Neal Morse

By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse

Scary man with scythe is the winter snow.

Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music

Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)

Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.

As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.

The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.

But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.

Neal Morse at keyboards

Neal: Hello.

Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.

Neal: Hey how you doing man?

Bryan: Good how are you?

Neal: Good! Good good.

Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.

Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.

Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]

Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.

Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.

Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.

Continue reading “By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse”

Andy Tillison

Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

The Tangent Auto Reconnaissance Album CoverThe Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020

Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)

The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky

Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.

I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.

The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.


After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.

Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.

Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.

The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.

Continue reading “Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent”

Devin Townsend Announces Live Album – “Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1”

Great news from Inside Out music for all of us who missed Devin Townsend on his most recent tour – and for everyone who missed shows that were canceled because of the pandemic. He is also doing a live online show on September 5. More on that below.

The following courtesy of Inside Out:

Devin Townsend will release ‘Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1’ on October 23rd, 2020, a document of his Winter 2019 European tour that saw him taking on possibly his most ambitious live show to date.

Recorded in December 2019 in London, UK on the penultimate night of the tour in support of his latest album ‘Empath’, this run of shows saw Devin joined by an incredible line-up of musicians. The band was made up of guitarists Mike Kenneally (ex-Frank Zappa) and Markus Reuter (Stick Men, The Crimson Project), drummer Morgen Agren (Kaipa, Mats & Morgan, Frank Zappa), bassist Nathan Navarro, Haken keyboard player Diego Tejeida, and guitarist/vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval, as well as vocalists Samantha & Anne Preis and Arabella Packford.

Devin’s plan for the Empath touring cycle was to divide it up into three ‘Volumes’, and this was Volume 1. The idea behind the shows was a simple one: none of the backing tapes or click tracks that had long been necessary to bring the kaleidoscopic cacophony in his head and on his records to life in the flesh. This would just be Devin Townsend and a band of genius-level musicians getting up there and trying to keep it from spinning off into outer space. Or maybe just letting it spin-off into outer space for the sheer hell of it.

The whole objective was that I wanted to make that statement: This is by the seat our pants,” he says. “Because it’s important to me to represent this hyper anal-retentive music that I’ve made over the years, but in a human way. Rather than it just being, ‘Well, here it is, perfectly done.’

I was overwhelmed by the fact that all these brilliant people that I have so much respect for were willing to come together and play this weird shit with me,” says Devin. “I had these unique players and this interesting instrumentation that allowed us to interpret the music in different ways. It was clear to me that I could just have fun and be me and know that they would be effortlessly be able to follow that.

Continue reading “Devin Townsend Announces Live Album – “Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1””

Paint of Salvation band members

Healing Our Time: Pain of Salvation’s “Panther”

Pain of Salvation PantherPain of Salvation, Panther, Inside Out Music, August 28, 2020.

Tracks: 1. Accelerator (05:31), 2. Unfuture (06:46), 3. Restless Boy (03:34), 4. Wait (07:04), 5. Keen to a Fault (06:01), 6. Fur (01:34), 7. Panther (04:11), 8. Species (05:18), 9. Icon (13:30) 

Members: Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and lots of stuff; Johan Hallgren – guitar and vocals; Léo Margarit – drums and vocals; Daniel Karlsson – keyboards, guitars, and vocals; Gustaf Hielm – bass and vocals 

Apparently I’m about two and a half decades late to the Pain of Salvation game. Better late than never, I suppose. I know I’ve listened to some of their more recent work when it came out, but at the time it didn’t grab me. Panther grabbed me, and now listening to a bit of their back catalog I’m starting to get it. Pain of Salvation have their own unique corner of the progressive metal market. No one else sounds quite like they do, at least on this new album. Pain of Salvation is just more proof that Scandinavia has the best bands.

Panther deals with tensions between those who fit into society and those who don’t. As someone who probably fits with the latter (and I imagine many progressive rock fans and musicians also would), the overarching concept certainly appeals. There are also dystopic overtones throughout, especially on “Unfuture.”

Welcome to the new world… a better and improved world for our mankind. – “Unfuture”

On the concept, Daniel Gildenlöw comments, “Because we live in a time where we’re more aware of people not fitting the norm and we’re doing everything we can as a society to acknowledge all of these individuals, but at the same time, they’re more disowned than ever, more medicated than ever. The album is painting pictures of a world, I guess. If this was a movie it would be scenes from a city. It’s set in one city, and it’s populated by dogs and the panthers, the so-called normal people and the spectrum people. That’s the setting for the entire album.”

Conceptually this is an album that will stand the test of time. It deals with timeless issues, in a similar way to Steven Wilson’s lyrics from both his Porcupine Tree and solo careers.

Continue reading “Healing Our Time: Pain of Salvation’s “Panther””

We Hit 1 Million All Time Site Visits!

This is an exciting day for Progarchy. We just hit 1 million all-time site views! Not bad for a simple blog-format music review website dedicated primarily to the obscure genres of progressive rock and progressive metal (and occasionally a few other genres).

For those who don’t know, Progarchy was founded in the fall of 2012 by Brad Birzer, Kevin McCormick, C.S. Morrissey, and Carl E. Olson. I joined about a year later, but from what I’ve heard the site started out of some conversations between the aforementioned about wanting a platform for writing about and promoting their favorite genre of music – and particularly the band Big Big Train. Anyone who has been around here knows that Big Big Train and Rush have been two of the main topics discussed here, but of course we cover so much more than that.

I want to thank every writer who has contributed to this site over the years. You’ve made Progarchy what it is. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about this website is the personal style of writing. There are plenty of great review websites that’ll give you a solid review of an album or band, but Progarchy reviews tend to reflect the emotion and spirit of the authors in a way that I haven’t seen at other websites.

I’d also like to thank all of the bands, record labels, and promoters who have sent us music to review and set up interviews over the years. And no one has been more supportive than the mighty Roie Avin. Thank you also to the bands for making such beautiful music and giving us something to write about. Without you the world would be a much duller place. You give us a respite in increasingly dark times.

Of course the biggest thanks of all goes to you, our readers. All of what we do here would be rather pointless without you. We hope you stick around for years to come.

Fire Garden Release New EP – Point Blank – Featuring Adam Holzman

Press release:

FIRE GARDEN RELEASES POINT-BLANK EP

FEATURING ADAM HOLZMAN AS SPECIAL GUEST

US Art Rockers Fire Garden have returned with a new EP point-blank featuring Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson, Miles Davis) as a special guest on keyboards. “Collaborating with Adam was a great experience, his work has put a new life in my songs,” says Zee Baig, the mastermind behind Fire Garden.

“Idiot Brain is the first thing I came up with when writing point-blank. I wanted to write about current issues, and the songs on this EP reflects what is happening in the current world as artists are struggling, and we human are fighting global challenges like racism, climate change, and pandemics like Covid-19.”  Zee reveals.

The album artwork was designed by Carl Glover (Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson). “The artwork summarizes the idea behind the music perfectly, point-blank is the most expansive music that we have put out there,” Zee added.

Released on June 26, 2020. point-blank contains 3 original and 2 bonus tracks, it is available on CD and digitally on all streaming platforms. CDs can be purchased from Fire Garden’s Bandcamp page http://firegardenmusic.bandcamp.com

Following is the point-blank tracklisting

  1. Idiot Brain

  2. The Passage

  3. SOS

  4. Idiot Brain (Unplugged)

  5. Idiot Brain (Alternate Mix)

For further info, interviews, reviews please contact info@firegardenmusic.com

Fire Garden, an innovative and melodic rock band from Chicago, is the brainchild of Pakistani American songwriter and musician, Zee Baig. Since 2011, Zee has released a pair of EPs and a pair of full-length records under the Fire Garden name, each featuring a cadre of notable guest artists culled from particularly well-respected progressive rock acts (like Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, Steven Wilson, and more) and backed by a few of Baig’s musician friends and bandmates from the Chicago area.

Web: www.firegardenmusic.com

Bandcamp: http://firegardenmusic.bandcamp.com/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/firegardenmusic

YouTube: www.youtube.com/firegardenmusic

Twitter: www.twitter.com/firegardenmusic

New Canadian Metal Band Falset Release Single

Falset, a young Canadian metal band featuring James LaBrie’s son Chance on drums, recently released a music video for their track, “Give.” Their album We Follow Or Lead The Way is out in October, and it was mixed by Nolly Getgood, who some might know from his work as a member of Periphery and as a well known producer in the metal world. The recently released Haken album, Virus,  was mixed by Getgood, as was Haken’s previous album, Vector.

Falset is comprised of Zach Copeland (Vocals/Guitar), Braeden Kozy (Guitar), Riley Fields (Bass) and Chance LaBrie (Drums). The production value on their single is quite good – a lot better than you might expect for an up and coming band. It pays to have good connections I suppose. This song is probably more mainstream metal than progressive, but the instrumentation is quite good, the vocals stellar (especially in the heavier parts), and the sound is altogether modern. They also do an interesting balance of heavy metal sections with quieter passages.

Tracklisting:

1. Kingdom
2. Give
3. Fire At Will
4. We Follow Or Lead The Way
5. Rock Bottom
6. Hollow Saints
7. Dear Heaven Dear Hell
8. Without A Trace
9. 9 Minute Drive
10. Smoke & Mirrors


FALSET online:

Website: www.falset.co
Facebook: www.facebook.com/FalsetCo/
YouTube: www.youtube.com/c/FalsetOfficial
Twitter/Instagram: @falsetco

Haken

Haken Goes Viral – “Virus” Album Review – @Haken_Official

Haken, Virus, Inside Out Music, 2020
Tracks: 1. Prosthetic (05:58) 2. Invasion (06:40) 3. Carousel (10:30) 4. The Strain (05:35) 5. Canary Yellow (04:10) 6. Messiah Complex i: Ivory Tower (03:59) 7. Messiah Complex ii: A Glutton for Punishment (03:38) 8. Messiah Complex iii: Marigold (02:25) 9. Messiah Complex iv: The Sect (02:02) 10. Messiah Complex v: Ectobius Rex (04:51) 11. Only Stars (02:05)

I originally planned on writing about Haken’s new album, Virus, months ago, but then the release date was delayed by the actual virus. It kept getting pushed further and further back, and then real life got in the way and here we are a day before official release. Excuses excuses.

I’ll admit this one took a few listens to sink in for me, but looking back I think I can say that about all of Haken’s albums. There is so much depth to their music and lyrics that it always takes a few listens just to scratch the surface. I’ve found it also takes multiple kinds of listens to help it sink in. There’s the cursory playing over the stereo, there’s the blasting it in the car with the windows down, and (most importantly) the headphones. An album has to be good with the third method to be worthy of the second. Virus is worthy.

Continue reading “Haken Goes Viral – “Virus” Album Review – @Haken_Official”

Nick D’Virgilio’s “Invisible” – First Impressions

My copy of Nick D’Virgilio’s new solo album, Invisible, arrived in the mail today, and a few things have struck me upon an initial listen. Please don’t consider this post a full review – just some first thoughts.

First, let me state that I consider Nick D’Virgilio to be the finest drummer in the world. His skill and creativity is blatantly obvious when you listen to a Big Big Train album. His style of playing is simultaneously smooth and complex. It remains intricate without overpowering the listener. He’s also remarkably ubiquitous as a drummer. Just check out the discography page on his website: https://www.nickdvirgilio.com/discography/. There are many albums he has drummed on that I enjoy and I never realized he was playing on them. I think that’s because he’s all about the music rather than it being about him… unlike some other famous prog drummers. On top of all that Nick has a golden voice, as any longtime listener of Spock’s Beard knows.

The concept for this album emerged from Nick’s time working for Cirque du Soleil, the first time in his career where he was “invisible” in the pit rather than center stage behind a kit or singing lead vocals. The main theme can be summarized with the idea that every person was put on this earth for a reason, and each person must figure out what that reason is and fully live it.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this album is that it isn’t just an album of D’Virgilio showboating on the drums. Rather the drums serve the songs, most of which feature lyrics Nick wrote. I recently reviewed an album for the Dutch Progressive Rock Page that was a solo album from a world-renowned drummer. That album was all about the drumming, and it got a little overpowering at points, even though I thought it was still a good album. On “Invisible” the drums play their role, and I think that’s one of the things that makes Nick so great. He doesn’t overplay, and he doesn’t underplay. He masterfully provides just what a song need.

Another first impression is this isn’t a Big Big Train album. I wasn’t really expecting it to sound too much like Big Big Train, but I thought it might since that’s Nick’s main band now. (His day job is working for Sweetwater music in Fort Wayne, Indiana.) Invisible is fully unique. There are plenty of guests, but a perusal of the album booklet didn’t see any BBT members guesting. Sure there’s the odd passage here and there that could be compared to BBT, but this is a totally different deal.

Abbey road’s orchestra is prominent throughout, which gives it a symphonic rock feeling at points, but the guitars and drums firmly ground Invisible as a progressive rock album. The album doesn’t fall into traditional tropes, however. It tells a story in a subtle way, which I think will keep it sounding fresh on repeated listens. It even manages a touch of musical theater in the track “Wrong Place Wrong Time,” which probably comes from Nick’s time with Cirque du Soleil.

Like I said – these are just some first impressions. If you buy the album from his website, not only will it come signed but also it will include an extra booklet featuring detailed descriptions of the drum setups used on each song. He used various drum kits on this album rather than one single kit. Or you could be like me and accidentally buy two copies – one from Nick’s shop and the other from Burning Shed.

https://www.nickdvirgilio.com/shop

Morse, Portnoy, George launch video for cover of “It Don’t Come Easy”

From Inside Out Music:

Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Randy George
Photo Credit: Robert Smith

Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy & Randy George recently announced their return to the Cover To Cover series of albums with ‘Cov3r To Cov3r’, the brand new third installment. Featuring their renditions of classic tracks by the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Gerry Rafferty, David Bowie & more (including their cover of ‘No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed’ featuring vocals from Yes singer Jon Davison), the album will be released on July 24th as CD, Gatefold 2LP + CD & as Digital Album.

Today they are pleased to reveal a video for their cover of ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, originally by Ringo Starr, and you can watch it now here:

Continue reading “Morse, Portnoy, George launch video for cover of “It Don’t Come Easy””