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Posts Tagged ‘Wobbler’

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In a couple of weeks’ time, fans of AltrOck Productions, the cutting-edge Italian label founded by Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago in 2005, will be offered the unique opportunity to attend a two-day festival featuring a selection of exciting Italian and European bands, many of them have appeared on these pages.

The event, scheduled to take place on the weekend of June 1-2 at La Casa di Alex, a cultural centre on the outskirts of Milan, will see a total of seven bands taking turns on the stage. The label’s subsection Fading Records, dedicated to bands and artists who revisit “traditional” prog modes with a modern attitude, will be represented by Ciccada (Greece), La Coscienza di Zeno and Ske (Italy), who will be joined by highly awaited Norwegian outfit Wobbler; while October Equus (Spain) and Humble Grumble (Belgium) will add some intriguing RIO/Avant spice to the proceedings. Bassist Pierre “W-Cheese” Wawrzyniak (of fellow AltrOckers Camembert) will join Ske on stage for their first-ever live performance: while La Coscienza di Zeno will premiere their forthcoming second album, titled Sensitività.

The festival will also mark the stage debut of Not A Good Sign, the newest offering from AltrOck and  the label’s own “supergroup” of sorts, featuring Yugen’s Paolo “Ske” Botta (who is also the label’s main graphic artist) and Francesco Zago, and La Coscienza di Zeno’s Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Alessio Calandriello, as well as drummer Martino Malacrida. The band, who was started in 2011 by Botta and Zago (later joined by the other members),  aims to revisit the sounds of classic prog – liberally seasoned with hard rock and psychedelic suggestions – with a thoroughly modern attitude, focusing on the creation of melancholy, haunting atmospheres. Their self-titled recording debut, officially released on June 10, will be available for purchase at the festival. Yugen’s Maurizio Fasoli (piano), cellist Bianca Fervidi and vocalist Sharon Fortnam (Cardiacs/North Sea Radio Orchestra) also guest on the album. You can listen to a preview of the album here.

Links:
http://altrockfading.blogspot.it/

http://www.alexetxea.it/

www.altrock.it

https://www.facebook.com/notagoodsign

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Greg Walker is a well-known name in the international community of progressive rock fans as the man behind Syn-Phonic, one of the biggest online purveyors of CDs and other musical goodies – possibly the one offering the widest range of material, and definitely one of the most knowledgeable (and friendly) people in the business. US-based fans will also remember him as the organizer of ProgFest, a successful run of festivals that took place between 1993 and 200o in the Los Angeles area.

After retiring from the festival business, and spending  the next decade concentrating on the promotion of progressive rock through his extensive catalogue (including regular appearances at the major prog festivals such as NEARfest and RoSfest), in 2011 Walker decided to throw his hat into the arena once again. A self-professed fan of European prog, with a particularly soft spot for the Italian scene of the Seventies, Walker planned a pull-out-all-the-stops extravaganza that would offer to the US prog audience  the unique opportunity of seeing a number of cult Seventies bands together on the same stage.

Though his original plans of holding the event in 2011 as a replacement of sorts for NEARfest 2011 (hence the punning name of Farfest), even if somewhat later during the year, were foiled by the impossibility of  finding a suitable venue at a rather short notice, Walker took advantage of the extra time allowance to assemble a line-up that sounds like a dream come true for fans of the European scene of the golden age of prog. The event,  spread over 4 days, and scheduled to take place at the impressive Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware (pictured above) – a very convenient location, situated halfway between Washington DC and New York City, and close to major airports such as Baltimore and Philadelphia – will host a whopping 13 bands, some of them still active, others reformed just for the occasion.

True to his passion for Italian prog, Walker has given pride of place to Italian bands, with the recently reunited Latte E MieleLocanda Delle Fate, Alphataurus and Maxophone. Three French bands of the Seventies – Atoll, Pulsar and Shylock – will also appear, as well as Poland’s SBB  and “Prog Andaluz” standard-bearers Mezquita. The only two bands from English-speaking countries will be legendary US outfit Cathedral (who will perform their famed 1978 album Stained Glass Stories in its entirety) and London-based  band Cressida, one of the protagonists of the early English scene. The lineup will be completed by two highly-rated bands from more recent years, Anekdoten from Sweden and Wobbler from Norway.

As the above paragraphs make it abundantly clear, Farfest 2012’s main target are not fans of progressive rock in its more contemporary incarnations. The event is geared towards the “nostalgia crowd” – those people who think the Seventies will never be equalled in terms of musical output, and who have a personal “bucket list” of bands to see before they throw in the towel for good. Even if one might disagree with this direction, there is no denying that event will be remembered for a long time, and may well provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the ailing US festival scene. It  remains to be seen if a successful response in terms of audience will convince Walker to repeat the event (originally planned as a one-off) in the future.

Patron tickets – which, at $ 350 are rather expensive, though they give access to the best seats, as well as providing financial support to the event, increasing the chance of its survival – have been put on sale in mid-April. General ticket sales will open on May 21 at 10 a.m.. The Grand Opera House has 1,200 seats, so there should be enough room for everyone interested in attending. Farfest 2012 has its own website featuring very thorough information on the event, as well as pages on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which can be accessed from the main site.

Links:
http://www.farfest.com


http://synphonic.8m.com/index.htm

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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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