It seems no sooner have I cleared the (self-created) backlog than bad Elephant add more interesting releases to this years schedule, which means there will be a couple more to add to this site in due course, it also means of my journey to work on the bus is enlivened by interesting new music, and odd toe tapping and finger drumming, which must be a delight to all the other passengers. Still at least I don’t play this loud through a tinny speaker in my mobile phone…maybe I should. Have you ever noticed that the worse the music, the louder it is likely to be, and the most likely it’s going to be coming from a smart phone? Anyway, I digress, I shouldn’t let my mind wander as it’s not old enough to be out by itself.
I may have mentioned before that the earlier part of this year has involved moving, and so from March to the middle of May we were living out of boxes and struggling with finding what we needed, never mind anything else, I don’t think my stereo system was set up until the end of May, luckily I could still get to my laptop where the releases from Bad Elephant kept coming through thick and fast, and blimey what a diverse and eclectic release schedule they have had so far this year.
A well-known outspoken progressive rock ‘character’ has been quite forthright (again) this week on Facebook about how modern prog is dull and boring, or to quite his words ‘Prog is Bog’and how there’s no truly progressive bands out there. I think that Robert John Godfrey could do with joining the BEM fan page on Facebook, and then he’ll be able to see which bands are doing the creating and where the new voices in prog are coming from. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but to slate an entire contemporary genre, which some could argue is leaving him behind, without putting in the hard yards and listening to large chunks of what’s out there does him, and the genre he’s supposed to be part of and has been a champion for in the past, a great disservice. God there’s a whole chunk of music out there I haven’t heard yet, but as any good reviewer knows, your mind is like a parachute, it works best when it is opened. Anyway I’ll put away my little book of reviewing clichés now and crack on with another batch of music from those Elephant boys. I hope once you’ve had a read you take the time to investigate some of this music, which is at the cutting edge of contemporary prog.
Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware
Released back in June, this début album from North London 4 piece mix the best of contemporary prog, with nods towards prog metal and electronica, taking a broad musical palette that brings to mind so many different bands that is hard to know where to start.
Paradigm Shift aren’t shy about covering heavy topics and Becoming Aware is chock full of them, drawing inspiration I imagine from the darker world that we are currently living in. However if you’re expecting the album to depress you and bring you down then you’re wrong, the topics may be heavy but the mood set here isn’t.
A lot of that is down to the musical prowess of the band, the taut musical ability of this four piece who were founded back in 2007 by Ben Revens (vocals & keyboards) and Reuben Krendal (guitars) joined by Bryson Demath (drums) and Leon Itzler
(Bass). Moving through styles and moods with dexterity and grace, and with some fantastic piano pieces from Revens.
From the opening power of A Revolutionary cure, with its sampled speeches about freedom and slavery, topics that recur throughout the album, as the band are interested in the ideas of politicians telling the people what to do and the counterargument that these ideas fail, and it is this that drives A Revolutionary Cure, this and the powerful guitar and keyboard combination of Revens and Krendal, whose versatility taking in what some would describe as classic prog tendencies, mixed with metal, and running the whole gamut to some finely textured jazz piano means they are covering all bases musically, and to do so with such aplomb and self-assured confidence is great to hear.
The fact that these guys are so young gets forgotten, as this album builds and builds, with some amazing guitar work throughout. The album flows organically each track leading into the other, and it shows a lot of care and thought has been put into the programming and running order, which is wonderful to hear, an album designed as such.
There are certain traditional prog sensibilities on display here, from the epic 14 plus opener, to the two beautifully performed instrumentals, The Void, segueing nicely into the Shift, here Revens piano playing is to the fore, and it’s an instrument that helps define their sound, as integral to the album as the drum and bass combo of Demath and Itzler who provide real power and momentum on tracks like the closing two epics of Masquerade and Reunification.
With 4 tracks all clocking in at over 8 minutes, they give the songs room to breath, room to expand and grow, and yet nothing seems or feels superfluous, the tracks are this length because that’s how they are, no padding or waffle throughout.
This is an assured and confident début from another strong young prog band with plenty to say, and believe me it’s well worth you listening.
Nine Stones Close – Leaves
Founded by guitarist Adrian Jones, five piece Anglo Dutch proggers Nine Stones Close released this, their fourth album in May, and see’s the band build on their legacy and a few line up changes, as the band has coalesced round Adrian Jones, drummer Pieter Van Hoorn, Aio O’Shaughnessy on impressive vocals, Peter Groen on bass and stick and Christiaan Bruin on keyboards. With the new line up comes a change of direction as well, although as this is the first album of theirs I’ve heard I can’t really comment, although I do know that Aio’s vocals are of a very different style to previous vocalist Marc Atkinson.
There is a lot of power here, and it’s hard to imagine on tracks like Lie that there’s only 5 men performing, as the intensity and groove they build is fantastic, as the instrumental precision and power here builds and builds as Adrian’s guitar work matched with Peters bass climbs and climbs in intensity and power and pulls you in.
The only short song on the album is the 5 minute opener Complicated, which eases you in gently before the power of the album kicks in, and what power, with some amazing musical work throughout the album it’s difficult to say which one of the 5 songs is my favourite, although I am edging towards the 16 minutes plus epic Spoils, where the symphonic textures and guitar create a tension that simmers throughout the track, with Aio’s fantastic vocals shining throughout this track, he has impressive range and a subtle skill in moving through light to dark, reminiscent of great singers like Dio or Bruce Dickinson, whilst the musical symphony that the band creates is fantastic, and the acoustic interludes and musical riffing throughout are superb.
This is a rather amazing record, which ends with the title track, Leaves, when you consider the power and darkness that has been on display throughout the album the title track is almost a counterpoint to what has gone on before, with an ambient undertow and almost minimalist playing until it builds to a hauntingly beautifully climax.
There is a lot going on with this album, and a complex sound that echoes long after the record has finished, this is definitely a left field album that is pleasantly surprising.
Konchordat – Rise to the Order
Third album from South East based prog 4 piece Stuart Martin (vocals and guitars), Neil Hayman (drums), Steve Cork (bass) and Neil Watts (keyboards) unleash, after much delay, their third album on an unsuspecting public through the Bad Elephants, and after having started out as a studio project, the current line up has evolved into a popular live band, and the power of a live band is reflected in this album.
Moving to a heavier sound, with the opening Like a Heart Attack kicking straight in and grabbing you by the throat with its heavy sound and driving keyboard work, you know you’re in for a treat. Operating firmly in the more traditional end of neo-prog, and adding symphonic touches to the sound, reminiscent of Threshold the sound they make is mighty and on Nowhere left to Go there is a wonderful driving Hammond influenced vibe. With the shortest song clocking in at just over 6 minutes, the rest of this material has room to grow, and plenty of opportunity to show off their power and skills. The bass and drums of Steve and Neil (Hayman) anchor the sound and allow Stuart and Neil (watts) to go nuts in guitar and keyboards, giving us a rich and warm sound that is a delight to listen to.
Konchordat are purveyors of prog that sits on the heavier side, but unlike other bands who throw the baby out with the bathwater and focus on the technicality of the metal and lose the soul, Konchordat have the songs to pull it off without it ever drifting into a technical bore fest, they have remembered the key part of any album is starting with the songs, and as a consequence have created a well crafted album that packs both a musical and emotional punch which rewards listen after listen.
Heliopolis – Epic at the Majestic – Live at Rosfest
American prog band Heliopolis mark their new relationship with BEM by releasing their set at last years American prog landmark festival Rosfest.
The 5-piece band, Jerry Beller (drums and backing vocals) Matt Brown (keyboards, lead & backing vocals) Kerry Chicoine (bass and backing vocals) Scott Jones (lead vocals) and Mike Matier (guitars and backing vocals) perform their 2014 album, City of the Sun in its entirety.
Again this is my first introduction to the band, and from playing it I like what I hear, there’s plenty of old school prog tricks throughout the album, with some of the wonderful harmony vocals shining throughout, particularly on the uplifting and elegiac New Frontier, listening to the audience’s reaction to the band’s performance it’s clear that they are loving the bands performance, and it is a confident and strong performance, as the band take the audience with them and treat them to some barnstorming performances, Scott Jones vocals are excellent throughout and he reminds me in part of Steve Hogarth crossed with Geddy Lee, whilst musically Heliopolis are a traditionally old school prog band, with plenty of epic keyboard pieces like the soloing in Take a Moment, and with some fantastically powerful drumming. There’s even a hint of Yes in Mr Wishbone/Optical Delusion, whilst Elegy has a gentler piano driven vibe to it that nicely counterparts the more complicated songs with a simpler sound. Live albums are always a different beast to their studio counterparts as they show the evolution of the songs and how the music has grown to fill a live venue, and I am sure that if I sat down and listened to City of the Sun I would be able to play spot the difference, as a live experience is something to be treasured and for those lucky enough to be at Rosfest would have enjoyed this performance, and this is an excellent souvenir of a one-off gig, and for those who couldn’t be there, this is a fantastic document of a band playing to their strengths and an incredibly supportive audience.
Under a Banner – The Wild Places
Lets not forget that Bad Elephant don’t just operate in the prog world, they are home to such songwriters as Tom Slatter, jh, and Mothertongue, all of whom are operating in totally different genres. As anyone whose spoken to David Elliott knows, he loves his prog but he also loves his folk rock music, and Under a Banner from the midlands are definitely operating in the rock end of the folk scene.
Following on a long line of political bands from this scene, like Billy Bragg, The Oysterband, The Levellers amongst others, Under a Banner have been plying their trade for around three years.
The band Adam Broadhurst (vocals/guitars) Jake Brooks (guitars and backing vocals) Simon Hill (bass guitar) Tim Wilson (drums,percussion, backing vocals) and Kat Davis (keyboards) are a powerfully tight folk influenced rock band with a mighty mighty sound.
From the opening In the End, you are drawn into the story telling that Adam weaves around the superb music from the band, his distinctive vocals draw you in, and the power of songs like Birdsong hit you from the speakers, the big choruses and elegiac quality to tracks like Sunburst leave you blown away.
I confess to having a loving of folk rock and the whole political movement behind the bands, with folk songs literally being the music of the people, the oppressed, the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the ones who want to see a change, and lord knows the way the world is at the moment we need a change, and it is refreshing and pleasing to know that there are bands like Under a Banner out there documenting today’s struggles, with some passionately played and relentlessly driving folk rock, the guitar solos on Snow Song, complete with it’s harmonic vocals and instrumental piece building until the guitar sears through the sound is particularly amazing.
I have had this album in my lug holes as I ride the bus to work, and each time I listen reveals new and intricate sounds and the sheer power behind the songs is superb. No overtly complicated arrangements, and certainly no 20 minute epics, instead the whole ‘less is more’ ethos works here in spades, and as new folk rock crusaders go, these guys are one of the best of the bunch. It’s an album that leaves you wanting more, and I cannot wait to see this brand of fiery anthemic folk rock performed live, with the connection that you would undoubtedly get between the band and the audience.
I cannot recommend this release enough, buy it, put it in your ears and let it live!
All albums are available as always through the Bad Elephant website www.badelephant.co.uk