Author Archives: bradbirzer

Why Neil Peart, Part I

Why Neil Peart?

[Be forewarned, this is a serious essay that leads to an advertisement.  Proceed at your own risk!!!!]

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R40 Tour. Rush in Lincoln.

A year ago, I had the great privilege of reading a fine history of Rush: Robert Freedman’s RUSH: LIFE LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE.  It was a very satisfying read, and, as I finished it, I sighed to myself. . . “I wish I’d written this.”  I don’t think my reaction was one of hubris, but rather one of joy.  I was glad to see Peart taken so seriously at an intellectual level.  All too often, even in a culture that can go utterly ga-ga over the most trivial things, Americans still tend to dismiss rock music as a fad or rock musicians as a low form of artist.

For those of us who love prog and art rock, we cringe at such slights, and yet, in our heart of hearts, we’re kind of glad that we are among the few who know—as almost a secret treasure we possess—that good rock as art most certainly does exist.  Sure, we’ll argue until we’re blue in the face about what makes art good.  But, in the end, we’re somewhat satisfied that we’ve chosen the past least taken.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and I know that much of my life, I’ve been a total music snob.  Sure, being from Kansas, I can do it with manner and a smile, but I’m still a snob.

When the four editors of progarchy and I started this website, we dedicated ourselves to promoting—as widely as possible—the beauty of music in all of its forms.  We’re each music snobs, of course, but we so want to make our snobbery general and widespread.  That is, we’d love to have Big Big Train playing on every rock station across North America.  Rock music is at a crossroads, and we think we can destroy the mediocrity and corporate vanilla the so prevails and gives rock a bad now.  Now, this truly is HUBRIS on our part!

One of the persons I find most intriguing over the last half century is Neil E. Peart.  Whether you agree with his political views or hate them, whether you think he’s a god among drummers or just a guy dealing with his ADHD, you have to give Peart credit for making his own way, no matter the cost and no matter the obstacles.

Just a few nights ago, Rush played their final show of R40.  The chances are pretty good that that show will be the last normal Rush show ever played.  After 41 years of constant success and considered artist endeavors, that’s huge!

Cultural RePercussions cover

[Remember, I warned you above!]

So, why Neil Peart?  Well, I try to answer this very question in NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS.  The biography comes out officially on September 15 from Kevin J. Anderson’s Word Fire Press.  For another 9 days, however, you can get an advanced review copy of the Peart bio for $15 from Humble Bundle.

I’m biased, but I’m really hoping you’ll purchase a copy.  I could explain to you that every time you buy a book, you put food on the table for my huge family.  But, this isn’t quite true.  Still, it would help for the college funds!

Mostly, though, I wrote this book to spread my love of all things Peart.

To be continued. . . .

Advent’s SILENT SENTINEL: A Review

Advent, SILENT SENTINEL (released on August 11, 2015). 

Tracks: In Illo Tempore; On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 1); Voices from California; The Uncharted Path; Reloj de Sol; On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 2); The Silent Sentinel; 12/12; Sentinel’s Reprise: The Exit Interview; Second Thoughts; On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 3); and Romanitas.

Birzer Rating: 10/10

Advent's third album, SILENT SENTINEL.  Out August 11.

Advent’s third album, SILENT SENTINEL. Out August 11.

Without question, this is one of the most interesting releases I’ve heard in a long, long time.  I don’t mean there aren’t or haven’t been other incredible releases in the recent past.  There’s no question that 2015 has turned out to be one of the finest years in the history of prog.  This is high praise, indeed, as the last five or so years have been nothing short of mind-bogglingly good.

By claiming that SILENT SENTINEL is interesting, I mean INTERESTING.  Really interesting.  There’s never a shortage of musicians doing the tried and true, just as there’s never a shortage of musicians trying to do something radically new.  It’s rare that the former last long, and it’s equally rare that the latter can create something of beauty.  The best art is always that which honors the past while making the old palatable to the present.  This is where Advent admirably succeeds.  SILENT SENTINEL is art, pure and simple.  It’s also well-executed and beautiful art.  It honors the past while making something old new.

Over four decades of listening to prog, I’ve never heard anything quite like this new Advent album.  I hear elements of Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, and A LOT of what sounds like Glass Hammer—at least in terms of music composition.  What makes SILENT SENTINEL so fascinating is 1) its vocal lines; and 2) the intersection of its vocals and Glass Hammer like music.

As it turns out, this is Advent’s third album.  I must admit, I thought it was the band’s second.  And, I’m more than a bit embarrassed about this mistake.  I’ve been listening to what I thought was the band’s first, CANTUS FIRMUS, rather lovingly for years.  I’m now eager to get the first album.  My loss, and soon my gain.

Regardless. . . .

If I had to compare this new album to anything on the current music scene, I would definitely name it the cousin of the work of Babb and Schendel, as mentioned above.  But, SILENT SENTINEL not a clone, by any means.  And, I hope this doesn’t turn off any readers, but it must be said.  This is Glass Hammer if someone were writing really artsy and innovative jazz mixed with some really good (not Marty Haugen!) liturgical music.  There’s an element of Hebraic chant, but there’s an even stronger element of Palestrina-like music.  Don’t worry: no one is screaming scripture at you.  The religious element—as far as I can tell (as I don’t have the lyric sheet)—is in the music and vocal lines, not the words.

I’ve said in half-seriousness for several years that CANTUS FIRMUS is Chestertonian prog.  SILENT SENTINEL is more Tolkienian prog.  I could easily imagine this music being sung in the First Age of Beleriand, most likely under the protection of Melian.  It’s Sindarin Elvish, to be sure.

As you can see—even from a cursory glance at the track listing—this is a joy, pure and whole.  There are a lot of themes that repeat throughout the album, and there’s playfulness intermixed with intensity passages of beauty.  The production of the album is especially crisp, with every instrument really shining forth as a part and as a part of a whole.  Really, everything—drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass—sound perfect.  And, it’s clear that the producer and sound engineer gave everything to make this cd work so beautifully.  I have a feeling that no matter how many times I listen to this, I’ll be rewarded with hearing something new.

While there’s nothing half-way done on the album, and I like it all, I’m most drawn to the epic title track, The Silent Sentinel.  I’m not exactly sure what the context of the story is, but the music flows mysteriously and cinematically.  I presume it’s a play on the title of the band, as Advent is a time of watchful waiting.  Thus, the Silent Sentinel is a guard over time as well as space.

Again, I don’t have the lyric sheet, but it sounds like there’s some real Homeric evil happening as well, with the guardian protecting the crossroads of this world and the next.

I really can’t exaggerate or overstate how much SILENT SENTINEL grabs and intrigues me.  It’s the kind of release that makes me not only proud to be a prog fan, but it actually makes me proud to be alive–to live at a time that produces such artists.  This is the equal of Big Big Train and The Tangent in terms of quality, innovation, and beauty.

Progarchists, SILENT SENTINEL is something truly special.   Don’t let this release pass you by.  Pre-order and prepare to be dazzled and downright overwhelmed.

For more information and pre-ordering, make sure to visit Advent’s website: http://www.adventmusic.net

Concert Review: Rush at The Forum – The Final Show

Originally posted on Drew's Reviews:

There will never be another Rush.

This much is true.

The trio hailing from Toronto, Canada closed a large chapter of their 40 year + career to a sold out crowd on Saturday at the Forum in Los Angeles. The final concert of the 40th anniversary tour is quite certainly the last of its kind but whether it is indeed their last of all time only the future knows or at least Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart.

It was another stellar evening with Lee in strong command of his vocals along with a very present bass, Lifeson, ever the virtuoso on guitar, in pristine form, and Peart the professor behind the drum kit. They kept it straight, no extra songs, nothing different than what hasn’t already been played since they embarked on the R40 tour on May 8 in Tulsa, OK.

The final show got “Losing…

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Less Than 3 Hours Left: Pre Order Advent Bundle: SILENT SENTINEL

Order the Silent Sentinel pre-sale bundle

Silent Sentinel cover art
USA
US $20

Canada
US $25

Worldwide
US $29

NOTE: Shipping/handling included in all prices.

LIMITED-TIME OFFER (expires 9 PM EDT on August 1st)

Pre-sale bundle of Advent’s Silent Sentinel album includes:

  1. A copy of the 77.5-minute Silent Sentinel CD
  2. 24-bit/96-kHz audiophile files of the entire album (sent electronically)
  3. An exclusive 29-minute bonus CD-R featuring:
    • Classical guitar duet from “On the Wings of an Ant (verse 2)”
    • Vocals-up mix of “Voices from California” (first half)
    • Vocals-up highlights from the “The Silent Sentinel”
    • Vocals-up highlights from the “Sentinel’s Reprise: The Exit Interview”
    • “Canto XXVI (The Evil Counselors)”
    • “Awaiting the Call …” live at MARPROG

NOTES: Includes early shipment of physical media unless autographs are requested*. Audiophile (24/96) files to be delivered electronically via the Internet on or before date CDs are mailed. The Silent Sentinel album (CD and corresponding 24/96 audiophile files) mastered by Bob Katz at Digital Domain.

http://www.adventmusic.net

Bad Elephant Sampler

My issue of PROG 57 just arrived.  It’s beautiful.  But, especially great is the Bad Elephant sampler CD that came with it.  If possible, make sure you grab the issue while it’s available.

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Riverside’s Beautiful Failure: An Editorial

I hope you’ve all had a chance to read Erik Heter’s excellent review of the new RIVERSIDE album.  From the listens I’ve had of it, LOVE, FEAR, AND THE TIME MACHINE lives up to everything any fan of the band would want and desire.

I agree with Erik’s assessment—as I almost always do!  I have to say, though, that I hope Riverside brings all of its music together.

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Let me try to explain.

One of the things I loved most about the first three albums of Riverside is how well they tied together.  By design, Riverside wrote and produced their first three albums to delve deeply into the soul and mind.  One is never sure if the protagonist of the three albums is insane or trapped in a purgatorial world.  Either way, the emotional flow is nothing short of astounding.  Everything works perfectly on these three albums, and each member of the band is truly a member of a friendship of artists, a meaningful part of a whole.

The live album, REALITY DREAM, is one of the finest concerts ever recorded.  Even the name of the show reveals how much mystery exists in the topic.  The words flow like poetry.

When ADHD came out, I fell in love with it immediately.  It has a much harder edge to it, of course.  In my mind, I saw a huge project.

  • Chapter 1: Out of Myself; Second Life Syndrome; and REM.
  • Interlude: Lunatic Soul I
  • Chapter 2: ADHD
  • Interlude: Lunatic Soul II

The problem, of course, is that the following Riverside releases, SHRINE and LFTM, don’t fit the plan! [Queue Geddy Lee’s voice]

Ok, so it’s my plan.  But, still. . . .

I think Riverside is one of the best of the best.   By simply writing great albums, though, they diminish the chances of achieving rock immortality.  They’ve traded the extraordinary for the good.  Let’s hope they come back to a grand plan and, thus, achieve something divine.

It’s not enough to pump out great albums.  A truly extraordinary band demands a vision of the whole, not merely particulars of the moment.

Today is the Last Day to Purchase the MorseFest 2015 Gold Package

Have you purchased your [Morse]fest VIP Gold Package?
Better act fast!
TODAY is the last day to purchase your VIP!  
 
 
VIP Gold Package includes:
  • Friday & Saturday concert ticket
  • Preferred Seating
  • Meet & Greet Session
  • On-stage pre-show photo op with the band
  • Pre-show surprise game with the band
  • Pre-show dinner
  • And even MORE!
            

 Purchase Here!

At [Morse]fest 2015, long time collaborators Mike Portnoy and Randy George, as well as Neal Morse Band anchors, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette, will join Neal as this group of master musicians perform Neal’s world renowned albums,
? (Question Mark) and

   

Sola Scriptura
This weekend will be filled with Special Guests including
Phil Keaggy, Exclusive VIP Packages, a FREE Inner Circleonly performance, Pre-show dinners, and much more!

Blessings,

Team Radiant

Radiant Records

Agent Fresco – Destrier – Album Review

Originally posted on The Blog of Much Metal:

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Artist: Agent Fresco

Album Title: Destrier

Label: Long Branch Records / SPV

Year Of Release: 2015

My thoughts and feelings towards the musical talent emanating from Iceland are well documented on the Blog Of Much Metal. Indeed, I even wrote an entire commentary on the music from one of my most favourite places on Earth. In that post, which you can access here, I didn’t mention Agent Fresco but that was purely because I was unaware of them at the time. When I wrote the article, Agent Fresco had only released the one album and, despite being very well received, had not registered on my personal radar. However, if I were to re-write the post now, Agent Fresco would feature heavily.

Formed in Reykjavik in 2008, Agent Fresco are a quartet that is comprised of vocalist and composer Arnór Dan Arnarson, drummer Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson, bassist Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson…

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15th Anniversary of Glass Hammer’s CHRONOMETREE

Glass Hammer's Fourth studio album, CHRONOMETREE (2000).

Glass Hammer’s fourth studio album, CHRONOMETREE (2000).

As I look back on the last seventeen years of my life, there are a number of things that amaze me and humble me: marriage; children; career. . . and, well just plain life.

I’m also shocked that an art form I’ve loved for the vast majority of my life–progressive rock–has grown so successful and diverse over the past two decades.

And, the year 2000: SPACE REVOLVER by the Flower Kings; SMPTe by Transatlantic; V by Spock’s Beard.  I’ve had the privilege of writing about each of these albums at some length.  Then, there was also LIGHTBULB SUN by Porcupine Tree and UNIVERSAL MIGRATOR by Ayreon as well.  Really, just pause and think about the year 2000 for a moment.  What a vital year.

One I’ve not noticed yet, however, is another favorite from that rather delightful year of prog, Glass Hammer’s CHRONOMETREE.  I didn’t come to Glass Hammer until 2001, but I quickly went backward in their catalogue.

August 22, 2015, will be the fifteenth anniversary of this astounding work of art.  As some point in the next week or so, I’ll examine it at length.  For now, though, I reached out to my good friend and hero, Steve Babb.  Here’s what he kindly wrote back to me.

I remember my wife and I left town for a week’s vacation and when we returned a lot of Chronometree’s music had already been written by Fred [Schendel]. He wanted it to be an instrumental solo project, but the sound of that Hammond organ and the retro style of the music was such that I insisted we make it a full blown Glass Hammer project with a storyline. We never imagined it would be such a turning point for us. That’s the moment we embraced our roots and we have never truly repented of it. Prog fans couldn’t resist the storyline, as everyone could relate to our character “Tom” and his slacker friends. Chronometree was a prog album about taking prog albums too seriously. We’re all guilty of it. Leave it to Glass Hammer to call attention to that.

I was going to wait and incorporate Steve’s quote into the larger article, but it seems simply too good for me to hold back from our progarchy audience!  So, enjoy.

And, much more to come.

ARC of NEIL PEART Bio is Now Available with Humble Bundle Press

For two weeks only, you can get an advanced review copy of NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS.

Available as an ARC for two weeks only with Humble Bundle.

Available as an ARC for two weeks only with Humble Bundle.

NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS is now available in early form. As an e-book, a part of the Humble Bundle. For two weeks only!

$15 and you get tons of books, including an advanced review copy of the Peart bio.

The final paperback and ebook (all formats) version will be out September 15.

$5.99/ebook
$14.99/paperback

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