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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Gore’

Ephemeral Sun
Theme from Top Gun
Untitled #1
Prism
Harvest Aorta Part I
Untitled #2
Winter Has No Mercy
Harvest Aorta Part II

Shadow Circus
Overture
Daddy’s Gone
Whosit, Whatsit & Witch
Make Way for the Big Show
Tesseract
Uriel
Camazotz
Shadow Circus
Captain Trips
The Long Road
Big Fire
The Seduction of Harold Lauder

As I announced a couple of months ago, the DC Society of Art Rock (DC-SOAR) has organized two shows at the Orion Studios in Baltimore to raise funds for its activity, which hinges on the promotion of progressive music in one of the most densely populated urban areas in the US. The first of the two events, scheduled for November 3, 2012, was to have been a triple bill, featuring New Jersey bands Shadow Circus and 3RDegree, as well as Northern Virginia’s finest, Ephemeral Sun. Unfortunately, 3RDegree had to pull out due to conflicts between their professional and family lives and the inevitable need for rehearsals, but the show went ahead as a double bill.

While the presence of 3RDegree would have made the show an even bigger draw, the two bands treated the audience to excellent performances, which highlighted both the differences and the similarities in their approach. In spite of its fundraising status, the gig was sparsely attended (which is the rule rather than the exception, unless the bill features a foreign band or one of the few domestic acts with a relatively strong following), but the 30-odd people who turned out more than made up with their obvious enthusiasm. Although some technical problems occurred during the soundcheck, the actual performances were characterized by outstanding sound quality (thanks to Mike Potter’s tireless work), which brought out each of the band’s strengths and detailed every instrument’s contribution.

As I pointed out in my review of ProgDay 2012, Ephemeral Sun’s music is more suited to the dark than the light, and the dimly lit setting of the Orion Studios enhanced the rivetingly cinematic quality of their music. After the turmoil of the past years, the band have now found a stability that is clearly reflected in the synergy between the four members, whose individual input is equally essential in the fabric of he sound. The pulsating power of Charles Gore and Jeff Malone’s rhythm section unfolds a rock-solid, yet subtly shifting foundation for Brian O’Neill’s sharp yet elegant guitar exertions and John Battema’s dramatic layers of keyboards. Ephemeral Sun treated the audience to a mix of older material (such as the metal-edged “Winter Has No Mercy” from their debut album Broken Door) and more recent offerings, such as the majestic “Harvest Aorta” suite (split in two halves) from their eponymous second album, and a couple of new compositions still without an official title – as well as a rousing version of Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic theme from Top Gun at the very opening of their set.

The quartet’s collective performance was flawless as usual, their music deploying all of its powerful emotional punch in the small, intimate premises. One of the most striking elements of Saturday night’s show was the band members’ impressive handling of the frequent tempo shifts in their generally lengthy compositions, keeping an eye on internal coherence so that the music flowed effortlessly without ever coming across as patchy. And then, the passage in which Battema let rip on the organ in true Emerson fashion was alone worth the price of admission. All in all, Ephemeral Sun seem to be going from strength to strength, and their new material sounds extremely promising – even if it will be some time before  their new album finally sees the light of day.

With a name inspired by the traveling carnival in Ray Bradbury’s iconic novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, Shadow Circus’ theatrical streak comes as no surprise, and makes good use of frontman David Bobick’s degree in musical theatre. The band’s founders, Bobick and guitarist John Fontana, are also fans of fantasy, science fiction and horror, and this interest is reflected in the subject matter of the majority of their songs. Saturday night’s show offered Shadow Circus the opportunity to showcase some of the material (no less than 7 songs) from their forthcoming third album, On a Dark and Stormy Night, which will be released on 10T Records in early December. Shadow Circus had played at the Orion almost exactly 2 years ago, opening for Italian band  The Watch, though with a different line-up. The band’s new configuration – comprising, besides mainstays Fontana and Bobick, original bassist Matt Masek, keyboardist David Silver and drummer Jason Brower, augmented by backing vocalist Paroo Streich – blazed through new and older material with assurance and flair, displaying chops and heart in equal measure.

Although all of the band members cite progressive rock as their main source of  inspiration, Shadow Circus’s music is also deeply rooted in classic and hard rock, and the influence of the likes of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin is unmistakable. As is the case with Ephemeral Sun, keyboards play a very prominent in Shadow Circus’ sound. With his impassive mien and slight frame, David Silver proved an essential foil for Fontana’s guitar, his love of Keith Emerson evident throughout the set, especially in the fiery Hammond runs that enhanced stunning instrumentals such as “Overture” and “Tesseract”; indeed, the latter may easily be the best thing that the band has ever recorded. he dramatic intensity of the instrumentals was balanced by the catchy quality of the songs featuring David Bobick’s expressive vocal delivery and flamboyant stage presence, with Paroo Streich’s backing vocals providing a pleasing contrast. The rhythm section of Matt Masek and Jason Brower anchored the sound with power and style, the two musicians complementing each other perfectly. Always attentive to the visual aspect of their performance, the band members were all decked in black with a touch of red (a special mention for Bobick’s beard and the large red flower sported by Streich, who also provided a bit of eye candy for the predominantly male audience), and also employed a few stage props to enhance the impact of their music with a quirky theatrical touch thankfully devoid of cheesiness.

By way of a conclusion, I have to admit that I found the not exactly stellar turnout quite depressing, especially on a weekend night. Even if the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the north-eastern corridor cannot be discounted, neither can the well-known apathy of many of those who think supporting progressive rock means getting embroiled in pointless discussions on some Internet forum. While modern technology offers almost any band or solo artist the possibility to record and release their own material with relatively little expense, it has also emphasized the lack of quality control of many such projects. Therefore, live performance has increasing become the benchmark by which to judge a band’s real worth. However, the diminishing opportunities – compounded by the cliquish mentality of a large part of the already fragmented prog audience –will probably to lead to the demise of many a fine outfit, discouraged and frustrated by the lack of support. It is immensely sad to see such gifted musicians grateful for the opportunity to play before a handful of people.

This situation has also impacted my own enthusiasm for writing about music, There is only so much that a reviewer/critic can do to support the scene, when it is the fans themselves who seem to be hell-bent on destroying the motivation of artists who already face considerable struggles in getting their music across in an oversaturated market while dealing with the demands of real life. As much as I like to listen to music at home, nothing beats the experience of a live show, and it will be a sad day when only big (i.e. commercially successful) names will be able to perform on stage.

Links:
http://www.ephemeralsun.com

http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com

http://www.dc-soar.org

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Springsong (12.56)
2. Prism (9.38)
3. Memoirs (4.52)
4. Harvest Aorta (41.55)

LINEUP:
John Battema – keyboards
Charlie Gore – bass
Jeff Malone – drums
Brian O’Neill – guitar

Instrumental four-piece Ephemeral Sun, who are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, are based in Northern Virginia, in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Formed after the demise of doom/symphonic metal outfit Rain Fell Within, they started out as a female-fronted Gothic/progressive metal band, releasing their debut album, Broken Door, in 2004. Harvest Aorta, their sophomore effort, was released in early 2010 after five years of work and lineup changes that led the remaining band members to choose a completely instrumental direction. Ephemeral Sun have a number of live appearances under their belt, including the 2006 edition of ROSfest and ProgDay 2012.

Often miscategorized as progressive metal, Ephemeral Sun in the second decade of the 21st century are one of those bands that defy the labels so cherished by the prog fandom. The metal component, indeed, is mainly represented by Brian O’Neill’s bouts of sharp, dense riffing, which merge seamlessly with John Battema’s dramatic keyboard textures to create an intensely cinematic atmosphere. While the band’s earlier experience in the symphonic/Gothic metal field occasionally surfaces on Harvest Aorta, the instrumental dimension enhances the expressive potential of the music without the distraction factor sometimes contributed by vocals. The music surges along powerfully, supported by Jeff Malone’s imperious drumming and Charles Gore’s impeccable bottom end – a rhythm section that can display a sense of delicacy when needed, as well as power. The frequent, ambient-like pauses of respite, imbued with the autumnal feel of Battema’s meditative piano, possess a gentle melancholy that would provide a perfect soundtrack for the twilight hour. And, indeed, “soundtrack” seems to be the operative word when referring to Ephemeral Sun’s sound – it is not hard to imagine the music on Harvest Aorta employed as the score for a science fiction movie, or a documentary on space travel.

Almost two-thirds of the album (which clocks in at nearly 70 minutes) is taken up by the title-track, a massive, 42-minute tour-de-force that has made quite a few of those “long songs” lists so popular with staunch prog fans. The first half of Harvest Aorta comprises three shorter numbers, with the gorgeous mood piece of the aptly-titled “Memoirs” – with its crystalline guitar and rippling piano tinged by solemn Mellotron washes – preparing the listener for the album’s pièce de resistance. As unbalanced and pretentious as this may seem, there is a sense of cohesion to Ephemeral Sun’s music that rarely gives the impression of sprawling excess that often mars comparably ambitious endeavours. Most importantly, the music – hovering between vivid flares of emotion and soothing, evocative melody – is always eminently listenable, and even the hard edges are never abrasive. Pink Floyd and their modern-day heirs, Porcupine Tree, are occasionally referenced, as are Genesis and a few other bands, but the album thankfully eschews any overt sense of derivativeness.

Opener “Springsong”, probably the heaviest offering on the album, allows O’Neill to let loose with the riffage when a contrast is needed with Battema’s airy mellotron washes. On the other hand, the astonishingly lovely, clear-voiced guitar solos are reminiscent of David Gilmour’s signature style, and the spacey synth sweeps add a sense of urgency. In a similar fashion, “Prism” juxtaposes the intensity of the guitar riffs and martial drumming with vaguely spooky electronic effects, and a delightful, classical-tinged guitar-piano interlude that showcases the band’s keen sense of melody. After the relatively short breathing space provided by “Memoirs”, the title-track kicks in with dramatic flair, subsuming all of the features already displayed by the previous numbers, and adding some more touches – like an extended atmospheric section that owes a lot to Tangerine Dream, a slightly chaotic guitar jam and a roaring Hammond organ passage in true Deep Purple style. Quite oddly for such a long piece of music, “Harvest Aorta” does not give that cobbled-together impression that is all too common in tracks of that scope; however, it cannot be denied that after a while the listener’s attention starts to wander, and some repetition of themes and styles becomes inevitable.

On any account, even if the title-track might have benefited from some editing, Harvest Aorta is a finely-crafted album by a group of very talented musicians that deserves all the positive feedback earned since its release. What impresses most is their tight synergy as a group, which does not allow for any self-gratifying displays of technical fireworks, but allows the each of the members’s individual skill to contribute to the musical construction. While waiting for Ephemeral Sun to release their third album, a listen (or preferably more than one) to Harvest Aorta is highly recommended, especially to fans of music with a high cinematic quotient.

Links:
http://www.ephemeralsun.com/

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