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Posts Tagged ‘electronics’

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. Passion (5:27)
2. Empathy (11:20)
3. Feeding Frenzy (5:47)
4. This Green And Pleasant Land (13:13)
5. It’s Just A Matter Of Not Getting Caught (4:41)
6. Skara Brae (7:31)
7. Your Black Heart (6:46)

 LINEUP:
Nick Barrett – vocals, guitars, keyboard, keyboard programming
Peter Gee  – bass
Clive Nolan – keyboards, backing vocals
Scott Higham – drums, backing vocals

One of the front runners of the Neo-Prog movement (together with Marillion, Pallas and IQ) who in the mid-Eighties brought the genre back into the limelight, Pendragon do not need any introduction to the community of progressive rock fans. Never the most prolific of bands, throughout their 33 years of activity on the music scene the Stroud-based quartet have established themselves as firm favourites with those who privilege the more melodic, song-based side of prog.

Even if I was obviously acquainted with the band’s reputation, I have to admit that, before Passion, I had never listened to any Pendragon album in its entirety. For a number of reasons, mainly related to my personal circumstances, while in the Eighties I had become quite familiar with Marillion, most of the other bands managed to flow almost completely under my radar. In the following years I only heard a handful of scattered tracks that left little or no impression – especially as my tastes evolved in a different direction from “mainstream” symphonic prog and its offshoot Neo.

Passion, Pendragon’s ninth studio album – released in April 2011, and recorded with the same line-up as 2008’s Pure –  like its predecessor may well prove quite divisive as regards the band’s fandom. A masterpiece for some, a borderline sellout for others, it is definitely a bold statement, and therefore bound to rub some people the wrong way. Whatever you may think about the band and the whole Neo-Prog movement, it is undeniable that, with their last couple of releases, Pendragon have taken a big step forward into the 21st century, even at the risk of alienating their more conservative fans. Though some might call it sacrificing to fads, it might also be seen as being willing to take risks – a more than healthy attitude for a progressive rock band.

Neo-Prog often gets a bad rap in some prog circles for being both derivative and not as complex as other subgenres, as well as frequently too  “accessible”. While all of those aspects may be considered true to a certain extent, it is also true that they have earned bands like Pendragon a loyal following among those people who shy away from anything too convoluted, or lacking in melody. Indeeed, in compositional terms, Passion is rather straightforward: the same, however, might be said about highly acclaimed “modern prog” icons Porcupine Tree (incidentally, a clear influence on this album). It is also very balanced in terms of running time (54 minutes), featuring 7 tracks, only two of which longer than 10 minutes, and therefore fulfilling the role of the obligatory “epics”.

The first shock for prog purists comes right at the beginning of the title-track, after the industrial-sounding drum loops and gentle guitar chords – in the shape of heavy riffing and near-growling vocals with a definite Opeth flavour. The song, rather linear in structure, relies on the atmospheric interplay between Nick Barrett’s guitar and Clive Nolan’s keyboards, occasionally slashed by razor-sharp riffs and increased drumming speed, and plenty of electronic effects. The following number,  Empathy (one of the two epics previously mentioned), makes very effective use of cutting-edge technology to create an ominous, claustrophobic atmosphere, with spacey effects, heavily treated guitar and dirge-like vocals (as well as heavy riffing) that reinforce the Porcupine Tree comparisons. This is offset by a clean, melodic guitar solo and solemn church-like organ section towards the end, though not without the further shock of a rap-style vocal interlude. True to its title, “Feeding Frenzy” pursues the same dark, menacing tone, slowly building up to a powerful climax of heavy guitar chords and crashing drums, and ending with some rather scary vocal samples.

Though strategically placed right in the middle of the album, the second epic (and longest track), “This Green and Pleasant Land”,  is, in my view, probably the weakest, most predictable track on Passion, though the heavier, faster second half and the yodeling voices at the end inject some spice in a song that might have used some editing. Moreover, I feel that the lyrics, though undeniably sincere, tend to simplify some rather complicated issues (such as multiculturalism), and possibly reinforce negative stereotypes.  The short “It’s a Matter of Not Getting Caught” has a brief, riff-driven section sandwiched between two slow, meditative ones; while “Skara Brae” (the name of a Neolithic settlement in the Orkney Islands) is one of the highlights of the album, and my personal favourite – with its raw, almost Sabbathian opening, and the successful combination of clean, melodic guitar and vocals and the intense heaviness of chugging riffs perfecting the example put forward by Porcupine Tree in their more recent efforts. The album is wrapped up by the lovely, piano-led ballad “My Black Heart”, soulfully interpreted by Barrett (whose voice is undisputedly an acquired taste, but also very attuned to the music), and reminiscent of the more intimist moments of The Tangent or Big Big Train.

Coming in a sumptuous package complete with striking artwork by German-based Killustrations design studio, a thorough booklet and a 120-minute making-of DVD titled A Handycam Progumentary, Passion may disappoint the more traditional-minded fans, but its bold approach may also win the band a few followers among the ranks of the more modern-oriented prog devotees. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, this is an interesting, well-crafted offering by a highly professional band who – unlike other veterans of the prog scene – refuse to be stuck in a musical time-warp.

Links:
http://www.pendragon.mu/

http://www.killustrations.com/

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TRACKLISTING:

1. Transformation (2.01)
2. Room Without Shadows (4.49)
3. Road To Asheville (5.40)
4. Hex (4.35)
5. Blood Sky (5.01)
6. Anamnesis (5.50)
7. Vibrissa (4.47)
8. Possession (4.22)
9. S. Karma (4.43)
10. The Face Of Another (4.20)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, fretless bass, fretless guitar, ebow, synth, acoustic and nylon string guitars, chunk guitar, programming, synth treatments, loops, keyboards
Mike Davison – guitars, guitar synth, nylon string guitar, sitar
Jason Spradlin – drums, marimba, camel bells, low synth drone

With:
Gayle Ellett – mellotron (5), guitar (5, 6, 7), upright bass, bouzouki (7)
Bob Fisher – flute (3, 9)
Gavin Harrison – drums (7, 8 )
Jerry Marotta – drums, percussion (5)
Pat Mastelotto – drums, electronics, percussion (6)
Martin McCall – percussion (3)
Mike McGary – keyboards, additional synth treatments (7)
Markus Reuter – touch guitar, guitar, loops (6, 8 )
Dave Streett – Warr guitar (3, 5), bass guitar (6, 7, 10)
Kris Swenson – vocals (5), vocal samples (8)

A trio of musicians based in Arlington (Texas), Herd of Instinct are one of the hottest new names on the vast progressive rock scene. The band was formed in 2007 by guitarist Mark Cook and drummer Jason Spradlin after the demise of their previous band, 99 Names of God, and started work on their self-titled debut immediately after the addtion of guitarist Mike Davison. The album, finally released in May 2011 on Djam Karet’s new label, Firepool Record, sees the collaboration of an impressive roster of guest musicians, including Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett, German guitarist and composer Markus Reuter, and celebrated drummers Gavin Harrison, Jerry Marotta and Pat Mastelotto.

The connection with Djam Karet, one of the few genuine cult bands on the whole progressive rock scene, undoubtedly creates expectations of intricate yet dynamic instrumental music – and this is exactly what Herd of Instinct offer in their debut (in spite of the presence of one track with vocals). Instrumental prog bands are often outstanding, and also tend to branch out far more than bands that prominently feature vocals. In a way, the instrumental dimension, fuelling the eclecticism that is an essential component of truly progressive music, allows musicians to explore avenues that sometimes are limited by the presence of a singer, and experiment with different aspects of sound (including pauses of silence) and the creation of a wide range of moods.

Gloriously omnivorous and unabashedly bold, Herd of Instinct stake their claim on the territory where King Crimson held sway for 35 years. Even if Fripp has made a comeback of sorts in very recent times with the excellent A Scarcity of Miracles, Herd of Instinct’s debut brings back memories of state-of-the-art instrumental masterpieces such as “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”, “Fracture” or “The Sheltering Sky”-  a towering, multilayered achievement marrying flawless technical skill with a healthy dose of emotion, a feast of haunting soundscapes and jagged rhythms that seems to epitomize the very idea of progressiveness.

Clocking in at about 48 minutes, Herd of Instinct features 10 relatively short tracks that are nevertheless packed with changes in tempo and mood, striking an admirable balance between edginess, melody and atmosphere “Transformation” introduces the album in brooding, highly cinematic fashion, with pounding drums and piano, ominously surging keyboard waves and tinkling bells. With the following track, “Room Without Shadows”, things take a decidedly heavier turn, the spacious orchestral effects already featured in the previous number blending with borderline metal riffing, and a stunning guitar solo that would not be out of place on an album like Starless and Bible Black. The gorgeously muted, Eastern-tinged opening to “Road to Asheville”, with its haunting flute, sitar and ethnic percussion, suddenly shifts into a crushingly heavy, riff-driven passage, ending on a mournful note with slow, acoustic guitar chords: while the aptly-titled “Hex” (the perfect soundtrack for some horror movie) opens with eerie electronic effects and then, slowly but inexorably, gains intensity, with crashing cymbals and spiky riffing opening in a marvellous guitar solo. “Anamnesis” is very much in a similar vein, a veritable feast for guitar lovers fuelled by spectacular drum work (courtesy of King Crimson’s very own Pat Mastelotto), with loops and other electronic effects depicting a richly emotional soundscape.

“Blood Sky”, the only track featuring vocals, is one of the undisputed highlights of the album, a haunting showcase for the husky, understated vocals of former 99 Names of God singer Kris Swenson. Mellotron and marimba add subtle atmospheric layers to the spectacular guitar interplay, fleshed out by stunning percussion patterns.”Vibrissa” and “Possession” pursue a similar route, the former slow and measured, with interlocking guitar lines and soloing alternating between wildness and melody; the latter sparse and percussion-driven, with understated guitar work enhanced by snippets of wailing vocal samples. On “S. Karma”, the echoing, almost liquid sound of Mike Cook’s Warr guitar comes into its own, offset by an uncharacteristically aggressive flute solo that seems to mimic the heavy riffing. Closing track “The Face of Another” presents a basic power trio configuration assisted by electronics that provide a range of interesting effects as a background for Cook’s splendid guitar excursions – like a 21st-century take on King Crimson’s iconic “Discipline”.

Herd of Instinct is one of those rare debut albums that are practically perfect in every respect, and need no suggestions for further improvement. An absolute must for fans of King Crimson, it will delight devotees of complex, hard-edged yet atmospheric prog, and those who are somewhat weary of technically competent bands that are sorely lacking in the originality department. With outstanding (though slightly disturbing) cover artwork and photography,  as well as excellent production by guest bassist/Warr guitarist Dave Streett, Herd of Instinct can be hailed as a serious contender for best release of 2011.

Links:
http://www.wix.com/herdofinstinct/herdofinstinct

http://www.myspace.com/herdofinstinctband

http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/HerdofInstinct

http://www.djamkaret.com/disc-fr001.php

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Suite: Yehsu Beelzebobs (8:07)
2. Nauxluv (2:35)
3. The Ballad of Bobby (2:17)
4. Own Best Friend Today (4:08)
5. Bobby’s Lament (1:35)
6. Tatisef/Hatihafren (3:59)
7. A Party of Friends (6:49)
8. R Time (3:22)
9. War on Friends (10:43)
10. Forever After (6:29)

LINEUP:
Derek Campbell – vocals, guitar, voice of  Advertisement, voice of Friends
Micah Carbonneau – drums, percussion, bass, upright bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, voice of Bobby
Luke Laplant – baritone saxophone, E.W.I. , keyboards

With:
Alex Wolston – trumpet (3, 9)
Natalie Cooper – vocals, voice of Mary (4, 7)
Megan Garrity – voice of Bedsy (7)

“Zappa is dead, long live Zappa!”… This could be a perfect caption for Believe in Your Own Best Friend, Electric Sorcery’s third album. The über-eclectic outfit, hailing from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, first came to my attention when I reviewed their second release (simply titled Electric Sorcery II) couple of years ago. A dynamic power trio with a twist, whose individual members have played in a number of local bands since the early Nineties, Electric Sorcery are one of the most potentially exciting bands I have happened to come across in my years as a reviewer. With that genuinely omnivorous attitude that is the trademark of the best progressive rock acts, for their third CD release they have taken the plunge and adopted the loved/loathed ‘rock opera’ format, which over the years has produced a number of masterpieces, but also quite a few turkeys.

Quite busy as a live band on their home turf, Electric Sorcery often play covers alongside their original material, with Frank Zappa as ne of the mainstays of their repertoire. While Zappa’s influence on many bands of the RIO/Avant persuasion is quite evident, no one had yet had the audacity to attempt a recreation of his more irreverent, censorship-prone material, rather than the sophisticated jazz-rock of albums such as Hot Rats or Apostrophe.  However, Electric Sorcery have done it, and concocted a whole album revolving around as outrageous a story as they come, which seems to be a perfect fit for the general socio-political climate of the early 21st century – though  viewed through a grotesque filter rather than in the gloomy, dystopian terms of the likes of Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime.

On the band’s website, the album is introduced by a hilarious ‘warning’ note (as in a send-up of those “parental advisory” stickers) that quotes Zappa’s own words, as well as mentioning the evils of cable TV. Based on an idea by drummer Micah Carbonneau and developed in writing by guitarist/vocalist Derek Campbell, the background story (the titular ‘best friend’ being a nickname for an electronic sex aid) throws in such taboo subjects as murder and cannibalism, together with the relatively tamer issues of sex with underage partners, drug use, and the inevitable political shenanigans, wrapping things up with a global-scale war. Undoubtedly an outlandish, over-the-top tale, it is also oddly intriguing, in spite of its overtly seedy nature (which is likely to put off the more strait-laced listeners).

Though the music might be expected to take a back seat to the story, it nevertheless manages to break through even the most manic singing episodes, as immediately displayed in album opener “Suite: Yehsu Beelzebobs”, a number of astounding complexity, peppered with sound and vocal effects, and introducing the album’s leitmotiv. Campbell’s deep baritone voice often sounds like a dead ringer for Zappa’s, and the head-spinning tempo changes and sultry sax solo at the end are sure to catch the attention of sophisticated listeners. The following track, “Nauxluv”, introduces one of the distinctive elements of Electric Sorcery’s musical melting pot, a jaunty reggae rhythm punctuated by Luke Laplant’s sax.  After “The Ballad of Bobby”, a brief, subdued instrumental interlude featuring the slow, mournful surge of guest Alex Wolston’s trumpet, the upbeat mood of the first two tracks is reprised  in “Own Best Friend Today”, one of the main narrative pieces with plenty of vocal interplay, and great sax and drum work to push the musical component to the fore.

The second instrumental interlude, the country/folk-tinged “Bobby’s Lament”, acts as a gateway of sorts to the second half of the album, decidedly more experimental in tone than the first. Narrative pieces like the theatrical, drum-powered “Tatisef/Hatihafren” and the chaotic “Party of Friends”, laden with distorted vocals and electronic effects, are balanced by the mainly instrumental direction of the last three tracks, in which the band veer towards decidedly psychedelic territory. While “R Time” features very expressive vocals by Campbell (who is an excellent singer, as I first noticed when reviewing the band’s previous album), “War on Friends” (at over 10 minutes, the longest number on an album clocking in at a very restrained 48 minutes) and “Forever After” have the sparse, loose feel of a jam session, relying heavily on spacey guitar and keyboards, burbling sound effects and dramatic cymbal crashes that create an ominous, cinematic soundscape. While the unstructured nature of these tracks might put off those listeners who like more disciplined compositions – as well as those whose main interest lies in the story line – they provide a fitting conclusion for such an unabashedly wacky, anarchic effort.

Though Frank Zappa is very openly referenced on the album, both musically and lyrically, it would be unfair to call Believe in Your Own Best Friend derivative. It should rather be seen as a heartfelt homage to one of the few genuinely revolutionary musicians in the history of rock, and also as a brave proposition for a band who is still an unknown quantity in most prog circles. Even if I am not completely sure that such an idiosyncratic album may be the most effective way to put them on the extensive prog map, it is an entertaining, lovingly crafted disc by a trio of open-minded musicians who obviously do not care about fads or labels, and will keep on doing the music they want for as long as they enjoy it. The album can be downloaded from the Bandcamp link below.

Links:
http://lyndonunderground.com/electricsorcery.htm

http://electricsorcery.bandcamp.com/album/believe-in-own-best-friend

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