Friday, September 16, 2022

The 2010s: Favorite Neo Prog Releases

Here follows an ordered list of my favorite Neo Prog albums of the 2010s.  Again, Neo Prog is defined as music intentionally using lush, keyboard-drenched romantic, and more-symphonic aural textures and soundscapes familiar from previously established sounds from the likes of mainstream "classic era"progressive rock bands such as Wind & Wuthering era Genesis, 1970s Pink Floyd, Renaissance, and even Yes, Rush, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson.  

My Favorites:

1. TONY PATTERSON Equations of Meaning (2016)

Lovely Neo Prog drawing from 70s ALAN PARSONS PROJECT, 80s GENESIS, and current day STEVEN WILSON with plenty of lush keyboard arrangements and ethereal vocal displays. 
     The drum machines may drive you crazy but the songs are definitely all gorgeous, mature constructs--they will quickly dig their way into your brain and never leave--you will never want them to; they are addictive.

Tony Patterson (ReGenesis, Nick Magnus, John Hackett): vocals, piano, keyboards, guitars, orchestrations, flutes, programming, extras
Nick Magnus (Steve Hackett, John Hackett): programming (2, 11), keyboards and programming (3)
Andy Gray: guitar solo (7)
Brendan Eyre (Nine Stones Close, Riversea): piano (10)
Adrian Jones (Nine Stones Close): slide guitar and guitar solo (11)
Doug Melbourne: mopho synth solo (5)
Siobhan Magnus: vocals (5)
Fred Arlington: horn and sax (9), sax (2), horn (5)

1. "Ghosts" (4:01) an instrumental that captures the quintessential sound of the gorgeous electric guitar stylings of STEVE HACKETT--both Genesis-era and solo--before giving way to a more cinematic song style. Gorgeous. (9.5/10)

2. "The Magdalene Fields" (5:59) opens with an obvious "Entangled" GENESIS/ANTHONY PHILLIPS sound before the gorgeous AMERICA-like voice harmonies enter. The key shift down into the rather disappointing chorus are this song's only flaws. Otherwise, beautiful--especially the ethereal section beginning at 4:08. (9/10)

3. "Each Day a Colour" (4:48) opens with some gorgeous spaciness very much like the work of Steven WILSON's PORCUPINE TREE in the 1990s ("The Sky Moves Sideways" and Signify come to mind). When the band's rhythm section and vocal join in it still has a bit of the WS feel but also a kind of California dream-pop feel not unlike that of bands like PORNO FOR PYROS and WEST INDIAN GIRL. The keyboard work, chord progressions, and 'light' rhythmic approach make this another absolutely gorgeous song. (10/10)

4. "Cast Away" (2:35) again we find Tony and company masterfully replicating the STEVE HACKETT songs style when Steve is at his most melodic and intimate. Another absolutely hypnotic, dreamy gorgeous song. Flawless. (9.5/10)

5. "The Angel and the Dreamer (, ii. journey, iii. reprise)" (7:02) feels like a long lost song from one of ALAN PARSONS PROJECT's earlier days--Pyramid or even I, Robot era--even with the ANTHONY PHILLIPS-like 12-string presence in the middle. (9.5/10)

6. "Beneath a Perfect Sky" (5:09) casts such a hypnotic spell of lush beauty that you may find yourself pushing the 'permanent repeat' button and lying down to sleep in a poppy field ... forever. Echo-y repeat piano chords, intermittent synth washes, Mark ISHAM-like percussive keyboard sequencing, languid drum pace, Kate Bush-like background vocal incidentals, laid back Tony Banks-ian synth soloing, even a lazy trumpet solo, all contribute to the magic here. (9.5/10)

7. "Sycophant" (5:23) reminds me of the cinematic work of Poland's LEBOWSKI over-lace with an intermittent Hogarth-like vocal. Pretty good song! (8/10)

8. "And When the Sky Was Opened" (2:07) could've come off of one of STEVEN WILSON's spacier 1990s albums. Really cool. I'd love to hear a 10 to 20 minute version of this. (5/5)

9. "Pilgrim" (5:24) another hypnotic technologically created beat (quite similar to that of STEVEN WILSON's song from Hand. Cannot. Erase., "Perfect Life") whose dreamy music, melodies, and vocal don't quite stand up to some of the album's other gems. But it's still great! (I love the slow, single-note piano play at the 4:00 mark. Very dreamy!) (8/10)

0. "As the Lights Go Out" (2:44) is a pretty little piano-based song embellished by the occasional contributions of synths and flutes. (9/10)

11. "The Kindest Eyes" (6:30) again replicates the beautiful harmony vocal stylings that were so perfectly perfected by AMERICA in the early 1970s--but Tony here does only that: replicates; he offers nothing new, exciting, special or innovative. It's just okay, maybe even a little disappointing for its lack of buildup or climax. It would never be a radio hit in the way that AMERICA songs were.(9/10)

This is without a doubt a collection of very beautiful, well composed songs. In fact, this is one of the most beautiful collections of beautiful songs I've come across in a long time. Astounding and spell-binding. 

2. MYSTERY Delusion Rain (2015)

If Neo Prog has to be over-the-top bombastic, let it be like this band, Mystery, and this album, Delusion Rain, their best to date. Simply the best sound, best song construction, best lead vocalist, best tempos and best lyrical topics I can think of in the Neo Prog realm. So what if they sound like 80s hair bands WHITESNAKE, SKID ROW, QUEENSRYCHE, GREAT WHITE, DEF LEPPARD or BON JOVI. They have a clarity and consistency, a masterful command of melody and chord progressions and a solid confidence that puts them in your face but in an emotional, sympathetic way.

1. "Delusion Rain" (10:04) A solid song that just never elevates itself into heavenly standards of memorability. (16/20)

2. "If You See Her" (6:11) A prog ballad by the numbers but done to perfection. The keyboard embellishments and restrained guitar soli (especially in the fifth minute) are wonderful. (9/10)

3. "The Last Glass of Wine" (6:47) Great pacing, great singing and lyrics, incredibly engaging chord progressions and melodic hooks, amazing sound and instrumental clarity, and hugely chunky bass, and yet nothing over-the-top or overdone. This is about as Neo Prog can get. (15/15)

4. "The Willow Tree" (19:30) A few choices misfire and a few opportunities were missed--and it may drag on a bit longer than it needs to, but, still, overall, another beautiful and wonderfully restrained presentation. "Have you seen your eyes" is definitely a brainworm. (36/40)

5. "Wall Street King" (6:39) Despite the cogent topic and pleasant opening, this is the only dud on this otherwise stunning album. (7/10)

6. "A Song for You" (12:35) is a little on the cliché bombasitc side, but I cannot argue with the gorgeous melodies, heart-wrenching chord progressions, tasteful guitar soli and amazing synth soli. Change the first 6:15 a bit and you have an outright masterpiece. (21/25)

Another wonder contribution to the world of progressive rock music from these masters of Neo Prog.

Sorry, Thomas, but this, Delusion Rain, is the greatest Neo Prog album ever made. (Just kidding. That honor would go to either Moonshine or Seven.) If all Neo Prog were like this, I might like more of it.

3. EDISON'S CHILDREN The Final Breath Before November (2013)

A late release in 2013, it’s taken me this long to get to listen to this album and now that I know it intimately I write my review and prepare to adjust all of my year-end rankings to make room for this masterpiece of prog ear candy.

1. “Final Breath” (4:04) opens with some ominous incidental noises and sustained notes before an old player piano and synth exchange supporting melody lines. Pulsing synth bass and other instruments slowly gather around until drums declare the song to be in the style of Pink Floyd, not a cinematic soundtrack. (8/10)

2. “Light Years” (7:33) opens with a strumming 12-string not unlike George Harrison’s infamous “My Sweet Lord” before a somewhat cheesy upper register electric guitar melody line joins in—introducing and, later, mirroring the vocal melody line. Drawn out over minutes it becomes a little tedious. The second solo guitar line added at 3:25 is no better. The vocal could very well come from Fish—especially his more rock oriented solo stuff-even his album of the very same year, A Feast of Consequences. Nothing very special here, though the unusual ‘second song’ that begins at the 6:20 mark is a bit more original and a notch more interesting. (10.5/15)

3. “Silhouette” is an epic masterpiece. Thirteen to nineteen song threads woven together into one long story have an atmospheric quality that captivates the listener even through the heavier sections. The opening two sections (“i. Silence Can Be Deafening, Part 1” [6:47] and it’s companion, “ii. Welcome to Your Nightmare” [3:16]) are so hypnotic, so comfortingly, beautifully engaging, as to lay the groundwork for the totality of the 67 minutes.
“iii. Where Were You?” (12:01) has such awesome, pleading and floating vocals over Floydian rhythm tracks with Dave Gilmour/Mirek Gil-like lead guitar play. Could anyone sing “It’s in my head” with any more feeling and vulnerable power than Pete Trewavas? Awesome lead guitar play in “iv. The Loging [7:48].
“v. The Morphlux” [3:12] is interesting for it’s departure from the flow and synth domination of the previous 30-minutes. Oud, acoustic guitar and hand drums lay down the base for the theatrical whispering Genesis-like Gabriel vocal. Once the rock instruments bash their way in the song rollicks along with a relentlessness that is just awesome! All-out vocals and Hackett-like guitar leads carry this song to prog heaven!
The sudden and complete switching of gears at the transition into “vi. I Am Haunted” [2:51] is interesting if a bit off-setting. Then, just as suddenly, we enter into a reprise of the opening themes with “vii. What Do You Want?” [2:04] only this one amped up with two channels of prog-heavenly lead guitars, which, then transitions rather (too) quickly into the atmospheric four-part “viii. The Seventh Sign [7:01], a very Pink Floyd Wall-era sounding song, complete with a Gilmour-rivaling solo.
Suddenly we find ourselves back in the Morphlux theme with the disturbing effect of multiple vocals vying for our attention (“ix. The Second Coming of The Morphlux” [3:08]) before fading/floating us back into the awesomeness of the soundscape of Silence Can Be Deafening (Part 2) [5:13]—though a decidedly more echo-y and atmospheric version. This, however, allows the drum play to stand out much more—and awesome is that drum play as it builds and plays with Pete Trewavas’ excellently layered synthesizer extravaganza and Eric’s beautiful Mirek Gil-like guitar leads.
By the time we flow into the exquisite nine-minute instrumental “Music for The End Credits of an Existence” we are wondering how much longer these guys can maintain this high level of inspiration, creativity, and emotional output. Incredible! The final 100 seconds of “The Clock Strikes November” teases us with a little ditty from The Morphlux themes in order to try to bring some closure to this amazing sonic journey. Perfect! I cannot imagine someone not enjoying this song! Even my wife keeps chiming in to ask who’s singing, who is this playing, what are they singing so beautifully about? I have even found myself pushing replay while working with this song in the background—and been curious enough to follow the lyrics through an entire listening. Is it a ghost story or a story about a lost part of life, an older identity, a past life, a look back into the past at an older version of one’s self or another? It’s no matter. It’s gorgeous, composed, performed and sung with heartfelt emotion and excellent, excellent engineering and mixing. Kudos, Pete, Eric and helpers. Thank you for keeping beautiful progressive rock alive—nay, giving it a great booster shot of fresh life! I am ever so grateful!! A masterpiece of atmospheric, melodic spacey progressive rock.

4. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Dream of the Magic Jongleur (2011)

Thanks again to Sunhillow and Does anyone recognize how lucky we are to have The Psychedelic Ensemble in our lives? Three top notch albums in three years--and all conceived, composed, performed, and produced by one guy! Has there ever been a solo composer/performer who has produced music of this quality? And people: This Is The Best of all the Psychedelic Ensemble releases. It is utterly astounding! Time after time I am blown away by the emotion, the virtuosic performances--on many instruments--and the incredible clarity and engineering of this production. There are many times on this album that I am hearing an instrument solo, duelled by another, then a third! a FOURTH! even a fifth instrument gets into the act--all playing top notch riffs, talking to each other through the fire of their instruments. Astounding! Amazing!

God! I hate these reviews and the inability to get my excitement and enthusasm across. This, not "Shattered ..." or "Visions" or "Grace for ..." or "Ghosts" or SKE may be the Album of the Year!! Certainly the year's Best Album That Nobody's Ever Heard! There is no keyboard player on the planet that can compare to this guy's power and versatility.

The album opens with a cacophony of beautiful world sounds: bells, sitars, church organ, fuzz guitars and so much more, before it kicks into a great rocker with such a fullness of sound. 1. "Overture: Into theNight" (9/10) is such a 'complete' well-thought out, well-constructed song (much like many of the BIG BIG TRAIN compositions of recent years)--which sets the stage for a whole album of absolutely TOP QUALITY music. The 5:54 mark gives the first real introduction to the ride you're in for: amazing soli, multiple instruments dueling (in this case like STEVE HOWE and RICK WAKEMAN in their finest hours).

The instrumental, 2. "The Quest" (4:54) begins with a STARCASTLE/ROBIN TROWER sound until the main themes are played simultaneously buy guitars and multiple keyboards. Love the 'bubble bass' sounding not unlike fretless master PERCY JONES. He even gets a solo (an awesome one at that!) at the 2:40-3:10 span. Return to STARCASTLE/YES sound. Awesome energy! (9/10) 

3. "The Secrets of Your Mind" (5:46) opens with a bit slower pace but with exciting 'bubble' JACO PASTORIUS-like bass patterns. Vocals are rather high and etheric--somehow similar to JAMES TAYLOR--with some really well-constructed intricate harmonies. The long solo section has more laid back and layered approach to multiple instrumental soli--electric and acoustic guitars, electric and acoustic keyboards, GENIUS! Absolute genius!! (9/10)

Next is the mind-bending church organ song, 4. "The Benefaction of the Nobal Wizard" (5:06). This was my first experience while listening to this album of goosebump and awe. It starts simply, unassumingly. Then, suddenly a full organ chord is added. Then, second hand and bass pedals. The effect is humbling, truly humbling. Not unlike Wakeman's intro to Yes' "Awaken" combined with the the traditional Yes intro, Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite"--but with more emotion. (10/10)

5. "Listen to Me" (6:10) brings us back to Earth--but at fairly high speed--and with some incredible keyboard and guitar work--the level of instrumental performance has just been turned up to 11! Vocals are the ONLY weak point here--and they aren't bad! (9/10)

The all-too-brief 6. "Stones to Flowers" (1:30) brings us back to the BEATLES/MAMAS & THE PAPAS 60s before gently fading into a dreamy BBT-like vocal collage. (5/5)

7. "Magicking" (2:30) presents a beautiful, sensitive, virtuosic acoustic guitar duet. Somewhat reminiscent of "Mood for a Day" but moreso of Brother Ape's gorgeous BILL EVANS-like "In a Rare Moment" from 2010's In A Rare Moment of Insight. (10/10)

8. "The Riddle" (7:56) puts speed and multi-instrumental soli back in our faces in a BIG way! My favorite song on the album, it is full of such hauntingly beautiful melodies--every vocal, instrument's sound, instrumental solo is of such high adrenaline pumping value that I don't think even JAN AKKERMAN could do it better! Amazing song. I've listened to it over and over--and have had such joy trying to imagine playing all of the soli, imagining the level of extreme genius that could compose and perform at such a high level. TPE simply cannot be human! (10/10)

Then--GET THIS--"The Riddle" is followed by a truly rare and amazing song of deft skillmanship:

The bass performance on 9. "Dream and Premonition" (4:22) is jaw-dropping in a JACO PASTORIUS way. A song if you heard you would not soon forget! (10/10)

The vocal harmonies and guitar and flutes on the JETHRO TULL-like 10. "Strange Days" (6:38) are wonderful. Not unlike 2010's CICCADA release, Garden of Earthly Delights, like getting a fresh dose of great TULL! (9/10)

The album's closer, the 11-minute epic, 11. "The End of Days: Epilogue" (10:53) is interesting for its emotional Richie Havens-like lead vocalist, high paced frenetic drumming (à la BROTHER APE), and of course, amazing interplay of what seems like an infinite number of keyboards and guitar. Great BIG BIG TRAIN feel to it. (18/20)


5. LIFESIGNS Lifesigns (2013)

I've held off posting a review or rating for this album for months because I knew, upon first listen, that herein was something special, something that required time to seep into my brain cells. There is such professionalism, such polish and thought and detail gone into this album that it is hard to not want to give it the five star "masterpiece" rating. Yeah, "Telephone" may well be my favorite song of the year and "Carousel" is not far behind, but I have to admit it that the album's other three songs are lacking something. Call it memorable 'hooks' or 'magic' if you like but, despite wonderful compositional and performance displays throughout--and awesome production--and one of my favorite album covers of the year--this album still comes up a bit short of "essential" and "masterpiece." Actually, I find this album most intriguing for the way three things keep drawing my attention (and I have listened to these songs dozens of times): 1) the backup vocalist (whom I believe is Nick Beggs) and vocal arrangements that are so reminiscent of one of the most magical groups at vocal arrangements of all-time, AMBROSIA, 2) the masterful bass/Chapman stick play, and 3) the incredibly alluring flute contributions (which, I believe, are courtesy of Thijs Van Leer).

I wanted so much to find the same magic in all of these well-polished songs that I find in the above two but, alas! it is not to be. I hope against all hopes, however, that John, Nick and "Frosty" feel compelled to give their collaboration one more try. I, for one, will be looking for that release with high interest.

Line-up / Musicians:
- John Young / keyboards, lead vocals, composer & co-producer
- Nick Beggs / bass, Chapman Stick, backing vocals
- Martin "Frosty" Beedle / drums, percussion
- Steve Rispin / co-producing, recording & mixing
- Steve Hackett / lead & acoustic guitars
- Jakko Jakszyk / lead & acoustic guitars
- Robin Boult / lead & acoustic guitars
- Thijs Van Leer / flutes

1. "Lighthouse" (12:51) (21.5/25)

2. "Telephone" (9:16) Nick Beggs gives one of the most amazing ChapmanStick demos in history. (20/20)

3. "Fridge Full Of Stars" (11:18) (17.75/20)

4. "At The End Of The World" (8:23) awesome chords and acoustic guitar and ChapmanStick play. (17.75/20)

5. "Carousel" (11:46) What a Steve Hackett opening! Great keys--from multiple instruments--throughout the middle. Also can't help but love Thijs van Leer's contributions on flute. (22/25)

Total Time: 53:34

 One of the finest bass/ChapmanStick performances ever put to tape.

6. AIRBAG The Greatest Show on Earth (2013)

O, frabjous day! Calloo, callay! They've finally done it, folks! The heirs-apparent to PINK FLOYD have finally fulfilled the enormous promise of their 2009 debut album, Identity; they have pushed past the imitative phase of their 2011 PF-clone/imitation album, All Rights Removed. Now that they have mastered the sounds and stylings of their ancestors, they have moved into new territory, creating fresh, new music. Yes, this is still close to the songs familiar to us all from the original Floyd, but AIRBAG have gotten their courage and confidence built up enough to, in effect, create new Pink Floyd music. That is, if the individuals and collective members of Pink Floyd had been able to retain the creative and explorative fires of their prime years (68-80), this is the five star music they would have been producing. All songs are incredible! All performances, all constructions, all sound and engineering choices are impeccably crafted. Check out these songs on YouTube: "Redemption"; "Call Me Back", and "The Greatest Show on Earth".

1. "Surveillance (Pt. 1)" (2:27) (5/5)

2. "Redemption" (7:00) (14.25/15)

3. "Silence Grows" (5:44) gorgeous little ballad in the vein of their first album and some of Steven Wilson's work. Stunning set up and support for the great lead guitar work in the second half. (10/10)

4. "Call Me Back" (11:14) great pacing, great slow-build to guitar solo as well as within the solo--and it's a long and great solo! (19.5/20)

5. "The Greatest Show on Earth" (6:59) powerful music for the most upbeat, hard-driving, and self-defining song on the album. Again, I hear more similarities to the Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree sound than to Pink Floyd. (13.5/15)

6. "Surveillance, Pts. 2-3" (16:42) starts somewhat slow and understatedly for the place that it ends. Things really begin to get interesting in the fifth minute with the second chorus and the powerful instrumental section that follows. A prolonged interlude of spacey soundscape then follows before the unleashing of full on PT prog heaviness at the 7:40 mark. (28/30)

A masterpiece of progressive rock music. Again, take the beautiful melodies and masterful instrumental weaves of Identity and the Pink Floyd sounds and forms of All Rights Removed and you get this 2013 release, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Mega kudos, Asle, Bjørn, Henrik, Jørgen, and Anders: You have achieved what I thought possible for you: A masterpiece of progressive rock music! This one is for the ages, boys!

7. BELIEVE Seven Widows (2017)

A collection of masterfully crafted songs. Though the leader is obviously Mirek Gil, all contributors are essential to this product, and those of newcomer Łukasz Ociepa on vocals and especially from long-time violinist and keyboard player, Satomi, are exceptional. With a product like this, the band can be forgiven any and all time taken for its creation and rendering.
Łukasz Ociepa - vocals
Mirek Gil (Collage) - lead guitar
Przemas Zawadzki - bass guitar
Robert 'Qba' Kubajek - drums
Satomi - violin, keyboards 

1. "I" (10:49) a perfectly crafted, polished song that suffers a little from lack of that over-the-top emotion that we want from Mirek's guitar solos. The song opens with two basic synth chords joined by strummed electric guitar and, in the second minute, bass, drums, and Mirek's lead establishing one of his signatory melodic riffs. But wait! He's joined by the harmonizing effect of the violin! Nice! Violin stays on to supply a staccato-bowed single note variation while newcomer Łukasz Ociepa enters. At 3:27 Mirek switches gears to deliver a true lead solo as the drums and bass make things a little more interesting beneath. And then Satomi joins in and it's magical! Satomi carries the lead over a bridge of emptiness before the band joins back in and continues the instrumental section another minute. A shift in mood and style at the end of the sixth minute leads to another appearance by the band's new vocalist. He's sounding a lot like Karol Wróblewski in this section. The new mood feels more somber and serious. It plays out for four of the final five minutes of the song--vocals ending in a way that sounds like a DOVES song--before ending with the bombastic section with Mirek's lead riffs. (18/20)

2. "II" (9:07) bass, drums and kalimba-like guitar arpeggi open this one, setting another eerie, ominous tone. Mirek's guitar is a little edgier with some distortion this time as he wails between each of the vocal sections. Satomi's play is more academic, following practice scales, as she interjects an occasional solo or two.  At 3:20 everything shifts dramatically as acoustic guitar strums and picked electric play accompaniment to first Satomi's violin and then Mirek's electric wail. At 4:48 the same foundation serves to support Łukasz in a new vocal--one that is slightly muted until he begins to belt it out at 5:30. Nice lower end guitar work from Mirek's lead in the sixth-seventh minutes. When he finally climbs into the upper registers it feels dramatic and gets the adrenaline really pumping. Then he starts using wammy bar and Satomi comes in to reinforce him. And she gets to end it with multiple violin tracks riffing away. This is so sublime! What a team! What a band! This band has really gelled with this album. I'm ready to acclaim them the new Neo Prog masters! (18/20)

3. "III" (7:58) an average prog song is turned remarkable by Mirek's solos and the wonderful vocals--especially in the mid-section; the beginning and end sections are satisfactory. Great drumming, too! (13.5/15)

4. "IV" (11:58) from rain storm to playground sounds to an awesomely heavy instrumental opening, the impassioned singing of lead vocalist Łukasz Ociepa only adds credibility to the seriousness of that majestic opening--and then he goes up another notch in the sixth minute just before Mirek follows suit. God! It's great to hear Mirek Gil letting loose again (albeit, too briefly)! I think every Collage lover wants more of the adrenaline magic of "The Blues" and "Heroes Cry."
     Lull with bass cords and militaristic toms fill the end of the eighth minute as Satomi plays a respectful folk dirge for the next two minutes. When the band finally brings all back together at the 9:30 mark it sounds so powerful, so supportive of the violin's beautiful and simple eulogy. Amazing the things music can do! An outright masterpiece of simple, efficient power! (25/25)

5. "V" (8:03) Steadily presented heavy prog with no flash or flair, just solid, melody supporting chords over which Satomi's violin and Łukasz' plaintive voice bless us. And Mirek is in the background (at least, until the fourth minute)! Nice guitar'n'drums chase in that fourth minute solo.         What a voice! This may be the heir apparent to Marco Gluhmann. He's got some growing to do but he has the pathos! I love the shift at 5:15 into a different time signature with bass and guitar holding steady while Qba's drums and the lead guitar fly (with multiple tracks given to display Mirek's frenetic flourishes). Wow! I'm not sure I can take much more of this adrenaline pumping! (14.25/15)

6. "VI" (8:36) loose chimes bridge songs five and six before a whispered voice delivers its creepy Edgar Allan Poe message. Bass harmonics and toms support heavily distorted guitar arpeggi before Mirek sets up the song with a riff in the lead. The vocal here feels a little buried in the music. Great drum, bass, and atmosphere here but the vocal is just not fitting. It's almost as if this was a long finished instrumental that Łukasz felt he could add a vocal to. It's finally starting to work with the gorgeous violin-aided chorus--which is then followed by one of Mirek's signature ear candy leads. Gorgeous. In the sixth minute organ and synth join as the drums double time for a spell, then things slow back down for another spell-binding violin solo. What a gorgeous melody. Another song I'm going to want to hear a lot of. (13.5/15)

7. "VII" (8:48) the toms from song VI bleed into this one before another heavy full onslaught lights up the aural pathways. Once established, this quickly falls back to allow a spacious atmosphere in which Łukasz can deliver another of his masterful vocals. The pattern of heavy-Mirek riffing onslaught bridging the softer vocal sections is established until 3:40 when a slow arpeggiation of a guitar chord progression plays with synth and electric guitar sounds flitting in from behind. Chords of orchestral synth wash join in with more toms while Satomi delivers a brief solo. The music stays the same as Łukasz gives his best Marco impression. This is such gorgeous music.  (18/20)

The YouTube sampler the band had posted to chum up potential investors left me unimpressed. I am SO glad I decided to return and become one of those investors once I found out how to secure it. I cannot repeat enough how emotional this music is, masterful in both composition and delivery. This is NOT the album I was expecting: Believe albums always seem to fall short of expectations and desires. Not this one. This is a sheer masterpiece of progressive rock music--one for the ages!

8. SYLVAN Home (2015)

I've been listening to this album for a couple of months with increasing enjoyment with each listen. As a matter of fact, I can say that this is the first Sylvan release since Posthumous Silence to truly captivate me. Marco and crew (a much changed crew since PS) have returned to more of the elements of progressive rock while at the same time using their greatest strength to its utmost. Of course, in that I speak of the marvelous voice of Marco Glühmann doing what he does best: telling a compelling story of the challenges and pitfalls of being human in this confusing modern world. I think Marco's voice is the strongest I've ever heard it--using all of his tricks and strengths in perfect timing with the emotion of the lyrics--of each word--embellishing the music perfectly. And I really like this stripped down, simplified music mixed with elements of electronica, classical, chamber and Sylvan's usual solid rhythm section. I have to agree with one of the previous reviewers that sitting through 80 minutes while trying to remain fully attendant is challenging. (But, even sitting through the entire play through of my favorite album of all-time, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is a challenging thing to achieve.) But the rewards of having a song from this album pass through my iPod Shuffle's random playlist is always rewarding and enjoyable. Especially as I have gotten more familiar with them. Consummate professionals with a very polished and straightforward presentation, they have the experience and maturity to employ all of the "tricks" to hook the prog listener. I love it! I love the throbbing bass! the way the grand piano is recorded to sound like a classical piano, the powerful yet succinct guitar solos, the deliberate arrangements and orchestrated sections, and, of course, the sublime voice of one of progressive rock's all-time masters!

There are no songs that I skip or dislike but I find myself really tuning in when I hear:  1. "Not Far from the Sky" (6:31) (9/10); 4. "With the Eyes of a Child" (4:19) (10/10); 6. "The Sound of Her World" (9:23) (18/20); the refreshingly genius and emotion-packed 7. "Sleep Tight" (5:31) (10/10); the MARILLION-like 8. "Off Her Hands" (3:33) (9/10); the best song on the album, 9. "Shine" (6:19) (10/10); the hypnotic 10. "Point of No Return" (5:25) (10/10); the gorgeous finale, "Home" (6:05) (10/10), and; the tumultuous epic "in Between" (10:50) (19/20).

Such a polished, mature album of excellent and original Neo-Prog. A minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.

9. TIGER MOTH TALES Cocoon (2014)

Very creative, whimsical, and engaging storytelling--with amazing voice talents and great diversity of musical styles. Not only can Peter act (and tell a story), he can play! Lots of instruments! Well!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Jones / vocals, keyboards, talkbox, drum programming, guitar, saxophone, whistle, sarod, zither, melodica, bells, percussion
- Mark Wardle / flugelhorn

1. "Overture" (4:32) bombastic prog instrumental (8.25/10)

2. "Spring" (0:34)

3. "The Isle Of Witches" (11:03) nice storyteller's intro followed by mood-setting keys (Mad Nemo organ) until the sixth minute when a heavy low-end plodding theme opens and then is supported by some very dark-pirate-like voices (some treated by vocoder, etc.). Then the witches have a turn to speak and have their own theme. It turns out that conflict and resolution are mysteriously comeby as nothing in the dialogue, singing, or music would lead me to believe that such had happen--as wonderful as the music and voice acting are. Odd song to try to rate. (17.5/20)

4. "Summer" (0:29) Indian sarod. He's good!

5. "Tigers In The Butter" (14:54) I definitely hear the roar of tigers in the jungle-pastoral opening. Some very Banksian and later GENESIS sounds in the instrumental build. Vocals begin with multi-voiced chorus. This is very UNITOPIA-like. Lead vocal is very reminiscent of 80s confident PHIL COLLINS--almost Tarzan-like. Nice Andean flute solo followed by fuzz guitar solo followed by chorus and UNITOPIA finale with awesome lead guitar solo. (27.5/30)

6. "The First Lament" (7:40) distant flute playing over low hum and occasional zither notes. Wooden flute moves forward and begins its plaintive solo. Quite a mood being set here! (Kind of like The Last Samurai--before the fight in the fog.) Piano hit indicates a new section. Electrified acoustic guitar plays its own sad melody before the sonicscape fills out and lead electric guitar takes over. Very New Age jazzy before the drums and low end really amp up with the now-wailing guitar. Nice instrumental. Accomplishes exactly what the title says it will. No wonder Colin Tench took a shine to this guy! (13.5/15)

7. "Autumn" (0:30) fireworks, park band, and footsteps in the dry leaves.

8. "The Merry Vicar" (6:40) organ in a kind of "Baba O'Riley" opening, turns heavy, before turning vaudevillian in a theatric Peter Gabriel way. Very entertaining. Very British. After the singing/theatrics ends, piano turns classical, but then we get a very GENESIS passage with Banksian synth solo, but then it turns heavy & eerie again for a stint before revolving back into the vicar story. What an actor! And composer, to boot! (9/10)

9. "A Visit To Chigwick" (8:50) down-home folk guitar with kitchen percussives opens this before a beautiful RICHIE HAVENS-like voice joins in. Wow! This is amazing! I'd swear I was listening to Richie singing and playing his own tune! The music switches into a bouncy GENESIS-like passage with accordion and acoustic guitar soloing over the top! Wow! Muted narration lets us know that we're observing soldiers on parade. Amazing! The best early Genesis mock up I've ever heard! With even more flare and sophistication of Nursery Cryme-era Genesis! I never thought I'd say this: I've finally heard someone take the creative, theatric genius of PG-era Genesis and take it further! (20/20)

10. "Winter" (0:45) Christmas music with children's outdoor voices and footsteps in the snow.

11. "Don't Let Go, Feels Alright" (13:32) a little "Mad, Man Moon" feel turns heavier, sad, as piano,  voice, and then saxophone over "orchestra" belt out their emotions. When lead guitar takes over it sounds as if it's letting up, over, but the, surprise! There's six more minutes left! Back to a little RICHIE HAVENS-like music for the next lyrical section. Peter is definitely pulling on some heartstrings here! This is rather amazing! Another calming coda leads to a zither passage over which Richie/Phil sings but then quits, leaving the zither, piano and electric piano do the work until background choir voices sing a chorus. I am truly stunned. Drained and weepy. Nice job, Mr. Jones!I am hard-pressed to think of a better, more complete, more effective song in recent history. (30/30)

Total time 69:29

A truly remarkable musical listening experience--one that I HIGHLY recommend for any and ALL PROG LOVERS!


A very nicely constructed rock opera with some great guest performances. Reminiscent of the grand productions of Arjen Lucassen with the sound of UNITOPIA or SYLVAN. Great sound production and, what's more, I can understand every word of every singer/narrator.

1. "A? - I" (2:56) Noah's father setting the scene. (4/5)

2. "Salvation" (3:18) simple yet enticing song construct with some pretty awesome vocals from Peter Jones. (9.25/10)

3. "A Price To Pray - I" (2:51) the band finally gets to launch into full sound--a full 90 seconds of instrumental display. It's heavy yet psychedelic. The voice of Noah are strong and metallic. (8.5/10)

4. "A Dream That Strayed - I" (4:35) opens like a JEFF BECK/COLIN TENCH bluesy guitar show piece with piano and delicate drum and synth play in accompaniment. In the second minute vocals enter from male (Lars Köhler playing the role of Samuel, I believe) as piano, syncopated drums, fretless bass and synth chords support. A lecture from Father ensues in which Samuel is told that his "disrespectful" girlfriend must go. Simple yet sensitive, pretty, and powerful. Excellent vehicle for storytelling. (10/10)

5. "A Price To Pray - II" (5:10) Samuel is commanded to recite passages from the Bible as the music speeds along beneath, throughout. The weave is a kind of whole-band study of discipline and timing as stops, power weaves, incidental instrumentals, and vocals flit in and out of the flow. Cool violin solo at the 3:00 mark followed by a solid metal (Eddie Van Halen-like) electric guitar soloing intermixed with some angry vocals. (8.75/10)

6. "A Dream That Strayed - II" (3:00) dated synth chords and bass pulses support vocals from Anne Trautman and Lars Köhler in the roles of Samuel's girlfriend and Samuel, respectively. (Samuel is saying goodbye in fulfillment of his father's command.) Ends with a dreamy patch of synth/keys sounding like something out of Interstellar before bleeding into the next song. (9/10)

7. "A? - II" (2:53) continues the music from the previous song as Samuel laments and his Father commends him. Nice guitar solo in the second half doubles up on the emotional distress that Samuel is going through. (5/5)

8. "Heaven" (1:30) takes the themes of the previous song and turns it into an organ-supported choral piece of supportive advice: "Don't walk away" and "heaven is inside you." Nice! (5/5)

9. "The Word Made Flesh" (7:05) Samuel's girlfriend is pregnant! Beautiful vocals from Samuel's girlfriend (Anne Trautmann) and a second female performing vocalise in the background (also Anne? Jana Pöche? Annemarie Schmid?) It gets heavy in the fifth minute as men enter and try to exert their power. Argument between Father and Mother is powerful--ending in some kind of violence (I think). Really beautiful song, great music and, again, great vocal performances from the women. (14/15)

10. "Hear My Voice Tonight" (9:57) opens with a piercingly high, beautiful female voice, soon joined by a male, and then another. Three voices woven together very nicely. One man takes the leave saying how he "was saved by loving once before." A true stage-crafted song, with multiple voices participating as well as several musical themes weaving in and out of the mix, this makes me wonder if the band has aspirations to perform this as a musical stage play. They'd have to expand it but that would give them time to develop the characters a little better. I think it would work wonderfully. A somber piano-based motif takes over at the 5:30 mark, oboe soloing beautifully over the top. 75 seconds later a chunky-bass-heavy theme takes over within which the vocal ensemble reappear to assert themselves (though I'm not sure what has been accomplished.) Things soften and slow for the jazzy final minute as sax and electric guitars take us into the album's final song. (17.5/20)

11. "Come To Your Father" (10:07) starts off very heavy--almost URIAH HEEP-like but heavier--with some quite strong rasp-metal vocals from Noah (Lars Köhler). Jana Pöche's vocals representing the mother are quite strong, not unlike prog metal diva Simone Simons or Anneke van Giersbergen, as are "twin" Anne Trautmann's. The music then settles at 2:30 into a beautiful SYLVAN-esque section over which the story of dysfunctional parenting is displayed in a raw Posthumous Silence-kind of way. Beautiful vocalise in this section from someone (Annemarie Schmid?). The seventh minute sees a thickening of sound with a great chord sequence that slowly builds over the next five minutes as the instruments work toward the final climax. Well done! Great balance of instruments and great sound production. (19/20)

Total time: 53:22

Five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music--carrying a powerful story with powerful, well constructed music just the way progressive rock music was meant to do.

Great storytelling, great musical construct, great performances from all vocalists. My favorite part of the entire album were the two prolonged sections of female vocalise. Who was that singer?

Definitely an album that I will enjoy for many years.

11. MYSTERY One Among the Living (2010)

This is the album with which I first became aware of the Mystery sound--the rich, polished, emotional sound that, to these ears, epitomize all that is right with the Neo Prog movement. Replete with more-modern sounds that were pioneered by the Trick of the Tail and, especially, Wind and Wuthering albums and from which the Neo Prog movement was born, what makes Mystery such a delight to listen to is not just the wonderful standards set by their vocalists--here Benoît David--or the interesting and complex compositions of Michel St-Père or even the great evenly-distributed performances by the instrumentalists or even the oft-soul-melting melodies, but, for me, the anticipation of waiting for each electric guitar solo offered by Michel. His guitar play is so amazing, so melodic though technically proficient, that I find myself perking up every time I see him guesting on other people's albums.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Benoît David / vocals
- Michel St-Père / electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, producer
- Steve Gagné / drums
- Dean Baldwin / guitar (13)
- Daryl Stuermer / guitar solo (14)
- Benoît Dupuis / keyboards (1,2,11,12,14)
- Oliver Wakeman / Moog solo (5)
- François Fournier / bass (12), Taurus pedals
- John Jowitt / bass (5)
- Antoine Fafard / bass (2-4,6-11,14)
- Richard Lanthier / bass (13)
- Claire Vezina / backing vocals (14)
- Dahlie-Yann St-Père / children laughter
- Damellia St-Père / children laughter

1. "Among the Living" (1:13)

2. "Wolf" (5:53) a solid, varied rocker with great vocal and great instrumental contributions spread among all contributors. Benoît David has such a gorgeous voice--in the league with the Journey and the greats of the 80s hair bands. (9/10)

3. "Between Love And Hate" (5:53) a pretty straightforward heavy rocker, power chords and all, highlighted by a powerful guitar solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)

4. "Till The Truth Comes Out" (9:25) a gentle, emotional Neo Prog song, complete with syrupy layers of imitation strings to build into the full band breakout in the third minute. Interesting time shift at 3:45 into a more dynamic, multi-instrumental instrumental section. Awesome! Wonderful performances by all. (17.75/20)

5. "Kameleon Man" (5:01) another heavy rocker, more in the vein of 1980s hair bands, spiced up a little by some awesome precision lead guitar work and Oliver Wakeman's CAMEL-esque Moog solo in the middle. (8.25/10)

 - "Through Different Eyes" (suite) (22:34) (41.5/45):
6. "I. When Sorrow Turns To Pain" (3:56) standard fare, not Benoît's best vocal melody. (8.25/10)
7. "II. Apocalyptic Visions Of Paradise" (1:48) Hackett/Genesis-like instrumental interlude. (5/5)
8. "III. So Far Away" (5:51) tender, 12-string arpeggi-based. Pretty, nice vocal melodies. Builds to an awesome bass pedal crescendo. (8.75/10)
9. "IV. The Point Of No Return" (2:21) a spacey-industrial expression of war-like conflict. (4.5/5)
10. "V. The Silent Scream" (5:57) back to sensitive acoustic guitar-based, Benoît's vocal here is similar to modern RPI singers like Alessio Calandario--more straight-foward and raw, powerful yet vulnerable, emotional. Michel picks up the vocal melody with his electric guitar and does what we've really been waiting for:  he soars. When Benoît returns, it is in a higher octave--soaring in a way to match Michel's guitar while those deep bass and bass pedal lows keep killing us. Michel really lights it up in the second half. Wow! Amazing! (10/10)
11. "VI. Dancing With Butterflies" (2:42) returning to the opening lyrics and themes, vocals expressing through multiple tracks, keys and guitars flying steady and free beneath, the song wends its way to a long, gorgeous dénouement and fade with seagull noises and children's laughter. (5/5)

12. "One Among The Living" (6:27) great sound from the start, very GENESIS-like, with Banksian keys and Hackett-esque guitar and Collins-like drum patterning. Even when it goes heavy at 2:30, the ensuing section is awesome and still very much in the Genesis-vein. Not my favorite vocal or lyric, definitely an amazing composition and sound. Best song on the album. (9.5/10)

13. "The Falling Man" (7:39) based on an ominous repeating 10-chord sequence of chunky bass and guitar power chords, Benoît sings in his best DEF LEPPARD voice while all instrumentalists do their best to promote and maintain that heavy substrate. A couple surprise twists are short-lived and only temporary tangents, the music always returning to that 10-chord base. Well done, great whole-band discipline. (13/15)

14. "Sailing On A Wing" (4:55) classic Neo Prog song, great vocal melody hook and awesome lead guitar work. (9/10)

Total Time: 69:01

The album that skyrockets Mystery into the top echelon of Neo Prog.

12. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Sunstone (2015)

The mysteriously anonymous artist who chooses to let his projects attract their own merit without name associations under the title The Psychedelic Ensemble has released his fifth concept album in six years under the title, The Sunstone. Based upon legends and mythologies that have emerged from sea-faring cultures (mostly Viking) revolving around the mysterious navigational aid known as “the sunstone,” the gifted and eminently skilled composer/performer behind The Psychedelic Ensemble once again draws from universal archetypes to offer entertainment and meaningful lessons to we, the people.   
    Four things are particularly noticeable upon listening to this new TPE album that make it stand out as a bit different from previous releases. First is the way in which the presence of the orchestral and chamber instrumentations and arrangements are much more foundational and integral to the overall sound of The Sunstone’s music—on virtually every song. This artist is above all quite accomplished as a composer and arranger of symphonic sounds and structures; TPE’s song tapestries are always interesting and complex in a multi-layered way that is strikingly similar to symphonic structures from ‘classical’ music. 
     The second thing that is noticeably evolved from previous TPE recordings (at least the previous two albums) is that the soloing weaves of multiple instruments that we’ve come to know and be awed by are somewhat tempered and not always delivered at such breakneck speed. It’s as if TPE has let go of a desire to impress in lieu of allowing more emotional content to be delivered. I am still amazed by how he can create and perform these three-, four-, and sometimes five-instrument “duels.”
     The third thing that I’ve found so noticeable is the way TPE has committed to sharing the lead vocal duties with his relatively new and quite talented female vocalist, Ann Caren. She is given lead opportunities in no less than three songs. And I hear more of Ann’s own imprint on her vocal delivery than on her performances on The Tale of The Golden King.
     The fourth change—and, to these ears, the most significant improvement to the TPE sound—is the more ‘real’ or ‘drum-like’ sounds of the toms and snares used in the drum recording. I have always felt that the previous settings/tunings of these ‘skins’ were too tight, too plastic sounding.  

1. “Prologue - The Voyage” (2:14) opens with a wonderful display of the potential of full orchestra to set a mood. By the time TPE’s electric guitars and synthesizers join the party there is a wonderful feeling of excitement—and perhaps a little bit of Blade Runner or Harry Potter-ish foreboding. (5/5)

2. “The Sunstone” (5:32) Moving straight from the Prologue, “The Sunstone” enters familiar TPE territory in that the drums and magical weave of multiple stringed and keyed instruments present themselves with the immediate joinder of the soothing voice (multiply layered) of TPE. The vocals are nicely harmonized and kind held back within the instrumental mix—which sounds really fresh and demonstrates that restraint I mentioned above. Great TPE song! (9/10) 

3. “The Siren’s Spell” (4:17) opens with organ, synth and dirty distorted guitar setting the stage for Ann Caren’s first vocal performance. Again, restraint rather than flamboyance seems to be the modus operandi here as Ann’s vocal is never ‘in your face’ strong. The mid-section of soli is also much less flashy and feverous/high-pitched than we’ve come to respect—again to great effect. The song’s acoustic guitar coaxed outro is very nice—and a perfect segue into the next song. (8/10) 

4. “The Storm” (4:50) is an instrumental in which we see a return to a weave of more rapid-fire instrumental solo melody lines—though this time in the form of but two instruments—at least for the first 2:15. Then the Hammond organ gets a turn. Back to original two ‘dirty’ instruments, then electric violin to make it a threesome. Nice but could’ve used something . . . more. (8/10)    

5. “A Hundred Years On” (8:04) opens with some gorgeous orchestral play—like watching a sunrise through music! After two minutes the song shifts into medieval acoustic folk with some acoustic guitars, harpsichord, double bass and drums while TPE sings. The fourth minute opens with a new feel—some great vocals and Hammond organ with full band and some chamber support. Really beautifully constructed song—with great effect! The final minute sees an awesome atmospheric section in support of Ann Caren’s lovely voice. I love this one! One of my favorite TPE songs ever! I wish every band could afford the support of such a wide range of instrumentalists—and compose with the maturity and sophistication that TPE does! (15/15)

6. “Sun Mad” (6:59) is kind of a continuation of the previous song’s storyline but it brings the pace and tone down a bit—allowing piano, jazzy lead guitar, emotional vocal, and orchestral support to come shining through. Such a brilliant weave of melody lines, start to finish! Awesome chord progressions and key changes. Great choice of instrument sounds. Quite a beautiful song. Definitely a favorite of mine. (15/15)

7. “Digging Up the Past” (5:45) At the 1:30 mark the song is established. I love the three or four bass melody lines interweaving at the bottom of the song with drums and Hammond organ. Hypnotic in a kind of TANGERINE DREAM way but amazingly mixed into a 60s blues-rock song. Awesome song! (9/10)

8. “The Quake” (5:42) opens with a kind of jazz fusion soup with some wonderful vocal inputs trying to steer the song onto its proper course. Once established, it becomes a very solid instrumental display of jazz fusion. The sound and instrument choices are definitely meant to capture the sounds and stylings of 1970s fusion. Like something from JAN HAMMER or electro-funkified STANLEY CLARKE, even a bit of WEATHER REPORT. Incredible song! (10/10)

9. “Gaze” (7:43) is a sensitive, emotional song constructed mostly of orchestral instruments in support of a wonderful vocal of Ann Caren. Synths and electric guitar enter in the third minute; drums, fretless bass, and Hammond organ in the fourth. I love the JEAN-LUC PONTY-like electric guitar arpeggios providing the glue to the song throughout the second half. Awesome bass play (including a brief solo) in the sixth minute traded with synths and guitars. My only criticism is of the fact that Ms. Caren’s voice gets a little buried in the mix of the instrumental weave going on throughout the last two minutes. (14.25/15)

10. “Endgame” (4:07) features Ann Caren and TPE trading vocal duties in a conversant kind of way over an often rhythmic KIG CRIMSON like weave of arpeggios coming from multiple instruments. A very familiar sound from previous TPE releases. (8/10)

11. “Back to the Sea” (7:19) opens with ocean waves and a bit of a folk sound with acoustic guitar, mandolin, recorder weaving behind TPE’s light IAN ANDERSON-like vocal. In the second minute Ann Caren takes over the lead vocal—this time with additional support of folk electric guitar and slide synth sounds giving it more of a Nashville sound. Light and upbeat though—kind of like a 60s Flower Child song of total optimism. The church organ opening the fourth minute, coupled with the chunky bass notes, gives the song more of a YES “Your Move” feel to it. Then the fifth minute sees a shift into more of an ominous tone with horn-synth taking lead over some minor key chords. At 6:00 we re-enter the sunlight and hope with the church organ—which then gives way to the original light folk feel and its instrumental support. The final minute sees the return to ominous and heavy as the soloists vie for supremacy and dominance. The song finishes with the dominant church organ and folk voice harmonies claiming the title. Definitely the most mood-complex and song on the album. Nice to end the album on a bit of a quieter if still dramatic note. (13.5/15)

TPE believes that this is his best release yet and I agree. The variation and maturity of presentation on The Sundstone coupled with the slight evolution of soundscapes and slight pullback from the previous tendency to be a bit over-dramatic puts this one ahead of his previous masterpieces, 2013’s The Tale of the Golden King  and even my previous personal favorite of his, 2011’s The Dream of the Magic Jongleur.

Other Great Neo Prog Albums

I AND THOU Speak  (2012)

Upon first listen I thought this piano-based, soft-voiced collection of four long songs a bit too syrupy, and, because of its being piano-based, a bit too simple. I am so glad I continued to give this one more listens (thanks once again to!) because it is not the music of a simpleton! (Though ear candy it is--BIG TIME!)

1. "Speak" (12:19) starts out sounding like a SUPERTRAMP song until the vocals enter giving it a very SPOCK'S BEARD sound. At the 4:00 mark an awesome upbeat driving groove is established by layers of synths, bass, piano, and drums. By the 6:00 things are developing more melodically. At 7:00 there is a YES-like shift with piano and guitar establishing new melody. At 8:05 another exciting section is introduced before the band falls back into a little heavier version of the section established at the six minute mark. At 9:25 the song returns to the beginning vocal section. Song ends with the final two minutes giving the song a very Wind and Wuthering feel. Good tune. (18.5/20)

2. "... and I Awaken" (11:31) begins with an AUTUMN CHORUS feel, until the same SPOCK'S BEARD-like vocalist enters. The very pleasant layering of harmonizing vocals at the 1:30 mark is the 'hook' that sucks me in. This is followed by a brief but very effective section of some symphonic call and response layers. The song's first part ends about 4:10 with a beautiful little classical piano bridging the way to a little STYX/STARCASTLE section. The excellent classical piano bridges are so RICK WAKEMAN-like! The fuzz guitars so MIKE OLDFIELD! Beginning at the seven minute mark is a dreamy almost RENAISSANCE section--with a touch of BURT BACHARACH key and chord changes! Beautiful! Church-like and yet folkish as well.The section beginning at 8:20 has an amazingly dramatic "Great Gig in the Sky" feel to it. There are even female vocals in the background! Again, PHIDEAUX comes to mind--but this is better! Then the song ends with a bouncy, upbeat section that is so catchy and memorable! Amazing how many "hooks" this song has! This song alone is worth the purchase of the album. (18.5/20)

3. "Hide and Seek " (16:30) begins with a classical chamber section featuring piano and strings (yes, real ones!) Quite lovely. Then it melts with a single strum of an electric guitar into a classic GENESIS/PINK FLOYD section--which turns into a TONY BANKS "Mad Man Moon" solo section. Gorgeous. Vocals enter giving it again a PINK FLOYD ("Comfortably Numb) like feel. The background synths and acoustic guitars keep it vacillating back to GENESIS territory, while the addition of vocals make me think of some of early ALAN PARSON PROJECTS' dreamier vocal sections. The voice of female KEREN ANN first makes its presence known in the seventh minute, just before the big shift into an upbeat driving groove--over which a PAUL WELLER-like guitarist solos. Fun, catchy section--gets me to my feet to move a little. At 9:50 we fall back to the dreamy "Mad Man Moon" section--complete with "Banksian" piano arpeggios and Hackett-esque volume pedal-controlled sustained guitar notes. The APP dreamy vocal section resumes with some beautiful vocal harmony work from KEREN ANN (among others--or using several tracks). A GILMOUR-esque "Comfortably Numb" solo begins at the 12:40 mark before the song descends back into a more acoustic though more folk than classical section reminiscent of the opening section. Acoustic guitar is here featured. An fast paced section reminding me of something from Selling England begins around the 14:30 mark. Excellent composition of beautiful music if perhaps a bit too familiar and dreamy. (27/30)

4. "The Face Behind the Eyes" (13:35) begins with a classic GENESIS sound (Tony Banks chord progression) but turns into something that is nothing very special until the fourth minute when a bouncy piano-based, jazz-classical fusion section begins--sounding very much like a great TONY BANKS soundtrack piece. Awesome stuff! a BEAUTIFUL song! (27/30)

5. "Go or Go Ahead " (6:41) begins with a very simple chord sequence of fast-played piano arpeggios over which first Jason Hart and then Steve Hogarth take turns singing. A song in whose lyrics both singers evidently find quite a bit to connect because it is delivered quite emotionally. To me it is nothing very extraordinary--and too monotonous. It could be a Christmas carole. The last minute and a half is pretty good. (7/10)

Definitely an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Highly recommended! Especially for those lovers of melodic neo-symphonic/crossover prog.

THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Tale of The Golden King (2013)

He’s done it again, folks! TPE has created another masterpiece of progressive rock—this time a “prog rock drama” telling an original story synthesized from medieval sleeping hero and mountain king legends, The Tale of The Golden King. A benevolent, Arthurian-like king is rewarded by the gods by being turned into a gold statue with the attached promise to his sad reverent subjects: When the time comes your king will return. The Great King’s disappearance results, of course, in the invasion of a greedy and oppressive lot,  “The Henchmen.” Fear and despair fall upon the citizens until finally a revolt is planned—with the ensuing battle, victory and celebration. The “return” of The Great King, however, is not as one would expect, which is the clever twist in this allegory for a new age.
     Musically, TPE has surpassed all previous work by not only expanding upon his multi-layered, multi-instrumental wizardry but also by exploring a broader variety of musical genres than previously—using more medieval and theatrical jazz instrumentation and themes. Also, TPE has expanded his horizons by incorporating orchestration in the form of The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra and guest vocalists, including the crystalline voice of Ann Caren for female leads and background vocals. And, as usual, the artwork of TPE’s CD and booklet are breathtaking. 

1. “Overture – Our Great Kingdom” (7:22) Opening with a Gong, a background note held by some Gregorian monks, and a wooden flute, and oboe, you just know this is going to be epic. Next, the acoustic guitar and lone synth present some themes that you’ll hear a lot—followed by electric guitar with another theme. Shortly the whole band is in sync, multiple synths, electric guitar, and calmer-than-usual drums, the themes weaving together, “Hail, Great Kingdom” repeats the vocals in self-proclaimed glory.  The classic TPE layers of multi-instrumental melody weaves, with numerous individual instruments taking turns to step into the spotlight to solo, even if ever-so briefly, is well-established by song’s end. I’ve never heard any artist or band so clever and masterful at this multi-multi-instrument solo-weaving. The themes here, unfortunately, seem a bit too familiar—as if I’ve heard them in other TPE songs. (12/15)

2. “The Prophecy of The Seer – The Transformation of The King” (6:04) begins with a kind of midnight lull, a gentler, calmer feel to the music—as a messenger is presented to The King. At the one minute mark a RICHIE HAVENS-like voice enters as The Seer—and awesome and majestic is that voice! This whole section is quite magical and sophisticated. I have to admit that, for me, the sound and presence of even more guest vocalists would be a welcome addition to the TPE sound. The break-neck speed and awesome guitar and synth soloing of the fourth minute are big highlights of this one. It’s a very ELP-sounding section. Awesome! At 4:40 an eerie church organ provides background to the proclamation of The Gods as, all the while, the band of subjects tries to intersperse with some of its themes as if to convey a sense of normalcy, while actually expressing denial and an unwillingness to hear the prophecy and “curse.” Great theater. Awesome song! (10/10)

3. “The Golden King” (9:24) opens with a return to orchestral presentation while TPE instruments singly interject themes and voices. As the song takes full form around 2:15, an absolutely gorgeous and infectious melody and vocal presentation is opened and developed—all occurring with a full and very intricate weave of endlessly soloing multi-instruments dancing and sparring in the background. Awesome bass lines throughout this one, too. Incredible guitar solo initiated at the five minute mark, which is then masterfully tied into the main themes before decaying into a gorgeous piano-based section before returning to the main vocal theme. At 7:45 the ‘rock’ sounds and themes of the song stop, making way for a gorgeous orchestral section, led by a beautiful flute solo. Gradually the orchestra builds around the flute’s melody, crescendoing as an electric guitar caps off the celebration of this theme. This song is definitely the high point, musically, of the album for me. (20/20)

4. “Captive Days” (4:12) is an instrumental that begins with a wonderful almost-pensive medieval sound and feel. It evolves by the second minute into what sounds like a kind of Broadway jazz dance scene—Bob Fosse would’ve had some awesome choreography to this piece. Pianos, brushed drums, big orchestral accents. The congas and fretless bass rising to the forefront in the third minute are a nice touch. (9/10)

5. “The Queen of Sorrow” (8:22) opens with a solo lute before piano, acoustic guitar, distant drums and some orchestral background break our to support the crystalline and angelic if –melancholy voice of the Queen of Sorrow, the wonderful Ann Caren. The syncopated background piano chord play is a highlight for me in this song. At 3:45 there is a shift in the music to a kind of clandestine, hidden and very eerie section in which odd Arabian horn-like instruments flit and float around behind The Queen’s almost-whispered, fear-filled vocal. The ensuing instrumental solo section is very Keith Emerson/ELP–like. Cool! At the six minute mark the piano play, Queen’s vocal and background vocal mix is extraordinary. Devolving with support of cello into the final 100 seconds of orchestral supported medieval sounds while The Queen once more states her case. (18/20)

6. “Save Yourself” (6:10) opens with some mood-setting sound eerie sounds—like we’re in the catacombs beneath Paris. The music enters with some jazzy popping, fretless bass and jazz-styled drumming. Great vocal melody is supported by some synths, organ, and twangy electric guitar. Great section! Great organ sound and solo at the two minute mark. This is so fun! The follow-up guitar solo is also vintage early 70s jazz fusion guitar—like Steve Khan or Larry Coryell. The bass solo shortly after the four-minute mark once again reminds me of what a bass virtuoso is TPE. Electric piano and fuzzy guitar finish the soloing as we get back to the story with this excellent vocal and haunting melody. (10/10)

7. “Make A Plan—Golden Swords” (7:10) opens with a bluesy feel: electric guitar filling a large-room sound and a kind of blues-styled vocal intro. Soon the usual cast of synth characters noodle their way in, though organ, bluesy piano, and fuzz guitar seem to be the constant sounds threading this weave. The drums are, thankfully somewhat muted and mixed in the background for in the third and fourth minutes their rapid fire gattling gun sound gets a little overwhelming and distracting form me. The vocal performance of the wise elder, The Court Blacksmith, could have used, in my opinion, a different voice or style—if only to help convey that wisdom that has supposedly earned the respect—and ears--of the rest of the kingdom. (10.5/15)

8. “The Battle” (4:16) is an instrumental that uses some interesting sound and rhythmical constructs to convey the march into and conflict—there is a definite sense of confidence and insistence conveyed through this music. And with many underlying and tangential sounds strings moving around, behind and from within the main music, it has the very cool effect of evoking the minor skirmishes that invariably occur within and at the edges of a battle. The ghost-like synth floating background is also an ingenious tool which serves to convey the fog-like precariousness of the conflict and the tide-like ebb and flow of the potential outcome.  (10/10)

9. “This Great Day” (7:35) opens with some relaxing pastoral acoustic guitar play—joined shortly by a strumming 12-string and a flute-synth. The Queen’s voice enters with a melody that harkens back to Jon Anderson’s classic solo “Your Move” section near the beginning of “I’ve Seen All Good People.” As a matter of fact, the entire first two minutes is quite strong in its evocation of YES: “Your Move,” “Wond’rous Stories,” Wakeman. Then a very cool electric guitar solo takes over, bridging out way to music with a kind of celebratory mood. Here some multi-level, rondo-like vocal harmonies are used to great effect—as is the continued use to the kind of country twang-and-delayed electric guitar. Synths, piano, and guitars go into a kind of collective game of hot potato—each taking turns to burst forth a brief solo. The song finishes with a brief return to the opening YES theme with a collective harmonized chorus, “Yesterday is gone, it’s through, The past has flown away. All you thought and all you knew, Have turned the other way. This Great Day!” (13.5/15)

10. “Finale – Arise! – Great Kingdom” (11:39) opens with “celebrate the dawn”-like music as presented by The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra. Beautiful recapitulating weave of the album’s themes. With the third minute comes a modified reprise of the “Great Day” mixed with the medieval instrumentation of “Captive Days.” The singing is quite celebratory—apparently the prophecy has been fulfilled-not in the expected form of the King arising from the dead/gold-preserved form, but, rather, the Kingdom has arisen—using the very gold of the statue of the Great King to forge their weapons of rebellion and victory. This song is replete with layers of recapitulated themes and instrumental ejaculates all morphing in a seemingly constant and unending mobius strip weave. Cool if perhaps a bit drawn out.  (18/20)

If I’ve ever had any complaints with TPE’s music it would be in the drum sound (particularly one tom-tom that is often used over-exuberantly à la Keith Moon), the drumming style (snares and toms used to mirror exactly the flash-speeded keyboard and guitar soloists) and the vocals. With The Tale of The Golden King both have been improved wonderfully. The drumming employs a greater variety of drumming sounds (and is mixed further back into the middle of the soundscapes) and nice mix of styles (brushes and jazz styles, to be exact), and less frenetic tom-tomming. The vocals have been improved with the use of other vocalists (particularly the wonderful voices of the Richie Havens-like “C. Francis” and The Queen of Sorrow, Ann Caren) and through the use of much more intricately layered and dispersed background and harmony vocals. I am also quite pleased to hear a broader spectrum of musical influences and sound styles:  the increased use of piano and the jazzier rhythm sections are employed quite nicely, and, of course, the presence of The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra is a wonderful and quite welcome addition. (More, please!)

The story of The Golden King—supposedly “a true story invented by The Psychedelic Ensemble” and “based on medieval sleeping hero and mountain king legends”—is a bit simple and somewhat predictable, but these are the kind of mythological tales that are popular in the mainstream (witness:  The Lord of the Rings/Hobbbit, Game of Thrones, and Hunger Games movies).  While I love an allegorical concept album, this one, in my humble opinion, falls a bit short. Lyrically there is a bit too much repetition and something too cliché in many of the phrases used. Plus, the word choice is just missing something . . . something from the realms of dark mystery and poetic creativity.

I really enjoyed experiencing the greater variety of musical styles and vocal and instrumental choices (including those of the wonderful Ann Caren and of TPE orchestra) used in this album. It’s always quite ambitious to undertake A) a concept album and B) one which tries to tell an epic or mythological tale—especially if this tale is trying to convey a social-political message. I wonder if the Great King is a metaphor for American Democracy or one of The United States’ iconic Presidents (Washington? Lincoln? Kennedy? The hyped- and hoped-for Barack Obama?). Is the tale presenting the theory of possibilities for a society’s potential to realize its release and freedom from bondage and darkness through taking the power of democracy back into our own hands and fighting as a people, tooth and nail, with the golden essence of that democratic ideal—that we might realize that the true power of our democratic ideal was not in the idolized word and fear-inducing and disempowering form our government but in the action of our own hearts and hands? I wonder.

TPE’s unique multi-layered multi-instrumental sonic weave and sophisticated composition skill always make for a listening experience that I HIGHLY recommend for all music and prog lovers. The music TPE creates is fascinating, creative, and intricately worked—and masterfully performed. Check it out!

Another masterpiece of music that is difficult to compare and categorize and yet awe-some to behold.

KARFAGEN Echoes from Within Dragon's Island (2019)

How many people really have the time (not to mention patience and ability to focus) to really get to know a 53-minute piece of music? Though I've owned this for a while, it's taken me a long time to pull together a review. I had begun, in my now-usual style, to put together a minute-by-minute report by keeping notes from various partial listens, when frustration and time brought me to my wits end. So, instead, this is what you get. Impressions and comments.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Antony Kalugin / keyboards, vocals, penny flute, percussion, composer & arranger, programming & mixing
- Olha Rostovska / vocals
- Tim Sobolev / vocals
- Sergey Obolonkov / vocals
- Roman Gorielov / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Olga Vodolazkaya / vocals, acoustic guitar (12)
- Max Velychko / electric & acoustic guitars
- Sergii Kovalov / accordion, vocals
- Georgiy Katunin / wheel lyre (1)
- Maria Baranovska / violin
- Alexandr Pastuchov / bassoon
- Elena Kushiy / flute
- Igor Solovey / French horn
- Tatiana Kurilko / English horn
- Michail Sidorenko / alto sax (5)
- Oleg Prokhorov / bass
- Viktor Syrotin / drums
- Kostya Shepelenko / drums (5,7,8,12)

1. "Dragon Island Suite (Part 1)" (17:17) Nice sound--very nice sound engineering despite the participation of many, many performers, many, many instruments, many, many themes, and, thus, many, many tracks.
     Sometimes exotic instruments or nuanced inputs occur so fleetingly or subtly that I am sad to see them go while I keep distracting my attention by looking for their return. Many of the vocal appearances strike me in this way.
     What is this story about? There are very few lyrics to give me any leads. Should I have to have a companion guide?
     How many themes, motifs, and movements are necessary to tell this story?
     The sound is really good! The instruments and voices, in their many, many layers, are recorded and mixed better than any other project that Antony Kalugin has put together. (Has he upped his keyboard selection and/or recording equipment?)
     The vocalists have a great command of English! Very little accent--and sounds a bit like young Roger Waters. There is a lot of familiarity in this music to many of the themes published by Colin Tench over the years--and one of the main male vocalists to the narrative voice stylings of one of Colin's main men, Peter Jones. There's even a little of the best of Andy Tillison in the lead male vocalist as well. (31.5/35)

2. "Dragon Island Suite (Part 2)" (18:41) Very symphonic in a Tchaikovsky kind of way rather than Italian operatic (I think I'm being influenced by the strong Nutcracker themes in the second part of the Dragon Suite.
     Beautiful lush theme in the 21st minute before going back to Nutcracker/Swan Lake melody themes.
     22:00 - Ant Phillips' 1984! Wonderful!
     Anton is doing a magnificent job of mixing the modern/electric instrumentation with the acoustic/traditional (like accordion).
     26:50 - Genesis with accordion base?! Excellent Tony Banksian section from here into the 29th minute--beautiful--becoming more and more Genesis-like (even with accordion) into and through the 30th.
     The group vocal in the 31st minute sounds so STRAWBS-like! The music builds, helped by the use of full choir, before then dropping off for a brief pianissimo piano part and then exploding back into a full-on whole group denouement with electric guitar solo to help cap off the end of Part 2 of the Suite. (38/40)

3. "My Bed Is A Boat" (2:45) is a beautiful classical guitar-supported flute and oboe piece that serves as a nice interlude before Part 3 of the Suite. (4.5/5)

4. "Dragon Island Suite (Part 3)" (16:32) Here is where we finally get into the syrupy New Age-y stuff that I'm used to hearing in an Anton Kalugin project. The guy could write great soundtrack music for children's television. 
     In the sixth minute a soloing electric guitar gets cooking before being joined and supplanted by some keys. At 6:50 there is a break as solo synth sets another, more mysterious mood before male voices join in with a chant about ancient stars. This is the beginning of the "Valley of the Kings" section. Eventually the chant is drowned out by a continuously thickening layering of fast-moving instruments. Sounds very, very much like THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE here with many instruments trading the spotlight and many solos overlapping or seeming to "talk" to one another. Silly chase theme in the thirteenth minute is highlighted by brief flourishes of Keith Emerson-like Moog. At 13:52 the pace changes as if some resolution has occurred and the army is collecting itself into a cheering march formation. Two themes are carried forward and echoed off one another until a slow down ushers in a calming outro in the sixteenth minute. (26/30)

Overall, there is very little that I dislike about this album--not even one theme--nor are there many deficiencies in awkward instrumentation choices or sound mix. I only wish I didn't feel that Part 2's main themes and form weren't lifted from Tchaikovsky and that the Part 3 opening and foundation weren't so syrupy.

Total time 55:35

A minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and my favorite Antony Kalugin product in a long time.

NINE STOMES CLOSE One Eye on the Sunrise (2012)

Nine Stones Close vocalist Marc Atkinson has a voice and style that, IMO, nearly duplicates the great voice of one of rock’n’roll’s all-time greatest vocalists, rocker JON BON JOVI. That alone give this album some amazing weight. Now put that controlled, emotional voice together with some gorgeous, never-overdone neo prog music and you have the makings of a truly addictive listening experience. Lush beauty reigns supreme throughout this album and yet it retains—no, revels, in—its rock’n’roll roots and a neo-proggish sound palette.

1.  Faceless Angel” (2:55) is a pretty space-age instrumental that uses multiple keyboards in three or four layers to set up the ‘surprise’ entrance of a wailing lead guitar as the song kicks into third gear at the 1:25 mark. Very emotional gtr play over the perfect setting of beautiful keyboards. (10/10)

2. "A Secret” (5:33) is a simple yet gorgeous vocal ballad in which keys and strummed and picked acoustic guitars wailing electric guitar solo perform all of the accompanist duties until almost the three minute mark. Has a bit of a “My Guitar Gently Weeps” feel and sound to the music and guitar play. Not a complicated song but very hypnotic and well performed. (9/10)

3. “Janus” (5:46) is an instrumental that begins with modern keyboard play a la CHROMA KEY before keys fade to background synth washes while multiple lead guitar tracks wail away at the same single, awesomely bent note, repeated over and over over the revolving chord progression beneath. AT 2:30 this all stop and a piano practices shifting arpeggio chords for while before the rest of the band, bass, drums, synths, and strummed acoustic and soloing electric guitars play along. Even the acoustic guitar gets a little soloing in “Spanish style” in the last couple of minutes. Again, not a very complicated song, but gorgeously composed and executed.  (9/10)

4. “…And Dream of Sheep” (1:52) begins with some acoustic guitar play—two guitar tracks playing with and off of one another—almost sounding like a WINDHAM HILL piece. Piano joins the two guitars at 0:54, then background synth strings. (4.5/5)

5. “One Eye on the Sunrise (12:06) begins with acoustic guitars and what sounds like a cello. Not far different in mood or feel from the previous song except that the vocalist soon enters with a cool, controlled performance—that is until 2:55 when all hell breaks out with a very BON JOVI “Wanted Dead Or Alive”-like explosion.  For a minute we are lulled back into the intro themes—but his time by electrified instruments, not acoustic. Then, at 4:50 the full powered rock versioin of this song takes over. The vocal and guitars’ strummed chord progressions are, admittedly, not very engaging at this point—too clichéd and stale sounding. Then at 6:30 everything stops. Electric guitars begin picking arpeggios again, treated cello floats in and around, Atkinson sings “Hey-ah” over and over. It’s pretty. It might go on a bit too long. Finally, at 9:18 a new section begins, with Atkinson’s dramatic vocal. He’s so good! The emotions on display here are masterful! I just wish that the music was better. Incredible JOHN BONHAM-like drumming here—at 10:55 it kicks into a new (and totally unexpected) world of LED ZEPELLIN-like heights. Brillliant finale! (20/25)
Eos” (2:39) has a very PINK FLOYD feel to it, start to finish. Starts like “Hey, You” until the amazing voice of Marc Atkinson graces the aural waves—on two levels! Guitar strums and guitar leads all feel so Gilmour-esque! This is most obviously a PINK FLOYD tribute song all the way—and probably the best I’ve ever heard, if I do say so myself. (9/10)

7. “The Weight” (9:51) has almost an 80s classic rock sound and feel to it—like one of those gorgeous emotional ballads by WHITESNAKE, BON JOVI, POISON, DEF LEPPARD, or even a 70s classic from JOURNEY. The song does suffer a tiny bit from several unusually long pauses—almost gaps—which make one wonder how many small parts might have been spliced together to make this ten minute beauty. (18/20)

8. “The Distance” (4:54) is another masterful vocal performance drawing from the same softer, ballad side of the classic rock masters of the 1980s. Not as proggy but a beauty anyway. (8/10)

9. “Frozen Moment” (13:34) starts like a great DEF LEPPARD song before the more modern drum (kick) style diverges. The electric guitar strum sound, however, is very old—PAYOLAS or even PSYCHEDELIC FURS old. The first minutes of the song feel so 80s, even the background mix of the lead vocal is different from the previous songs. The coda at the four minute mark gives segue into another 80s-ish section—this one sounding even more like a cross between PAYOLAS “You’ve Got the Eyes of a Stranger” and Def LEPPARD’s “Hysteria.” The kick back into heavier gear in the seventh minute is more modern—with great sustained lead guitar and strummed acoustic guitars. I wonder if the “Frozen Moment” theme is being mimicked by the instrument sound choices.
     At 8:44 a heavier section with echoed background vocals kicks in to prep us for an awesome section with very cool lead guitar and drum interplay—very fresh and adrenaline pumping. Organ tries to get involved, and background mellotron, but all ears are still on the electric guitar and drums. Simply awesome! Three minutes into it and Adrian Jones is trying to go FRIPP-crazy! Same section plays out to the end! (30/30)

10. “Sunset” (1:28) is a pretty little outro-bookend, piano and violin. (4/5)

I’m really not much of a fan of either classic rock or Neo prog but the incredible levels of compositional and instrumental mastery coupled with one of the best voices I have ever heard make for quite a listening experience—one that I have been drawn back to over and over during the past few weeks. Album of the Year? Perhaps not for composition but for aural pleasure . . . ? Skies the limit for this group. You can be sure that I will be keeping my Eye on the Sunrise.

A minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.

 The World Is a Game (2012)

This is a pleasant surprise--and my favorite Mystery album yet. The musicians are all clicking on the same wavelengths, the songs are sufficiently constructed to raise this band from what I call "second tier" prog into the halls of the real thing. (Obviously, M. David has learned a lot from his experiences with other bands--most notably, YES. And Nick D'Virgilio continues to only get better with the years--his intuitive skill at meshing his drumming with the musicians and ideas with which he works is IMHO unsurpassed in present-day prog. Just look at what he did for BIG BIG TRAIN!) 
     In Michele St.-Père MYSTERY have the real deal: a guitarist of the very top echelons. I cannot name four other guitarists so well in command of their craft, their skill, their sound, their connection with the music, their ability to evoke and provoke intense emotion with their "voice". Truly remarkable. And I don't know if Michele has much control of the recording/engineering of his guitar sounds but the sound captured on these albums is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Michele St.-Père is the full package. 
     Aside from the two wonderful intro/interlude songs (1. "A Morning Rise" [1:19] and the ominous 4. "The Unwinding of Time" [0:050]), we have here six meaty songs with mature compositional value and great sound production. This latter aspect is one reason I give this album the bump up to the 4.5 star level.
The second song, "Pride" (11:28) has a fairly simple construct and nothing terribly surprising--feeling like a cross between RUSH Signals-era and GENESIS And Then There Were Three: lots of catchy melodic hooks and some awesome drumming--though the soft section at the eight minute mark (beginning with the acoustic guitar arpeggio riff from the Midnight Cowboy theme) owes everything to maestro, JON ANDERSON (and a little of LOVERBOY). The individual performances are perfection and are especially noteworthy for the coheseive "team" feeling to it all. (19/20)

The album's jewel, however, IMO, is the third song, "Superstar" (6:59). A laid back tune with heart-breaking melodies much in the same vein as MOTH VELLUM. The vocals, guitar soli, drumming, bass and keyboard work are all absolutely perfect! One of my Top 10 songs for Y2K12. (10/10)
The title song, (7:57), has its gorgeous parts--including the guitars and piano--but the vocal and melody lines feel a bit too syrupy---like the group AIR SUPPLY from the 70s and 80s. Even when it hits third gear at the four minute mark it feels too much like 707, STYX or JOURNEY (three of my "second tier" "prog-wannabees"). (7.5/10)

6. "Dear Someone" (6:21) has quite an awesome beginning (even if it reminds me of one of my favorite JOHN DENVER songs), which evolves into an equally gorgeous DEF LEPPARD-like section, thanks to an awesome electric guitar sound. Great melodies throughout this one--and some really hopeful, heart-warming lyrics (I hear you, Benoit! I have children!) Incredible work sur le batterie, Sir Nick, from the fourth minute on! Love the el gtr, flute and drum interplay at the very end. (8/10) 

7. "Time Goes By" (6:04) has a bit more use of odd, thoughtful, melody lines woven together in an interesting and, I would guess, (for this band) risky way. The chorus melody reminds me tremendously of THE BUGGLES' "Rainbow Warrior". This one never really grabs me unitl the last minute and a half when the drums, bass, and guitar start playing off each other in an awesome display of instrumental "inter-PLAY." I appreciate this song's 'adventurousness'. (7.5/10) 

8. "Another Day" (19:02) is one of my favorite epics of the year--mostly because I feel so strongly as if I am back listening to the best stuff from COLLAGE's Moonshine or SATELLITE's A Street Between Sunrise and Sunset. And you will find some awesome work by Nick D'Virgilio here! (36/40)The World Is a Game is not a masterpiece that propels the evolution of progressive rock forward, but it is a very solid, excellent sounding piece of prog ear candy--with some excellent group and individual performances. Definitely recommended for 'classic rock' and prog lovers.  

A near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. 


The Psychedelic Ensemble is back! At times, his voice sounds a little worn and weak, but the sonic renderings of his compositions continue to be of the highest quality--so much so, in fact, that one might even recommend to other prog artists a sincere listen so that they might better observe the highest standards of sound production. I must say that the one big distinction of this new release from its recent category is TPE's restraint from layering his soundscapes as thickly as before; there is a much more liberal use of space and understatement to make his statements. The blistering multi-instrumental soli are present, but in more reserved usages; TPE gives his audience much more time and space within which to hear his story, to feel the general salve of his erudite musical expressions.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- anonymous / guitars (electric, acoustic, nylon, cigar box), keyboards, organ, piano, bass, percussion, lead & backing vocals, composer, production & mixing - Amy Little / lead & backing (2) vocals 
- Mina Keohane / lead & backing (8) vocals 
- Lisa Brooks / vocals (8) 
- C. Francis / backing vocals (falsetto) 
- Davis Brooks / violin, viola 
- Raphael Søren / cello

1. "Mother's Rhymes" (8:36) an unusually spacious and sedate song construct. I like it! (19/20)

2. "Farewell" (5:27) opens with an unusual plaintive musical and vocal section--more like Neo Crossover balladeer. I like the simplicity but I have to admit it was difficult for me to wait so long for some substantive excitement: 90 seconds till second gear, 2:20 till symphonic bliss.Wonderful orchestration, but, unfortunately, it falls into patterns of old familiar sounds and riffs during the instrumental exposition. (8.5/10)

3. "Little Boy Blue" (5:36) opens with seering electric lead guitar before the full instrumental palette joins in. In full swing, the song is heavy, thick, dramatic, definitely proggy. The presence of the wicked Hammond organ is powerful! As are the bass and impassioned vocal. Wow! This is different! At 3:25 things slow down and a kind of bluey PINK FLOYD guitar solo takes center stage before everything falls away save synths to support TPE's raspy voice (so far forward!) The song finishes with a nice synth strings and real strings motif before bleeding with the organ into the next song. (9/10)

4. "Little Bo Peep" (7:17) TPE's tribute to JEAN-LUC PONTY?! It opens like something from Jean-Luc's mid-to-late-70s production with an absolutely stellar bass line. Ann Caren's multiple-track vocals are a fresh and effective ploy. The bass, swirling keys, and rhythm guitar riff remain constant in their embedment with JLP while the vocals and lead guitar soli develop in more TPE stylings. A fresh and clever stylistic approach. Even the drums sound more human than ever! Ann's vocal in that last minute with its orchestral accompaniment is so crystalline! Beautiful! (13.35/15)

5. "Blind Mice" (4:11) opens as if a continuation from the last song with a spry trio of classical guitar, violin, and piano. Wonderful! One of those displays of virtuosity that is both performance and compositional. Wow! We are so lucky to have this man serving this fare to us in 2019! (10/10)

6. "Simple Simon" (5:33) opening with a heavy fullness as if coming from a late 1960s blues-rock band--the swirl of the dirty Hammond organ especially. Though the music quickly transitions into a more modern sound palette, the  lead guitar sound and grungy Hammond remain throughout. The vocal and successive instrumental soli remain consistent and true to the opening compositional choice of sober portentousness. (9.25/10)

7. "Humpty Dumpty" (6:41) A TPE gift in the form of a folk rock song. Comparisons elude me though the sounds, styles, and riffs are so familiar to me! TPE's multi-instrumental machine-gun bursts confuse and distract one from divining the essence beneath. Fuzz guitar, bouncing and swirling Hammond, Claire Torey-like background voices, and deeply driving bass and rhythm lines. The song's only flaw is a sad return to the drumming style and sounds of TPE albums of old. (13.5/15)
8. "Rewrite the Rhymes" (7:54) some old sounds (chunky bass, Hammond) help drive this emotional and almost frenetic song. The song construct is masterful, the instrumental performances flawless, the sound palette at times awkward, the sound engineering inconsistent. (12.5/15)

Total Time 51:15

A minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Once again TPE comes through to show us how it's done--to educate today's artists as to the standards of sophistication and force that the original prog artists of the 1970s aspired to.

PENDRAGON Passion (2011)

like the heavier way Pendragon re-invented themselves in the Naughties--and it continues here only with far more catchy melodies. Great sound production and engineering creativity. And I love Nick Barrett's mastery of the electric guitar solo (though there is far less of it on display here than what is typical for a Pendragon album).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nick Barrett / vocals, guitars, piano (7), keyboards, programming, co-producer
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals
- Peter Gee / bass guitar
- Scott Higham / drums, backing vocals

1. "Passion" (5:27) industrial-style rhythmic foundation over which Nick delivers an awesome vocal. Wow! What a start! If the rest of the album lives up to this high it will be amazing! The heavy PT/metal influences are showing. (9/10)

2. "Empathy" (11:20) (17.5/20)

3. "Feeding Frenzy" (5:47) nice multi-faceted song. (8.5/10)

4. "This Green And Pleasant Land" (13:13) INCREDIBLE lyrics; pretty song. (22.5/25)

5. "It's Just A Matter Of Not Getting Caught" (4:41) (8.75/10)

6. "Skara Brae" (7:31) heavy but lushly "orchestrated" and vocalized with plenty of melodic lines and dynamic shifts. Lots of signs of mature song construction and confident performance skills. (13/15)

7. "Your Black Heart" (6:46) harkens back to Gabriel-era GENESIS with its sensitive picked acoustic guitar start and vocal. The dominant chords (basically, two) over the entire song give it a …And Then There Were Three... or TONY PATTERSON feel--very much like a FLOWER KINGS song passage. Almost a reprise of "This Green And Pleasant Land." (12.75/15)

Total Time: 54:45

After starting off with such a bang, the album started to peter out and soften noticeably as one approached the end. 

A near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a shining example of mastery of a cross-sampling of styles though still well within the Neo Prog umbrella.

IQ Resistance (2019)

It's IQ! They're back with yet another attempt to celebrate and emulate the sounds, styles, and spirit of late 1970s GENESIS and YES. What they've achieved here is, in my opinion, a full step better than the dull, unmemorable monotony of 2014's Road of Bones. Resistance contains (mostly) excellent sound and production, as well as lush, melodic themes, inviting song constructs, and awesome solos. There are, however, Peter Nicholls' usual weird, nondescript, undecipherable-though-perfectly-enunciated lyrics sung in his usual steady, almost lazy, pleasant voice. As opposed to Road of Bones, there are high points (CD One's "Rise" through "Shallow Bay") and far fewer lows.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Nicholls / vocals
- Mike Holmes / guitar
- Neil Durant / keyboards
- Tim Esau / bass
- Paul Cook / drums

CD 1 (52:58)
1. "A Missile" (6:40) opens with some heavy riffing from the guitar, bass, organ, and drums while Peter Nicholls enters with his more insistent voice while always maintaining careful and clear diction. The song is hard-driving but does nothing for me either sonically, emotionally, or lyrically. It feels routine, robotic, one-dimensional, and, ultimately, forgettable. (11/15)

2. "Rise" (6:49) opens with apocalyptic wind noises and orchestral hits before a backwards sound loop takes over. Slowly, Peter's gentle voice sings over the atmospheric loop. At the end of his first chorus a very bass-heavy whole-band motif starts and drives powerfully forward. A strange chamber strings interlude breaks in for half a minute before we bounce back to the frenetic sonic lashing that is the second motif. Some nice, simple, but noticeable synth work is mixed into the thrum as well as some lead guitar work behind Peter's singing. In the sixth minute all kinds of Middle Eastern sounds and computer-effected vocals are introduced, but then they back off for a return to Peter's singing being the central focus. The final minute is simple, with Peter's vocal tying things up over that atmospheric loop from the beginning. Decent song! (13.5/15)

3. "Stay Down" (7:55) a long, slow, bare bones introductory period of electric piano arpeggi and synth washes and, later, chamber strings and 12-string guitar picking, allows Peter Nicholls to shine at his sensitive best. Mellotron voices and bass pedals add a great GENESIS feel. In fact it's four minutes into this one before anything changes--but then it gets tense, ominous, before breaking into a PORCUPINE TREE-like heaviness for its instrumental peak just before the five minute mark. When spaciousness is restored for Peter to sing around the six minute mark, it's merely a teasing pause before re-launching into that heavy PT territory for a final burst before some tick tocks. Powerful, seasoned prog with no fill and full power throughout. A top three song for me. (14/15)

4. "Alampandria" (3:48) opens beautifully with middle eastern pipe over sustained synth white noise synth. I love this! Then there is a developmental shift at 1:45 into more GENESIS-like Neo Prog territory. (Think deep throbbing parts of "Supper's Ready" or The Lamb). Small Mike Nicholls dramatic vocal, seering guitar solo, and organ finish this off. (8.9/10)

5. "Shallow Bay" (6:21) sensitive solo piano opens this one until the full band kicks in around 0:40. It quickly establishes itself as a melodic, syrupy song in the vein of radio-friendly prog hits. Drumming is outstanding--even a little flashy--throughout, and then the mood shifts quite dramatically at 3:00 into a more COLLAGE "Moonshine"-like vein. Very pretty--especially the keys--while the drumming remains quite showy and impressive. Beautiful song. Excellent emotional guitar solo in the fourth and fifth minutes with great band and Mellotron support. 

This is where the advantages of a seasoned band shine through. Definitely a song I'll be listening to over and over for a long time. Perfection. A reminder of why I keep listening to new releases. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

6. "If Anything" (6:03) cool drum machine opening before synth wash joins in giving it a MIKE AND THE MECHANICS or "Captain of My Heart" feel to it. Fretless bass enters just before Peter Nicholls enters singing in a whispy upper register voice--which is unusual for him. Real drums join in at the end of the second minute. I have to admit that I really like the work of the synths, fretless, and voice. Acoustic nylon string guitar seals the "Captain of My Heart" reference. A very nice, gentle, pretty song for late night wine and fireplace sitting--at least until the second half of the fifth minute when things get E.A. Poe dark--sound effects, scary church organ and all! The only thing it lacks is a true 'hook" to make it memorable. (8.75/10)

7. "For Another Lifetime" (15:22) opens with weird circus calliope/squeeze-box-like chord sequence. Peter begins singing and it doesn't quite fit; Peter's nondescript melody line does not blend well with the synthesized calliope/squeeze box--nothing does, even the "Entangled"-like eerie synth added over the top. Just before the three minute mark Peter's voice is mute-distorted to try to create an even eerier feel and then the band breaks into a full on "As Sure as Eggs is Eggs/Apocalypse in 9/8 imitation, trying to make it their own by adding some music box tinkles and some Duke-era bass synth chords. Halfway through the sixth minute the pace quickens and a more HACKETT-like section ensues. At 7:00 the music begins to feel more like ASIA or LOVERBOY. The "resistance" chorus just lacks ... hooks. Another switch into full on GENESIS territory at 8:20 while Peter continues singing as carefully, succinctly as ever. Power chords and more eerie organ and synths in the ninth. The music keeps bouncing around, trying to vary its pace and palette, no doubt, until finally finding its "pocket" in the twelfth minute with the "for another lifetime" chorus and ensuing excellent lead guitar solo. The voice Mellotron sound definitely makes it feel like some crescendo moment in a GENESIS song. Then we devolve to a bare piano in support of Peter's end vocal passage from 13:30 to the "holding on" line and the gorgeous TFK-like end. Pretty awesome song if derivative and perhaps overly complex. The band definitely put some work into this one. A strange dichotomy is that eerie circus-like motif used for the first half and then disappearing the more powerful the song became. (27/30)

CD 2 (55:39)
1. "The Great Spirit Way" (21:45) Prog by the numbers trying to be Hammond-centric. In the first half, none of the individual instrumental threads works--especially the drums, bass, and guitars; they all seem to be at odds with one another. The second half gets spread out and less dense with some electric piano and "acoustic" guitar picking before a spacey synth diversion settles us (and Peter) down. Interesting "xylophone" over strings. But, unfortnuately, it's all so obviously MIDI-computer keyboard generated. In the sixteenth minute they try to GENESIS/WAKEMAN the music back up to engage us but it's all so familiar (thought the drumming finally gets good). After the crescendo in the 17th minute, the YES-like dénouement is a big letdown. (38/45)

2. "Fire and Security" (5:26) the welcome sound of steel-string acoustic guitar strumming opens this one. Peter's vocal starts out rather typical but then gets very emotional. As a matter of fact, there are sections here that I display vocal affectations that I can't remember hearing in his voice very often. Very nice guitar soloing throughout the second half. (9/10)

3. "Perfect Space" (8:33) cymbol play, snare, bass, and classical guitar make this one sound a little jazzy or Latin-infused. Peter's voice is even mixed more forward than usual. Interesting! A new sound palette! The little electric guitar solo at 1:38 can't even destroy the feel of this one but the organ and bass pedals at 2:36 for the chorus does. The bass and drums are trying admirably to hold it together but those organs! Then the guitar turns metal and we've lost that loving Latin feeling. The return of "Get 'em out by Friday"! Let me out! Nice first half; poor second. Not even the walking bass play in the sixth minute or some solid electric guitar soloing in the final minute can recapture that awesomeness. (16.5/20)

4. "Fallout" (19:55) "CTTE 2"? What kind of lyrics are these? Nonsensical? The first three minutes sure seems so. At four minutes we finally get into some meat. I like the clavichord and rolling bass line. The singing harmonies are great but the lyrics are still so innocuous. GREAT transition into the instrumental section in the sixth minute (bass and electric guitar)--a powerful section that sustains its engaging sounds and play for several minutes. Nice drumming in the next instrumental section. And fretless bass! At the eight minute mark we go soft and spacey again (very GENESIS-like). Another sound (and key) switch in the eleventh minute: piano-base, more cymbal play, going into an instrumental section with piano solo, MIDI-ed tuned percussion, and chord section into a late-"Gates of Delirium" section for the fourteenth and fifteenth minutes. (A little too similar to "Gates," even through the guitar solo and drum end, even into the pre-"Soon" quiet, spacey section). The final two minutes is, unfortunately, also an embarrassing imitation of the "Soon" finale of "Gates of Delirium." Very nice sound. I'd rate it higher if it weren't so derivative. (34/40)

Total Time 108:37

Can we be tired of Peter Nicholls' melodies, pronunciation/elocution, and phrasing, please? Can we be tired of the Duke-like drum machines and differently engineered & effected tracks that are so blatantly and poorly spliced-together, please? Can we say we've had enough imitation and blatant derivation of the 1970's "classics?" Still this is SO MUCH BETTER than the high-acclaimed yet soulless "album of the year" from 2014, Road of Bones.

If one stays away from the three epics, this is an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection and one of the better displays of Neo Prog of the 2010s.

SYLVAN Sceneries (2012)

The amazing things a piano and voice can accomplish--especially when assisted by the orchestra-like contributions of an electrified band like Sylvan has. (Musing rhapsodically:  I wonder what this album would sound like stripped down to ONLY piano and voice?!)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marco Glühmann / vocals
- Jan Petersen / guitars
- Volker Söhl / keyboards
- Sebastian Harnack / bass
- Matthias Harder / drums
- Isgaard / backing vocals (4)

1. "Chapter 1: 'The Fountain of Glow'" (14:50) opening with piano and voice, the first movement of the song explores the delicate, almost symphonic side of Sylvan. Awesome guitar solo in the third and fourth minutes! Weird stylistic shift at 4:00. (Get used to it!) A song that really puts on FULL display the versatility and skills of the band members (and that voice!) Another stunning guitar solo in the ninth minute leads to another shift, this one much more smooth and engaging. Probably the best song on the album despite containing the weakest crescendo movement near the end. (28/30)

2. "Chapter 2: 'Share the World with Me'" (15:05) every minute is filled with something new and exciting that you don't want to miss--and all leading to an amazing finish. (27.25/30)

3. "Chapter 3: 'The Words You Hide'" (20:10) The heavy side of Sylvan! Glorious! Odd shift at 6:50 into upbeat acoustic guitar passage. I'm happy when they get back to brooding at 10:42 and 12:53. GORGEOUS and emotional final section (final three minutes). Had they left out that weird section from 6:50 to 10:42 this would be one of my all-time favorite Sylvan songs. (37/40)

4. "Chapter 4: 'The Waters I Traveled'" (20:00) A perfect display of Sylvan, flawless Sylvan, in all of its flowing, connected Heavy and Symphonic Prog glory. Great song start to finish (especially the first 15 minutes). (36/40)

5. "Chapter 5: 'Farewell to Old Friends'" (20:33) appropriate to open a storytelling with an acoustic guitar strumming away. It goes dark and ominous by the second minute--but then another odd mood/stylistic shift at 5:30--and another at 7:00. So many (too many) styles for my little brain! The second half of the song is much more to my liking as it gets heavy and emotional and stays so for a long time--till its end. Weird, disjointed first half, GREAT second half. (35/40)

Total Time 90:38

A superb contribution to the Neo Prog lexicon.

Good power ballads with great performances on this double CD release. A little too up and down, and heavy when up, for me. Blessed with amazing sound production, great lyrics with music matching the emotions being expressed, and Progressive Rock music's premier male vocalist, and you have one heck of a gift of music to immerse yourself into. My suggestion:  Put on the 'phones, kick back in your most comfy Lazy-Boy, and let go of a couple hours. You won't regret it.

More Neo Prog Albums Worth Cheking Out

Galahad Seas of Change (2018)

Modern-Rock Ensemble Night Dreams & Wishes (2019)

Cirrus Bay the Search for Joy (2014)

Introitus Elements (2011)

Seven Steps to the Green Door Fetish (2015)

Lifesigns Cardigan (2017)

Anti-Matter Poetry (2010)

Psychoanorexia (2013)

Edison's Children In the Last Waking Moments… (2011)

Fragmentropy (2015)

Solipsystemology (2019)

Other Albums Worthy of Mention

IQ The Road of Bones (2014)

Modern-Rock Ensemble Touch the Mystery (2016)

Karfagen Lost Symphony (2011)

Karfagen Spektra (2016)

Airbag All Rights Removed (2011)

Airbag Disconnected (2016)

Galahad Beyond the Realms of Euphoria (2012)

Silhouette the World Is Flat and Other Alternative Facts (2017)

The Psychedelic Ensemble The Myth of Dying (2010)

Barock Project Detachment (2017)

Cirrus Bay Whimsical Weather (2014)

Mystery Lies and Butterflies (2018)

Cirrus Bay The Art of Vanishing (2019)

Shamall Continuation (2016)

Yuka & Chronoship Ship (2018)

Yuka & Chronoship The 3rd Planetary Chronicles (2013)

Believe World Is Round (2010)

Believe The Warmest Sun in Winter (2013)

Seven Steps to the Green Door The? Book (2011)

Cirrus Bay Places Unseen (2016)

Other Artists Considered


The D Project 






Monarch Trail

Drifting Sun 

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