The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Seven): October

With a cover that evokes the pastoral simplicity of a Robert Frost poem or Ray Bradbury’s October Country, After the Fall seemed a fitting album to review in this most beautiful month of the year. Although one might expect to hear lilting flute and gentle acoustic guitar on an album like this, After the Fall includes neither; rather, it relies on piano, moog, and violin to create a spacey, jazz-fusion sound.

The album itself consists of only six tracks and is just over thirty minutes in length. The “Intro” opens with the sound of the blowing wind on a cool autumn day before Mark Sterling’s moog comes in to treat our ears to a soft cosmic journey. The three subsequent tracks – “October Suite,” “Earth,” and “Through the Light of Reason” – feature the prominent use of electric piano and violin, both of which are played with skill by Mark Krench and Brad Tolinksi, respectively. Elements of Pink Floyd and Camel are sprinkled throughout, especially toward the end of “Earth.” The fourth piece, “Shining,” features Jeff Rozany doing duty on both bass and vocals, but he sings only a few lines in a gentle voice before the instruments – the stars of the show – again take over. “Charisma,” the longest and best of the six, closes the album. Although the moog, electric piano, and violin continue to shine, and Pat Carson proves himself a steady anchor on the drums, it is Rozany’s bass that relentlessly drives this song forward, giving “Charisma” an edgier sound than the other tracks.

If you are expecting something in the vein of Jethro Tull’s “Witch’s Promise” (as, admittedly, I was), you will be in for a surprise – but a pleasant one. October will not necessarily blow you away (pardon the wind pun), but it does make for a lovely, relaxing listen for a cool autumn day. Fans of symphonic or jazz fusion will appreciate this one.

Stay tuned for number twenty-eight!

Rick’s Quick Takes for October

Glass Hammer, Skallagrim – Into the Breach: Fred Schendel, Steve Babb and company return with the second installment of their multi-part “sword and sorcery” epic, begun on 2020’s Dreaming City. The music rocks hard and heavy, evoking everyone from Deep Purple to Mastodon (and yes, a fair amount of Rush), with just enough moody, ambient keyboard work to cleanse your aural palate before the next round of crunchy power chords. All this marvelously matches the grimdark vibe of the titular hero’s melodramatic quest for his lost love. (And a surprise lyrical callback to an earlier GH album sets up tantalizing possibilities regarding just who that lost love is.) To top it all off, new vocalist Hannah Pryor proves a major discovery, surfing Schendel and Babb’s gargantuan riffs with zest, grace and power to spare. Every bit as involving as Dreaming City, this fine album is a blast in every sense of the term. Order signed CDs, downloads and merch direct from Glass Hammer’s webstore.

Steve Hackett, Surrender of Silence: enter one legendary guitarist, shredding! Hackett lets himself off the leash here, laying down both his wildest compositions and his most hardcore playing in quite some time. The tunes can actually be a bit undercooked, their influences not always fully assimilated (‘Hmm, Prokofiev . . . wait, Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”!?! . . . good grief, is that lick really “Theme from Exodus”???’). Nonetheless, Hackett’s swashbuckling solos atop Roger King’s widescreen orchestrations are irresistible as always; he and wife Jo serve up fresh sonic travelogues such as “Wingbeats” and “Shanghai to Samarkand”; and full-on burners like “Relaxation Music for Sharks” and “The Devil’s Cathedral” (featuring Hackett’s full band, including Nad Sylvan on vocals) never fail to thrill. Perhaps it’s not up to the towering heights of At the Edge of Light and Under A Mediterranean Sky, but Hackett’s latest is well worth your while. Order signed albums (CD, CD+BluRay combo, LP or LP+CD combo) direct from his webstore.

Isildur’s Bane & Peter Hammill, In Disequilbrium: Mats Johansen’s expandable international ensemble (including King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto on drums this time) reconnects with Van der Graaf Generator visionary Hammill; two sprawling multi-movement suites result. The three-part title piece careens between hard-driving rock, off-kilter electronica, spastic percussion interludes and haunting chamber textures, as Hammill decries a post-pandemic world that was already primed for chaos. (“There’s no choreography, dance the Tarantella./In disequilibrium round and round forever we’ll go.”) In the four-part “Gently (Step by Step)”, Hammill supplies winningly vulnerable encouragement to face whatever the future holds; the band drapes his incantatory vocals in dizzying sonic collages that somehow always sound forlorn, no matter the timbre or tempo at a particular moment. This one definitely requires multiple plays to unfold its secrets, but it’s well worth the effort; the way IB’s devastatingly precise, multilayered processes track with the unpredictable contours of Hammill’s apocalyptic meditations must be heard to be believed. Order CDs and LPs (plus previous collaborations with Hammill and Marillion’s Steve Hogarth)at Burning Shed’s Isildur’s Bane store.

Tillison Reingold Tiranti, Allium – Una Storia: Perhaps Andy Tillison’s most light-hearted effort ever. Back in 1976, a teenage Tillison encountered (and sat in with) the obscure Albanian prog group of the album’s title at an Italian holiday camp — and it changed his life for the better. This lockdown-inspired “homage to a band whose day never came” easily goes beyond a mere tribute to Seventies Europrog, capturing the sheer joy and the heady freedom both Allium and the fledgling Tillison must have felt in those moments. Collaborating with Jonas Reingold (bass and guitars), Roberto Tiranti (vocals) and Antonio DeSarno (Italian lyrics), Tillison contributes some of his best, boldest keyboard work ever on three long, appealingly involved, frequently funky tracks — and plays all the drums! And you get both Tillison’s “Original Mix” (effortlessly conjuring up the period — I was roughly his age at the time) and Reingold’s “Respectful Remix” (which, bourgeois Philistine that I now am, I actually prefer). If you’re interesting in hearing the Tangent’s mainman just having fun, this is your ticket. Order CDs from Reingold Records.

Yes, The Quest: I’d argue that Yes, in any formation, hasn’t made an essential album since 90125. I’d also argue that, when Geoff Downes’ keys and Steve Howe’s sublime guitar really lock together, as on the opening “The Ice Bridge”, the results sound more like upper-mid-level Asia than the band they’re supposed to be in here. But if Yes fans can get past these discontents (as well as the numerous others they’ve accumulated over the decades), they may enjoy The Quest’s estimable (though not overwhelming) charms. Singer Jon Davison brings the requisite lyrical themes of self-actualization and environmental issues to the party; Billy Sherwood does his manful best to channel the spirit of Chris Squire on bass and vocals; and in the studio Alan White can still summon his classic drive, if not the power he had in his prime. The FAMES Orchestra add a dash of Time and A Word/Symphonic Tour luxury to the proceedings as well. While everything’s downshifted multiple gears from Yes’ most rambunctious, energetic — and it has to be said, creative — years this is an unquestionable step up from the appallingly bland Heaven and Earth, with its own modest appeal. I can see a track or two from this fitting nicely into the setlist when Yes finally can bring their long-promised Relayer tour to the Western Hemisphere. Order the album (in CDs, red LPs + CDs, CDs + BluRay combo, and CDs+LPs+BluRay deluxe boxset formats) from Burning Shed.

— Rick Krueger

Closing Hours of Crowdfunding Campaign for Lobate Scarp’s Second Album

Lobate Scarp - You Have It AllLos Angeles-based progressive rock band Lobate Scarp (which features Progarchy’s very own Adam Sears) is in the final day+ in their crowdfunding campaign for their second album. They have almost met their goal, and there are a lot of cool perks, so go check it out: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lobate-scarp-s-2nd-studio-album-new-prog-rock#/

In addition to all the other great things they have in store for the new album (just check out that artwork!), they announced that Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood will be providing guest vocals on a track. Yes!

Check out their single, “Beautiful Light,” from several years ago.

And check out their update video on the new album:

Devin Townsend Provides Video Update About Upcoming Albums

Devin Townsend released a video on his YouTube channel today updating us all on his upcoming albums – Puzzle, Snuggles, and Lightwork. Sadly due to supply issues for plastic, the release date is being pushed back to December 3, 2021. Townsend continues to work on the new Lightwork album as well, with the finished record due to the label right before the new release date for the two other projects. More from the man himself:

https://youtu.be/L9t17ldEb44

Lucid Planet to Issue Their Second Album on Vinyl

Lucid Planet - IIYou may remember way back in January when we reviewed Australian band Lucid Planet’s sophomore album. It’s a great album, and now it will be coming to vinyl on November 5. Pre-orders are open now. With beautifully detailed album artwork, the large record sleeve will look great. A real eye-catcher. 

The band also has some promotions going as part of the pre-order campaign. Check those out at their newsletter: https://mailchi.mp/097491d28ead/october-2021-update-lucid-planet-ii-is-coming-to-vinyl?e=aaaffa1bc4. You can sign up for their newsletter at the bottom of the home page on their website: https://lucidplanet.net

You can order the vinyl from their store: https://lucidplanet.net/shop/itemdisplay/41.

Prog-Metal Duo Athemon Set to Release Debut Album Tomorrow

AethemonOne of our media contacts sent us the debut album from prog metal duo Athemon, featuring Adriano Ribeiro (guitars and vocals) and former Haken bassist Tom MacLean (bass, production), as well as guest Gledson Gonçalves on drums. Initial thoughts – quite good. Heavy and dark. Vocals run the metal spectrum with cleans and distortion. Their overall sound is a lot larger than the number of musicians might suggest. Definitely check them out.

Here’s the press release and a Bandcamp link at the end:


Progressive metal duo Athemon debut self-titled full length will release on October 11th, 2021 and will be available on Flyathemon.bandcamp.com and Spotify.

Crossing paths online during the beginning of the Covid global lockdown, musicians Tom MacLean (bassist/producer, To-Mera, ex-Haken) based in the UK and Adriano Ribeiro (vocalist and guitarist) based in Brazil, used the digital world to their advantage to give rise to their new band Athemon. “Adriano sent me his demo and it gave me goosebumps, so I was keen to get involved,” says MacLean.

From a significant evolution between demos to their final introductory recordings, MacLean and Ribeiro created a bonding friendship over musical interests that created the perfect environment to allow them to evolve and conceive their debut album. Formed as a gateway to express their art using progressive metal music, Athemon’s first release is a concept record that is meant to be heard as one long 50-minute track divided into nine parts.

“Full of dark and enigmatic atmospheres, this is a 50-minute concept album divided into nine songs, which tells a story about self-awareness. This is a creative release that seeks to forge the perfect alloy of darkness and beauty,” adds the band.

For the album’s recording, the duo invited a special guest drummer from Brazil, Gledson Gonçalves who added his percussionist touch to compliment each one of the nine tracks.

“As nobody goes alone in this world (even being totally alone inside one’s own mind), the songwriting process had a lonely beginning, but a very collaborative end. The beginning of this project was driven by Adriano, but nothing would fit so well if it wasn’t for the amazing connection the three of us have (Adriano, Tom, and our special guest on drums, Gledson),” says MacLean.

The lyrics for the album were written by vocalist/guitarist Adrian Ribeiro and were inspired by thoughts of how confusing reality can be if you are not taking care of your emotional side. “The thin line between what’s real and what’s not is an endless world,” adds Ribeiro.

New fans of Athemon, can expect much more to come from the pair as they already have plans to launch their second album by the end of 2022, which they are currently composing with promising results. As for the live spectacle of Athemon, for now, the band will let the music flow until the duo can connect from across the Atlantic for their first in-person jam session. Recommended for fans of Nevermore, Pain of Salvation, Opeth, Gojira, and Mastodon, Athemon’s self-titled debut is available on all digital platforms.

https://www.facebook.com/fly.athemon
https://flyathemon.bandcamp.com/releases

ProgJect – The Ultimate Prog Rock Experience – Featuring Michael Sadler, Ryo Okumoto, Jason Bieler, Matt Dorsey, and Jonathan Mover

Press Release:

ProgJect

ProgJect is The Ultimate Prog Rock Experience featuring Michael Sadler, Ryo Okumoto, Jason Bieler, Matt Dorsey, and Jonathan Mover performing the classics and epics of Genesis, Yes, ELP, and King Crimson, along with some Pink Floyd, Rush, Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel, Gentle Giant and more.

Michael Sadler (SAGA) – Lead Vocals, Keys, Bass & Percussion
Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard, Asia, Chris Squire) – Keyboards & Vocals 
Jason Bieler (The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra, Saigon Kick) – Guitar & Vocals
Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Beth Hart, Hannah Montana) – Bass, Pedals, Guitar, Keys & Vocals 
Jonathan Mover (GTR, Marillion, Joe Satriani, The Tubes) – Drums, Percussion, Samples & Vocals

The brainchild of Jonathan Mover, ProgJect came to fruition out of his love for and childhood dream of playing the ‘Prog’ he grew up listening to. “Prog Rock is the reason I play drums,” Mover explains.

After a last-minute call to tour with the premier Genesis tribute band The Musical Box, Mover returned home waxing nostalgic:

I haven’t had that much fun onstage in a long time and was reminded of the reason I began drumming in the first place–Prog Rock. Playing songs like ‘Robbery, Assault and Battery’, ‘Dance on A Volcano’, ‘Wot Gorilla’, ‘Watcher of The Skies’ and ‘Back In NYC’ had me feeling fifteen again and relit the very same fire I felt when I first picked up sticks.
 
What if I put together ‘The Ultimate Prog Rock Experience’, with top players, and pay homage to our favorite Prog giants–Genesis, Yes, ELP and King Crimson, along with some Pink Floyd, Rush, Peter Gabriel, U.K., Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and more?

With a two-plus hour set that includes Prog classics and epics such as, “Squonk”, “Cinema Show”, “Firth of Fifth’, “Karn Evil 9 – 1st Impression Pt. I & II”, “Siberian Khatru”, “Roundabout”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic”, “Xanadu”, “La Villa Strangiato”, “Have A Cigar”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Solsbury Hill”, “Living In The Past” and more… ProgJect is going to drop your jaw and blow your mind.

Watch the ProgJect video trailer: https://youtu.be/_tDxVrl6qZc

From the first full-band rehearsal in late September, 2019, the chemistry was immediate. Rehearsals continued with the band shaping the songs and arrangements, and with their first tour in the works, ProgJect was set to embark on a two-dozen date run from Northeast Canada, down the East Coast and across to the Midwest… and then came Covid.

Sixteen months later, ProgJect is back in full-production rehearsals, modifying the set and preparing for their first official tour, starting April, 2022.

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Six): Julian’s Treatment

If a psychedelic concept album about interstellar travel, galactic warfare, and a kingdom of beautiful blue women sounds like the cure for your end-of-summer blues, then Julian’s Treatment may be just what the doctor ordered! Headed by budding science fiction author Julian Jay Savarin, Julian’s Treatment released only one album – A Time Before This – in 1970 before financial troubles forced them to call it a day. But their sole release truly is an obscure gem: original copies of the album have apparently sold for over $1,000.

But back to Savarin’s writing: what tale does he weave here? Here’s a helpful summary I came across on the YouTube posting of the album: A Time Before This…tells the story of the last surviving man from planet Earth, who journeys across interstellar space to the Alpha Centauri system, where a conflict is raging. On one side stands Alda, Dark Lady of the Outer Worlds, and her ally the Mule. On the other is Altarra, Princess of the Blue Women and Supreme Ruler of the planet Alkon. It is implied that the Earthman will become Altarra’s ally and lover, and will help her overthrow Alda and the Mule.

And there you have it: travel, warfare, and exotic women. Perhaps it’s not the most original story ever told, but singer Cathy Pruden’s passionate vocals make it worth at least a few listens. Her best performances come in Chapters V and VI: first as the menacing and imposing “Alda, Dark Lady of Outer Worlds,” and then as “Altarra, Princess of the Blue Women,” as graceful and mellow as Alda is fierce and powerful.

The other star on this album is Savarin himself: although not a wordsmith at the level of a Bradbury, Heinlein, or Dick, he nevertheless offers a rather engaging acid trip of a tale. Furthermore, he’s quite the talented Hammond organ player, and his instrument is the glue that holds the album together. (And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge guitarist and flutist Del Watkins, whose skill on both instruments adds a welcome touch of both hard and folk rock – listen in particular to his work on “Phantom City.”)

Fans of psychedelia, science fiction, and Hawkwind’s Michael Moorcock-inspired albums will find especial pleasure in listening to Julian’s Treatment. Like any novel, this album must be listened straight through from beginning to end – don’t skip any of the chapters!

Stay tuned for number twenty-seven!

Sunday Jazz – Benjamin Croft’s “Far and Distant Things”

Benjamin Croft Far and Distant ThingsBenjamin Croft, Far and Distant Things, Ubuntu Music, 2021
Tracks: Overture (1:13), Far and Distant Things (6:13), Brock (4:47), S.A.D. (Spatial Awareness Disease) (6:21). Tudor Job Agency (6:25), S&R Video (5:07), The War Against Loudness (6:17), How Not To Win The Nobel Peace Prize (6:17), Than You, That’s What I Wanted To Know… (5:35), St Gandalf’s (1:55), The Cashectomy (6:25)

I don’t listen to as much jazz as I should, probably because it is such a diverse genre that I barely know where to begin. I’ve always enjoyed jazz music in live settings. I think the genre excels when played live because it is a highly experimental genre, allowing room for improvisation. When I was in college I loved attending the concerts put on by the faculty jazz band. They were always so much fun. I think I enjoy jazz for some of the same reasons I enjoy progressive rock, which obviously is heavily influenced by jazz. At its most basic, the technical musicality in jazz keeps me interested. 

UK musician Benjamin Croft’s Far and Distant Things has been such an enjoyable CD to listen to over the past month and a half. Croft wrote and arranged all the tracks on the album, and he also played all of the keyboards. In addition to Steinway and Yamaha grand pianos, Croft plays a whole list of various synthesizers and keyboards, thus bringing in a bit of a prog texture to his jazz record. Perhaps those elements are why he sent us his CD for review, but regardless of why, this is an excellent album. At any rate, the artwork is certainly prog, featuring cover art (and other artwork on the CD and in the packaging) by Hugh Syme. 

Beyond Croft on keyboards, the songs have a revolving cast of characters, with Tristan Mailliot or Laurie Lowe playing drums on most of the tracks, except for “St. Gandalf’s,” which features Chad Wackerman. Flo Moore and Henry Thomas share bass guitar duties on the record. Guitars and on the album are played by a few guests, as are the wind instruments. Garthe Lockrane’s flutes on “Overture” and “Brock” are really quite something. It brings in that element of classic progressive rock as well as a fresh classical texture.

As is typical in jazz, there’s a lot of soloing on each track – keyboards, guitar, bass, trumpets, flute. Not each one of those on every track, but you get my meaning. The playing is smooth and easy to absorb. Some jazz can be overpowering, but Far and Distant Things sets you right at ease. The drumming and bass create a smooth yet complex rhythm throughout the entire album. The interplay between piano, keyboards, and the various wind instruments is quite pleasant. 

“How Not To Win The Nobel Peace Prize” is an interesting piece in the way it shifts over the course of the track. It starts off as a more typical jazz song before speeding up and morphing at the end of the song into more experimental territory before fading out. It’s a shame it fades out, because I wanted to hear where they were going. The title of the track, along with others on the album, hints at a bit of sarcasm, which I can always appreciate. 

Benjamin Croft – Far and Distant Things Music Video – YouTube

There are some rock moments on the record. “Far and Distant Things,” featuring Frank Gambale on electric guitar, is perhaps more rock than it is jazz, especially when you take the synths into account. “Tudor Job Agency” has its jazz moments, but the guitar, played by Barry Finnerty, has a Clapton-esque vibe to it. There is also a passage of some incredibly fast drum beats that add a rock element to the song.

Give Benjamin Croft’s Far and Distant Things a listen for a laid back Sunday afternoon or evening. Or for any day of the week. The music is exceptionally well-written and equally well-performed. It brings me back to simpler times when I could enjoy a live jazz show without worrying about… well all the things we seem to worry about these days. This instrumental album will take you a world away, if only for an hour. 

https://www.benjamincroftmusic.com
Spotify

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Five): Marsupilami

Hailing from England, jazz-rock outfit Marsupilami released two albums in the early 1970s before calling it a day. Arena, their second and final album, is an exploration of the violence and brutality of ancient Roman culture (the album cover certainly offers a hint of said violence), with an especial focus on the bloody era of the gladiators and the persecution of the early Christians. Here are my thoughts on this obscure gem:

I’ve come here today to rip the veil from your eyes, unhinge your heads, and pull out your BLOODY MINDS!” So begins the “Prelude to the Arena” – fitting considering the topic being explored. If Fred Hasson’s screaming vocals aren’t enough to wake you up, then perhaps the superb musicianship will. After the violent opening, the “Prelude” eventually settles down, featuring lovely interplay between sax, flute, and electric piano courtesy of Leary Hasson.

The black theme continues in the ironically-titled “Peace of Rome,” which opens with the chilling sound of wailing voices. Soon, however, the flute, bass, organ, and percussion pick up the tempo, but it is guitarist Dave Laverock’s searing performance on his instrument that makes this song particularly strong.

If Fred Hasson’s introductory lyrics didn’t make you pause, perhaps part of the opening lyrics to the title track will: “A Christian is a human torch exploding with a scream.” That line is then punctuated by the sound of a, well, screaming flute – again, fitting, but it certainly sends a chill down the spine. Overall, however, “Arena” is a flawed attempt at an epic: it loses much of its luster after an introduction that could have (and should have) been pared down. The lyrics, on the other hand, are never dull: we get references to both St. Peter’s upside-down crucifixion and Nero’s…relations with his mother, among other misfortunes.

“Time Shadows” places flutist Jessica Stanley-Clarke (whose work elsewhere on the album is worth noting) front and center, and she does not disappoint. Like the other tracks, “Time Shadows” remains somber in tone.

The opening thirty seconds of “Spring” – a gentle, pastoral combination of acoustic guitar, flute, and organ – contrast violently with the cacophony of electric guitar, keys, and percussion that follow for the next minute before the song begins to resemble a soft-rock tune out of Camel’s catalogue (as it turns out, original Camel member Peter Bardens produced Arena).

The dark, somber lyrics will recall to some listeners Aphrodite’s Child’s 666; the soft-rock and jazz-inspired riffs will remind others of Camel’s early work; and the screaming vocals will most likely bring to mind Peter Hammill’s distinctive screeches. Arena has its faults – the vocals are somewhat flat, and the random appearance of harmonica here and there disturbs the melodies (and not in a pleasant way) – but the lyrics are captivating, the musicianship top-notch, and the passion evident. It is one worth adding to your catalogue.

Stay tuned for number twenty-six!