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Archive for August, 2011

TRACKLISTING:
1. Goodbye Sweet Innocence (10:40)
2. Living In The Past (11:59)
3. Forgotten Land (9:57)

LINEUP:
Mariusz Duda – vocal, bass, acoustic guitar
Piotr Grudziński – guitars
Piotr Kozieradzki – drums
Michał Łapaj – keyboards, Hammond organ

Hailing from the Polish capital of Warsaw, Riverside need no introduction to fans of modern progressive rock. After 10 years of activity, the release of four full-length albums, a live CD/DVD and a number of singles and EPs, and an extensive touring activity that has brought them to perform at numerous events in Europe and America, the quartet fronted by bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda  has established itself as one of the top acts in the genre, particularly in progressive metal circles.

To be honest, I have always thought that the progressive metal tag was a rather uncomfortable fit for a band like Riverside. While their sound undeniably possesses a keen edge, in my view the more explicit metal traits, such as harsh, dense riffing and aggressive vocals, are used as accents rather than the main event; their music also seems to have more in common with eclectic, hard-to-pinpoint bands such as Porcupine Tree and Tool than the pyrotechnics of Dream Theater and their ilk, or the cerebral experimentalism of bands like UneXpect. With the moody, brooding atmosphere shared by other Polish bands, spiked by sudden surges in intensity, yet mellow and subtly haunting, Riverside’s compositions take full advantage of modern technology, and find a perfect foil to the instrumental side of things in Mariusz Duda’s velvet-smooth voice – equally at home on slower, meditative numbers and on those that push the aggressive elements to the forefront.

Released in June 2011 on the occasion of the band’s 10th anniversary tour, Memories in My Head is a mini-album featuring three new songs (all around the 10-minute mark), the first studio material following their acclaimed fourth album, Anno Domini High Definition. Clocking in at 32 minutes, the disc is in some ways a return to Riverside’s more mellow beginnings, bookended by atmospheric, ambient-like sounds produced by Michał Łapaj’s array of keyboards – something that has been criticized by some reviewers as superfluous, but which I found an interesting addition to the heavier approach adopted by the band in their recent output. The spacey, hypnotic textures of those instrumental passages clearly reveal the influence of Pink Floyd – especially the obsessive, mechanical sound effects in the intro to “Goodbye Sweet Innocence” that inevitably bring to mind Dark Side of the Moon. The track then develops into a slow, somber piece, showcasing Mariusz Duda’s throaty, soothing vocals and some fine guitar work by Piotr Grudziński (sometimes evidencing that faint Eastern vibe that seems to be a constant of Riverside’s music) sparring with Lapaj’s piercing synths.

Strategically placed in the middle, “Living in the Past” is not only the longest track on the CD, but also the one with the strongest ties to Riverside’s metal-hued tendencies of the past few years. Some of the initial parts juxtapose spacey Pink Floyd-like moments with hints of the guitar-organ dynamics so crucial for the sound of Deep Purple and other vintage hard rock outfits, while whistling synth and heavy riffing sharpen the taste. Though the composition comes across as occasionally patchy, mainly on account of the frequent, abrupt shifts between quiet and loud sections, the instrumental interplay is outstanding, and the coda, driven by clean, melodic guitar and Hammond flurries, is alone worth the price of admission. Finally, on closing track “Forgotten Land” Duda’s bass steps into the limelight, and his voice turns occasionally more assertive, while beautiful, mellow guitar and slow, measured pace, together with plentiful sound effects, create a haunting mood that fits the lyrical matter like a glove.

With stylish photography in a variety of hues of grey, bleak imagery suggesting the passing of time, and lyrics relating to memory and loss (as the titles make it abundantly clear), Memories in My Head is a finely-crafted release, though clearly a transitional one for the Polish band. Its more laid-back, atmospheric nature will appeal to the more conservative-minded prog fans turned off by overtly metal nature of Anno Domini High Definition (as witnessed by some of the reactions to the band’s excellent set at the 2010 edition of  NEARFest), and the lavish use of electronics in the tradition of vintage Pink Floyd, or even of seminal electro-prog bands like Tangerine Dream, may point at interesting developments in Riverside’s future releases.

Links:
http://riversideband.pl/en/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Cronovisione (7:36)
2. Gatto Lupesco (7:23)
3. Nei Cerchi del Legno (13:09):
– a. Pinocchio (0:00)
– b. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (2:17)
– c. L’Eterna Spirale del Destino (5:22)
– d. Radici di una Coscienza (8:57)
4. Il Fattore Precipitante (7:00)
5. Il Basilisco (6:19)
6. Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico (7:11)
7. Acustica Felina (9:37)

 LINEUP:
Gabriele Guidi Colombi – bass
Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
Alessio Calandriello – vocals
Davide Serpico – electric and acoustic guitars
Andrea Lotti – piano, keyboards, acoustic guitar
Stefano Agnini – piano, keyboards

With:
Luca Scherani –  accordion (5), flute arrangement (6)
Joanne Roan – flute (6)
Rossano Villa – string arrangement (3, 7)
Lidia Molinari – voice (1, 7)

Another outstanding addition to the thriving music scene of the Italian port city of Genoa, La Coscienza di Zeno was founded in  2007 by a group of experienced musicians – bassist Gabriele “Estunno” Guidi Colombi (also a founding member of Il Tempio delle Clessidre), drummer Andrea Orlando and vocalist Alessio Calandriello. Keyboardist and lyricist Stefano Agnini joined the band at the beginning of 2008, while guitarist Davide Serpico (who replaced original guitarist Matteo Malvezzi) and keyboardist Andrea Lotti joined between 2008 and 2009. Agnini left at the end of the recording sessions for La Coscienza di Zeno’s self-titled debut album, which had started in May 2010.

The band takes its distinctive name (meaning “Zeno’s Conscience” in English, and often shortened to CDZ for ease of reference) from one of the masterpieces of Italian literature, the ground-breaking psychological novel published in 1923 by writer and businessman Italo Svevo, and written in the form of an autobiography meant to help the titular Zeno’s attempts to quit smoking through psychoanalysis. Not surprisingly, La Coscienza di Zeno’s debut possesses a definite intellectual appeal – though without the level of pretentiousness that might be expected _ revolving around Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics (loosely inspired by the novel) masterfully interpreted by lead singer Alessio Calandriello’s technically impeccable voice, passionate without being overwrought.

La Coscienza di Zeno is one of those rare albums that, while in keeping with the classic prog tradition of long tracks, rich instrumentation (with special prominence given to the keyboards) and intricate arrangements, achieves the considerable feat of never overstaying its welcome.  As other reviewers have pointed out, the album is not as easy to approach as other comparable efforts, and the first impression might be somewhat deceiving. To be perfectly honest, after my first listen I thought, here is another of the many Italian Genesis-worshipping bands – which, after successive listens, turned out to be a very unfair assessment. Indeed, while the Genesis influence is occasionally hard to miss, the album’s roots lie firmly and deeply in the great Italian prog tradition, with Banco del Mutuo Soccorso a particularly apt reference, mainly on account the presence of two keyboardists and the remarkable balance between vocal and instrumental parts.

Clocking in at slightly under one hour, La Coscienza di Zeno features seven tracks between 6 and 13 minutes. Though the main foundation of the album is symphonic, lush and multilayered, with plenty of seamless instrumental interplay, outstanding solo passages and rivetingly expressive singing, there is also enough variety to keep the interest of the more eclectic-minded listeners, with a wide range of influences cropping up almost unexpectedly, from waltz to folk by way of jazz and even hard rock. The almost wholly instrumental (except for the spoken-word vocals in the middle) opener “Cronovisione” is melodic and intricate at the same time, with echoes of Yes in the airy synth sweeps laced with faintly spiky guitar, and of Banco in the majestic yet dynamic feel imparted by the twin keyboards. “Gatto Lupesco”, hinges on Alessio Calandriello’s amazing vocal range and expressive power, complemented by a musical accompaniment that is melancholy and intense in turns, driven by keyboards and dramatic drumming. The obligatory epic, “Nei Cerchi del Legno” (partly inspired by the iconic tale of Pinocchio, one of the few instances of Italian literature that have had some international resonance) has a rather unusual format, being mostly instrumental, with vocals making an appearance only towards the end. The music, on the other hand, is a triumph of imposing symphonic passages rendered even more lush by the double keyboard setup and string arrangement, almost jazzy inserts offset by gently meditative episodes, and stunning synth-guitar interplay that brings to mind Genesis’ immortal “Firth of Fifth”.

Out of the remaining four tracks, “Il Fattore Precipitante” pursues the classic Italian prog route, with the lavish, airy Genesis-like suggestions sharpened by some heavy riffing and high-powered rhythm work courtesy of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando – though Calandriello steals the show here, his vocal tour de force complemented by a superb instrumental tapestry of keyboards, drums and guitar. “Il Basilisco”, on the other hand, signals a sharp change in mood and musical style – a folk-tinged number veined with melancholy and enhanced by the arresting, unmistakably Old-World accordion of guest artist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten, also showcasing Davide Serpico’s lovely acoustic guitar work. The splendid, exquisitely tense instrumental “Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico” juxtaposes quieter, flute-led sections and stormy keyboard passages spiced by metal-hued riffing, enriched by solemn organ and lilting piano; while closer “Acustica Felina” (the second longest track on the album) reprises the lush symphonic mood of the beginning, rounded up by the deep choral tone of the inevitable Mellotron. Calandriello’s voice tackles the challenging lyrical matter with superb expertise, veering from gentleness to a deep, almost menacing tone; the song is then wrapped up by a magnificent, Hackettian guitar solo.

With refreshing honesty, La Coscienza di Zeno make no bones about paying homage to the progressive rock tradition of the Seventies, both Italian and British – even if the sound quality and production values of their debut album are thoroughly modern, and lend extra depth and dimension to the elegantly complex music. An obvious labour of love, every aspect of the album has been carefully considered in order to offer a complete experience to the discerning listener – with stylish, mostly black-and-white photography and detailed liner notes, including the lyrics (which make worthwhile reading for anyone familiar with the Italian language). Indeed, La Coscienza di Zeno is a must for all lovers of vintage Italian prog, adding the band to the growing list of excellent “traditional but modern” acts that already includes their fellow Genoese Il Tempio delle Clessidre and La Maschera di Cera, as well as the revamped Delirium. Highly recommended to symphonic prog fans and anyone who is not put off by foreign-language vocals, this is another classy package coming from the ever-dependable Italian prog scene.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/lacoscienzadizeno

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Here I Stand (4:11)
2. In My Place (3:33)
3. The Keeper (5:33)
4. Cannibal Tango (3:27)
5. Fever (the Battle Rages On) (4:48)
6. Hate Incarnate (2:58)
7. Get Out of My Way (4:38)
8. Russian Girls (3:32)
9. Demon Disco (4:05)
10. Be My Pride (4:30)
11. Fathers & Sons (5:01)
12. Inner Feelings (Silence) (18:54)

LINEUP:
Christophe Godin – guitar, lead and background vocals
Julien “Peter Puke” Rousset – vocals, drums, percussion, background vocals
Gaby Vegh – vocals, bass guitar, background vocals; tablas (3)

With:
Lilit Karapetyan – Russian girl’s voice (8)

French power trio Gnô are one of the projects of guitarist Christophe Godin, known in progressive rock circles as the founder and mastermind of Mörglbl, as well as one of France’s hottest guitar players. Cannibal Tango, Gnô’s second album, was released in the early summer of 2011 on the US-based label The Laser’s Edge – 10 years after their debut, Trash Deluxe, released in 2001 after Mörglbl’s temporary demise.

Mörglbl are widely considered as one of the most exciting bands on the current prog scene, and anticipation is running very high for their forthcoming US tour – whose culmination will be the  headlining slot on Saturday, September 3, at the legendary ProgDay festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Though adopting a somewhat more straightforward format than Mörglbl’s output, Cannibal Tango is bound to win over most fans of Godin’s main gig, especially those who have a broader view of progressive rock than the average fan pining for the good old days of the Seventies. With their irrepressible, genre-bending attitude and obvious enthusiasm for making music, Gnô deliver a real rollercoaster ride of an album, bubbling with a wild and wacky sense of humour, crushingly heavy but also full of infectious grooves and catchy hooks.

Cannibal Tango’s press release describes the band as “Pantera meets The Beatles” – a rather weird, but oddly effective definition.  Driven by Godin’s high-powered, razor-sharp riffs and searing lead breaks, propelled by Julien “Peter Puke” Rousset’s thunderous drums and Gaby Vegh’s solid yet nimble bass lines, Gnô;s music is always brimming with energy, but capable of unexpected twists and turns. While the influence of heavy metal – both in its classic incarnation (as in Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden) and the more eclectic strains represented by the likes of the above-mentioned Pantera, Faith No More or System of a Down – is clearly recognizable, one of the closest terms of comparison would be King’s X, whose imprint is hard to miss in the impossibly catchy vocal harmonies. Like the American trio, Gnô rely on conventional song structures spiced up by intriguing hints of a higher complexity.

With 12 tracks averaging between 3 and 5 minutes, the album’s 63-minute running time is quite deceptive, as it includes the unexpected “Easter egg” (a funny a cappella version of “Fever”) tacked at the end of closing number “Inner Feelings (Silence)” after a lengthy pause.  Although the canonical “prog” features of mind-boggling time signature changes and extended instrumental sections are conspicuously absent on Cannibal Tango, there is still plenty of variety to hold the listener’s interest. Starting with opener “Here I Stand”, the songs as a whole are bold and relentlessly dynamic, without too much subtlety, yet introducing different elements into the sheer heaviness of their foundation. The funky  pace and catchy chorus coexisting with an aggressive guitar solo reminded me of another of the seminal crossover bands of the Eighties, New Yorkers Living Colour; while with “In My Place” some lazy reggae licks are thrown into the mix, together with a chorus that owes a lot to The Beatles, though with a much harder edge. Echoes of King’s X emerges in numbers such as the slower, doom-infused “The Keeper” with its faint Middle Eastern vibe, the groovy “Get Out of My Way” and the intense, slow-burning “Inner Feelings”. The more nuanced instrumental bridge of  the brisk “Demon Disco”, on the other hand, points to another hugely influential power trio – the mighty Rush; while the unabated intensity of “Russian Girls”, probably the heaviest number on the album, borders on hardcore punk.

As pointed out in the previous paragraphs, Cannibal Tango requires a high level of tolerance for heaviness and fast and furious riffing in order to be fully enjoyed – as well as a taste for artists such as Frank Zappa or Primus, whose music prominently features a blend of chops and off-the-wall humour. Packaged in a colourful, zany cover proudly emblazoned with the band’s striking logo,  and photos hinting at the “cannibal” motif gracing the CD’s inner sleeve, this is a genuinely entertaining album from a very talented outfit, which fans of the more crossover-

Links:
http://www.gno-music.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. B (5.34)
2. C  (3:02
3. D  (1:39)
4. F  (1:36)
5. G (2:03
6. H  (3:48)
7. J  (3:39)
8. K  (2:56)
9. L  (3:41)
10. M (3:00)
11. N  (3 :11)
12. P  (3 :23)
13. Q  (3 :34)
14. R  (2:00)
15. S  (2:41)
16. T  (1:24)
17. V  (1:48)
18. W (2:34)
19. X  (2:38)
20. Z  (7:50)

LINEUP:
Jocelyn Maheux – guitar
Michel Landry – drums
Thierry Alexandre Zambo – bass

Opusculus are a trio based in Montréal (Canada), where they were first formed in 2004 by drummer Michel Landry. The current line-up, featuring guitarist Jocelyn Maheux and bassist Thierry Alexandre Zambo, has been together since 2007. Part of the material on Consonant, the band’s debut album,  released in the second half of 2010, dates back from their early years. All of the three members have extensive musical training and experience; the band are also quite active on the live front in their home town, both as performers and organizers of musical events, though they are still relatively unknown outside Québec. Fiercely proud of their independent status, Opusculus fly the flag for all those bands who would rather take risks rather than bow down to market pressures.

The mention of a  power trio hailing from Canada is inevitably bound to bring Rush to mind, and the legendary Toronto outfit is indeed listed among the main influences on Opusculus’ music. However, while Rush’s output has always been based on songs, even in the days when they still wrote 20-minute epics, Opusculus have adopted a sharply different approach for their debut album – which is basically a single, completely instrumental composition divided into 20 movements (or, as the band put it, “a 20-chapter epic song”), each named after a consonant of the English alphabet. Though employing nothing more than the basic rock setup of guitar, bass and drums, the trio produce an impressive volume of highly complex music, aided by superb sound quality that lends a detailed, multi-dimensional feel to each instrument’s contribution.

The CD’s press release points out that Consonant was inspired by a wide range of musical genres, and as such likely to appeal to fans of such iconic bands as King Crimson, Rush, Porcupine Tree, Liquid Tension Experiment and Tool. While all of those acts base their sound on a finely balanced mix of creativity and outstanding technical skill, most of them also employ vocals and more conventional song structures, as well as keyboards, seen by many as an almost mandatory ingredient of progressive rock. Indeed, although the lack of the depth and fullness that keyboards can provide to instrumental music can occasionally be felt on Consonant, the classic “power trio” format encourages the three musicians to push their own boundaries, weaving a tight web of sound with the rather minimalistic instrumentation at their disposal.

Clocking in at almost 62 minutes, Consonant is bookended by its two longest segments, which seem to summarize the  whole of the band’s musical conception in a more articulate fashion. The remaining 18 tracks, all between 1 and 3 minutes, run into each other without any clearly defined pauses, though often distinguished by sharp changes in mood and pace. Like a statement of intent, opener “B” introduces the listener to the three instruments’ seamless interaction – alternating aggressively riff-driven sections with more sedate ones, which spotlight Thierry Alexandre Zambo’s role in providing a steady, rumbling stream of bottom end to complement Michel Landry’s acrobatic drumming. The track reminded me of Rush in terms of style rather than actual sound, with the rhythm section playing as much of a starring role as the guitar, though Jocelyn Maheux’s amazing performance runs the gamut from harsh, metal-infused riffing to laid-back, melodic soloing. The band’s wide- ranging network of influences is clearly displayed throughout the album, from the strong King Crimson vibe of “C” and “S” to the mellower, jazzy feel of “K” and the Latin suggestions in “G”. The almost 8-minute “Z” wraps up the album by juxtaposing two very different styles such as the relaxed, faintly hypnotic warmth of reggae and the obsessive angularity of math-rock. The latter influence pervades most of the album, with some of the frantic, high-energy drum parts reminiscent of heavily percussion-focused bands like Battles or Don Caballero.

Complemented by stylish though slightly disturbing cover artwork, Consonant is a very ambitious project, especially for a debut album, and a bit of an acquired taste on account of its idiosyncratic format.  Definitely an attractive proposition for fans of instrumental progressive rock with a high degree of complexity and eclecticism, the bare-bones instrumentation, frequently repetitive patterns and occasional bouts of dissonance may put off those who prize carefully structured compositions with plenty of melody to offset the technical brilliance. However, while the album might have benefited from some editing here and there, Consonant is an intriguing first effort by a trio of very talented and dedicated artists, and would deserve to get more exposure in prog circles, especially when all-instrumental bands are discussed.

Links:
http://opusculusprog.blogspot.com/

http://www.myspace.com/opusculus

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TRACKLISTING:
1. A Thousand Islands (3:59)
2. Clouds and Stars (2:46)
3. Heavy Water (5:55)
4. Biddeford Pool (4.30)
5. Harold’s Budds (6:01)
6. The Doorman’s Dairy Dream(4:10)
7. Rainy Day Trains (6:33)
8. Weathering (5:36)

LINEUP:
John Orsi  – drums, percussion, keyboards
Mike Marando – guitars (3, 5, 7, 8), bass (5, 7), ebow guitar (7)
Manny Silva – guitars (1)

Knitting By Twilight is a music and art collective based in the historic New England city of Providence (known as the hometown of cult horror writer HP Lovecraft), where it was founded by John Orsi and Michael Watson in the spring of 1994. Orsi, a talented composer and multi-instrumentalist, has been the only constant in the outfit throughout the years. Weathering, the sixth CD released by Knitting By Twilight since their inception, comes in a stunning six-panel package graced with a full-size image of late 19th-century French artist Antoine Bouguereau’s painting Biblis. Orsi is also involved with Incandescent Sky and Herd of Mers, both signed to his own label It’s Twilight Time.

When I started my “career” as an official reviewer (as opposed to writing about albums in my own collection), I chose Knitting By Twilight’s fourth album, bearing the charming title of An Evening Out of Time, for my very first review. In spite of my extensive exposure to all kinds of music, I had rarely chanced upon something so distinctive and delicate, yet bearing very little resemblance to the “prog” that made up the bulk of my listening and reviewing routine. Everything about the album drew my attention – from the lovely, romantic artwork (a constant of Knitting By Twilight’s output) to the quirkily delightful titles, reminiscent of haiku-style poems or Impressionist paintings rather than the slightly self-conscious grandeur of a lot of “mainstream” progressive rock. The music within was no less fascinating, even if very much of an acquired taste, requiring both patience and an appreciation for muted contrasts of light and shade rather than intricate arrangements, flowing melodies or instrumental flights of fancy.

Knitting By Twilight’s music revolves around John Orsi’s remarkable, yet understated skill as a percussionist. Totally passionate about his craft, and using his extensive, inspirational array of instruments (listed in loving detail on the CD) to generate sounds that range from pastoral gentleness to eerie dissonance, Orsi is the polar opposite of the stereotype of the muscular, propulsive rock drummer, his approach quite far removed from the technically gifted, yet overly assertive likes of Mike Portnoy and his ilk. He also handles keyboards, which add depth to the compositions and create an atmospheric backdrop for both his percussive forays and the guitar touches provided by Manny Silva and Mike Marando (the latter also a member of Incandescent Sky) on some of the tracks.

Unlike most traditional prog, the music featured on Weathering is not tightly orchestrated, but rather loose and improvisational, deeply evocative, often airy and rarefied, occasionally a tad uncomfortable. As both the main title and the individual titles suggest, the album is very much a celebration of weather and nature, seen as metaphors for many of life’s situations. However, though some listeners might expect a new-agey, somewhat limp-wristed musical offer, there are different kinds of beauty on display on this album, some of them reflecting the languor and sensuality of the cover art, others edgier and slightly ominous.

At a superficial glance, there is not a lot of variety on Weathering, centred as it is on Orsi’s elaborate, yet oddly natural percussive patterns, achieved with both traditional instruments and more exotic ones – many made of metal, producing sharp, bell-like sounds. Clocking in at a very restrained 38 minutes, the album is a collection of tracks that run the gamut from the understated, haunting beauty of opener “A Thousand Islands” to the chaotic, challenging bouts of dissonance of the aptly-titled “Heavy Water” and the eerily buzzing keyboard tapestry of “Harold’s Budds” (a pun on the name of American composer Harold Budd), punctuated by bells and piercing guitar. In “Rainy Day Trains”, the title’s vivid imagery is conjured by clanging cymbals and surging keyboard waves, a difficult though exhilarating combination of sounds tempered by the solemn tone of Marando’s guitar. In the subtly melodic “The Doorman’s Dairy Dream”, layers of keyboards support the delicate, sparse percussion, used more as an accent than as the main event.  “Clouds and Stars” is as gracefully romantic as its title implies, with a main theme embroidered by various percussion, and faint Eastern suggestions backed by faraway-sounding keyboards; while in “Biddeford Pool” the keyboards suggest the ebb and flow of water, spiked by the faint metallic dissonance produced by the percussion. The title-track wraps up the album in stately fashion, with guitar, percussion and keyboards interacting slowly and steadily to create a rich, haunting texture.

As hinted in the previous paragraphs, Weathering is not for everyone – its refined minimalism very much in contrast with the carefully arranged lushness of most symphonic/neo prog, and the lack of memorable melodic structures posing another hurdle for those accustomed to more conventional fare. Like all mood/ambient-based music, it has its own time and place, being much better suited to moments of calm and meditation than more energetic activities. Warmly recommended to those who appreciate music that can evoke subtle nuances, dreamy soundscapes and also slightly disquieting atmospheres, it should also not be missed by  dedicated percussionists and lovers of inventive drumming. Fans of artists such as Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Dead Can Dance are also quite likely to appreciate Weathering’s exquisite, though not immediately accessible nature.

Links:
http://www.overflower.com/KnittingByTwilight_Welcome.htm

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TRACK LISTING:
1. Where’s the Captain? (5:11)
2. Coma Cluster (4:42)
3. Mostly Skulls (5:12)
4. That Ticket Exploded  (5:54)
5. The Noose (4:28)
6. iNCITING (4:39)
7. Gradual Decay (4:45)
8. The Ditch (5:49)
9. After the Air Raid (3:20)
10. The Children and the Rats (4:59)
11. Glass Tables (4:35)

LINEUP:
Mike Eber – guitars
Jeff Eber – drums
Johnny DeBlase – electric and upright bass

Another impressive find from the ever-reliable Cuneiform Records, Zevious hail from New York City.  Formed in 2006 by guitarist Mike Eber, his cousin, drummer Jeff Eber (formerly of experimental progressive metal band Dysrhythmia) and bassist Johnny DeBlase, they started out as a straight-ahead jazz trio before they decided to take a more innovative direction.  Their self-titled debut album was released in 2008, followed one year later by After the Air Raid, recorded and mixed by Colin Marston of tech/extreme prog-metal band Behold…The Arctopus. Following a successful US tour in the spring of 2011, Zevious have been invited to perform at the 2011 edition of ProgDay (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), the longest-running progressive rock festival in the USA.

The three members of the band have been active on the music scene for over ten years, and their collective experience is clearly brought to bear in After the Air Raid, a high-energy blend of sleek jazz/fusion, angular math-rock, and a spicy sprinkling of metal – challenging without being overtaxing, thoroughly modern without turning its back to the old-school progressive rock tradition. Not as spiky and impenetrable as their label mates Upsilon Acrux, Zevious have managed not to banish melody altogether, though it is handled in a very unconventional manner.  For all its cutting-edge allure, Zevious’ music is not meant to be abrasive or forbidding, and draws much of its power from being able to keep the listener on their toes, though without wearying them out with a relentless barrage of wildly clashing sounds.

A cutting-edge permutation of that old classic rock stalwart, the power trio, Zevious manage to produce a huge volume of sound without the use of any keyboards or other props. Theirs is also a fully collaborative effort, as it would be hard to single out any of the three members as the star of the album. While Mike Eber’s guitar weaves dazzling webs, avoiding the ever-present pitfalls of mindless shredding, Johnny DeBlase’s fluid yet powerful bass provides a solid layer of bottom end for Jeff Eber’s stunning drum patterns, displaying the experience gained as a member of avant-progressive metal band Dysrhythmia in an array of head-spinning polyrhythms – though the influence of more “classic” drummers, such as Bill Bruford, can also be detected.

The 11 tracks featured on After the Air Raid are rather short from a prog-purist point of view, but pack more twists and turns in their restrained running time than many “epics”, though without descending into the excesses to which the more experimental prog acts are often prone. While most of the compositions clearly point to math-rock’s hypnotic, multilayered angularity, the band’s original jazz foundation adds a welcome touch of melody that is often lacking in otherwise outstanding bands like Don Caballero or Battles. With such a consistently high level of quality, it is difficult to pick out any standout tracks; however, I was particularly impressed by the brilliant, Black Sabbath-meets-jazz/fusion workout of That Ticket Exploded, or the Rush-on-steroids, bass-driven extravaganza that is iNCITING. The Noose and The Ditch both steer towards heavier territory – the former strongly reminiscent of a jazzier version of King Crimson with its devastatingly effective bass-drum interplay; the latter more aggressive, with an almost punk intensity, Mike Eber’s guitar let loose over thundering drums and a steady bass line. In sharp contrast, the title-track reveals the more subdued side of the band’s sound, a hauntingly melancholy piece revolving around Mike’s muted, atmospheric guitar work.

Clocking in at 51 minutes, this is a very dense album, and perhaps just a tad overlong on account of the unabated intensity of the music. In fact, those who prefer a more traditional approach to prog, as well as those who object to a lack of vocals, may find it a somewhat stressful listen. On the other hand, with stellar performances all round, and a brilliant combination of diverse influences and creative ideas, After the Air Raid is highly recommended to anyone with a keen interest in contemporary progressive rock.

Links:
http://zevious.com/

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACK LIST:

1. We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks  (6:30)
2. Klak  (5:31)
3. Wordplay  (8:21)
4. Scales of the Ebony Fish  (5:33)
5. Settling of Bones  (4:52)
6. The Discovery of Witchcraft  (30:26):
Pt.1 Convent
Pt. 2 Hags 1
Pt. 3 MadNight

Pt. 4 Hags 2
Pt. 5 Invitation to the Dance
Pt. 6 Hags 3
Pt. 7 Cavort
7. Evil Clocks 2   (2:47)

LINEUP:
David Campbell – guitars, keyboards, vocals; bass (3, 5)
Angie MacIvor – sax, vocals, keyboards
Aaron Clark – drums, percussion
Claude Prince – bass

With:
Guy Dagenais  – bass (1)
Guy LeBlanc – synths (4)
Rick Barkhouse – piano (6)

Based in Ottawa, Canada, The Rebel Wheel first started in the early Nineties as a midi-based studio project by guitarist David Campbell. After going through numerous incarnations over the years, the band released their first, self-titled official CD in 2003, followed by Diagramma in 2008.  Their third album, We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks, was released in the late spring of 2010 on 10T Records, like the band’s previous effort. At the time of writing, vocalist/keyboardist/saxophonist Angie MacIvor is on leave following the birth of her first child, but is planning to rejoin the band in 2012, while bassist Claude Prince has been replaced by Andrew Burns.  In early September The Rebel Wheel will be performing at the 2011 edition of ProgDay, with former Camel and Nathan Mahl keyboardist Guy LeBlanc (who also appears on one track of this album) as a special guest.

As even a cursory listen to We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks will reveal, The Rebel Wheel delve deep into the legacy of controlled chaos and mesmerizing, romantic gloom bestowed to the prog world by the likes of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. The album is certainly dark-hued, as its title and stylishly macabre artwork suggest, with most of the songs bearing esoteric titles, and a 30-minute, seven-part epic dedicated to witchcraft. However, unlike in the case of some “retro” outfits clearly inspired by Coven or Black Widow, there is no occult subtext whatsoever to be found on the album, which instead revolves around a gloomily dystopian view of the future, reminiscent in some ways of Sinfield-era King Crimson.

Guitarist/keyboardist David Campbell and keyboardist/saxophonist Angie McIvor share vocal duties, assisted by a strong rhythm section – Claude Prince’s extremely impressive bass work being, in my view, the cornerstone of the album. They also manage to shift almost effortlessly between aggressive passages and more subdued ones, with dissonant patterns occasionally lurking in the sax and guitar lines, creating a sense of driving intensity. Even though King Crimson are undoubtedly the main term of comparison, the band succeed in presenting their own individual twist on some of the most influential, cutting-edge music produced in the Seventies without sounding as overtly derivative as other celebrated outfits.

In keeping with its title, We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks is bookended by the eerie, ominous sound of ticking clocks and assorted machinery. Its structure distinctly resembles Shadow Circus’ Whispers and Screams, released in the second half of 2009, which also features a 30-minute suite followed by separate songs. In this case, however, the epic is located in the second half of the disc rather than the first, which comprises five songs, most of them in a similar vein to the epic. The only exception is the folksy, low-key Settling of Bones, where Angie McIvor’s distinctive voice – warm and melodic, yet with a slightly plaintive quality – is enhanced by gently plucked guitar and bass strings. The title-track, on the other hand, opens the proceedings with a forceful, King Crimson-meets-VDGG punch that mellows out in the song’s second half. Soothing and menacing in turns, Klak sports a huge bass sound and choppy rhythm in the best tradition of Fripp’s crew; while Wordplay shifts from a gentle, acoustic mood to a tense, bristling pace redolent of Red-era King Crimson.

Like Shadow Circus’ Project Blue, The Discovery of Witchcraft is split into seven sections that work equally well as stand-alone tracks and as parts of a whole. The three short songs titled Hags (mostly interpreted by McIvor, and sharing a recurring theme) connect the four main episodes of the suite, their mellow yet subtly haunting mood reminiscent of early King Crimson, or even The Mars Volta’s slower numbers such as The Widow. The remaining four parts, however, evoke the titular witchcraft quite effectively. Convent is a stunning, bass-led piece with suitably sinister Hammond organ and eerie whispered vocals that may bring to mind a cello-less Anekdoten, and the strident, dissonant MadNight is very much in the mould of King Crimson circa “Starless and Bible Black”; while the swingy piano and sax in Invitation to the Dance remind the listener of the band’s jazz-rock roots, and Cavort blends spacey electronics with deep, powerful bass lines in an intense, yet disciplined build-up.

We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks  is a striking effort, though, in my view, its impact would have been even stronger if it had been trimmed down a bit. Lovers of the angular, eclectic sound of King Crimson, VDGG or Anekdoten will definitely find the album a very rewarding listen, especially on account of the admirable balance between melody and intensity. It also seems that the band has finally reached a measure of stability, and the overall feel of maturity projected by the album certainly bodes well for The Rebel Wheel’s future. I will be definitely be looking forward to their ProgDay performance next month.

Links:
http://www.therebelwheel.com/

http://www.progday.net/Bands-TheRebelWheel.html

http://www.10trecords.com

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