2016 has been a random and rather crazy year for me, I started the year ostensibly living on my own in a one bed rented flat in Bedminster, and now find myself at the end of the year living with the love of my life, and three cats in a flat that I now own on the edge of Bristol with wonderful views over the countryside and hills to Dundry, however the move (which I may have alluded to previously) has been the most stressful move I have ever done, and as a result I have received albums from bands over the year that I may have been lax in getting finally reviewed and updated here.
Again I apologise for this, and to paraphrase John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens whilst your busy making other plans’
I don’t do these reviews professionally, like the hugely talented Progarchy team of which I am but a small cog in a mighty wheel, we all do this for the love of the music, and if just one person buys a record and loves it based on my words then I feel like I’ve done a good job. But enough about me!
Here then is a round up of two releases from the opposite sides of the world that have made it past my door and which I feel you guys should really get into your ears!
Napiers Bones: Hell and High Water
Released back in March, and building on their two previous cracking albums 2014’s The Wistman Tales and 2015’s Tregeagles Choice, this talented duo of Nathan Jon Tillet and Gordon Midgely focus squarely on storytelling and the classic big prog sound.
Their latest opus Hell and High Water is split into two distinct concepts, the first three tracks focuses on s paranormal investigator and is based around the ruined Holy Trinity Church of Buckfastleigh (the Napiers Bones boys love building on existing mythology and weaving it into their wider storytelling, this really roots the music and gives them something to build on), whilst the final 4 tracks are all based around the flood legends that have cropped up throughout history and takes us to Yorkshire and Lake Semerwater.
Their albums with tales rooted in geographical and local mythology are ripe for a guidebook!
The first song cycle focuses on a Paranormal investigator and the mysterious Squire Cabell and Buckfastleigh Holy trinity, and weaving in the contemporary obsession with reality TV, the constant search for something else beyond the pale and human scepticism and the need to answer every question, creates an intense and dynamic story.
The opening track An Air of Mystery is powerful classic rocker with some great vocals from Nathan, whilst Broadcasting live has some fantastic instrumental sections and great guitar and keyboard work, considering this is the work of a duo, and is totally home produced this doesn’t sound like it, and their musical skills are fully up to their ambition to realise the concept.
Like it’s predecessor Tregeagles Bones, the first song cycle is performed as much as a drama as a song, and Nathan’s performance and Gordon’s music is perfectly judged and brilliant executed. The finale, the 10 minute epic No Return is reminiscent of the powerful story cycle albums by Ayreon, and wraps the story up in true style, with some beautifully performed atmospheric keyboard parts.
Onto the second part of the album, this is an album of contrasts and the two different concepts on display here, show two sides to Napiers Bones, and are a subtle blend of both the dark and the light.
The 4 part song cycle that makes up the second half of the record with it’s mythology reflects the best of folk rock, and the multilayered and musically complex No Room at the Inn is another one of their beautifully executed story songs, pulling together some fantastically haunting keyboard sounds and Nathan’s passionate vocals.
The wonderful Rain Down with it’s fantastic lyrics and great musical moments leads into the closing A Wake in Yoredale which rounds off the second part of this majestic album.
Napiers Bones are in their nature story tellers and they use their music to facilitate and take us with them on their tales, years ago you could imagine them sat in low roofed pubs trading tales for tipples, now you can take them with you and engage in their immersive songwriting.
American heavy progressive rock duo Randy Sepe and Wade Greenwood recently released this, their second album (following up 2014’s debut UVTraveler) and it takes their blend of progressive and classic rock into another dimension.
I know fellow Progarchist Brad Birzer refers to me as the English progmaster, and I will admit that is where my interest in the genre was originally piqued and where my first love lies, but there is lots of exciting new prog coming from all over the globe, and to my mind UVTraveler are one of the best the states has to offer.
Producing a fine blend of classic prog whilst sitting on the harder and heavier side of the fence, they mange to pull the two influences together to create a musical union, and with the title and cover art, is there a homage going on here to Deep Purple/rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore?
In fact these influences run through the music as well, with the powerful and brooding Waiting for an Answer having some fantastic vocals from Wade that are reminiscent of Ronnie James Dios work with Black Sabbath in the early 80’s.
This doesn’t mean they are mere copyists however, after all most musicians are influenced by someone else, and it’s how you use that influence and weave it into your art that shows your mastery of your craft.
Sepe and Wade are talented enough to build elements of the heavier end of metal into prog and retaining their own musical identity that was forged on their debut album (which is also well worth a listen)
They are also masters of the blend of light and dark with If (based on the Rudyard Kipling poem) providing a contrast to the opening power of the first two tracks, with a more classily acoustic led piece that showcases Sepes versatility and again acts as a springboard for Wades impressive vocals, proving that like all the best singers he can turn his hand to the softer side of music without compromising his sound.
With guest musicians on the album fleshing out the sound, with the power of Michael Schiavo on bass and Greg Annunziata on drums, the opening rocking Deaths Call is a calling card for the album, and the rest of the tracks more than deliver on the opening promise.
The 70’s vibe runs through this record like a groove in vinyl, and tracks like a reworked version of their own When the Sun gets in your Eyes has a power and swagger of its own, whilst the closing duo of Calm before the…. provides an technically complex melodic instrumental introduction to the closing title track Stormchaser (with a nice play on words there as well, who says modern albums aren’t structured in a well thought out manner) which with it’s big riffs and fantastically catchy chorus brings the big heavy prog bands of the seventies to mind again, however this is no copy, more an honest homage blending the best of UVTraveler with some fantastic nods to bands like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple.
There is no curse of the second record here for Randy Sepe and Wade Greenwood, indeed they have taken all the elements that made their first album so good, and built on them, progressing their sound, and refining their style into another cracking slice of heavy prog.