RIP Vangelis

I’m very sad to see that Vangelis has passed away at the age of 79. What a legend, and what a loss. Whether it was his work with Aphrodite’s Child or his work on movie scores such as Chariots of Fire or Blade Runner, he made an unforgettable mark on the music world.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/vangelis-composer-chariots-fire-score-dies-79-2022-05-19/

Album Review: Bjørn Riis – “Everything to Everyone”

BjoBjørn Riis, Everything to Everyone, Karisma Records, April 8, 2022
Tracks: Run (5:56), Lay Me Down (11:40), The Siren (7:20), Every Second Every Hour (13:20), Descending (4:33), Everything to Everyone (7:28)

At the risk of throwing objectivity out the window, I’ll start this review by saying I absolutely love this album. I think it’s the best music I’ve heard in a long time. But it’s Bjørn Riis! By this time I expect no less than the best from him.

While I still haven’t quite gotten into Airbag, the band for which Riis is most well known, I love his solo albums. They’re all excellent, and they seem to get better with each record. His 2019 album, A Storm is Coming, was brilliant, and it made my year-end best-of list. I expect Everything to Everyone will be near or at the top of that list this year. To make a contemporary comparison, Riis’ style reminds me most of Steven Wilson, both his more progressive solo albums and his work with Porcupine Tree. Riis is on that same level, as well.

Rather fascinatingly, Riis says the influence for the concept behind this album came from Dante’s Inferno. He comments,

A bit pretentious perhaps, but I’ve always been fascinated by that very personal journey and the search for some kind of peace or redemption, while being both mentored and hurt along the way. Musically, I wanted to take the listener on that journey, experiencing both hope and anxiety.”

The lyrics are filled with emotion, reminding me at times of Mariusz Duda’s lyrics. Riis is clearly a very thoughtful man, and I’ve found his lyrics always resonate with me. There’s a lot of depth in them, which allows for reflection on repeated listens. The music is often melancholic, which I especially enjoy, and this is frequently reflected in the lyrics.

The opening instrumental track acts as an overture for the rest of the album. With a careful listen you’ll spot musical themes from this track throughout the album. Parts of “Run” are on the heavier side, which sets a nice stage for the record, which has both its heavier rock sides and its spacier contemplative moments. Both are equally alluring.

“Lay Me Down” may start off a bit slow, and admittedly it is a bit of a jarring transition from the heavy rock of the opening instrumental track. The song really catches its groove a minute 20 seconds in, though, when the drums kick in. A little later female vocals come in to back Riis’ soothing voice, and the result is very [don’t say Floyd, don’t say Floyd, don’t say Floyd] spacey. The song is almost 12 minutes long, so it ebbs and flows through various passages, some of which do indeed remind me of Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is obviously an influence on Riis’ guitar playing, and Riis lives up to his musical influences. The song also has its heavier parts, reflecting the opening track.

“The Siren” was one of the singles for the record, complete with its own video. It’s a haunting track on the relaxed side of Riis’ musical spectrum. The lyrics are from the perspective of someone sitting in the audience at a dance performance, where the dancer performs for both you individually and for everyone all at the same time. It’s an interesting dynamic, but the lyrics are also written in such a way that deeper meanings can be inferred. I’ve found mine own rather personal meanings in it, and as such the song has grown on me to the point where I find it very moving.

Bjørn Riis – The Siren – YouTube

I’m not the biggest fan of the artificial vocal distortions on parts of “Every Second Every Hour,” mainly because I think Riis’ voice is great and shouldn’t be hidden, but it doesn’t take away from the song too much. Just a minor quibble. I have to keep my enthusiasm in check somehow. Overall this song is epically wonderful. It’s over 13 minutes long, and like the other similarly long song on the album, it ebbs and flows along the range of Riis’ styles. The acoustic guitar and piano passages with simple singing abound, but these also give way to soaring guitar solos and walls of drums. The synth soundscapes help create a wall of sound that isn’t particularly dense, but it lays a beautiful background to the song.

“Descending” is another instrumental track that has an interesting name because the music actually appears to ascend rather than descend. It starts out quiet and gradually gets louder and heavier as more elements are layered onto the song. If we go back to the inspiration from Dante’s Inferno, however, I think we get our answer to that question. In Inferno, Dante is given a tour of Hell by the poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as a ring of concentric circles, with each circle filled with increasingly brutal punishments for increasingly heinous sins. As such, the story gets more intense the further Dante and Virgil descend into Hell. When viewed in this light, “Descending” makes sense for this particular song on this particular album.

The title track is a quintessential Riis track, featuring the spacey electric guitar solos, walls of acoustic guitars, and emotion-filled vocals. There’s also more female backing vocals. The song gradually builds as it closes out, with a wall of sound created through guitars, drums, and piano. It’s very Porcupine Treeish in the best of ways. The lyrics talk about reaching out for help as we stumble through the dark parts of life.


Put simply, Bjørn Riis’ Everything to Everyone is a thing of beauty in very dark times. The album reflects the good and the bad we experience through our emotions, and it tells a beautiful story through music and words. Do yourself a favor and buy this record. Dwell with it. Let the music and lyrics wash over you. You won’t be disappointed.

https://www.bjornriis.com
https://www.karismarecords.no
https://bjornriis.bandcamp.com/album/everything-to-everyone

Bjørn Riis – Everything to Everyone – YouTube

More Than a Memoir: Steven Wilson’s “Limited Edition of One”

steven-wilson_limited-edition-of-one_bookSteven Wilson (with Mick Wall), Limited Edition of One: How to Succeed in the Music Industry Without Being Part of the Mainstream, London: Constable (imprint of Little, Brown Book Group), 2022, 361 pages

Steven Wilson – the most famous contemporary artist that no one has ever heard of. Well, certainly the most talented. After many years of maintaining a veil of mystery between his public persona and his personal life, Wilson recently published a book (in the UK – it comes out in the US in July). I believe the audiobook and digital versions are both available for purchase in the US right now.

The book comes in three versions: regular hardback, special edition in a slipcase with 128 pages of additional material plus a 70-minute CD featuring music pulled from old cassettes made very early in his career, and an artist’s edition that has long since sold out of its limited 125 copies. Wilson also read the audiobook version, for those so inclined. I bought the hardback regular edition from Burning Shed in the UK and had it shipped to the US because I didn’t feel like waiting the extra few months. That was expensive enough. I would’ve liked the special edition with the additional written material and CD, especially now after having read and thoroughly enjoying the book. I’d love more material, but it just isn’t in the budget. Alas, the life of a non-profit employee early in his career, especially during the worst inflation in 40 years.

I hesitate to call Wilson’s book a memoir. While it contains a lot of passages one would include in a memoir, it is so much more than a memoir. It has chapters dedicated to Wilson’s pastime of creating lists of favorite music, books, movies, and even a list where he debunks common myths about himself. Since Wilson was aided by music journalist and author Mick Wall in writing Limited Edition of One, there are some interesting elements where Wilson “breaks the fourth wall” and includes the transcriptions of some of the conversations they had in the development of certain chapters. There are chapters of memories, in no particular order. He talks about his childhood, certain parts of his career, how his musical heroes influenced his musical development, how his dad’s electronic tinkering and making equipment for Steven influenced the development of the experimental side of his music… and so much more.

One of the primary themes of the book is the recurring idea of a struggling artist trying to make it big, but not quite getting to the level of which he initially dreamed. Arriving somewhere, but not here. While he can live comfortably on what he’s done, it hasn’t been easy. While most in the pop world hit it big, with help from the record labels, in their late teens (or even earlier!) or early 20s, but it’s all over by the time they’re 30. Wilson is 54, and he’s more famous now than he’s ever been. As such, this book is the story of an atypical musical career, which I think makes it much more fascinating than a “tell-all” memoir from a music legend from 40-50 years ago who has long since ceased innovating musically. I think Wilson’s struggles as a musician have helped fuel his driving spirit of innovation.

Perhaps had he been born 15 years earlier, Wilson could’ve been as big as his musical heroes. But then again, the Wilson we enjoy (or complain about) wouldn’t have been the same artist if he had been operating in the same musical milieu as his heroes rather than chewing on their sounds years later as he strives to create his own art. Music as a whole did progress, and Wilson saw to it that it did. Porcupine Tree took progressive music into uncharted territory, creating new soundscapes while still incorporating the best elements of the past. Sadly the public, or the media elites, wanted music that was easy, simple, that didn’t make you think too hard.

Anyone who’s heard any of Wilson’s diverse discography knows full well that “dumb” music isn’t part of his repertoire. Even when he “goes pop” as he started to on To the Bone and as he certainly did on The Future Bites, the end result asks much of the listener. I may have roasted The Future Bites, but I did so with upmost respect for Wilson as an artist. My critique came from a position where I don’t particularly like pop music or many of the varied artists that heavily influenced that side of Wilson’s work. I named my review “Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?”, partly as a form of clickbait, but also because Wilson made a conscious decision to expand his audience, perhaps at the expense of an existing fan base, much of which would rather see Porcupine Tree be the main focus of Wilson’s career. He talks about this in the book, but he also sees it from the perspective of an artist having to make the music that excites him at that particular point in time. As such Wilson’s advice to other artists is to ultimately be true to yourself, your art, and what you want your art to say, even if people get upset about it.

Continue reading “More Than a Memoir: Steven Wilson’s “Limited Edition of One””

Live Again – Steve Hackett Plays St. Louis – 4/26/22

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisted – Seconds Out + More – Saint Louis, Missouri, April 26, 2022
Set 1: 
Clocks – The Angel of Mons, Held in the Shadows, Every Day, The Devil’s Cathedral, Shadow of the Hierophant (instrumental version)
Set 2: Squonk, Carpet Crawlers, Robbery, Assault & Battery, Afterglow, Firth of Fifth, I Know What I Like, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Musical Box (Closing Section), Supper’s Ready, Cinema Show, Aisle of Plenty
Encore: Dance on a Volcano, Drum Solo, Los Endos
Players: Steve Hackett, Nad Sylvan (vocals), Rob Townsend (all things blown), Roger King (keyboards), Jonas Reingold (bass, twelve string), Craig Blundell (drums)

I wasn’t planning on attending Steve Hackett’s show here in St. Louis at the River City Casino. For one I couldn’t really afford it, and two I didn’t want to buy tickets months ago since I wasn’t sure if I’d still be

River City Casino - Steve Hackett Show
Great view from the risers inside the River City Casino convention center

living in St. Louis. But a friend from church is a big prog fan, and I knew he was going. Monday night he told me he had a spare ticket, and he offered it to me! Well I sure as heck couldn’t turn that down. Thanks, Eric!

I haven’t been to a live concert since October 2019 when I saw Steve Hackett in Grand Rapids on his Selling England By the Pound tour (check out my review of that show). This tour features the same talented lineup. I have all of Hackett’s live albums from the past decade or so, and while I’ve only seen him in person with this current lineup, I think it’s the best he has had in the last decade of Genesis Revisited shows. Everyone plays so well together, and it’s clear they’re having a blast. They play like a proper band rather than touring musicians supporting a big name musician.

The band’s vibe together was quickly established in the short first set, which featured some excellent selections from Hackett’s solo career. If I had to pick five songs from his solo career for them to play, I couldn’t have picked a better set. “Clocks” was a great instrumental opener followed by “Held in the Shadows,” one of the best songs off Hackett’s most recent solo album, Surrender of Silence. Hackett’s vocals were so effortlessly smooth. This was followed up by a rousing rendition of “Every Day,” another classic from Spectral Mornings.

After that they played “The Devil’s Cathedral,” my favorite song off Surrender of Silence. Nad Sylvan was stellar on vocals, as he was the entire night. This song displays what this band can do when they make music together. I would love to hear an entire album of new music from this band, perhaps with Nad and Steve sharing lead vocals. The instrumental version of “Shadow of the Hierophant” followed – the greatest solo Hackett song that should’ve been a Genesis track. Genesis lost a lot when Hackett left. Sure they may have become the most popular pop rock band in the world, but they lost their soul.

After the intermission, the audience (which seemed to be pretty inebriated by this point – especially the four talkative blokes in front of me) was treated to the entirety of the Seconds Out setlist. Every song was brilliant. This band plays so well, and they do justice to the music. They take a few artistic liberties as they’ve done for several years now, but I think it adds to the sound. For instance some of the keyboard parts are either replaced or layered with Rob Townsend’s saxophone, and his saxophone replaces the flute in “Firth of Fifth.” He also plays Irish whistles on parts of “Supper’s Ready” instead of flute. In some ways these changes add to the music. 

Nad Sylvan really stole the show on “Carpet Crawlers.” Vocals dominate that track, with the music taking a bit of a back seat, and Nad rose to the occasion with a phenomenal rendition. Nad sang effortlessly on every song, hitting all the high notes with ease. He sounds a little more natural singing the Peter Gabriel songs, although he sounded great on everything. “Robbery, Assault & Battery” must be a very difficult song to sing, but he did a great job. The song shows the playful storytelling side of Genesis, which still remained after Gabriel left the band. I don’t think Hackett’s band has played that song live before, or at least not in the last decade, so fans who see him every tour will get to hear some “new” material.

Since they played all of Seconds Out, there was a fair bit of overlap with the music played at the last tour, which is fine by me since I love Selling England By the Pound. “Firth of Fifth” was exquisite as always. So good that I even pulled out my earplugs. I think that guitar solo is just about the best ever, and Hackett does such a great job with it in a live setting. No one can play it like he does. Roger King is an expert with the piano intro too, something Tony Banks gave up a long time ago.

And since I mentioned the earplugs, I’ll make a quick comment about that. I always bring earplugs to concerts since I never know how loud it’s going to be. Both Hackett shows I’ve been to have been fairly well mixed with reasonable sound levels and minimal distortion, which is good since this music deserves full dynamic range instead of distorted rock crunch. With that said, it was still a bit too loud for much of the concert for my comfort, so I was taking them in and out all night. That didn’t really bother me. I probably could have left them out without permanent damage, but I’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to my hearing. My eyesight is bad enough – I don’t need to lose my hearing too.

Like on the original live Genesis album, Hackett’s band played the ending section of “The Musical Box,” which Nad nailed on vocals. The epic “Supper’s Ready” followed that, and I’m so happy that I got to see that played live. The band performed flawlessly. The music and lyrics carried me away, as all good music should. Sadly I was drawn out of it a little bit by the perpetual yapping from one particular inebriated bloke in front of me, but I found that the earplugs actually helped drown him out, which helped me focus on the music. It’s a shame to be drawn out of those special musical moments where you really feel a connection with the band.

Steve Hackett - Live

It’s no wonder Seconds Out is such a legendary live album. What a setlist! “Cinema Show” right after “Supper’s Ready” – it doesn’t get much better than that. The band deviated from that original setlist by adding “Aisle of Plenty” at the end of “Cinema Show.” The songs flow together, so it’s only natural to include “Aisle of Plenty,” which serves much the same purpose on Selling England as “Afterglow” does on Wind and Wuthering. It’s a cool down after an intense musical and lyrical journey.

Following that the band took their bows and left the stage to a standing ovation and thunderous roar. They were cheered for a couple minutes by the loudest encore cheer I think I’ve ever heard at a live show. It reminded me of some of the cheers I’ve heard on live prog albums recorded in Europe. It was great to hear that from an American audience in a relatively small venue. The band came back out and blew us away with “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos.”

The real treat was Craig Blundell’s blistering drum solo between those two songs. Absolutely phenomenal. Drum solos can often be kind of boring, but Blundell’s solos are very… musical, if that makes sense. He grabs your attention and holds it. The speed at which he played was impressive, but he also adds in brilliant chops. It was one of my favorite parts of the evening. Even Jonas Reingold came back out on stage near the edge to watch his bandmate play. The bit of jazz-infused “Los Endos” made for an excellent final encore to a memorable musical night.


Much was made of Genesis’ final (supposedly) tour, especially their final show, which both Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett attended. I’m sure that attention was deserved, but I watched some clips on YouTube from those shows, and I’ll take Steve Hackett’s shows over the latest iteration of Genesis any day. There’s more energy, better musicians, and better vocals. The songs sound like the albums, and Hackett’s guitar is virtually unrepeatable. His tone is so unique, and his style of playing is unmatched.

Another plus is Hackett’s band is a who’s who of current prog names. I may never get to see the Flower Kings or the Tangent (Jonas Reingold), Frost* (Craig Blundell), or Nad Sylvan play his solo stuff, but I get to see them play legendary music with my favorite guitarist. It’s hard to beat that. The band also clearly enjoys what they are doing. Hackett was obviously having fun, and I saw Jonas playing air drums at one point in the show when he wasn’t playing for several seconds.

If you’ve been following Hackett’s live shows over the last decade, there may not be many surprises in this current setlist, but there doesn’t need to be. The music is phenomenal, and I’ll leave it at that. If he’s coming near you on this tour or the upcoming Foxtrot at 50 shows, definitely grab a ticket. Last night was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. 

http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html

Steve Hackett Live
Dancing on a Volcano

 

Big Big Train Announce New Singer and Tour Plans

News from Big Big Train:

Big Big Train - New Lineup

BIG BIG TRAIN WELCOME NEW VOCALIST ALBERTO BRAVIN

Big Big Train have recruited Alberto Bravin as lead vocalist following the tragic death of David Longdon in November 2021.

Based in Trieste in Italy, Bravin’s career includes performing around 200 shows with progressive rock legends PFM between 2015 and January 2022, both in Italy and internationally, singing lead and backing vocals and playing keyboards.

Alberto Bravin says: “I am extremely honoured to have the opportunity to join Big Big Train. I was already a huge BBT fan and am looking forward to play my part in taking this great band forward while also honouring the memory of David Longdon.”

Big Big Train bassist and founder Gregory Spawton comments: “Before Covid-19 hit, Nick D’Virgilio and I had both seen Alberto perform with PFM. We were very impressed with his abilities as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist and therefore approached him earlier this year.

“We know that David is irreplaceable and we miss him deeply both musically and personally,” Spawton continues. “We were very clear that we didn’t want to bring someone into the band who would seek to mimic David; that just felt fundamentally wrong. Instead we wanted someone who could do justice with their own musical skills and personality to the songs that David sang for Big Big Train as well as being able to help to drive the band forwards. From his first audition singing some BBT classic songs and subsequently his work on some new material that we’re working on, we’re confident that we’ve found the right person in Alberto.”

 “Aside from Alberto’s great voice and all round musical skills, it was also vital for us to find the right personal fit, particularly after being struck with David’s sudden death,” drummer Nick D’Virgilio comments. “We flew Alberto to London several weeks ago so we could hang together for a few days and the chemistry immediately felt right.”

‘THE JOURNEY CONTINUES’ EUROPEAN TOUR 2022

Big Big Train are also pleased to confirm that their two previously announced UK shows in September 2022 will take place. In addition the band have scheduled six further shows for September in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France.

Keyboardist/vocalist Carly Bryant is unable to tour with the band in September 2022 for family reasons. “After over two years of being part of Big Big Train and involved in two studio albums, I was extremely keen to go on the road with the band. However a recent change in my family situation means that sadly I cannot be away from home in the autumn,” Bryant explains. “I love being part of BBT and will be on stage with the band at the earliest opportunity when my family commitments permit.”

Alongside Bravin, D’Virgilio, Spawton and longstanding guitarist Rikard Sjöblom, the Big Big Train line-up for the September 2022 shows will consist of guitarist Dave Foster, violinist/vocalist Clare Lindley, keyboardist Oskar Holldorff and the Big Big Train brass section led by Dave Desmond. Holldorff leads Norwegian band Dim Gray, whose debut album Flown was much acclaimed last year and who are preparing to release their second album later this year.

“Oskar came to our attention from his work with Dim Gray and is another tremendous talent to involve in Big Big Train,” Sjöblom says. “We’re very grateful to him for stepping in while Carly is unavailable. It’s also exciting that Big Big Train is becoming an increasingly international band – in September we will have an American, a Swede, an Italian and a Norwegian on stage with the Brits.”

During the September tour Big Big Train will be playing material from various stages of their career and also one new song.

“We were originally scheduled to play live shows in spring 2020 but then Covid-19 derailed our live plans repeatedly and since then we’ve prepared numerous different set lists,” Sjöblom continues. “We’ve released two full albums since we last played live and are spoilt for choice with the set list for September.”

“In addition to our UK shows, I’m really looking forward to getting back into continental Europe,” D’Virgilio adds. “As well as visiting the prog strongholds of the Boerderij and Z7, we thought it would be cool to play some smaller venues in France and Germany as we re-establish BBT as a live band. We can’t wait to get out and play again and show what this band can do!”

Big Big Train September 2022 tour dates

Friday 2 September – Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK

Saturday 3 September – HRH Prog festival, Leeds, UK

Monday 5 September – Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

Tuesday 6 September – Harmonie, Bonn, Germany

Wednesday 7 September – Kuz, Mainz, Germany

Thursday 8 September – Frannz Club, Berlin, Germany

Saturday 10 September – Z7, Pratteln (Basel), Switzerland

Sunday 11 September – Café de la Danse, Paris, France

Support bands for all shows (except HRH Prog) will be announced shortly.

Tickets for the UK shows are on sale now. Tickets for the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France shows go on sale at 10am UK time on Friday 29 April. See www.bigbigtrain.com/live for ticket links.

Thank you for your support

Carly, Clare, Alberto, Dave, Gregory, Nick and Rikard

Big Big Train

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, citizens of the Republic of Progarchy! I typically share Marillion’s song, “Easter” on this day every year. I do that again this year, but I want to point out that this song feels particularly relevant today. A month and a half ago, Russia invaded Ukraine after 8 years of arming rebels on Ukraine’s eastern border. In the weeks since we’ve all seen many of the horrors from this pointless war on social media or TV. Schools, hospitals, train stations filled with fleeing refugees indiscriminately struck by missiles. Streets filled with dead civilians. It’s truly horrific, and I shudder to think what will come of this mess. As is usual in war, the antagonists suffer no physical harm as they direct their attack from halls of luxury while people who already have very little lose everything – even their lives.

Marillion – Easter – Live at the Royal Albert Hall – YouTube

Thirty years ago, something similar was all too common on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Fighting and violence had been ongoing for numerous decades, and even today tensions remain strong, with violent protests breaking out a year ago in Northern Ireland related to Brexit. But like in any war, the most people living on either side simply wanted peace. They likely didn’t share the zealous spirit of the terrorist setting off bombs, yet they have to live with the consequences of the terrorist’s actions.

Over a century ago on Easter 1916, the Irish nationalist groups suffered a stinging defeat by the British. William Butler Years’ poem, Easter, 1916, commemorates this event, and the poem directly influenced Steve Hogarth in writing “Easter” in 1989. The song combines elements of Irish folk music with Marillion’s classic neoprog sound. The opening verse paints a picture of peaceful rural Ireland, with green hills nestled in misty valleys. But the hedgerows and trees hide a bloody secret:

A tattered necklace of hedge end trees
On the southern side of the hill
Betrays where the border runs between
Where Mary Dunoon’s boy fell

The second verse looks at it from the perspective of someone (probably a soldier) being shipped from Liverpool to Northern Ireland. Perhaps his fate will be the same as Mary Dunoon’s boy. Those verses merely set the stage. The real meat of the song is the call to peace and forgiveness.

And Easter here again, a time for the blind to see
Easter, surely now can all of your hearts be free

What will you do?
Make a stone of your heart?
Will you set things right?
When you tear them apart?
Will you sleep at night?
With the plough and the stars alight?

What will you do?
With the wire and the gun?
That’ll set things right
When it’s said and done?
Will you sleep at night?
Is there so much love to hide?

Will the shooting and explosions really solve our problems? They didn’t for Ireland and Great Britain. They finally realized that on Good Friday and Easter 1998 with the signing of a peace agreement. Now we find ourselves with a new bloody conflict many orders of magnitude worse than the Ireland-Britain conflict Marillion sang of with “Easter.” The questions asked in this song need to be asked of the Russians and Ukrainians. Both sides have corrupt governments, but one side (Russia) is solely responsible for the hell they have unleashed on millions of innocent civilians. Things aren’t set right when torn apart. This Easter (which the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates next Sunday) is the perfect time for them to reflect on this and if what they’re doing is really worth more people dying.


Easter is indeed a time for the blind to see, a time for hearts to be set free, a time for hearts of stone to be softened.  But why is that? Much is made in western culture about Christmas, the holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus, but Easter is a far more important holiday. On Good Friday, Christians remember Jesus’ death on the cross. We call it Good because without His death, we could never be reconciled to God. You see, our sin (the things we do and think that are morally wrong) creates a giant chasm between us and God. God is holy and perfect, and we can’t enter into His presence in our sinful state. God knows this, and in His unsurpassed mercy, He looked on us with favor and sent His son, Jesus, into the world to become one of us. Both fully God and fully man, He is the only person who ever lived a sinless life. After a three-year ministry, Jesus was crucified by a Roman governor in an effort to placate an angry mob stirred on by religious leaders threatened by the message of salvation Jesus taught. But unbeknownst to that governor and those religious leaders, Jesus’ death served a much higher purpose. In His death, Jesus bore our sin so that we don’t have to.

After Jesus died, He was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb, which was sealed with a stone and guarded by Roman soldiers. There His body lay until that glorious Sunday morning (Easter) when death discovered it could not contain the creator of the universe. Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin and death forever! On Easter we celebrate Jesus breaking death so we might live. In response to this lavish gift, Christians are supposed to live lives of service and love to others. We are to show compassion to the poor, mercy to the sick, and love to the unloved. We are to be the hands of Jesus to a suffering world.

Our world is desperately broken. We long for a day without war. A day when little children going to school don’t have to be worried about a rocket blasting into their building because of the whims of a crazed dictator 500 miles away. We dream of a day when people won’t feel the need to numb the pain of living with drugs just to get through another day. We wish for the pain of ongoing depression to be taken away. We dream of futures better than the present. We dream of… so much.

The world will remain broken until Jesus returns, but until that happens, we have the chance to show love. We can find fulfillment in a personal relationship with God, and through that we can spread joy, hope, and love to others. All it requires is making Jesus your lord – repenting of your sin, repenting of your pride, relinquishing control of your life to Him and allowing Him to use you to build His kingdom. Only then can true meaning and purpose in life be found. It isn’t easy. In fact being a Christian is really hard sometimes, but it’s worth it. Unity with God the Father and unity with fellow believers is a precious gift worth far more than any earthly riches. Even if our world literally blows up around us due to circumstances over which we have no control, we might still have internal peace knowing that God loves us and cares for us.

You might think, “I don’t read this site to be preached at,” and that’s fair. But I pay the WordPress rent for the site, so I’ll write what I want ;p And more than that, I care about you, dear reader. Your life matters. Your soul matters more than you can possibly comprehend. The decisions we make in this life really do impact where we spend eternity. We can spend it in eternal bliss unified with God, or we can spend it in eternal torment separated from Him. God ultimately gives us what we want. If we want nothing to do with Him now, then He will give us that after we die. But just like life without God is dark and depressing – full of war, famine, hatred, murder, rape, lust, bitterness, anger, etc. – eternal death will be far darker. The sin in this world is merely a shadow of the death to come. The goodness in this world reflects the goodness of God, and it too is merely a shadow of the joy and peace to be found in Heaven.

Don’t let today pass without giving this some serious thought. We don’t have forever. Time flies by in the blink of an eye, and none of us are promised another day. But through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, we can have absolute confidence on which side of the chasm we will spend eternity. Even when our world gets rocked by war, sickness, famine, drought, and storm, we can have confidence knowing we are deeply loved by a God who laid down His life for us.

Happy Easter, Progarchy.

Forgive, Forget
Sing “Never again.”

James Labrie Releases New Single – Solo Album Out May 20

Dream Theater vocalist James Labrie has released a single, “Give and Take,” off his upcoming solo album, Beautiful Shade of Grey. I just received a promo copy of the album, and after one quick listen I’d have to say it’s pretty good. It’s far more subdued than Dream Theater. At times it reminds me of Glass Hammer. There’s even a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.”

More from Inside Out Music:


James LaBrie, known internationally as the vocalist for progressive metal icons & Grammy-winners Dream Theater, embarks on uncharted waters with his fourth solo album, titled ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’, out on May 20th, 2022. Today sees the launch of the album’s second single, “Give & Take”, and you can watch the Wayne Joyner-produced video here: https://youtu.be/-cxWibWBi_o

James comments: “This track is a take on the coercive manipulation between the corporate elite and the proletariat class. An atmospheric soundscape with beautiful feel and scope.”

Paul Logue adds: “Musically Give & Take is a nice balance of Dream Theater, Eden’s Curse and a even little Queensryche thrown in for good measure. The dark musical undertones allow James’ vocals to really shine whilst his lyrics take the listener on a journey through the classic tale of good versus evil.”

Watch the previously released video for the track ‘Devil in Drag’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwDfh5Mvd0o

The new endeavor sees him traverse personal maturation, loss, a myriad of complex relationships, and most importantly – LaBrie’s burning passion for music. On paper, the latest studio offering from the Canadian singer first took shape shortly after the global pandemic began to emerge. But in reality, LaBrie formed a bond with his fellow collaborator, bassist Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse), nearly a decade earlier.

The two first met in 2011, when James would lend his voice to a feature for Logue’s band, UK melodic metal outfit Eden’s Curse, on the song “No Holy Man”. As years went by the two remained in touch, occasionally kicking the tires on the idea of working together on another project. But when Dream Theater performed in Glasgow during the late winter of 2020, LaBrie and Logue would run into each other at the airport – once again asking the question. But this time, armed with the knowledge that a drastic change in the world was all but imminent, LaBrie made the decision to set things in motion.

On the album, Logue plays acoustic rhythm guitar (both six & twelve string) and acoustic bass, while guitarist Marco Sfogli, who’s contributed on all of LaBrie’s solo albums since 2005’s ‘Elements of Persuasion’, handled the leads and solos. Logue recruited Eden’s Curse keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen to lend his playing on the record, while the suggestion to recruit James’s son Chance to play drums would also come from Paul. ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’, as LaBrie describes it, was a title that only came to him once he identified the record’s two core themes throughout its track list. “A lot of these lyrics are dealing with the beauty of human beings, and a lot are dealing with the grey areas of the in between. You’re not exactly happy, but you’re not exactly sad, either.”

The record starts off (and ends) with the track “Devil In Drag”, which emerges as a wall of synthesizers and acoustic strumming before exploding into a full-blown ensemble. LaBrie expresses that the song was written about “someone who started out as a decent human being, but along the way lost touch with their roots – overtime becoming self-serving, narcissistic and devoid of principles or values.” Going on to say, “’Devil In Drag’ is written from the perspective of someone who’s known them all their life and, seeing them now, asking ‘what happened?’”

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Beautiful Shade of Grey will be released as a Limited CD Digipak, 180g LP + CD & as Digital Album, with artwork by Thomas Ewerhard. Pre-order now here: https://jameslabrie.lnk.to/BeautifulShadeOfGrey

The full track-listing is as follows:

  1. Devil In Drag
  2. SuperNova Girl
  3. Give And Take
  4. Sunset Ruin
  5. Hit Me Like A Brick
  6. Wildflower
  7. Conscience Calling
  8. What I Missed
  9. Am I Right
  10. Ramble On
  11. Devil In Drag (Electric Version)

Biography of Big Big Train To Be Released June 16

Some great news from Big Big Train today about an upcoming biography of the band by Grant Moon. More from the band:

Kingmaker Publishing is delighted to announce the publication of the biography of Big Big Train. Written by music journalist Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Bandwill be published on 16th June 2022.

Big Big Train – Between The Lines documents the entire career of Big Big Train to date. From the band’s humble beginnings in Bournemouth on the UK’s south coast and its slow progress through the 1990s, Classic Rock and Prog magazine writer Grant Moon then covers Big Big Train’s endurance through the 2000s before charting the arrival into the band of drummer Nick D’Virgilio in 2007 and their breakthrough with 2009 album The Underfall Yard, their first with vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Longdon.

The book goes on to explore the band’s steady rise to greater commercial and critical success during the 2010s, including their return to live performance in 2015 and triumphant headline show at the Night Of The Prog festival at Loreley, Germany in July 2018.

Big Big Train – Between The Lines concludes by bringing the band’s story fully up to date, detailing last year’s Common Ground and this year’s Welcome To The Planet albums and how the band have persisted despite numerous challenges including the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The book was written primarily in 2020 and 2021 and completed early in 2022 to take account of David Longdon’s tragic death in November last year. Moon interviewed over 30 musicians and other individuals connected with Big Big Train and their story. These included Tony Banks of Genesis, who provides significant insight into David Longdon’s audition to replace Phil Collins in Genesis.

Big Big Train – Between The Lines will be published as a ca. 270-page, coffee table-style hardback book, with over 180 photographs and illustrations documenting the band’s career and the early lives of band members, many of which have never been previously published.

The book is available for pre-order now from Burning Shed via https://burningshed.com/store/kingmaker. All pre-orders will be signed and individually numbered by Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton and author Grant Moon.

Thank you for your support

Carly, Clare, Dave, Gregory, Nick and Rikard

Big Big Train

We Still Have Time – Marillion’s Message of Hope: “An Hour Before It’s Dark”

marillion-ahbitd-1Marillion, An Hour Before It’s Dark, March 4, 2022
Tracks: Be Hard On Yourself (i. “The Tear in the Big Picture, ii. Lust for Luxury, iii. You Can Learn) (9:27), Reprogram the Gene (i. Invincible, ii. Trouble-Free Life, iii. A Cure for Us?) (7:00), Only a Kiss (0:39), Murder Machines (4:20), The Crow and the Nightingale (6:35), Sierra Leone (i. Chance in a Million, ii. The White Sand, iii. The Diamond, iv. The Blue Warm Air, v. More Than a Treasure) (10:51) Care (i. Maintenance Drugs, ii. An Hour Before It’s Dark, iii. Every Cell, iv. Angels on Earth) (15:18)

I may not be the most avid Marillion fan in the world, but of all the bands out there making music, they force me into deep reflection more than anyone else besides Devin Townsend. But where Devin Townsend forces me to be introspective, Marillion draws me outside myself. I disagree with their politics, yet generally I’ve found their perspective and the way they present it to be helpful in drawing me out of my own bubble. Their 2016 album, F.E.A.R., was a masterpiece in that regard, and it has been an album that has stuck with me since its release. I’m not ready to say that their latest record An Hour Before It’s Dark is on that level, but it is very good. I expect it will grow on me as time goes by. I’ve been slowly digesting it for a few weeks now, and I’ve been compelled to return to it more than any other album in that time.

Musically there are few bands that can match Marillion. Steve Rothery is one of the finest guitarists in the business. Pete Trewavas’s bass booms throughout, taking a primary role in various parts of the mix. Ian Mosley’s drums will no doubt win him awards, and Mark Kelly’s keyboards round out the Marillion sound. This is an album that sounds like a Marillion album. In many regards it sounds very similar to F.E.A.R. It’s a continuation, not a progression, but what did we expect? Marillion is doing what they do best, and who would fault them for that?

At first glance An Hour Before It’s Dark appears to be a rather dark album, although Steve Hogarth says despite the lyrical themes, the album is rather upbeat. I agree in part. There are dark and brooding elements of the music that are a lot like F.E.A.R, but there are also peppy tracks that defy their lyrical doom. “Murder Machines” is about the frustrations during Covid of not being able to be near loved ones for fear of killing them with love.

I put my arms around her
And I killed her with love
I killed her with love

Marillion – “Murder Machines” – YouTube

The opening track, “Be Hard on Yourself,” is a cutting critique of our culture of excess. The band extol the listener to “Be hard on yourself / You’ve been spoilt for years.” Like much of Marillion’s catalog, the melody and lyrics work their way into your ears. It’s catchy, yet the music is still unashamedly progressive. On the musical side of things, Kelly’s keyboards are particularly noticeable on this track. Hogarth’s signature style of speak-singing is in full force, bringing the lyrics into the forefront.

Cause of death: Lust for luxury
Cause of death: Consumption

The first two sections of the track examine the culture of consumption, but in the final section Hogarth offers a solution: get up and do something positive. He ends the song with such a call:

You can do better
You can do better
But do it now

We haven’t got long
We haven’t got long
To the end of the song

Be hard on yourself

Strap in
Get ready
Foot down
Push the button
Blow it all up
Blow it all up

Paint a picture, sing a song, plant some flowers in the park
Get out and make it better
You’ve got an hour before it’s dark…

As the late David Longdon told Progarchy last summer, “That’s the beauty of being human, we don’t get forever.” Make a change before it’s too late. Say a kind word, or at the least don’t say that unkind word. Lend a helping hand. We all can make a difference before it gets dark. The hope in this message alone makes the album worth listening to.

Continue reading “We Still Have Time – Marillion’s Message of Hope: “An Hour Before It’s Dark””

Album Review – Fairy Tale’s “That Is The Question”

a0043426731_10Fairy Tale, That Is The Question, 2021
Tracks:
Wasting The Sound 1 (1:36), That Is The Question (3:48), Time Heals Nothing (4:37), Wasting The Sound 2 (1:42), Wake Up (4:13), Girl Of The Opera (3:24), Wise Men Keep Silent (5:00), Wasting The Sound 3 (1:14), Sophie (11:19), Dot (0:24)

While Slovakia’s Fairy Tale may be a new band to Progarchy, the group has a long history making music dating back to the mid 1990s. The longtime project of Peter Kravec has seen a couple iterations, but the current version was created in 2003 when Kravec met singer Barbora Koláriková. They have since made five albums, including this one, released at the end of October 2021. Kravec plays guitars and produced the record, and Koláriková plays bass guitar in addition to handling all the vocals. They are joined by drummer L’ubomír Pavelka, and Marek Škvarenin and Adam Lukáč play keyboards on various tracks. 

The album ranges in tone from ambient and electronic sounds to a harder progressive rock edge. The band describes themselves as art rock and prog with elements of ambient. At under forty minutes, it’s a short record, which means the disparate sounds of ambient music with heavier rock sometimes clash, although I don’t think the album is necessarily meant to be a concept album. 

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The heavier parts of this record, such as the title track, have a very upbeat tempo, which contrasts with the more ambient elements. With that said, even the title track has a deeper moment with heavy bass and an overlay of Fripp-Like guitar. This smoothly blends into “Time Heals Nothing,” which opens with quieter keyboards and clean electric guitar. 

The strongest part of the record comes in the second half of “Time Heals Nothing,” which features a seriousness and an intensity in the music and the lyrical delivery that is more pronounced than on other songs. The song gradually builds towards the end into a wonderful “wall of sound” effect, which blends the ambient with the rock in a seamless way. I also think this song also has the best lyrics of the album. It deals with themes of joy and suffering, forgiveness and grace. There is an element of nihilism in the second half of the song, which can be gleaned from the title. For example:

Souls are burning
And we are boring
Time heals nothing

Souls are burning
Knowledge is boring
Time heals nothing

The electric guitar opening to “Wise Men Keep Silent” has a soothing atmospheric quality that reflects the shorter instrumental tracks, although these more ambient qualities are not tied in throughout as well as they could be. “Wise Men Keep Silent” demonstrates what Fairy Tale does best: ambient and atmospheric music sprinkled with rock influences. The instrumental track includes Barbora using her voice as an instrument, which adds a calming sensation. As I’ve been listening to Devin Townsend’s late 2021 ambient record, Snuggles (which I really should review at some point) recently, I’ll add that I hear similar elements in this song, as well as in other parts of That Is The Question.

At just over eleven minutes in length, “Sophie” is the epic of the album. It has a more electronic influence to it, and it allows the varying musical influences to dance with each other more so than on many of the other songs. There are moments where it feels disjointed, particularly in the transitions, but overall it works well. 

If the artwork looks familiar, that’s because it’s by the great Hugh Syme, who is perhaps most well known for his work with Rush. The artwork throughout the CD digipack is characteristic of his work, and it is quite good. It adds an extra layer of professionalism to the overall packaging. 

While the individual musical elements on the album are all quite good, I think the album could use a bit more focus, or a longer running time with extended songs that tie the various musical elements together better. The shorter songs help serve that purpose, but I’m not entirely convinced that their style of upbeat rock works with more melancholic ambient tones, apart from the ending of “Time Heals Nothing,” which addresses this concern very well. My concerns may be a matter of taste, however, and you should be the judge of that for yourself. Overall I still say the music is very good and worth checking out.

https://fairytaleartrock.bandcamp.com/album/that-is-the-question
https://fairytale.peterkravec.com
https://www.instagram.com/fairytale_artrock/
https://twitter.com/FairyT_artrock