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Books, Album Covers, and Riverside’s “Love, Fear, and The Time Machine”

It’s often said that one cannot judge a book by its cover. Of course, as someone once reminded me, short of reading the book, the cover is about all upon which it can be judged. An album is the same way – short of hearing it, the cover is one of the few things upon which you can form an opinion. If this seems a bit silly, please bear with me.

Press_Cover_01Of all the genres of music, progressive rock imparts an added importance in the cover art. If you don’t believe me, well go take a look at almost any Yes album cover. For that matter, take a look at the cover of ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery, King Crimson’s In The Court of The Crimson King, or Foxtrot by Genesis. For more recent prog, take a look at any Flower Kings cover, any album from The Tangent, or more generally just about any cover artwork by Ed Unitsky (who is rapidly becoming this generation’s Roger Dean). Of course, a bad cover doesn’t preclude an album from being good, nor does a good cover make up for lackluster music. Still, at least as often as not, in progressive rock the album cover and the music are reflections of one another.

On Riverside’s previous album, Shrine of New Generation Slaves, the music was very reflective of its cover – gray and harsh (do not mistake this for a critique, I very much liked it). Similarly, the cover of Riverside’s latest, Love, Fear and the Time Machine, also reflects the album’s music. The front artwork for Love, Fear and the Time Machine is bracketed with various shades of blue on top and bottom, gradually getting brighter as one progresses toward a band of bright color that cuts across the middle. The brightness is most intense toward the center. While not necessarily a chronological description of the album or any particular song, this is nevertheless a good description of the music as a whole.

Love, Fear and the Time Machine finds Riverside moving into what is for them musically uncharted territory. While parts of the music retain some of their trademark moodiness, if not darkness, there are also parts that convey a very comforting warmth – much like the center of the album cover. This album has a looser, more melodic feel than any previous Riverside release. Some of those who were attracted to Riverside for the metallic aspects of their sound might be disappointed that they seem to have dispensed with those here. Nevertheless, this album still rocks in many places, metal sounds or not. But most of all, it is stunningly good, quite possibly the best Riverside album yet.

Some songs draw on 80’s influences such as The Cure, others draw on 70’s prog influences. That is not to say that these songs are derivative, and in fact they are anything but.   Instead, they take those influences, mold it with their own style, and still manage to come up with something that is uniquely Riverside. And like the best progressive rock out there, this album has a sound that is very identifiable with its creators, and yet it sounds like nothing they have ever done before.

The album opens strongly with Lost, a song which encapsulates my previous comments regarding the cover and the music reflecting one another. Melancholy overtones are punctuated in the latter half of the song by some intensely emotional guitar work by Piotr Grudziński (IMO, one of the absolute best guitarists in the current prog wave). Under the Pillow seems like a three-way hybrid of 70’s and 80’s music combined with current prog.   On the other hand, Addicted has a very strong 80’s sound. Mariusz Duda mentioned The Cure as a musical influence for this album, and it certainly shows through here. Afloat exhibits the most intense and consistent sadness of any song on the album, conveying a sense of regret or remorse and reflecting the darkest blue one the cover. The influence from Duda’s more recent Lunatic Soul projects is strong on Afloat than anywhere else on the album. Meanwhile, Saturate Me is the proggiest track of the bunch, with simultaneous excellence on guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums. Without listing the others, there no bad tracks here, only good ones and great ones.

I have to apologize that his review is somewhat incomplete, as I do not have the lyrics in front of me, and probably will not until my CD copy of the album arrives in early September. Nevertheless, Duda has stated that Love, Fear and the Time Machine is about everything that pushes us to make the most important decisions in our life.” One gets that sense from the opening lyrics of Lost. Still, a full digesting of the lyrics will have to wait.

 In what is shaping up to be another incredible year of progressive rock music, Riverside has returned with one of the best, most emotional, and most satisfying releases of the year. Far from resting on the laurels of their previous accomplishments, Love, Fear, and the Time Machine shows a band evolving, stretching, and pushing their sound in new directions. Still, the basic essence of Riverside remains fully intact.   That is the mark of both a great progressive rock band and a great progressive rock album.

Now, about that Time Machine … do you mind if I borrow it so I can go forward the albuTime Machine Deloreanm’s September 4th release date so I can pick up my CD? I’ll bring it back. Pinky swear.

New Riverside Trailer

Gorgeous.

Review: Lunatic Soul, Walking on a Flashlight Beam

Review of Lunatic Soul, Walking on a Flashlight Beam (Kscope, 2014).

Birzer Rating: (6/10)

WOAFB-coverLet me begin by offering my Mariusz Dudas streetcred. I love Duda’s voice as well as his compositional skills. He possesses a profound sense of flow, allowing his music to move seamlessly from emotion to sentiment to feeling and back again. His voice is the kind that pulls one in, calling for full immersion. I’ve also always appreciated his lyricism, especially given that he’s not a native English speaker. He always seems to know the perfect lyric for the music and the perfect music for the lyric.

For a decade, I’ve been following his work. For a while, I thought I saw a continuity in all of his work: First Three Riverside Albums—Lunatic Soul—ADHD—Lunatic Soul.  Lunatic Soul, beautiful and gorgeous in its own way, seemed the perfect interlude to accompany the drama of Riverside. For better or worse, this scheme has broken down almost completely now, especially after Shrine (Riverside) and Impressions (Lunatic Soul).

For any of you who have heard Riverside or Lunatic Soul (and I assume it’s all of you), you know have very captivating the music is. Walking on a Flashlight Beam is a reviewer’s purgatory. It’s quite good and well worth owning—a must for any fan of Riverside and Lunatic Soul—but it doesn’t captivate in the way that the first two Lunatic Soul albums did or the first four Riverside albums. Duda’s lyrics are as good as always—despite the weird pedestrian title of the album—as is his sense of flow. But, the flaw in this album is that it attempts to make the Lunatic Soul sound fresh by adding in a bizarre mixture of sound effects, many of which sound like old, recycled Depeche Mode noises from the early 80s. It’s not as extreme as, say, U2’s Pop, but it is leaning in that direction. So, a conundrum—all the things that make a Duda album here are great, but the attempt to experiment and innovate sounds false and clunky. Admittedly, Walking on a Flashlight Beam is sounding much less clunky after several listens.

Just to experiment, however, I played the first Lunatic Soul album immediately after listening to the new one. The first made my soul soar. This one made it want to soar, but it merely hovered.

Madness Returns: More From Lunatic Soul

A new release from Lunatic Soul, the solo side-project of Riverside’s Mariusz Duda, is due on 13 October, according to Kscope.

Mariusz regards the 64-minute new album, entitled Walking On A Flashlight Beam, as “dark and intense”, “very melodious” and “one of the best things I’ve ever written” – all of which has my prog salivary glands working overtime.

Here’s a very brief taste of what’s to come…

Four Years Ago Today: Recollections

More reflections from the past.  This one from four years ago today, January 1, 2010.  Still lots of love for Steven Wilson.

***

mobile_pic1A Steven Wilson solo albums can only come out every so often, sadly.  Technically, “Insurgentes” came out at the beginning of 2009.  But, for us Wilson nerds who follow his career way too closely, “Insurgentes” came out in 2008, even only in Wilson’s self-proclaimed hated MP3.  According to my iTunes stats, “Insurgentes” remains my most played cd of this past year.

It was closely followed, again according to my iTunes stats, by Guilt Machine, “On This Perfect Day,” Oceansize, “Frames,” and Riverside, “ADHD.”

Like the cat who adopted us in the summer of 2009 and with whom/which I fell in love, Guilt Machine has been a constant for me since its release in the summer.

There were however, two really, really disappointing CDs.  So disappointing in fact that I’m embarrassed I own them:

  • Dream Theater                      “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”
  • Pure Reason Revolution       “Love Conquers All”

Not sure what either group was thinking in the direction taken.

And, finally, a fun and novel album, but almost assuredly nothing that will stick with me for years to come:

  • Muse                           “The Resistance”

Lyrically, a great album, and moments of absolute musical genius can be found everywhere.  But, excess whimsy mars the album, and everytime I doubted how serious the musicians were about this, I doubted my interest in their project.

 

[Additional note found: “Thus far, 2009 has been bleak.  Dream Theater’s new album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings,” serves as an incoherent exercise in notes chasing notes and embarrassingly written lyrics.  Pure Reason Revolution’s “Amor Vincit Omnia” offers nothing but miserable sexual decadence and ridiculous Euro dance-type music.  The title should’ve been Lust Conquers All, not Love Conquers All.  How this could be the same band that released the captivating “The Dark Third,” I have no idea.”]

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 3)

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2, here is the third and final part of my ‘Best of 2013′ list: positions 5 to 1 in my Top Ten.

(By the way, if you are wondering at the absence of Big Big Train’s magnificent English Electric: Full Power, remember that I am excluding rereleases of older material; without that restriction, it would most certainly be up near the top of my list!)

 

5. Maschine – Rubidium

The debut release from the formerly-dubbed Concrete Lake, featuring two alumni of The Tangent: guitarist Luke Machin and bassist Dan Mash. Be prepared for a rollercoaster ride through a dizzying array of different musical styles as this album jumps effortlessly from prog metal shredding to jazz to salsa (yes, really!) and back again. It’s bonkers, but I love it to bits.

 

4. Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves

A minor change in direction for Poland’s premier prog rockers finds them flirting with more straightforward hard rock, blues and even jazz influences in places, to great effect. The resulting album is more cohesive conceptually than any of their previous work and touches on similar issues to those explored by The Tangent’s latest opus. Disc 2 of the special edition features over 22 minutes of instrumental music quite different in tone from the main album but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

 

3. Sanguine Hum – Weight Of The World

An accomplished follow-up to 2010’s Diving Bell from Joff Winks, Matt Baber & Co. Sanguine Hum’s sound calls to mind Turin Brakes, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, the layered electronica of North Atlantic Oscillation and even Porcupine Tree in their more reflective moments. It’s captivating, however you describe it, and the songs on this album are beautifully constructed. Apparently, the band have two album’s worth of new material already written, which bodes well for the future.

 

2. The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail

The best release yet from the ‘Steely Dan of prog’, offering a more coherent vision than their earlier high points Not As Good As The Book and A Place In The Queue. With music loosely inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring and a thought-provoking, opinion-polarising message regarding the mundanity of the daily grind and our role as wage slaves, this is a progressive tour de force as far as I’m concerned.

 

1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Quite simply, Steven Wilson’s finest work to date. Opting for a live recording approach over meticulous overdubs has paid off handsomely and the music frequently builds to a thrilling intensity as this masterful band of players feed off each others’ energy. It is difficult to pick out highlights from something so consistently brilliant, but Guthrie Govan’s guitar solo in Drive Home really does take the breath away, leaving us wondering how in the name of prog Wilson is going to better this.

2013 – The Pax Progorama

 Image

While “pax” literally translates as peace, people generally use the term “Pax Romana” to refer to a golden age of Imperial Rome.  Well, if that’s the case, then the year 2013 has left no doubt that we are in another golden age for progressive rock.

Now, you will have excuse me a bit for the “Progorama” thing in the title, but that’s the closest thing to alliteration that came to mind.  “Pax Progtopia” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.  There were a few other ideas I had, and none of them were very good … “Pax Progorama” worked the best, ok?  Hyphens added upon request.

The other question is this – do I have the best, most appropriate historical metaphor?  Could the current era be just as well described as a prog renaissance?  Probably.  We could liken the 1970’s as the original Pax Prog-O-Rama … the punk rockers as the barbarians who finally toppled a weakening empire … the 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Dark Ages (with of course, the neo-proggers being the Monks/Byzantines that preserved the flame of Western Civilization) … the rise of the Internet being equivalent to the Gutenberg printing press … and the late-1990’s and beyond representing the Renaissance and the spreading of new ideas, knowledge, and in our case here – art.  Maybe I should go back and rewrite the beginning of this post.  Then again, as Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber says …. naaaaahh (start at the point about where 1:00 minute remains …).

No matter what metaphor you choose, the resulting conclusion is still the same: Anno Domini 2013 was an incredible year for progressive rock, quite possibly the best ever.  I don’t say that lightly.  This year also gives weight to the opinion (mine, anyway) that our current Golden Age of prog has surpassed the previous one – and I don’t say that lightly, either.  The past few years, and 2013 in particular, have been nothing short of an embarrassment of riches for prog lovers.  Just how good was 2013?  Let’s take a look. Read the rest of this entry

Prog 2013 – An Unordered List

Last year was an incredible year for Progressive Music (note: upper case), but in my opinion, 2013 has been even better. Thanks to this community (Progarchy) and the ever-lively Big Big Train Facebook group, I have been exposed to more new prog in 2013 than in any year since the halcyon days of the early 70s. As a result, my wallet has been considerably lightened, but my musical universe has been enriched way beyond mere monetary value.

What follows is a brief review of my top ten purchases in 2013 – albums received for review or borrowed from friends are not included, however much I enjoyed them. The list is alphabetic, as each of these albums is my favourite when I’m listening to it, depending on my mood.

Steven WilsonThe Raven That Refused To Sing: A superb album from start to finish, replete with powerful, hard-rocking passages, beautiful melodies, jazzy interludes, lush arrangements, and oodles of emotion (not something SW is renowned for). Much as I enjoy SW’s guitar playing, I’m delighted that he has handed over most of the guitar work to the incredible Guthrie Govan and stepped back to be more of a musical director – he has always been an excellent songwriter, but I think his compositions have benefitted greatly from this change of focus. I also think this is Wilson’s strongest and most confident vocal performance ever. Of course the rest of the band members are all outstanding, but in particular I love Wilson’s use of Theo Travis’ woodwinds to add an extra dimension that was sometimes lacking in the Porcupine Tree soundscape.

SW

Spock’s BeardBrief Nocturnes and Dreamless SleepI love Nick D’Virgilio’s singing and drumming and was concerned when I heard that he’d left Spock’s Beard, but I needn’t have worried. I thought X was an excellent album, but Brief Nocturnes is even better. Ted Leonard not only brings his powerful and emotive vocal delivery to the band (I think he’s the best vocalist the Beard have had to date), but also his strong compositional skills, which were always evident with Enchant. And Jimmy Keegan is a monster drummer, a worthy full-time successor to the vacated “batterie” stool (he’s been touring with the band for years). Ryo’s keyboard work has also been going from strength to strength since Neal Morse, the uber-controlling force, left the band, while Alan Morse and Dave Meros seem to be even more energised by the injection of new blood into the band. A strong set of songs, powerfully delivered by a great band.

SB

Sanguine HumThe Weight of the World: Sanguine Hum are one of my favourite “new” finds. This Oxford-based band deliver layered and beautifully structured compositions with plenty of dynamics, which never fail to surprise and delight. One reviewer described their approach as “polymath”, but I think this may give the wrong impression – while their music is precise, it is never clinical, and while complex, it is never complicated for the sake of it. Although I slightly prefer their first album, “Diving Bell”, “Weight of the World” is an excellent album that gets repeated listening, and will continue to do so.

SH

RiversideShrine of New Generation Slaves: “SoNGS”, to my ears, is the best Riverside album since their impressive debut “Out Of Myself” in 2004. With greater emphasis on songwriting rather than thrash, and more varied textures that their last few albums, this album is imminently listenable, apart from the rather tiresome first few minutes of the opening song, which seems to stutter along for ages before it gets going. Mariusz Duda’s side project, Lunatic Soul, is definitely bleeding back into Riverside, which I’m delighted about. More, please Mariusz…

Riverside

HakenThe Mountain: For me, the find of the year. Two months go I’d never heard of this band, but now I have all three of their albums and can’t stop listening to them. “The Mountain” is a real tour de force, with light and shade, strong melodies, excellent harmonies, tight ensemble playing and impressive pyrotechnics that are just right in context of each song, when they explode. I think their “Gentle Giant” moment (The Cockroach King) is one of the finest since the great band themselves were performing – far better than Spock’s Beard’s efforts (which are nevertheless uniformly good), and rivalling Kevin Gilbert’s genius in his “Suit Canon”. This band has everything (except a permanent bass player – sad that I’m living on the wrong continent, too old and simply not talented enough to audition for the post… !). Great album, and great band with a stellar future.

Haken

CosmografThe Man Left In Space: I’m a sucker for good sci-fi – combine it with superb songwriting and musicianship from wide range of musicians and I’m in there, lead boots, space suit and all. The first time I heard this album, I thought some of the the interludes caused the album to lose momentum musically, but repeated listening has completely dispelled that impression. I now think this is a beautifully balanced album, lyrically and musically, and I’m really looking forward to the next Cosmograf album (which is always a good sign).

cosmograf

Big Big TrainEnglish Electric Full Power: “English Electric”, parts 1 and 2, were already two of my all-time favourite albums, but the combined and expanded package, “Full Power”, has raised the bar even higher. I have already written full reviews of the individual albums (here on Progarchy and elsewhere), so suffice to say that the re-ordering of the songs and the additional material has created one of the most satisfying listening experiences I’ve had since I first became “aware” of music. Brilliant songwriting, meaningful lyrics, exemplary delivery, superb, lush production. And of course, there’s also the magnificent packaging…

BBT

AyreonThe Theory of Everything: Two adjectives often associated with Ayreon are “bombastic” and “overblown”, but I prefer to use adjectives such as “majestic” and “melodic”. Arjen Lucassen has more musical ideas than is reasonable for any single human being, and he seems to be a helluva nice guy as well. “The Theory of Everything” is his best work, including side projects, since “The Human Equation”, which was my first encounter with his music and still my favourite. However, I’ve only had TTOE for two weeks, and already it is threatening to nudge THE aside. With a stellar cast of musicians and singers, including major prog alumni John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess and Steve Hackett, he’s created another intense epic work that soars and delights, while examining the very human themes of genius, deception, ambition, pride and love. As a scientist, I also appreciate the recurring symbol of the lighthouse, representing intellect and science casting illumination through the gloom. Brilliant album.

ayreon

The AristocratsCulture Clash: This band has literally blown my socks off (it’s OK, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, so I’m not too uncomfortable). I bought the “Boing! We’ll Do It Live” DVD earlier this year, and was mesmerised by the incredible technical abilities of the three musicians, Govan Guthrie (guitar), Marco Minnemann (drums) and Bryan Beller (bass). But this is not just a musical show-off band – not only do they write splendid (instrumental) music that crosses a vast range of genres (truly Progressive), but their obvious enjoyment of the music, and each other, is completely infectious. “Culture Clash”, their second album, sees them settling into their relationships and interactions, and writing music specifically for each other – and it’s a sheer delight. Want more!

aristocrats

Antione FafardOccultus Tramatis: I get to listen to a lot of new music while I’m working, putting science textbooks together. Much of it tends to slip by me while I’m concentrating on the work, but every now and then an album wrests my attention from whatever I’m doing and forces me to focus on the music. “Occultus Tramatis” was one of those albums. Canadian bassist Antione Fafard has put together a star-studded cast of jazz, jazz-fusion and progressive rock performers including Jerry Goodman and drummers Simon Phillips, Chad Wackerman, Terry Bozzio and Gavin Harrison, and produced an outstanding album of prog fusion, which despite its musical complexity and ever changing time signatures is nevertheless fresh and rewarding, revealing different possibilities every time you listen to it. Each track has its own feel, with changes of pace, a variety of complex rhythms and contrasting instrumental arrangements, but the album still still has an organic flow. I listened to my review copy twice straight through, and immediately ordered the CD. Challenging, but excellent.

af

Honourable mention:
Thieves’ Kitchen – One For Sorrow, Two For Joy: I marginally prefer The Water Road, but this is a strong collection of jazzy prog songs.

Roy Harper – Man and Myth: Powerful, emotional work.

The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose: Their darkest album to date, but a real return to form. May have made it into my top 10 if it had arrived earlier.

Amplifier – Echo Street: Gorgeous guitar-based, atmospheric music.

Airbag – The Greatest Show On Earth: Only arrived last week. Excellent album that is rapidly growing on me.

Notable omission:
Lifesigns: This is a strange one for me. I really like the instrumental work, but some of the compositions seem to meander for long periods. And I can’t get into the vocals – the delivery seems flat and unidimensional to me. Sorry.

Not considered (see above, but added to my wish list):
Comedy of Errors – Fanfare & Fantasy
Days Between Stations – In Extremis
Dream Theater – Dream Theater
KingBathmat – Overcoming the Monster
Levin Minnemann Rudess – LMR
Magenta – The Twenty Seven Club
Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 1
Persona Grata – Reaching Places High Above
PFM – Da Mozart A Celebration
Shadow Circus – On A Dark and Stormy Night
Sound of Contact – Dimensionaut
The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
TesseracT – Altered State
Verbal Delirium – From The Small Hours of Weakness
Von Hertzen Brothers – Nine Lives

Verdict:
So much to listen to, so little time.  Prog has never been healthier.

Craig Farham/faroutsider

The Best of 2013 (IMHO)

What a bountiful year 2013 has been for good music. All the albums on my Best Of list are destined to become classics, I’m sure!  So, let’s count them down, all the way to Number 1:

TesseracT11. TesseracT: Altered State. I’ll kick the list off with the most unabashedly heavy album, but one that has grown on me over the past few months. Ashe O’Hara is a terrific vocalist, and the band lays down a multilayered bed of crunching guitars, drums, and bass for him to soar over. The songs are divided into four groups, “Of Matter”, “Of Mind”, “Of Reality”, and “Of Energy”.  These guys know their mathematics, as well! One of the songs is “Calabi-Yau”, and the artwork includes the E8 Root System, a hypercube, and an Apollonian sphere. Best track: “Nocturne” (Check out the moment of transcendence at 3:14) –

RiversideSONGS10. Riverside: Shrine of New Generation Slaves. Mariusz Duda’s side project, Lunatic Soul, has had a pronounced effect on Riverside’s music, and that’s all to the good, in my opinion. SoNGS is more melodic and varied than anything they’ve produced so far, and even though it came out early in 2013, it still stays close to my sound system. Go for the two-disc set, which adds two extended tracks that flirt with ambient jazz. Best track: “Feel Like Falling” –

Raven That Refused to Sing9. Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing. Very few artists push themselves as hard as Steven Wilson, and TRTRTS is another leap forward for him. I’m thinking at this point he’s left the world of prog, and he is his own genre. Not everything works – “Luminol” is too much Yes-jams-with-Herbie-Hancock for my taste, but when he clicks, no one comes close. Best track: the achingly beautiful “The Raven That Refused To Sing” –

Full POwer8. Big Big Train: English Electric: Full Power. Much has been written on this site about the sheer wonderfulness of this collection. The care that went into the accompanying booklet is a joy to behold. The resequencing of songs works well, and the new opener “Come On Make Some Noise” is as fun as a classic Badfinger single from the 70’s. I’m a Tennessee boy, but I could easily spend the rest of my days in the pastoral Albion depicted in BBT’s Full Power. Best Track: “Uncle Jack” –

Cosmograf TMLIS7. Cosmograf: The Man Left In Space. A sci-fi concept album about the dangers of all-consuming ambition and the isolation that results, this is a very satisfying album both musically and lyrically. One of the most-played discs of the year in my household. Best track: “Aspire Achieve” –

Ayreon TTOE6. Ayreon: The Theory Of Everything. A recent release, so I haven’t had a chance to fully absorb this sprawling work. Arjen Lucassen is the Verdi of progressive rock, composing magnificent operas that explore what it means to be human in today’s dehumanizing times. For TTOE, Lucassen gathered the most talented roster of musicians and vocalists yet – including John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess, and Steve Hackett. The story itself leaves behind the sci-fi thread that previous Ayreon albums followed to chronicle the travails of a small group of family and colleagues torn apart by autism, deception, envy, academic ambition, and pride. Throw in a dash of the supernatural, and this is a very thought-provoking work. Best track: “Magnetism” –

And now it’s time for the Top Five!

Kingbathmat OTM5. Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster. This band has been very prolific lately, releasing Truth Button and Overcoming the Monster in a matter of months. OTM is a fantastic set of songs about the different “monsters” we all encounter in our day to day lives. Most impressive of all, Kingbathmat have developed a truly unique sound that is accessible yet new. I can’t wait to hear the next iteration of it. Best track: “Kubrick Moon” –

Sound Of Contact4. Sound Of Contact: Dimensionaut. I’m sure SoC’s vocalist and drummer Simon Collins is tired of comparisons to Genesis (he’s Phil’s son), but that is what first strikes the hearer of this outstanding album. Fortunately, repeated listening reveals SoC’s extraordinary talent in their own right. The songs themselves are perfectly constructed gems, and the production is top-notch. The band moves effortlessly from straight pop (“Not Coming Down”) to the most complex prog epic (“Mobius Strip”). Best track: “Pale Blue Dot” –

days between stations3. Days Between Stations: In Extremis. I’ve already written a full review of this immensely rewarding album in an earlier Progarchy post. Suffice it to say that this is already a classic. And Sepand Samzadeh is one of the nicest guys in the prog world! Best track: “Eggshell Man” –

Sanguine Hum2. Sanguine Hum: The Weight of the World. If XTC and Jellyfish had a child, Sanguine Hum might be it (with Frank Zappa for a godfather). This album is simply a delight to listen to, from start to finish. It’s one that reveals new details, regardless of how many times you hear it. Their secret weapon is Andrew Booker on drums. Reminiscent of Stewart Copeland’s work with The Police, Booker has a light and inventive touch that often becomes the lead instrument. The entire band generates an organic sound that is seductive and playful. Best track: “The Weight of the World” –

Album of the Year 

Haken1. Haken: The Mountain. Until a couple of months ago, I had never heard a note by this band. Fast forward to now, and there hasn’t been a 48-hour period when I haven’t listened to this album, in its entirety, at least once. An extraordinary meditation on the importance of never giving up on overcoming obstacles, The Mountain is a deeply moving work. Musically, it is progressive metal in the same vein as Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, and even Rush. Every single song is indispensable, but if I had to pick one, it would be “Pareidolia” –

Well, reader, thanks for hanging in there to the bitter end. I hope I’ve affirmed some of your own opinions and perhaps piqued some interest in an artist or two you’re not aware of yet. Here’s hoping 2014 is as good as 2013!

The Perfect Storm: Riverside at the O2 Academy, Islington, London on Thursday 14th March 2013

To paraphrase Wikipedia…a “perfect storm” is a term that can be described as a confluence of different related phenomena that combine to create what can be referred to as the “perfect situation” to generate an event (its first use was allegedly to describe a ‘perfect storm’ of applause).

And yes, things came together pretty nicely on Thursday night.

I have to admit I was a reluctant attendee, not because I don’t like Riverside, far from it. Unfortunately I had undergone a seriously bad day at work, leading to the cancellation of my holiday booked for the next day :(  I also had a dose of ‘man-flu’. So I didn’t feel that inclined to trudge for an hour plus up to Islington; drink gratuitously (polish vodka maybe?) and get home well after midnight.

Things started getting better as travel connections were good and we (Nigel and I) managed to get to the venue fairly early and caught half of the set of the first of the three bands, Dianoya. Hailing from Poland, like Riverside, they were an engaging and enthusiastic Progressive Metal band and, as the set continued, there were various appreciative nods from some of the ‘older’ members of the audience (me included).

I have always liked the Academy, quite small but never a crush. Even a shorty like me can usually get quite close and get a good view. The acoustics are impressive which is important for an audiophile like me. The bar(s) are very ‘adjacent’ and I like the industrial ‘feel’…the ceiling is full of open girders and ducts; wires and lights. It’s a pretty ‘hip’ place and is used as a late night disco for the ‘younger’ folks after all we oldies are tucked up in our beds. At this point I should also name in dispatches the lighting crew, who added to the ambience considerably with a subtle yet creative lighting display.

Two pain killers taken earlier followed by the quick sloshing down of an (incredibly expensive) pint of lager had given me a renewed vigour. And there was not much waiting required for the second act, Jolly, who herald from the great New York City. They produced a powerful cocktail of heavy, experimental, art rock characterised by slow openings, fast bass lines and high quality guitar playing. They aroused my curiosity and I was quite intrigued to find out more. But please forgive me when I say their Facebook band profile is a load of pretentious twaddle; either that or it’s a very long-winded ‘p*ss take in Spinal Tap style. Nevertheless a strong support act.

A move towards the back (to meet another friend) put me in the perfect listening position, at the apex of the classic ‘audio-triangle’, as Riverside took the stage. This Polish progressive rock band led by the virtuoso bassist and singer, Mariusz Duda, have just released their new album, ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (SONGS),  intelligently reviewed recently by my fellow Progarchists, Nick and Erik here:

http://progarchy.com/2013/01/26/riverside-shrine/

http://progarchy.com/2013/02/15/self-imposed-slavery-riversides-shrine-of-new-generation-slaves/

The band has been gaining popularity following their critically acclaimed 4th album, Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD) released in 2009. Having gradually veered towards a more classic rock sound from their predominantly metal roots, Riverside have been compared with both Tool and Porcupine Tree. Lyrically far less disturbing than Tool they still retain a heavy guitar riff style and the inclusion of powerful keyboards and potent bass lines give the band an added depth, complexity and uniqueness to their sound.

Mariusz Duda at the O2 Islington

Mariusz Duda at the O2 Islington

Tonight’s set focussed on the new album and ADHD.

Having just been to one of my Top 10 gigs of all time (Steve Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall, London), how lucky I was to see another band at the peak of their powers.  Displaying outstanding musicianship; exemplary timing and an almost telepathic understanding, Riverside are seriously talented. Understated guitar (from a scary looking lead!); extraordinary depth to the keyboards; complex bass patterns weaved by spider-like hands and beautifully sympathetic drumming. Virtually faultless, the only (small) downside was Mariusz’s voice, slightly let down by the flu (I read subsequently that their Sheffield gig the next day had to be cancelled).

There was no showboating; no unnecessary solos; no ego trips displayed. Professional to the last, Riverside were clearly enjoying their evening and showed a genuine desire to engage the audience. And this was reciprocated. How refreshing to see people of all ages. And clearly popular in their home country with plenty of London’s Polish community turning up. Riverside have clearly broken down that difficult barrier that exists for so many Progressive Rock bands…this is not just music for follicly challenged over 50s.

Having been impressed with their last 4 releases, I can say, indubitably, that they sound better live than on record, delivering an electrifying power that is beyond a recorded medium.

Great gigs are not just about the band, they are about the whole experience…the audience; the venue; the lighting; the acoustics.; the beer, absolutely everything ! All these factors combined beautifully to create the ‘Perfect Storm’ and at £19 a ticket it was a steal.

To those interested here is the set-list, with my highlights being tracks 2, 4 and 8:

New Generation Slave – SONGS

The Depth of Self Delusion – SONGS

Feel Like Falling – SONGS

Driven to Destruction – ADHD

Living in the Past – Memories in My Head

We Got Used to Us – SONGS

Egoist Hedonist – ADHD

Escalator Shrine – SONGS

Encores:

Left Out – ADHD

Conceiving You – Second Life Syndrome

Lucid Dream IV – Rapid Eye Movement

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