2019 was a busy year for me, and unfortunately I never got around to reviewing these physical submissions to Progarchy. Things have slowed a bit, so here you go – three solid albums of very different sounds.
Fédéric L’Épée, The Empty Room, 2019
Tracks: Badong (07:00), Inévitable traversée (04:23), Descending the Slow River (06:28), Amour et dissolution (03:32), Delta (08:22), Hymne aux Ancêtres 1 (03:15), Treasured Wounds (06:47), Mist (04:50), Parle-moi encore (06:40), Souvenirs de Traversée (05:44), Hymne aux Ancêtres 2. (02:04), Wegschippernd (01:03)
This album was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. I had no idea what to expect. It is an instrumental album, but it isn’t like your typical instrumental prog album. It is quite unlike anything I’ve heard before. It is very cinematic. The music tells its own story in a remarkably compelling way. Monsieur L’Épée is obviously a master of his craft.
A French composer and guitarist living in Berlin, Fédéric L’Épée has been in the band Shylock, Philharmonie, and Yang. His musical influences are diverse, which becomes pretty obvious once you start listening to The Empty Room.
This album manages to be peaceful without being boring. I’d say this is one of the most interesting instrumental albums I’ve heard in a long time. The interplay of the guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards is simply stunning. The guitar tone is clean and pleasant. The solo on “Inévitable traversée” is quite nice. “Descending the Slow River” is a bit of a slower piece that may drag a little bit, but, like the other songs, it tells a story through the music. You get a sense of a slowly flowing river through the way the instruments are played.
As the album goes on the music gets more contemplative. I probably would’ve preferred an album that was more in the style of the first two tracks, “Badong” and “Inévitable traversée,” simply because they’re more upbeat, but as it stands The Empty Room is a great album. “Parle-Moi Encore” is a simple tune, but the piano and guitar work beautifully together. Someone could easily add their own heartfelt lyrics to this piece. Things pick up again with “Souvenirs de Traversée” before the albums closes with two shorter and calmer songs. Fédéric L’Épée takes the listener on a journey using only music. Many try this but few succeed. L’Épée has.
Intelligent Music Project IV, Sorcery Inside, 2019
Tracks: Yesterdays That Mattered (3:38), Every Morning (3:50), As If (3:57), No One Falls Behind (3:32), Viva (3:28), Looking For The Feeling (4:15), Night’s Calling (3:53), Slipping Away (3:21), Light (3:26), Granted (3:49), Life to Linger (3:57), Love (5:07)
Wow this album is a breath of fresh air. It instantly reminds me of the type of popular yet progressive rock that Asia, Kansas, and Styx were making in the late 1970s and into the 80s. From the vocal harmonies to the heavy guitar riffs, Sorcery Inside has a total vintage feel without sounding stale at all. I would’ve never expected a newer band to come out with something like this.
Ok I probably shouldn’t be surprised by this at all. Intelligent Music Project includes contributions from members/former members of Nazareth, Asia, and Toto. Carl Sentence, Nazareth’s current lead vocalist since 2015, John Payne, former lead vocalist for Asia after Wetton left in the early 90s, and Joseph Williams, frontman for Toto from 1986-88 and 2010-19 (and son of composer John Williams) all contribute on vocals, along with others. This certainly contributes to that vintage vibe, but it is still refreshing to hear this kind of music being made by a separate entity.
So what the heck is the Intelligent Music Project? Intelligent Music is a Bulgarian (bet you weren’t expecting that!) music production company owned by Milen Vrabevsk, MD. Dr. Vrabevsk’s goal is to promote Bulgarian cultural heritage through music, and he uses Internationally known names to help do that. “Sorcery Inside” is the fourth album from this project.
Musically this album is actually pretty diverse. There are hard-rock bombast pieces like “Yesterdays That Mattered” and “No One Falls Behind,” but there are more gentle ballads like “As If” and “Night’s Calling” as well. “Viva” is a surprise with a Spanish influence that has a brief hint of a Moorish influence with the way Joseph Williams sings part of the song. The guitar certainly has a Spanish influence in both the electric and acoustic parts, and the brass section adds to that. Part of the vocal harmonies also reminded my of Ayreon. A great track.
The next track we are straight back into the rock bombast of the 70s and 80s with twenty-first century production quality. Everything sounds so clear. The songs are all short by prog standards, but that is common in AOR. The songs are well crafted. With guitar reminiscent of Steve Morse, it is hard to go wrong. The pounding drums drive everything nicely, and the vocal performances are all exceptional. The musicians all play to the songs, and they all do a great job. The guitar shredding at the end of “Love” gave me chills. Absolutely brilliant solo.
It is hard to find a complaint with this album. Entertaining, well-crafted songs make this an enjoyable listen. Great vocals throughout. Hard heavy rock and quiet pieces. They’re doing a brief tour in Europe next month, so if you live near any of the cities definitely check these guys out. I imagine it will be a really good live show. This type of music is perfect for a live setting.
Cabinets of Curiosity, The Chaos Game, 2019
Tracks: Death, She Walks On (02:14), Angular Sterility (05:58), Fractals & Coastlines (12:17), Timeless Sound (03:43), Doomsday Algorithm (07:05), The Same Tiny Apartment… (00:47), In A Day (03:55), Fractometer (04:32), Bro Science (00:32), The Chemist & The Engineer (04:33), Nowhere Near The Blade (06:37), The Clockwork Pheasant (08:31)
Cabinets of Curiosity are a young New Jersey band made of very talented players. Mixing a classic 70s prog era sound with a definite contemporary spontaneity, this album is a little bit surprising. Most younger prog musicians lean heavily into metal, but the band explicitly state that they wanted to return to the genre’s roots with a more classic sound without that hard edge. Thus, it can be chaotic in a King Crimson way one minute and peaceful in a Yes way the next. The album has long instrumental passages, as any good prog album does.
“Fractals and Coastlines” provides a particularly strong bassline, and the flute interspersed throughout adds a lot. When the guitar cuts in, it sounds a lot like Yes. Later on in the song, the organs add even more to that Yes vibe, but it still sounds unique. It’s obviously not Yes, but the influence is there. When the saxophone comes in towards the end, we hear that Crimson influence again. While the vocals may not do a whole lot for me personally, the instrumentation makes this song and album a really interesting listen. This particular song displays that very well.
Thematically, the album is very progressive in the sense that it is a concept album. It is telling a story – one based off a novel written by the vocalist, Natalie Hornyak. Of the story, the band says it “tells the tale of Julia, an assuming paralegal, as she receives a summons from Dr. Goethe, god of Chaos and Order, to help her destroy and recreate the universe — and then, due to some technical errors in the recreation process, save the universe she helps create from assured destruction. By blowing up a mountain.”
If I have to be critical, I’d say the only downside to this album for me is the vocals. Natalie Hornyak’s vocals sound a little flat to me at points without enough variation. The result is very sharp and direct, which I don’t think is a perfect fit for the music. However, if you look at it from a musical theater aspect, it makes sense since the album is telling a story. Her performance on “In a Day” is quite impressive, particularly towards the end. Her voice is most dynamic on this song.
I’ll add that the presentation of the CD is quite good. They did a great job on the booklet artwork, which features many small sketches that help tell the album’s story. Overall this is a solid album from an up and coming band. I hope they keep making music and keep honing their craft. They have a lot of talent, which is obvious from this album.