The pandemic sure has a way of changing things around and cutting deep into our threshold for patience. Like everything else in 2020, the Rites of Spring Festival and Cruise to the Edge were cancelled. Then RoSfest announced that it was going bye-bye forever. CTTE later announced that the post-pandemic dates for the event would be April 25-30, 2022 aboard the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas. Then early this year RoSfest announced that they were coming back with a new group of organizers and the 17th rendition of the festival would happen May 6-8, 2022.
But wait!!! Early this month, CTTE caused a prog-quake by announcing a move to a different ship, different dates, and different destinations, due to the original ship moving its new home to the Southern California coast. The new locale for the cruise will be Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas and sail from Port Canaveral (Orlando), making excursions to CocoCay and the private isle of Labadee, all taking place May 2-May 7, 2022
Cruise to the Edge’s announcement caused a social media stir with RoSfest fans and organizers, as many prog-fans look forward to both, and of course many didn’t want to chose one over the other. After working things out with the Sarasota Opera House, RoSfest has now announced their new dates- April 15-17, 2022 (Easter Weekend). Check out their new website: http://rosfest.org/
As of today, both events have not announced their entire 2022 line-ups, but we’ll probably see some bands that were scheduled for the cancelled 2020 shows as well as other acts that did not appear in the original line-ups including some amazing headliners!
No matter how you break it down, it looks like 2022 will be the year to prog!
As the demigods of the US postal service would have it (and OK, ordering from Amazon, Burning Shed and others had something to do with it), a lot of the CDs that have landed in my mailbox lately are live albums (or have a live element). “So whadid ya get?” Glad you asked . . .
District 97, Screenplay: the first live effort from the grassroots Chicago group intended for mainstream distribution, this double disc set is a comprehensive showcase for their gutsy blend of prog, metal and fusion. Disc 1 is a headlong romp through their fine album Screens, recorded onstage in the Netherlands; along with a new track, disc 2 serves up delectable live takes on their back catalog plus covers ranging from John Lennon (a snippet of “Jealous Guy”) through Bill Bruford (two tracks performed in my vicinity at Progtoberfest 2018) to King Crimson (with the late John Wetton on vocals). A perfect introduction for D97 newcomers, and a delightful celebration for fans already in the know. Available direct from the band.
The Keith Emerson Tribute Concert – Fanfare for the Uncommon Man: Five years in the making, this 2 DVD/2 CD combo pack, recorded at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater two months after Emerson’s devastating suicide, is the best tribute to him I could imagine. Post-ELP collaborator Marc Bonilla wrangles a impressive rotating cast of star players through a setlist that captures both Emo’s audacious, aggressive swagger and his sophisticated, heart-wrenching lyricism. Toto’s Steve Porcaro (organ on “The Barbarian”), Emerson protege Rachel Flowers (piano on a complete instrumental version of “The Endless Enigma”), CJ Vanston (piano on “Take A Pebble”) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess (multi-keys on a complete “Tarkus”) all shine in the keyboard chair; guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter turns Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” into a chicken-pickin’ delight. And when Eddie Jobson takes over Emerson’s iconic modular Moog synthesizer to play that solo on “Lucky Man,” the chills down my spine are unstoppable. Available direct from Cherry Red Records.
Peter Gabriel Plays Live: PG’s initial live album, restored to its original length and running order after far too many years in an edited version. Touring colleges and universities in the American Midwest to support the Security album, Gabriel and his backing players wove together high-contrast monochrome textures, brutally stark rhythms and chantlike volleys of vocals to conjure up an intense, ritualistic experience. Having seen this tour in the flesh, I can attest the album does a great job capturing the tour’s immersive, primitivistic grandeur — as well as including jauntier highlights from earlier albums and the goofy, otherwise unreleased “I Go Swimming.” Available direct from the artist or via Burning Shed.
Liquid Tension Experiment 3: Yeah, this one’s a stretch . . . but hey, the bonus disc of improvisations was recorded live in the studio! Initial opinion among fellow fans seems divided on the uncanny ability of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Tony Levin and Mike Portnoy to pick up almost exactly where they left off 22 years ago. Do you prefer your progressive music to explore farther-out frontiers each time, or to dig deeper in a previously fruitful vein? Me, I get into both approaches — and while LTE certainly plows similar instrumental prog-metal furrows as on their first two albums, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping, face-melting, heart-wrenching, smile-inducing gold in them there grooves! Available from Inside Out and Burning Shed. Oh, and I’m confident you’ve never heard a version of “Rhapsody in Blue” quite like this:
Part rock, part funk, part punk, Brussels-based InHibit’s debut is unique and fun. The simple but funky baseline on “Shadows of Fire” reminded me of days gone by in popular music, but it sounds extremely fresh and clear. Uk-based journalist Chloe Mogg has more below:
By Chloe Mogg
InHibit’s latest EP Blinded is an appetising hybrid attempt at an 80s classic rock record, embroiled with metal riffs and drums beats and in-your-face vocals. The artist also rightfully takes influence from some of the greatest rock bands of late, and throws into the mix familiar elements from some of the best to ever do it, ensuring his EP has enough proven musicianship that’s sure to win him some points.
“Shame On Humans” crosses between charismatic, full bodied riffs and a squeaky, whining sound that’s almost like a sinister laugh; a villainous mock giving nod to the poor societal state of humanity that has encompassed most headlines in the turmoil that was 2020. The eponymous chorus is not unlike a Foo Fighters verse at all, while the most noteworthy section of the EP’s opener is its unravelling into a power ballad of a guitar solo that’s met in unison with InHibit’s discordant vocals, which break form from the established singing style and bring an endearing passion. InHibit’s aggressive vocals also seen in ‘Settings’ further help to determine that this is the best style for the artist, who should take pride in singing in a full-hearted, no-holds-barred style, which is definitely his forte in contrast to his softened, more intricate attempts seen in ‘The Quest’.
A jazzy, funk-filled bassline provides a fitting backdrop throughout ‘Shadows of Fire’, and ties the tracks surprising choice of instrumental sound together. The simple snare, hi-hat drum beat in parts, combined with the prevalent bass and the different layers of backing in vocals, does genuinely draw some resemblance to Queen’s infamously distinct style seen on the likes of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which is only furthered through the whispered vocals and call and response claps which come toward the end of the track. Though InHibit’s work on this EP is far from the mastery of both Dave Ghrol and Freddie Mercury, the fact that the artist has attempted to replicate their superior musical notoriety and has found a place for it amongst his own style is a massive compliment alone.
Baltimore, Maryland-based progressive metal duo Intentional Trainwreck return in May with the release of the sophomore studio album “Smokestack of Souls,” a follow-up to 2014’s “The Accident.” Singer and guitarist Pete Lesko and drummer Patrick Gaffney speak for Progarchy about the new material, challenges, prog scene in 2021, and more.
You are about to launch a new full-length album with Intentional Trainwreck entitled Smokestack of Souls. How do you feel about the release?
PL: I feel great about the release. The material on it is solid and none of the tracks are filler. Everyone I’ve played it for so far has had good things to say at worst. I write material for this band which, as a fan of music, I would like to hear. And I think that comes through strongly in the compositions, production, and performances.
PG: We are definitely stoked for the release of Smokestack of Souls. We’ve made massive improvements in our musicianship, songwriting, recording and production. We’re using more online resources as a mechanism to reach a wider, more-specific audience. This is exciting because we know there are a lot of people who enjoy new and interesting music. We believe in the music, stand behind it, and endorse it passionately.
Where does the new record stand comparing to the debut album—2014’s The Accident?
PG: Frankly, Intentional Trainwreck has left the Accident in a pile of its own rubble and dust. Unfortunately, we still love playing songs such as “Lunchbox” and “Metric” so we can’t be in complete denial of the Accident’s existence. In comparison, Smokestack of Souls has a production which towers over the Accident and there are obvious improvements in the vocals, musicianship, and technicality of the songwriting. Smokestack of Souls is heavier; it’s more aggressive; the songwriting is more mature and it is a new beginning. This is certainly a professional effort and we made sure it is something that average listeners as well as those with a trained ear will get into.
PL: I think the new record blows the debut album completely out of the water. The writing and production on this record is more cohesive overall. I stopped smoking just before the Accident was released and began to focus a lot more on getting better vocals down, which it turns out is a lot easier to do when you can breathe! In general, we were able to avoid a lot of the mistakes that we made the first time around.
How much of a challenge was it to work on Smokestack of Souls?
PL: A massive challenge was avoiding the production pitfalls of the Accident while doing most of the recording and all of the mixing and mastering for the new album. There were so many points when I just wanted to throw in the towel. In particular, during the last year as the album was on the precipice of release, I was working in the healthcare industry which was not getting less busy but rather the exact opposite. My family was mostly stuck at home and, on top of this, I was doing guitar tracks and some vocal recordings for Isenmor’s Shieldbrother. So, things became rather chaotic to manage. This coupled with the challenges of writing guitar parts, lyrics, vocal melodies, and even bass parts! Because Mike was unable to record a number of bass parts, there are a few of tracks on Smokestack of Souls featuring me on every instrument except drums.
PG: Intentional Trainwreck always challenges itself to write better and more interesting music. It’s not a big deal because we are creative and constantly have new ideas to share. But we still needed to make sure that we held ourselves to a high level of songwriting. And, we know our audience likes to have expectations met and surpassed.
Another challenge was improving listenability. We know the Accident should have sounded better and we owe it to everyone to improve the production and sound quality on Smokestack of Souls. Pete spent a lot of time on his studio techniques for mixing and mastering. He ended up doing a fantastic job. Also, we never stopped rehearsing the parts, so you’ll notice better vocals, drums, and guitars all around.
And, the global pandemic was a huge challenge which delayed everything from rehearsals to live shows. We are extremely lucky in that we still have our health, but it has made things very difficult for rehearsing and mixing the music. And we’ve missed seeing our friends and fans during live performances more than words can say.
Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?
PG: The most noticeable challenge associated with the finished product has got to be the way in which music is distributed, marketed, and obtained by the listener. The traditional process of creating CDs, sending them off for review and making a lot of noise to get people to buy them is no longer the norm. The new model involves digital distribution via online submission of files and artwork which all needs to have codes assigned so that royalties can be tracked across a myriad of social media and distribution platforms. And, marketing through videos and playlists is ever more popular and unavoidable. So, in many ways it seems like we’ve gone from a band creating an album to social media entity associated with music. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it increases the scope of work and schedule of an album release tenfold.
PL: That’s an interesting question, I don’t know that I had specifically or explicitly talked about it, but I certainly wanted to make sure is that the next album was going to be better than the first one. When I went into writing, I didn’t want to write songs that people say well that kind of neat, I went into the process with the intent of writing songs that hopefully would become some folks’ favorites that they slam on a loop.
Tell me about the topics you explore on these new songs.
PL: We explored a lot of dark places on Smokestack of Souls – the uglier parts of society that can crush a person into a tuna can. Inner-darkness tolls on a person. But we also explore some lighthearted subjects like the philosophical deconstruction of what quality is, and even one about playing dungeons and dragons.
PG: There are several topics presented in Smokestack of Souls, and they all come from places close to the heart. For example, the audience-friendly “Basilisk’s Gaze” is a story derived from one of Pete’s D+D games and takes the listener on an epic journey through a fantasy realm. The video for this song adds a level of surreal exploration. “Family and Friends” comes from real-life emotions and situations; some topics are based on political unrest (“Charismatic Agenda”) and some pertain to individual strife (“Kamikaze Tom”). “Phaedrus” involves metaphysical communication on the smallest levels. The subject matter of the songs usually comes about after the music has been written but the two become intricately tied together as a composition develops.
What is your opinion about the progressive rock/metal scene in 2021?
PG: The music scene in general is amazing. We are blessed to live in times when you can search for and find excellent new music in a matter of seconds. Sharing information and music is easier than it has ever been. The progressive rock/metal scene is alive and well albeit a slightly different one when compared to 20 or 30 years ago. There will always be extremely talented and innovative musicians out there; however, today you are more likely to hear music which is heavier and much faster at times than previously. Perhaps you’ll find new bands which are darker and edgier than before. And, the amount of technical shredding today seems to have surpassed that of the past prog-metal scene. But the classics won’t go away either. The founders of progressive rock and metal had something which, to this day, remains quite unique and inspiring.
PL: With the Internet these days, the number of options can be overwhelming! Lots of amazing music is being made right now and I have been trying to make a regular habit of listening to new music as much as I can. It’s a competitive field, but I’m hoping this is one that stands apart.
I’m well aware of Patrick’s involvement with Cerebus Effect, and one of my personal favorite acts in the last two decades—Deluge Grander. As someone who has been involved within the scene for a long time, would you say that the genre has progressed or did it reach its peak long time ago?
PL: Oh, that’s something I just don’t talk about, not since the accident.
PG: “Progress” can embed itself into music in many ways. And, what constitutes progress is subjective. Personally, I feel that progress lies more in whether things like your creativity, conceptual approach and efforts continue to grow and bring forth interesting results and likeable sonic passages. I feel there is an opulence of new music stretching the realms of progressive rock and metal. While certain bands and musicians may have reached their peak, in no way do I feel that progressive rock and metal are even close to stagnant. Sometimes, the distinction between music genres gets a little blurry but, in the end, there is a variety of thriving genres really close to and including prog rock/metal.
Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape the music of Intentional Trainwreck.
PG: This is a loaded question because I am continuously inspired. As mentioned, I believe the world of music is constantly presenting amazing works. None the less, when I was 11 or 12 years old, my older brother’s friend played Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, Dixie Dregs’ Freefall and Yes’ Fragile albums for me. That was the first time I’d heard anything outside of pop and classical music. I knew right away that my musical direction had changed forever. Since then, I am thankful for and motivated by so many. To name just a few drummers – Carl Palmer, Dave Kerman and Trilok Gurtu each took me to new levels of inspiration. I can’t say that my performances on Smokestack of Souls sound overtly like any other drummer; yet, without my influences I’m sure my drumming would sound less inspired.
PL: I draw in influences from bands like Mastodon, Gojira, and Devon Townsend Project, and the sound I try to go for is a cross between a few different guiding principles. I mean, it must be, if not heavy, something dark or scary or something like that. I want riffs that bring you time signatures, keys, and scales that you wouldn’t expect, but I like to find a solid grounding element in each song, a hook if you will. I like growly vocals sometimes, but only if they are decipherable? That’s important to me; I don’t want to be just another cookie monster sounding band, and most of the vocals on this album are melodic anyway. I like songs with a complex groove that follows something catchy enough that you could sing it around a campfire. That’s not to say that indecipherable vocals don’t have their place in the right context, but I think that’s not us for the most part. I have these bands that I listen to and I’d say that’s the kind of goal I’m going for, but I am all about pretty much every kind of music. My taste is eclectic in that I like pop, classical, metal, jazz, country, electronic, indie, soundtrack stuff, and more obscure outsider music. I try to do my best to pull from those influences and build that into what kind of strange, but digestible, heavy metal kind of music we do, because I want music that is… mmm, without boundaries, but still with boundaries? Quantum metal, if you may.
What are your top 5 records of all time?
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
System of a Down – Mezmerize
Alice In Chains – Dirt
Allan Holdsworth – Secrets
Univers Zero – Uzed
Watchtower – Control and Resistance
Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow
John McLaughlin with Shakti – Natural Elements
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
PG: Playing gigs is a huge future goal. We really have a connection to our audiences and want to get back in front of people. I love to play live because it gives me an opportunity to give back to all the musicians who have inspired me.
We have a ton of music just waiting to be formed into songs. So, technically, there is already an album in the works.
And, thanks to the hope of successful COVID-19 vaccinations, we will most likely be rehearsing and writing together…in the same room! There is a true element of brotherhood and comradery when we work together. It is indeed a friendship that also rocks out pretty hard.
PL: We’re hoping to eventually get back out and start playing some shows. But right this second, I’d like to reach into the riff box and start putting some new material together. The ideas have been sort of piling up. I just they just need some time to arrange them into songs instead of a heap of disorganized noodlings.
Any words for the potential new fans?
PL: Thanks for listening! I know that it’s not easy for everybody to find the time to listen to new things, and I appreciate them spending the time to check us out. We’ll be releasing some music videos, and I’ll be putting together some play through videos for social media once the album is released. Make sure to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to the Youtube channel!
PG: Please don’t judge us on our past so much as the present. We have come a long way and Smokestack of Souls is a perfect place for new listeners of Intentional Trainwreck to start. Write us an email or hit us up on a social media to let us know who and where you are. It’s nice to know your fan base and it gives us a good idea to where we might want to travel and perform. Also, if there are people reading this article who are unfamiliar with our Top 5 albums, listen to that stuff, too. Finally, be safe and take care of yourself.
“Smokestack of Souls” is out on May 15th. Follow Intentional Trainwreck on Facebook for future updates.
The hardest part about reviewing music is finding the time to dedicate to writing, listening, and looking for new music. We all do this for free in our free time. We’ve got day jobs, and that leads to some overlooked music. Like the debut album from French band, Esthesis, aptly titled “The Awakening.” Moody, brooding, atmospheric, Floydian – this is good stuff. So good that it earned the reader’s choice for best unsigned band in Prog magazine’s reader’s poll last year.
Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album, Spiritus Mundi, is one of the finest records released thus far in 2021, and I expect it to be one of the top albums of the year come December. Sylvan brought his vampirate trilogy to a close with 2019’s The Regal Bastard. Spiritus Mundi, which is Latin for “spirit of the world,” departs from the more classic prog sound on his previous three albums, but it hasn’t quite set sail for new genres. Rather it explores different musical territories, including classical, folk, acoustic, and rock, all befitting the beautiful poetry of William Butler Yeats which serve as the lyrics. The musical elements from his previous albums are all here, but they are interpreted in a different way. In an interview with Progarchy’s very own Rick Krueger, Nad expands upon the development of the record and his collaboration with Vermont-based musician Andrew Laitres, so I’ll direct you to that for more info about how the album came to be.
As it should be, Nad’s voice is the centerpiece on the record. All of the musical elements serve to frame his voice and the lyrics, bringing the poems to life through varying sounds. The baroque elements found on Nad’s vampirate trilogy pop up now and again, such as on “Cap and Bells” and “The Realists,” which I think adds a flavor that is uniquely Sylvan. Laitres also provides some lead and backing vocals, which adds some variety.
Musically the album is more open and relaxed than Sylvan’s previous records. It doesn’t have the heavier rock moments that those albums had, but the lyrics don’t call for it. Nad plays most of the keyboards, as well as some of the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, and the orchestration. Jonas Reingold and Tony Levin also appear on bass, along with Steve Hackett on the 12 string. The Flower Kings’ Mirkko De Maio appears on drums. There are a few other guests too, but this should give you a sample of what to expect. It seems fitting that Nad, who’s become well-known for his work with Steve Hackett’s touring band, releases this sort of more acoustic and classically inspired record soon after Hackett released a beautiful acoustic album, Under a Mediterranean Sky.
I’ll readily admit I’m frequently skeptical when an artist says they’re going in a new direction on their next album. While I didn’t have particular reservations about this album going into it, I was admittedly curious about what that different sound might be. I didn’t expect him to move into some sort of techno-pop trash like Steven Wilson, and thankfully he didn’t. Instead he leaned more heavily into the folk and classical elements that already existed in his music. At times the music is reminiscent of Big Big Train, and at other times I hear bits that remind me of Jethro Tull. The rock is still there though, with a fantastic bass line and slide guitar on “The Fisherman.”
Spiritus Mundi is a well-rounded album that offers a breath of fresh air in a very dark time in our world. Perhaps that is fitting since many of Yeats’ poems offered a similar freshness to the broken and hurting world of the early twentieth century. Nad Sylvan may have taken an unusual path to rock stardom in his 50s and early 60s, but that seems to have brought a maturity to the music he makes. This album is well-crafted, and it is both a fitting tribute to Yeats’ poetry and a wonderful introduction of that poetry to new audiences a century after it was written.
Sylvan is one of the most creative people working under the broad umbrella of progressive rock today. He seems to get better with each passing record. I only hope he gets the chance to tour his own music someday. Check out Spiritus Mundi along with his other solo albums. You won’t be disappointed.
Atmospheric and brooding, LearingToDive bring a fresh sound to a synth sound. There are elements of rock and pop, but this is a subdued album with swirling and gentle sounds. UK-based journalist Chloe Mogg has more below:
By Chloe Mogg
Musical enigma LearningToDive are ready to rock the boat with the release of debut album Norweigan Pop. A true love letter to the 80s, Norweigan Pop is a lineup of 11 stunning tracks full of Synth-Pop sounds and Post-Punk style. Reminiscent of New Romantic giants such as Duran Duran, the eclectic Norweigan Pop project touches on hot topics from personal, political and societal ideas to themes of hope and betrayal.
LearningToDive is the latest project from musical maverick and New Zealand based Bravo Bonez. Bravo is a well rounded talent, proficient in production, composition and musicianship there’s few things Bravo Bonez has yet to try his hand at. The LearningToDive project is Bravo’s latest and possibly greatest musical identity, stylistically unique compared to his other ventures the LTD sound touches on the more serious aspects of Bravo’s life.
The Norweigan Pop album follows Bravo’s journey of self-reflection and discovery, a musical rollercoaster of deeply layered textures and melodies that form a backdrop to Bravo’s lyrical soul searching. The project was impacted by Bravo’s love for the 80’s greats, from Roxy Music, the Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen and even Iva Davies (Icehouse), It’s no surprise that the LearningToDive debut has a distinctly nostalgic feel to it.
Since bringing us the very first LearningToDive single “High & Dry” in November of 2020 Bravo has quickly established himself as one to watch on the scene. Bringing back a New Romantic sound from decades past, LearningToDive takes a new spin on modern music, and fans can’t get enough of it.
The debut album for Killing Kenny may be a bit on the fringes of what we do here at Progarchy, since there’s a strong country influence in the music. Going way back to our founding, the joke was our unwritten rule was no country allowed, but fortunately Killing Kenny’s music draws from atmospheric, electronic, and rock music more than it does from country. The result is rather stunning. UK-based journalist Chloe Mogg has more below:
By Chloe Mogg
Exactly Different is exactly what it says on the tin, a unique blend of 11-tracks transcending the boundaries of genre. Killing Kenny’s Exactly Different ventures into the world of Rock, Country, Indie and beyond, all whilst maintaining his signature of magical melodies and power packed lyricism.
Killing Kenny’s debut album features a host of polished original songs, along with two stand-out cover versions of Soft Cell classic “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” and Bruce Springsteen’s infamous “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Killing Kenny comments on “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,”
I remember this song from school in 1981, when the start of the 1980’s sound began to kick in. Always liked the tune and it brings back great memories of very happy times for me growing up. I wanted to keep the sound still very 1980’s with an uncluttered version of the tune.
Kenny is no stranger to the scene, having been playing in bands since the late 80s he has a wealth of experience and hard-earned skill under his belt. Yet latest project Exactly Different is perhaps his most authentic work yet.
Returning to the scene after a solid three decades absence, Kenny is once again at the helm and taking charge of his musical career. Exactly Different has been a journey of self-discovery and reflection, a chance to hone his sound and experiment with style. Kenny explains-
It feels strange at the age of 53 to be talking about a debut album, however, this collection of songs entitled “Exactly Different” is “exactly” that. A collection of 9 original songs each designed to reflect a style of music and drawn from a period in my life from the age of 13, when I first started playing music, to today. The album also includes two cover versions as a homage to artists I admire and times I enjoyed.
The making of this album has been all things. An opportunity to meet and work with some new very talented and established people, all of whom have been incredibly helpful, supportive and encouraging. A great therapy by immersing myself back into writing and recording new music. Above all a great sense of joy and inspiration to never stop doing what you enjoy and to always pursue what you love to do”.
Killing Kenny pours heart and soul into his sound, infusing his musicality with a raw passion for songwriting and love for his instruments.
With a love for sound that’s infectious to audiences, it will come as no surprise that Killing Kenny has already found himself on radio waves across the globe, and featured in publications such as The Daily Record and Sunday Post.
Album ‘Exactly Different’ will soon have you falling in love with Killing Kenny too.
In the documentary for his album Empath, Devin Townsend commented that many people have trouble understanding much of his musical output because his albums vary drastically in style. His work with Strapping Young Lad was as extreme as metal can get. On other albums he shows prog, classical, country, and even pop influences. He explained that he doesn’t play only one type of music because he would get bored. He doesn’t listen to only one kind of music for the same reason.
I share Townsend’s sentiment. Why on earth would you want to listen to only one kind of music? Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really seen myself as a real metalhead, even though I really enjoy metal. You go to a metal concert, and many of the people in attendance only listen to metal. That’s fine – people can listen to what they like. I happen to get bored by listening to one kind of music, which is probably why I like progressive rock so much since it includes a broad array of sounds. But even within contemporary prog you’ll get those fans who will only listen to Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Marillion, etc., or those folks who still only listen to Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc. and haven’t bothered to dig into the music being made today.
To those people who aren’t familiar with Devin Townsend (which includes Steven Wilson, by his own admission), you’re missing out on perhaps the most creative genius working in the music industry today. In the Empath documentary he talked about working with Mike Keneally, who has worked with many brilliant people, including Frank Zappa. Townsend says he would never dream of comparing himself with someone like Zappa, but I would. Townsend is every bit as creative, albeit in different ways. That documentary, which I believe is only available on the super deluxe version of Empath that Devin released last year, helps shed some light on Devin’s creative process. It also shows him in a very open and honest way. His new acoustic live album, Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds, was his attempt to strip away all the fluff from his stage shows and connect with audiences in a very open way.
A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.
Ascription for Psalm 102, King James Version
The Art of Losing, the second album by Catherine Anne Davies working as The Anchoress, hits where the listener lives. Lyrically erudite? You bet; Davies borrows the title from American poet Elizabeth Bishop, quotes a roster of literary titans from Julian of Norwich and C.S. Lewis to Margaret Atwood and Jorge Luis Borges in the liner notes, then depicted herself exhaling (vomiting?) her contribution to the conversation on the album sleeve. Musically sophisticated? Again, a slam dunk; beyond her compelling writing and powerful, nuanced singing, Davies plays most of the instruments with gusto, creates the unique sound world only a virtuoso producer could, and pulls influences from Depeche Mode to modern classicist Max Richter into the mix.
But that’s all secondary, picked up on repeated listens, trailing in the wake of this music’s overwhelming initial impact. Davies’ keenly honed portrayals of mayhem, trauma, loss and grief (reflections of her recent life) suck you into a maelstrom where happiness is barely a consideration. The question she seems to insistently ask on The Art of Losing is: how to endure?
How to endure being treated like a possession — by responding in kind? (“The Exchange”, duetting with Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield) How to endure in a world where the wicked and unjust prosper and even gain greater influence (“Show Your Face,” rocking like a truck full of bricks as Davies snarls the chorus)? How to endure the ache of separation, the innumerable endings that life inevitably brings (the uneasily propulsive title track and “Unravel”)? The preternaturally quiet “5 AM” arrives at the abyss: just piano, cello and Davies’ unflinching vocal, recounting incidents of domestic abuse, sexual assault and baby loss, implacably inventorying the damage that comes for no reason, beyond what others think you are or owe them.
Groping for a path forward, Davies broods on the nature of sacrifice in “The Heart Is A Lonesome Hunter”, then explodes on the fierce incantation “My Confessor”. “With the Boys” brings another hushed, apocalyptic reckoning, as Davies tallies up the price of her choices– and concludes the outcome has been worth it:
All of my life I’ve been waiting for something I might call my own And learn to hold something inside A voice unworn that gets a little louder when you laugh at me And tell me not to speak
And she goes round and round Chasing circles with the palm of her hand She got to be good got to be certain if she wants to play With the boys . . .
But I can’t and I won’t shut my mouth this time Can’t control what you don’t know What was it you were hoping for guarding all the doors? Guarding all the doors?
The Anchoress’ answers to the inherent ache of life — of embodiment in a broken world where, seemingly beyond redemption, we choose to love things and use other people — aren’t cheap, easy or sentimental. But they are bracing and genuinely moving. At the end of The Art of Losing, endurance is the only viable solution (and quite possibly its own reward); the acceptance of time’s passage and the willingness to continue is the only possibility worth pursuing. Where the strength to do it comes from — yourself? Others? Someone you pour out your complaint to? — may remain a mystery. But by channeling her (and our) dilemma into 40 minutes of ambitious, unforgettable art-pop, Catherine Anne Davies has given us an undeniable gift. Open it for yourself and listen below: