Tag Archives: Progressive Rock

An Evening Of Sorcery, Damnation & Deliverance

20161117_162032Last Saturday, 19th November, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the SSE Arena at Wembley (or, Wembley Arena as it was) to see Swedish progressive metallers Opeth in concert.

opeth-sorceress-new-600Not being overly keen on Wembley’s parking charges, and having memories of taking hours to get out of their car parks on previous visits, I had used a website called Your Parking Space to arrange to “rent” someone’s driveway for the evening. Considerably cheaper and only a few minutes walk from the Wembley complex. I’d certainly use this service again.

SSE Arena, Wembley
SSE Arena, Wembley

I’d left the Forest of Dean in plenty of time to reach Wembley with enough time to park and grab some food and drink before it was time to enter the venue but having got caught in some very heavy traffic jams meaning that the section of journey from Churcham to Elmbridge Court roundabout – which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – took two hours to complete! Luckily once past there the traffic returned to normal and with weather being clear and crisp I was parking at my destination in good time.

Inside The Arena
Inside The Arena

A bite to eat and a coffee later, and just as the weather turned to rain, it was 6:00pm and time to enter the arena. As I found my seat it became immediately obvious that this was one of those occasions when playing Wembley Arena actually meant playing half of Wembley Arena as the stage was halfway along the floor and the other half of the arena was curtained off behind it. No matter, this is still a significant event for what is essentially a niche artist, albeit one that has already headlined at the Royal Albert Hall.

Anathema Live At The SSE Arena
Anathema Live At The SSE Arena

Before the main event, though, there was the small matter of supporting act. When I’d booked my ticket the support hadn’t been announced and I must admit I was a bit gutted when I discovered that recent discovery Myrkur was supporting the band on their European dates subsequent to London, and Sahg covering the pre-London shows. However, things looked up with news that Liverpool progressive rock band Anathema.

Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh
Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh

I had listened to some of Anathema’s albums in the past and quite enjoyed what I heard but wasn’t terribly excited about seeing them live. That changed when they hit the stage and, following an intro tape that seemed somewhat out-of-place with their music, broke into opening number “Thin Air” which grew into a quite impressively epic sound.

Something of a (two) family affair, Anathema are led by lead vocalist / guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, and feature his brothers Daniel Cavanagh (guitars / vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) as well as siblings Lee Douglas (vocals) and John Douglas (drums / percussion / keyboards). The line-up is completed by percussionist / drummer Daniel Cardoso.

Daniel Cavanagh
Daniel Cavanagh

Daniel Cavanagh, unusual in attire in that rather than in-ear monitors he sported full-size over-ear headphones, did his best to gee up the less than full crowd and succeeded in getting a good proportion of those who were in their seats to use the light apps on their smart phones in place of stage lighting during the evocative “A Natural Disaster”, which featured a lead vocal from Lee Douglas.

Anathema Perform "A Natural Disaster"
Anathema Perform “A Natural Disaster”

My personal highlight of the band’s short set would be the electronically based “Distant Satellites” which, at one point, saw both John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso joined by Vincent Cavanagh in providing a triple-pronged percussive assault. A very impressive set and a band that I shall be listening to more!

Setlist:

1. Thin Air / 2. Untouchable, Part 1 / 3. A Simple Mistake / 4. Distant Satellites / 5. A Natural Disaster / 6. Fragile Dreams / 7. Springfield

1 and 3 originally from “We’re Here Because We’re Here ” (2010) / 2 originally from “Weather Systems” (2012) / 4 originally from “Distant Satellites” (2014) / 5 originally from “A Natural Disaster” (2003) / 6 originally from “Alternative 4” (1998) / 6 to be on forthcoming studio album

Opeth
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A short break later and at around 8:30pm the house lights went down on a much fuller crowd as headliners Opeth began to enter the stage. Joakim Svalberg  (keyboards), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass) take to the stage first and lock into the opening jazz-inflected riff to “Sorceress”, the title track of the band’s superb album released in September this year. Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitars / vocals) stride on in time for the track to get going and it’s simply brilliant. The sound is great, vocals clear as a bell, and the guitars heavy as you like.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Following this up with “Ghost Reveries” highlight “Ghost Of Perdition” surely meant that even those not over enamoured with the band’s recent lighter output must have been happy. The band’s playing was incredibly precise, with the light and shade all the more effective live than on record.

Mikael Åkerfeldt
Mikael Åkerfeldt

Åkerfeldt is an engaging and humorous frontman, with a nice line in self-deprecation. He tells us that when his friends back in Sweden ask what it was like to headline Wembley he’ll tell them that it was “intimate” but will neglect to mention that they moved the stage half way down the hall. Later, when introducing “By The Pain I See In Others” from the album “Deliverance” he will say that this is the third of four times that they will ever play it live, and that this is no real shame as it’s “a bit shit”!

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A faultless rendition of “The Grand Conjuration” brings the first set to a thunderous close. Åkerfeldt tells us beforehand that after the song there will be some mysterious sounds and that the group will mysteriously disappear “…well, we’ll go and stand over there…” to give an artistic link into the second set – during which they will play highlights of the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Four largely acoustic numbers come first and all are beautiful and haunting, with “Windowpane” and “Closure” being highlights for me. The best track of the night, however, has to be the crushing closer “Deliverance” itself which sees the band’s machine gun riffing send the rapturous audience out into the pouring rain on a real high.

Opeth Take A Bow
Opeth Take A Bow

Even a slow drive back to the England / Wales border in torrential rain with lots of surface water cannot dampen what has been a top class two and a half hour show from a band truly on top of their game. A brilliant performance…

Setlist:

1. Sorceress / 2. Ghost Of Perdition / 3. Demon Of The Fall / 4. The Wilde Flowers / 5. Face Of Melinda / 6. Cusp Of Eternity / 7. The Drapery Falls/ 8. Heir Apparent / 9. The Grand Conjuration / 10. Windowpane / 11. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 12. In My Time Of Need / 13. Closure / 14. Master’s Apprentices / 15. By The Pain I See In Others / 16. Deliverance

1 and 4 originally from “Sorceress” (2016) / 2 and 9 originally from “Ghost Reveries” (2005) / 3 originally from “My Arms, Your Hearse” (1998) / 5 originally from “Still Life” (1999) / 6 originally from “Pale Communion” (2014) / 7 originally from “Blackwater Park” (2001) 8 originally from “Watershed” (2008) / 10, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Damnation” (2003) / 14, 15 and 16 originally from “Deliverance” (2002)613-x-299-10-2434a716de

The Illusion’s Reckoning

hf-hrs-v8-1-161215-150mm-hrs-rgb-text

This week I’ve been listening to “The Illusion’s Reckoning”, the debut release from a new project named Mantra Vega. The band was put together by former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and keyboardist Dave Kerzner from Sound Of Contact.

Heather Findlay In Her Mostly Autumn Days
Heather Findlay In Her Mostly Autumn Days

Since Findlay left Mostly Autumn back in 2010 she has released an EP titled “The Phoenix Suite” in 2011, a live album with guitarist Chris Johnson in 2012 and an acoustic album of reworked songs called “Songs From The Old Kitchen” later that same year. I have to confess to not being over keen on “The Phoenix Suite”, which was quite a departure from her work with the excellent Mostly Autumn, much preferring the latter acoustic recording.

Since then things have been pretty quiet until the single “Island” was issued in the summer of 2015 as a taster for the then-upcoming album. The song is rather reminiscent of “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac, which is no bad thing!

Dave Kerzner
Dave Kerzner

Given her background with Mostly Autumn, with Findlay joining forces with Kerzner from progressive rock band Sound Of Contact you might have expected Mantra Vega to be full-on progressive rock too. Certainly the comparisons with Findlay’s earlier work are there, the epic sweep of “Veil Of Ghosts” or “Lake Sunday” being two examples, but the sonic palette is perhaps a little broader in terms of style than her old band.

Chris Johnson & Heather Findlay
Chris Johnson & Heather Findlay

Joining the pair on the album are drummer Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn), bassist Stuart Fletcher (Halo Blind), the aforementioned guitarist Johnson (Mostly Autumn, Halo Blind) – all three of whom are also members of the Heather Findlay Band – and guitarist Dave Kilminster (Steven Wilson).

Heather Findlay & Alex Cromarty
Heather Findlay & Alex Cromarty

In addition the album boasts contributions from various guests including multi-instrumentalists Angela Gordon (Mostly Autumn) and Troy Donockley (Nightwish) amongst others.

Stuart Fletcher
Stuart Fletcher

According to the band’s website the record is “a concept album which flows more like a film score than a more typically linear piece. The album’s journey is painted with far-reaching audio moodscapes, which in their diversity, purposely echo thoughtful lyrical themes. The album is delivered in a predominantly crossover-progressive rock package, but at times takes on a hard rock, contemporary, retro, and even acoustic, folksy twist…”. Well, the first part sounds suitably grandiose for a progressive rock outfit for sure, but the description of the actual music is pretty bang on, I’d say.

Dave Kilminster
Dave Kilminster

My favourite tracks here are the dreamy “Island”, “Veil Of Ghosts”, the Led Zeppelin-like “Mountain Spring”, “I’ve Seen Your Star” and the near-ten-minute “The Illusion’s Reckoning” which features a guitar solo from Arjen Lucassen.

Heather Findlay & Dave Kerzner
Heather Findlay & Dave Kerzner

Findlay and Kerzner have come up with some great material here. I’m not familiar with the latter’s previous work, but the keyboards are great throughout the album. There are, naturally, plenty of echoes of the fabulous work that Findlay – who sings beautifully here – has produced in the past within these tracks.

At times musically soothing, sometimes harder edged, this is a great melodic progressive rock album, well worth investigating…

A2-poster-RGB

“The Illusion’s Reckoning” tracklist:

1. Every Corner / 2. Island / 3. Veil Of Ghosts / 4. Lake Sunday / 5. Mountain Spring / 6. In A Dream / 7. Learning To Be Light / 8. I’ve Seen Your Star / 9. Island (Reprise) / 10. The Illusion’s Reckoning / 11. Mountain Spring (acoustic version)

Totally Driven

5183c0eo2xL

Uriah Heep In 1970
Uriah Heep In 1970

Originating from London, veteran progressive / hard rock band Uriah Heep were formed at the tail of end the Sixties. Guitarist Mick Box, lead vocalist David Byron, drummer Alex Napier and bassist Paul Newton were joined by keyboard player Ken Hensley  in time for the band’s debut album “…Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble” which was released in the summer of 1970.

Uriah Heep In 2015
Uriah Heep In 2015

The group are still going strong in 2015, and in the decades since 1970 there have been numerous line-up changes, over twenty studio albums and nearly as many live releases. As with many successful acts that have been around for this length of time there are far more compilation albums around than albums of original material.

Mick Box & Bernie Shaw In 2006
Mick Box & Bernie Shaw

Box is the sole remaining founder member and has been joined since 1986 by lead vocalist Bernie Shaw and keyboard player Phil Lanzon. All three appear on the band’s latest release, which is the double disc set “Totally Driven”.

Phil Lanzon
Phil Lanzon

The recordings on this album were actually made sometime around 2000 / 2001 by Box, Shaw and Lanzon together with drummer Lee Kerslake and bassist Trevor Bolder – a line-up that existed from 1986 until as recently as 2007 – and were actually released in October 2001 under the bizarre title of “Remasters : The Official Anthology”.

Uriah Heep In 2001
Uriah Heep In 2001

That release quickly disappeared from view – likely due at least in part to it appearing to be yet another compilation of old material. And in a sense that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here. The difference being, of course, that these are not the original recordings but re-recordings made by the aforementioned line-up.

Uriah Heep - Acoustically Driven
Uriah Heep – Acoustically Driven

According to Box the band recorded these versions “…while we were in preparation for the ‘Acoustically Driven’ and ‘Electrically Driven’ concerts…” The band’s website states that the recordings were made in 2001 but the “Acoustically Driven” live album was recorded in December 2000 and the “Electrically Driven” one in March 2001.

Uriah Heep - Electrically Driven
Uriah Heep – Electrically Driven

Given Box’s statement I guess it’s more likely that these tracks were committed to tape in 2000. Certainly all but six of the numbers recorded then featured across the two live albums, so I can see that it would be relatively easy to make this album whilst preparing for the relevant gigs, especially in terms of getting to know the acoustic-based versions. That said, one of the tracks from the acoustic gig / album, “Traveller In Time”, is definitely an electrically based version. 

Uriah Heep In 2009
Uriah Heep In 2009

I imagine that many listeners dislike re-recordings of earlier material, preferring the sound and magic of the originals. This is something I briefly touched on when discussing Whitesnake’s “Purple Album” earlier this year.

Uriah Heep - Celebration
Uriah Heep – Celebration

What makes this release slightly more perplexing I suppose is that although on the one hand I can see why the band may want to make these versions more widely available, on the other hand they have made further re-recordings since, on their 2009 “Celebration” album. That album was made by almost the same line-up (with current drummer Russell Gilbrook replacing Lee Kerslake who’d left in 2007 due to health issues) and duplicates 10 of the songs contained here within its 14 tracks.

Lee Kerslake
Lee Kerslake

Whilst the “Remasters…” version was sequenced with the tracks in chronological order in terms of their original incarnations, on “Totally Driven” they have been moved around, making the album feel less like a greatest hits record in some ways – which I feel is a benefit to the 2015 version. Where it falls down slightly is the inclusion of nine songs that were originally recorded by the line-up responsible for the re-recordings, making those seem rather superfluous.

Trevor Bolder
Trevor Bolder

None of those songs were re-re-recorded for “Celebration”, so of the remaining eighteen tracks, only eight are exclusive to this release. Having said all that, I believe that there is room in the band’s catalogue for both collections. “Totally Driven” gives a wider overview of the band’s whole career and, although it doesn’t contain any new material (“Celebration” has two new songs), the songs repeated in 2009 are different enough to stand up on their own merits.

Uriah Heep In 1999
Uriah Heep In 1999

There are a lot of classic songs here – “Gypsy”, “July Morning”, “Easy Livin'”, “Lady In Black”, “Sunrise” etc. etc. If you take the view that originals can’t be bettered and so bands shouldn’t try, then none of this will matter as you’ll stick with the source material. For a clean, audience free, collection by what was the band’s longest-serving line-up of many of the songs they performed in concert regularly, however, this ticks all the boxes.

Overall this isn’t an essential release, but still one that’s well worthy of investigation and a nice introduction to Box and gang’s lengthy career.51KjCFLCHzL

“Totally Driven” tracklist:

1. Gypsy / 2. Traveller In Time / 3. Bird Of Prey / 4. Sunrise / 5. Rain / 6. Come Away Melinda / 7. Return To Fantasy / 8. Look At Yourself / 9. Come Back To Me / 10. The Easy Road / 11. Sweet Freedom / 12. Why Did You Go? / 13. July Morning / 14. Easy Livin’ / 15. Between Two Worlds / 16. Only The Young / 17. Different World / 18. Love In Silence / 19. Blind Eye / 20. Wonderworld / 21. Stealin’ / 22. Time Of Revelation / 23. Cross That Line / 24. More Fool You / 25. Universal Wheels / 26. The Golden Palace / 27. Lady In Black

1 and 6 originally from “…Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble” (1970) / 2 and 14 originally from “Demons And Wizards” (1972) / 3 and 27 originally from “Salisbury” (1971) / 4, 5 and 19 originally from “The Magician’s Birthday” (1972) / 7 and 12 originally from “Return To Fantasy” (1975) / 8 and 13 originally from “Look At Yourself” (1971) / 9 originally from “Fallen Angel” (1978) / 10 and 20 originally from “Wonderworld” (1974) / 11 and 21 originally from “Sweet Freedom” (1973) / 15, 16 and 26 originally from “Sonic Origami” (1998) / 17 and 23 originally from “Different World” (1991) / 18, 22 and 25 originally from “Sea Of Light” (1995) / 24 originally from “Raging Silence” (1989)

Essence

1443547055_1

Panic Room In 2008
Panic Room In 2008

After Welsh progressive rock band Karnataka disbanded in 2004, four members of the group – keyboardist Jonathan Edwards, drummer Gavin Griffiths, guitarist Paul Davies and backing vocalist / flautist Anne-Marie Helder – created a new band called Panic Room together with bassist Alun Vaughan.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards

Between 2008 and 2010 the group released two studio albums – debut “Visionary Position” and the follow-up “Satellite” before the first line-up change saw the departing Vaughan replaced by Yatim Halimi on bass guitar.

Gavin Griffiths
Gavin Griffiths

Third album “Skin” was released in 2012 with this new formation but in the following year founding member Davies left the band and was replaced for the 2013 tour dates by Pete Harwood or British rock band Morpheus Rising.

During 2013 Helder and Edwards started an acoustic side-project under the banner Luna Rossa, as which they have thus far released two studio albums.

Anne-Marie Helder
Anne-Marie Helder

Back in Panic Room another guitarist, session musician Adam O’Sullivan, appeared on the group’s 2014 album “Incarnate” and the associated tour dates but did not become a full-time member of the band.

Yatim Halimi
Yatim Halimi

 

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, 2015 saw the recording and release of the band’s fifth album, the largely acoustic “Essence”, featuring new band guitarist Dave Foster.

This album features re-recordings of ten tracks from the group’s back catalogue alongside two brand new compositions.

Dave Foster
Dave Foster

There is nothing from last year’s outing “Incarnate”, presumably as it’s still so recent. Instead we get three a piece originally from “Visionary Position” and “Skin” plus four originally from “Satellite”.

Helder, also known for her work with Mostly Autumn since 2008, sings beautifully throughout this record. Some of the songs are broadly similar to the original “electric” counterparts whilst some and more radical in the way that the band have re-imagined them.

Panic Room Live In 2015
Panic Room Live In 2015

Of the noticeably different readings, “I Am A Cat”, “Black Noise” and “Apocalypstick” are especially successful. Foster’s guitar contributions are excellent with some lovely soloing to be heard here, and I look forward to hearing him on the band’s next album of original material.

Panic Room In 2015
Panic Room In 2015

The record sounds great, with a fabulous clear production allowing all aspects of the band members’ individual performances to shine through.

Overall, the album is wonderfully relaxed and I would say that in many ways sits perfectly between the band’s previous albums and the work of Luna Rossa, but should appeal far beyond the fanbase of either. Great stuff…

12022546_10153374850909822_1015740942725613671_o

“Essence” tracklist:

1. Promises / 2. I Am A Cat / 3. Song For Tomorrow / 4. Rain & Tears & Burgundy / 5. Apocalypstick / 6. 5th Amendment / 7. Screens / 8. Moon On The Water / 9. Denial / 10. Black Noise / 11. Firefly / 12. Satellite

1 , 3 and 7 originally from “Skin” (2012) / 2, 6, 10 and 12 originally from “Satellite” (2010) / 4 and 9 new tracks / 5, 8 and 11 originally from “Visionary Position” (2008) 

The Girl With The Raven Mask

24972

Candlemass
Candlemass

Swedish bassist and songwriter Leif Edling formed doom metal legends Candlemass in the mid 1980s. Although that band is still reportedly active, their eleventh (and stated to be final) album was “Psalms Of The Dead” in 2012.

Leif Edling
Leif Edling

A side project, another doom metal band named Krux started by Edling and Candlemass bandmate Mats Levén has thus far produced three studio albums since 2003.

Marcus Jidell
Marcus Jidell

More recently, in 2013, Edling got together with guitarist Marcus Jidell, vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith (Jidell’s wife) to form Avatarium. The band’s line-up is completed by drummer Lars Sköld and keyboard player Carl Westholm.

Jennie-Ann Smith
Jennie-Ann Smith

A self-titled debut album was issued in 2013, and was a solid and heavy doom metal record. Drawing comparisons with the likes of Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony, album number two “The Girl With The Raven Mask” is now out.

Lars Sköld
Lars Sköld

First track “Girl With The Raven Mask” gallops out of the speakers with more pace than anything on the debut album, and is full of hard-hitting guitars and a powerful vocal performance from Smith.

Next up is the album’s longest cut, at just under eight minutes, “The January Sea” which is very much a crushing slow doom track with a definite melancholic edge.

Carl Westholm
Carl Westholm

“Pearls And Coffins” is a more classic hard rock tune, with lots of light and shade, some tasty Hammond organ and you could just imagine the likes of Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan or David Coverdale singing on this at the peak of their powers. The same could be said of the truly excellent “Ghostlight”.

Avatarium
Avatarium

“Hypnotized” is, honestly, quite hypnotising with psychedelic keyboard sounds under an insistent guitar riff and another superb performance on the mic.

Jennie-Ann Smith
Jennie-Ann Smith

“Run Killer Run” is quite Cathedral-like in terms of the guitar sound and riffs and ushers “Iron Mule”, a track that initially sounds like a ballad until it really gets going.

Avatarium Live In 2014
Avatarium Live In 2014

Closing track “The Master Thief” is another light and shade filled epic before the bonus track “In My Time Of Dying” which shines a slightly different light on the group with a swampy and bluesy vibe.

Avatarium
Avatarium

All told this is slightly less heavy than the debut album, but benefits from more dynamism which allows Smith’s bluesy vocals to cut through loud and clear. Jidell and Edling provide some suitably crushing riffs on top of Sköld’s powerful drumming and there are some tasty guitar solos too. Finally, Westholm’s keyboards help fill out the sonic picture nicely.

A great doom metal album with psychedelic and progressive rock elements, “The Girl With The Raven Mask” is highly recommended listening…

avatarium2015europeantour

“The Girl With The Raven Mask” tracklist:

1. Girl With The Raven Mask / 2. The January Sea / 3. Pearls And Coffins / 4. Hypnotized / 5. Ghostlight / 6. Run Killer Run / 7. Iron Mule / 8. The Master Thief / 9. In My Time Of Dying

Molok

artworks-000129814894-5f07ie-t500x500

Gazpacho - Tick Tock
Gazpacho – Tick Tock

Well, here’s something deep. Often you’ll find that progressive rock bands have challenging material and / or subject matter in their music. Norwegian act Gazpacho are not, therefore, unique in that respect.

Gazpacho - Missa Atropos
Gazpacho – Missa Atropos

Past albums have recounted a story based on that of pioneering French aviator Antoine De Saint-Exupéry and his 1935 attempt to fly from Paris to Saigon (2009’s “Tick Tock”) and the tale of Atropos, one of the three goddesses of fate and destiny in Ancient Greek mythology (“Missa Atropos” from 2011). The band’s last studio album “Demon” (2014) were said to be based on “the mad ramblings left behind by an unknown tenant in an apartment in Prague.”

Jan-Henrik Ohme
Jan-Henrik Ohme

Formed in 1996 by vocalist Jan-Henrik Ohme, guitarist Jon-Arne Vilbo and keyboardist Thomas Andersen, Gazpacho have evolved over the years and now include violinist / guitarist Mikael Krømer (since 2004), bassist Kristian Torp (since 2005)  and drummer Lars Erik Asp (since 2010).

Jon-Arne Vilbo
Jon-Arne Vilbo

The sextet’s latest release is the band’s ninth studio album, titled “Molok”. The theme for this record is, according to Andersen, about a man that sometime around 1920 decides that wherever anyone worships a God they always seem to be worshipping stone in some form. Whether it is a grand cathedral, the stone in Mecca or Stonehenge. God seems to have been chased by his worshipers into stone never to return. This harkens back to Norwegian folk myths where if a troll was exposed to sunlight it would turn to stone but it also reflects the way God has been incommunicado for a very long time.”

Thomas Andersen
Thomas Andersen

As if that’s not conceptual enough, the group also state that “in a mechanistic view of the universe all events in the universe are a consequence of a previous event. This means that with enough information you should be able to calculate the past and the future and this is what he does. He names the machine ‘Molok’ after the biblical demon into whose jaws children were sacrificed because his machine crunches numbers. On solstice day he starts the machine and it quickly gains some form of intelligence as it races through history undergoing its own evolution.”

Mikael Krømer
Mikael Krømer

Oh, and just to add to the fun, the final track “Molok Rising” has a code embedded at the very end that plays a short noise but will also “cause the correction software that runs in all CD players to generate a random number every time the CD is played. If that number should correspond to the actual position of all electrons in the universe then technically the universe could be destroyed.” I think it’s fair to say that if you are reading this then this technical possibility has not yet actually occurred. Which is a relief!

Kristian Torp
Kristian Torp

Anyway, what about the music itself? In the past the band’s music has been likened to Marillion, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and even A-ha – the latter most likely due to Ohme’s smooth vocal style.

Lars Erik Asp
Lars Erik Asp

There is some Greek sounding instrumentation in “Bela Kiss”, “Know Your Time” has some Norwegian folk stylings, whilst elsewhere can be found the sound of church bells, accordion and tribal drums.

Gazpacho Live In 2014
Gazpacho Live In 2014

There is some lovely soaring guitar work from Vilbo to be heard too, and plenty of lush keyboards courtesy of Andersen. The are some quite breathtakingly beautiful sections on this album.

Gazpacho
Gazpacho

Of the bands previously mentioned, Marillion are probably the best comparison – if looking at the work they have produced since Steve Hogarth took over the mic stand.

I’m not going to single out any tracks as highlights as this, in common with so much good music, is an album that takes a while to get under your skin and reveal itself fully. When it does, however, it reveals itself to be a full-bodied and mature piece of work that deserves to be heard by a wider audience than bands of this ilk often attract. “Molok” demands some time and concentration but is worth the effort. Exquisite…

new-date-gazpacho“Molok” tracklist:

1. Park Bench / 2. The Master’s Voice / 3. Bela Kiss / 4. Know Your Time / 5. Choir Of Ancestors / 6. ABC / 7. Algorithm / 8. Alarm / 9. Molok Rising

Box Of Tears

51XarbfsqrL

I have previously written a little about Yorkshire progressive rock band Mostly Autumn, having seen them perform in Gloucester on their Glass Shadows tour in 2008.

Bryan Josh
Bryan Josh

Guitarist / vocalist Bryan Josh’s band have managed to achieve a decent level of exposure and popularity given that progressive rock isn’t exactly trendy and without any major label support and promotion.

In fact, for the past ten years the band have been issuing their music through their own Mostly Autumn Records label. To date the group have released eleven studio albums but, in common with other acts that rely on income from live performances and recordings, have a greater number of live releases to their name, and in the case of Mostly Autumn there are (I think) fifteen so far.

Olivia Sparnenn-Josh
Olivia Sparnenn-Josh

2014 saw the release of the band’s most recent studio album “Dressed In Voices” to very positive reviews.

This was the third studio release to feature lead vocalist Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, who replaced long-term vocalist Heather Findlay in 2010. Other band members are keyboardist Iain Jennings, multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder, bassist Andy Smith, drummer Alex Cromarty and most recent recruit, multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson.

Iain Jennings
Iain Jennings

“Dressed In Voices” was a concept album that looks at a scenario where a gunman finds that time has temporarily stopped and he comes face to face with one of his dying victims, forcing him to face up to the full ramifications of his actions and all that he has taken away from his victim. As Bryan put it “…if you take somebody’s life I believe you must be forced to feel the full weight of what you are taking away – their past, present, what could have been, and the effect it would have on family, friends, loved ones… the killer is forced to witness all that as time briefly comes to a standstill”

Anne-Marie Helder
Anne-Marie Helder

Such is the quality of the record that the band decided to perform the album in its entirety during their 2014 tour. This proved to be a good decision, going down very well with gig goers, and so the latest live release “Box Of Tears” captures the experience of such a performance for posterity. With such an excellent album as source material, how does the live version hold up against it?

Andy Smith
Andy Smith

Well, as superb as the studio recording is, to my ears this new release has an additional power to it, both in terms of actual sound but also emotionally speaking.

I must say that Olivia seems to be singing better than ever – her voice is crystal clear and has the ability to soar on numbers like opener “Saturday Night” and yet also to be delicate when required – as evidenced on “First Day At School”.

Alex Cromarty
Alex Cromarty

Comparisons can be made between Bryan and Pink Floyd man David Gilmour, with the influence being audible in his vocals and guitar playing, but Bryan often has a heavier rock edge than Gilmour – just listen to “Down By The River” for proof of that.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson

The whole band are playing brilliantly, and although the remaining members may not have such distinctive roles to play as Bryan and Olivia they all mesh to provide excellent musicianship throughout.

As this performance is of a single story it’s difficult to point to particular highlights because clearly the whole thing ought to be taken as a whole. Nonetheless, I will mention some of the numbers that I enjoyed most – “The Last Day”, “Skin On Skin”, “First Day At School”, “Running”, “Home” and “Saturday Night” would all fall into this category.

Mostly Autumn Live In 2014
Mostly Autumn Live In 2014

One could argue that this is superfluous, especially so soon after the studio album’s release, but I would say that “Box Of Tears” is one of Mostly Autumn’s best live albums and an essential addition to their catalogue. Brilliant…

Dressed In Voices“Box Of Tears” tracklist:

1. Saturday Night / 2. Not Yours To Take / 3. Running / 4. See You / 5. Home / 6. First Day At School / 7. Down By The River / 8. Skin On Skin / 9. The House On The Hill / 10. The Last Day / 11. Dressed In Voices / 12. The Library / 13. Footsteps . 14. Box Of Tears

The Oblivion Particle

61p-8-tNXMLAmerican progressive rock band Spock’s Beard were formed in 1992 by brothers Neal Morse (lead vocals / keyboards) and Alan Morse (guitars), together with drummer Nick D’Virgilio and bassist John Ballard.

Alan Morse, Ryo Okumoto, Neal Morse, Dave Meros & Nick D’Virgilo
Alan Morse, Ryo Okumoto, Neal Morse, Dave Meros & Nick D’Virgilo

Following a change of bass players to Dave Meros the band released their debut album “The Light” in 1995, after which the band’s line-up expanded to include additional keyboardist Ryo Okumoto.

This configuration of Spock’s Beard released a further five studio albums together up to and including the double concept album “Snow” in 2002. Neal Morse’s conversion to Christianity prompted him the leave the band immediately after the release of “Snow” to enable him to fully express his new-found faith through solo work, with D’Virgilio taking on lead vocals as well as drums.

Ted Leonard
Ted Leonard

Four further albums followed until D’Virgilio himself quit the band in late 2011. He was replaced with new lead vocalist Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan and the revised line-up released their first album together, titled “Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep”, in April 2013.

Jimmy Keegan
Jimmy Keegan

August 2015 saw the release of the band’s twelfth studio album, and second by the current line-up, “The Oblivion Particle”.

This is one of those albums that isn’t suited to many of the youth of today, not being something disposable that can be audibly consumed in bite size chunks. No, as with all good progressive rock this needs to be listened to in its entirety, and a good few times, before the various layers of what’s going on here really begin to reveal themselves.

Alan Morse
Alan Morse

That isn’t to say that this music is not accessible – it certainly is as there as some great melodies to be found here – but it is complex as challenging as well as engaging and entertaining.

Dave Meros
Dave Meros

Opener “Tides Of Time” is a case in point. Clear vocals, nice harmonies, memorable melodies plus complex structures, multiple layers of keyboards and guitars etc. Really, it’s the most “traditional” Spock’s Beard track here.

Ryo Okumoto
Ryo Okumoto

“Minion” is more of the same, but with an updated approach. The guitar riffs are heavier on this record, but the band haven’t strayed into progressive metal territory, there’s still plenty of light to go with the shade!

Spocks Beard Live In 2014
Spock’s Beard Live In 2014

Instrumentally, as well as the usual guitars we find Alan Morse dabbling with autoharp, banjolele, electric sitar and mandolin, broadening the sonic palette further. For further variety, drummer Keegan provides the lead vocal on “Bennett Builds A Time Machine”.

Spocks Beard In 2015
Spock’s Beard In 2015

There is plenty of excellent music on this album, but as things stand my favourite tracks are the epic ten minute “To Be Free Again”, “A Better Way To Fly”, “Tides Of Time” and “Disappear”. The only reservation I have is over the bonus track, a cover of the Black Sabbath classic “Iron Man”, here sung by bassist Dave Meros, which seems rather superfluous and out of place to be honest.

Of the main album proper, however, I have no such reservations. This is modern progressive rock at it’s best whilst still firmly rooted in the classics of the seventies. Granted, if progressive rock’s not your thing, then “The Oblivion Particle” isn’t likely to change your mind, but if it is then this album really is something quite special.

tour2015“The Oblivion Particle” tracklist:

1. Tides Of Time / 2. Minion / 3. Hell’s Not Enough / 4. Bennett Built A Time Machine / 5. Get Out While You Can / 6. A Better Way To Fly / 7. The Center Line / 8. To Be Free Again / 9. Disappear / 10. Iron Man

Like It Is – At The Mesa Arts Center

cover

Yes In 1969
Yes In 1969

English progressive rock band Yes were formed in 1968 by singer Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire – who sadly passed away on 27 June this year from Acute erythroid leukemia, having only been diagnosed in May.

Chris Squire
Chris Squire

Numerous line-up changes have occurred during the band’s career with the most recent recording line-up, for 2014’s “Heaven & Earth”, comprising Squire together with on/off guitarist Steve Howe (a member of Yes from 1970-1981, 1990-1992, 1995 to date), drummer Alan White (band member from 1972 to date), keyboardist Geoff Downes (band member from 1980-1981, 2011 to date) and vocalist Jon Davison (band member from 2012 to present, also a member of Glass Hammer).

Steve Howe
Steve Howe

“Heaven & Hell” was released in July 2014. Since that album the band released “Like It Is – At The Bristol Hippodrome” in December 2014, a double album consisting of live performances of two of the band’s classic records – namely 1977’s “Going For The One” and 1971’s “The Yes Album”.

Alan White
Alan White

Now, in July 2015 comes another double live album, again recorded on the band’s 2014 world tour, this time under the title “Like It Is – At The Mesa Arts Center” and featuring performances of a further two classic records – 1972’s “Close To The Edge” and “Fragile”, which was their second release of 1971.

Yes - Close To The Edge
Yes – Close To The Edge

Starting the album with the classic nineteen minute title track from “Close To The Edge” means that we are immersed in total progressive rock territory from the off. It’s been said that Jon Davison has breathed new life into the band since he replaced the short-lived Benoît David as vocalist, and I would say that is certainly true to my ears.

Geoff Downes
Geoff Downes

Whilst I enjoyed 2011’s “Fly From Here” I did find “Heaven & Earth” to be a more enjoyable album and both “Like It Is…” albums are very good recordings.

Jon Davison
Jon Davison

If you like classic Yes then I would be very surprised if you didn’t enjoy this new release – although I do understand that for some folks Yes isn’t Yes without Jon Anderson’s distinctive vocals.

Yes - Fragile
Yes – Fragile

“Close To The Edge” is rightly considered a highlight in the band’s catalogue, but it was the previous album, “Fragile”, that was their breakthrough record. “Fragile” began with the unlikely hit single “Roundabout” (edited from 8:29 down to 3:27 it reached number 13 in the US, the group’s highest charting single until 1983’s “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”), alongside three other group performances – for “South Side Of The Sky”, the classic “Long Distance Runaround” and “Heart Of The Sunrise”.

Yes In 1971
Yes In 1971

The remaining tracks were showcases for the five then-members of the band – “Cans And Brahms” for keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Anderson’s “We Have Heaven”, drummer Bill Bruford’s “Five Per Cent For Nothing”, Squire’s “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” and Howe’s “Mood For A Day”. The current respective members take Wakeman, Anderson and Bruford’s roles here with aplomb.

Yes In 2014
Yes In 2014

The eleven minute plus “Heart Of The Sunrise”, a progressive tour de force that combines sections in the time signatures of 6/8, 3/4, 4/4, 5/8 and 9/8, is the undoubted highlight of both the original 1971 album and the second disc of this new live release.

The performances here of both albums don’t sound as if they come from a band that’s been around (albeit with differing personnel) for nearly fifty years – this is a great recording of a band who are rightly considered giants of the genre, and a fitting tribute to the talent and longevity of the late Mr. Squire. A recommended addition to your collection…

YES-2014-US-TOUR-poster3-2000“Like It Is – At The Mesa Arts Center” tracklist:

1. Close To The Edge (I. The Solid Time Of Change / II. Total Mass Retain / III. I Get Up, I Get Down / IV. Seasons Of Man) / 2. And You And I (I. Cord Of Life / II. Eclipse / III. The Preacher, The Teacher / IV. Apocalypse) / 3. Siberian Khatru / 4. Roundabout / 5. Cans And Brahms / 6. We Have Heaven / 7. South Side Of The Sky / 8. Five Per Cent For Nothing / 9. Long Distance Runaround / 10. The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) / 11. Mood For A Day / 12. Heart Of The Sunrise

In Vaults

District-97-In-Vaults-43405-1

District 97
District 97

In the latter part of 2006 Chicago based musicians Jonathan Schang (drums), Sam Krahn (guitar), Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Rob Clearfield (keyboards) formed progressive rock band District 97.

Leslie Hunt
Leslie Hunt

Initially an instrumental group, the foursome decided that a vocalist was needed to complete their sound. Leslie Hunt, a 2007 American Idol Top 10 Female Finalist, joined the band and enabled them to pursue a direction that forged accessible and catchy vocal melodies with an adventurous and technical instrumental foundation, as well as giving them an obvious focal point – something that many progressive rock bands do not have.

Jim Tashjian
Jim Tashjian

Soon Krahn was replaced by a new young guitarist, Jim Tashjian, and with the new line-up complete the band was ready to enter the studio.

Jonathan Schang
Jonathan Schang

Debut album “Hybrid Child” was released in 2010 to positive reviews, and followed by 2012’s “Trouble With Machines”. Now in 2015 comes studio album number three “In Vaults”.

It’s often said that it’s album number three that will determine whether a band is going to be successful or not, artistically and / or commercially in the long term. So, where are we with album number three for District 97? Well, clearly this is a band that have grown in confidence during the three years since their last album.

Rob Clearfield
Rob Clearfield

Hunt’s vocals are clear and assured and really do give the rather complex musical compositions an accessible edge. Instrumentally, the band are right on the money. Schang’s drumming is technically demanding stuff whilst solid as a rock and together with Mulcahy’s bass lines perfectly underpins the musical colour supplied by Clearfield’s keyboards and Tashjian’s excellent guitar textures.

Patrick Mulcahy
Patrick Mulcahy

There are elements of progressive rock, metal, jazz and classical music all contained within this expansive piece of work. Like so many good progressive rock albums this one really needs to be listened to as a whole rather than in bite size chunks, and is all the more rewarding when taken that way.

District 97
District 97

Outstanding tracks for me are “Learn From Danny”, “Snow Country”, “All’s Well That Ends Well”, “Death By A Thousand Cuts” and the closing eleven-and-a-half minute epic “Blinding Vision”. In fact, that could apply as a description for the record as a whole – the realisation of a superb band’s blinding vision!…

CHUX-5AWcAAbj4j“In Vaults” tracklist:

1. Snow Country / 2. Death By A Thousand Cuts / 3. Handlebars / 4. A Lottery / 5. All’s Well That Ends Well / 6. Takeover / 7. On Paper / 8. Learn From Danny / 9. Blinding Vision