Review: PuzzleWood – Gates of Loki

Gates of Loki

The “Gates of Loki” album and its music is a desolate, introverted place of darkness that summons broodingly melancholic images of angst and tension, and it’s all been dreamt up by Russia’s PuzzleWood.

The music on this debut album, I have to say, doesn’t immediately reward you as a listener. However, the lush melodies that are imbedded deep within the ten songs found on this recording grow, swell and expand the more you explore them, and soon the shadowy lyrical themes of alienation that exist between the individual and society as a whole draw you in to the all encompassing world that PuzzleWood have fashioned.

The album kicks off cleverly with “Intro (Gates of Loki)”. Its light but sinister musicality builds over time and you find that your attention never wanders, however laid back the music feels to you; the song sweeps over your senses, taking them hostage, and its (almost) hypnotic, trance-like melody keeps you chained to the song like a prisoner, but a prisoner who doesn’t want to escape. “Remember My Name” has an almost Riverside-like feel to it. “Tyrant Who Fall in Love” is again trance-like in the extreme, but the way the song is nurtured and allowed to grow is an amazing thing to hear, and it is for me the album’s standout composition.

“To the Void” feels intricate, incorporating varied instrumentation by the three members, as well as a bouzouki performed by guest Dmitry Ignatov. There is a number of ethnic instruments that can be heard throughout “Gates of Loki,” what gives this record its specific flavour. Basem Al-Ashkar’s arabic oud on the closing “Road Will Lead” is beautifully dissonant, making for a perfect ending.

It’s not an easy album to like initially, but given the right amount of time that this weird style of Prog needs to work its magic on you, “Gates of Loki” soon becomes an impressive, thoughtful release that has all the tools needed for it to become a minor classic amongst those who frequent the shaded borderlands of the Progressive Rock World.

Stream / buy “Gates of Loki” from Bandcamp.

Review: The Blue Prison – Alchemist

The Blue Prison - Alchemist

Alchemist is a new EP release from a Japanese guitarist and composer Keigo Yoshida (The Blue Prison), residing in Los Angeles, CA.

Right from the start, the title song kicks off the EP incredibly strong with its toe-tappingly catchy rhythms and roaring guitars, followed by an equally solid djenty “Zenith,” presented with immaculate detail with ricocheting metalcoresque drums. “Kingdom” is far more edgy, with guitar solos tripping over the song’s plodding rhythm. “Red Sun” introduces a symphonic pattern forming a backbone for Yoshida’s immaculate soloing. Short closing piece “River” is an atmospheric piece that brings Alchemist to a solid closure.

Curiosity begs the question: what does The Blue Prison sound like outside the comfort of his niche he’s carved? Perhaps necessity will force him outside his signature sound before stagnation takes hold in future releases, but for now,  Yoshida has done his best: no-nonsense, tightly produced melodic prog.

Alchemist is out today; order it from Bandcamp.

Review: Barry Weinberg – Samsarana

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Fresh from the warm South Florida, comes a prog rock veteran Barry Weinberg, with his debut album “Samsarana” dropping January 25th.

The fifteen-piece musical beast of a debut appears very much ready to stand next to plethora of amazing albums that the genre gave birth to over the years.

After short and atmospheric intro titled “Conception,” forward comes “Creation” leading off with a very Floydian feel and with a full sized chorus following all verses, it seems there may be an easy ride ahead for more cautious listeners. “Welcome to my World” is a laid-back stripped down acoustic piece with Weinberg’s voice over leading to “This Vicious Circle,” which sees Weinberg’s circling melody wash over the pebbles and steal away the shoreline behind, whereas “Come Out and Play” is a groovy and funny little piece.

“Beyond the Astral Sky” kicks in through a silent verse, attacking with a slightly alternative-flavoured chorus, and some sharp instrumentation, before the leviathan-sized hook belonging to “Taking it All” take things to a further level, with occasional hard rock sprinkle. We hear the same good work kept up through “Endless Sea” and “A Passage of Time,” the latter ringing the Genesis influence.

After another instrumental interlude “Perception,” “You Cannot Burn the Fire” comes as, arguably, the heaviest piece, incorporating heavy metal riffing and evil-flavoured singing. “Come My Way” brings in the folk element, while the following “The Way” comes with a steady pace, making for one of the highlights.

“Samsarana” is an absolutely accomplished piece of playing, writing and performance that should see the genre pushed out of its confines.

“Samsarana” is out on January 25th; pre-order it from Barry Weinberg’s official website.

Review: The Mercy Stone – Ghettoblaster

Ghettoblaster

There is music that I can’t relate to. Sometimes it’s because the song is plainly stupid, trite, or obnoxious that I just wish it would be sent into the sun. It’s like your friend who posts way too much personal stuff on Facebook, you just want to scream “Stop”. Then, there is an even more perverse music, a music that speaks like a man half-way through a Xanax withdrawal, a music that both baffles the mind and produces a near awkward laughter in the listener. This is the music of lunatics, music that I would say (in the most professional of instances of course) has gone “completely bananas”.

And here we are with just an album, The Mercy Stone’s debut experimentation Ghettoblaster. An album I am sure my closest friends are sick of hearing and hearing about in the last coupe of weeks, yet it took me some time to write about it because — life.

If you are someone who actually was alive to see the prog spectacle of the ‘70s you may remember the slightly nerdy King Crimson or even the lord dorkdom of the cape wearing Yes. While there are many genuinely cringe worthy moments from those bands nothing — and until I can be proven wrong I genuinely mean NOTHING compares to the awkward vibe you get from Ghettoblaster.

The Mercy Stone is a new project; it’s been around for a few years and was assembled by composer and guitarist Scott Grady — who has a master’s degree in music composition — and who assembled a 12-piece group to “to put his composition chops to work within a project that would have the substance and sophistication fitting for a contemporary-classical concert stage as well as the accessibility that would be palatable to rock audiences.” Going simply-said for an extraordinary amalgam of Classical Music, Jazz and Rock, the group presents a large body of work with their full-length debut Ghettoblaster. Large as in bringing together Stravinsky, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Radiohead, Bach, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, to name but a few.

The music on Ghettoblaster is very well composed and performed. Grady tends to pull together a strong cast of performers for his musical circus act. These fine tunes tend to be something to marvel at. It is this dichotomy that provides more of the head scratching moments. The album progresses in a peculiar, but fairly typical fashion during the majority of its run time. You might find the music endearing and charming as it blends rock, jazz, and classical qualities.

The ‘70s were a glorious period in music because people were getting paid way too much money to do all sorts of crazy projects, and even though some of the end results were complete disasters there was a sincerity to them. There was no sense of irony or pretentiousness in the attitudes of the musicians, they just wanted to make weird and complicated music. With Ghettoblaster, this ensemble does exactly that. The Mercy Stone are driven by the love of music, and it pays back — maybe not filling their pockets, but rather something on a higher, more spiritual level. Highly recommended.

Follow The Mercy Stone on Facebook.

Review: Heyoka’s Mirror – Loss of Contact with Reality

Heyoka's Mirror - Loss of Contact with Reality

Hailing from Calgary, Alberta in Canada, a progressive metal trio Heyoka’s Mirror has earlier this month launched their debut EP “Loss of Contact with Reality,” available as a name-your-price download and CD from Bandcamp.

“Loss of Contact with Reality” places Heyoka’s Mirror to the art-metal vanguard, but the three-song EP does find the band on surer footing from which to make their next leap forward. The last track in particular, “Chronovisor,” gets surprisingly good mileage from an unlikely source: melodic metal, maybe the least reputable of metal subgenres. It’s the metal niche that has least renounced the campy excesses of new-wave Brit metal a la Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but it’s also the most melodic, its tell signs being clean-sung harmonies and dramatic synths that tend to blast out from behind the guitars. It turns out the style makes a good segue between the sections of “Chronovisor” that are rooted in math rock and those that are rooted in thrash metal, and the effectiveness with which Heyoka’s Mirror employs those soaring melodies suggests they may yet develop their own mutant pop sensibility.The first two songs are dynamic; they’re also wildly uneven, with very cool ideas alternating, often in rapid succession.

More than anything else, Heyoka’s Mirror is dependent on their ability to generate momentum here, by virtue of which they can keep listeners engaged in these unwieldy but ultimately rewarding compositions. By that standard, “Loss of Contact with Reality” is a success, though its true significance will be determined by how the band capitalizes on that momentum when they come up with their forthcoming full-length.

Interview: Vladimir Agafonkin of Obiymy Doschu

Obiymy Doschu band

Ukrainian progressive rock outfit Obiymy Doschu has launched their new album entitled “Son” (Ukrainian for ‘dream’), and the band’s singer and songwriter Vladimir Agafonkin tells us about it, but also about the meaning of the band’s name, and more. You can read our review of the album here.

What made you go for the name Obiymu Doschu?

Obiymy Doschu means “Rain’s Embrace” in Ukrainian. This name reflects the melancholic, lyrical, autumnal feel of the music. At first, we wanted to use the English name, and write English lyrics, but eventually decided to write songs exclusively in Ukrainian. It’s an incredibly beautiful, mellow sounding language that fits this kind of music perfectly. Besides, we strive to write deep, meaningful poetry for our songs, and this wouldn’t be possible with a non-native language. It’s better to do your very best for a narrow audience than to be mediocre for a wider one.

How do you usually describe your music?

It’s a unique emotional blend of progressive rock with neoclassical, neofolk and post-rock elements, heartfelt Ukrainian lyrics and lush, beautiful string arrangements.

What is your writing process like?

It usually starts with a short musical idea, typically played on an acoustic guitar, which then very slowly expands and grows with new layers, details and meaning over many years — both as a result of individual writing and band member collaboration. We never rush the writing process. Most of the songs on our new album “Son” were perfected over a decade, with core song melodies and lyrics appearing first, and string arrangements last.

Who or what is your inspiration, if you have any?

Musically, we draw inspiration from modern progressive rock bands such as Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, from darker bands such as Katatonia and My Dying Bride, from neoclassical composers such as Max Richter, from unconventional bands such as Tenhi, The Gathering and Sigur Ros, but also from Ukrainian folk music. As for the meaning of our songs — we draw inspiration from everyday struggles we face as human beings, exploring basic feelings such as love, loneliness, compassion, regret, hope.

Obiymy Doschu - Son

What is your favourite piece on the new album “Son” and why?

Each and every song is my favorite piece — I can listen to them all over and over. But personally I’d like to highlight “Zemle moya myla” (“My dear land”), a love ode to my country. It holds a very important message and connects to me on a very deep level. Ukraine went through a lot of pain and struggle over the last few years, but many people still hope for the best and persevere, working on a better future, no matter what happens. We strive to be among them.

What makes “Son” different?

It’s rare for a rock band to put so much effort and care into music — we worked on it for 8 years, spent 2 years just recording it in 7 different studios, involved 15 musicians including a string quartet on most songs, and patiently worked extremely hard on it despite a very high risk of never reaching a sizable audience.

Today’s listeners tend to focus on easily digestible content, and writing long, conceptual, complex works such as Son is out of fashion. But we still do it because we deeply love what we do, and will continue despite all odds.

What should music lovers expect from “Son”?

It’s a complex, beautiful, emotive, meticulously crafted record with lots of wonderful melodies, great instrumentation and unique Ukrainian charm. We’ve put our souls into this album and it shows. Even if you don’t understand a word, give it a chance.

What kind of emotions would you like your audience to feel when they listen to your music?

We want them to feel connected to us. To feel that even in their deepest feelings, with all the pain they went through, they’re not alone, and there is always hope, and there is beauty.

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Which do you like most, life in the studio or on tour?

We don’t tour much. We’re not yet known enough to tour productively, and for Ukrainian bands, it’s usually strongly unprofitable and also draining. It’s also not easy to organize — everyone in the band has day jobs and families to take care of. But we try our best to turn the rare concerts we do into unforgettable experiences.

The studio process is very different, but it’s incredibly rewarding and enjoyable — when you see the songs you wrote slowly gaining shape with the help of many talented musicians and engineers, when the songs start to come together, it’s such a joy. You feel like those are the moments that are worth living for.

Pick your three favourite albums that you would take on a desert island with you.

Some of my most beloved albums (many of them progressive rock/metal) are not meant to be listened to over and over again, but there are albums that you can listen to forever and never get tired. Those are the kinds I’d take on an island with me.

Death Cab for Cutie — Transatlantism

Sigur Rós — Ágætis byrjun

The Gathering — How to Measure a Planet?

For more information about Obiymy Doschu visit the band’s official website.

Review: Mosh – Unbreakable Wall

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“Unbreakable Wall” is a debut release from Mosh, an Israeli musician who “pours the human experience in all it’s rage, sadness, and happiness into his music as he explores universal themes of inner conflict, relationships with others and relationships with government.”

Speaking of the sound of “Unbreakable Wall,” it has a very solemn, jazzy feel that is brought some brightness in the form of Mosh’s vocal melodies. Due to amount of range Mosh possesses he is able to single handedly change the mood, or evoke some otherwise unseen emotion, in the various points of his songs. The effect of this is seen excellently on the track opening song “Keep on Moving,” where he begins the song with some low-register singing and then during the chorus he extends himself into a melody that would trip most vocal chords of the average rock singer. Throughout the song his constant change of singing, to all out bawling, to quiet talking makes the mood of the listener swing with the hymns. The instrumentation on the track and throughout the song is also superb and helps create the perfect backdrop for Mosh’s vocal expertise. Of special effect to this is the harmonica solo, courtesy of Roy Rieck.

Passionate performance on the lead single “Fish Us” sets the tone for the more mellow and emotional delivery both vocally and instrumentally, what tells about how far “Unbreakable Wall” goes when it comes to diversity. The mood of “All I’ve Got” is a fair bit optimistic than the previous song. The song has an acoustic guitar in it, and some other instruments. Mosh’s awesome voice shows in this song and his guitar abilites do as well. “One Way Out” is a mood-changer; stylistically it almost borders with the 1970s funk music; it comes with a catchy groove that makes it one of the highlights of the record. Warm vintage sound of electric piano in “You’ve Reached My Arms” and psychedelic vibe evolving around Mosh’s and Zoe Polanski’s vocals bring “Unbreakable Wall” to new heights. The instrumental work in “Save Me” serves as such a beautiful background for Mosh’s vocals, leading to some of his best performances on the album.

Overall, “Unbreakable Wall” is a pleasant listen, and perfect alternative rock offering from a musician that clearly knows what he wants to achieve.