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Archive for July, 2012

TRACKLISTING:
1. Circuitry (6:16)
2. When the Walls are Down (7:29)
3. Dead City (5:15)
4. When She Dreams She Dreams in Color (13:40)
5. Rogue (24:04)

LINEUP:
Matthew Parmenter – vocals, keyboards, descants
Jon Preston Bouda – guitars
Mathew Kennedy – bass
Paul Dzendzel – drums, percussion

In spite of its long-standing tradition as one of the music capitals of the US, Detroit  is not exactly known as a hotbed progressive rock. However, Discipline have almost single-handedly put the city on the prog map. Since their inception in the late Eighties, and  through the release of two albums – Push and Profit (1993) and the celebrated Unfolded Like Staircase (1997) – they have become one of the highest-rated acts on the US prog scene, where their powerful live shows earned them five consecutive appearances at Progday, from 1995 to 1999.  At the beginning of the new century, the band folded, though frontman Matthew Parmenter went on to release two solo albums, and three live recordings were also released between 2000 and 2005.  Discipline made their official comeback at the 2008 edition of NEARfest, Three years later, To Shatter All Accord, their highly awaited third studio album  (the first in 14 years), came out in the autumn of 2011 on the band’s own label, Strung Out Records.

Though often mislabeled as “neo-prog”, with the theatrical approach of keyboardist/vocalist Matthew Parmenter (aka Magic Acid Mime) drawing comparisons to the likes of Fish and Peter Gabriel, Discipline’s darkly intense musical and lyrical approach has more in common with Van Der Graaf Generator than with Marillion and their ilk. In spite of the lengthy pause between studio recordings, having kept the same lineup for over 20 years (no mean feat in itself) has allowed them to hone their distinctive sound, which runs the gamut from brooding harshness to soothing, almost pastoral melody.

While Parmenter’s dramatic vocals and tortured lyrics provide the main focus of attention, they are only one of the factors that make Discipline’s music so riveting. In fact, Parmenter’s voice often works as an additional instrument, and complements the other instruments instead of overwhelming them (as it is occasionally the case with Peter Hammill’s vocals in VDGG).  Discipline handle the frequent transitions in the fabric of their songs with seamless skill, avoiding the lack of cohesion that often mars the most ambitious prog productions, and the dramatic quality inherent to their music is conveyed so as to enhance the emotional content without becoming jarring or bombastic.

Out of the five tracks featured on To Shatter All Accord, the first two date back from the mid-Nineties, and will be familiar to those who have followed Discipline’s live career. Both songs were included in the double CD set Live Days (2010), as well as in the DVD Live 1995 (released in 2005). The hard-edged mid-tempo of “Circuitry” opens the album with a bang: forceful organ introduces Parmenter’s intense vocals, which bookend a magnificent instrumental section where piano, sax, organ and finally Jon Preston Bouda’s incisive guitar solo take turns in the spotlight. “When the Walls Are Down” hinges on superb interplay between Bouda’s guitar and Parmenter’s voice, in turns pleading and sneering; then sax and guitar engage in an exhilarating duel until the end of the song. Strategically placed in the middle of the album, “Dead City” introduces Discipline’s new material on a deceptively upbeat note. The distorted guitar and spacey-industrial electronics at the opening of the song are offset by a melodic guitar solo in the bridge, while a snippet of a radio broadcast announcing a zombie invasion is tagged at the end as a wry commentary on the lyrics.

The band, however, pull out all the stops for the last two tracks, which make up more than two-thirds of the 56-minute album. “When She Dreams She Dreams in Color” starts out in an understated manner, with a lilting pace that brings to mind a tango with jazzy undertones, supported by Paul Dzendzel and Mathew Kennedy’s impeccable rhythm section. Almost theatrical bursts of intensity, driven by vocals and sax, are followed by moments of quiet, leading to a spectacular finale in which Parmenter’s hauntingly lyrical violin, backed by solemn guitar and drums, evokes shades of King Crimson’s “Starless”. The 24-minute “Rogue” is a textbook example of how to write an epic that never outstays its welcome. With plenty of mood and tempo changes, yet remarkably cohesive, it is a harrowing existentialist tale in 10 scenes – almost like a 21st century take on VDGG’s “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”-  that might have resulted in an overblown mess, but is instead deeply involving. Parmenter’s vocal tour-de-force (complete with disturbing shrieks) enhances the stunning instrumental texture, made of powerful organ runs, tensely atmospheric interludes and dazzling guitar solos, full of melody and emotion, which relieve the intensity of the crescendo-like passages.

Though its release date, almost at the tail end of 2011 – a year noted for its many high-profile releases – has kept the album out of many “best of” lists, there is no doubt that To Shatter All Accord fully deserves to be mentioned alongside those albums that have drawn critical attention in the past year. Though not substantially different from its predecessors, it showcases a band that embodies the best of traditional prog without sounding either dated or derivative, and that seems to have gained polish and maturity in spite of the many years of inactivity. To Shatter All Accord is one of those rare efforts will potentially appeal to prog fans of every stripe, and marks a triumphant return to form for one of the top acts of the US scene.

Links:
http://www.strungoutrecords.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Gnocchis On The Block (5:22)
2. Brutal Romance (4:54)
3. Le Surfer d’Argentine (6:42)
4. Golden Ribs (6:47)
5. Fidel Gastro (6:48)
6. Oh P1 Can Not Be (4:54)
7. Cantal Goyave (5:09)
8. Glucids In The Sky (6:12)
9. Wig Of Change (5:24)
10. Metal Khartoom (5:23)
11. 11 Casse (3:49)

LINEUP:
Christophe Godin – guitars
Ivan Rougny – bass
Aurélien Ouzoulias – drums and percussion

Hailing from the south-eastern French town of Annecy, Mörglbl are one of the vehicles for guitarist Christophe Godin’s considerable talent.  With five studio albums under their belt (the first released in 1998 under the band’s original name of Mörglbl Trio), they revisit the time-honoured rock staple of the power trio with dazzling technique and liberal doses of tongue-in-cheek humour. This has earned them a loyal following all over the world, especially in the US, where they have toured frequently in the past few years: in fact, they were one of the  headliners of the 2011 edition of ProgDay, and managed to energize the crowd in spite of the relentless heat and humidity.

The absurdist, pun-laden titles of the 11 tracks featured on Brutal Romance are so entertaining that almost make you regret the absence of vocals (which are instead present on Godin’s excellent 2011 album with Gnô, Cannibal Tango). The music, however, is definitely nothing to laugh at, combining often unrelenting heaviness in the shape of dense, crunchy riffs with a laid-back, jazzy feel and even occasional exotic influences like reggae or Latin and Eastern rhythms. While comparisons aplenty have been made with the likes of Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and a host of other guitar luminaries, Mörglbl have their own distinctive approach, which privileges actual composition over empty displays of technical fireworks.

As a band whose output is not easily categorized, the “prog” label never fails to amuse the members of Mörglbl– which is understandable to anyone who is aware of the average prog fan’s seemingly boundless desire to pigeonhole anything they can lay their hands on. While their music is complex and extremely proficient from a technical point of view, Mörglbl do not follow the conventional prog template: they do not use keyboards, and their compositions tend to be rather short. However, even a superficial listen to Brutal Romance will reveal undeniable progressive characteristics, such as eclecticism and unpredictability. Moreover, even if the instrumental format can often lead to rambling, Godin and his cohorts keep a tight rein on the compositional aspect, and avoid an unstructured feel even in those tracks that feature plenty of variation.

Opener “Gnocchis on the Block” introduces both the harder-edged and the jazzy component of Mörglbl’s sound – reminding me somehow of a heavier version of Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow or Wired. Unlike what you might expect by a band featuring a “guitar hero”, Godin’s guitar acrobatics do not overwhelm the contributions of his bandmates: indeed, Aurélien Ouzoulias’ drums and Ivan Rougny’s bass are not just wallpaper for Godin’s fireworks. In that, Mörglbl may bring to mind Rush, whose influence can be detected in quite a few tracks, such as the mid-paced, riff-heavy title-track. The heavy fusion of “Glucids in the Sky” and the funk-metal workout of “Cantal Goyave” rely on Rougny’s nimble, rumbling bass lines and Ouzoulias’ assertive drum patterns as much as on Godin’s dazzling guitar. On the other hand, “Oh P1 Can Not Be” veers squarely into Black Sabbath territory with its deep, harsh riffing only marginally relieved by more melodic guitar passages.

One of three tracks approaching the 7-minute mark, “Le Surfer d’Argentine” – which, as its title suggests, features a nod to a well-known tango tune alongside the driving riffs – offers an intriguing blend of melody and heaviness with a distinctly eclectic bent. “Golden Ribs” and “Fidel Gastro” alternate mellow passages with piercing, shred-like guitar parts – the latter starting out with an almost danceable, upbeat tune. Echoes of King Crimson emerge in the steady, insistent guitar line of “Wig of Change”, which also allows Ivan Rougny’s bass to shine; while “Metal Khartoom”, as the title suggests, blends fast and heavy riffing with a haunting Eastern tinge and jazzy bass-drum interplay. The album is then brought to a close by the lovely mood piece of “Casse”, where Godin’s unusually sensitive guitar brings to mind some of Gary Moore’s slow, emotional compositions.

Though, as hinted in the opening paragraph, Mörglbl are best experienced in a live setting – which allows them to display both their skills and their zany sense of humour – their latest release will satisfy lovers of instrumental music that successfully combines eclecticism, light-heartedness and serious chops. Challenging without being overwrought, hard-edged but eschewing the cerebral excesses of some jazz-metal bands, Mörglbl are one of the few bands of their kind that manage to make instrumental music entertaining. While it can be said that the band stick to a tried-and-true formula, and therefore there are no real surprises in Brutal Romance, they also do it with the right amount of flair, and manage to keep the listener’s attention. The album is highly recommended to fans of guitar-based instrumental progressive rock – though tolerance for some heaviness is a must.

Links:
http://www.christophegodin.com/

http://www.myspace.com/christophegodin

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A documentary film by José Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt
Produced by Zeitgeist Media LLC
Total time: 98 minutes

In the summer of 2010, the release of Romantic Warriors – A Progressive Music Saga took the music scene by surprise, putting a semi-official seal on the much-touted renaissance of progressive rock in the early 21st century. Retracing the origins of the genre while detailing its development in more recent times, the documentary’s no-frills style and unabashed sincerity captured the attention of viewers beyond the usual circles of prog stalwarts. However, Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder did not rest long on their laurels, and, a mere few months after the film’s release, they were already busy working on a follow-up – this time dedicated to the Rock in Opposition movement, a subset of progressive rock with unique characteristics and a devoted following.

In spite of the common misconception that attaches a political meaning to the “opposition” part of the name, the RIO movement was one of the first attempts by a group of bands to break free of the shackles imposed by major record labels and distribution companies and take matters into their own hands. In a way, the five bands that initiated the short-lived, though hugely influential movement (Henry Cow, Univers Zéro, Etron Fou Leloublan, Stormy Six and Samla Mammas Manna, hailing from five different European countries) were forerunners of the current endeavours of non-mainstream bands and artists.

For two solid years, Adele and José worked unceasingly at the second installment of a planned series of documentary films on the progressive rock scene, travelling from their home in the Washington DC metro area to Europe and other parts of the US to meet the protagonists of the original RIO movement and those who have followed in their footsteps. Romantic Warriors II relies on interviews and concert footage (both archival and recent) for the bulk of the narration, though with the addition of elements that had not been fully exploited the first time around. Roland Millman’s judiciously used voice-over lends narrative cohesion to a storyline that might have otherwise come across as somewhat rambling. While in the first Romantic Warriors both authors remained constantly behind the camera, this time the viewer can catch glimpses of José in a few scenes – either behind the wheel, or interacting with the artists. Most of the interviews were conducted on location, though the filmmakers also made use of modern technology by using Skype to conduct video interviews with some of the movement’s main actors.

Romantic Warriors II retraces the history of Rock in Opposition, from its inception in 1978 – when the original progressive rock movement was already on the wane – to its demise and long-lasting legacy. The original protagonists of the scene and their heirs take turns in the spotlight, offering not just a historical perspective, but also a lesson on how the artists can take control by implementing various forms of collaboration. As was also the case with the first Romantic Warriors, the film is as much about the social and historical aspect of the movement and its ramifications as about the music itself – making it more approachable for outsiders. A very interesting mention of the cross-fertilization between the post-RIO bands and the post-punk scene in the early Eighties drives another nail in the coffin of the commonly held myth of the irreconcilable enmity between punk and progressive rock.

For all the undeniable similarities to the first film, both in concept and format, Romantic Warriors II represents a quantum leap in terms of quality. The slightly gritty, warts-and-all approach of the original has been replaced by a more polished brand of realism that, while retaining its objectivity, also leaves room for artistry. The location shots, while often stunning, avoid the pitfalls of a tourist-brochure effect – whether it is a starkly beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains – a very apt visual complement to Thinking Plague’s music – or bustling views of London or Paris (including a breathtaking shot of the Tour Eiffel at night). Those “travelogue” scenes lend a coherent “road-movie” feel to the whole, and also emphasize the quintessentially cosmopolitan nature of the RIO movement. The use of concert-related ephemera (posters, tickets and newspaper clippings) and vintage photos brings the story to life and anchors it to reality. On the other hand, the striking fantasy sequence in which a cloaked and masked figure moves through the medieval alleys of Prague’s Old Town as a visual embodiment of Univers Zéro’s iconic “Jack the Ripper” adds a touch of weirdness and drama to the basically matter-of-fact fabric of the narration.

Not surprisingly, the film features a very broad cast of characters, ranging from the main actors of the original RIO movement to those who have been carrying the torch up to the present day – fans included. Those who are familiar with the first Romantic Warriors will recognize some familiar faces, such as Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records and Paul Sears of The Muffins. Of the many musicians that appear in the film, Henry Cow’s drummer Chris Cutler (who will be present at the Washington DC premiere of the film, on September 28, 2012) is the one who gets the longest time in the spotlight, his testimony providing almost a running commentary to the development of the story – augmented by each of the other contributions until all the pieces of the mosaic fall into place. Thinking Plague’s Mike Johnson’s musings about the sorry state of Planet Earth (with the endless vistas of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop) add new layers of meaning to the “opposition” part of the movement’s name, anchoring its present developments to some of the most urgent concerns of contemporary society. The last word, however, is left for Magma’s charismatic Christian Vander – an artist who, while never part of the RIO movement, almost embodies the definition of “groundbreaking”. His final quote, reminding the viewer that “something is always possible, even in the worst circumstances”, conveys a strongly inspirational message to anyone who believes in what they do.

Festival and concerts play as large a role as in the original Romantic Warriors. The historic joint performance of Belgian outfits Univers Zéro, Présent and Aranis at the 2011 edition of the Rock in Opposition festival sets the scene, right before the opening credits; the once-in-a-lifetime event, named “Once Upon a Time in Belgium”, also gets ample coverage towards the end of the documentary. The film includes footage from the equally historic performances of Magma and Univers Zéro at the 2010 edition of the Sonic Circuits Festival, as well as scenes from 2011’s CuneiFest at the Orion Studios. The “new guard” of the Avant-Progressive scene is represented by an international cast of bands from both Europe and America.

While the first Romantic Warriors may have been chiefly conceived for the benefit of the prog audience, the second episode of Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder’s progressive rock saga holds a much wider appeal. The music’s very combination of the arty, the quirky and the academically austere will attract people who appreciate forms of non-mainstream music that do not necessarily fall under the “progressive rock” umbrella – including modern classical. The amount of care and attention that have gone into the making of this documentary is also reflected in the DVD’s stylish, scrapbook-like cover photo. Regardless of the intrinsically niche nature of the music, Romantic Warriors II is an outstanding piece of filmmaking in its own right, with the potential to kindle the interest of any lover of the tenth Muse.

Links:
http://www.progdocs.com

http://www.zeitgeistmedia.tv

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TRACKLISTING:
Il Trittico del Tempo Che Fu:
 1. L’Orologio (5:43)
2. La Persistenza della Memoria (3:11)
3. Somatizzando l’Altare Di Fuoco (7:46)
4. L’Ipostasi (3:19)
Presa di Coscienza del Presente:
 5. Al Torneo (3:32)
6. L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga (4:34)
7. Nuvole e Luce (2:23)
8. Ritorno al… (Reprise) (1:47)
9. Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza (7:40)
Quiete e Redenzione del Domani:
 10. Nel Crepuscolo (3:49)
11. La Notte (4:05)
12. L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno (6:01)
13. This Is What We Got: The Flute Song (7:31)

LINEUP:
Diego Petrini – drums, organ, piano, mellotron, percussion, vocals
Eva Morelli – flute, alto, soprano and tenor sax
Federico Caprai – bass guitar, vocals
Antonello De Cesare – lead guitar, backing vocals
Simone Morelli – rhythm guitar
Maria Giulia Carnevalini – lead and backing vocals

Hailing from the beautiful central Italian region of Umbria, Ornithos (Greek for “bird”) features three members of Il Bacio della Medusa, one of the most interesting Italian progressive rock bands of  the past few years. However, Ornithos predates Il Bacio della Medusa by a few years, and was originally created by multi-instrumentalist Diego Petrini and bassist Federico Caprai in 1999. The two musicians were joined by Eva Morelli in 2007, and subsequently by the three remaining members, vocalist Maria Giulia Carnevalini and guitarists Antonello De Cesare and Simone Morelli La Trasfigurazione, their debut album, was completed in 2011 but released in the early months of 2012. The cover artwork by Federico Caprai features the band’s symbol, the ibis, which is a reference not only to their name, but also to Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, music and time.

For a debut album, La Trasfigurazione is a very ambitious endeavour, bearing witness to the many years of work and dedication behind it. With 13 relatively short tracks arranged in three chapters, it is a concept that hinges on a man’s spiritual journey through the past, the present and the future. True to the Italian progressive tradition, it is also boasts dramatic flair, gorgeous yet occasionally intense melodies, and plenty of variety to keep the listener on their toes. However, unlike many albums that share similar features, the concept is mainly conveyed through music rather than singing. Indeed, the majority of the tracks are instrumental, showcasing the amazing technical skill of the individual members, as well as very tight band dynamics and a remarkable ability in developing a narration without the use of too many words.

Eclecticism is the name of the game on La Trasfigurazione, an album that honours the golden age of Italian prog while at the same time searching for new avenues of expression. The lush  symphonic apparatus of mellotron and other keyboards is beefed up by a twin-guitar approach more typical of classic rock than prog, and the prominent role of Eva Morelli’s saxes lends a sleek, jazzy allure to the sound. While the synergy between flute and guitar, hovering between gentleness and aggression, inevitably evokes Jethro Tull (a big influence on many RPI bands, both old and new), Ornithos’ sound rests on a tightly woven web that relies on the contribution of each instrument, finely detailed yet part of a whole. The vocals, on the other hand, almost take a back seat, although the contrast between Diego Petrini’s low-pitched, almost gloomy delivery (sharply different from the quasi-operatic style favoured by many Italian prog singers) and Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soaring, blues-tinged tones deserves to be further exploited in the band’s future outings.

The sounds of tolling bells and a ticking clock lead into “L’Orologio”, whose brisk, dance-like pace introduces the album, illustrating the band’s modus operandi. The strong hard rock component of Ornithos’ sound emerges at the end, with a driving guitar solo propelled by high-energy drumming and supported by sax and organ. Petrini’s distinctive vocals make their entrance in the low-key “La Persistenza della Memoria”, and lend a somewhat ominous flavour to the first half of “Somatizzando l’Altare di Fuoco”, a cinematic number that blends echoes of Morricone’s iconic spaghetti-western soundtracks with a vintage hard-rock vibe and an unexpected, laid-back jazzy ending. The nostalgic tango of “L’Ipostasi” wraps up the first chapter.

Introduced by the upbeat “Al Torneo”, the second chapter develops in eclectic fashion with the blaring sax – almost in free-jazz mode – of “L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga”; then it takes a more mellow turn in the Canterbury-tinged “Nuvole e Luce”, which introduces Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soulful voice paralleled by melodic flute – before plunging deep into hard rock territory with the raging Hammond organ of “Ritorno al… (Reprise)”. “Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza”, probably the album’s climactic point, begins in subdued, almost mournful fashion, then soon unfolds into a dramatic, riff-laden jazz-meets-hard-rock workout that brings to mind the likes of Colosseum, Banco and even The Doors. The third chapter opens with the blues-rock suggestions of “Nel Crepuscolo”, while “La Notte” ’s slow-paced, riff-laden heaviness conjures echoes of Black Sabbath, compounded by a wild, distorted guitar solo and aggressive, almost harsh flute. Then the serene textures of “L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno”, with a lovely sax solo that made me think of the airy, jazz-tinged elegance of Delirium’s magnificent comeback album Il Nome del Vento, bring the main body of the album to a close. In fact, while the jazzy “This Is What We Got: The Flute Song” is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of music – showcasing Antonello De Cesare’s guitar skills in a great solo backed by organ and sax – it feels like an afterthought of sorts, especially on account of the English-language lyrics, which detract from the uniquely Italian character of the rest of the album.

As is the case with most Italian progressive rock, La Trasfigurazione can be somewhat of an acquired taste, and definitely not for those who favour a minimalistic approach. Musically speaking, even if the album might command the controversial “retro” tag, there is also a sense of modernity in the band’s omnivorous approach which pushes Ornithos’sound into the 21st century. True, the album occasionally comes across as a tad overambitious when it wants to cram too many ideas into a limited running time of 56 minutes. However, this is a band that possesses talent in spades, and La Trasfigurazione will make a strong impression on lovers of everything RPI – as well as providing a fine complement to Il Bacio della Medusa’s newly released third album, Deus Lo Vult.

Links:
http://www.ornithos.it/

http://www.myspace.com/ornithos

https://www.facebook.com/ornithosfreeformusic

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Regular readers of my blog will by now be familiar with my frequent references to the plight of US bands and their struggles to find an audience for their live shows. The 1000-odd people who, only two weeks ago, filled a state-of-the-art venue such as the Zoellner Arts Center for the final edition of NEARfest are very much the exception in a country where non-mainstream bands and artists (especially of the progressive rock persuasion) see their efforts to perform live increasingly frustrated by their potential audience’s apathy. When playing before 50 people is already considered a successful outcome, you know that there is a problem – which may soon force an increasing number of artists to turn their efforts to studio-only projects, no matter how much they love being on stage.

For this reason – even if, generally speaking, any band tagged as “neo-prog” would not exactly set my musical pulse racing – my husband and I decided to attend one of Baltimore-based quintet Ilúvatar’s rare live performances after a hiatus that kept them away from the scenes for over a decade. In spite of the suffocating blanket of 100-degree heat (around 40º C for non-Americans) and the threat of thunderstorms later in the evening, we headed towards the ever-reliable Jammin’ Java, and found that a few of our fellow attendees had driven considerable distances for the occasion. Considering the circumstances (including the rather awkward 7 p.m. scheduling), the 50 people or so who attended the DC-SOAR-sponsored gig at the dimly-lit, comfortably air-conditioned venue may be seen as a reasonably successful turnout.

Named after the supreme being (“father of all”) in JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth legendarium, and with beginnings that can be traced back to 1983, Ilúvatar  are nowhere as pretentious as their handle might lead one to believe, and definitely not about the dreaded “pixies and unicorns” all too often associated with prog. In the Nineties, they enjoyed a moderate amount of success as one of the leading US prog bands, which landed them a number of high-profile appearances (such as ProgDay 1996, Baja Prog 1998 and NEARfest 2000) before they went on hiatus. Over the years Ilúvatar have built a loyal following in the Baltimore/Washington metro area, and are clearly one of those outfits for whom the studio will never be enough.

Due to my limited affinity with neo-prog, I was not familiar with Ilúvatar’s output, but – in spite of the ready availability of music samples in the age of the Internet – I had decided to go in cold to avoid any bias, having learned that many acts are best experienced in a live setting. The almost two-hour set left me positively surprised, unlike some much-touted names whose shows I have witnessed in the past few years. With four-fifths of the line-up featured on their last album to date, 1999’s A Story Two Days Wide, on board (original vocalist Glenn McLaughlin left in 2011, and was replaced by Jeff Sirody earlier this year), the members all looked quite personable (it was hard to believe that they have been around for 25 years!), and genuinely happy to be back on stage. Most importantly, though, their performance was focused on delivering tightly composed songs rather than showing off their chops. As seasoned performers, the band members handled the rather cramped stage with aplomb, eliciting the enthusiasm of their loyal fans.

As a whole, the music was deceptively straightforward, declining to punch the listener in the face with its complexity. Solo spots were kept to a bare minimum, lending cohesiveness to the overall sound. Jim Rezek (who was the lead keyboard tech at NEARfest) chiefly employed his impressive bank of keyboards to add texture and melody to the sound, effectively supported by Dennis Mullin’s fluid, often fiery guitar; while Dean Morekas powerful bass lines and Chris Mack’s energetic drumming provided a solid backbone with a bit of a heavy edge. My only gripe was the occasional whistling tone of the synthesizers, which is one of the trademarks of the neo-prog subgenre – though it was never overdone. New vocalist Jeff Sirody brought to bear his extensive experience as a frontman in a number of local classic rock and glam metal bands to inject a stronger rock vibe into the band’s sound, and also dispel any criticism about their resemblance to Genesis. His strong, confident tenor managed to be heard in spite of the rather loud volume, and, though long-time Ilúvatar followers may have noticed the difference in style and delivery when Sirody tackled the older material, they were clearly happy with the results.

All in all, even if I generally prefer edgier, more challenging music, I found the band’s performance very enjoyable. If US prog fans did not cultivate a stubborn “the grass is greener” attitude to the detriment of homegrown acts, Ilúvatar would have been a much better fit for some of the festivals I have recently attended than some bigger-name foreign bands. The fact that Saturday’s gig was only their second in our area – a mere 30 miles south of their home town of Baltimore – bears witness to the sad fact that US-based bands are still children of a lesser God in the eyes of their prospective audiences. The growing divide within the prog scene is not helping either, with people refusing to try a band or artist from the opposite camp even when the ticket to a gig amounts to a whopping $ 10. Ironically, while modern technology has made it possible for anyone to record and release an album – and consequently brought about the saturation of an already niche market – lack of support is in danger of killing the live scene for good. However, no matter how great an album may be, nothing beats live music, especially when accompanied by the right combination of enthusiasm and skill. Progressive rock fans should support live music whenever and wherever they can – do not let the scene die out, or retreat within the four walls of a studio.

Links:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Iluvatar/117765760211

http://www.myspace.com/iluvatar2006

http://www.dc-soar.org

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On the evening of June 24th, 2012, I had the pleasure to interview Alexander Skepp and Gabriel Tapper, respectively drummer and bassist of Swedish outfit Gösta Berlings Saga, whose career-defining performance on  the morning of the same day – the closing day of the festival – wowed the audience and earned them many new fans. While their bandmates, guitarist Einar Baldursson and keyboardist David Lundberg (who is also a member of Änglagård), remained downstairs to man the band’s vendor table, Gabriel and Alexander kindly answered my questions while sitting at an outside table on the Zoellner Arts Center’s third floor.

As it was my first attempt at a video interview, I apologize to my readers if the quality of the final product is not stellar. However, I hope the content of the interview will make up for any technical shortcomings.

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Dichotomy (3:57)
2. Infinitesimal Sky  (3:02)
3. Butchers of Baghdad  (4:19)
4. Random Tandem  (4:12)
5. Ist or an Ism (4:58)
6. Morning Person (2:54)
7. New World Chaos (5:40)
8. Screed (Pt. 2) (4:40)
9. Never Home (4:50)
10. From These Small Seeds (5:20)
11. Friction (3:08)

LINEUP:
Moorea Dickason – vocals
Tarik Ragab – bass
Matt Lebofsky – keyboards
Matthew Heulitt – guitar
David M Flores – drums

Bay Area-based quintet MoeTar was founded in 2008 by the two artists it is named after –  vocalist Moorea Dickason (Moe) and bassist Tarik Ragab (Tar) –  after the demise of their previous band, politically-charged pop-funk outfit No Origin.  After the entrance of miRthkon keyboardist Matt Lebofsky, in the spring of 2009 MoeTar started  an intense concert activity. Their debut album, From These Small Seeds, engineered by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s Dan Rathburn and originally released in 2010, was reissued by Magna Carta Records in 2012 with new artwork.  At the time of writing, MoeTar are about to embark on their first Eastern US tour, which will kick on August 11, 2012, at the Orion Studios in Baltimore, where they will open for miRthkon.

Even if a sizable chunk of its audience still clings to progressive rock’s conventional modes of expression, “crossover” acts are increasingly making headway on the scene, redefining and sometimes even reinventing the rules of a genre that – for all of its touted renaissance in recent years – was very much in need of an overhaul. Trimming down song lengths without sacrificing prog’s trademark complexity, and introducing melodies that can be infectious and daringly innovative at the same time, those bands draw from a number of other genres whose input provides a veritable shot in the arm for a genre often at risk of turning into a parody of itself (see the glut of tribute/nostalgia bands).

Even in a niche teeming with interesting acts, MoeTar’s fearless blend of sunny, uplifting pop tunes, angular Avant stylings, spacey guitar jams and a bit of heaviness, propelled by Moorea Dickason’s stunningly versatile voice, comes across as quite unique. As a fellow reviewer pointed out, MoeTar overturn the clichés attached to female-fronted prog bands, pushing decidedly away from the tired stereotype of the angelic-voiced siren and offering instead a heady mix of melody, power and endearing quirkiness. Moe’s voice, fitting Tarik’s thought-provoking, stream-of-consciousness lyrics like a glove, often becomes another instrument , bending the music to her will or following its intricate patterns with a striking adroitness that brings Kate Bush to mind – as well as avant-prog icons Elaine DiFalco and Deborah Perry, or Melody Ferris of fellow Oakland outfit Inner Ear Brigade. The general bent of the album may also elicit comparisons with District 97, another female-fronted act that has attracted a lot of attention in the past couple of years. However, unlike the Chicago band, MoeTar steer clear of overambitious productions, and are also minimally influenced by the prog metal trend.

For an album clocking in at a very reasonable 50 minutes, there is quite a lot going on in From These Small Seeds. The short running time of the songs (all under the 6-minute mark) belies their density, the sudden shifts in mood and tempo that can turn a catchy pop ditty into something more riveting and intense. Opener “Dichotomy” illustrates MoeTar’s modus operandi quite aptly –  Moorea’s voice underpinned by Matt Lebofsky’s buoyant piano flurries, while Matthew Heulitt delivers a rather offbeat guitar solo in the slower, atmospheric bridge; the song also introduces what is probably the most noticeable influence on MoeTar’s sound – Andy Partridge’s XTC.

After that, the album deploys a veritable feast of unabashed eclecticism – from the dramatic, almost theatrical flair of “Butchers of Baghdad” (which reminded me of Canadians Half Past Four, another interesting female-fronted crossover prog band with their charismatic singer Kyree Vibrant) to the torch-song-meets-psychedelic-jam of “Never Home”. “Ist or an Ism” meshes the hard-rock suggestions of driving organ, massive riffs and piercing guitar with a vocal line at the end that would not be out of place on a Thinking Plague album. In the title-track – definitely one of the more left-field offerings on the album – voice and piano emote in parallel, creating a sense of palpable tension that culminates in a searing guitar solo. David M Flores’ imperious drumming in “Screed” lays the groundwork for Moorea’s oddly distant-sounding voice and Lebofsky’s almost percussive piano; while “New World Chaos” (the album’s longest track) is pushed into Avant territory by its asymmetrical guitar line, tempered by soothing vocals.

A prime example of art rock in the original sense of the definition, From These Small Seeds manages to be accessible and adventurous at the same time. Those who want to see progressive rock remain true to its name – rather than turn into a caricature of the Seventies – will not fail to appreciate the album, in spite of the lack of epics or any of the conventional distinguishing features of the genre. A highly rewarding, entertaining listen, recommended to everyone but the most conservative prog fans.

Links:
http://www.moetar.com/

http://magnacarta.net

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