Thursday, August 18, 2022

Top Albums of the Year 1998: Masterpieces and More

Though Prog Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century, I have decided to go back and "fill in" the years upon which the 21st Century is built--and not just the "classic" years of 1967-76. Each year will be given its own page, containing reviews of the albums I determine are worthy of recognition (both positive and negative). As usual, these pages will be works in progress, to which I'll be adding information as it comes my way.


Five Star Masterpieces 
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34) 



None



The Minor Masterpieces
(Ratings of 93.33 to 90.0)



THINKING PLAGUE In Extremis 

Though Thinking Plague had been producing albums since 1984, 1998's In Extremis seems to be the album that catapulted the band to the front of the public eye. Verily, the production, composition, and virtuosic performances are at such an astoundingly high level throughout the album, there is little wonder that this album has gained such appreciation. Categorized as "Rock-in-Opposition/Avant Garde Prog," some argue that this group also could fit into the Eclectic sub-genre because of it's King Crimson roots and similarities or into the Experimental/Post Metal as it's style and sound is/was such a precurser of such Experimental/Post Metal bands as UNEXPECT, NEUROSIS, and even MAUDLIN OF THE WELL and DEVIN TOWNSEND. In Extremis is my favorite Thinking Plague album and the one I would play to try to impress someone with their best yet most accessible work.


Line-up / Musicians:
- Deborah Perry / vocals
- Mike Johnson / electric, acoustic, 12-string & lap steel guitars, synth, sequencing, co-producer
- Shane Hotle / piano & synth (4,5,7), Mellotron (7)
- Mark Harris / soprano, alto, tenor & baritone saxes, clarinet & bass clarinet, flute
- Dave Willey / bass (1,2,5,6), accordion
- Bob Drake / bass (3-5), violin (3,4), electric guitar & banjo (4), vocals (3), co-producer and mixing
- David Kerman / drums, percussion
With:
- Kim Marsh / piano & synthesizers (1,2)
- Scott Brazieal / piano & synthesizers (6)
- Sanjay Kumar / synthesizers (3)
- Rick Benjamin / trombone (4)
- Katie Cox / violins (5)
- Mike Fitzmaurice / double bass & erhu (6)
- Kirk Jameson / bass (7)
- Mark Fuller / drums (5)

1. "Dead Silence" (4:03) The first two and a half minutes of this song sound as if they've done a modernized cover of KATE BUSH's "Sat in Your Lap;" the final ninety seconds sound more like KING CRIMSON Discipline-era. (8/10)

2. "Behold the Man" (4:26) is rife with strings of scales runs performed by instrument after instrument while Deborah Perry sings melodically (and sometimes not so melodically) over and within. Awesomely conceived! Again the TONY LEVIN/King Crimson influences are obvious--as are those of PHILLIP GLASS. I really love listening to this song--and it does not grate against me as some of TP's more dissonant songs can. (10/10)

3. "This Weird Wind" (8:03) comes across as some kind of anthemic YES-monster for the first ninety seconds. Then a strange JOHN CALE-like lull and pounce section begins (awesome drums sound!) The keyboard work beginning at 2:20 is awesome--as is the acoustic guitar work that follows. A JON ANDERSON-like male voice presents in that same third minute. The ensuing two-minutes of music continues to build and morph like a condensed, abrasive STEVE HOWE/JON ANDERSON composition--even down to the heavily treated voices and psychedelic section in the sixth minute. 5:45 brings us back to the more straightforward YES style and sounds. Great final minute! Really an outstanding exercise on Yesorcism! YES would/should be proud! (15/15)

4. "Les études d'organism" (14:00) begins as if one had awakened suddenly on a ocean-going vessel during a heavy storm. Then the ensuing wobbly walk around below-decks, trying to keep balanced, while trying to pursue some answers: Is this just a dream or really a dream within a dream? At 2:25 the zoo animals have burst into the ship's hallways! 2:54 you find a lounge in which people are out of it. Back into the hallways, running around the perimeter of the ship--Carnival Lines, of course! 4:30 brings us to some higher functioning, for a moment, before the circus engulfs you again. 5:17 begins the organized entertainment: a bike-rider standing on his seat, doing waterless-water jokes from his hat while riding in a circle. The clowns are doing their best to attract you attention, as are the show girls. Horses riding around the circle with fast-stepping acrobats doing their jumps and flips to and from animal. At 7:50 arrives the elephant, lumbering, plodding, a bit unsteady on the sea-rolling ship, a very good natured, patient elephant, performing by rote all the while looking out into the audience for its saviour. Tensions mount as the elephant stands on its hind legs: immense above the crowd. At 10:25 is seems as if all of a sudden time begins to stand still; you become aware of someone running in from the stormy outside screaming "I'm here! Sophie, I'm here!" The disciplined flow of the circus collapses, the elephant turns and bolts out the door with the young man--sheering the doors from their hinges as it does--revealing the calm, sunny skies outside--your view from your portal window as you awaken from a long night's sleep. (27/30)

5. "Maelstrom" (3:35) begins quite malevolently, dark and heavy, until at 0:45 the vocal harmonizes with some positive chords--obviously there is hope. Return to a quieter, more controlled form of trepidation. The final minute is complete with the all-out struggles and inevitable resignation of the end. Interesting song. (9/10)

6. "The Aesthete" (4:39) or "the me song," sounds like a JANE SIBERRY masterpiece, such a tongue-in-cheek lyric. The steady, strong drums move us forward while the guitars, bass, accordian, and horns try to move us every which way but forward. But when the drums disappear, what then? We are left to float, left to our own devices, left alone. Me, alone. Not really such a scary prospect, if only our heart keeps beating. (9/10)

7. "Kingdom Come" (13:45) YES and KING CRIMSON are what come to mind when listening to this extended piece. A kind of "Gates of the Delirius Red Nightmare," if you will. A remarkable performance by all band members but especially vocalist Deborah Perry. (27/30)

Total Time: 52:31

A collection of uniquely conceived and unusually rendered songs--not one's typical pop or smooth jazz melodies. Avant garde. Out of this world! But stunningly engaging and starkly beautiful! An album I go back to over and over because of the new and unusual--and often excitingly disturbing and unnerving--emotions and imagery evoked herein. This is not abrasive or as are much of the experimental/post, technical or doom metal music I encounter. This is unsettling in a way that is, I believe, to provoke a growth response. If you really want to see music/rock/progressive rock 'progress' then this album is essential for you.

91.30 on the Fishcales = A-/five stars; while perhaps only a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music, this is a masterpiece of avant garde/RIO. 




DEATH The Sound of Perseverance

Line-up / Musicians:
- Chuck Schuldiner / vocals, guitar, co-producer
- Shannon Hamm / guitar
- Scott Clendenin / bass
- Richard Christy / drums

1. "Scavenger of Human Sorrow" (6:54) drums open this before guitars and bass carry the melody forward as Chuck screeches in his modernized Brian Johnson fashion. A tempo and mood shift at the three-minute mark opens up an instrumental passage in which guitars and kick drums run ramshod over the vinyl. Then we return to the THIN LIZZY twin-guitars for the next vocal section (especially the chorus). It's like three songs in one, but really three songs artificially sewn together. (13/15)

2. "Bite the Pain" (4:29) a slower, more bluesy guitar-centric lead in is abruptly changed by Chuck's screeches. Then, at 0:45 a tempo shift launches the team onto a controlled race on the autobahn. Guitar pyrotechnics flash in like lightning bolts but we're really concentrating on the two themes--that is, until the 2:20 mark when the lead guitarist is set free--and not rushed--to solo to his heart's content. Impressive! Weird that it never returns to the slowed down theme of the opening 0:45. (8.75/10)

3. "Spirit Crusher" (6:44) rolling bass and cymbal and bass drum play open this slow roller. Even when the guitars join in it keeps its pace, but then it takes a left at the fork in the road, cruising out of the town, thinking it's going to be able to unleash its speed--but, alas! a cop is following! Spirit crusher! Once he turns off the boys decided to drive cautiously for a bit before testing the open road. By the end of the third minute they've decided they can unleash it--but those country roads are a little trickier than expected--lots of twists and turns. And then the cop reappears! Busted! Still, too many songs spliced together. I'd like to see smoother, more "believable" transitions. (8.75/10)

4. "Story to Tell" (6:34) a song of many twists and turns--though always seemingly in a square--like searching for one's navel. A fan favorite, this must be driven by something in the lyrics cuz I'm not seeing it. (8.75/10)

5. "Flesh and the Power It Holds" (8:25) (/20)
6. "Voice of the Soul" (3:42) (/10)
7. "To Forgive Is to Suffer" (5:55) (/10)
8. "A Moment of Clarity" (7:22) (/15)
9. "Painkiller" (6:03) (/10)

Total Time 56:08

I can definitely see why many people think this is Chuck & Co.'s best album: he has definitely refined his band's tight skills and complicated his songs with three or more motifs per--each with their own specific highlights and praiseworthy parts. 

on the Fishscales = / stars; 



4.5 Star Near-Masterpieces 
(Ratings 89.99 to 87.50)




BRUFORD LEVIN UPPER EXTREMITIES Bruford Levin Upper Extremities

How Tony Levin has been able to maintain such enthusiasm, creativity, acitivity, vibrancy, and busy-ness for over 35 years is a true testament to this man's love for music. And he as much as any other modern musician has constantly, aggressively tested the boundaries of his instrument (the 'bass'). Though "B.L.U.E." feels very familiar--KING CRIMSON with some EARTHWORKS--there is a lot of masterful music here. A lot of older themes and sonic rhythms and textures are here explored further or differently. The contributions of David Torn and Chris Botti are wonderful, but it is Levin who continuously draws the listener in. Have you ever seen this man in concert? Even in King Crimson it was always him I was drawn back to watching--so astounded was I that so many sounds were coming from his instrument, so amazing were his personal contributions to the polyrhythms and polyphonics of that band. (Besides, I myself played Chapman Stick for a while.) "B.L.U.E" is an excellent album--perhaps not as highly emotional nor as melodic as some like, but, as for an exhibition of mastery and progressive exploration of musical possibilities, this is a good one. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bill Bruford / drums, percussion, and a little keyboards
- Tony Levin / basses, Stick
- Chris Botti / trumpet
- David Torn / guitars, loops

1. "Cerulean Sea" (7:03) iconic industrial pulse with stick rhythm guitar, squealing guitars and trumpet, and totally uncooperative drums for the first two and a half minutes. Then Bill "fakes" a steady rhythm as if to calm and reassure the listener that this is not chaos, not cacophony, not hell. But then, oops! Bill begins to do what only Bill does: he goes off script--goes off on his own path. It's infuriating yet so damn beautiful! I absolutely adore how Bruford sees rhythms and patterns beneath and within the musical legato. Definitely a top three song. Mesmerizing. (14/15)

2. "Interlude" (0:23)

3. "Original Sin" (4:55) Chris Botti seems to be conjuring up the spirit of The Master, Miles, while David Torn shreds and Bill and David keep lazy jazz time. QUITE a contrast from the previous song. Nothing special here except to show the range this album/these guys wish to express. (8.5/10)

4. "Etude Revisited" (4:57) and the jazz continues, this time with Bill doing a little more of what he does best: syncopate his time-keeping and Chris Botti doing some awesome melody-making as the lead instrument. (/10)
5. "A Palace of Pearls (On a Blade of Grass) (5:33) (/10)
6. "Interlude (0:19)
7. "Fin de Siecle (5:22) (/10)
8. "Drumbass (0:54)
9. "Cracking the Midnight Glass (6:06) (/10)
10. "Torn Drumbass (0:54)
11. "Thick With Thin Air (3:28) (/10)
12. "Cobalt Canyons" (3:53) another top three song and perhaps the proggiest on the album. (9/10)
13. "Interlude (0:27)
14. "Deeper Blue (4:12) (/10)
15. "Presidents Day (6:22) (/10)

Total Time: 52:47

I'm so glad we have this album, this testament to the genius of these two forces. (Not to belittle the creative juices of Chris Botti and David Torn--they are forces in and of themselves--but Tony and Bill always seem to get overshadowed by other members of the amazing bands they're in.)

on the Fishcales = / stars; 4 stars--excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.





ABRAXAS Centurie

I am here reviewing the original language version of this 1998 release--thus, with the vocals performed in the band's native Polish.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Adam Łassa / vocals
- Szymon Brzeziński / guitars
- Marcin Błaszczyk / keyboards (Ensoniq SQ 1+/MR Rack/ASR-10, Prophet-5, Korg X5D, Roland SC-55, Yamaha YFL 211SII), flute
- Rafał Ratajczak / basses
- Marcin Mak / drums, percussion
With:
- Magdalena Krawczak / vocals
- Maria Napiwodzka / oboe

1. "Spiritus Flat Ubi Vult" (3:27) vocal acrobatics similar to BILL NELSON (Be Bop Deluxe) or HANS HÖLZEL (Falco) with nearly quirky musical support. (Very similar to that of .) I like this. A LOT! Definitely a top three song for me. (9.33/10)

2. "Michel De Nostredame-Mistrz Z Salon" (6:47) theatric prog cabaret of the AFTER CRYING sort. Nice array of instruments. Impressive instrumental skills in the "race" section (sixth minute), but not a very cohesive song. (13/15)

3. "Velvet" (4:07) a variation on BLUE ÖYSTER CULT's "I Love the Night" music. Pretty. Sensitivity contrasted by pounded snare hits. (8.67/10)

4. "Excalibur" (7:44) I love the chamber feel to the first two minutes of this but it's a bit slow and plodding. Thank goodness for the ramped up second section. Nice bass play. The vocals, however, lack melody and feel pitchy. The presence of the oboe and the excellent flute play are my favorites. Then, about halfway through, the song settles into a quiet, pastoral passage with picked acoustic guitars and synth washes backing the delicately sung vocals. Excellent! The slow build beneath the flute is cool, as is the full attack in the final 90 seconds. Great "distant cathedral organ" solo to finish! (13.25/15)

5. "Kuznia" (1:49) perhaps a little active warmup/intro for the next song; perhaps simply a wild FALCO/LIZARD-like interlude to unwind with. (4.5/5)

6. "Czakramy" (10:25) opens with a gorgeous soundscape established by picked electric guitar chords, interesting synths, bass, and delicate vocal. About a minute in drums join in and chords of the gorgeous progression become more fully embellished while Adam sings in full rock voice. Electric guitar power chords join in for the first chorus. Back to the fully electrified but beautifully spacious 80s-sounding chord progression for the next verse and then another foray into the cheesy hairband chorus. Halfway through we stop and reset with some windy "outdoor" synth cacophony for about a minute before interesting drum pattern slowly emerges from the background  to lead the next section. This is great! So creative! Now Adam sings with a gruffer aggression before (sadly) abandoning it for a mini-chorus. Wild synth solo in the eighth minute! Use that portamento! Slide those notes! Topped off by a perfect ending! Another top three song. (18.25/20)

7. "Pokuszenie" (12:00) industrial metal sounds are arpeggiated over which woman is singing as if to herself until one minute in the full rock band joins in with some bombast before settling back to support Adam's reverbed vocal. It still feels as if the song is not fully formed. And then, four minutes in, we quiet down to a cave-like soundscape within which Adam whispers against stalactite drips until the 5:10 mark when guitars and IQ-like pulsing support rush in--the lead guitar ripping through a sabre-sharp solo--before settling back into a heavy, though plodding section. A sparse, computer-piano supported vocal section then follows, emptying out into a smooth passage with first one and then two guitars soloing together. Excellent! Melodic, emotional, and nicely extended. Interesting and unexpectedly unpredictable enhanced by the entertaining guitar soli over the final two or three minutes. (22.5/25)

8. "Nantalomba" (4:21) orchestral synths, organ, and cymbals open this one. Oboe and acoustic nylon string guitar join in giving it a gentle, pastoral feel. Tympani and arpeggiated keys with power chord guitars jump in at the 1:30 mark. Adam joins in after the two minute mark with chant-like vocals giving it a more ADIEMUS/CIRQUE DU SOLEIL feel to it. Feels like filler more than essential content. (8.5/10)

Total time 50:40


89.09 on the Fishcales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




THE GATHERING How to Measure a Planet?

A band that just kept getting better over the 1990s--especially as they learned to appreciate and serve the tremendous (unique?) talent of their lead singer, the great Anneke van Giersbergen.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Anneke van Giersbergen / vocals, guitar (4,12)
- René Rutten / guitar, Theremin (3,11), didgeridoo (10)
- Frank Boeijen / synthesizer, grand piano
- Hugo Prinsen Geerligs / bass
- Hans Rutten / drums
With:
- Attie Bauw / programming, percussion, co-arranger, production & mixing

Disc 1 (53:50)
1. "Frail (Might as Well Be Me)" (5:04) What a voice! What great atmosphere. (9/10)

2. "Great Ocean Road" (6:20) the heavier, if more straightforward side of The Gathering, Anneke's voice is buried a little in the mix, but the heavy instruments and great chord progressions keep the listener's attention well. (8.75/10)

3. "Rescue Me" (6:22) slow and spacious, Anneke's gorgeous voice has no trouble filling. Again the instruments when they build up begin to bury the vocals. There is nothing very special to this music until the crashing walls of sound and screaming synth solo take over at the halfway point. Here is an example of a fair song made much better by its instrumental passage. (8.67/10)

4. "My Electricity" (3:33) How can they keep settling for two chord simplicity? Yes, it works as a vehicle for such and extraordinary vocalist, but I think the average prog lover is hoping for a bit more. Excellent chorus section with Anneke's voice multiplied. Another stellar vocal. (8.75/10)

5. "Liberty Bell" (6:01) a sparse, spacious guitar-led opening starts out as a slow, plodding vehicle for Anneke's vocal acrobatics (with a rare BEATLES-esque treatment of her voice). The band kicks into a different gear at the 1:00 mark (for the chorus). Back down for the second verse, and then up again for the second chorus. (8.67/10)

6. "Red is a Slow Colour" (6:26) Great music, great lyric, great vocal, great variation, great bridges, great chorus, great solos, great use of instrumental passage--with awesome "orchestra" contributions--just an awesome song. Another top three song. (9.5/10)

7. "The Big Sleep" (5:01) one of the best Gathering songs of all-time and a classic Anneke song. (10/10)

8. "Marooned" (5:56) a standard first half with some nice effects playing out on the electrified instruments. Guitar and vibes take over at the halfway point--over which Anneke eventually continues singing. 'trons and drums rejoin and Anneke's voice gets multiplied. This is better. (8.67/10)

9. "Travel" (9:07) A song that is developed more fully than many of the others uses many more instrumental embellishments and contributions right from the start. (No wonder it was such a concert favorite.) Plus, Anneke leave's many spaces for the instruments to shine--and lots of time for them to develop their solos and textural contributions. A great song; one of my favorites from this album. Plus, at times Anneke really belts it out! (18/20)

Disc 2 (49:29)
10. "South American Ghost Ride" (4:25) very interesting musical opening section--this feels like real progressive rock music! Guitars and synths exploring several pathways while drums and bass hold a steady pace beneath. Anneke doesn't even sing until some vocalise at the end! (8.75/10)

11. "Illuminating" (5:41) rolling bass and interesting drum beat open this before synth wash chords join in. Anneke enters at 0:30 with long-syllabled words. Pretty with interesting soundscape that bursts into something heavier (and not quite as engaging) for the chorus. Multiple vocal tracks are woven together for the second verse--carrying forward into the second chorus. Grating, metallic guitar edges used to open the instrumental passage that follows before Anneke and synth sport vocalise melody lines leading into the third chorus. (8.75/10)

12. "Locked Away" (3:24) trying too hard; yielding nothing special. (8.25/10)

13. "Probably Built in the Fifties" (7:26) industrial soundscape within which Anneke's heavily treated voice is distorted and compressed. It's interesting but the repetitive drum pattern just gets old. The chugging guitars in the second half with Mellotron play are good--followed by a spacey patch in the fifth minute that I like. The final three minutes are quite good: chugging and building, exploring some distant goal before Anneke rejoins and the music fades away into the distance, leaving us watching the horizon. (13.5/15)

14. "How to Measure a Planet?" (28:33) (51/60) = 8.5

Total Time: 103:19

The flaw in the band's approach to song construction is devoting the first half of every song to very banal, simple two-chord constructs for Anneke to sing over before really unleashing the true genius of the band in the second half. 

88.33 on the Fishcales = B+/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection




MORTE MACABRE Symphonic Holocaust

A bit of a Scandanavian super group with remnants of Landberk (Fiske & Dimle) and Anekdoten (Berg & Nordins), the individuals here were drawn together by a shared love of dark musical soundtracks to old horror movies--which are honored with the band covering their choice of six songs from old "classic" horror film soundtracks. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Reine Fiske / guitars, violin, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes
- Nicklas Berg / Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, Theremin, sampler, guitar, bass
- Stefan Dimle / bass, Mellotron, Moog
- Peter Nordins / drums, percussion, Mellotron
With:
- Yessica Lindkvist / voice (4)
- Janne Hansson / waves Fx (7)

1. "Apoteosi del Mistero" (4:16) sounds like a practice/getting-to-know-each-other song for the quartet: an Anekdoten song to jam with. (TONS of Mellotron!) It is nice to hear Reine Fiske mixed into the Anekdoten sound--though he is being very conservative here. (8.25/10)

2. "Threats of Stark Reality" (2:59) the first of the album's two original compositions, a gathering of individual ideas rendered into a spacey, somewhat eerie cinematic cacophony. (4/5)

3. "Sequenza Ritmica e Tema" (7:02) this one sounds like a Landberk song that the band has chosen to jam over: All of the requisite subtle spaces are present though, being an instrumental, this is more interesting for noting where, when, and how each individual decides to contribute their solo ventures.The final two minutes are the most interesting with all individuals exploring interesting expressions before coming together for a cohesive finish. (13/15)

4. "Lullaby" (8:02) tense and temporal, the spacious music is familiar to us from both bands, but then vocalist Yessica Lindkvist enters to offer her soothing vocalise "la-la"s. I love how the 'trons follow her and the other keys play off her in a kind of French cinematic way. Definitely a top three song for me. I love Stefan Dimle's sparse, laid-back bass contributions. He has the "Hole" discipline! (13.5/15)

5. "Quiet Drops" (6:43) This must've been one of the guitarist's cover choices as the guitar play is so focused and sublime; t
here is a Roy Buchanan mastery to Reine Fiske's lead play. I don't know the film from which it was taken but it must've been sublime! My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

6. "Opening Theme" (2:50) this one sounds like an informal practice jam that happened to be the best recorded version. (4.25/5)

7. "The Photosession" (7:10) ocean shore sounds are soon joined by smooth guitar note picking. Pretty. Soon cymbal play, incidental background guitar notes, and bass join in--and then Fender Rhodes and other keyboard synths. Reine's dreamy incidental notes are such a perfect complement and fulfillment to the "organized" foundational structure delivered by the other three gentlemen. My other top three song. (14/15)

8. "Symphonic Holocaust" (17:51) the other original composition 
(30.5/35) = 87.14

Total Time: 57:17

Bonus track on 1998 LP release:
9. Suoni Dissonanti (3:21)

While I have memory of liking this album upon first hearing it a decade ago, upon diving into it on a deeper level for this review I am surprised at how I am now finding it.

88.64 on the Fishcales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of cinematic prog from an all-star collaboration that this music lover would love to see/hear again.






Other Excellent Albums
(Ratings of 87.50 to 85.0)



NIGHTWISH Oceanborn

The Finnish metal rockers suffer not a sophomore slump. As a matter of fact, this one is better than their debut from the year before. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tarja Turunen / vocals
- Emppu Vuorinen / guitars
- Tuomas Holopainen / piano, synthesizers
- Sami Vänskä / bass
- Jukka Nevalainen / drums, percussion
With:
- Esa Lehtinen / flute
- Plamen Dimov / violin
- Kaisli J. Kaivola / violin
- Markku Palola / viola
- Erkki Hirvikangas / cello
- Wilska / "Devilvoice" & "Pharaohvoice"

1. "Stargazers" (4:28) nice power metal with Tarja's operatic vocals over horrible drumming and drum sound. (8.25/10)
2. "Gethsemane" (5:22) same music as before with more keys and sparser drums. Some real Tarja highlights here. (8.75/10)
3. "Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean" (4:46) different, more machine gun drumming than previously, more theatric with deep voiced male opening before Tarja enters--like a conversation--or battle. Not good but not laughable. (8.5/10)
4. "Sacrament Of Wilderness" (4:12) 
actually prog-like--with some 1980s elements--until, that is, Tarja enters. Her vocal performance alone takes this one to another level. (9/10)
5. "Passion And The Opera" (4:50) back to full metal before becoming more like a 1980s metal song with operatic vocals over the top. The best instrumental passage on the album in the middle followed by Tarja's operatic vocalise. (8.5/10)
6. "Swanheart" (4:44) a pretty folk ballad with Tarja's heartfelt vocals--in multiplicity. Now this is praiseworthy! Quite like something from a modern Lloyd-Weber rock opera. Flawless. I could listen to music like this forever. (9.75/10)
7. "Moondance" (3:31) pretty electric piano--not unlike something John Tout would play to open a Renaissance song--quickly turns into a Russian mazurka dance at breakneck speed before reining in to bucolic piano and flute for the second minute. Tarja doesn't even join in--its an instrumental! (8.75/10)
8. "The Riddler" (5:15) feels like a variation on the previoius song's melody theme, more power chords present and, of course, Tarja's power voice. A pretty standard 90s power rock song were it not for the exceptional talents of Miss Turunen. (8.5/10)
9. "The Pharaoh Sails To Orion" (6:26) Another theatric power tale with growlish male vocals to offset the female and choral responders. Much better than the "Devil & the Deep Dark Ocean". (8.75/10)
10. "Walking In The Air" (4:04) the famous cinematic song from The Snowman. Not as good as the original or many remakes I've heard, it is pretty good. (8.5/10)
11. "Sleeping Sun" (5:30) (/10)

Total Time: 53:08


There are frequent reminders from the keyboards of the cheap computer keyboards available in the 1990s (à la Polish band COLLAGE). 

87.25 on the Fishcales = B/four stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially valuable for the record of the extraordinary talents of one Tarja Turunen.




AYREON Into The Electric Castle

AYREON is, of course, Arjen Anthony Lucasson flagship project (though it is one of many). Arjen's vision and perseverance for prog operas is legendary (and, one might say, prolific) and this one of his finest, if not his finest.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Arjen Lucassen / electric & acoustic guitars, mandolin, bass, Minimoog, Mellotron, keyboards, vocals, producing & mixing
- Jack Pisters / sitar
- Roland Bakker / Hammond organ
- Robby Valentine / piano, synth solo (CD1: 2a,3a; CD2: 4), Mellotron (CD2: 6a)
- Clive Nolan / synth solo (CD1: 3c)
- Rene Merkelbach / synth solo (CD1: 5; CD2: 7), harpsichord (CD2: 2)
- Tom Scherpenzeel / synth solo (CD2: 5c)
- Taco Kooistra / cello
- Ernö Olah / violin
- Thijs van Leer / flute (CD1: 3c,4; CD2: 2,3)
- Ed Warby / drums
VOCALS (and characters):
- Edwin Balogh (as Roman)
- Sharon den Adel (as Indian)
- Jay van Feggelen (as Barbarian)
- Fish (as Highlander)
- Anneke van Giersbergen (as Egyptian)
- Arjen A. Lucassen (as Hippie)
- Edward Reekers (as Futureman)
- Damian Wilson (as Knight)
- Robert Westerholt (as Death)
- George Oosthoek / (as Death)
- Peter Daltrey (as the Voice)

CD 1 (47:25)
1. "Welcome to the New Dimension" (3:05) (/10)
2. "Isis and Osiris" (11:11) one of the finest prog epics of the 1990s with amazing performances from all of the participating vocalists. (21/20):
- a) Let the Journey Begin
- b) The Hall of Isis and Osiris
- c) Strange Constellations
- d) Reprise
3. "Amazing Flight" (10:15) (/20) :
- a) Amazing Flight in Space
- b) Stardance
- c) Flying Colours
4. "Time Beyond Time (6:05)  (/10)
5. "The Decision Tree (We're Alive) (6:24) (/10)
6. "Tunnel of Light (4:05) (/10)
7. "Across the Rainbow Bridge (6:20)  (/10)

CD 2 (57:10)
1. "The Garden of Emotions" (9:40) (/20) :
- a) In the Garden of Emotions
- b) Voices in the Sky
- c) The Aggression Factor
2. "Valley of the Queens (2:25) (/5)
3. "The Castle Hall (5:49)  (/10)
4. "Tower of Hope (4:54)  (/10)
5. "Cosmic Fusion" (7:27) (/15):
- a) I Soar on the Breeze
- b) Death's Grunt
- c) The Passing of an Eagle
6. "The Mirror Maze" (6:34)   (/10):
- a) Inside the Mirror Maze
- b) Through the Mirror
7. "Evil Devolution (6:31)  (/10)
8. "The Two Gates (6:28)  (/10)
9. ""Forever" of the Stars" (2:02)  (/5)
10. "Another Time, Another Space" (5:20)  (/10)

Total Time: 104:35



on the Fishcales = / stars;




ANATHEMA Alternative 4

Once upon a time these guys were angsty/angry twentysomethings. And their raw, powerful music reflected this. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Vincent Cavanagh / vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards
- Daniel Cavanagh / guitars
- Duncan Patterson / bass, piano, keyboards
- Shaun Steels / drums
With:
- George Ricci / violin
- Andy Duncan / drum loops (3)

1. "Shroud of False" (1:37) badly recorded piano. (4/5)

2. "Fragile Dreams" (5:32) very repetitive CURE-like music. (8.5/10)

3. "Empty" (3:00) FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM-like with a powerful, impassioned vocal performance from Vince. (9/10)

4. "Lost Control" (5:50) more raw power and emotion. Another great lyric and vocal performance. (9.25/10)

5. "Re-Cnnncet" (3:52) interesting and well-executed tightrope walk between aggression and delicacy. (Perhaps songs/music like this provided the inspiration for Toby Driver and Maudlin of The Well.) (8.75/10)

6. "Inner Silence" (3:09) return of the poorly recorded piano sound with cheap-sounding synth strings in the background. Back down the volume of the guitar power chords and you have a song and palette more akin to the songs the band was producing in the 2010s. This one doesn't do much for me. (8.5/10)

7. "Alternative 4" (6:18) cool soundscape to open this one: distant, echo drums; rolling bass, distant floating synth notes. Vince's vocal starts out rather starkly; his voice does not lend itself well to narration-like approaches to singing. Not enough development; a failure for creating a truly creepy/eerie atmosphere. (8.25/10)

8. "Regret" (7:58) opens with cool acoustic guitar play over background synth washes. Entry of organ, bass, and vocals sounds so much like PINK FLOYD. Even the use of echo on the vocal is straight out of the PF playbook. After 90 seconds, the song begins to spill over into CURE-ish territory. (This is so much like the 2009 debut album/sound of AIRBAG!) When the pace picks up and the electric guitar power chords and drums kick in it becomes more ... generic. Vocalizations in the sixth minute do nothing. Roger Waters again comes to mind when the strumming acoustic guitar re-enters. (I keep waiting for Vince to ask, "Is anybody out there?") Then things amp up back into Fields of the Nephilim territory. (12.75/15)

9. "Feel" (5:28) 1980s power chords over Hammond organ. When Hammond is solo I feel as if I'm listening to 1970s URIAH HEEP. The song's simplistic chord structure is saved only by Vince's stellar little chorus: it stabs straight to the heart! "The now I'm coming back" line makes me think of all the bands on XM/Sirius radio's OXYGEN channel. (8.75/10)

10. "Destiny" (2:14) beautiful closing song. (4.5/5)

This is, to be sure, an album of powerful music--powerful, emotional performances. While I love the more atmospheric and subdued sounds and approaches of a lot of their 21st Century songs, I have to admit that their 20th Century version was very, very good.

86.58 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection and a strong product from a maturing ANATHEMA.




TORTOISE TNT

As the concept of Post Rock catches hold, one group of musicians in Chicago are really exploring its "confines" like no one else.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dan Bitney / bass, guitar, percussion, vibes, marimba, keyboards, baritone saxophone
- John McEntire / drums, modular synthesizer, ring modulator guitar, electric harpsichord, keyboards
- John Herndon / drums, vibes, keyboards, sequencing
- Doug McCombs / bass, bass 6, guitar, lap steel
- Jeff Parker / guitar, bass
- Dave Pajo / bass guitar, guitar

1. TNT (7:32)
2. Swing from the Gutters (5:52) (/10)

3. "Ten-Day Interval" (4:43) a Steve Reich-like minimalist exploration on tuned percussion instruments. Reminds me of the opening of Peter Gabriel's "San Jacinto." Bass and piano eventually join in, pulling the song into a slightly different direction. (9/10)

4. "I Set My Face to the Hillside" (6:09) playground noises are joined by organ, Sergio Leone guitar and hand percussion instruments. Definitely a Sergio Leone soundtrack item. Pretty and, like Pink Martini, a little eccentric. (8.5/10)

5. The Equator (3:42) (/10)

6. A Simple Way to Go Faster Than Light That Does Not Work (3:34) (/10)

7. "The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls" (5:38) for its first minute this song sounds as if the Gentle Giant crew were stuck trying to find the right chord progression. Then Andean-sounding wind percussives take the soundstage before bass, synth, vibes, and hi-hat and rimshots join in to establish a little Latin Caribbean jam session. At 3:25 electric guitars join in and redirect a bit before letting everybody re-settle into the jam. (8.75/10)

8. Four-Day Interval (4:45) (/10)

9. In Sarah, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Women and Men (7:29) (/15)

10. Almost Always Is Nearly Enough (2:41) (/5)

11. Jetty (8:22) (/20)

12. Everglade (4:20) (/10)

Total Time 64:47

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




CHROMA KEY Dead Air for Radios (1998)

Dream Theater and Fates Warning keyboard player takes a solo, leadership direction.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Kevin Moore / vocals, keyboards, bass (1,2,6-9), co-producer
- Jason Anderson / guitar
- Joey Vera / bass (3-5)
- Mark Zonder / drums

1. "Colorblind" (4:51) cool low end. (8.5/10)

2. "Even The Waves" (6:33) nice laid back lead guitar in the instrumental section. (8.5/10)

3. "Undertow" (4:49) A little more sophisticated and interesting. A top three song. (8.75/10)

4. "America The Video" (4:29) cool synth-funk rhythm track. A little more variety and emotion in Kevin's vocal here goes a long way to make things more engaging. (8.5/10)

5. "S.O.S." (5:24) nothing very exciting or special here. The pacing of Kevin's songs are too similar--kind of slow and plodding--without much variation over the course of each song. (8/10)

6. "Camera 4" (3:49) cool computer keyboard programming and sampling. I'm just not sure of the object/message here. (8.5/10)

7. "On The Page" (4:21) My favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)

8. "Mouse" (5:10) weird and confusing. Builds nicely but never really wows us. (8.5/10)

9. "Hell Mary" (4:02) Steven Hawking-like computerized voice describing an atomic bomb like explosion that produces an unexpected visual phenomenon--some kind of fireball projectile hitting the sun. (8.25/10)

Total Time: 53:28

85.55 on the Fishcales = B-/3.5 stars; an nice aural experience that I don't think anyone needs to go out of their way to acquire.




Other Highly Recommended Prog Albums
(Other albums recommended by prog lovers)



ARENA The Visitor

Line-up / Musicians:
- Paul Wrightson / vocals
- John Mitchell / guitars, backing vocals
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals, programming & co-producer
- John Jowitt / bass, backing vocals
- Mick Pointer / drums

1. A Crack in the Ice (7:25)
2. Pins and Needles (2:46)
3. Double Vision (4:24)
4. Elea (2:36)
5. The Hanging Tree (7:09)
6. A State of Grace (3:26)
7. Blood Red Room (1:47)
8. In the Blink of an Eye (5:29)
9. (Don't Forget to) Breathe (3:40)
10. Serenity (2:10)
11. Tears in the Rain (5:43)
12. Enemy Without (5:05)
13. Running from Damascus (3:44)
14. The Visitor (6:13)

Total Time 61:37




LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT Liquid Tension Experiment

A veritable supergroup--or three-quarters of future Dream Theater with bass player extraordinaire, Tony Levin, stepping in for John Ro Myung--stepping out into more proggy, psychedelic realms.

Line-up / Musicians:
- John Petrucci / guitar
- Jordan Rudess / keyboards
- Tony Levin / bass, Chapman Stick, electric upright bass
- Mike Portnoy / drums

1. Paradigm Shift (8:54)
2. Osmosis (3:26)
3. Kindred Spirits (6:29)
4. The Stretch (2:00)
5. Freedom of Speech (9:19)
6. Chris and Kevin's Excellent Adventure (2:21)
7. State of Grace (5:01)
8. Universal Mind (7:53)
9. Three Minute Warning (28:31) :
- Part 1 (8:20)
- Part 2 (4:02)
- Part 3 (5:18)
- Part 4 (4:20)
- Part 5 (6:31)

Total Time 73:54




SPOCK'S BEARD The Kindness of Strangers

Line-up / Musicians:
- Neal Morse / lead vocals, piano, synths, acoustic & electric guitars, co-producer
- Alan Morse / guitar, cello, Mellotron, vocals
- Ryo Okumoto / Hammond, Mellotron
- Dave Meros / bass, vocals
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums, percussion, vocals
With:
- Eric Brenton / violin (1)
- Jackie Suzuki / violin (1)
- Melissa Hasin / cello (1)
- Tom Tally / viola (1)

1. The Good Don't Last (10:02) :
- a) Introduction
- b) The Good Don't Last
- c) The Radian Is
2. In the Mouth of Madness (4:44)
3. Cakewalk on Easy Street (5:01)
4. June (5:26)
5. Strange World (4:18)
6. Harm's Way (11:03)
7. Flow (15:48) :
- a) True Believer
- b) A Constant Flow of Sound
- c) Into the Source

Total Time 56:22




Albums on the Fringe of Prog World


MASSIVE ATTACK Mezzanine

The presence of iconic singer Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) on three songs doesn't hurt.

1. "Angel" (6:18)
2. "Risingson" (4:58)
3. "Teardrop" (5:29) (9/10)
4. "Inertia Creeps" (5:56)
5. "Exchange" (4:11)
6. "Dissolved Girl" (6:07)
7. "Man Next Door" (5:55)
8. "Black Milk" (6:20) (9/10)
9. "Mezzanine" (5:54)
10. "Group Four" (8:13)
11. "(Exchange)" (4:08)




GARBAGE Version 2.0

Loosing the hits "I Think I'm Paranoid," Push It," "Special," and "Tempation Waits" onto the world, this, their second album, exhibited no signs of any sophomore jinx. "Sleep Together" and "You Look So Fine" are also outstanding.




AIR Moon Safari

Source of the international dance groove, "La femme d'argent," this album blazed the trail for a new flood of European techno-pop into the US and world markets.




JEWEL Spirit

A wonderfully perfected selection of diverse songs from 

1. "Deep Water" (4:17)
2. "What's Simple Is True" (3:36) (8.75/10)
3. "Hands" (3:55) (9/10)
4. "Kiss the Flame" (3:18) (10/10)
5. "Down So Long" (4:15)
6. "Innocence Maintained" (4:09)
7. "Jupiter" (4:20)
8. "Fat Boy" (2:56)
9. "Enter from the East" (4:05)
10. "Barcelona" (3:55)
11. "Life Uncommon" (4:57)
12. "Do You" (4:23)
13.  "Absence of Fear" (3:43)
14. "This Little Bird" (2:43)





Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Atmospheric Djent

From the Djent sound created in the 1990s and perfected by bands like Tool, Meshuggah--and even Death, Atheist, and Cynic--comes the more atmospheric version of Prog Metal version as expressed by bands like PROGHMA-C, KARNIVOOOL, VOTUM, THE CONTORTIONIST, and KETTLESPIDER. Below you will find my Top 10 favorite Atmospheric Djent albums of the 21st Century. 


1. Bar-Do Travel Proghma-C (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. In short, this is a sadly overlooked, under-appreciated album that must be rescued from obscurity. 

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). (10/10)

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 (10/10) 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) 
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_llike “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! (10/10)
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; this is a reflection of how much I enjoy listening to this entire album. One of my all-time favorite driving CDs. I do also 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.

96.67 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!




2. Harvest Moon Votum
(2013)

Another heavy prog band from Poland. There sure is some great music coming out of Eastern Europe! And this one clocks in at no less than 69 mintues!

Harvest Moon kicks off with a real gem--a piece that betrays very little of the heavier, more metal-oriented stuff to come. 

1. "Vicious Circle" [8:13] takes the listener on such a nice ride through quite a diverse range of soundscapes. It starts off with a slow picking acoustic guitar that is backed by a cool organ sound. When drums and bass finally join in a great electric guitar solo completes the intro section. Settling into a very steady slow pace, the vocalist enters with a very strong, soulful presence. As things amp up at the chorus everything is working so well: no over play or show-boating. Then there is an ominous lull, which fulfills all expectations when a heavier section kicks in (with some great lead guitar arpeggios and bass and drums). At 4:45 we are back to lull. A very delicate 'distant' el guitar and organ play a little before the beginning section is recreated (with a bit more play from the organist). This time, however, the solo section is much expanded and displays much more energy and technical instrument play--especially from the drums, bass, and lead guitar. Vocals rejoin to complete the song but the ride plays out with a minute of very eery space noise. Gorgeous song. [15/15]

2. "Cobwebs" [5:01] sounds quite a bit like it could have come off of PEARL JAM's Ten despite the presence of some growl/screams and engineering effects. Luckily, the music is not detracted by the screams. A great song for the Octane Radio listeners. [8/10]   

3. "First Felt Pain" (6:52) starts out with a very heavy modern metal sound (stereotypically signalled by the machine gun riffs from the kick drum). But that's just the first minute. At 1:05 a pause is filled with a fast strumming acoustic guitar before the heavy rhythms rejoin in a flow that supports the vocals (which are surprisingly melodic). The instrumental solo sections are still steeped in modern heavy metal. At 3:45 an emotional acoustic section ensues that feels so powerful and heartfelt--including the guitar solo and engineering effects (panning b-vox). At the six-minute mark, all sound drops away leaving some layers of very eery industrial noises which play out to the end. Very effective! Incredibly unpredictable song. (15/15)

4. "New Made Man" (5:27) has a very familiar classic rock feel to it, a simpler, more straightforward song structure, but, when put into the context of this whole album, it holds a very stunning presence. It sounds very much, to my ears, like a cross between early DAVID BOWIE and the Aussie glam rockers, ICEHOUSE--or THE RE-FLEX. At 3:10 the song breaks down to arpeggiated acoustic guitar and some random sounding tickling of the piano ivories. Very pretty! Quite a melodic gem! (10/10)

5. "Numb" (5:01) is a gentler, almost LUNATIC SOUL song with layered vocal harmonies sung over a very simply picked acoustic guitar and some hand percussives. The final minute and fifteen seconds plays out with some "windy"-sounding synth washes.
     Overall, "Numb" sounds a lot like a Southern Rock classic from the likes of THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND or THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND or even KANSAS or BLIND FAITH, TRAFFIC, or THE ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION. Again, another surprise in terms of this band's musical dexterity. An excellent song. (9/10)

6. "Ember Night" (6:58) "slows" things down to a very standard heavy metal pace. Unfortunately, for the first 3:35, the song does very little musically to make it stand out from the rest of the metal scene--and certainly does little to help it hold up to the album's previous stellar five songs. The jazzy lull from 3:34 to 5:15 does nothing new or exciting. A return to the harmony vocals and the first sections of music add nothing--continue to bore me. It just never engages or does anything special. (9/15)

7. "Bruises" (7:43) begins with some acoustic guitar play over some synthesizer washes. The vocal and rhythm section kick in to establish a slow, almost piano jazz song. Then the music begins to build--first the more insistent rhythm from the bass and drums, then the lead guitar starts to warm up--but then everything drops out to leave just a soft piano and the vocalist--who, though heart-felt, seems weak of voice. Staccato acoustic guitar strumming restarts the song--ushering in the full-scale heaviness of the band. Now the vocal fits better! But, then, the soft piano (and, this time, drum) supported emotional vocal section returns--this time to much better effect. At 5:28 when the full power of the song is finally released it is working: great drumming, great chord sequences, great vocal performances (including b-vox) and great melodies. The final 45 seconds allows the piano, delicate drum play, and whispered voice to bring the song to decay. Beautiful, emotional song. (15/15)

8. "Steps in the Gloom" (7:51) begins with synth wash and reverb-electric guitar notes, soon joined by delicate piano play and soft-jazz kind of drum and bass play. When electric guitar starts to play in the second minute the electronic keyboards are doing some very interesting things. The vocalist enters around 1:45 sounding quite relaxed and laid back. His emotions are soon amped up as the band kicks into a section of driving sound. Back to softer, and even ambient section reminiscent of some of the things DAVID SYLVIAN, RYUICHI SAKAMOTO and TREVOR HORN were doing in the 80s.
Awesome strumming and soloing from electric guitars around the five-minute mark. And the bass play! This guy is getting off, too! Best instrumental section of the album! The final 90 seconds is a kind of SEAL/"Crazy" return to the song's main vocal followed by an ambient outro. Odd song that defies categorization. One of the album's best. (15/15)

9. "Dead Ringer" (6:52) begins with a rolling bass line and steady, strong drum pace to back what sounds like a DAVID BOWIE-like vocal performance. The heavier chorus section betrays a different path (though Bowie had his metal-like moments--and may have used this stylistic approach were he peaking in the post-90s Prog Metal era.) Cool guitar work at the 3:10 mark followed by hollowed out section with rock-steady drum, muted bass, and slow, muted vocals. Excellent! It then rebuilds to full-scale onslaught on our senses. I love the powerful, firm-but-understated drum-work throughout this song! The song 'ends' at the six-minute mark while another cinematic display of ambient synth play carries the song out to its end 52 seconds later. My favorite song of the album. (15/15)

10. "Coda" (6:32) begins like a cross between PEARL JAM and TOOL before shifting into a brief delicate section. AT 1:45 the synths and electric guitars enter with some really new, fresh sounds, the song's feel and rhythm and tempo shifts, the industrial synth takes over for a bit, then it all comes racing back into a full-out metal bang. For 30 seconds. A 30-second spacey section is talked over in a BONO-like voice before the band climbs back into banging mode--with some nice (though stereotypic) support vocal harmonies. This could be a ARJEN LUCASSEN song! Were I one to key in on lyrics, the story here might prove to be quite interesting. Yet another eery space wash synth journey plays out the final minute of this song. (8/10)

11. "Numb - A Reprise" (2:35) ends the album with a return to the acoustic side of this band of talented and creative songwriters and rock solid performers. (8/10)

This album is a real shocker to me in that I find myself liking it far more than this year's new release from fellow prog countrymates, RIVERSIDE. There is much more dynamic energy here--as if VOTUM really cares about every note of their music, as if they are really into their music--into engaging and at the same time hyping up their audience. As much as I appreciate the creativity and leadership of MARIUZ DUDA and RIVERSIDE, I have to say that with Harvest Moon, a new band has usurped the crown of Poland's prog scene. That band is named VOTUM.

Hail to the new king! Long live the king!

90.71 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a pretty darn near a perfect album and definitely a minor masterpiece of creative, energetic progressive rock music.





3. Clairvoyant The Contortionist (2017)

This Indiana-based band has matured and, if truth be known, mellowed (matured?) over the seven years they've been recording and releasing excellent Metal-oriented heavy Prog albums, but this is their best. They have mastered individual restraint and understated performances in favor of group chemistry, group composition, and seductively gorgeous heavy prog music. Simply stunning.

Line-up/Musicians
Robby Baca: Guitar
Michael Lessard: Vocals
Joey Baca: Percussion
Cameron Maynard: Guitar
Jordan Eberhardt: Bass Guitar
Eric Guenther: Keyboards

1. "Monochrome (Passive)" So many creative computer/Hal 9000/synth openings on this album, of which this is the first. As it amps up into heavy guitar and bass distortion it fits! It works. Then the song settles into a softer, almost nujazz groove, with some great guitar and keyboard interaction. I haven't heard this creative and innovative keyboard work in years! (10/10)

2. "Godspeed" (3:14) fast opening and abrasive, settling into great weaves to support Michael Lessard's restrained vocal. Amazing subtle effects and contributions throughout--especially the restrained yet virtuosic guitar work. Michael actually lifts his voice in that last minute just before the guitar does the same. Awesome! (9.5/10)

3. "Reimagined" (3:17) gorgeous heavier song on the KARNIVOOL or VOTUM scale of latently heavy prog. (9/10)

4. "Clairvoyant" (7:37) is the first true metal, djenty song on the album (IMHO)--complete with chorale-styled vocal sections and machine gun bass drum pedal play. Really gorgeous transitions and chorus sections; nothing too difficult or abrasive but all played to group perfection. Also the most diversified and chameleonic song on the album. (13.5/15)

5. "The Center" (7:34) a smooth, gorgeous song that continues to build while Michael Lessard seduces us with his incongruously sedate vocal. Is he the new Maynard James Keenan? Just brilliant! Reminds me of my favorite song from last year by THE MERCURY TREE. (14.25/15)

6. "Absolve" (5:12) brilliant restraint shown on this vocal despite the yearnings of the music to soar! Makes for a great tension between the two. At 5:05 the song shifts, kind of cuts out, while a spacey, post-explosion synth-concerto slowly builds and (9.5/10)

7. "Relapse" (6:14) opens as an odd synth experiment with spacey vocal for the first 1:30 before the heavy rock instruments enter. Synth washes and sliding power chords finish off the first half before a piano-based, computer-paced section with Lessard saying "They're clairvoyant." Interesting sliding-tremolo guitar solo in the fifth and sixth minutes. It even gets a little djenty at times. (9/10)

8. "Return to Earth" (6:15) spacious and atmospheric genius that lets loose at the 1:25 into a heavier (though simple) and still gorgeous and inviting prog song. Vocalist Michael Lessard has the silky smooth pipes to keep the listener engaged despite the frenetics of his mates--like a mellower version of LEPROUS. (8.5/10)

9. "Monochrome (Pensive)" (9:24) very nice song that, unfortunately, takes seven and a half minutes to finally soar to the heights one might expect from a nine and a half minute "epic." (18/20)

92.05 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of gorgeously woven heavy prog. My nominee for Most Improved Band and Best Heavy Prog album of the year--and maybe Most Creative Keyboard Player in Eric Guenther.





4. This Clear Divide Stare at the Clouds (2016)

More outstanding djenty atmospheric prog out of Australia. Like country-mates KARNIVOOL and Polish prog masters VOTUM, these musicians know how to create great melodies and moods within heavier musical walls of sound--and they are even better at building over or deftly interspersing their songs with awesome atmospheric, almost shoegazey passages!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Keelan Butterick / Vocals, Guitar
- Seb Key / Guitar, Vocals 
- Evan Jackson / Bass 
- Jacob Grindrod / Guitar 
- Cassandra Key / Drums, Piano, Percussion

1. "Prelude" (0:42) opens the album with some atmospheric guitar notes and constant keyboard soundscape in order to set up the barrage of sound that is unleashed at the beginning of #2. (4.5/5)

2. "The Falling" (3:31) opens with some full-brunt walls of sound very similar to the VOTUM and KARNIVOOL style of recent years. Great vocal also fitting into the VOTUM "First Felt Pain" style. At 2:50 the tempo is downshifted a few steps before falling away for a soft little atmospheric keyboard end. (9/10)

3. "Concurrent Abreaction I: Presage (The Hunter)" (8:22) opens strongly with vocals joining in soon after. But the song pauses and slows before the first minute is out for a sustained reset before returning to the opening pace and heaviness. It's a bit like being in a car that is driving in traffic--stop lights and all. 
      The totally atmospheric section that begins at the end of the third minute is so cool--rolling, jumping bass lines and drums playing off one another while the guitar arpeggi and keyboard backgrounds accompany the soft vocal. At 4:34 the djenty bass and guitars return for a little display of their own. The vocal that eventually tries to join in is, unfortunately, a bit incongruous. Another soft, atmospheric section begins at the six minute mark--this one less pretty, less satisfying than the last--and soon gives way to another barrage of djenty guitar. 
     The shifts from heavy, djenty walls of sound to atmospheric, almost Shoegaze soft sections throughout this song are quite interesting--and, now that I'm used to them, awesome. (18/20)

4. "Concurrent Abreaction II: Ocean (6:31)" opens very sedately, spaciously, until the very end of the second minute when some slow, heavy guitar-based walls of sound establish themselves in a kind of FOREIGNER "Double Vision" way. All ensuing song development is slow and methodical with nothing much very surprising or exciting save for a return at the 4:40 mark (to the song's end) to the shoegazey-atmospheric sound of the opening. (12/15)

5. "Concurrent Abreaction III: The Outside" (6:20) opens with some atmospheric guitar play over an interesting uneven time signature bass and drum rhythm. The vocal that joins in repeating "inside my thoughts" is a nice touch. As a matter of fact, this is the first song in which the lyric and vocal perfectly match the music being expressed beneath. At 3:34 the djent wall of sound is unleashed in a KLONE/ALIC IN CHAINS way--with vocalist reaching up to scream his lyrics along with the escalation in sound volume. This is, however, but a brief crescendo before all falls back to the more floating atmospheric levels of the opening section. (9/10)

6. "Concurrent Abreaction IV: Lucah" (4:26) is a song that again reminds me of a YANN LIGNER-led KLONE song for its first two minutes. Then it becomes a totally different song--an instrumental that contains some gorgeous ROBIN GUTHRIE-like atmospheric guitar chord play and guitar effects--for over a minute before returning to the KLONE-like grungy heavy metal sounds introduced in the opening section. The heavily treated GUTHRIE-like guitar can be heard contributing single note arpeggi throughout. This is awesome! One of my top three songs for the album. (10/10)

7. "Concurrent Abreaction V: We Lie In Shadows" (5:41) opens with some fun drum exercises before the shoegaze guitar sound joins in. Long, sustained FRIPP-like guitar notes accompany and soar over the other guitar, bass, and drum play. Beautiful! This is another beautiful albeit heavier version of a COCTEAU TWINS/shoegaze-styled song. Even the heavier buildups in the second minute take nothing away from the incredible syncopated, stop-and-play melody and rhythm play here. As a matter of fact, the densification that occurs at the end of the third minute within the multiple arpeggiating guitars is stunning! And the SYLVIAN-esque atmospherics in the middle of the fifth minute, too! Probably my favorite song on the album. (10/10)

8. "Concurrent Abreaction VI: Sehnsucht" (4:03) is an ENO-esque ambient ocean raft ride in which long note harmonized vocals and Fripp-like sustained lead guitar notes waft in and out of the gorgeous foundational music. Certainly a top three song for me. (10/10)

9. "Dead Letters" (2:27) is an instrumental that sounds like a reprise of an earlier theme played slightly more clearly and with different approaches to the drums, keys, and guitar sounds used. Still, gorgeous with memorable melodies used throughout. (10/10)

10. "Cutting The Ties" (5:33) is a rather low profile attempt to tie up loose ends and end the concept album on an even keel. Such a great sound! (9/10)

92.27 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. I love this album! Stare at the Clouds has produced a masterpiece of atmospheric djent. 





5. Reach Atmospheres
(2018)

Atmospheric, djenty Prog not unlike bands VOTUM, PROGHMA-C, and KARNIVOOL. Vocals are almost like Tears for Fears' Roland Orzabul . . . without the punch and feeling. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Stef Exelmans - vocals, guitar
Mathieu Rachmajda - bass
Bastiaan Jonniaux - drums, electronics 

1. "Time I" (2:51) clock ticking and ominous droning synth opens before bass drum and woodblock hit join in. A second eerie synth buzz enters in the second minute before drums sounds start to expand and breathy, airy higher pitched vocals enter. Pretty amazing opening! (10/10) 

2. "Time II" (5:41) add djenty guitars and bass and odd time signature drumming and we have a new albeit still unsettling sound. An 80s-effected vocal joins in during a lull then the full wall of sound melds. The vocal almost doesn't work. The best part of this song remains that two-chord synth drone in the foundation. (9/10) 

3. "Time III" (1:27) the song's electro-atmospheric breakdown and fadeout. ("Time" should be one continuous song. (4/5) 

4. "Nul" (4:26) a great multi-voice chorus almost lifts this one into prominence. (8.5/10) 

5. "Mezame" (4:56) a very nice vocal melody in the verses cannot lift this one alone. (8.5/10) 

6. "Morph" (5:43) solid but nothing very special here. (8/10) 

7. "Gravity" (6:00) love the deep throng of the bass chord dominating the distant vocal during the opening section but, unfortunately, that and a fairly nice chorus melody are the highlights of this one. (8.5/10) 

8. "Inertia" (6:20) great MASERATI-like opening riff! Love the slow addition of slow cymbol, synth, and bass before all hell breaks loose! Reprieve for the vocal would work if the vocals weren't so sedate/seem full of indifference. Still, great melodies and the stop-and-start heaviness works well on this one. GREAT fifth minute build and dénouement! (9/10) 

9. "Reach" (5:09) the stage-by-stage, levels of development on this song plus the use of "tricks" like the bouncy/staccato female or pitch-altered voice in the second and fourth minutes is what I've been looking for. More! (9/10) 

10. "Evolve" (10:00) the magic here is the ear-worm-like melodic hooks in the slow build of the opening four minutes--guitar strums, percussives, rolling bass, and vocal--as well as the neat ambient electronic second half. Brilliant restraint. (10/10)

Total Time 52:33 

A collection of underwhelming music that has somehow dug itself deep into my brain. Most of the songs are not very complex; they are long enough to show more development, to include more flash and flourish. This album kind of reminds me of last year's release from GODSTICKS; ATMOSPHERES is a band straddling two different musical genres. Great potential! 

88.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of atmospheric djenty prog. 



6. Asymmetry Karnivool (2013)

Warning: This is an album that requires headphones or a very good speaker system in order to fully appreciate! With Karnivool’s third release, Asymmetry, I am seeing a lot of growth, a lot of branching out in terms of influences and styles. There is still a lot of TOOL/MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN similarities-especially in the wonderful voice of singer, Ian Kenny--but add to that more THE MARS VOLTA/OMAR LOPEZ-RODRIGUEZ, OPETH/MIKHAEL AKERFELD, and OCEANSIZE as well as an incredibly full palette display of engineering techniques, all the while maintaining clear access to the individual instrumental tracks in what could have been a murky, soupy mess.   
In my opinion this is an aural and sonic masterpiece; the band has easily surpassed their wonderful 2009 album, Sound Awake. New producer, Nick DiDia, has helped the band achieve incredible new heights.

1. “Aum” (2:22) is a kind of spacey meditative intro. Not much really to like or dislike.

2. “Nachash” (4:50) (Link to video of live performance from Moshcam) sees the band move straight into its TOOL-like territory but then they back off into some very delicate, spacey territory. There is an awesome vocal section beginning at 3:25 with “Wait!” and then culminating in a great guitar scream before the return to the original high octane pace and sound. The two guitars battle it out with Judd’s drum play for the finale. Awesome. (9/10)

3. “A.M. War” (5:18) opens with a catchy metallic guitar arpeggio riff before the bottomed-out bass and rest of the band join in full force, full throttle. The song overall reminds me of OCEANSIZE Frames era. (9/10)

4. “We Are” (5:56) begins with a little bit of techno-funk similar to some of Omar Rodriguez’s solo work. I just love Jon Stockman’s bass play throughout this song. I also love the impassioned vocal, the background keyboard flourishes and the almost “incidental” electric guitar embellishments. Great engineering/production on this, one of the most impressive songs I’ve heard all year! (10/10)

5. “The Refusal” (4:54) has a very heavy edge to it, like something I’d hear on OCTANE radio—Skillet or TMV—even in the bare bones section beginning at 2:05 there is a MAYNARD-like edge. Again, awesome engineering and production throughout the last two minutes. (8/10)

6. “Aeons” (7:18) begins with some spacey, echoed tremolo guitar notes before synth and amazing bass and drums join in. Incredible beginning! Delicate singing voice enters at 1:15 to tell us that he doesn’t feel so well. Amazing use of heavy, thick instrumental sounds balanced by an empty spaciousness that is simply stunning! Gorgeous floating guitar in the first mid-song interlude before the TMV-like barrage of sound enters again. Another stepped down section fills the sixth minute as the vocalist sings about chemical fires signaling our death. Another favorite. (10/10)

7. “Asymmetry” (2:36) uses an odd sound loop to gradually set up some heavily distorted free form guitar play. The top-notch engineering of this album again comes shining through. (9/10)

8. “Eidolon” (3:45) offers a very catchy MUSE-like song—rather sedate when compared to the previous lineup. Again, I love all of the amazing incidentals running through the spaces and background of the music. (9/10)

9. “Sky Machine” (7:49) opens with some gorgeous multi-layered singing supported by delicate guitar and awesome drumming. A little EDGE/U2 feel to this song though the vocal is like some of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN’s most sensitive. Even the more amped up section beginning at 5:30 is quite extraordinary for its beauty and sensitivity. Awesome song. Love this guitar work. (9/10)

10. “Amusia” (0:54) is another off-kilter sonic interlude which bleeds into/sets up

11. “The Last Few” (5:15) opens up Karnivool’s new TOOL/TMV meld style:  quite intricately planned, complicated, layered music with a more polished version of the raw freneticism of Omar and co. The vocal and melody is, unfortunately, a little weaker than the previous offerings, giving the song a bit of a flat feel to it. (8/10)

12. “Float” (4:17) carries over a psychedelia feel from the ending of the previous song for its first 30 seconds before emptying out with a spacey treated guitar almost as if KLAUS SCHULZE were manipulating the delicate guitar play of 1974 STEVE HACKETT. Kenny’s masterful vocal remains in his highest registers throughout the song. The space-treated instrumentation is quite effective. (9/10)

13. “Alpha Omega” (7:57) put an emotional Maynard James Keenan singing over some acid drawn out Led Zepellin being played by OPETH and I think this is what you might get. (9/10)

14. “Om” (3:52) is another odd, spacey instrumental using dissonance and random piano notes tied together only through their chromatic commonality to bookend. In the second half there is being played a tape recorded interview RE empathy and bliss, the common sound and color beneath it all. (9/10)

Unlike some of my fellow reviewer here on PA, I am finding that this album is haunting me—staying with me and drawing me back for more plays of “We Are” and Aeons” and “Float” and “Alpha Omega” and “Nachash” and even the poppier “Eidolon.” Asymmetry is easily one of the most unique and memorable albums I’ve heard this year. I think special mention must go out to each of the individual musicians involved with this album—including the engineer and producer. Steve Judd’s drumming is always solid and idiosyncratic. Jon Stockman’s bass stylings are amazingly diverse and always interesting. Guitarists Goddard and Hosking are amazing in their sound palettes, temperaments, and mature ability to hold back, reserve, instead of always flash and flourish. The “risks” taken in these compositions and performances can only be described as mature and virtuosic. The “asymmetry” of heavy mixed with delicate and subtle, virtuosic flash mixed with astoundingly simple is masterful. In my humble opinion, these are some of the finest, freshest proggers on the planet and they have created one of the best albums of 2013.

88.6 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece.




7. Lateralus Tool (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.




8. Kettlespider Kettlespider (2017)

Solid, polished, refreshing heavy prog rock from Down Under.

Line-up/Musicians: 
Colin Andrews - Bass
Scott Ashburn - Guitars
Haris Boyd-Gerny - Guitars
Geoffrey Fyfe - Keyboards
Simon Wood - Drums
With:
Fabian Acuña - Trumpet (2, 5)

1. "The Climber" (2:24) the opening thirty seconds reminds me of some of the classic rock songs of the 70s--Damn Yankees or Loverboy or somebody like that--but then it switches at the forty-five second mark to something more complicated, more prog rock-like, more metal-like. (8.5/10)

2. "Circus" (4:34) the jazzy, delicate, melodic central third is the prize here. (9/10)

3. "Samsara" (2:31) opens with acoustic guitar being gently picked before keys and the rest of the band join in on the weave. They manage to maintain a nice melodic sense throughout this medium-paced instrumental. (9/10)

4. "Break The Safe, Pt. 1" (3:18) opens delicately but then becomes quite in your face in a kind of King Crimson way. Over and over they kind of "trick" you into relaxing and enjoying their beautiful sound groove before they bring in the distorted guitars and power chords. The final odd-time-signatured section is nice. (8.5/10)

5. "Anubis" (7:16) this one has quite a RUSH-like sound and feel to my ears (think of the excellent instrumental music of "Subdivisions"). The shift at the end of the second minute to a gentle and spacious section is quite unexpected and interesting. Steven Wilson comes to mind. Then comes the gun at 3:05 and they're off to the races, breaking into a heavy metal guitar-shredding section that tries to turn jazzy but then gets funneled back into the heavy prog world until 4:15 when another tricky, quirky, almost avant/RIO switcheroo tries to take hold. Just kidding! We're still heavy progging! But that trumpet is trying to say otherwise. Damn the influence of that Latin lover! I like this song because of its tricks and turns, surprises and maintained high quality and high entertainment value. Well done, arachnids! (14.25/15)

6. "Life" (6:06) Djent! Now they're getting into my comfort zone! (Don't know why I love those djenty guitar chords.) But then they turn sharp left in the second minute, trying to trick me again, but, no, it's just a short cut into some heavy prog, semi-djented. Nice work on the batterie, by the way, Simon. And props go out to precision bass work of Colin Andrews. Loving the fourth and fifth minutes: much more humane! And the guitar "ascending" from out of the birth canal effect is brilliant! My favorite song on the album! (10/10)

7. "Rebirth" (7:01) Oh, oh! Are we in for some Norse Black Metal? O Dark :30 and I'm still not sure. Even the delicate soft interlude at the one minute mark has me on pins and needles. 1:40: Here it comes. It's building! 2:10: Oh! It's so cute! It's just a big Totoro! 3:00: or is it the bad Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? We'll know soon. 3:45: He's leaving! He's not going to kill us or destroy our city! He likes Nature! 4:30: And video games. He's social! He has a family! And friends! Aww! He was just looking for his own kind! And they're going to live happily ever after! Such a cinematic gem! (13.5/15)

8. "Break The Safe, Pt. 2" (4:18) Safe. Solid. Unbreakable. Cohesive. Even pretty. And hypnotic. Cool Devy Townsend ending. Likable and yet unspectacular. (9/10)

Total Time 37:28

90.625 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of instrumental progressive rock music. While I see lots of potential for improvement--both is sound and composition--these guys are definitely on to something!




9. Inmazes Vola (2015)

Who says djent isn't prog? I STRONGLY disagree. Denmark's Vola demonstrates a refreshing album of progressive rock music by melding the keyboard techno-wizardry of the 1980s with an outstanding rhythm section of djenters who absolutely refuse to play anything in a straight time. Think TEARS FOR FEARS or DEPECHE MODE teaming with MESHUGGAH, TOOL, or PROGHMA-C and you'll have a pretty good image for the aural soundscapes these guys paint on Inmazes.
     The album starts out much more heavily, more djenty, and then starts to show more of the band's 80s synth-pop roots in the second half.

1. "The Same War" (5:19) opens with some truly abrasive industrial djent sound before opening up into a full-on TOOL-like onslaught. When the vocals of guitarist Asger Mygind enter I am immediately struck by the similarity of his tone and sense of melody to that of David Gahan of the 1980s New Wave band, DEPECHE MODE.
     I need to point out that throughout the album the work of the bass, drums, and djent guitar play is absolutely top notch and amazing. I love the unpredictable syncopated and multi-octave guitar melody at the four minute mark. (9/10)

2. "Stray the Skies" (4:13) opens rather melodically, hooking the listener in with the album's most haunting melody, before sliding into a very heavy, very djenty, almost abrasive A Section. The Chorus returns us to the opening melody and synth chords, but then the following section becomes even more sparsely djenty. Back and forth the music goes, start to finish. Awesome contrast! (9/10)

3. "Starburn" (6:05) opens with some spacey atmospherics joined by an electronic tuned percussion arpeggio before the djent crew brings down the wrecking ball. This one even incorporates some vocal growls/screams. The shift at 1:55 into the melodic and harmonic realm of 1980s New Wave is a bit incongruous and perhaps denotes the weakest moment/transition of the album--the only place where the djent-New Wave partnership might not work. The prolonged guitar djent chord play that plays out over the second half of the song is interesting but never really goes anywhere new or fresh. Unfortunately, this is the album's low point. The good news is: it is virtually its only one! (7/10)

4. "Owls" (5:51) opens with a prolonged TOOL-like drum, bass and guitar section. When the vocalist joins in the band once again tries to marry the melodic, almost syrupy New Wave vocals with the abrasive, syncopated and less-than predictable staccato of its djent rhythm section. Here it works pretty well. Early SIMPLE MINDS on steroids. (8/10)

5. "Your Mind as Helpless Dreamer" (5:21) opens with perhaps the most high energy, ambitious rhythms and pace. Fast-paced midi-ed keyboard chords join in (in a NEW ORDER kind of way) while the vocals are presented with a much heavier, more aggressive fashion--very similar to the wonderful sound and work of Australia's KARNIVOOL. This song is working and barreling along on all cylinders! (10/10)

6. The delicate and techno-edgy "Emily" (3:01) plays out like a very emotional Roland Orzabel (TEARS FOR FEARS) masterpiece--though it has strong DEPECHE MODE leanings, too. Beautiful song. (10/10)

7. "Gutter Moon" (3:55) opens with a treated (compressed) keyboard riff before spilling out with some rather restrained djenty-yet-fuzzy bass and guitars. The B section takes on more of a DREAM ACADEMY/PREFAB SPROUT feel and synth pop sound. Then the djent rhythm section comes out in almost full force as the melody, vocals and synth keys sustain their 1980s sound and feel. Nice, interesting song. (9/10)

8. "A Stare Without Eyes" (4:58) opens heavily, though compressed, before settling into a melody sounding very much like a DEPECHE MODE song, just heavier. The lead vocal starts out heavily treated before coming somewhat forward for the first chorus. By the second A Section all holds have been taken off of the vocal, the song remains heavy but still retains this familiar DEPECHE MODE feel to it--as if the Mode merely upped their angst and aggression and let it show in the treatments of their instruments. Not quite as catchy with melodies here, but a good song. (8/10)

9. "Feed the Creatures" (5:37) opens heavily before letting all abrasive sounds drop away in lieu of sustained organ chords and computer-pop noises acting as percussives to support the delicate Jonas Bjerre (MEW)-like vocals. The heavy chorus at the three minute mark followed by the delicate piano chords and gorgeous soft vocal over the heavier TEARS FOR FEARS-like electro-rhythms is brilliant! Amazing! Great song. GReat blend of sounds and technology of the 80s, 90s and 21st Century. (9/10)

10. "Inmazes" opens with an odd keyboard pulsing between two chords in a straight time before it is joined by fairly straightforward electric guitar playing a fairly dissonant and discordant arpeggio. The tension is enhanced when the full band joins in with its full heaviness and PORCUPINE TREE-like sound (think "Blackest Eyes") and odd time signature playing over the still audible, still pulsing odd keyboard of the opening. The vocals that ensue are very much in the vein of those of DEPECHE MODE's David Gahan or even NEW ORDER's Bernard Sumner. I like the long, even outro, too. Great song! (9/10)

A wonderfully refreshing album from a group of young Danes who are attempting something quite ambitious in their blend of New Wave techno-synth pop with TOOL/MESHUGGAH djent. The point is:  They succeed! Wonderfully!

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



10. The Congregation Leprous (2015)

I'm going to agree with the many reviewers who are extolling the virtues of this album. It is, in my opinion, a very powerful Prog Metal album which displays the continued refinement and maturation of these musician/songwriters. Vocalist Einar Solberg continues to show virtuosic mastery of his craft--yet with continued refinements in his restraint, control, and use of space and simplicity. All powerful developments for the overall impact of the songs here. Coal was a real step forward from Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome, which both had a lot of elements of quirk, humor and pop woven into the song and melody structures, but The Congregation seems to show of a band that is finally comfortable with its style--a band that knows and uses its strengths through and through.

While I find this overall a very powerful album, there are weaker songs and then there are absolute masterpieces.

5 star songs: "Rewind" (7:07) (10/10); "Slave" (6:38) (10/10); "Moon" (7:13) (9/10); "The Flood" (9/10); "Down" (6:26) (9/10); "Lower" (4:34) (9/10), and; "Red" (6:36) (8/10).

Album of the Year? I don't know. It's a great one! "Rewind" and "Slave" are must hears! Two of the best of the year, to be sure!

87.27 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a wonderful contribution of heavy progressive rock music.