A Few More Words on the Politics Thing

One of our esteemed founders, Dr. Birzer, has had a few excellent posts today on the intersection of art and politics, in part to a reaction of some recent releases and in larger part in reaction to some larger trends.  In reading them, I had about 1.5 cents of my own I wanted to throw in.

This isn’t to say I don’t ever like political subject matter intertwined with music.  But some ways of doing it are more appealing than others.  One of my favorite albums this year – Galahad’s sprawling, incredible Seas of Change – is very political in its lyrics.  It’s focused on the tumult in the U.K. over Brexit.  However, which side of that debate it eventually comes down upon is hard to say.  I’ve read reviews that say it’s pro-Brexit, others that say it’s anti-Brexit.  When I pore over the lyrics, I come away with … I don’t know.  It seems like Galahad has plenty to critique on both sides of that debate.  Irrespective of that, one of the things I like about it is that it takes a “clean up your own backyard first” approach.  Nobody is doing a Roine Stolt on Lost America here, sitting back smugly criticizing another polity as if theirs is somehow perfect.  The path Galahad has chosen is one of self-reflection, the one chosen by Stolt is cheap, smug, self-superiority.  Galahad’s path is engaging (as is Marillion’s FEAR), Stolt’s is off-putting.

Continue reading “A Few More Words on the Politics Thing”

Riverside’s Incredible New Album is a WINO (Wasteland in Name Only)

One of the lamentable facts about great art is that it is often inspired by pain.  It is wasteland by riversidefrequently beauty borne of suffering.  As many readers of this blog (and virtually all of the writers) are Rush fans, we are keenly aware of how the dual tragedies of Neil Peart’s life served as a creative impetus behind the band’s triumphant return on 2002’s Vapor Trails.  Riverside itself is no stranger to tragedy, having lost their brilliant guitarist Piotr Grudzinski in 2016, while the band’s de facto leader, Mariusz Duda, lost his father only months later.  Thus, the fuel for the creative fire behind Wasteland includes the pain of tragedies both real at a personal level, as well as imagined at a civilizational level when one considers the album’s apocalyptic theme.  And based on some of Duda’s own words in a recent interview (see here), it may also serve as a metaphor for our current, chaotic times.  The results of this creative fire are nothing short of stunning.

Continue reading “Riverside’s Incredible New Album is a WINO (Wasteland in Name Only)”

Obviously, You’re Not a Golfer: Progarchy’s Third Interview with The Duda (aka Mariusz)

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say Mariusz Duda, or as he known around here, The Duda, has been a busy man.  Between last year and this, he’s put out not one, but two Lunatic Soul albums.  In addition, he’s been busy with his day job, recording and preparing the new Riverside album, Wasteland, which is out September 28th.  And then, of course, touring which will be upcoming soon.  Recently, we caught up with The Duda, talking to him for the third time at this site.  Topics included the concept and inspiration behind the new album, recording as a trio for the first time, various instrumentation used on the album, and why he effing hates The Eagles, man.  Press_Photos_05

[Note: It’s possible that I completely made up the thing about him hating The Eagles]

[Note 2: And by possible, I mean 100% absolute metaphysical certainty]

Ok, so let’s get on with it now.


Progarchy: What made you decide to do an album about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world?

Mariusz Duda:  First and foremost, the story is what I always wanted to write about but never had the occasion to until the end of the world happened in Riverside.  I thought that OK, if I choose this subject, it will be multi-dimensional to have many layers, and pretty symbolic stuff, so I chose this you know.  This is a story about survivors, about the end of the world, and the people who survive the end of the world.  But it’s also connected with the situation in the band, and the situation all around the world, because we live in uncertain times.  For some people, Wasteland might be like Poland or something, so I thought I would do that kind of subject now.

Continue reading “Obviously, You’re Not a Golfer: Progarchy’s Third Interview with The Duda (aka Mariusz)”

2.0 In a Row: Progarchy Reviews 3rDegree’s Fantastic Ones and Zeros, Vol. 0

A few years back, 3rDegree’s Ones and Zeros, Vol. 1 took the prog world by storm, being 3rDegree Ones and Zeros Vol 0one of the highest rated and reviewed albums of that year.  For good reason too.  Combining excellent music with contemporaneous subject matter of very high relevance, it did – extremely well – what prog does better than any other genre.  Namely, it provided music and lyrics that, in addition to being entertaining, made the engaged listener think.  But Vol. 1 was not the whole story – there was another one to come.  And here, in 2018, Ones and Zeros, Vol. 0 has now arrived.  And we can happily say that 3rDegree has done it again, providing another album that builds upon and maintains the excellence of its predecessor.

Both this album and its predecessor combine excellent prog rock music with timely subject matter.  Musically, the album both pays homage to the classic prog movement while still providing a modern, unique sound.  Topically, the lyrics explore our modern, digital, technological world, with a particular focus on its dark underbelly.  For these reasons, Vol. 0 – along with its predecessor – pull off perfectly what exemplifies one of the best aspects of the current prog scene, namely complex, engaging music combined with a biting but (very) necessary cultural critique.

The songs on this album flow together nicely, with the instrumental track Re1nstall_Overture providing a charging-out-of-the-gate musical opening.  Connecting follows, with some biting lyrics regarding social media, trolling, and addiction to the same.  Olympia follows with some great melodies and lyrics about android love … cue Rachel from Blade Runner.

Most of the next song, The Future Doesn’t Need You, as an easy, breezy feel, while lyrically hammering home the theme of technology addiction and its effects on the wider culture.  I’m wondering if they drew inspiration from this essay, which is similarly titled.  Unintended Consequence musically has an early-to-mid 80’s feel, while lyrically mocking the hubris of those who believe tech is all that is needed to make the world a better place.

Perfect Babies is chock full of excellent lyrics that explore the understandable desire of every parent to give their kids as many advantages in life as possible, juxtaposed with a subtle warning against the temptation of taking biotech shortcuts.  Logical Conclusion meanwhile explores one of the drivers of human need for technological master – the uncontrolled whims of nature – extending into the conceit that we might be able to pull it off (hint: we can’t).

The epic Click Away! comes up next, and it’s a doozy, divided into multiple movements. There are so many different musical moods and styles throughout it would be more efficient to simply listen to the track than to try and list them here.  This one is best listened to at your computer, as the lyrics are found on the Valhalla Biotech website.  It’s great to sit back, read the lyrics off the website while listening to a clever critique of social media and its attendant addictions.

The title track, , closes the album, with the question “are you a one or are you a zero.”

Making a concept album hold together is tough enough.  Doing it over multiple albums is even harder.  In the wake of the standard set by Ones and Zeros, Vol. 1, the pressure to deliver a worthy follow-up could have weighed heavily on 3rDegree.  And yet, as 3rDegreeevidenced by Vol. 0, the band seemed impervious, delivering exactly the sequel that a fan of its predecessor would have hoped for.  In what is shaping up to be a very good year in the prog scene, 3rDegee has delivered one of the best albums of the year, combining interesting music and topical lyrics.  Well done, guys.

Soft Landing – A Review of Gazpacho’s Soyuz

Among the current wave of progressive rock acts, few (if any) are more unique than Gazpacho.  Quite simply, there is nobody else that sounds anything like them.  Describing them to the uninitiated is difficult, if not impossible.  I’ve tried to tell others that they are the love child of latter-day Talk Talk and Pink Floyd, but even this description is inadequate.  They truly are one of a kind, and their music defies words whenever it is separated from the band’s name.Gazpacho Soyuz

However, it’s not merely their music that makes them unique, it’s the subject matter they tackle on their albums as well.  One avenue of pursuit has been to find tiny slices of history, remembered by few, and use those as a springboard for lyrical exploration.  They did this on Tick Tock, using the attempted Paris-Saigon flight and subsequent non-fatal crash in the desert of Antoine d Saint-Exupery in 1935 as the subject matter foundation for that album.  In 2014, with Demon, they went even more obscure, basing their album on the “mad ramblings” of an unknown apartment tenant in Prague, as left behind in writings found in said apartment.

With their latest album, Gazpacho uses the tragic loss of Soyuz One (also the title of the leadoff track) and the loss of its lone cosmonaut, Vladmir Komarov, as its jumping off point.  Most people won’t know much about this, but for space geeks like me that devoured volumes as kids regarding both the U.S. and Soviet space programs, the space race with the moon at the prize, and so on, the tragedy of Soyuz One is well known.  To give a little more background, Soyuz one was the first flight of a new Soviet spacecraft.  While Komarov was selected as the cosmonaut to fly the mission, his backup was Yuri Gagarin, a more recognizable name since he was the first human in space and a hero of his country.  Komarov was a personal friend of Gagarin’s, and refused his attempts to allow a national hero to take his place.  This is important, as both men knew the Soyuz spacecraft was nowhere near ready to fly.  But bureaucratic inertia and political considerations (much like what contributed to the loss of the space shuttle Challenger) overrode technical considerations.  Knowing that the mission was going to fly either way, Komarov insisted on remaining as its pilot, knowing full well that it would likely end in tragedy.  Sure enough, it did.  Among the many things that went wrong was the failure of the parachute to properly deploy upon re-entry.  Through a radio link, Komarov cursed his Soviet masters as he plunged from the heavens to his death in the Russian tundra.

From this base, Gazpacho builds an album that explores themes such as isolation and moments in time frozen in history.  While only two tracks, the leadoff Soyuz One and the epic Soyuz Out, deal directly with the ill-fated mission, one can easily see how the other tracks tie to the ideas explored in the album’s lyrical foundation.

Soyuz One starts off in typical Gazpacho fashion, simple riffs stacked on top of one another, eventually building a layered piece of dazzling complexity, punctuated by some heavier riffing beginning midway through the song.  There is almost a fatalistic, mysterious feel to the piece, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.  Next up is Hypnomania, which includes some uncharacteristic heaviness for Gazpacho – but it works great nonetheless.  The next track, Exit Suite, contrasts is predecessor by being slow and subtle, with some excellent violin fade ins and outs.

Emperor Bespoke is next, and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.  A slightly longish piece clocking in at 7:43, it begins with a light, folky feel, but by the middle of the song has a much bigger feel – it’s very well executed and powerful.  Gazpacho is great when they go big.  Sky Burial is shorter, but similar in structure to its predecessor, and is very sweeping and majestic.  Fleeting Things follows, and is relatively mellow most of the way through, and lyrically, expresses one of the album’s themes with more directness than any other song in this set.

Soyuz Out is the epic of the album, and the song that deals most directly with the Komarov tragedy.  The piece begins with an eerie feel, which pops up in interludes from time to time.  Some of the more uptempo sections include some best rhythm section work I’ve heard on any Gazpacho album, the interplay between the bass and drums pulling the listener along for the ride.  And speaking of being along for the ride, Jan Henrik Ohme delivers lyrics that put you inside the Soyuz One spacecraft as it makes its final, fatal fall to Earth:

The phase of entry

The shields are burning

I couldn’t keep the angle

This devil ship – a future machine

Come in too steep on one wing

Out of Control

I know you mean this

There’s no more next time

Musically, the closing section of Soyuz Out conveys the gravity of what has happened in the preceding lyrics with haunting effectiveness that joins the temporary to the permanent, that which is fleeting becoming that which is eternal.komarov_funeral_custom

The album closes out with Rappaccini, ending the album in a mellow yet melancholy mood.

What an album!  Gazpacho made us wait nearly three years for this one, but they definitely made it worth it.  This 48 minute slice of Gazpachian goodness can stand proudly aside any of their previous works, and continues the roll they have been on since 2007’s Night.  Needless to say, when I write my end of year review discussing my favorite albums of 2018, Soyuz will definitely land on the list.  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that score.  If you like Gazpacho, if you like prog, you shouldn’t be either.

Lucky 17 – Another Year End Review

Most of us have some sort of superstitions.  Maybe we believe in a lucky number, carry a lucky rabbit’s foot (the rabbit might disagree about the luck associated with the foot), or have a pre-game ritual for our favorite sports team.  On the flip side, we may harbor some superstitions about bad luck.  Walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors, having a black cat cross your path … those superstitions are prevalent as well.

For me, I always had a thing – negative that is – about the number 17.  For some reason it just felt like an unlucky number.  Whenever there was an occurrence of something not to my liking, any association with the number 17 was immediately seized upon.  So, it was with a little trepidation that I approached 2017, including in terms of music.  Boy, was I wrong, and boy, was I glad to be.  Superstition status: shattered.

Once again, for the umpteenth year in a row, it was a great year in music, particularly in the genre of progressive rock that brings us all to this site.  Once again, it was a year where the number of great releases exceeded the amount of time available to listen to all of them – as the wide variety of picks in the year-end lists on this site demonstrates.  So, without further adieu, her is my own list.

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Damanek’s Debut is Literally (and Metaphorically) On Track


One of the most satifying things a music fan can do is make a new discovery.  That happened to me lately as I was given a review copy of Damanek’s debut album, On Track.  Lucky me.  On Track is one of the best releases I’ve heard in what has been a pretty good year for prog releases.

A little background here is in order – Damanek is the brainchild of Guy Manning, who among other things is a veteran of The Tangent.  For this release, Manning is the chief composer and lyricist.  Beyond that, there are numerous contributors to the album.  Among them, Manning borrows from his former band to tap Luke Machin on the electric guitar, Marek Arnold contributes on a number instruments (his sax figuring prominently),  and numerous other musicians play their part.

The first track, Nanabohza and the Rainbow, sets the tone for the album.  Beginning with some native-sounding beats, the song evolves into a jazzy looseness (the latter being very pervasive throughout the album).  The aforementioned saxophone makes its first appearance toward the end of the song, along with some superb piano, with the song closing on some motifs that could be described as mid-Eastern.  That’s quite a palette, and it’s only the first song.

Long Time, Shadow Falls follows next, and has a bit more of a new-agey feel to it, with some African rhythms to drive the point home.  Lyrically, the song is a commentary on poaching and preservation (or more precisely, the lack of the latter), and the music is most effective in underscoring the message.

Track three, The Cosmic Score, is largely piano driven and is the most relaxing track on the album.  Arnold’s sax makes an appearance midway through, playing off the piano, followed by a synth solo that harkens back to first golden age of prog in the 1970’s.  Lyrically, The Cosmic Score is sung on a grand scale; musically, it invites you to kick back and relax as you contemplate.

The musical palette widens even further on the next track, Believer – Redeemer.  If you have ever been looking for some funk/R&B influence in your prog, then this is the track for you.  The Santucci Horns (as they are known in the album credits) provide some brass here with trumpet and trombone to further accentuate the dominant influence here.

The following track, Oil over Arabia, begins with some jazzy piano and guitar before the saxophone once again joins in the fun.  Midway through, the pace picks up and the song begins to rock out a bit more, and eventually Arnold provides some excellent clarinet to the song as well.  Lyrically sparse, this is almost an instrumental track, and a damn good one at that.  As with all the songs, the playing is top notch, but this one really stood out to me.

The Big Parade has a somewhat Beatle-esque sound to it, and it’s not hard to imagine John Lennon circa 1968 writing or singing a song like this. The fact that it is an anti-war song makes this all the more so.  This song qualifies as the most quirky diversion on the album, and despite its protesting nature, it’s a fun listen.

The melancholy Madison Blue is up next.  This is a relatively simple track musically, primarily driven by the piano.  Here, however, what sounds like a small string section and the flute beautifully underscore the mood of the piece, which lyrically concerns the loss of someone dear.

Saving the epic for last, the album closes with the 13 minute plus Dark Sun.  The first five minutes or so feature a slow groove with Arnold’s clarinet adding some nice color at various points.  Midway through, the pace picks up dramatically, with excellent guitar work by Machin, some jazz-tinged electric piano and more of Arnold’s clarinet (come to think of it, I can’t think of many prog albums where the clarinet played such a prominent part).  Some very proggy organ is also included before the song slows down and eventually returns to the same groove with which it began.  It’s a quite-satisfying musical journey.

In closing, On Track has some of the best musicianship of any album I’ve heard in quite some time, and that’s saying quite a bit given the plethora of outstanding progressive rock releases we’ve seen this year and for several years running now.  Overall, the music is a, well-balanced mix of styles, including classic and modern prog, jazz, and various world music styles, tastefully and seamlessly combined.  As debut albums go, this one is a smashing success.

I, (Lonely) Robot: Progarchy Talks to John Mitchell

John Mitchell is a busy man.  It was less than a year ago that another one of his projects,Lonely Robot 2 Frost*, was getting ready to drop another album.  And before that, John was busy with another one of his bands, Arena.  To put the parenthesis on then and now … before that he was busy with the first Lonely Robot album, and now we have seen the release for the latest one, The Big Dream (Tad Wert’s excellent review can be found here).  We caught up with John recently, and he generously gave his time to discuss his career, the concept behind the Lonely Robot project, and the creative process, and how to stay busy.

Progarchy: You are in Lonely Robot, Kino, Arena, Frost*, It Bites … (did I miss any?), while your Arena bandmate Clive Nolan is also associated with Pendragon, Shadowland, Caamora, Strangers on a Train, Neo, and Casino.  Are you two having a contest to see who can be in the most bands?

John Mitchell: I can’t remember – it seems like I’m busy enough already! That is indeed a humorous question – and yes, you are absolutely right.  If I don’t win, heads are going to roll!  The honest answer though is that these things don’t run concurrently, they don’t run in parallel, they run in series.  I think if we are going to run a contest, it needs to be the most things done concurrently, and I don’t really win that at all.  Clive Nolan has won, so there we go!

Progarchy: This is your way of keeping busy, I assume.

John Mitchell: Yes, well it looks good on paper.  I have at some point or other have been involved in that many musical projects.  I hasten to not use the word ‘project’.  When I started these things, I didn’t think of them as projects. ‘Project’ to me denotes something that has a finite end, like a table.  A table, once it’s made, that’s the end of the project.  When I went into these things, with the good grace of the Lord, to make a band, and to try to engage that band and do multiple albums with it, so I never really saw it as a project.  Kino I never really thought it to be a one-off thing, but I didn’t realize quite how busy everybody was.  The things I’ve been involved in, they reach a natural conclusion, and they get parked and that’s it.  So I’m really not that busy, just doing a few things these days.

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2016 – A Year of Joy and Sadness

To say 2016 was a turbulent year would be an understatement.  For good and bad, the events of 2016 are going to ripple for years, if not decades to come.

Fortunately, one area in which 2016 was not a turning point was in the trend of excellent prog releases, which kept coming without any letup from 2015 … or 2014 … or 2013 … you get the picture.  Like those years, 2016 saw a bumper crop of excellent releases, and in a few cases, saw bands hitting new highs.  Truly, this was one area where we can be unequivocally thankful for what 2016 brought.

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Still Abiding:  Progarchy Talks Again with The Duda (Mariusz, that is)

It would be an understatement to say that this has been an eventful year for Mariusz Duda and Riverside.  As the year began, they were riding high on the success of “Love,

Fear, and The Time Machine,” and it seemed things couldn’t be going better.  But life doesn’t always cooperate, and February saw the tragic gut-punch of losing Piotr Grudzinski, which left Riverside’s future indeterminate for a time.

Duda himself, as I found out in the interview, lost his father some time after that.

It’s a lot to take, but some how Duda and Riverside soldier onward, as their recent announcement to continue as a three-piece attests.  I was fortunate enough to be connected to Duda for another conversation (my first one can be found here), as we discussed what he and the band have been through and where they are going from here.

Progarchy: Well, it has been an eventful year for you guys … how are you holding up?

Mariusz Duda: Thank you so much, every day better and better.  You know, time flies, and time also heals our wounds a bit.  This year for me, personally, has not been good because I lost my father in May.  So if you just imagine three months after Piotr’s death, I had a death in my family. Piotr was also my family.  Anyway, this year was not so happy, and I just needed time to recover.  But now I feel better and I have the strength to talk about Riverside and some other stuff, both in the past in the future.

Continue reading “Still Abiding:  Progarchy Talks Again with The Duda (Mariusz, that is)”