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TRACKLISTING:
1. “There Seem to Be Knifestains in Your Blood” (4:17)
2. The Sheltering Waters (6:30)
3. The Counterfeit Pedestrian (2:36)
4. (A) Glimpse (of Possible Endings) (15:24)
5. The Worst Is Behind Us (8:40)

LINEUP:
David Lundberg – all instruments
Mattias Olsson – all instruments

With:
Kristofer Eng Radjabi – theremin (1)
Rob Martino – Chapman stick (2)
Einar Baldursson – electric guitar, slide guitar, e-bow (4)
Leo Svensson-Sander – cello (1,4), musical saw (4)
Elias Modig – bass (4)
Yann Le Nestour – bass clarinet, metal clarinet (4)
Martin Von Bahr – oboe (4, 5)
Tiger Olsson – vocals (5)

Just one year after the release of their debut Necroplex, the dynamic Swedish duo of Mattias Olsson and David Lundberg – aka Necromonkey – are back with their sophomore effort, titled A Glimpse of Possible Endings. While both musicians have continued their regular recording and concert activity (Lundberg with Gösta Berlings Saga, Olsson with, among others, The Opium Cartel and barnstorming Italian newcomers Ingranaggi della Valle), they have also kept up their collaboration throughout the year, ensconced in Olsson’s state-of-the-art Roth Händle Studios in Stockholm (where Gösta Berlings Saga’s magnificent Glue Works was also recorded).

While marking a continuity of sorts with its predecessor, A Glimpse of Possible Endings is also different in quite a few respects – notably more ambitious and more focused. On the other hand, the first thing most listeners will notice is the album’s very restrained running time of a mere 37 minutes. With so many bands and artists opting for sprawling opuses that are inevitably packed with filler, this definitely sounds like a statement of intent on the part of Olsson and Lundberg. In no way affecting the interest value of the compositions – which, in their own way, are as complex as any traditional prog numbers – this streamlined approach makes the most of the duo’s impressive instrumentation, supplemented by the contribution of a number of guest artists (including Gösta Berlings Saga’s guitarist Einar Baldursson, who had also guested on Necroplex, and talented US Chapman stickist Rob Martino). Interestingly, the mellotron’s starring role is interpreted in decidedly unexpected fashion – more as an endless repository of samples of various instruments than a creator of retro-tinged symphonic atmospheres.

The five tracks on the album are conceived as impressionistic vignettes rather than highly structured compositions, though not as random as they may first seem. They range from the two minutes of the sparse piano interlude “The Counterfeit Pedestrian” – backed by the faint crackle of a blind record player – to the 15 of the title-track. This most unconventional “epic” is an intricate but oddly cohesive sonic patchwork in which the hauntingly organic texture of mellotron, piano,  marimba and xylophone, bolstered by cello, woodwinds and dramatic massed choirs, vie with Einar Baldursson’s sharp, almost free-form guitar and a wide array of riveting electronic effects.

Opener “There Seem to Be Knifestains in Your Blood” sets the mood, though with an unexpectedly catchy note. A jangling, Morriconesque guitar, backed by unflagging electronic drums, weaves a memorable tune at a slow, hypnotic pace, soon joined by the ghostly wail of a theremin. The very title of “The Sheltering Waters” will not fail to evoke one of “new” King Crimson’s most iconic pieces – and, indeed, the presence of Rob Martino’s Chapman stick, combined with the gentle, echoing guitar and eerie percussive effects, ideally connects this hauntingly atmospheric track to its illustrious quasi-namesake. The album’s wrap-up comes with the stately, surging synth washes of “The Worst Is Behind Us”, whose subdued, serene ending indeed suggests the calm after a real or metaphorical storm.

As already observed in my review of Necroplex, Necromonkey’s music may be an acquired taste, and disappoint those who are looking for connections with the high-profile Scandinavian outfits that brought Olsson and Lundberg to the attention of the prog audience. In any case, A Glimpse of Possible Endings is a flawlessly performed album, in which Olsson and Lundberg’s outstanding musicianship and compositional skills are subtly displayed, yet never flaunted – just like the music’s high emotional content. It is perhaps a more “serious” endeavour than Necroplex, bound to appeal to fans of non-traditional progressive music (not necessarily rock) rather than those with more mainstream sensibilities, and requiring repeated listens in order to be fully appreciated. The stylish, sepia-toned cover artwork by Henning Lindahl, with its faint Art Deco suggestions, rounds out a most excellent musical experience.

Links:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Necromonkey/109218875773387
http://rothhandlestudios.blogspot.com/2014/02/necromonkey-glimpse-of-possible-endings.html

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Dominion (5:16)
2. Images (3:10)
3. One Day (2:20)
4. Harbinger (3:37)
5. Lost One (3:25)
6. Pain Map (7:25)
7. Persona (3:17)
8. Splendid Sisters (3:17)
9. Tilting at Windmills (6:11)
10. Accord (2:32)
11. Dichotomy (3:33)
12. Drama of Display (3:58)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, ADG fretless bass, guitar, keyboards
Bill Bachman – drums

With:
Joe Blair – guitar (10)
Gayle Ellett – mellotron, Fender Rhodes (8)
Bob Fisher – flute (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9)
Michael Harris – guitar (4)
Jeff Plant – fretless bass (12)
Tony Rohrbough – guitar (2, 4, 6, 9, 11)
Dave Streett – Warr guitar (8)
Shannon Wickline – piano (3)

The project named Spoke of Shadows was born in early 2013, when a mutual friend put Texas-based multi-instrumentalist Mark Cook (who had been writing some music of his own after completing the mixing of Herd of Instinct’s second album, Conjure) in touch with renowned session drummer Bill Bachman. After some virtual recording sessions, Mark and Bill met in person for the first time in Dallas – an essential step for taking their project to the next level. The duo’s self-titled debut album, recorded in various locations throughout the US, was finally released in February 2014 on Djam Karet’s label Firepool Records, like Herd of Instinct’s two albums.

As Spoke of Shadows features 12 relatively short, completely instrumental tracks, first-time listeners might be forgiven for expecting the third chapter of the Herd of Instinct saga, although with different personnel involved. However, Cook has stated on several occasions that the project has allowed him to branch out from his main band’s trademark Gothic-tinged, cinematic sound, and add new elements to his sonic palette – also thanks to the contribution of artists coming from a wide range of musical backgrounds. Obviously, the connection to Cook’s work with Herd of Instinct is clearly on display, but quite a few surprises await the listener throughout the 48 minutes of this sophisticated, highly eclectic album. While the obvious comparisons with King Crimson have been made, Spoke of Shadows does possess a strong individual imprint that sets it apart from so much overly derivative fare.

Unlike some musicians who seem to be in a hurry to take their distance from the “prog” tag, Cook and Bachman (who, among other things, share a love of Gabriel-era Genesis) embrace the definition, as highlighted by the prominent role given to the genre’s iconic instrument, the mellotron. Coupled with Cook’s masterful handling of the hauntingly versatile Warr guitar (an instrument that, in many ways, symbolizes modern prog, even if it has never become truly widespread), it builds lush yet deeply mesmerizing atmospheres that surge and shimmer, conveying a wide range of moods in a subtle yet clearly recognizable way.

The resemblance with Herd of Instinct emerges in the skillful blend of atmospherics and aggression of opener “Dominion”, with its polyphonic guitar chords offset by Bachman’s nuanced drumming. “Images”, however, heralds a keen change in approach – more straightforward in compositional terms, and therefore more reliant on contrasts of light and shade, Bob Fisher’s expressive flute adding an almost free-form touch towards the end. The short, jazzy mood piece of “One Day” – embellished by Charlie Daniels Band’s keyboardist Shannon Wickline’s lovely flowing piano – introduces the razor-sharp Crimsonian workout of “Harbinger”, where the haunting wail of the Warr guitar and the pastoral tone of flute and mellotron rub elbows with a “shredder” solo by Thought Chamber guitarist Michael Harris, as well as a funk-tinged one by Tony Rohrbough (formerly of West Virginia metal band Byzantine). “Lost One” brings back a gentle pastoral mood fleshed out by lush mellotron, while the 7-minute “Pain Map” (the album’s longest track) closes the album’s first half on a striking modern classical note – mellotron and evocative field recordings vying with riff-heavy passages and eerily echoing guitar.

Generally speaking, the album’s second half heads in a more low-key direction, with “Splendid Sisters” a particular highlight. Co-written and -performed by Dave Streett, another Warr guitar enthusiast and long-time collaborator of Cook’s, the wistful, elegiac track with its soothing guitar and flute, understated drumming, and solemn mellotron and electric piano (courtesy of Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett) is dedicated to talented Italian stickist Virginia Splendore, who passed away in 2011. The restrained, atmospheric “Persona” and “Accord” are conceived along similar lines, while the dramatic, cinematic sweep and doom-laden riffing of “Tilting at Windmills” hint again at Herd of Instinct, and “Dichotomy” starts out in deceptively subdued fashion before developing into another commanding, Crimson-hued number propelled by Bachman’s imperious drumming. “Drama of Display” wraps up the album by expertly mixing different styles, assertive riffs coexisting with ethnic-tinged drumming and a panoply of intriguing sound effects.

An album whose understated elegance belies its high level of technical accomplishment, Spoke of Shadows offers an ideal complement to Herd of Instinct’s two albums and Djam Karet’s latest release, Regenerator 3017. As usual, the visual aspect – with a dark grey background interrupted by a row of bright orange windows (courtesy of photographer Garth Hill) – has been carefully thought out, providing a fine foil to the music within. While the album should not be missed by devotees of the King Crimson school of instrumental progressive rock (which includes the work of Trey Gunn and Tony Levin), it also has the potential to appeal to a broader section of the prog audience (unless, of course, they object to all-instrumental music).

Links:
http://spokeofshadows.wix.com/spokeofshadows

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Prince of the Inland Empire (5.35)
2. Living in the Future Past (4.50)
3. Desert Varnish (7.18)
4. Wind Pillow (4.39)
5. Lost Dreams (3.49)
6. Empty House (6.07)
7. On the Edge of the Moon (8.36)

LINEUP:
Gayle Ellett – electric guitar, Fender Rhodes, Moog, mellotron, Solina, bouzouki, field recordings
Mike Henderson – electric guitar, percussion
Mike Murray – electric guitar
Chuck Oken, Jr. – drums, percussion, keyboards, effects
Henry J. Osborne – bass, piano, keyboards
With:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar (2)

The Southern Californian outfit that was hailed in Edward Macan’s seminal book Rocking the Classics as one of the front-runners of “new” progressive rock have reached another milestone in their career – their 30th anniversary. Djam Karet – formed in 1984 as a quartet comprising Gayle Ellett, Mike Henderson, Henry J. Osborne and Chuck Oken, Jr. – are back with their 17th album, Regenerator 3017, featuring about 41 minutes of brand-new music, recorded by the band’s original line-up, plus guitarist Mike Murray (who joined the band for 2010’s live-in-the-studio album, The Heavy Soul Sessions). The album follows The Trip, an intriguing vintage space-rock workout that was released in 2013, and in some ways complements it, showing a different side of the band’s creative inspiration.

Quite interestingly for a band who have made a banner of their music’s lack of commercial potential (cue the title of their debut album), Regenerator 3017 – while not truly likely to endanger the reign of the likes of Beyoncé or Kanye West as darlings of the wider music-buying public – does possess quite a lot of appeal for listeners who would ordinarily be put off by prog’s excessive ambitiousness. Melody and atmosphere are the name of the game – a smoothly flowing, ear-flattering musical content imbued with a relaxed West Coast vibe. As Djam Karet proudly stress on all their albums, Regenerator 3017 was recorded without any compression or computer manipulation – resulting in a warm, organic sound that emphasizes ensemble playing, while not failing to highlight individual performances.

The breezy, summery feel of opener “Prince of the Inland Empire”, its lazy, jazzy allure faintly tinged with reminiscences of Seventies dance music, might be somewhat of a surprise (or even a turn-off) to anyone expecting something along the lines of The Trip – let alone Djam Karet’s most Crimsonesque works, such as The Devouring or Burning the Hard City. The interplay between guitar and keyboards adds to the charm of the upbeat passages, interspersed by more sedate, almost meditative moments, in a style that put me in mind of early Camel. Things take a decidedly different turn with the classic, elegant jazz-rock sound of “Living in the Future Past”, featuring some stellar electric piano from Ellett, as well as a drop-dead-gorgeous guitar solo – the whole rounded out by mellotron and Herd of Instinct’s Mark Cook’s Warr guitar. Equally understated, but more in line with Djam Karet’s trademark sound (as aptly summed up in the already-mentioned The Heavy Soul Sessions), the 7-minute “Desert Varnish” intrigues with its tantalizing use of quiet-loud patterns spotlighting Chuck Oken Jr’s textural drumming and Henry J. Osborne’s discreet but unmistakable bass, then allowing the guitar to take the lead in a reverberating escalation.

Not surprisingly, “Wind Pillow” is mellow and atmospheric, with layers of keyboards and more than a cursory nod to Pink Floyd (“A Pillow of Winds” is the title of a song from Meddle). “Lost Dreams” continues much in the same vein, down to the measured, slightly plodding pace and Gilmourian guitar solo. Choral mellotron lends a symphonic tone to the soothing yet wistful guitar and moog in “Empty House”, underpinning the subtle flares of intensity and the climactic beauty of the slow, expressive guitar soloing. Rippling piano and fiery lead guitar shine in closing track “On the Edge of the Moon”), vying with the classical-tinged presence of the mellotron in a lovely, evocative 8-minute slice of atmosphere with some welcome bite.

While Regenerator 3017 might disappoint those who were expecting a throwback to Djam Karet’s Crimsonian roots, its deceptively lazy, upbeat feel and accessibility may well gain the band a few well-deserved new fans. Aficionados of Pink Floyd (especially the years between Meddle and Wish You Were Here) and Camel’s instrumental output will definitely find a lot to enjoy here. However, the album will offer a solid 41 minutes of very rewarding listening – even if not too overtly intricate or aggressive – to everyone with an interest in exploring the different facets of instrumental prog, and also provide a fine point of entry to Djam Karet newcomers. Last but not least, Regenerator 3017’s airy, spacious feel makes it ideal listening for the summer season that is almost upon us, without any of the cheesiness of so much stereotyped “summery” music. A special mention is also deserved by the striking, Southwestern-inspired cover designed by guitarist Mike Murray.

Links:
http://www.djamkaret.com/
http://djamkaret.bandcamp.com/album/regenerator-3017

 

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Pensiero-Nomade

TRACKLISTING:
1. Barcarola (4:25)
2. Cerchi d’acqua (4:26)
3. Danza notturna (5:14)
4. Calce e carbone (5:09)
5. La colomba e il pavone (4:17)
6. Tournesol (4:28)
7. Prima dell’estate (5:50)
8. Scirocco (5:03)
9. Imperfetta solitudine (6:19)
10. Sensitive (2:54)
11. Verso casa (4:07)

LINEUP
:
Salvo Lazzara – guitars
Luca Pietropaoli – trumpet, flugelhorn, contrabass, piano, electronics
Davide Guidoni – drums, percussion

With:
Clarissa Botsford – vocals (10)

Pensiero Nomade is a solo project by Sicilian-born guitarist/composer Salvo Lazzara – previously know to fans of Italian progressive rock as a member of Germinale, a band that released three albums for Mellow Records in the Nineties, and also participated in some of the tribute compilations released by that label. At the beginning of the new century Lazzara moved to Rome, where he realized that his musical interests were changing, and took up the study of jazz and improvisation. Pensiero Nomade was born from that experience: the project’s very name hints at the wide range of influences that inform Lazzara’s compositional approach, from jazz to world music to ambient/electronics. The project’s debut album, Per questi e altri naufragi, was released in 2007, and followed by Tempi migliori (2009), Materie e memorie (2011), and, finally, Imperfetta solitudine in the summer of 2013.

While Pensiero Nomade’s previous album saw Lazzara flanked by a group of four musicians, including a flutist and a keyboardist, the lineup on Imperfetta solitudine is a stripped-down trio that features Luca Pietropaoli on trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, contrabass and electronics, and Davide Guidoni (one-half of Daal, as well an excellent graphic artist) on drums and percussion. The result is an album that, while undoubtedly “progressive”, is quite far removed from “prog” in a conventional sense.

Indeed, unlike many contemporary prog albums, Imperfetta solitudine is neither brash or loud, though it would be a mistake to consider it mere background music. It certainly needs to be savoured at the right time and in the right surroundings, preferably after the sun has gone down, and when it is possible to lend it some attention – as is the case with albums in which subtlety and nuance are much more important than forced variety. Nothing is fast or hurried here, and the musical texture is loose and atmospheric, though not random. The sounds are organic, never jarring, but not artificially smooth either. The gentle movement of Lazzara’s acoustic guitar in opener “Barcarola” evokes flowing water, while the trumpet’s smoky, melancholy voice sounds almost human. The same pensive tone, almost an aid to meditation and reflection, can be found in the melodiously wistful “Calce e carbone”, the ethereal  “Tournesol” and solemn closing track “Verso casa”. The faintly disquieting “Sensitive” is the only number to feature the haunting vocals of guest artist Clarissa Botsford; while the uplifting “Cerchi d’acqua” exudes an almost vintage West Coast feel.

The 11 tracks are all relatively short, and only the title-track – a lovely, harmonious guitar bravura piece in which Lazzara uses the strings to create a percussion-like effect – exceeds 6 minutes. While the emphasis is firmly placed on the seamless, constantly riveting interplay between Lazzara’s guitar and Pietropaoli’s trumpet, Guidoni’s elegant, accomplished rhythmic touch adds dimension to otherwise low-key tracks such as “Scirocco” and La colomba e il pavone”; then it comes into its own in the lively “Prima dell’estate”, where it engages in a striking “dialogue” with the trumpet, and” and the stately “Danza notturna”, to which hand percussion adds a discreet touch of warmth.

Although Imperfetta solitudine is very likely to have flown under the radar of most “mainstream” prog fans, it can be warmly recommended to lovers of music that speaks to inner feelings and emotions as well as the ear, and evokes far subtler moods and atmospheres than those usually associated with the pomp and circumstance of classic progressive rock. Complemented by stylishly minimalist cover photography that reflects the nocturnal, meditative nature of the music, this album will appeal to devotees of the output of labels such as ECM or Moonjune Records, as well as those who are keen to explore the thriving diversity of the Italian music scene.

Links:
http://www.reverbnation.com/pensieronomade

http://www.myspace.com/pensieronomade

http://www.zonedimusica.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. The Pilman Radiant (26:15):
i. Visitation
ii. The Divine Vessel
iii. Wriggling Magnet
iv. Mosquito Mange
v. Divine Vessel’s Reprise
2. Complex #7 (4:47)
3. Tremors From the Future (11:15)

Bonus Live DVD:
1. Five Suns (32:19)
2. King Lindorm (14:19)

LINEUP:
Emmet Elvin – Fender Rhodes, organ, synth, harmonium, screeching guitar (1.i)
James Sedwards  – bass
Kavus Torabi – guitar, santoor
David J. Smith – drums, percussion, additional keyboards, santoor

With
:
Thomas Frasier Scott – soprano sax, alto sax, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon
Dave Newhouse – baritone sax, tenor sax, bass clarinet, alto flute
Chloe Herington – bassoon
Sarah Anderson – violin, viola
Geri McEwan – violin
Sam Morris – French horn
Emma Sullivan – trumpet
Antti Uusimaki – additional keyboards and effects

After  having produced one of the most powerful album trilogies in recent times – Five Suns (2003), Black Oni (2004) and Elixirs (2008) – in the past few years British outfit Guapo seemed to have dropped off the radar. Multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan’s departure following the release of Elixirs (which had been recorded as a duo by O’Sullivan and drummer David J. Smith after the departure of bassist/guitarist Matt Thompson in 2005) brought about a lengthy hiatus and rumours of the band’s demise. However, at the end of January 2013 Guapo resurfaced with a veritable bang – a brand-new studio album (their ninth), titled History of the Visitation, which also saw their return to the Cuneiform Records fold ten years after the career-defining Five Suns.

Lineup changes are nothing new in Guapo’s chequered history, which began in the mid-Nineties with the release of three EPs, and then unfolded with various recordings and collaborations. In the intervening years, the trio configuration that had recorded  Five Suns and Black Oni became a quartet with the addition of Iranian-born guitarist Kavus Torabi (of Cardiacs and Knifeworld fame, recently announced as the new guitarist for Gong) and bassist James Sedwards, while  keyboardist Emmett Elvin (like Sedwards, also a member of fellow Cuneiform outfit Chrome Hoof) replaced O’Sullivan in time for the recording of History of the Visitation.

Guapo are a textbook example of the mind-boggling variety to be found under the RIO/Avant umbrella – a label that, as is the case of bands such as miRthkon and Zevious, fits them only in part .Though the names of Magma and Univers Zéro often crop up in reviews of their material, those two seminal left-field bands are just a small part of Guapo’s musical identity in the second decade of the 21th century. The central role of David J. Smith (the only member left of the band’s original lineup) evokes comparisons with Christian Vander and Daniel Denis. However, Kavus Torabi’s pyrotechnic guitar skills lend to modern-day Guapo a keen, metal-like edge, while Emmett Elvin’s keyboards can weave heady, majestic textures in the best prog tradition, and James Sedwards’ rumbling bottom end often emerges from the fray to add another dimension to the uncompromisingly arcane, brooding nature of the band’s sound. The frequent repetition of lines and themes increases the hypnotic feel of the music in a fashion that brings to mind King Crimson and also some instances of post-rock.

Recorded with the assistance of a number of guest musicians (including The Muffins’ Dave Newhouse), History of the Visitation clocks in at a mere 42 minutes. The first of the album’s three tracks is a 26-minute, 5-movement suite titled “The Pilman Radiant” – a title that, just like the album’s own title, references the cult Russian science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic, written by the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in 1971, on which Andrey Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker is also based.  Guapo’s  moody yet hard-hitting music renders the intricate, visionary content of the story without any need for words, painting a picture that, in its own way, is as grandiose as any “classic” prog, though more viscerally intense.

Somewhat more streamlined than the monumental Five Suns and Black Oni suites, “The Pilman Radiant” wins my personal prize as best “epic” of 2013. Its five movements are easily distinguishable, yet they form an organic whole. Introduced by the surging layers of keyboards, assorted sound effects and crashing drums of “Visitation” – later reprised by the short, appropriately spacey “Mosquito Mange” – the suite comes into its own with the eerie, quietly brooding beauty of the waltz-like “The Divine Vessel”, led by fluid electric piano and unexpectedly melodic guitar; pace and intensity increase, propelled by drums and bass, in the driving “Wriggling Magnet”, in which Elvin’s roaring organ complements Torabi’s gorgeous, rock-styled solo turn, then a grittier, metal-edged reprise of “The Divine Vessel” brings this exhilarating musical experience to a close.

Strategically inserted between two much longer, more complex compositions, the 4-minute dark ambient piece of “Complex #7” skillfully piles up layers keyboards and assorted sound effects with the added contribution of reeds, creating a mounting sense of tension with the ominous feel of a horror-movie soundtrack.  On the other hand, “Tremors From the Future” concentrates a dizzying variety of twists and turns in slightly over 11 minutes, its skewed melodic development powered by guitar and organ sparring and interweaving while drums and bass evoke the titular tremors with their steadily pulsing movement.

The interest value of History of the Visitation gets a further boost from the presence of an almost 50-minute DVD featuring two of the band’s most iconic live performances from the past few years. The NEARfest 2006 performance of a somewhat shortened version of Five Suns, flawlessly shot in black and white, highlights Torabi’s flamboyant stage presence and boundless energy, as well as Smith’s role as the band’s rhythmic engine; while the more rudimentary quality of the video recorded the following year at the RIO festival does not detract at all from the power of the angular “King Lindorm” thanks to Udi Koomran’s top-notch mixing and mastering work.

In spite of the band’s reputation for scaring away some of the more conservative prog fans – also on account of the notoriously loud volume of their performances – History of the Visitation is a relatively more listener-friendly proposition than Guapo’s previous albums. The higher melodic content and skillfully achieved balance between hard-driving sections and more low-key ones are likely to surprise people who would not ordinarily appreciate anything bearing a RIO/Avant tag. Indeed, there are moments of sheer beauty on History of the Visitation that offset the band’s trademark looming darkness and wall-of-sound heaviness. With its toweringly Gothic atmosphere conveyed through stunning musicianship, this is definitely one of the year’s landmark releases.

Links:
http://guaponews.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/guapoband/info

http://guapo1.bandcamp.com/album/history-of-the-visitation

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Attend to Your Configuration (2:47)
2. Was Solis (6:02)
3. Pantocyclus (4:07)
4. White Minus Red (6:55)
5. Crime of Separate Action (6:32)
6. Entanglement (4:19)
7. A Tiller in a Tempest (3:15)
8. Passing Through the Wall (4:22)
9. This Could Be the End of the Line (2:23)
10. Plying the Cold Trade (8:02)

LINEUP:
Mike Eber – guitars
Jeff Eber – drums
Johnny DeBlase – bass

Four years after their barnstorming second album, the aptly-titled After the Air Raid, New York-based trio Zevious are back with their long-awaited third full-length CD, Passing Through the Wall, also released on Cuneiform Records. In the intervening years the band have maintained a brisk schedule of live performances – including the 2011 edition of ProgDay and, a couple of months later, Cuneifest at Baltimore’s Orion Studios. All three Zevious members are also involved in other projects, which pits them against the likes of Steven Wilson as the most hard-working people in progressive rock.

Zevious, like miRthkon and many of the bands and artists featured on these pages, stand on the outer limits of the progressive rock spectrum – that twilight zone that some would label as “progressive but not prog”, a definition that shows how for many fans the genre has become nothing more than a collection of dated mannerisms. The trio’s musical approach, however, is every bit as complex as the average “mainstream” prog band’s, though relying only on the essential rock instrumentation to create an impressive volume of sound characterized by a very high level of energy. Indeed, Zevious are definitely not for everyone, especially those who believe that the “progressive” in “progressive rock” has been stripped of its original meaning.

The definition of “King Crimson on steroids” that I used in my previous reviews of the band still holds true for Passing Through the Wall – perhaps even more so than for its predecessor. Zevious take the hauntingly repetitive, angular structure of pieces like “Red” or “Discipline” as a springboard, and inject it with an almost manic energy that owes a lot to metal and punk. As drummer Jeff Ebert, whose mind-boggling polyrhythms are at the core of the band’s sound, is also a member of hyper-technical metal band Dysrhythmia (with whom Zevious played some shows in November 2013), Zevious are seriously heavy, though in a different way than, for instance, miRthkon or Guapo – two bands that, like Zevious, straddle the line between Avant Progressive and experimental metal.

Clocking in at about 48 minutes, and packaged in a minimalistic, black-and-white cover with an Escherian feel, Passing Through the Wall comprises 10 tracks ranging from 2 to 8 minutes – a structure both similar and different from their previous album. The shorter tracks emphasize energy and dynamic pacing, while the longer ones allow for more variation. However, those who are looking for dramatic shifts within the same track  in classic prog tradition are in for a disappointment, because at a first listen the compositions on the album may sound all rather alike. Tempo changes are handled subtly as a whole, and the music’s hard-driving intensity does not disguise the complexity of the instrumental interplay.

The imperiously-titled and –paced “Attend to Your Configuration” barges in with its relentless web of interlocking bass and guitar lines driven by Jeff Ebert’s acrobatic drumming, then slows down to an almost Sabbathian plod in the second half. In  the considerably longer “Was Solis” Mike Ebert’s clear-toned guitar weaves sinuously in and out the rumbling backdrop of Johnny DeBlase’s bass, sparring with the drums and occasionally going into slo-mo mode for atmospheric effect. “Pantocyclus” melds skewed melody and haunting, insistent pattern peppered by piercing guitar effects, while the strikingly Crimsonian “White Minus Red” is powered by a superb performance by DeBlase, the rhythmic foundation steadily surging and flowing, then gaining momentum towards the end. The slow, ominous strains of “Crime of Separate Action” wrap up the first half of the album, again showcasing DeBlase’s astonishing propulsive/textural bass work supporting Mike Eber’s eerily chiming guitar.

The first half of“Entanglement” pulls out all the stops in terms of escalating guitar assault,  with drums all over the place; in contrast, “A Tiller in the Tempest” slower, somewhat rarefied pauses relieve the tension of the tight instrumental work. The short, fast-paced “This Could Be the End of the Line” acts as an interlude of sorts between the two most distinctive pieces on the album – the title-track, with its uncharacteristically muted guitar-bass-drum pattern, whose understated intensity creates a heady, drone-like texture; and 8-minute closing track “Plying the Cold Trade”, whose dirge-like pace and somber, Gothic feel offer a rather sharp departure from the unrelenting energy of the previous numbers.

Obviously, Zevious are not going to encounter the favour of the average melodic prog fan, while their music should prove to be far more appealing to the younger generations, weaned on a diet of post/math rock, technical metal and crossover bands such as The Mars Volta. They are also one of those bands who – as good as they sound on CD – have to be experienced live to be fully appreciated, as their hard-driving yet sophisticated music gains a whole new dimension on stage. In any case, Passing Through the Wall is a riveting slice of modern progressive music, powerful and intricate though not devoid of melody, and definitely deserving to be heard with some measure of concentration. Highly recommended to all adventurous prog fans, this album is sure to be featured in many “best of 2013” lists.

Links:
http://zevioustrio.blogspot.com/

http://cuneiformrecords.com

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Relics+from+the+Wasteland

TRACKLISTING:
1. That’s a Malört (3:17)
2. Relapse (3:40)
3. Forty Flights (3:33)
4. Bardog  (4:03)
5. Trials of Cromulence (4:03)
6. The Camels Make the Rules (4:15)
7.  La Hojarasca (4:05)
8.  Crab Recess (2:37)
9.  Medea’s Dance of Vengeance (3:10)
10. Sarabande (5:18)
11. For Ellie (2:57)
12. Songs from the Wood (4:40)

LINEUP:
Aaron Geller – acoustic guitar
Andy Tillotson – acoustic guitar
Tim McCaskey – acoustic guitar
Luis Nasser – acoustic bass

With:
Brian Harris – keyboards (10)

With their distinctive name that celebrates the joys of possibility, all-acoustic outfit Might Could started out as a duo formed by Andy Tillotson and Tim McCaskey when they were in graduate school at the University of Maryland. They expanded to a trio with the arrival of Aaron Geller in 2003, and finally became a quartet when Luis “Gordo” Nasser, who was at college with both founders, joined on acoustic bass. They released two albums, All Intertwined and Wood Knot,  in 2005 and 2007 respectively, before going on hiatus for a few years. Nasser, Tillotson and McCaskey are also members of Sonus Umbra, and Might Could’s third effort, Relics from the Wasteland, was released at the end of August 2013, at the same time as Sonus Umbra’s Winter Soulstice.

For all their high technical quotient, acoustic guitar albums can fail to impress some progressive rock fans, who may not fully appreciate the subtlety of music that dispenses with the conventional trappings of rock – without realizing that a band such as Might Could  can produce as much complexity as the average prog band with their lush keyboard textures and  intricate arrangements. Additionally, as exciting an instrument as the electric guitar can be, it can occasionally come across as ham-fisted if compared to the versatility of its acoustic counterpart – which can be in some ways compared to that of the human voice. Even if acoustic guitar albums can be perceived by some as one-dimensional, Relics from the Wasteland proves this common misconception quite wrong, displaying as many layers of complexity and as wide a range of influences as any “real” prog album.  In fact, the presence of Luis Nasser’s acoustic bass adds a depth that compensates for the lack of a conventional rock rhythm section, and the riveting interplay between the three guitars possesses a natural elegance all too often disguised by an electric instrumentation.

Relics from the Wasteland’s 12 tracks – none longer than 5 minutes – were all written by Geller, Nasser and Tillotson, with the sole exception of the band’s first two covers: an intense rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Dance of Vengeance”, with its spiraling lead guitar, and a version of Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood”. The entertaining liner notes relate the story of some of the titles, mixing family life (the delightful “Crab Recess” and “For Ellie”) with good-natured debauchery (“That’s a Malört” and “Bardog”), and creating a connection between musicians and listeners that accentuates the intimate nature of music such as this – made of a palette of subtle nuances rather than bold brushstrokes.

As acoustic guitar music is often associated with the Spanish and Latin tradition, it is not surprising to find a definite Latin flavour right in opener “That’s a Malört”, as well as the sprightly “La Hojarasca”. The lovely, pensive “Relapse”, with its circular structure, and the lilting “Crab Recess” emphasize the band’s more subdued side, while in “Forty Flights” and “Bardog” pace and mood shift nimbly, juxtaposing moments of bouncy energy with pauses of melodic reflection. “Trials of Cromulence” and “The Camels Make the Rules” explore more complex territory, the former introducing some frantic riffs and dynamic percussive patterns in an almost counterpointal structure, the latter unfolding like a conversation between the three guitars, with the bass in a solid supporting role. “For Ellie”, after a very low-key start, turns into a lively homage to Django Reinhardt’s “gypsy jazz” style, while the swaying dance movement of “Sarabande” is fleshed out by organ (courtesy of Sonus Umbra’s keyboardist Brian Harris). An amazingly faithful cover of “Songs from the Wood” wraps up the album, the guitars recreating the vocal interplay of the original, while the bass comes into its own in the second half of the song, with some great percussive effects.

Relics from the Wasteland is highly recommended to lovers of acoustic, progressive-oriented instrumental music such as California Guitar Trio, Béla Fleck or Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett’s side project Fernwood. This is the kind of music that shines in a live setting, highlighting ensemble playing as well as each musician’s individual style. The cover artwork by New England artist Elizabeth Moss, striking in its stark, almost primitive style, rounds out a classy package that will appeal to all fans of sophisticated music, especially those keen to explore the intriguing soundscapes created by acoustic string instruments..

Links:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Might-Could/85937785745

https://mightcouldguitars.bandcamp.com/

https://myspace.com/mightcould/music/album/relics-from-the-wasteland-19221682

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