Scandinavia: A Giant of Heavy Music – Iceland

Originally posted on The Blog of Much Metal:

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In a slight deviation to what I promised in my introduction, I want to start my more in-depth analysis of the musical strength of the Scandinavian countries with a country that I didn’t initially mention and that, strictly-speaking, is not part of Scandinavia.

Let me explain…

It may not be part of Scandinavia as such, but the country’s history is closely interwoven with their Scandinavian cousins, having been inhabited by the Norsemen well over 1000 years ago. As such, is referred to as one of the ‘Nordic countries’ and therefore, I’m including it in my series. I am, of course, referring to Iceland.

This decision has been brought about thanks to a couple of trips to this magnificent and intriguing country, the last of which was just a few weeks ago. What struck me during both visits, apart from the rugged beauty, the isolation and the tranquillity, was the…

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An Interview with Integrity’s Minstrel: John Bassett the Brilliant

Much to my happiness, I had the chance to talk with John Bassett, Integrity’s Minstrel, about his new solo album, UNEARTH.  UNEARTH has already received a properly enthusiastic reception from the music community.  For good reason.  John is simply brilliant, and every note radiates goodness, creativity, and substance.  For all intents and purposes, John is the Neil Peart of his generation, though with less of a Nietzschean streak than the younger Neil possessed.  So, without further blathering on my part, it’s my honor to present an interview with the mastermind behind Kingbathmat, John Bassett.  As you’ll see, John is as intelligent as he is musically talented.  His insights here speak volumes.

Unearth-Album-Cover

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Progarchy (Brad): John, thanks so much for talking with us.  I know how busy you are.  It’s a great honor to talk with you.  As you know, we progarchists are huge fans of yours.  So, let’s get started.  What is your goal with a solo album? Why do one?

JB: Hi Brad, I’ve got a bucket list of musical projects I want to achieve before I pass into the next world and one of them was an acoustic album, so that is now crossed off my list. I suppose overall, I was attempting to recapture the days when I was first started learning guitar, and writing my first songs. I was astonished to find that I could create tunes out of nothing, it was a revelation to me, an individual, who at that time was quite unconfident, lost and unsure of himself. I would listen back to recorded cassette tapes of those early songs with a sense of pride thinking that there may actually be something that I may be good at after all and that I might not be as I first thought, completely useless. Around that time I became quite infatuated with writing songs and was obsessed with the album “Pet Sounds”. So this is me now, recreating that past frame of mind and musical sensibility with the more modern outlook that I have today.

Kingbathmat OTM

Progarchy: When writing songs, do you come up with lyrics or music first? How does it all come together?

JB: Music always comes first for me. It usually happens in this order, I’ll sit down, in a comfy chair with a tasty beverage, pick up an acoustic guitar and create garbled, wordless vocal melodies over a sequence of chords which sound pleasing to me or emotionally meaningful. The vocal melodies are always very precise and there are usually no words assigned to the tune, lyrics always come later. I don’t know if this is a commonplace procedure for people who write songs but its the way I’ve always done it, especially in regards to vocal melodies. Sometimes when mumbling these incoherent melodies over these chords a word will abruptly spring out of nowhere that fits perfectly with the tune, this happened recently with the song “Comedian” (last track on “Unearth”), the word “comedian” came out of nowhere whilst composing and when this happens I feel obliged to keep that word in the song even if it means I have to change the entire concept of that song so as so to fit that one word into it. Luckily with that word “comedian” it subsequently reminded me of a situation in my childhood from which I then drew on for the rest of the lyrics for that particular song.

Progarchy: Why take the solo album into more acoustic and acid folk?

JB: I never intended for it to have a psychedelic folk slant, but I suppose I just can’t help tinkering with different sounds in the studio. I love acoustic records, there’s something pure, honest and unfiltered about that style and that’s what attracted me to making this album and for the nostalgic reasons already mentioned above.

Progarchy: Any chance you’d make a Kingbathmat album incorporating some of the style of Unearth? Maybe a concept album, alternating between soft and hard styles?

JB: I’m unsure where to go with the next KingBathmat album, I’ve got a concept idea, I’ve also got some instrumental tracks I’m curious to make. I don’t know, there are a few tracks that I’ve started working on. It will probably be more cinematic and more experimental. I do want to take that emotional vibe with “Unearth” and introduce some musical shocks within it. Set up a musical pretext and then flip it around but of course it would have to work musically and not undermine it.

Progarchy: Who are your artistic (music, lit, etc) heroes?

JB: I feel the best artists are those individuals who achieve something worthwhile for themselves and others and yet all the while, retain their original sense of self. Being honest and truthful is all important to me. I don’t like an artist who adopts a facade generated by his over inflated ego, you can see this with numerous successful artists who start to delude themselves. In my opinion, musical artists that have achieved huge success but then also remained true to themselves would include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Frank Zappa and Rory Gallagher, I’m sure there are many others but those are the notorious ones that first spring to my mind. This level of authenticity shines through when you observe them in interviews, there’s seems to be no bullshit with them, and I think it is this attitude that not only endears them now to the public but also enabled them to create brilliant music. Many may have died through drink and drugs, yet artistically, I feel they remained unaffected. So I suppose it is this authenticity element that I admire and would like to emulate from these people.

Sketch of Bassett by the lovely Anne-Catherine de Froidmont.

Sketch of Bassett by the lovely Anne-Catherine de Froidmont.

Progarchy: Anyone currently you’d love to work with?

JB: There’s loads of people I’d like to work with, If I was to start mentioning names this page would turn into an infinite scroll of people that would never unravel. Ideally the best people to work with in a musical sense are those that can do what you can’t do or what you’re lacking in. Someone who has a different musical sensibility to you and therefore can inspire you to think in a different way which then resets your sonic freshness button.

Progarchy: Your lyrics and videos possess both surrealism and biting cultural criticisms? What message, if any, would you like the listener to take?

JB: Well I suppose with this latest album I’m just speaking from my own personal mindset, yes I maybe overly paranoid, and I may have a deep mistrust of authority but I’m hoping that other people will identify with my individual thoughts and emotions, as effectively we are all the same aren’t we? I don’t really have a pre-composed message that is deliberate I’m just literally expressing my thoughts as they come. Fear is a commodity that is openly traded virtually through mediums, I don’t believe it exists in of itself, it’s only created in our minds, but fear can and is placed into our minds by others for means of control through suggestion and the success of that placement of fear is dependent upon their power of influence. Music is a hugely motivational and powerful force that can inspire and influence people, it can remove the obstacles of imposed fear and encourage people to be brave and make a change. Yet popular mainstream music as supplied by the music industry into the millions of homes around the world has never been so uninspiring, worthless and devoid of any true meaning. If there is a message to be taken from popular music today it is that of a uniformly materialistic message to go and buy unnecessary things that will help you inflate your own personal idea of status. It is unbelievable really, the turgid, vacuous, corporate entities that are bandied around and promoted with serious money under the banner of music. This is now considered the norm for mainstream music. I find it hard to believe that this is a natural stagnation that has occurred as some state and rather more so a deliberate removal of an influential and motivational force available to the public, perhaps it is a controlled demolition of music? There is plenty of good music out there, whether its pop, rock whatever, but unless you actively search it out, its not going to find you and your not going to find it. I like this quote that I read last week from a guy called Tim Hall – “Never forget that the majors’ business model is based on keeping the public from hearing music that the majors don’t own” – this I feel is very true, and over the many years I have been doing this, the options for self promotion seem to be decreasing, and if any new avenues appear they are very soon closed off. In some ways its a reflection of the world today where corporations grow bigger, monopolise and restrict individuality, creating an identikit world of mundanity. The only real way for any music that is both created and produced independently to become successful is through people power, word of mouth and endorsements from the public, just as any change in society can only truly be achieved through a collective show of strength. So if you like my songs or any other musicians/bands that self release their own music, please share and tell your friends about them as it means so much.

Progarchy: Thank you so much, John, for your time as well as your insights.  You are the future of prog.

 

PROG, edited by progmaster Jerry Ewing.

PROG, edited by progmaster Jerry Ewing.

You can order John’s solo album through Burning Shed as well as from his own website.  He’s worth supporting!

Progarchy Background 2014 No. 4: All the Pieces

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The Madeira Live: Sonic Cataclysm

Artwork by the incomparable Stephen Blickenstaff. Out on June 14th on Double Crown Records.

Artwork by the incomparable Stephen Blickenstaff. Out on June 14th on Double Crown Records.

Forever Still: World Premiere of “The Last Day” New Official Music Video from @ForeverStillDK

The Last Day” is an excellent song from a very promising new group from Denmark:

********** Forever Still **********

You can find the new video at Beneath the Grid Music.

You can also listen to their debut EP Breaking Free at Bandcamp and even download a song for free.

Maja Schønning is a gifted vocalist who pours everything into her stunning performances.

Supported by the careful craft of top-notch musicians, she is clearly someone to watch.

I am very much looking forward to the LP that she has in the works. The EP is superb.

maja

Like Rush meets Jethro Tull – ‘Resistor’ – ‘to the stars’

I’m bordering on Hyperbole, but blimey the new album from ‘Resistor’ – ‘To the Stars’ is an absolute marvel!

To The Stars

To The Stars

Resistor are an American Rockin’ Progressive Rock outfit from Providence, RI with more than just a little touch of Rush.
The new album ‘To The Stars’ has blown me away this week. I can’t tell you how good this is… so why not find out for yourselves?

Jump straight in with track 4 ‘Train to Tucana’ as way to hear them first. Described as Ian Anderson meets Sergio Leonie! Not far off!

Listen free on Progstreaming -

http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/pages/play-album.php?activeAlbum=00701%20-%20Resistor%20-%20To%20The%20Stars

 

Muse to Start Work on New Album

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According to Mark Kielty of PROG Magazine, Muse is set to start work on their 7th album within the next month.

But the follow-up to 2012′s The 2nd Law isn’t likely to be released until 2015.

Howard tells KROQ: “We’re going to go back in May and start working on some new stuff, so I think we’ll start recording it this year.

“If we can get something out this year that would be great – but definitely next year.

Frontman Matt Bellamy recently said he’d written some “good tracks” for the project and that the trio were aiming to return to a “more basic” sound.

He reported: “We focused on things like synthesizers, drum machines and stuff. On this next album, we’re going to veer back towards musicianship again: guitar, bass and drums. It’s probably going to be a bit of a rawer album, and definitely a bit more rock, I’d say.”

I’m glad they are deciding to steer back towards a more rock sound. It seemed like they were starting to head too far into the pop direction with the 2nd Law. Knowing Muse, the musicianship on the album will be fantastic, as will the ensuing concert. I believe I can safely say that 2015 will be a good year for prog.

Simon Godfrey – Motherland

One of my most exciting musical finds of recent years has been the band ‘Tinyfish’. They have a wonderful Englishness about them, that is reflected in their music and also in the sense of fun and humour that pervades what they do, particularly in their live shows. At the heart of that is their ebullient front-man, Simon Godfrey. Having discovered this brilliant band it came as a great sadness to learn that, following their excellent ‘The Big Red Spark’, there would be a hiatus in the band’s playing and recording together. Thankfully this didn’t mean an end to the music: Godfrey went on to record a kind of ‘techno-prog’ album with Shineback – ‘Rise up Forgotten, Return Destroyed’, and recently he has released his first collection of work under his own name – ‘Motherland’.

Simon Godfrey - Motherland - cover

This is an album of short, simple songs (nothing over six minutes), but strong ones nonetheless: songs that, though simple, display a deceptive complexity. A collection of 11 tracks which total just under 43 minutes, this is song-writing from the heyday of the acoustic troubadours. Although dominated by the acoustic guitar, this collection displays a variety of musical textures accompanied by strong, distinctive and at times quite emotional and emotive vocals. For those familiar with Simon’s earlier work, this collection is, to my ears, more Tinyfish than Shineback.

That said, the album opens with a fresh rendering of a track from the Shineback album, ‘Faultlines’, which for the first minute or so creates an expectation for the album that is soon overturned, with a moody, ambient drone giving way to folky steel guitar. The mood of the songs varies from the thoughtful and slightly melancholic ‘Faultlines’ and the instrumental title track, (with spoken word from Godfrey’s long-time collaborator Robert Ramsay) through the upbeat sequence of ‘Tearing up the Room’, ‘God Help Me If I’m Wrong’ and Tinyfish classic ‘The June Jar’, to the slow, dreamy ballad ‘Sally Won’t Remember’, for me perhaps the most heartfelt song on the album.

From what I have seen and read of Simon Godfrey, he is a man who appears to enjoy life – perhaps more so now that he has secured his visa to enable him to live, work and marry in America; he is one with a great, and at times strange, sense of humour, but who shows here a seriousness and sensitivity alongside his fun side. If this is to be his parting gift to his ‘Motherland’, then it is a fine one.

 

Ian Anderson – Homo Erraticus – New Release

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Ian Anderson’s new album, Homo Erraticus, is out today, according to his website. According to iTunes, it comes out tomorrow. Today, tomorrow, whenever it is, this is a must have album. I have had a chance to listen to it a couple of times over the past few days, and I am thoroughly impressed. Ian Anderson proves, yet again, that he is a master of modern cultural critique. He is not just some old guy playing music. He is clearly aware of the world of today, and he does a masterful job of commenting on it in a humorous way.

I wish I could give you a full review of the album right now, but professors have this strange policy of wanting papers turned in on time. Weird, right? Briefly, the album covers basically all of British history, from Roman times, through today, and predictions for the future. Ian Anderson and company (which is essentially Jethro Tull, just not called that because of the absence of Martin Barre) wonderfully meld together history with cultural critique. I particularly enjoyed the backhanded reference to his son-in-law, who plays the lead role in the hit AMC TV show, Walking Dead.

The line up for the band is the same as it was on Thick as a Brick 2: Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, acoustic guitar), David Goodier (bass), John O’Hara (keyboards and accordion), Florian Opahle (guitar), Scott Hammond (drums), and Ryan O’Donnell (backing vocals). I noticed that they lowered the key of the music, so Ian Anderson sounds a lot better on this album than he did on TAAB2. O’Donnell also provides excellent backing vocals, sometimes singing lead. The instrumentation is amazing, as you would expect from anything produced by Ian Anderson. I am even more astounded by Florian Opahle’s guitar playing. As my friend and fellow progarchist, Connor Mullin, pointed out to me, his style of playing is more akin to King Crimson than it is to Martin Barre. This is not all that surprising considering Opahle toured with Greg Lake before joining Ian Anderson. His playing is simply fantastic.

In the end, Homo Erraticus should certainly be added to any prog rock collection. Ian Anderson has proved that you are never too old to rock and roll.

http://jethrotull.com/ian-andersons-homo-erraticus-now-available-to-pre-order

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/homo-erraticus/id842600703

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ODE TO ECHO: The Confidence of Glass Hammer

[A review of Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO (Sound Resources, 2014).  Please excuse any typos.  I composed this on my ipad while waiting for a very, very delayed flight at the Detroit airport.]

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For Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO means two things. First, and vitally, it’s a reference to a story of antiquity by Heroicus and dealing with the greatest of warriors, Achilles. Second, it’s a tribute to two decades of success as a band.

In every way, this album is packed with brilliance, beauty, and treats around every corner.

One of the most noticeable features of Glass Hammer’s latest, ODE TO ECHO, is its sheer diversity of styles and moods. Having four lead vocalists and three backup ones adds significantly to this, and it provides a wonderful listening experience. Over the course of eight songs, Babb and Schendel provide a journey into the fantastic and mythic. One could never find a dull moment here, even if one tried.

The second most noticeable aspect of the album is its self-assuredness. Progging since the early 1990s and rocking since the early 1980s, Babb and Schendel have every right to be confident. Creating Glass Hammer, a project that has always been self supporting, self sustaining, and impressively profitable, has proven significant not only for the history of American rock but, critically, for third-wave prog overall. These two geniuses emerged on the prog scene at the moment the genre was, almost certainly, at its nadir of popularity and influence. Through immense and never faltering talent, entrepreneurial initiative, and intense tenacity, Glass Hammer has reshaped much of the genre over the past two decades.

In almost every way, ODE TO ECHO, is a tribute and—musically—an autobiographical statement.

A third aspect of the album, and intimately connected to the second aspect, is Glass Hammer’s willingness to innovate as well as to borrow. Many reviewers have criticized the band for being too Yes-like. Babb and Schendel are nothing if not feisty, and such criticisms only fuel their desire to do whatever they want. If they want to reference Yes, they do so. If they want to reference Genesis, they do this as well. If they simply want to try something new, they do this, too! It’s endearing, frankly, contrarian, and very American. Hence, at a few points, this album references Yes from Going for the One as well as Yes from Magnification. At other points, it references Kansas (having David Ragsdale as a guest musician doesn’t hurt!). The Beatles creep in at points, too. Mostly, though, the album reveals the love Babb and Schendel bring to the art of music.

Frankly, I’m relieved Glass Hammer followed up their masterpiece, PERILOUS, with ODE TO ECHO. PERILOUS was so good and so mysterious as well as so profoundly moving that it would be most difficult for any band to follow. By moving away from a single story and embracing diversity of vocals and music styles, Babb and Schendel very successfully create a totally different kind of masterpiece.

While this is probably heresy in some circles, I find Jon Davison’s vocals fine but not glorious. I much prefer, for example, the vocals of a David Longdon, a Leah McHenry, a Sam Healy, a Jan-Henrik Ohme, or a Andy Tillison. Davison’s voice just comes across a little too fey at times. But, Susie Bogdanowicz? Be still my beating heart. She can sing, and she can sing with the absolute best of them. Indeed (and again I’m on possibly heretical ground), her version of Yes’s “South Side of the Sky” is better than the original. That she’s as gorgeous on the outside as she is in her vocals, of course, doesn’t hurt. But, once you’ve heard her vocals, you can’t imagine her as anything other than a truly beautiful person, nearly angelic.

Carl Groves and Walter Moore have much to offer as well, as do the backing vocalists.

No review of this album would be even close to complete without a reference to the actual playing. Babb and Schendel are certainly at their best. Indeed, their vast experience lends itself not to complacency but to the drive to perform better than ever. I have a feeling, these two do nothing half way. If a thing is to be done, it is to be done well. And, indeed, very, very well. I must also note the sonic excellence of the new drummer, Aaron Raulston. Sheesh, I’ve not heard anyone this good since Neil Peart and Nick D’Virgilio. Wow is all I can write. This guy will make his mark in the rock world, to be sure.

2014 has already proven to be a year every bit as good as 2012 and 2013, though we’re only in the fourth month. Whatever you do, do NOT bypass this album. ODE TO ECHO is not just great prog, it’s brilliant and shimmering Glass Hammer. Considering Glass Hammer never does anything that is not at the highest of standards, this is saying something.

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