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Posts Tagged ‘Guitar’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:
http://zevious.com/

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:

1. Where Are They Now? (20:38)
2. The Mind’s Eye (8:15)
3. Perdu Dans Paris (10:47)
4. Paroxetine 20mg (7:15)
5. A Sale of Two Souls (7:51)
6. GPS Culture (7:00)
7. The Music That Died Alone (7:51)
8. In Darkest Dreams (including “After Phaedra”) (21:25)**

** on DVD disc only

LINEUP:
Andy Tillison – lead vocals, keyboards
Jonathan Barrett – bass
Luke Machin – guitar, vocals
Tony Latham – drums
Theo Travis – saxophones, flute

Just like Phideaux, The Tangent are one of those bands that do not need to be introduced to prog fans – unless they are the kind that adamantly refuses to listen to anything produced later than 1989. In spite of their frequent line-up changes, the fiercely independent outfit, based in an artistically fertile area like the north of England, has always been much more than just a vehicle for the undisputed talent of Andy Tillison – keyboardist, singer and songwriter with a a passion for the making of progressive rock with a keen edge of social and political awareness. Straddling the line between vintage and modernity, The Tangent have established a reputation for thought-provoking music with a healthy dose of dry British wit, and the kind of technical brilliance that is put at the service of the music rather than the other way around.

As the title indicates, Going Off on Two is the logical follow-up to the band’s first live album and DVD, released in 2007 and titled Going Off on One – though the line-up has undergone yet another overhaul (and, at the time of writing, has further changed, with drummer Nick Rickwood replacing Tony Latham). However, while the 2007 set was based on actual concerts, for Going Off on Two The Tangent have chosen a bold, unusual format that may well set a trend within the prog scene. Making full use of a live-in-the studio situation, the band are playing, to all intents and purposes, before a worldwide audience: the numerous fans from over 40 countries that have helped the DVD happen through their financial support. Recorded over a period of five days in December 2010 in a converted abattoir in the town of Stockport (on the outskirts of Manchester), it was inspired by popular Seventies TV programmes such as the legendary “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, whose performances often resulted in much sought-after recordings. The “gig” brings together the best of two worlds, the immediacy of a live performance and the relative comfort of the studio surroundings.

The polar opposite of the shallow, image-driven acts that command the attention of modern audiences, the band members are five refreshingly ordinary men of various ages that look as if they are genuinely having fun, in spite of the high level of complexity of their music – they are even shown dancing outside the studio in the end credits of the DVD. Dressed in comfortable, everyday clothes, obviously at ease with each other, they certainly do not deserve the vicious jibes flung at them by some alleged music journalist with a shockingly unprofessional attitude. Thankfully, progressive rock is not the sole prerogative of young, good-looking hipsters, and prog artists have every right to look like “accountants and sheep farmers” instead of posing as something they are not.

The 90-minute DVD, filmed by experienced documentary director Paul Brow, comes strikingly packaged with stunning cover artwork by renowned artist Ed Unitsky (a longtime collaborator of the band). While it contains few extras, they will definitely be of interest to fans of the band, or even to those who are getting acquainted with them. The images are crisp and clean, and the excellent photo gallery depicts the band members in various, often humorous situations, emphasizing their endearingly down-to-earth attitude. Though mostly focused on technical matters, the interviews are liberally laced with humour, and can be enjoyed even by those who (like myself) are not practising musicians. I especially liked the part in which Tillison explains his use of computers to generate all sorts of keyboard sounds, pointing out that Seventies icons like Emerson and Wakeman were ground-breaking because they made use of cutting-edge technology. So much for the current obsession with anything analog!

The 8 tracks chosen for this landmark performance span all of The Tangent’s almost 10-year career, bearing witness to the band’s remarkable skill in quality control. Indeed, The Tangent bridge the gap between classic prog of the symphonic persuasion and the elegant jazz-rock of the Canterbury scene, with a sound that is at the same time sleek and intricate, melodic and edgy, with plenty of wit thrown into soften the blow of the often barbed social commentary. While Andy Tillison’s voice may be a bit of an acquired taste, and it is definitely not you would call conventionally “beautiful”, its wry, understated tone blends surprising well with the music. And then, in spite of the obvious collective talent involved, The Tangent are not interested in bludgeoning the listener over the head with their technical prowess, even if their obvious dedication to their craft is highlighted in the brief interviews included in the Extras. While the current members of the band may not be as well-known as some of its former members (which, especially in the early days of the band’s activity, led critics to label them as a “supergroup”), they are certainly no less talented. In particular, Tony “Funkytoe” Latham’s drumming is nothing short of stunning, and Jonathan Barrett’s fretless bass delivers the kind of fat, slinky lines that prog fans have come to treasure.

The setlist offers a nicely balanced selection of material, bookended by two 20-minute epics dating from different stages of The Tangent’s career – “Where Are They Now?”, from 2009’s Down and Out in Paris and London,  and “In Darkest Dreams” from their 2003 debut, The Music That Died Alone. Two particularly tasty tidbits for the band’s fans appear in the shape of “The Mind’s Eye”, from the forthcoming album COMM (to be released in the fall of 2011), and Andy Tillison’s homage to German Seventies electro-prog masters Tangerine Dream, “After Phaedra” (which is only featured on the DVD). The former is a tense, edgy number driven by Tillison’s powerfully expressive keyboard work and fresh-faced new guitarist Luke Machin’s sharp yet fluid guitar; while the latter is accompanied by striking psychedelic visuals reminiscent of the Seventies, yet also amazingly modern.The occasional use of split, parallel frames (which in “Where Are They Now?” show idyllic views of England’s “green and pleasant land”) adds further interest to the “concert” footage. However the highlight of the DVD , in visual terms lies in the stunning images of Paris by night that are seamlessly integrated into the band’s performance of “Perdu Dans Paris” – which in the second half of the song, in order to complement the lyrical matter, turn into heart-wrenching shots of homeless people, in stark contrast with the beauty and allure of the Ville Lumière.

The stripped-down setting – so unglamorous to trendy so-called journalists, but perfectly in character with the reality of things for most prog artists (as illustrated in my reviews of gigs at Baltimore’s Orion Studios) – sets off the band’s unassuming, yet dedicated attitude, the undeniable intricacy of the music tempered by humour and level-headedness. The members of The Tangent may not look like rockstars (as none of us thankfully do), but they obviously love every minute of what they do, and the very format of the DVD celebrates the nowadays indispensable synergy between artists and their followers. The Tangent represent a voice of strong integrity in today’s music world, proving to the sceptics that progressive rock in the 21st century is not merely a vehicle for dazzling instrumental performances and lyrical escapism, but can foster social awareness and create a genuine bond between providers and users of art.

Links:
http://www.thetangent.org

http://www.paulbrow.co.uk

www.edunitsky.com

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Snowtorch – Part One (19:39)
a) Star of Light
b) Retrograde
c) Fox on the Rocks
d) Celestine
2. Helix (5:54)
3. Snowtorch – Part Two (16:11)
a) Blowtorch Snowjob
b) Fox Rock 2
c) Coronal Mass Ejection
4. ” … ” (2:34)

LINEUP:
Phideaux Xavier – acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
Ariel Farber – vocals, violin
Valerie Gracious – vocals
‘Bloody’ Rich Hutchins – drums
Mathew Kennedy – bass guitar
Gabriel Moffat – electric guitar
Linda Ruttan Moldawsky – vocals, metal percussion
Molly Ruttan – vocals
Mark Sherkus – keyboards, piano
Johnny Unicorn – keyboards, saxophone, vocals

With:
Stephanie Fife – cello
Chris Bleth – flute, soprano saxophone

With 7 albums released since 2003 (not counting Ghost Story, originally released in 1997 and reissued in 2004, and mostly consisting of material dating from a previous project called Satyricon) Phideaux need  no introduction to prog fans. Based on a group of childhood friends who grew up together in the New York area, but are now scattered all over the US territory, they are a proudly independent outfit, a group of gifted musicians coming from diverse backgrounds led by the remarkable talent of Phideaux Xavier, whose highly individual approach to the production of progressive rock has turned them into firm favourites of a wide-ranging, yet rather volatile scene.

Throughout the years the band have perfected a format that, while not exactly uncommon in the prog world, has been given a new twist by Phideaux Xavier’s fertile mind and keen awareness of social matters. All of the band’s albums since 2006’s The Great Leap have been based on elaborate concepts that, eschewing the  often formulaic fantasy topics that are still quite popular with prog bands and their fans, present reflections on the state of  the modern world – albeit coached in metaphorical terms. In some ways, Phideaux has become a 21st-century equivalent of Roger Waters, down to the configuration of the band – which, with its ten members, plus various collaborators, is a veritable mini-orchestra. Everything, so to speak, is done in the family, with guitarist Gabriel Moffat in the role of the producer, and backing vocalists (and twin sisters) Molly Ruttan and Linda Ruttan Moldavsky responsible for the elegantly minimalistic artwork.

Released in the spring of 2011, a couple of months before Phideaux’s appearance at the 2011 edition of ROSfest, Snowtorch is a compact, 45-minute offering that  manages to pack more content in its streamlined running time than most of the sprawling behemoths favoured by some artists. Featuring the same line-up as its predecessor, 2009’s  Number Seven, it is, in Phideaux’s own words, “a musing on life, language and solar flares”, conceived as single suite in various movements, though split in two separate halves connected by a stand-alone song also based on the composition’s main theme.This strategy of building the album’s musical content around a recurring theme is what makes Snowtorch a symphonic offering in the truest sense of the word. With a perfect balance between vocal and instrumental parts, and the added bonus of thought-provoking lyrics, the album stakes its claim as the rightful heir of the great classics of the Seventies – though bringing a definitely modern twist to those old prog warhorses, the epic and the concept album.

In fact, listening to Snowtorch may evoke strong comparisons with classical music, on account of both the structure and the nature of the compositions, which combine the powerful surge of exhilarating crescendos with intimate, low-key moments. However, Phideaux’s sound is quite far removed from the somewhat cheesy grandiosity of bands such as The Enid. With two keyboardists (plus Phideaux himself on piano) providing a lush, yet tightly-woven background tapestry, bolstered by Ariel Farber’s violin and guest artist Stephanie Fife’s cello, Chris Bleth’s flute adding a pastoral touch to some of the quieter sections, the music possesses a dramatic fullness that complements the harmonious beauty of the vocal parts.

The first half of the “Snowtorch” suite opens with the subdued melody of “Star of Light”, introduced by piano, organ and Phideaux’s husky, expressive voice; then it soon gains intensity, the intricate, orchestral keyboards and relentless drumming driving the vocals along towards a climax. The main theme is introduced, and brought to fruition in a splendid, organ-driven section peppered by guitar excursions, the two instruments sparring in a peaks-and-valleys pattern. “Retrograde” revolves around a lovely, emotional duet between Phideaux and the band’s other lead vocalist, Valerie Gracious, whose soaring soprano shows more than a hint of steel without any trace of saccharine – an enthralling song almost out of a classic Broadway musical. The entertaining ditty “Fox on the Rocks” (with lyrics penned by keyboardist Johnny Unicorn), sung by Phideaux in a near-falsetto register, prepares the listener for  instrumental “Celestine”, a veritable keyboard tour-de-force,  pastoral and stormy in turns, where solemn mellotron washes underpin the sparring of piano, synth and organ, with violin, metal percussion and sax joining the fray.

As previously hinted, “Helix” bridges the gap between the two parts of the titular suite – a majestic, powerful piece sustained by Valerie Gracious’ commanding performance, with all the instruments working together to produce a solid wall of sound  – which reminded me of the dramatic sweep of some episodes of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. “Snowtorch Part Two” – shorter and somewhat edgier than Part One – opens in almost upbeat fashion with the funnily (and punnily)-titled instrumental “Blowtorch Snowjob”, then culminates in the explosive, ELP-influenced keyboard-and-drum orgy of “Fox Rock 2” (with an unbridled organ solo that would sit quite comfortably on Tarkus). Things finally mellow out with the sedate, Pinkfloydian atmosphere of “Coronal Mass Ejection”, an ominous, somber piece which reprises the album’s main theme, briefly climaxes with guitar slashes and intense vocals, then ends with sparse piano. The short “ghost track” included at the end as a sort of instrumental summary wraps things up with a cheery feel that seems to release the tension built up throughout the album.

Effortlessly marrying superb musicianship and genuine passion, Snowtorch brims with gorgeous melodies, the kind that stick in your mind for quite a while. While often pervaded by a sense of impending doom, it can also be oddly jaunty; for all its lush, multilayered arrangements, it is never gratuitously pretentious. With all-round flawless performances, excellent songwriting and beautiful singing, it has quickly established itself as one of the strongest releases of the year so far. Though influenced by the great tradition of the golden age of prog, unlike the myriad of “retro” acts Phideaux manage to sound like no one else on the current scene. An album such as Snowtorch is living proof of how they are almost single-handedly dragging symphonic prog right into the 21st century.

Links:
http://www.bloodfish.com/

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Calling Out (4:55)
2. Still Water (5:04)
3. Unity (1:59)
4. Another Day (4:36)
5. Water Of Life (10:00)
6. Live For Him (5:26)
7. Indian Summer (2:38)
8. By My Side (3:55)
9. Vacant Halls (6:44)
10. Freedom Road (6:05)

LINEUP:
Dave Auerbach – guitars
Dean Hallal – lead and backing vocals
Kevin Jarvis – keyboards, guitars, dulcimer, vocals
Jennifer Meeks – flute, lead and backing vocals
Frank Tyson – bass, vocals, whistling
Rick Walker – drums, percussion

With:
Jeff Hodges – additional keyboards, percussion, samples and loops

Hailing from Sumter (South Carolina), where they were formed in 1997 by keyboardist Kevin Jarvis and drummer Rick Walker, Farpoint have 12 years of live performances and 5 studio albums under their collective belts. Their recording debut, First Light, appeared  in 2002, though with a different line-up than the one appearing on this album.  Kindred is also the band’s first release for Georgia-based label 10T Records, while their previous albums had all been released independently.

Farpoint are part of a group of mostly American bands and artists that are openly Christian in inspiration, which is bound to alienate some listeners. To be honest, Farpoint are not as heavy-handed as other acts (Neal Morse comes to mind) in the way they handle the religious content of their lyrics. Moreover, the generally upbeat, positive nature of their musical offer may come across as refreshing in an age of often somewhat contrived misery and navel-gazing. Rather than concentrating on complex theological issues, Farpoint’s lyrical universe is simple, almost naive, their unabashedly optimistic songs revolving about ideas of love, hope and trust, both in God and mankind.

On a personal level, even if I am not religious, and would rather not see music turned into a vehicle for any ideological manifesto, I do not see anything wrong with delivering a positive message. The main problem, at least to my ears, is that quite a few of the songs on Kindred (right from opener “Calling Out”) remind me of the music that would be played during a service, back in my days as a good Catholic girl and a member of the local church choir. Associating this kind of music with progressive rock can be a tad awkward, and indeed Kindred is only marginally related to prog as we know it. On occasion, the instrumental interplay allows glimpses of greater complexity, but on the whole the majority of the tracks featured on the album are rather conventional, mainstream-sounding songs with a heavy emphasis on vocals and plenty of catchy hooks.

In any case, the members of Farpoint show excellent musicianship, and their songwriting skills are none too shabby either. Production-wise, Kindred can boast of outstanding clarity of sound, which allows each instrument to shine without overwhelming the others. Farpoint are very much ensemble players, each of the members contributing to the final result. The album is also quite well-balanced, clocking in at a very reasonable 51 minutes, with two shorter, mostly acoustic instrumental interludes (“Unity” and “Indian Summer”) and most of the other songs between 4 and 6 minutes – with the sole exception of the 10-minute “Water of Life”. However, those expecting a towering effort in typical “prog epic” tradition will be disappointed, because the song – in spite of some noteworthy instrumental passages such as the lengthy, flute- and guitar-driven introduction, with some sterling bass work by Frank Tyson (whose flawless performance is one of the best points of the album) – becomes quite lightweight every time vocals are involved.

On the other hand, the prog references are few and far between, and mostly concentrated in the uncharacteristically meditative, downbeat “Vacant Rooms” (in my view the highlight of the album, a heartfelt reflection on the loss of loved ones), with its spacey keyboards and lovely, Gilmour-influenced guitar solo leading to an intense crescendo in the final part of the song. “Live for Him” displays some lively classic rock touches, especially in Dave Auerbach’s excellent guitar and Hammond organ passages that bring to mind early Deep Purple, as well as an interesting drumming pattern in the bridge – but is somehow let down by the country-meets-church-music flavour of the vocal parts. A couple of other songs – notably “Another Day”, with its jangly, bluegrass-style guitar – reminded me of the alt.country slant of The Decemberists’ latest album, The King Is Dead,  though minus Colin Meloy’s distinctive vocals. Indeed, Dean Hallal’s smooth, well-modulated voice seems quite well-suited to mainstream, country-tinged pop-rock; while Jennifer Meeks’s ethereal soprano is quite underused, her only solo spot being the rather cheesy “By My Side”.

Clearly informed by strong faith and a positive worldview, Kindred is likely to appeal to those listeners who lean towards the melodic, more accessible side of prog, as well as those who like a well-crafted mainstream song delivered in a pleasing manner. Personally, I found the instrumental passages far more interesting than anything featuring vocals, though I am quite sure that  a lot of people will find the album as a whole to their taste. Needless to say, anyone who objects to religious or other ideological messages in their music will do well to steer clear of this album.

Links:
http://www.farpointband.com/

http://www.farpointband.com/

http://www.10trecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Lucid (1:40)
2. La Bealtaine (7:52)
3. In Orbit (12:30)
4. This Past Presence (6:14)
5. A Faerie’s Play (5:19)
6. The River (10:04)
7. Lucid Dreams (2:19)

LINEUP:
Morten Andreas Eriksen – guitars
Lars Fredrik Frøislie-  keyboards, marxophone, vocals
Kristian Karl Hultgren – bass, saxophone, glockenspiel
Martin Nordrum Kneppen – drums, percussion
Andreas Wettergreen Stromman Prestmo – vocals

With:
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen – flute
Hanne Rekdal – bassoon

This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult reviews I have written in a long time (if not the most difficult), and one that may turn out to be quite controversial. In order to convey my opinion effectively, I will have to make a clear distinction between the actual quality of the music and any considerations relating to originality of content.

Before someone indicts me of being one of those snobs that turn up their noses at anything that might remind them of bygone times, I do enjoy a lot of so-called “retro prog”, and Wobbler’s Afterglow was one of my favourite albums for 2009. Moreover, I am quite aware that the “retro” phenomenon is not only a prerogative of symphonic prog:  a band choosing to imitate Magma or Univers Zéro is no less “retro” than one imitating Yes or Genesis. Like it or not, originality these days is rather thin on the ground, and throughout the 40+ years of prog’s existence as a musical genre there have been countless instances of bands shamelessly cloning more successful and influential acts (one name for all: Starcastle). In more recent years the number of tribute bands has been steadily growing, attracting relatively large audiences (often larger than those commanded by bands or artists that play their own original material). While fans of the more cutting-edge varieties of progressive rock may throw around the “retro” label with a sort of contempt, others wear it as a badge of honour, further widening the gap within the “prog community”.

First emerged on the prog scene in 2005 with their debut Hinterland, Wobbler – led by multi-instrumentalist and vintage keyboard collector Lars Fredrik Frøislie (also the mind  behind experimental metal act In Lingua Mortua) –  quickly established themselves as the darlings of the retro-oriented crowd, especially those who had been mourning the early demise of Änglagård. Even though a sizable portion of the current prog scene consists of acts that might be tagged as “retro”, Wobbler have taken the concept a step further, down to their refusal to use MIDI technology or any post-1975 instruments. Both Hinterland and its follow-up Afterglow (2009) had been based on material originally composed and recorded in demo form immediately after the band’s formation in 1999; Rites at Dawn, on the other hand, comprises entirely new material, the first original music by the band in almost 10 years.

Rites at Dawn is an album of pristine perfection. With its gorgeous, clean-lined artwork (surprisingly modern for a band that has never hidden its worship of all things Seventies) and thorough liner notes, listing the equipment used in loving detail, the centrefold photo depicting them in a rustic period setting reminiscent of Songs from the Wood-era Jethro Tull, it is an unashamed paean to the golden age of prog, tailor-made to send traditionalists into fits of delight, or else to be dismissed by forward-thinkers as a mere nostalgia trip. The truth, as is often the case in life, lies somewhere in between. I believe that the fellow reviewer who compared Wobbler’s music to neoclassical art hit the nail over the head, since Rites at Dawn possesses the smooth, polished beauty of a Canova statue. As such, it has raised the bar for “retro-prog” to almost unattainable levels.

Indeed, speaking in strictly objective terms, the music on Rites at Dawn is beautiful, intricate and flawlessly performed, in spite of the slightly disturbing feeling of déjà vu that grips the listener as soon as the vocals in “La Bealtaine” kick in. Drenched in gorgeous Mellotron, fuelled by the fat, trebly sound of a vintage Rickenbacker bass, embellished by layers of keyboards and soothing vocal harmonies, the whole album is a clear homage to Yes circa Fragile and Close to the Edge, even as regards the lyrical matter, based upon pagan rituals and nature worship. While both their previous efforts showed the imprint of Gentle Giant and Gryphon, as well as legendary early Nineties acts such as Änglagård and Anekdoten,  Rites at Dawn sound less “Scandinavian” and definitely more upbeat. The band’s new singer, Andreas Wettergreen Stromman Prestmo, gets a lot of room to flex his impressive, Jon Anderson-like pipes, as all but the two tracks that bookend the album, “Lucid” and “Lucid Dreams”, feature vocals (unlike the band’s previous albums, which were mostly instrumental). The vocal parts are balanced by the magnificent instrumental interplay, chock full of head-spinning tempo changes, scintillating solo spots and moments of atmospheric, ethereal beauty, enhanced by touches of flute and glockenspiel, with the distinctive drone of the bassoon lending further depth to some of the passages. Clocking in at 45 minutes, the album is longer than Afterglow and shorter than Hinterland, with only two tracks, “In Orbit” and “The River”, running over 10 minutes.

An album of sterling quality from a formal point of view, Rites at Dawn is probably the closest any band has come in recent years to recreating the original sound of the Seventies (though, of course, with modern production values). That said, its often uncomfortably derivative nature leads me to adopt a somewhat schizophrenic attitude towards it. While I do like the music a lot, and will be probably be listening to the album for my personal pleasure in the future, I cannot help questioning the point of reproducing the sounds of a bygone age down to the last detail – as well as wondering if such a move is going to benefit the prog scene in the long run. However, it is undeniable that there is an audience for albums like Rites at Dawn among those listeners who thrive upon nostalgia. Highly recommended to fans of vintage symphonic prog, it is probably best avoided by anyone who expects prog to be actually progressive.

Links:
http://www.wobblermusic.com/

http://www.myspace.com/wobblermusic

http://www.termorecords.com

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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. 1969 (14:14)
2. Turn It Up (6:55)
3. The World Is Caving In (9:00)
4. Can’t Take It With You (5:44)
5. There’s Nothing Wrong With the World (7:23)
6. Bite the Grit (4:59)
7. When Fear Came to Town (9:55)

LINEUP:
Jonas Reingold – fretted and fretless bass, backing vocals
Marcus Liliequist – drums
Göran Edman – vocals
Lalle Larsson – keyboards, backing vocals
Nils Erikson – vocals, keyboards
Krister Jonsson – guitars

Even if I tend to be familiar with most of the names circulating around the progressive rock scene, there are quite a few bands or artists whose music will remain an unknown quantity at least until I receive one of their albums for reviewing purposes  Swedish band Karmakanic belong to the group of acts who, in spite of their impressive pedigree and reputation among prog fans, so far had managed to fly under my personal radar. While my ignorance of all things Karmakanic was all set to end at this year’s edition of NEARfest, after the festival’s unfortunate cancellation I welcomed the opportunity to review their latest album, and finally get acquainted with such a highly rated outfit.

Started at the very beginning of the 21st century, Karmakanic is one of the numerous projects in which bassist Jonas Reingold (of Flower Kings fame) is involved. In a Perfect World is their fourth studio release, highly awaited by those fans who lean towards the melodic, traditional end of the prog spectrum. Though I tend to privilege music that is somewhat more challenging, I am open-minded enough to recognize quality, and – while In a Perfect World may not impress the listener overmuch at first – its tightly organized structure and richly varied musical offer gradually unfold with each successive listen.

Karmakanic might be firmly rooted in the great classic progressive tradition, but their musical approach privileges the creation of engaging melodies, striking the right balance between accessibility and complexity, with rather down-to-earth lyrics and songs that, even when long, do not overstay their welcome. From such an album as In a Perfect World you can expect extremely accomplished musicianship, strong vocals,  with a broad spectrum of influences ranging from the golden years of progressive rock to classic rock and even some quality pop (namely The Beatles). Moreover, while some of the songs wear their influences on their sleeve, so to speak, the healthy dose of eclecticism (in some cases responsible for some rather daring combinations), lends the album a freshness often missing from a lot of ‘mainstream’ prog.

For a band created as a side project by one of the most celebrated bassists on the prog scene, Karmakanic’s sound is not as dominated by the ‘bottom end’ as one might expect. In their current configuration as a six-piece, the band present a remarkably balanced picture, with all the instruments contributing to the intricate yet smoothly flowing texture of each individual composition. Lead singer Göran Edman has a confident, often understated voice that is an excellent match for the material, and capable of displays of assertiveness when needed. The two keyboardists, Lalle Larsson and Nils Erikson, provide plenty of those lush textures so prized by fans of vintage prog, accented by the versatility of Krister Jonsson’s guitars, effortlessy shifting from melody to aggressive riffing; while Reingold’s bass, bolstered by Marcus Liliequist’s strong drumming, emerges through the fray without stealing the limelight or overpowering the other instruments.

Out of the album’s 7 tracks (running at a total of 58 minutes), opener “1969” is the closest Karmakanic get to recreating a classic symphonic prog vibe. A 14-minute epic brimming with instrumental brilliance and plenty of tempo and mood changes, occasional touches of atmospheric Pink Floyd inspiration, and a veritable feast of majestic, sweeping keyboards and rippling piano, its Yes influences are particularly evident in Reingold’s full, twangy bass sound and the soaring vocal harmonies. In sharp contrast, “Turn It Up” is a much more linear number, whose Yes references hark back to the much-maligned Rabin era, and whose catchy chorus, powered by keyboard flurries and heavy riffing, would have some serious airplay potential in a more discerning world. “The World Is Caving In” begins instead in a deceptively low-key, almost somber fashion before developing into a pomp-rock behemoth with more than a passing nod to the likes of Styx or Kansas, and Edman channelling Steve Walsh especially in the grandiose, passionate ending.

With “Can’t Take It With You”, undoubtedly the most distinctive track on the album, Karmakanic take a leaf out of their fellow Swedes Diablo Swing Orchestra’s book, juxtaposing an upbeat, Cuban-flavoured rhythm with crushingly heavy riffs and almost atonal vocal lines; while things go back to normal with the dynamic, yet melodic “There’s Nothing Wrong With the World”, influenced by Yes’ more recent output.  “Bite the Grit”, on the other hand,. marries catchy Beatles-inspired melodies with more heavy riffage and whistling synths. The album is then wrapped up by the slow-burning blues of “When Fear Comes to Town”, complete with smoky piano and a smouldering, Gilmour-tinged guitar solo, and featuring a soulful vocal performance by Edman.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in symphonic prog with an eclectic attitude, In a Perfect World is not as unabashedly ‘retro’ as other recent releases, though it  may still disappoint those who are looking for cutting-edge music. It is nonetheless a finely crafted effort by a truly  excellent band, and thankfully devoid of that overweening ambitiousness that can be the downfall of many an album.

Links:
http://www.jonasreingold.com/

http://www.reingoldmusic.com/

http://www.insideoutmusic.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. G.B. Evidence (5:19)
2. Arabesque (12:32)
3. Dark Magus (9:00)
4. L’Ombra di un Sogno (6:55)
5. Più Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Impressione Vissuta, Part I (5:08)
6. Battery Park (6:37)

LINEUP:
Giovanni Parmeggiani – Hammond organ, acoustic and electric piano, Arp Odyssey, Minimoog
Cristian Franchi – drums
Daniele Piccinini – bass
Marco Marzo Maracas – guitar, oud

With:
Richard Sinclair – vocals (4)
Antonio “Cooper” Cupertino – percussion (4)

Hailing from the historic Italian city of Bologna, home to the oldest university in the world, Accordo dei Contrari (Italian for “Agreement of the Opposites”) started out their career in as a trio; then, after a number of line-up changes, recorded their debut album, Kinesis (released in 2007) as a quartet. The same line-up is featured on Kublai, their sophomore effort, released in the spring of 2011 – an album that is sure to put them on the map of even the most demanding lovers of progressive rock. Sadly, the band was one of the “innocent victims”, so to speak, of the unfortunate cancellation of the 2011 edition of NEARfest, which deprived American prog fans of the opportunity to witness a number of exciting modern bands.

While the album’s title may bring to mind the fabled character of the Mongolian emperor celebrated by the likes of Marco Polo and S.T. Coleridge, in this case the name Kublai is meant to  represent “the most distant point in an imaginary landscape. It represents ordered chaos, light and dark, the balance between written and improvised music.” A clear statement of intent that accurately sums up the musical content of Accordo dei Contrari’s second album. With its stylishly minimalistic cover artwork, Kublai is a supremely classy package that shows a band whose compositional and instrumental mastery is growing by leaps and bounds.

Running at a compact, perfectly balanced 45 minutes, the album sounds fresh and original even when the band’s main sources of inspiration are referenced. While Accordo dei Contrari do not choose to employ as extensive an array of instruments as other modern bands, they manage to create an impressive volume of sound with a rather restrained instrumentation, dispensing with the violin and saxophone featured on their debut, and therefore perfecting the “electric quartet” format. For an album that might be tagged as jazz-rock, Kublai seems to revolve a lot around Giovanni Parmeggiani’s stunning keyboard work. Indeed, the keyboards are definitely the driving force of the disc, with the distinctive rumble of the Hammond organ lending a touch of unbridled hard rock passion to the overall sound: there are moments on Kublai in which Parmeggiani sounds as if he was channeling Jon Lord.

Opener “G.B. Evidence”, a variation on a Thelonious Monk composition, immediately introduces the listener to the fascinating world of Accordo dei Contrari, with Cristian Franci’s crisp, inventive drumming, bolstered by Daniele Piccinini’s sleek, versatile bass lines, sparring with Marco Marzo’s simmering guitar and Parmeggiani’s subtly layered keyboards. In the second half, guitar and organ engage in a sort of dialogue that conjures images of Deep Purple jamming with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Clocking in at 12 minutes “Arabesque” presents Accordo dei Contrari’s own twist on the obligatory prog ‘epic’, making effective use of a steady electronic drone to create a faintly ominous atmosphere underlying the stately beauty of the Eastern-flavoured acoustic guitar arpeggios in the first part of the track. The overall loose, somewhat rarefied texture, the flow of the music broken by frequent pauses and surges in volume, occasionally gains intensity in bursts of energy that bring to mind the revolutionary sonic melting pot of Area circa Arbeit Macht Frei. Bookended by sonorous gong. “Dark Magus” (a nod to Miles Davis’ 1974 album of the same title) reinforces the impression of classic jazz rock coupled with the intensity of vintage hard rock. Parmeggiani attacks his Hammond with unadulterated abandon, while Franci’s stellar drumming propels the whole of the composition along, with Marco Marzo’s guitar in an invaluable supporting role.

Strategically placed at the opening of the album’s second half, “L’Ombra di un Sogno (Shadow of a Dream)” is the only track with vocals, provided by none other than the ‘voice of Canterbury’, Richard Sinclair, who also wrote the gentle, moving lyrics in memory of his dog. Centred around Sinclair’s subdued yet emotional interpretation, his velvety baritone bending the music to its will, the song – somewhat sparse at first, with a hauntingly insistent guitar line, then taking a jazzier turn towards the end – brings the the sound of iconic Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North and National Health into the 21st century. On the other hand, “Piu’ Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Espressione Vissuta, Pt. 1”  steers towards a more symphonic direction, with organ and guitar alternating in the lead role, and an overall solemn, meditative feel even when the pace picks up. The album ends with the “Battery Park” (inspired by a windy, sunny February day by the Hudson River in New York City), a lovely, piano-led  piece based around a main theme developed in a stop-start movement, the various sections climaxing and then subsiding like the natural flow of a water course.

A perfect marriage of formal elegance and emotion, rich with diverse influences but always cohesive, Kublai clearly proves that Accordo dei Contrari are ready to take their rightful place alongside D.F.A. as purveyors of impeccably executed, yet warm and emotional jazz-rock in which keyboards play a prominent role. The band have amply fulfilled the promise shown by their debut, Kinesis, and the compositional and technical maturity shown on their sophomore effort bodes extremely well for their future career. A must for fans of the Canterbury scene and classic jazz-rock in general, Kublai will delight anyone who loves great music – whatever the label attached to it.

Links:
http://www.accordodeicontrari.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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