'd like. (13/15)

2. "My Ashes" (5:07) Very cool intro. Haven't heard that effect/sound since Zep's "Ocean." Chorus enters over a beautifully fluid wash of Floydian mellotron, followed by entrance of drums and electric guitars. The burdens of cultural transmission. I've read Steve can be a bit down, even depressing (lyrically). Love the flowing, floating strings behind the vocals and acoustic guitars. A lovely, well-constructed song. (8.5/10)

3. "Anaesthetize" (17:42) The first truly proggish feeling song. (Especially due to it's 17 minute length.) The drum "arpeggios" underlying the first three minutes are mixed perfectly into the song so as to not overwhelm the listener. The entry of the fuzz guitar chords and snare hit and then excellent electric guitar solo precede an awesome electric piano sequence (Ambrosia?) and some synthscapes just before the more metal-ish drum and bass sounds take over the rhythm. Steve's treated vocals at eight minutes in truly usher in a more fully metal feel (so cleanly recorded!) (really a Nirvana grunge "Feels Like Teen Spirit" section). Awesome Gary Newman "Cars" sound just before this drummer dude really gets to impress us. There's that metronomic click track again. Barbieri/Wilson's synth work is so smooth, subtle, understated but interesting and key! The Floydian end section brought in at 13:20 is very cool, very Wish You Were Here/Animals, complete with brief Gilmour-esque axe solo. Song never really seems to develop into what it promises at the beginning, though it does end well. (30/35) 

4. "Sentimental" (5:26) A teen anthem sung by a thirty-forty-something. Hmm. Simple SimpleMinds/ U2-ish song structure has a feel similar to several other "classic" PT songs. So-so song. (7/10)

5. "Way Out of Here" (7:38) is the first of the albums two really great songs. True classics, these are, with really powerful lyrics and vocal deliveries (though sometimes too deep in the mix, due to the treatments). Very catchy chorus lyric and melody. Absolutely stunning guitar solo (Fripp?) is followed by an eerie, here-comes-the-slasher lull before all metal hell breaks loose. And did I mention the drums? This drummer knows his craft--enhancing yet never dominating, with sometimes breathtaking speeds and techniques. (Again:  the drums are so well mixed into the music). The long fadeout of ascending string sounds over Harrison's ever-so subtle, yet playful, batterie is brilliant! (15/15)

6. "Sleep Together" (7:30). A quiet little intro is suddenly amped up and made rather eerie by a strong, slow drum beat before Steve's treated voice screeches his forceful though despondent command, "Let's sleep together." The world's about to end, so why not? Second time through the chorus leaves us in outer/inner space with some very interesting multiple synth play. Gavin and Colin rejoin the music to help usher us through a truly unusual "string quartet" (a la Kronos Quartet) exit. Very fresh and creative. Classic prog! Awesome! (15/15)

Total Time: 50:08

Undoubtedly outstanding musicianship and sound recording with very impressive composition and of-time-capsule-interest lyrics (computers and iPods). I think we have a modern prog classic! 

88.50 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any music collection. While I do not consider this one of my favorite Heavy Prog albums, I sincerely recognize it as a prog classic and a true historical landmark/time capsule in that it captures the essence of the zeitgeist of our world circa 2007 so amazingly.




DEVIN TOWNSEND 
Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007)

This is such a fun, funny, satirically melodramatic supervillain album I can't help but love despite my innate, seemingly unalterable aversion to harsh "metal" sounds (mostly bullet speed kick drum pedalling and constant, abrasive, 'infinite sustain' guitar and bass guitar power chords). The whole premise of a pimply teen 'Starbucks' coffee server's daydream revolving around the command order of a 'perfect' cup of coffee is hilarious. And Devin plays it out--both musically and lyrically--to perfection. For some reason this album makes me think of QUEEN's Flash Gordon soundtrack.

While I personally chart only two five star songs--"Solar Winds" and "Hyperdrive"--the rest are such seemless contributors to the the gag/story that I wouldn't rate the rest with less than four stars. Though listening to this all the way through leaves me with quite some aural numbness, the story is worth it. The only Devin album, yet, that I will call a masterpiece--as much for its brilliant concept and cohesive presentation of such as for the obvious talent of his musicianship. I just wish he'd do something non-metal, non-heavy, non-tech/extreme. Maybe an all-acoustic "unplugged" album!?!?!?




This is an album that I liked from the start, every song was listenable and diverse. Now, after the twenty-somethingth listen, I can say that I know and like this album very much. A near masterpiece, with lots of theatric vocals, very competent playing from all of the musicians, and some sound songwriting. The album's weakness is two-fold: 1) it relies on old hooks from classic soli or chord progressions (mostly from PINK FLOYD and GENESIS, some YES)--and not just as "hats off" tributes to those bands, and; 2) many sections of songs are rather simply constructed (i.e. do not really take virtuosic competence in order to perform them--not unlike MUSE, THE DEAR HUNTER or AIRBAG). However, the longer songs have a very nice diversity of sounds, tempos and moods in them and are the highlights of the album. A great album, excellent for any prog lover's collection. Not a masterpiece, though. Not sophisticated or emotional enough. Close, though. Definitely an album that deserves more listens--more attention.

Album highlights: 2. "Leaving Here Tonight" (4:42) (10/10); 6. "The Bond of Mutual Distrust" (9:36) (17.5/20); 8. "Flying/Falling" (2:54) (10/10), "The Collapse" (12:10) (22.5/25); 4. "The Waterfall" (5:26) (9/10), and; "Disinfected and Abused" (17:38) (31/35). (The sample provided is a medley "preview" released to promote the album.)

 88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music (and, IMHO, much better than 2011's A Tower of Silence).




FROM.UZ The Overlook (2008)

A collection of amazingly diverse songs/song parts. While no song seemlessly rises to perfection--IMHO--every song has several parts of sheer brilliance and bliss. Repeated listens helps take the edge off of some of the rather sudden and abrupt stops, twists, and turns--and familiarity helps to also reveal many of the melodic gems. Many smiles. There are also parts that, IMO, are wasteful and/or too obscure for explanation, but I'll give them an A+ for originality! Every song is a 7 or 8 out of ten, the album is worth four and a half stars--an excellent addition if you're willing to give it numerous listens--moves toward a masterpiece with familiarity. One demerit for the occasional cold, motionlessness other reviewers have mentioned. Sample this, "13th August" (11:55), live "Desert Circle" (15:18) and this live excerpt version of my favorite song from The Overlook, "Crashmind" (4:34) (9/10).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Vitaly Popeloff / guitars
- Albert Khalmurzayev / keyboards 
- Andrew Mara-Novik / bass 
- Vladimir Badirov / drums 

1. Stone Salad (15:17) (26/30)

2. Other Side Of The Water (14:09) (26/30)

3. Crashmind (10:51) (19/20)

4. 13th August (11:53) (22/25)

5. Return To W.I.T. (17:00) (30/35)

Total time: 69:12

87.86 on the Fish scales = just shy of near-masterpiece status; an excellent addition to any progressive rock music collection.




EVERON Fantasma (2000)

Pompous heavy prog, almost on the metal and/or 1980s "classic rock"vein. Nice clean sound production and enough space to hear everything--which is nice.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver Philipps / vocals, keyboards, piano, lead guitar, co-producer
- Ulli Hoever / guitar
- Schymy / bass
- Christian Moos / drums, percussion, co-producer & mixing
With:
- Axel Ruhland / violin (5,6)
- Raffael Sacher / cello (8)
- Tom Locher / classical guitar (8,11)

1. "Men Of Rust" (6:20) opening with a Iona-like near-Celtic Prog rocker, there is a great reverb effect on the prominent grand piano. The sound is so clear and clean! Great use of frequent changes of temp and motif with very smooth and comfortable/believable shifts--a feat which can only come with mature songwriting and highly proficient musicianship. I'm not quite as impressed with the vocal or vocal melody choices. (8.75/10)

2. "Perfect Remedy" (5:19) straightforward ballad with great melodic hook and catchy, pleasing music. Oliver's vocals work very well in this style and medium. (8.75/10)

3. "Fine With Me" (3:33) opens heavy and abrasive like a great BLUE ÖYSTER CULT or URIAH HEEP song. Oliver's voice here sounds quite different--nearer to Geddy Lee and Ozzie Osbourne than previously. Everything on this song is working. Great prog song. My first top three song. (9.25/10)

4. "A Day By The Sea" (5:47) 
some fine anthemic music with awesome textural and mood change in the mid-section and three different tempo shifts. My favorite Oliver Philipps vocal performance on the album and a top three song for me. (9.25/10)

Fantasma Suite: (55.5/65)
5. "Right Now..." (2:04) a sound that seems to combine RUSH and late-1970/early 1980s YES. (4.5/5)
6. "... Til The End Of Time" (5:16) …turns more AC/DC w/Brian Ferry singing, though a little more sophisticated on all levels. (8.25/10) 
7. "Fantasma-Theme" (0:38) computer-piano solo. 
8. "The Real Escape" (4:24) cello, classical guitar, and synth strings provide the foundation for three quarters of this vocal ballad. (8.25/10)
9. "Whatever It Takes" (2:10) repeat of Fantasma piano theme, this time with band support and vocals. Sounds more like a finale. (4/5)
10. "Battle Of Words" (3:42) solo computer-piano opens this one before YES-like rhythm section joins in. At 0:49 the music shifts slightly before the addition of STEVE HOWE-like lead guitar--which really picks up and shines over the course of this pleasant instrumental. (8.75/10)
11. "May You" (4:33) Oliver and piano open this delicate song, singing softly in a JOHN WETTON-like voice. (How chameleonic is this man?) Ballads on heavy prog/prog metal albums always feel a little out of place to me--and this one is very much like a Disney anthem. (8.5/10)
12. "Ghosts-Intro" (1:52) could be a Paul Speer or Chris Spheeris New Age piece. (4/5)
13. "Ghosts" (5:55) another RUSH- and THOMAS THELEN-like anthemic ballad. Great guitar solo featured in the sweet spot of the song. Nice. Great last impression to leave the listener with. My final top three song. (9.25/10)

Total Time: 51:45

While I love the sound production on this album--this despite the use of some of those dated 1990s keyboards that I never liked--the musical style choices and vocals don't always hit the mark for me--and the "Fantasma Suite" is just one big splat--totally lacks meaning, cohesive flow, or redeeming features to me.  

87.14 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection and something even more attractive to someone that loves the sounds and styles of those 1980s power rockers.




UNEXPECT In a Flesh Aquarium (2006)

OMG!! What a WILD ride is this amazing album! It sounds like an super-amped up Cirque de Soleil performance of Danny Elfmann's soundtrack to Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. I can barely imagine the on-stage performance of this music! It can only be surreal and theatric! Suffice it to say that this is music unlike any other. Period. While I may not be listening to this album regularly, I can say that I will never find it boring! With all due respect: This is the kind of music, while not really my cup of tea, that makes listening for new stuff worthwhile. These guys are pushing all boundaries, going where no one is going, and keeping the progress in progressive music. Kudos galore. This is creative stuff--hugely entertaining. BIG smiles! Thank you!! A ground-breaking masterpiece on a par with Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw KömmandöhThe Power and the GloryChoirs of the Eye, "Supper's Ready," and Close to the Edge.

Five star songs: 1. "Chromatic Chimera" (5:52); 3. "Desert Urbania" (7:29); 4. "Summoning Scenes" (7:46); 6. "Megalomaniac Trees" (5:57); 7. "The Shiver - Another Dissonant Chord" (3:00); 8. "The Shiver - Meet Me At The Carrousel" (4:07); 9. "The Shiver - A Clown's Mindtrap" (3:41)

Four star songs: 2. "Feasting Fools" (6:17); 5. "Silence_011010701" (5:13); 10. "Psychic Jugglers" (11:10)

87.0 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




OPETH Blackwater Park (2001)

At this stage of their career, Mikael Åkerfeldt and company were a little heavier, a little harsher, a little more ensconced in the world, sounds, and stylings of metal music. As a matter of fact, much of the music is not so very far removed from the metal of the 1980s. Some of the differences include: the influence of moving bass string chords or "djent" guitar sounds and playing styles; the different lead guitar sounds used here--they are a little more evolved from those used in the 80s; Mikael's use of death metal growls; the way the drums are recorded, and; the greater presence of the machine gun bass drum play. Also Opeth shows a tendency to the use of longer song forms with multiple style formats incorporated within each--as is put on display right from the start on 1. "The Leper Affinity" (10:21) (16/20).

2. "Bleak" (9:16) is well described through its title. Actually this is quite a boring, monotonous song that never seems to go anywhere memorable or worthwhile. (14/20)

The two best songs are by far and away 3. "Harvest" (6:02) (10/10) and 4. "Drapery Falls" (10:55) with its wonderfully memorable multi-instrument-played melody carried through to the end (20/20).

The title song (12:08) is also quite a nice composition--it's performances quite powerful. (22/25)

5. "Dirge for November" (7:54) starts out quite masterfully--with many delicate nuances to feed the soul--but then at the 2:30 mark a heavier but still melodic and fairly straightforward chord progression leaps out and yet does not push away. Fairly simple and innocuous--until, a minute more in, Mikael's growls infiltrate and darken the overall timbre. The song regains points for returning to a beautiful end section filled with delicate nuances of beautiful guitar work. (13.5/15)

6. "The Funeral Portrait" (8:44) is fully steeped in harsh metal stylings--especially with Mikael's demonic growls entering from nearly the beginning--even though the rhythm patterns established from the start remain pretty straightforward and consistent. An interesting THIN LIZZY-like guitar section takes over the very middle of the song before Mikael tries to take back center stage with his disturbing vocalizations. Not a bad song. (16/20)

     As everyone recognizes, I will here reiterate: Mr. Åkerfeldt has quite a lovely voice when he's singing in his normal voice. I am glad that he eventually moved away from this aggressive, abrasive style of music--though I recognize the talent and skill involved in creating music such as is present here.

85.77 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; an excellent display of finely crafted prog metal songs; not quite a masterpiece progressive rock music but perhaps one of Prog Metal.




PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element - Part 1 (2000)

As creative and innovative as I've ever heard Prog Metal get, we have here one of the most highly acclaimed PM albums of all time. But, the question arises: Is this really Prog Metal?

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Gildenlöw / lead vocals, guitar, string arrangements, co-producer
- Johan Hallgren / guitars, backing vocals
- Fredrik Hermansson / keyboards, grand piano, samplers, string arrangements
- Kristoffer Gildenlöw / bass, backing vocals
- Johan Langell / drums, backing vocals

With String Ensemble (1,4,5,8,12):
- Mihai Cucu 
- Petter Axelsson 
- Camilla Andersson
- Gretel Gradén 
- Johnny Björk

- As These Two Desolate Worlds Collide:
1. "Used" (5:23) this song is all over the place, it's beautiful and abrasive, it's complex and it's simple, and yet it works! (9.5/10)

2. "In the Flesh" (8:36) with tinges of classic rock, jazz, pop, and theatre, this one was not what I was expecting in the Prog Metal realm of possibilities. The song starts out surprisingly sedate and uniform but slowly, subtly grows in power and complexity--until the heart-wrenching vocal and piano/acoustic guitar and crashing dénouement final 90 seconds. I am speechless. (18.5/20)

3. "Ashes" (4:28) decent musical drama; perhaps a little too simple and straightforward. (8.5/10)

4. "Morning on Earth" (4:34) a very theatric vocal opening that never really lets up--remains an incredibly sensitive, emotional Broadway-like piece to the very end. Shocking! (9.5/10)

- It All Catches Up with You When You Slow Down:
5. "Ideoglossia" (8:29) quickly establishes a break-neck pace, yet the thickness of the sound never becomes impenetrable or oppressive; I can always easily distinguish every instrument, in fact, every string and note from every instrument. The second song that reminds me of the mixed-media territory that was blazed by bands like SAGA and LINKIN PARK. The flaw here, in mo opinion, is that feeling of disconnect I get between the verses and the chorus--as if two rather distinct and not-so-well matched songs have been glued together rather haphazardly. There, however, some incredible moments, unmistakable power and emotion, and peak individual performances. (17.75/20)

6. "Her Voices" (7:56) Bonny Tyler? At least until 1:45; then we get a LINKIN PARK-like bridge before returning to the plaintive vocal and style of the opening. Viking chorus at 3:00 tries to take us out of the pretty, almost convincing Daniel Gildenlöw to give up the pretty singing style, before leading us into a JC Superstar Judas/torture passage for a couple minutes. The weakest song on the album for me. (12.75/15)

7. "Dedication" (4:00) more tender, delicate singing and music? Again, I was not expecting so much schmaltz. It's pretty, and theatric, but less Prog Metal than I ever expected. Tensions rise at the two-minute mark, but, alas! it's just a tease as they remain unrealized. Still, a kind of cool, creative song.(8.75/10)

8. "King of Loss" (9:46) another song in which tensions are held in check despite little leaks here and there until the LED ZEPPELIN-like breakout at 3:30. Finally! I guess I'm getting used to the incredibly subtle razor's edge that this band and especially the vocals of Daniel Gildenlöw live on. (17.5/20)

- Far Beyond the Point of No Return:
9. "Reconciliation" (4:24) another collage of SAGA-like mood swings and JC Superstar themes and motifs. (8.5/10)

10. "Song for the Innocent" (3:02) for 90 seconds, this is pretty like GENESIS' "Afterglow," but then a "Comfortably Numb"-like breakout and guitar solo happens. Powerful but seriously too close to "the original." (8.75/10)

11. "Falling" (1:50) a bluesy ROY BUCHANAN-like guitar solo over synth washes. (4.25/5)

12. "The Perfect Element" (10:09) nice opening to bring us in with a promise of something more "normal." As the music builds, a story as if from a murder crime scene is told beneath, and then it breaks into full exposition around the two-minute mark. Cool, gorgeous, powerful motif in the fourth minute "chorus." This is then followed by a kind of return/refrain of musical themes from the album's opening song. Heavy bass and Mellotron work well in the next section, but then at 4:35 everything drops away for some guitar arpeggi, strings, and choral "ahh's" while multiple voices singing in and around plead their cases with varying degrees of emotion Around 6:20 we reach peak power but then, just as quickly, everything falls away and we run along at an even pace for a stretch before the ninth minute's beautiful choral vocals above the driving music. At 9:25 guitars and keys disappear leaving only the drums and effects to finish. Good song, not great, but typical of the the dramatic emotionality of the whole album. (17.5/20)

Total Time 72:37

I'll say one thing for this album: it comes at you hard, with an authenticity and identity that is unlike others of the Prog Metal sub-genre; there is innovation, there is texture, there is drama, there is abrasive and beautiful--often paired together--and there is almost constant surprise. The fact that there is so much theatre and so many highly emotional motifs--and so few Devy Townsend-like "walls of sound" power chord passages from the bass and guitars--is still shocking to me.

88.59 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music regardless of whatever sub-genre it may fall into; definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.    



Also Highly Recommended:



SYMPHONY X V - The New Mythology Suite (2000)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Russell Allen / vocals
- Michael Romeo / acoustic & electric guitars, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements, co-producer
- Michael Pinnella / keyboards, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements
- Michael LePond / bass
- Jason Rullo / drums, percussion

1. "Prelude" (1:07) bombastic operatic choral opening. (4.5/5)

2. "Evolution (The Grand Design)" (5:21) full speed guitar and bass play over steady drums with synth and organ interplay woven into the mix--as if separate or below the guitar-dominant metal music. Vocals vary from solo to group conveyance systems, always mixed within the sound instead of forward or up front. The keyboard play is as impressive as the other instruments. The performances are impressive; the sound mix is nowhere near what I'd like to hear. (8.75/10)
 
3. "Fallen" (5:51) interesting but nothing really new here. (8.5/10)

4. "Transcendence (segue)" (0:38) (4.5/5)

5. "Communion and the Oracle" (7:45) nice instrumental electric piano and guitar weave (with the later addition of synth strings) to open before turning into a KANSAS "Wayward Son"-like song--but it works. (13.5/15)

6. "Bird-Serpent War / Cataclysm" (4:02) slow train chugging start before establishing a synth wash-carpeted metal complexity within which Russell Allen sings. Great guitar riffing. The full-choral chorus reminds me of a theme from AYREON's "Isis and Osiris." Cool guitar soloing in the third minute followed by Moog-y synth solo. The creepy/effective church organ really comes to the fore in the final minute. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

7. "On the Breath of Poseidon (segue)" (3:02) organ and synth strings and synth horns give the opening of this one a Star Wars kind of cinematic feel. Just after the 1:00 mark, we jump full throttle into prog races before bottoming out into a more sedate and melodic finish. (4.25/5)

8. "Egypt" (7:04) classic anthemic 1980s power metal of the highest caliber. A little bit of Middle Eastern themage in the fourth minute with a very cool, almost laid-back soundscape for the solists to do their magic over in the fifth and sixth minutes. A top three song for me. (14/15)

9. "Death of Balance / Lacrymosa" (3:42) top notch exciting instrumental for the first half before turninginto a BRIAN MAY/QUEEN-like version of Mozart's Requiem's "Lacrymosa." (9.5/10)

10. "Absence of Light" (4:59) full-on 80s power metal. (8/10)

11. "Fool's Paradise" (5:48) more full-on 80s power metal. Great execution but just a revamping of all old themes and styles--even the fun harpsichord solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)

12. "Rediscovery (segue)" (1:25) synth soling over guitar arpeggi and synth washes. (4.25/5)

13. "Rediscovery (Part II) - The New Mythology" (12:01) djenty guitar riffing but this one proceeds so much more conservatively--as if it really is meant to be an overture/finale with full summation on display. Classic 80s metal vocals of the highest quality. Great keyboard use: Hammond alternating with synth banked strings and then the soloing. Great finisher for the album. (22.25/25)

Total Time 62:46

Though their sound comes out of the 1980s power metal scene, the band has done an admirable job modernizing those sounds and chops. The music is impressively complex--especially the vocal arrangements--though lead singer Russell Allen sounds way too much like 80s metal icon . Where the album is lacking, in my opinion, is in the sound engineering professional mixology department. 

88.52 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you've got some affinity for metal and those 1980s sounds. 




KARNIVOOL Sound Awake (2009)

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.




PINKROOM Psychosolstice (2009)

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. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mariusz Boniecki / vocals, guitars, keyboards, sampler
- Marcin Kledzik / drums, percussion
With:
- Kacper Ostrowski / bass 
- Mikolaj Zielinski / second vocals (1)
- Anna Szczygiel / cello (7,9)
- Maciej Feddek / guitar noise (9)

1. "Path Of Dying Truth" (7:20) STEVEN WILSON-cum-KING CRIMSON-ish (13.5/15)
2. "Buried Hopes" (3:54) PT 101. (8/10)
3. "Dispersion" (5:24) PT + TOOL 101. (8/10)
4. "Quietus" (5:30) TOOL-, FEN- and PORCUPINE TREE-like (8.5/10)
5. "2am" (6:26) borderline smooth late-night jazz instrumental. (8.25/10)
6. "Curse" (7:42) again, pseudo PORCUPINE TREE and TOOL come to mind while listening to this one. It's good, just not very fresh or ground-breaking. (12.5/15)
7. "Moodroom v.2" (4:37) My favorite song on the album. An exercise in polyrhythms, I love the 'addition' of the trumpet, vocal samples, and cello to this otherwise KC "Discipline" clone. (10/10)  
8. "Stonegarden" (6:46) nice TINYFISH-like song diminished a bit by the horrid keyboard "flute" sound in the first half. (12.25/15) 120 - 13
9. "Days Which Should Not Be" (6:25) heavy and more psychedelic than the others, the music on this one stands out but, unfortunately, it contains one of the weaker lead vocals (due to the raw, open, and vulnerable accent to the Simon Godfrey-like singer's English). Love the cello in the final two minutes. (8.25/10)
10. "Recognized" (2:40) gentle industrial sounds supporting CURE-like guitars and singing. Nice way to finish. (4.5/5)

Total Time: 56:44

My favorites, of course, are the songs with more delicate, spacious and melodic parts like "Path of the Dying Truth," "Quietus," "Stonegarden," and "Recognized." 

87.29 on the Fishscales = B/four stars of, dare I say it, "excellent" heavy prog.(!)




EPICA Design Your Universe (2009)

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.




CYNIC Traced in Air (2008)

The follow-up (14 years later!) to the ground-breaking, ear-defying 1994 classic, Focus, shows a mellower though technically and sonically still-amazing group of more-melodic metal extremists. 
Beginning with the opener, Nunc Fluens" (2:57) (9/10) the band makes it clear that it has pregressed but that it is still heavy metal. 2. The Space for This" (5:47) (8/10) starts off so mellowly that I thought it was a pop song that my daughter likes to dance to (an Adele song, I believe). But, by 1:30 it has kicked into Cynic-drive--even including a few growls. Still there is this kind of melodic, less-edgy feel to their new album. Fully half of the eight songs here begin and carry throughout a softer side. 

Favorite pieces: "King of Those Who Know" (6:09) (9/10) and the albums two "Nunc" bookends. Except for "Adam's Murmur" (6/10), the rest are all solid 7 or 8s.





ORPHANED LAND Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven (2004)

An Israeli heavy rock, almost metal, sometimes extreme tech/doom metal (due to the presence of growl vocals), Orphaned Land have produced a powerful album that tells a Biblical story (familiar to most of us as "Noah and the Ark"). Musically, this is a masterpiece of matching music to the various chapters of the story. The mixed vocals (growls, English, Israeli [?], choral) approach, however, sometimes fails to match the mood of the scene so well as the music. The second half of the album is by far the most engaging, moving, and masterful. Definitely my favorite Orphaned Land album.

Album highlights:  the choir-assisted "Building the Ark" (5:02) (10/10); the acoustic guitar based instrumental "The Calm Before the Flood" (4:25) (8/10); the heavy "Mabool (The Flood) (6:59) (9/10), and; the gorgeous melodies of "The Storm Still Rages Inside" (9:20) (18/20).

80.0 on the Fish scales = four stars; an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.




NIGHTWISH Dark Passion Play (2007)

Though Nightwish music is always a bit too heavy metal for my tastes, I cannot help but admire their incredible musical constructs, the amazing talents of their lead singer(s), and the immense scope of their to involve orchestra. If you're okay with the heavier side of prog, I highly recommend all Nightwish albums. if you are a bit turned off by over-the-top theatric metal productions, at least give this one a chance. To me, this is much more enjoyable than Aryeon/Arjen Lucassen projects--more polished, cohesive and perhaps even ambitious, too. Or even try out the first and last songs, "The Poet and The Pendulum" (13:55) (27/30) and "Meadows in Heaven" (7:10) (13.5/15). Then judge. Beautiful arrangements, that's for sure.




EPICA 
The Divine Conspiracy (2007)

Another female fronted theatric metal band whose albums explore some seriously demanding compositional and performance territory, like NIGHTWISH. Both groups put out amazing productions in 2007. NIGHTWISH, to my ears, sound a bit more polished instrumentally and symphonically, but the vocal arrangements of The Divine Conspiracy may top Dark Passion Play. (The use of male voices--even growls--seem to fit, work well, within the context of the music and as a contrast to the amazing female vocals of "mezzo soprano" SIMONE SIMONS.) I do not like the keyboards used by Epica (despite the often wondeful 'orchestra' sound accomplished), and the in-your-face machine gun fire kick drum is a detractor, but everything else is wonderful.

Album highlights: the more sensitive, sedate, "Chasing the Dragon" (7:40) (13.5/15); the Arabian-tinged "Fools of Damnation: The Embrace that Smothers, Part IX" (8:42) (16.75/20), and: the epic title song, (13:57) (25/30).




GREEN CARNATION Light of Day, Day of Darkness (2001)

I come to this highly-regarded album due to my 2020 discovery of the band's Leaves of Yesteryear release (which I really enjoy). Why the band has such little output over its 20+ year history, I don't know, but I'm glad for what they have put out.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bjørn Harstad / lead guitar, EBow, slide effects
- Terje Vik Schei "Tchort" / acoustic & electric guitars, arranger, co-producing & mixing
- Endre Kirkesola / Hammond B3, synth, sitar, string & voice arrangements, co-producing & mixing
- Stein Roger Sordal / bass
- Anders Kobro / drums
With:
- Opera choir
- Childrens choir
- Synne Soprana / vocals
- Kjetil Nordhus / vocals
- Jan Kenneth T. / vocals
- Roger Rasmussen / screaming vocals
- Damien Aleksander / child's voice
- Arvid Thorsen / saxophone
- Bernt A Moen / string arrangements

1. "Light of Day, Day of Darkness" (60:06) A difficult song to review because it is not broken down into parts as many bands do (including commons-membership band In The Woods). I will have to say that there is very little in the first 24 minutes that wows me; it is all more simplistic and straightforward (and less engaging, less-charged) than I was expecting. The vocals and music are quite underwhelming. (My expectations come from my 2020 discovery of the band through their 2020 release, Leaves of Yesteryear). The instrumental section beginning in the 25th minute, however, is awesome; it's as if the band has finally clicked into full sync and full and enthusiastic engagement. Even the group vocals that follow are more spirited than anything that came before. Since the Bandcamp edition that I'm listening to won't let the album exist as one 60 minute song, has it split into two parts, I'd give the first half, (32:45) a score of (55/65)
The second half (27:20) opens with six minutes of minimalist Latin soundtrack mood music over which guest vocalist Synne Soprana vocalises Clare Torry style. Fellow metal band HYPNO5E used the same palette and style as these first thirteen minutes to great effect in their own 2018 masterpiece soundtrack Alba - Les ombres arrantes. At 13:11 a series of "church bells" signals a shift toward more thick metal-like walls of sound--as well as the first time we here this lead vocalist with his Greg Lake-like tone and presence. All instruments play in sync during the sixteenth and seventeenth minutes until some guitar effects and growlish-chorale vocals enter and take us deeper into the darkness. Processed lead vocal at the end of the eighteenth minute gives an eerie robot/machine-like effect. Then the sound palette suddenly shifts over the bass and drums to a Middle Eastern style wiht sitar, string synths, and operatic female vocalise. By the 20:00 mark, we have somehow seemlessly morphed back to metal (the appearance of the Hammond and slide guitar helps). Machine gun bass drum in the 22nd announces a kind of crescendo. A prolongedly slow start leads to a very entertaining and satisfying middle and sad, pull-on-your-heart-strings ending. I can't say this is great music but I like it; it's eminently listenable--and truly proggy. (50/55) 

Total Time 60:06

87.5 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




PAIN OF SALVATION Remedy Lane (2002)

PoS is back with another highly acclaimed release of theatric power prog.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Gildenlöw / guitars, lead vocals, co-producer
- Johan Hallgren / guitars, backing vocals
- Fredrik Hermansson / keyboards
- Kristoffer Gildenlöw / bass, backing vocals
- Johan Langell / drums, backing vocals

1. Of Two Beginnings" (2:24) gets one excited for that which could follow! (8.75/10) 
- Chapter 1
2. "Ending Theme" (4:59) great chords and melody possibilities in the opening. Things slow down and drop away for the singing of the first two verses. Very sensitive and delicate; I was not expecting this! At 2:15, with the busting out of the chorus, we finally get the full feeling I was expecting, but then the overly dramatic "film narration" within the music . Nice keyboard and guitar interplay in the fourth minute's instrumental section. When Daniel returns singing in his upper register, it's pretty powerful--and then the guitar is unleashed (al little) for the finish. Great potential but too much is held back, held in check. (8.75/10)
3. "Fandango (5:51) frenetic guitar play opens this one before keys and second guitar join. The sinister Joker-like vocal has a Ozzy, Anthony Keidis, or Michael Sadler quality and style to it. (8.75/10)
4. "A Trace Of Blood" (8:17) part Fish-era MARILLION, part RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, and part GUNS 'N' ROSES. (17.75/20)
5. "This Heart Of Mine (I Pledge)" (4:01) a tender love song that could almost have come from MINNIE RIPPERTON, BENNY MARDONES, or SEAL. Gorgeous and heart-felt! (9.5/10) 
- Chapter 2 
6. "Undertow" (4:47) Almost a Post Rock construct as it rises slowly, building to a crescendo. The highlight for me is the shift into fullness at 2:22 and again at 3:33. (9.5/10)
7. "Rope Ends" (7:02) syncopated staccato riffs of tightly coordinated guitar, bass, and bass drum are joined by keyboard washes and cymbal play before multi-voiced lead come in to sing. The white bread chorus is a bit of a let down. Weird piano-based jazzy psych-pop funk section begins at 3:50 in order to support soloing. Overall, I'm just not a fan. (12.25/15)
8. "Chain Sling" (3:58) using a kind of balalaika effect on the lead guitar riff that repeats ad infinitum in this song, Daniel sings a fast paced, almost-continuous vocal which, to a deaf-to-lyrics kind of guy like me, only serves to hammer home the boring tedium of the melodic loop. (8/10)
9. "Dryad Of The Woods" (4:56) more interesting finger-picked electric guitar work. (Why doesn't he just use a classical guitar?) He's no Jan Akkerman. After 90 seconds piano, bass, and drums join in. From there, this instrumental borders on New Age GOBI-like stuff. Such an incongruous song among the others (but, then, so were "Chain Sling" and "Fandango"). This leads me further from supporting any claim (or theory) that this is a concept album. (7.5/10) 
- Chapter 3 
10. "Remedy Lane" (2:15) synths & percussion that remind me of a combination of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" and Pink Floyd's Dragon Toms intro to "Time" run through a flange/chorus effects box to provide an interesting, if dated, futuristic soundscape. (4.25/5)
11. "Waking Every God" (5:19) Weird synth piano opening that is quickly joined by abrasive guitars and jazzy bass. Quite an odd and incongruous selection of instruments! Weak, almost vocals enter feeling as if the engineer and producer were unsure whether or not to include them in the song! (8.5/10) 
12. "Second Love" (4:21) finally: an acoustic guitar! Opening with an almost BON JOVI- or POISON-like ballad feel, there is some nice lead guitar play in the third minute over the piano, but, overall, this is just an 80s power ballad. (8.25/10)
13. "Beyond The Pale" (9:56) Probably the best/my favorite Pain of Salvation epic-length song I've ever heard. There are parts (at the beginning) that drag, and the vocal stylings once again sound very familiar, but there are just some great textures here and an overall flow and construct that is pretty awesome. (18.5/20)

Total time 68:06

The band might have a little more of a consistent vision of what it is they are trying to say on this album--both musically and ideologically--and the music feels a little smoother (and less creative) and the singing more staccato-rap-influenced (less creative) than their previous effort, The Perfect Element - Part 1. The music here reminds me more of bands like Fish-era MARILLION, ANGE, SAGA, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, and GUNS 'N' ROSES than their previous album and just feels less creative and innovative than Perfect Element. Also, the music of the song constructs are remarkably simple--which leads me to my final comment/question (which is the same as with my review of The Perfect Element): Is this really Prog Metal?

86.83 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition of prog metal-lite to any prog lover's music collection. 



Worth Hearing:




OCEANSIZE Frames (2007)

Many reviewers rate this as Oceansize's (so far) masterpiece. I have to disagree. This album shows a much more abrasive, less melodic, more uniform sounding Post Grunge group. Both of the previous albums are much more melodic, experimental, diverse, and engaging. With Frames, I think the group is becoming more self-defined and self-indulgent and less concerned with listener popularity or appreciation. This is even more apparent with the follow up, Self-Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. To me, their masterpiece was by far and away Everyone into Position.

Album highlights:  the BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE "E=MC2" sound-alike, "Trail of Fire" (8:07) (13.5/15); the straightforward Post Rock formatted, "Only Twin" (7:22) (13.5/15), and; the only odd/unusual song on the album (for it's Asian theme/doves singing intro) "Voorheis" (11:11) (16/20).




PORCUPINE TREE 
In Absentia (2002)

What does it mean when PT gets heavier as it ages? The former master of PINK FLOYD imitation and prog revivalist has now decided to try to carve his own sound. With drummer extraordinaire Gavin Harrison, and seasoned keyboard master, Richard Barbieri, he has a great foundation to build upon. While I appreciate Steven's efforts and creative drive, most of the songs and dynamics on this album do more to bore or alienate me. I find myself only going back to three songs: "Trains" (10/10), "Blackest Eyes" (10/10), and ".3" (9/10). 'nuff said.




FATES WARNING Disconnected (2000)

Heavy prog, almost on the metal and/or 1980s "classic rock"vein. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ray Alder / vocals
- Jim Matheos / guitars, additional keyboards, sequencing, Fx
- Mark Zonder / drums
With:
- Kevin Moore / keyboards
- Steve Tushar / additional keyboards, sequencing, Fx
- Joey Vera / bass
- Laurie Matheos / voices
- Amy Motta / voices
- Bernie Altman / voices
- George Hideous (?) / voices
- Fidel Horrendous (?) / voices
- Arthur Letsgoberg (?) / voices

1. "Disconnected (Part 1)" (1:16) ominous, portentous opening. (4.25/5)

2. "One" (4:23) the opening sounds like 1970s/80s metal--Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Blue Öyster Cult. When the vocals enter it becomes even more SABBATH-like. Solid performances but very little ground-breaking in the sound or music structures. (8/10)

3. "So" (8:07) cool Blade Runner-like opening turns LOVERBOY-like at 1:10. At 1:37 things stop for vocal entry. Now the song gets interesting--especially with the excellent chorus. Where it feels deficient is in the choice for pacing: it's just a little too slow. (I know: he's tired.) (13/15)

4. "Pieces Of Me" (4:24) A little more energy in this one but, again, there really is nothing new or refreshing here besides a little sonic play with the guitar in the quiet of the third minute. (8/10) 

5. "Something From Nothing" (10:58) fairly simple and straightforward--nicely melodic--but hits all the right buttons to be awesome. (17.75/20)

6. "Still Remains" (16:11) firing on all cylinders, this one rocks like a RUSH classic. (27/30)

7. "Disconnected" (Part 2) (6:07) finishes like an end, bookending the album in a perfect way. Classic Kevin Moore keys beneath the recorded voice passage in the second and third minutes. Great subtle transition in the fourth minute with some techno-support. I have to admit that, with this length,  I was rather surprised that there are no vocals. But, still, it's great. (9/10)


Total Time: 51:26

The album has nice clean sound production and enough space to hear everything--which is nice, but I'm not a big fan of the lead vocals--Ray Alder's competent and confident but there's really nothing special here. The highlights for me are the two epics: the spacious, atmospheric "Something from Nothing" and the more melodic though more neo-oriented, "Still Remains," on which I can really hear the Kevin Moore contributions.

87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




RETROSPECTIVE Spectrum of the Green Morning (2007)

Finally! An album whose absence from the PA radar is shocking to me! "Between RIVERSIDE and PEARL JAM" is so accurate! Try the free downloads, "Regret and Frightened Child" (5:39) (9/10) and "Enemy World Vision" (7:40) (15/15) from www.last.fm.com and you will discover an absolutely amazing sound of this somehow not-yet-'discovered' band from Poland!

The 2007 EP shows signs of 'imaturity'--mostly in production and lack of variation in composition and sound--though song 6, "Have in Mind" (7/10), is different in its keyboard (a poor-man's electric piano) intro & foundation, and song 3, "Pink Elephant Missed" (6/10), is also different in that it has a more rock'n'roll feel to it--like PEARL JAM trying to do LED ZEPPELIN. Song 2, "Some Kind of Hope," (6/10) sounds a bit too much like "Regret..." and "Enemy..." though is flawed in its having less refinement in the recording mix. Song 4, "Waking Up in the ZOO," (8/10) is quite good with tight RIVERSIDE-like drums and bass and an interesting ALEX LIFESON/RUSH-sounding guitar cranking out the power chords. The vocalist is excellent--very much like a cross between Eddie Vedder and Mariuz Duda (which becomes more Eddie Vedder-like in their next album)--though the lyrics of several of these songs could use a little boost. This is definitely a band that needs/deserves to be heard. If you like RIVERSIDE, you will love this album! Highly recommended.

75.0 on the Fish scales = 3.5 stars rated up for the anthemic songs, "Regret and Frightened Child" and "Enemy World Vision".




SEVENTH WONDER Mercy Falls (2008)

A rather cheesy drama-play over and within some solid heavy prog that uses a lot of metal themes and sounds that sound as if they come from the 1980s, only it's sound engineering is quite superior to anything coming from that decade.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tommy Karevik / vocals
- Johan Liefvendahl / guitars
- Andreas Söderin / keyboards
- Andreas Blomqvist / bass
- Johnny Sandin / drums

1. "A New Beginning" (3:05) weird (flat/soap-opera-ish) voice acting to set up the story. (6.5/10)
 
2. "There And Back" (Overture) (3:02) solid heavy prog instrumental that does little to impress--other than sound engineering. (7.5/10)

3. "Welcome To Mercy Falls" (5:11) now we get to finally hear some of the band members' instrumental skills. Talented singer Tommy Karevik sounds like a cross between some iconic 80s lead singer like Loverboy's David Reno or Europe's Joey Tempest and AltrOck wunderkid Alessio Calandriello. Nice trade of solos between lead guitarist Johan Leifvendahl and keyboardist Andreas Blomqvist. (8.75/10)
 
4. "Unbreakable" (7:18) with its prominent keyboards, this one starts out sounding like a DREAM THEATER song, but then the music switches for the arrival of the vocals to a more 1980s familiar sound palette. Great vocalist. A little Kevin Moore feel in those keys. Nice little bass solo over the piano in the fifth minute but so out of place! (13/15)
 
5. "Tears For A Father" (1:58) soft ballad-like interlude. Emotional vocal performance. (4.25/5)

6. "A Day Away" (3:43) power metal music with strong classical piano presence. Could be part of a Broadway production. Don't like the fear-based advice/message: "Stay away from the playground." Nice performances but it's all been done before. (8/10)

7. "Tears For A Son" (1:43) another brief piano-based ballad to pair with #5. The vocal is a little more That Joe Payne-like in its theatric histrionics. (4.25/5)

8. "Paradise" (5:44) strong power vocal over theatric power metal (again with heavy classical piano runs throughout). Lacking a bit in cohesion and melody. Nice guitar solo in the second half. (7.75/10)

9. "Fall In Line" (6:09) synth washes and keening lead guitar solo open this one before it jumps into the race. Standard metal leads continue until switch to vocal entrance when it becomes more interesting. Nice variations in pacing and spacing. Chorus is completely clichéd. One of the more interesting songs, musically, on the album--but the 1980s-familiar vocal lets disappoints. (8.5/10)

10. "Break The Silence" (9:29) opens as metal ballad. A pleasant song with a kind of cool story arc with music that is well matched. Nice lead guitar, bass, and bass drum timing in the fifth minute soli, some very nice hooks and unexpected turns in there, too (including another awesome bass solo). One of my top three faves. (18/20)
 
11. "Hide And Seek" (7:46) a very nicely constructed and shaped song over which Tommy and chorus(!) sing in lower registers. It even has a decent chorus! (13/15)

12. "Destiny Calls" (6:17) one of the more complex song constructs on the album, it starts off quite impressively with the presentation of three or four unique motifs during the two minutes of instrumentalism before the vocals enter. Even when the vocals join in, the song remains excitingly disjointed as they continue to use the earlier-established motifs with instrumental variations. (8.75/10)

13. "One Last Goodbye" (4:21) acoustic guitars open this one, one strumming, one picking, before Tommy joins in with some harmony-support from an uncredited female vocalist. Nice song, another great emotional performance by Tommy Karevik. Another top three song for me. (8.75/10)
 
14. "Back In Time" (1:14) cool "dream"sequence flashback/review--until the "big reveal": Oops!!! (4.5/5)

15. "The Black Parade" (6:57) opens like a death metal song before layers of keys take the edge off.The lyrics seem to want to offer us life advice: live your life to the fullest each and every day. Lots of cliché platitudes. Too bad. Solid musically, though that ASIA-like chorus takes one back. (13/15)

Total Time 73:57

83.4375 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; nothing so very new or unique here but Mercy Falls is a very nice power prog concept album to add to your collection. Talented musicians tackling an interesting storyline with competence. Great vocal talent in Tommy Karevik.




DEVIN TOWNSEND 
Terria (2001)

Unfortunately, three GREAT songs ("Tiny Tears" [19/20], "Nobody's Here" [14/15] and "Earth Day" [18/20]) does not a masterpiece make. The rest is music that I don't care if I ever hear again. Yet Devin sure does have a following out there. Other than the hilariously entertaining Ziltoid the Omniscient, I don't get it. His over-the-top HEAVY guitar sound never changes (is he using the same chord throughout?) and it's hard to figure out if he ever takes his music or lyrics seriously or is it all just meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Does he really want us to recycle or is he just melodramatizing the environmental cry? Does he really like being alone or is he just being facetious?

Is this album really "essential"? I'm not even sure it's "an excellent addition." It may be a good album--or perhaps its just "for collectors only"? 2.5 stars for me. Recommended only for the above three songs.



As-Yet Unreviewed:








ZERO HOUR The Towers of Avarice (2001)


Line-up / Musicians:
- Erik Rosvold / vocals, keyboards
- Jasun Tipton / guitar, keyboards
- Troy Tipton / bass 
- Mike Guy / drums

1. "The towers of avarice" (7:52) (/15)
2. "The subterranean (4:11) (/10)
3. "Stratagem (8:06) (/15)
4. "Reflections (3:56) (/10)
5. "Demise and vestige (15:47) (/30) 
6. "The ghosts of dawn (5:30) (/10)

Total Time: 45:22

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




DISILLUSION Back to Times of Splendor 
(2004)



Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Schmidt "Vurtox" / vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, orchestral arrangements
- Rajk Barthel / guitars
- Jens Maluschka / drums
With:
- Thomas Bremer / piano (1)
- Stefan Launicke / piano (4), strings (6)
- Matthias Schifter / fretless bass (1,5)
- Alex Tscholakov / drum loops & percussion (3)
- Denise Schneider / vocals (2,6)

1. "And The Mirror Cracked (8:28) 
2. "Fall (4:54) 
3. "Alone I stand In Fires (6:53) 
4. "Back To Times Of Splendor (14:39) 
5. "A Day By The Lake (4:54) 
6. "The Sleep Of Restless Hours (17:02) 

Total Time: 56:50






REDEMPTION The Fullness of Time (2005)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ray Alder / vocals
- Nick van Dyk / lead & rhythm guitars, keyboards
- Bernie Versailles / lead guitar
- James Sherwood / bass
- Chris Quirarte / drums

1. "Threads (5:43)
2. "Parker's Eyes (6:15)
3. "Scarred (7:56)
4. "Sapphire (15:55)
- The Fullness of Time Suite:
5. The Fullness of Time I: Rage (5:01)
6. The Fullness of Time II: Despair (3:20)
7. The Fullness of Time III: Release (5:16)
8. The Fullness of Time IV: Transcendence (7:59)

Total Time: 57:25




CULT OF LUNA Somewhere Along the Highway (2006)

From Sweden, Post Rock crossing over into metal/Death metal. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Klas Rydberg / vocals
- Johannes Persson / guitar, vocals
- Erik Olofsson / guitar
- Fredrik Kihlberg / guitar, vocals
- Anders Teglund / keyboards, electronics
- Andreas Johansson / bass
- Thomas Hedlund / drums, percussion
- Magnus Lindberg / drums, mixing
With:
- Martin Gustafson / backing vocals (1)
- David Sundqvist / intro loop (6), programmed drums (7)

1. "Marching To The Heartbeats" (3:17) taps for the Post Rock world (8.5/10)
2. "Finland" (10:50) a great Post Rock song. (17.75/20)
3. "Back To Chapel Town" (7:13) (/15) 
4. "And With Her Came The Birds" (6:03) (/10)
5. "Thirtyfour" (10:03) (/20)
6. "Dim" (11:50) (/25)
7. "Dark City, Dead Man" (15:47) (/30)

Total Time: 65:03




ANGRA Temple of Shadows (2004)


Line-up / Musicians:
- Eduardo Falaschi / vocals, acoustic guitar (5)
- Rafael Bittencourt / guitar, backing vocals & vocal arrangements, string arranger & conductor (6,8)
- Kiko Loureiro / guitar, mandolin, piano & percussion (9), arrangements
- Felipe Andreoli / bass, backing vocals (2,9) 
- Aquiles Priester / drums, percussion
With:
- Michael Rodenberg / keyboards
- Sílvia Goes / piano (10)
- Yaniel Matos / cello
- Douglas Las Casas / percussion
- Sabine Edelsbacher / vocals (2,8)
- Kai Hansen / vocals (6)
- Hansi Kürsch / vocals (9)
- Milton Nascimento / vocals (12)
- Dennis Ward / backing vocals (3,4,9), producer & mixing
- Tito Falaschi / backing vocals (2,9) 
- Zeca Loureiro / backing vocals (2,9) 
- Rita Maria / backing vocals (2,9)

1. Deus Le Volt! (0:52)
2. Spread Your Fire (4:25)
3. Angels And Demons (4:11)
4. Waiting Silence (4:55)
5. Wishing Well (4:00)
6. The Temple Of Hate (5:13)
7. The Shadow Hunter (8:04)
8. No Pain For The Dead (5:05)
9. Winds Of Destination (6:56)
10. Sprouts Of Time (5:09)
11. Morning Star (7:39)
12. Late Redemption (4:55)
13. Gate XIII (5:04)

Total Time: 66:28




PAIN OF SALVATION Be (2004)


Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Gildenlöw / vocals (lead, choirs, spken, harmony), electric & acoustic guitars, mandola, Chinese archo, keyboards, percussions, samplers, programming, producer
- Johan Hallgren / electric & acoustic guitars, congas, harmony vocals
- Fredrik Hermansson / grand piano, harpsichord, keyboards, percussion
- Kristoffer Gildenlöw / bass & fretless bass, double bass, congas, harmony vocals
- Johan Langell / drums, djembe, cowbell, backing vocals
With:
- Mats Stenlund - (Klosters kirka) church organ
- Cecilia Ringkvist - vocals (7)
- Donald Morgan, Donald K. Morgan, Alex R. Morgan, Kim Howatt, Jim Howatt, Jackie Crotinger, Ross Crotinger, Tom Kleich, Blair Wilson, Gaby Howatt, Molly Fahey / voices (narration)

The Orchestra of Eternity:
- Mihai Cucu / 1st violin
- Camilla Arvidsson / 2nd violin
- Kristina Ekman / viola
- Magnus Lanning / cello
- Åsa Karlberg / flute
- Anette Kumlin / oboe
- Nils-Åke Pettersson / clarinet
- Dries van den Poel / bass clarinet
- Sven-Olof Juvas / tuba

- Prologue :
1. Animae Partus ("I am") (1:48)
- I. Animae Partus (All in the Image of) :
2. Deus Nova (Fabricatio) (3:18)
3. Imago (Homines Partus) (5:11)
4. Pluvius Aestivus (Of Summer Rain [Homines Fabula Initium]) (5:00)
- II. Machinassiah (Of Gods & Slaves) :
5. Lilium Cruentus (Deus Nova) (On the Loss of Innocence) (5:28)
6. Nauticus (drifting) (4:58)
7. Dea Pecuniae (10:10)
- a) Mr. Money
- b) Permanere
- c) I Raise My Glass
- III. Machinageddon (Nemo Idoneus Aderat Qui Responderet) :
8. Vocari Dei (Sordes Aetas - Mess Age) (3:50)
9. Diffidentia (Breaching the Core) (Exitus - Drifting II) (7:37)
10. Nihil Morari (Homines Fabula Finis) (6:22)
- IV. Machinauticus (Of the Ones With no Hope) :
11. Latericius Valete (2:28)
12. Omni (Permanere?) (2:37)
13. Iter Impius (Martigena, Son of Mars) (Obitus Diutinus) (6:21)
14. Martius/Nauticus II (6:41)
- V. Deus Nova Mobile (...and a God is Born) :
15. Animae Partus II (4:09) 

Total Time: 75:58

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




SHADOW GALLERY Room V (2005)



Line-up / Musicians:
- Mike Baker / lead vocals
- Brendt Allmann / acoustic & electric guitars, bass, vocals
- Gary Wehrkamp / guitar, keyboards, bass, vocals, producer
- Carl Cadden-James / bass, flute, vocals
- Joe Nevolo / drums, percussion
With:
- Laura Jaeger / lead vocals (2,3)
- Libby Molnar / vocals-part of "Alaska" (9) 
- Jim Roberti / vocals (bonus 5)
- Arjen Lucassen / guitar solo (8, bonus 5), vocals (bonus 5)
- Joe Stone / 1st guitar solo (11)
- Mark Zonder / drums (bonus 5)

- ACT III -
1. Manhunt (2:07)
2. Comfort Me (6:49) 
3. The Andromeda Strain (6:44) 
4. Vow (8:25) 
5. Birth of a Daughter (2:38) 
6. Death of a Mother (2:13) 
7. Lamentia (1:02) 
- ACT IV - 
8. Seven Years (3:35)
9. Dark (1:01) 
10. Torn (8:21) 
11. The Archer of Ben Salem (7:26) 
12. Encrypted (7:59) 
13. Room V (7:42) 
14. Rain (8:59) 

Total Time: 75:01




GOJIRA The Way of All Flesh (2008)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Joseph Duplantier / vocals, guitar, producer
- Christian Andreu / guitar
- Jean-Michel Labadie / bass
- Mario Duplantier / drums
With:
- Randy Blythe / vocals (7)

1. Oroborus (5:21)
2. Toxic Garbage Island (4:06)
3. A Sight to Behold (5:09)
4. Yama's Messengers (4:03)
5. The Silver Cord (2:31)
6. All the Tears (3:41)
7. Adoration for None (6:19)
8. The Art of Dying (9:54)
9. Esoteric Surgery (5:44)
10. Vacuity (4:51)
11. Wolf Down the Earth (6:25)
12. The Way of All Flesh (17:03)

Total time 75:07



AYREON The Human Equation (2004)

Another prog concept album about some dude in a hospital in a coma. Arjen's usual polished and quality sound and huge lineup of mega talented support cast. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Arjen Lucassen / lap steel, electric & acoustic guitars, bass, mandolin, analogue synths, Hammond, keyboards, producing & mixing
- Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) / Hammond solo (16)
- Oliver Wakeman (Nolan & Wakeman) / synth solo (17)
- Martin Orford (IQ, Jadis) / synth solo (15)
- Joost van den Broek / synthesizer (2), spinet (13)
- John McManus / low-flute (13,16,18), tin-whistle (18)
- Jeroen Goossens / flute (3,5,9,14,18), alto flute (2), bass flute (5,14), panpipes (6), descant & treble recorders (13), didgeridoo (16), bassoon (18)
- Robert Baba / violin
- Marieke van der Heyden / cello
- Ed Warby / drums, percussion
VOCALS (and characters):
- Devon Graves (Dead Soul Tribe) as 'Agony'
- Devin Townsend (SYL) as 'Rage'
- Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) as 'Reason'
- Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) as 'Fear'
- Magnus Ekwall (The Quill) as 'Pride'
- Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) as 'Love'
- Irene Jansen (Karma) as 'Passion'
- James LaBrie (Dream Theater) as 'Me'
- Marcela Bovio (Elfonia) as 'Wife'
- Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery) as 'Father'
- Arjen Lucassen as 'Best Friend'
- Peter Daltrey as 'Forever'
- Yvette Boertje as 'The Hospital voice'
- Meri Pitkanen as 'The Sexy Cough'

CD 1 (50:43)
1. "Day One: Vigil" (1:33) (4/5)
2. "Day Two: Isolation" (8:42) a theatric first half setting up the characters before PINK FLOYD music sets in for the instrumental second half. (17/20)
3. "Day Three: Pain" (4:58) using a theme borrowed from JC Superstar, as Devon Graves and James LaBrie describe pain and suffering. Then Devy joins in. (Wow!) (8.25/10)
4. "Day Four: Mystery" (5:37) using a more 1960s sound palette like a psychedelic song, it eventually amps up with prominent Hammond organ but continues to use 1960s-like vocal arrangements and sound until the finish when it starts to sound more 1980s power pop. (8.25/10)
5. "Day Five: Voices" (7:09) STYX-like opening with acoustic guitar strumming and effects before violins and flute join in. JON BON JOVI-like performance by lead vocalist #1. Lead vocalists #2 & 3 smoothing thinks out but then deep voice of vocalist #4 and female choral vocalists lead into a "Time"-like section before big lead guitar explosion. The first interesting song for me, though still nothing great or extraordinary. (13/15)
6. "Day Six: Childhood" (5:05) trip-hop "Eleanor Rigby" with multiple vocalists popping in to make their contributions to this spacious, multiple-faced song. Halfway in, folk guitar strums, pan flutes and hammond bring us into a heavier DEEP PURPLE-like palette before Arjen's synth lead and lead guitar take up the melody lines and run with them. (8.5/10)
7. "Day Seven: Hope" (2:47) organ play and strumming acoustic guitars start up the band on this chunky-bass-heavy song with DONOVAN-like vocals. (4.25/5)
8. "Day Eight: School" (4:22) slow strumming acoustic guitar opens this one before lead singers #1 and #2 take turns. Then we are suddenly thrust into the middle of an abrasively heavy chamber of anger. But then we are just as suddenly transported back into the bucolic scene of the opening and then back to pain and bombardment again before the song settles at the half-way mark into something more power-metal operatic. Great melody in the final chorus. (8/10)
9. "Day Nine: Playground" (2:15) children playground sounds with circus calliope until Celtic rock song kicks in with flute and violins in the lead. Trying so hard to establish a winning melody hook. (4/5)
10. "Day Ten: Memories" (3:57) hospital monitor sounds with swirling synth provide enough base for male and female vocalists to take turns continuing to tell the story. Then fast strumming acoustic guitars establish themselves as support for multi-voiced male- and female-chorale bank singing "conversations." We've heard this all before from Arjen. (8/10)
11. "Day Eleven: Love" (4:18) More theatric story-telling music--some of it bordering on cabaret--three motifs moving back and forth between each other. (8/10)

82.95 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; good stuff that might be more for fans of Arjen's style and stories.

CD 2 (50:36)
12. "Day Twelve: Trauma (8:59)
13. "Day Thirteen: Sign (4:47)
14. "Day Fourteen: Pride (4:42)
15. "Day Fifteen: Betrayal (5:24)
16. "Day Sixteen: Loser (4:46)
17. "Day Seventeen: Accident? (5:42)
18. "Day Eighteen: Realization (4:31)
19. "Day Nineteen: Disclosure (4:42)
20. "Day Twenty: Confrontation (7:03)

Total Time 101:19

Quite a theatric production. than