Album Review: The Winery Dogs — III

They say the third time’s the charm. But the third album from The Winery Dogs is more than just charmed, because we have already heard undeniable magic on their first two albums. This time, however, we witness a truly jaw-dropping breakthrough.

What is worth noting here is that we have been given a solid album with ten songs that strongly lock together. They flow inexorably, as the coherent whole of what I believe will eventually be recognized as a classic album, one even better than the merely rave reviews it has already been getting. Its magnificence gets more and more impressive with each further listen.

On previous releases, I found myself picking out favorite songs. The range of the band’s material was stunning, and while all of it was impressive, there were still standout tracks that clearly rose above the rest. On the debut, for me those were: “Elevate,” “I’m No Angel,” “Not Hopeless,” and “Regret.” On Hot Streak, they were: “The Bridge,” “War Machine,” “Devil You Know,” and “The Lamb.”

But on this release, rather than pick favorite songs, I can only pick out favorite moments within the songs. Because every track is a standout, I love them all, and I cherish those detailed special moments that each one of them contain for the dedicated listener.

“Xanadu” and “Mad World” were the two pre-release singles, which led us to expect more of the same Winery Dogs virtuosity from their earlier albums. Their magical ability is to bring Richie Kotzen’s guitar and Billy Sheehan’s bass and Mike Portnoy’s drums together in astonishing acrobatic coordination, a higher realm of musical motion which only the true greats can access, like Alex and Geddy and Neil on “Free Will.”

Yet while we get more of such magic, we also get interesting new details on this album, like the startling jazz chords in “Mad World” or the unusually intriguing lyrics to “Xanadu” which shift and change even with the musical repetitions of the chorus. Kotzen’s impassioned vocals seem to be taking an accusation (living clueless in Xanadu/Malibu) and flipping the accusation around as a badge of honor to be worn, as Kotzen makes it clear he (and the band) doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

With that declaration of independence, and with their secession from the world’s madness, The Winery Dogs then shift direction and reveal the first two tracks to have been something of a head fake. “Breakthrough” seems to me like the kind of killer radio-friendly track that a record company would demand as the first single. But, as track three, it comes as an unexpected twist after the clever “business as usual” first two tracks.

With this twist, the album launches into the upper echelons of the most classic of classic rock territory. The punchy power chords of the chorus invite air guitar participation. Both the riff and the vocal phrasings unexpectedly remind me of Saturation-era Urge Overkill, which I found to be a delightful and obscure surprise.

“Rise” astonishes with its complexity and soulfulness, as the band continues it third-album ascent, now conducting cakewalk “business as unusual.”

But it’s “Stars” that veers off into truly delightful prog territory. Sheehan supplies a steady bass pulse for Portnoy and Kotzen to go completely bonkers around. Kotzen demonstrates beyond all doubt that he is one of the greatest of all time on this track, because his guitar solo lasts for a minute and forty seconds of such insane, imaginative, and inventive sounds that it’s unbelievable. The song enfolds all this into such a satisfying and catchy groove, it marks an outstanding conclusion to a staggeringly impressive Side A.

But the album’s B-side is astonishingly equal in achievement to the A side. The kickoff, “The Vengeance,” has one of those cathartic Kotzen vocals (like “Regret” or “The Lamb”) whose emotions are equalled by the intelligence of the lyrics (which wisely affirm that it is the weak, not the strong, who need revenge).

This track illustrates well my thesis about each album track having additional small but memorable details: here, it is the helicopter-like synth-sounding pattern which leads into each chorus, and I call it “synth-sounding” because it somehow bleeds into what sounds like a guitar. It’s a truly magical transformation, and such a thrilling little detail, yet I have no idea how it is done, but it excites the listener to no end each time it is heard.

As if that were not enough, “The Vengeance” also has more Urge Overkill overtones, with those little “ooh ooh ooh” background vocals that remind me of the musical positivity of “Positive Bleeding.”

“Pharaoh” levels the listener with a heavy riff that knows just when to hold back and also just when to smash, all while Portnoy builds pyramids with massive slabs of pounding drums.

And then there’s no respite, as the following track, “Gaslight,” delivers a musical imitation of a gaslighting assault of craziness. Its boogie blitz comes charging out of the gate with more notes per second than the human mind can possibly count. All you can do is try and shake your tail feather to keep up.

Perfectly timed for breath-catching, “Lorelei” is a slow, bluesy 6/8 waltz. It’s the type of song that would function for a lesser band as a filler cool-down track at album’s end. But for The Winery Dogs, this become merely the penultimate track, and yet another one that they use to confound listener expectations.

Sometimes nothing is more boring than a blues guitar solo, but Kotzen convinces us that we have not heard it all before, as he plays his solo lines with such feeling that we find ourselves amazed. Not only that, when he sings on the chorus, he soulfully adopts such unusual phrasing that I am reminded of Steve Perry 80s Journey. The song unexpectedly wormholes me on a journey into a magic world of nostalgic teenage school dance waltzes.

The epic final track, “The Red Wine,” begins by seeming to deliver on the promise of the album opener’s Rush-word: “Xanadu.” For the first eighteen seconds, “The Red Wine” sounds like classic Rush. I did a double-take the first time I heard those bars, and had to look again at the song name, which for those moments I thought was actually: “The Red Star.”

But after those opening flourishes, “The Red Wine” makes an abrupt stage-left turn and turns into a funky and groovy dance-along track, replete with a sing-along “party time” chorus. We even get a verse imagining senior citizens playing air guitar with their canes, as the whole world falls under the spell of The Winery Dogs’ live music.

Happily, the track ends back in Rush mode, as the camera pans up (or so I imagine) from the outside dance party, up past the patio lanterns, and then ascends into the stars as the band turns again into the Rush of the opening half-minute. We get a mellow cosmic cool-down to end the album, as the band invokes the atmospherics, yes you guessed it, of Rush’s classic “Xanadu” mood. Billy’s bass is the last one sucked into the Cygnus X-1 black hole, but it beams back a cosmic echo, advising you to buy this album and find your way to the Dogs’ dance party.

Confounding the cynics, Kotzen and Sheehan and Portnoy are clearly not just a super-group of super noodlers. With this album, they demonstrate they are one of the greatest bands to have ever rocked the Earth. With III, they leave their paw print in the pavement, preserved for all time, in the pantheon of the Rock of Fame.

Crown Lands — Starlifter: Fearless, Part 2

Crown Lands last thrilled us with a studio release in 2021, the White Buffalo EP, which included the stunning 13-minute epic, “The Oracle.”

Coming hot on the heels of the release of their undisguised Rush tribute, “Context: Fearless, Part 1,” it was yet another powerful announcement from this ambitious duo that they intended to boldly go where Rush could go no more.

Think of it as Rush: The Next Generation.

But are you ready now for these two musical ambassadors from Canada to engage you at warp speed?

Because that’s the significance of their new digital release today, the 18-minute plus track, “Starlifter, Part 2.”

The Rush allusions continue, not least with the subtitle: “Fearless, Part x,” which obviously invokes the “Fear” epic that Rush unveiled over four album releases.

Clearly, Crown Lands intends to unroll their long-form musical adventures in likeminded serial fashion, thereby leveraging the potential of digital age music delivery.

The composition itself is of the highest musical quality, and their performance of “Starlifter” calls to mind everything wonderful about Rush, including the intricate sci-fi storytelling.

Yet “Starlifter” should not be judged to be simply an exercise in nostalgia. Rather, it is the maintenance of a sacred trust, a carrying forth of a musical legacy that continues to be nothing short of inspirational.

You have it hear it. Take my word. It’ll be the best dollar you ever spend on a song download, so don’t hesitate to nab it today.

But feel free to listen for free below, if you are at all skeptical. Trust me, you will become a believer in TNG prog.

It’s truly a glorious epic, which I shall not hesitate to pronounce the Crown Lands career equivalent of a 2112-like milestone.

Chapter 1. Overture

It’s been three hundred years…

Chapter 2. Begin Transmission

The Oracle was right. I found what I sought, but at what cost?

Chapter 3. Fearless Awakens

To our doom… I am Fearless.

Chapter 4. Departure

The sentinels watch below… maybe there is a way to learn their patterns and slip in undetected?

Chapter 5. The Journey

I’m deep in the labyrinthian bowels of the ship now, and it’s clear there’s no going back.

Chapter 6. Interfacing the Machine

An unholy bio-mechanical mass of wires, knobs.. A conscious machine?

Chapter 7. Requiem

All systems operational. We awaken and are now as one. Not Man or machine. The singularity.

Chapter 8. The Battle of Starlifter

Computational error. An oversight. Catastrophe.

Chapter 9. Event Horizon

The black hole now looms overhead, promising to destroy us all.

IF LIFE IS A WHEEL…

Album Review – The Aaron Clift Experiment – “The Age of Misinformation”

The Aaron Clift Experiment, The Age of Misinformation, 2023
Tracks: The Age of Misinformation (4:57), L.I.A.R. (5:14), Bet on Zero (10:43), Dark Secrets (3:35), Rise (5:55), The Color of Flight (5:45), Málaga (4:49), Weight of the World (5:47)
Players: Aaron Clift (vocals and keyboards), Anthony Basini (guitar), Clif Warren (bass), Pablo Ranlett-López (drums and percussion)

The Aaron Clift Experiment has gradually built themselves a solid following and growing respect in the prog world since their debut in 2012. The Austin-Texas proggers now have four studio albums and two live EPs under their belt.

On The Age of Misinformation, there are some glimpses of Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, 80s Rush, and Southern Empire. There are a variety of styles on the album, from heavy protest rock (“The Age of Misinformation”) to jazz fusion-ey rock (“Bet on Zero”).

The political nature of the opening track is a little in your face, which jarred me a bit at first, but the album pretty quickly settles down, and the melodies and musicianship promptly overrode my initial misgivings. It also helped to realize this record is more of a response to the overall experience of the last few years, rather than a political screed. I guess I’ve been so shaken by the same sorts of things the band is singing about that I’ve come to be repelled by any mention of it! Ha. But in the end, music is probably the best way to deal with these sorts of emotions. And what better way to do it than with a blend of hard rock, jazz, drum solos, and big band horns?

Oh yeah, did I mention there’s a drum solo on “Bet on Zero”? I can’t remember the last time I heard an extended drum solo on a new studio album. Great to hear. It reminded me a bit of Jethro Tull. In fact, musically the band reminds me a lot of Tull. Not because they necessarily sound just like Tull, but because they have that same approach of “we’ll try anything” to making music. There are lots of sounds used to wonderful effect. And lyrically they aren’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects, a fear Ian Anderson also has never had.

“The Color of Flight” is a quieter track with dense layering. Simple percussion, layered keyboards, violin. It’s a nice break from the heavier rock found on much of the rest of the album. “Málaga” has a strong Porcupine Tree influence, with a steady beat and keyboard atmospherics.

The variety on the record keeps this one interesting throughout. The album is under 50 minutes, but the different sounds and styles takes the listener on an exciting journey. The production value is high on the album, along with a very clear mix. The melodies and vocal lines are backed by intelligently placed guitar lines and backing instrumentation like the horns and violins. The result is very polished, making The Age of Misinformation certainly worth checking out.

https://www.aaronclift.com
https://theaaroncliftexperiment.bandcamp.com/album/the-age-of-misinformation
https://www.facebook.com/AaronCliftMusic/

Rick’s Quick Takes for January

Starting out with a burner from 2022 that just arrived due to the ongoing vagaries of overseas shipping: Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad connects with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra for the conceptual Maternity Beat. As on her previous collaborative jazz-rock projects Ekhidna and Tempest Revisited, Mollestad’s writing runs the gamut, from thrusting dash through tribal fusion getdowns and chamber interplay to a glorious finale that ratchets up to a blazing climax. And her playing is as creative and involving as ever, ranging from the gutbucket blues and skronky feedback of “Do Re Mi Ma Ma” to the gliding, Jeff Beck-ish boogie of “All Flights Cancelled” and beyond. Another winner from this impressive musician that grows more immersive the more you listen.

Even with his relocation from New York City to Toledo, Spain this year, impresario Leonardo Pavkovic has kept MoonJune Records churning out first rate albums that consistently ride the cutting edge of possible musics. In the most recent batch of MoonJune releases, Sonar guitarist Stephan Thelen returns with Fractal Guitar 3, another winning album of intriguing compositions that create harmony and structure via the interaction of cyclic time and minimalist melodies; touch guitarist Markus Reuter teams with multi-instrumentalist Tim Motzer and drummer Kenny Growhoski for Bleed, a bold, grungy set of abstract pieces drawn from free improvisation; Anchor & Burden (Reuter’s “European supergroup” featuring drummer extraordinaire Asaf Sirkis) weighs in with Kosmonautik Pilgrimage, monumentally turbulent full improv with Lovecraftian artwork and titles to match its swirling, heavy vibe; and Duo Atanatovski (a Slovenian father and son on guitar/cello and winds) team with a rhythm section for the radiant Liberté Toujours, an album of soaring, propulsive jazz that I guarantee will lift your spirits. The best way to catch all the action on MoonJune is a yearly subscription at Bandcamp.

On a whim (admittedly nudged by a recommendation from allmusic.com), I checked out Guided by Voices’ brand new La La Land and was instantly captivated. The brainchild and main musical vehicle of Dayton Ohio guitarist and singer Robert Pollard, the band is known for its insanely prolific output (the current lineup has released 14 albums in the last 5 years), slamming home musical earworms laced with whimsical, elusive lyrics aplenty in a devil-may-care blend of the British invasion, low-fi punk-pop and just the right amount of psych-prog garnish. In the past, GbV’s releases lacked a certain quality control, but recent albums seem to be all killer, no filler: here the air-tight riffs lodge directly in your pleasure centers; Pollard reels off irresistible chorus after irresistible chorus in a delightfully mannered, indeterminate accent; and expansive efforts like the pretty acoustic tune “Queen of Spaces” and the off-kilter, multi-part build of “Slowly On the Wheel” offset the short, sharp shocks of the opening “Another Day to Heal” and the Beatlesque “Ballroom Etiquette”. Well worth exploring, but mind stepping too far into the whirlpool …

I’ve got to agree with Bryan that Riverside’s latest, ID.Entity, is a strong contender for “best of the year” status, even this early in the game. This is hooky, hard art-rock (metallic around the edges) with a compelling sense of ebb and flow — not to mention plenty of high-power guitar and keyboard heroics. What makes the blend especially savory here is Mariusz Duda’s vocals; wistfully edgy, drily sardonic and bluntly dismissive by turns, his melancholy meditations on a divided world with no place left to hide grab and shake you, whether you want to see the pictures he’s painting or not. Definitely up to Progarchy’s favorite Polish proggers’ high standards, with the potential to rope in fans of a recent vintage — like me — as well. (Need to catch up on Duda and company? The 2021 online compilation 20 – The Shorts and the Longs might be your ticket.)

Always ready to bring a bit of reconfigured retro flash into here and now, Andy Tillison has opened wide The Tangent’s vaults for an old-school “triple-live” album, Pyramids, Stars and Other Stories. The release kicks off with a soul-stirring 2004 set, as the original lineup (including Roine Stolt) powers through early classics like “The World That We Drive Through” and “The Music That Died Alone”. Add a substantial serving of later songs and instrumentals performed by equally gifted lineups on the 2012 UK and the 2017 US tours (the last of which I was privileged to see at Chicago’s Progtoberfest), and you have 2 1/2 hours of back-catalog gems delivered in grand style. I gleefully gulped down the whole thing in one sitting; Tillison’s non-stop compositional eclecticism and his unquenchable penchant for speaking (well, singing) his mind delight from beginning to end, and his compatriots step up to match his commitment throughout. On their game, The Tangent’s devotion to music and their appeal to our consciences point us to the best of what we are and what we can be; here, they hit peak form throughout, with any rough edges only adding to their appeal. This generous set is both a first-rate introduction for new listeners and an essential item for hard core fans. In addition to purchasing the album through the usual outlets, you can still support the band directly and pre-order a limited number of signed copies here.

— Rick Krueger

ARTUR BARYSHEV Talks Debut Album “Voices from the Past”

Back in December, you launched an album entitled “Voices from the Past.” How do you feel about the release? 

I feel like I have reached a certain milestone. This is my debut album of my own music. I have been a video game composer and sound designer for many years, and it was hard to find time for my stuff. Finally, I was able to do it. I feel satisfied. And I hope people like the result. In many ways, it depends on this whether I will actively continue such musical activities. On the other hand, I am a little cunning, because I’m already preparing material for the next album. However, I wanted to add some drama.

How much of a challenge was it to work on the album?

It was difficult to find time for one music while writing other music. For several years, while bit by bit preparing this album, I was engaged in the recording of the orchestra for video game projects (Cinderella: New Story and Modern Warships to name a few) and the sound design of many projects, including Mobile Legends franchise. Without even a primary musical education, I was engaged in creating arrangements and even creating scores for the orchestra, recording with wonderful people from the Budapest Scoring Orchestra (by the way, in my plans for the future there is an item “record an album with a live orchestra”). In addition, I am the father of two children. And I hope you can imagine how difficult it is to fit into this schedule the creation of deeply personal music, and what a challenge it was for me.

Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?

The main challenge for a guitarist (and I am a solo guitarist primarily) is maintaining the skill. If you do not practice the guitar professionally and constantly, then the skill will undoubtedly fall. I practice every day for several hours, so as not to waste it. The writing of this album allowed not only to leave the skill at the same level, but also to strengthen it, what should be reflected in the next album, which will be devoted mainly to guitar music.

Otherwise, I tried not to set myself any tasks initially. The album began spontaneously with a few unrelated singles, but soon grew into something more, which has now taken shape and is available for everyone to listen to. And it’s wonderful!

Tell me about the different instrumental aspects that you explore on these songs.

As I already said, I have no musical education and I had a very little experience of working with musicians. On this album, I worked with a saxophonist on two tracks, and it was interesting and instructive. First, I did a mini-casting. It turned out that choosing a saxophonist who understands your music is quite difficult. I went through four musicians before I found the right sound. Then I realized how diverse the approach to music could be, depending on the personality of the musician, his taste and style of playing. It may sound trite to many, but live music is called “live” because it breathes and has a billion nuances. In future releases, I plan to use as many live musicians as possible. At this stage, I play almost all the instruments myself. It was extremely interesting to explore and apply them in the process.

What is your opinion about the progressive rock scene today? 

I learn about many progressive rock bands by accident. For example, I found out about “The Dear Hunter” by stumbling upon their vinyl cover on the web, I liked it, after which I began to listen to their album, and only then I thought “damn, why didn’t I know about them before?” My opinion is that progressive rock has too few listeners these days. Critically few! And this needs to be corrected. It is hard to say how to do it, but we, as musicians, will try to do our best. Do you notice how various prog rock, fusion and city pop albums from the 70s and 80s are now popping up on YouTube and gaining new life? It is kind of a renaissance, the music is finally finding its audience after decades, and it is sad and beautiful at the same time. Accordingly, there is a chance that our albums will find their audience over the years. Or will it happen now? You decide.

Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape your music.

As a guitarist, I have to say that my main influence was naturally guitarists. Since childhood I admired Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani. Now, if you suddenly ask “who is the best guitar player in the world?” without hesitation I will answer “Guthrie Govan”. These are the people who shaped my approach to guitar solos. As for the music in general, I like a wide range of genres, from pop to heavy metal. I am also fond of video games and movie soundtracks. Surprisingly, with all of the above, in recent years I just fly away from Tatsuro Yamashita. This is, perhaps, my main musical ideologist and a person who needs to be equal musically.

If we talk about my favorite progressive rock, jazz and fusion bands, then these are The Dear Hunter, Snarky Puppy, Casiopea, Kansas, Tropea, Kingo Hamada, Jeff Lorber Fusion to name a few.

What are your top 5 records of all time?

The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise (2015)

Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here (2014)

Guthrie Govan – Erotic Cakes (2011)

Tatsuro Yamashita – For You (1982)

Casiopea – Casiopea (1979)

Besides the release of “Voices from the Past” are there any other plans for the future?

Working more with live symphony orchestras and video game soundtracks is my passion. Record the next album with a focus on virtuoso guitar solos (work in progress). Record my own album with an orchestra. To work more with different musicians, to participate in collaborations if possible. To travel more and gain emotions, then to express them with the help of music. To live and enjoy life itself.

“Voices from the Past” is out now, and is available from Bandcamp.

An Interview with SCIOLENT

Sciolent is a one-man art rock band based in Germany who recently launched a new album entitled “Chiaroscuro.” The 11-track release sees the young musician delving deep into a unique blend of alternative music, progressive rock, and even shoegaze.

Speaking for Progarchy, Sciolent talks about what it took for him to come up with the release. Find out more below.

You launched an album with Sciolent entitled “Chiaroscuro” back in December. How do you feel about the release? 

I was and still am very proud of it. It’s been in the making for a long time and finally releasing it into the world was a strange but rewarding feeling. I received some lovely positive feedback for it and that makes me happy of course. What’s great as well is that I’m still really content with it myself – it’s already my fifth album, but it might be the first one that I still enjoy listening to even after it’s put out. I spent a lot of attention to the compositions and arrangements down to the details and it seems to pay off.

How much of a challenge was it to work on the album?

Quite a big one, to be honest. I started teaching myself how to play guitar and bass during the making so that I could record all instruments except the drums on my own. Doing that, writing and recording the songs, producing, mixing and mastering it all would have already been a challenge, but to do it all while going to university and working on my Bachelor’s thesis and other projects was a wild ride as you can probably imagine. I don’t regret any of it though, it was a lot of fun and especially during lockdown it helped me cope with what was going on and find some meaning and inspiration.

Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?

I simply wanted to reach my current potential in composing and arranging and I think I managed to do that. The advantage of taking your time with such a project instead of racing towards a deadline is that by the end you have a much bigger collection of songs to choose from, so you can pick the very best out of them and don’t have to include fillers.

Tell me about the different instrumental aspects that you explore on these new songs.

Well, a lot of it is centered around the interplay of neo-romantic piano figures and spacey guitars. You can hear that combination on songs like Balliamo Sott’Acqua, Our Worst Fears Realized or Slowing Down Time for example. From time to time there are also heavier passages where everything sort of erupts to counteract that melancholic dreamy vibe of the softer parts of the album. With the basslines underneath I tried to play quite melodically (without being too flashy) and weaved in some counterpoints here and there. And for the drums I wanted to find a good compromise between compelling groove and creative drumming – I’m not a drummer so I had to play that on my MIDI keyboard and I don’t know how playable these rhythms would actually be, but I think they feel good in context with the other instruments.

What is your opinion about the progressive rock scene today? 

That’s a tough question for me because I haven’t been too invested in that scene over the last couple of years. I love that Porcupine Tree got back together, Closure / Continuation was a great album and seeing them live was a huge highlight and bucket list experience for me. It’s also great to see what some of the young British bands like Black Country, New Road or black midi are doing. I think there’s a lot of progressive or avantgarde spirit in there, even if some people see them more in the post-punk field. Those genre boundaries seem to become obsolete anyway though, it’s just good to know that exciting new music is being made and – even better – people are actually listening to it!

Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape your music.

Some of my longstanding influences include bands like Muse, Radiohead, Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Talk Talk. Muse for example were the band that became my introduction to the world of ambitious rock music when I was a kid so they will always have a special place in my heart. For this new album, I think especially Oceansize were a big influence – when I discovered them three years ago, I couldn’t stop listening to them for months. Effloresce and Frames are two of my favourite albums of all time, they just click with me on so many levels and some passages on “Chiaroscuro” are referencing them a little bit.

As of lately, I’ve also been listening to a lot of shoegaze which found its way into “Chiaroscuro” in terms of sound design and dream-like atmosphere. My favourites in that genre are Slowdive and Curve, but there has been and still is loads of talent across so many bands and artists.

Other bands I’ve been digging recently are Wolf Alice, the aforementioned Black Country, New Road, Jockstrap and Just Mustard.

And then there’s also bands and artists that belong more to the pop spectrum like Depeche Mode or Lana Del Rey that I admire. Developing a sensibility for a really good pop song is an extremely important skill to have as a songwriter in my opinion.

What are your top 5 records of all time?

The list changes from time to time, but at the moment it probably looks like that:

  1. Oceansize – Effloresce
  2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
  3. Muse – Origin of Symmetry
  4. Radiohead – OK Computer
  5. Oceansize – Frames or Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (can’t decide, both deserve a top 5 spot!)

Besides the release of “Chiaroscuro” are there any other plans for the future?

I’m looking forward to potentially play some of my music live, although solid plans about that have yet to be made. Also I’m pretty much constantly coming up with new music, so maybe there will be more of that as well. I don’t think there will be another full album this year, but an EP or some singles are possible. Stay tuned!

“Chiaroscuro” is available from Bandcamp.

Riverside Remind Us Who We Are – ID.Entity – Album Review

Riverside, ID.Entity, InsideOut Music, January 20, 2023
Tracks: Friend or Foe? (7:29), Landmine Blast (4:50), Big Tech Brother (7:24), Post-Truth (5:37), The Place Where I Belong (13:16), I’m Done With you (5:52), Self-Aware (8:43)

It’s been a long four and a half years since Riverside gave us their brilliant Wasteland, an album we seem to have been living in the years since its release. In 2019 I saw the band live for the first time, and I was blown away. It may have been the best concert I’ve ever attended. I was a fan before, but after that I became a FAN. I’m even a member of their fan club, Shelter of Mine, and I rank them up with Big Big Train as one of the finest bands in the progressive rock scene.

Perhaps you’re thinking there goes all objectivity in this review, and perhaps you’re right. Or perhaps Riverside really can do no wrong. I can think of very few bands that have never put out a bad album, especially over two decades of writing and touring. And yet here we are – their eighth album, multiple EPs, a few live albums (including one only available to fan club members), and they’re still putting out winners. Whether they’re heavy, quiet and atmospheric, or somewhere in the middle, Riverside have mastered all aspects of their sound.

Upon first listen, ID.Entity struck me as being a slightly new direction. I thought I remembered the band saying a couple years ago that their next album would be heavier, which made me think it might be more like Anno Domini High Definition, arguably their heaviest album to date. ID.Entity isn’t that heavy, but it’s heavier than Wasteland, which was, to be sure, a different album for Riverside. An excellent album, but different. Their first record without Piotr Grudziński on guitar, after his tragic passing in 2016, but before Maciej Meller joined them as a full member (he toured with them from 2017-2020, joining them as a full member in 2020). This album sounds like a more traditional Riverside album, with guitars taking a more prominent role again.

The more I listen to it, the heavier it sounds. The guitar riffing towards the end of “Big Tech Brother” is brilliantly headbangable. Michał Łapaj’s keyboards come in on top of that at the end, but it doesn’t lighten the sound at all. Łapaj’s touch on Riverside’s sound may be more recognizable than any other keyboardist in progressive metal, besides Jordan Rudess, of course. Łapaj’s signature Hammond along with his other synth sounds have long set Riverside apart from more generic progressive metal crunchers. I was especially impressed when I saw them live. He brings a real tube-powered Leslie speaker (or some similar speaker) to get an authentic Hammond sound out of his modern keyboard.

As usual, Mariusz Duda demonstrates why he’s one of the best bassists in the business. His crunchy bassline to open “I’m Done With You” is extremely satisfying, and it sets the stage for some grittier vocals in the chorus. Much of the song is stripped back a little, with pretty basic drums and a relatively simple bassline, but the guitar and keyboard lines are distinctly Riverside with a very catchy melody. Taken together, the song is actually pretty heavy.

You are not my judge
You are not my God
You are not my own CEO
Why don’t you simply shut your mouth
And take your poison from my soul
Far away

I’m Done With You

Some of the vocal lines on “The Place Where I Belong” are a bit crowded in the quieter parts of the song – a lot of words condensed into a smaller musical space. But it’s a long song – their longest since “Second Life Syndrome,” in fact. And yet the song delights in the final third with this heartfelt lyrical passage:

I don’t have to be the best
Feel pressure all the time
The ‘winner takes it all’ is not my thing
Stop comparing me to someone else’s dreams
Let me stay in the place where I belong
For your bar is set to high
I’m sorry, I’m getting out of this race
Don’t want to take my part
For your bar is set to high
I’m sorry ,I’m checking out of this race
Don’t want to share my part
For your bar is set to high
I’m sorry, I’m getting out of this race
Don’t want to take my part…

The Place Where I Belong

I suppose the ironic thing here is Riverside really are the best.

Lyrically this album touches on themes of disconnection from others via social media and the associated polarization, as well as themes of big tech and government overreach. Considering the band members grew up in the waning days of communism in Poland, their words of warning on “Big Tech Brother” should wake all of us up.

So what’s it like
To stick your head in the sand
To choose ignorance
“I’ve nothing to hide,” you say
“It’s all okay and fine”
Being tracked
Being parsed
Being mined
Modified
Being used
Being searched
Being lied to
Monetised
All that we’ve got
Is not for free at all

When this life for everyone becomes too hard
What we must give in return is a bit too much
Mass control

Big Tech Brother

“Post-Truth” deals with the frustrations of the constant news barrage designed to keep us all perpetually enraged. How do we go on living in a world like this?

In a constant lie
In a constant lie
I live
Can no longer tell
Days from nights

Post-Truth

All these ideas, along with the other songs on the album, share common themes related to how we interact with and through the digital world. How we relate to each other, how media entities influence us, how companies and governments spy on and control us. Extremely relevant lyrics that aren’t pushy but remain a call to wake up to what’s happening. It’s a message pleasantly packaged in Riverside’s signature style of hard progressive rock. Lyrics have been an integral part of Riverside’s appeal to me since I first began listening to them. Thankfully that streak continues on ID.Entity.

This album contains everything I love about Riverside. Duda’s stunning vocals, his intricate bass, Floydian drums, synthy soundscapes and driving organ, and the Floydy guitars. Riffs abound, making it a very enjoyable listening experience to rock out to. With all that, is it too early to declare ID.Entity THE album of 2023? Maybe it is, but other bands are going to have to work awfully hard to top this.

https://www.riversideband.pl/en/
https://riverside.lnk.to/IDEntityID

Album out Friday, January 20, 2023.

In Concert: A Night of Michigan Prog Metal

Entransient Album Release Party with Imminent Sonic Destruction and Paradigm Shifter, The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, January 14, 2023

I gotta admit, it was first-class fun to reconnect with fellow members of the (extremely informal) West Michigan Prog Posse, checking out three homegrown bands at this local 400-capacity venue.

First up was the Grand Rapids-based Paradigm Shifter, self-described as “an instrumental Metal band taking influences from Hardcore and Progressive metal.” This young trio had chops galore and plenty of decent ideas packed into titles like “Hammer Down” and “Primal Fear”. To this old-codger-in-training, it reminded me (in a good way!) of surf music like “Wipe Out” and “Pipeline” — though played with droptuned, heavily distorted 7-string guitars. The band’s current limitations (computerized drums, extended re-tuning covered by pre-recorded interludes) certainly aren’t impossible to overcome, and if they took their guitar hero posing a trifle too seriously — well, haven’t we all at one time or another? Changing pace for “Leap of Faith”, a rap-rock finale with guest vocalists that sounded like a Linkin Park comeback, Paradigm Shifter was a solid opener, offering something for everyone in a remarkably youthful crowd.

Imminent Sonic Destruction, a Detroit progressive metal band of 15 years vintage, was up next, with the melodramatic oratory of British sci-fi author Michael Moorcock ringing in our ears. Gleefully self-aware as they took the stage, ISD quickly cued us in that their music is completely over the top, and that they’re in on any potential silliness right along with us. Ping-ponging between extravagant, multi-part headbangers, complete with cookie monster vocals (“With Death This Story Ends”, “The Fog”) and tightly harmonized, symphonic power ballads (“Solitude” and the title track from their latest album The Sun Will Always Set) guitarists Tony Piccoli (also a game lead vocalist) and Scott David Thompson (a key harmonizer), bassist Bryan Paxton (doing the growls), keyboardist Pete Hopersberger (pleasingly prominent in the mix vocally and instrumentally) and drummer Pat DeLeon (also of Motor City proggers Tiles) provided one pile driving good time!

And then there was the evening’s hosts Entransient, who I’ve written about previously, both live (opening for Thank You Scientist and Bent Knee at the Pyramid Scheme) and on record (their fine new album Ghosts in the Halls) Tonight, they opted for a slow build, starting with an acoustic mini-set — complete with cello — before firing the big guns. Their consistently sharp songwriting had the broadest range of the night’s bands, as guitarists Nick Hagen and Doug Murray, bassist Matt Schrauben and drummer Jeremy Hyde whipped up a compelling blend of light & shade. And while it took vocalist Scott Martin a few tunes to get the measure of the room, he swiftly hit peak form, belting out new tracks like “Parasite” and “Synergize” along with setlist standbys like “The Weight of Things”. Plus, in the night’s coolest moment, the band played “Take What’s Left” from their debut album — featuring Hagen’s dad Tom, on the most metal clarinet solo I am ever likely to hear.

In between bands, the talk at our table turned to that evergreen topic, the future of progressive music in general and progressive rock in particular. One of my friends made two points: 1) the genre has to take root amongst younger generations for it to prosper, and; 2) the heavier edge that Fate’s Warning and Dream Theater brought into the mix is probably a core component in that future prosperity. Based on the strong performances by all three of the night’s bands and the demographics of the 150-175 people at the show, I have to agree; the heavy is here to stay!

— Rick Krueger

Barricane Release New Single, “Saltwater”

From the inbox this morning, we got sent this new single from UK-based band, Barricane. The group is a six-piece based around singer songwriters Rosy Piper and Emily Green. Also featuring Charlie Lane (bass), Chris Alchin (keyboard, acoustic guitar and synt), Hamish Wall (electric guitar), and Gary Neville (drums).

“Saltwater” packs a lot into a mere five minutes. It begins with atmospheric guitars and spacey drums with ethereal vocals over the top before gradually building. The real treat is the ending where the song shifts into a proggy synth space before the electric guitar comes in for a hard rock solo complete with a wall of drums. It’s great. Check it out.

https://barricane.bandcamp.com/track/saltwater
https://www.barricanemusic.com

Asia to Release “Fantasia” Live in Tokyo 2007 3 LP Set in February

Press Release:

Asia - Fantasia Live in TokyoMulti-platinum selling English supergroup ASIA announce they are to release for the first time ever on vinyl ASIA ‘FANTASIA, LIVE IN TOKYO 2007 as a 3LP set.  Recorded on Asia’s 25th anniversary 2007 world tour, and featuring the reformed original line-up, FANTASIA, LIVE IN TOKYO 2007 is to be issued on vinyl as a 3LP set with booklet, including band photos, and sleeve notes through BMG Records on 24th February 2023.  

Pre-order it here: https://asiaband.lnk.to/fantasia3LPPR 

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of ASIA’s formation, this exciting 18-track live show from their 2007 world tour features the reformed original line-up pooling the talents of lead vocalist/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (guitars, Yes), Geoff Downes (keyboards, Yes and Buggles) and drummer Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer. 

The setlist focusses on their globally successful 1982 debut album Asia and features key tracks Only Time Will Tell, Sole Survivor and their worldwide anthem Heat Of The Moment along with select tracks from their second LP Alpha and one song each from the band members’ previous bands – Video Killed The Radio Star, Roundabout, Fanfare For The Common Man and The Court Of The Crimson King. 

Album artwork is by legendary designer Roger Dean, who produced all the ASIA original albums covers.   Continue reading “Asia to Release “Fantasia” Live in Tokyo 2007 3 LP Set in February”