Album Review: The Traveler, Dave Kerzner

Dave Kerzner, The Traveler (Sonic Elements, 2022): ★★★★½ = 9/10 = A+

Dave Kerzner’s third studio solo album is another triumph. Collaborating with some of the greatest musicians in prog, Kerzner produces another astonishing sonic experience. As with his previous solo works, his technical expertise places the highest quality audio elements in the service of loving song-craft.

This time around, Kerzner’s solo writing is the strongest it has ever been. If you want prog epics, go to Arc of Life (where Kerzner collaborated on the best Yes album of the past decade, despite the ABWH-like absurdity whereby the musicians creating the masterpiece don’t call themselves “Yes”), but if you want concise mastery of the art of songwriting, check out The Traveler masterclass, where Kerzner’s lyrics rise to the highest level in order to fully complement his sonic world of wonders.

The B-side of the album (tracks 5 to 9), however, could be considered a prog-length suite, since tracks 5 and 9 (“Here and Now”, Parts 1 and 2) act as an impressive frame for the seamless sonic journey that unfolds over the inner tracks 6 to 8 (“Better Life,” “Cannot Get It Back,” and “Feels Like Home”).

“Here and Now, Part 2” is itself worth the price of admission for the entire disc. Genesis fans will smile as Kerzner takes a page out of the Genesis playbook and cleverly references “Cinema Show” at the beginning of the track, and he then proceeds to put Tony Banks’ keyboard sounds to further exciting use. With Nick D’Virgilio on drums and Billy Sherwood on bass powering the song, the track brings the album to an exhilarating climax, ending with a reference to both the opening track “Another Life” and also to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

The Genesis keyboard tricks are deployed throughout the album, on tracks like “A Time in Your Mind” (which sounds like 80s Genesis), confirming Kerzner as the premier keyboard wizard of our time. The keyboard sounds on this album are consistently jaw-dropping and make it immensely pleasurable for listen after listen.

D’Virgilio plays on most of the album, but there’s also Marco Minnemann on tracks 1 and 2. “Ghostwritten Fables” (track 2), in particular, exhibits such astonishingly virtuosic drumming that it proves what a huge difference it makes to have only the highest echelon talent behind the kit on any song. Because Kerzner is the coolest guy in prog, he gets collaboration from amazing musicians on every track. Check out the credits (found at the end of this review) for many other eye-popping surprise appearances here, like Steve Hackett and David Longdon.

Speaking of Longdon, “For Granted” serves up a poignant mediation on loss, making it another highlight on an album full of unusually strong songs. In addition to the Genesis inspirations and literal keyboard references, Kerzner also crafts his own unique sound, which on this disc seems to infuse an uplifting slab of Sigur Ros-like walls of sound into Kerzner’s signature blend. It’s yet more proof that we are living, here and now, in nothing less than the best days of prog. I think with this particular sound blend on The Traveler, Kerzner has truly found his own distinguishing keyboard sound that is nonetheless rooted in the tradition of the greatest.

The organic way in which the guitars are interwoven into the songs, especially on the standout track “Better Life” with its cathartic guitar textures, is unexpected from a solo artist like Kerzner who specializes in delivering the highest level of keyboard experiences. But it’s more proof of Kerzner’s ability to collaborate with only the best, and yet at the same time draw from them their very best playing on each of the tracks. No one is ever showboating, but yet they all manage to impress with their dedication to an exalted sonic service of the song. Fernando Perdomo, in particular, again leaves his indelible mark on a Kerzner album, as he seems to be an indispensable half of the Kerzner dynamic duo.

For those curious, Kerzner explains the album’s story concept, which will please those who like their prog with a unifying conceptual justification:

All three of my studio solo albums are concept albums and the stories are connected to each other. The character, The Traveler, is able to travel in time through his mind and influence the past or future. On “New World”, he’s stranded in the desert and has to find his way home which he thinks is in the future, on “Static” he’s lost in a chaotic world of distractions (like Idiocracy or today! haha) and on “The Traveler” he’s traveled so far into the past and future that he finally comes full circle to appreciate love, peace and harmony in the “here and now”.

All three albums have a duality of being sci fi stories and, at the same time, being stories we can relate to because they’re also about us! We’re all “time travelers” in that most of us spend more time thinking about the past or future than getting the most out of the present moment.

Complementing this uplifting concept, the music also speaks for itself, and the lyrics of each individual song stand on their own merits. This is some of the best prog you will hear, especially if you appreciate subtle art and elegant audio refinements. It’s a shoo-in for the year’s top ten, and Progarchy salutes Dave Kerzner for making the world a better place, and for showing us the way to living a better life.

Dave Kerzner – The Traveler

 Reviewed by C. S. Morrissey for Progarchy.com

1. Another Lifetime 
2. Ghostwritten Fables 
3. A Time In Your Mind 
4. For Granted 
5. Here and Now Pt1 
6. Better Life 
7. Cannot Get It Back  
8. Feels Like Home 
9. Here and Now Pt2  

All songs written by Dave Kerzner except: 
Cannot Get It Back music written by Dave Kerzner, Randy McStine and Fernando Perdomo, Lyrics by Dave Kerzner

Here and Now pt 1 & 2 music written by Dave Kerzner, Randy McStine and Fernando Perdomo, Lyrics by Dave Kerzner

Ghostwritten Fables by Dave Kerzner and Gene Siegel, Lyrics by Dave Kerzner

Cover artwork by Rafal Olbinski 
Graphic Design by Dave Kerzner 

Musicians:  
Dave Kerzner – Lead vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitars and drum programming 
Fernando Perdomo – Guitar on all tracks, bass on tracks 1, 4, 6  
Francis Dunnery – Guitar on track 6  
Randy McStine – Guitar on tracks 5, 7 and 9 
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums on tracks 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 
Marco Minnemann – Drums on tracks 1 and 2  
Alex Cromarty – Drums on track 8 
Stuart Fletcher – Bass on track 8 
Matt Dorsey – Bass on tracks 2, 5, 7 and 9 
Billy Sherwood – Bass on tracks 5, 7 and 9 
Jon Davison – Vocals on track 8 
Durga McBroom – Backing vocals on tracks 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8  
Alex “Yatte” Chod – Backing vocals on tracks 1, 3 
Joe Deninzon – Violins and Violas on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 9 
Ruti Celli – Cello on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 9

 

Cameo spoken word appearances by Emily Lynn, Heather Findlay, Lara Smiles and David Longdon (Here and Now pt1) as well as a guitar cameo from Steve Hackett (For Granted). 

 

Mixed and Mastered by Dave Kerzner

“Prog Architects at Heart” — @Metric

Progarchy is pleased to announce Metric releases their new album today: Formentera ★★★★ 8/10 A-

There is a great interview and analysis, along with track previews, over at Apple Music:

They may be synonymous with nervy dance-punk and neon-lit electro-pop, but Metric have always been prog architects at heart—think of the multi-sectional sprawl of early standards like “Hustle Rose” or “Empty,” or the two-part cosmic synth suite “The Face” that closed out 2015’s Pagans in Vegas. And with the first track of their eighth album, Formentera, they erect their most labyrinthine musical obstacle course to date. Clocking in at over 10 minutes, “Doomscroller” instantly thrusts you into a nightmarish beatscape, as lead singer Emily Haines dispenses vivid vignettes of the cabin-fever claustrophobia that defined pandemic life for so many. But after building to a mid-song climax, “Doomscroller” simmers down into a wounded but comforting piano-ballad finale that shifts the vibe from Kid A to Queen, providing a road map of the therapeutic emotional arc that plays out over the course of the record. “We weren’t interested in making a pandemic record,” guitarist James Shaw tells Apple Music. “We were interested in making an end-of-pandemic record. We wanted to soundtrack people’s journey out of this hellhole.”

For Metric, the destination they had in mind was Formentera, the Balearic island that the group spotted in a travel magazine they discovered in Shaw’s rural Ontario studio, and which became their lodestar as they sheltered and recorded in place with producers Liam O’Neil and Gus van Go. As Shaw tells it, that isolating experience ultimately proved to be liberating for a band entering its third decade of existence. “What we realized in the course of making this record was that we actually can do whatever we want,” Shaw says as he begins his track-by-track commentary for the album. “We’ve built a career that is somewhat insulated from a lot of external forces, and that was very freeing—like, ‘Yes, we can start our record with a 10-and-a-half minute song!’”

“Doomscroller”
“We didn’t set out to make a 10-and-a-half minute song. The first half of the song was something that Liam and I had been working on; Emily listened to it and sang her whole part in one take. But there was something about the song that just felt unfinished. It felt kind of stark—doomscrolling is not the most uplifting feeling! We wanted to add some sort of redemption, and Emily came in with this other piece of music and thought, ‘What if we segued into this?’ Once we got to the place where the two things melded, I really wanted the ending to feel like a big hug after the whole thing you just went through.”

“All Comes Crashing”
“We were getting near the end of the record, and we had written a ton of music. We were trying to assemble this group of songs, and we knew we were missing one. So, right at the end, Emily sat me and Gus down and played us three songs that she had just recorded on the piano. This song was the last one that she played for us. Gus and I both looked at each other and we’re like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ Of all the music that we’d written over two years, this was the most straightforward, completely relatable song! Emily’s talking about a love that’s not bound by the conventions of heterosexual romantic relationships, or even romantic relationships at all. When everything really hits the fan, we have an opportunity to find out who that important person is for you—maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s your pal, maybe it’s your dog.”

“What Feels Like Eternity”
“This started as an electronic piece but definitely developed into more of a band moment—especially in the bridge, where I got to exercise my love for Johnny Marr’s playing. When we started sequencing the record, we realized the narrative arc is that it starts in a lot of turmoil and anxiety, and this song is sort of the height of that stress we were all feeling about a year into this [pandemic] mess and wondering, ‘Is this thing ever gonna end?’ It just felt like every step forward was actually two or three steps backwards.”

“Formentera”
“What happened to us over the course of the last two years is encapsulated more in this song than anything else. We realized that everything you thought you were in control of, you weren’t. But in that process of realizing how little control you actually have in the world, there’s a huge amount of freedom. So, when you get to this point on the record, an orchestra carries you into the escapism of ‘Formentera,’ which is where we went in our imaginations. Emily says in the song, ‘Why not just let go?’ Emily tends to be the canary in the coal mine in the group—she was like, ‘Hey, guys, I think I’m free. And it’s pretty nice in here. Let’s go to Formentera.’”

“Enemies of the Ocean”
“In the narrative arc, this is the moment where you realize, once you find peace, it’s OK to reflect. You’re not in a struggle anymore, so you can come to terms with what happened and where you are and where you’ve been and what the hell’s going on. When I heard this the other day again, I thought, ‘Man, we must have listened to a lot of Mercury Rev!’”

“I Will Never Settle”
“Liam and I were working, and I pulled up an old, little fragment of music from maybe 2014. We resurrected it and completely changed the vibe, and then we sent it to Emily, and she said, ‘OK, you guys are insane—mind blown. I guess I’m writing a new song to this.’ It ended up being like a midpoint mission statement: Once you’ve left all the anxiety and demons behind, then you can put your fist up and say, ‘I’m not doing that again—I’m not going to settle for that kind of life. I know what I can do in this world, and I know what I’m capable of.’”

“False Dichotomy”
“Emily became obsessed for a minute with the idea of a false dichotomy and how there’s so many things in the world where you’re told that you can only do one or the other, and that they’re mutually exclusive—like success and integrity. This is like an extension of ‘I Will Never Settle.’ It’s saying, ‘I don’t have to be one or the other. I don’t have to be starving to be a poet. I don’t have to only express love or hate. It’s just not that simple.’ When you embrace the complexity of things, it allows you to lead a much richer and deeper existence.”

“Oh Please”
“This was a very early track that we did in summer 2020. And it was just Emily expressing an excitement over not being held down by anything. It’s basically her saying, ‘Whatever you think I am, I am something else. You can’t peg a title on me. You don’t know what I am—I know what I am.’”

“Paths in the Sky”
“Because this album starts with so much stress, we felt it was important to end on a really peaceful note—but also have it feel a little bit open-ended. ‘Paths in the Sky’ is really just an ode to true friendship. We all have those people in our lives that you can call and say, ‘Meet me at the back of the bar’ and tell them how shitty things are, and they’ll hear you, and they’ll give you advice—and you probably won’t take it! Emily’s always writing songs about friendship. There’s people who write songs about romance a lot—romance gets a ton of airtime, but friendship doesn’t get that much, and it kind of deserves it.”

Splintered Throne, “The Reaper is Calling” (May 27)

Rawr! Get ready for Splintered Throne’s new incarnation with vocalist Lisa Mann, whose solo album The Poisoner (recorded under her alias White Crone) was chosen here at Progarchy as one of the ten best albums of 2020.

Splintered Throne’s new single is coming this Friday, May 27, in advance of the whole album’s release on August 19. Check below for the full track list.

Keep an eye on https://splinteredthrone.bandcamp.com/ for this Friday, indeed, but you can also right now order CD copies there of Splintered Crone’s 2018 metal masterpiece, Redline. Don’t be misled by its first three tracks, which are relatively traditional; the album unfolds with undeniable prog sensibilities with a veritable cascade of standout tracks like “Nature’s Design,” “Fog of War,” and “Inside Looking Out,” and then finally crescendoes into the absolutely epic “Take It to the Grave.”

It’s going to be great to hear what Lisa Mann’s Dio-like charisma will bring to the band. Compare her own prog chops on tracks like “Interment,” “Edge of Gone,” and “18 Rabbit” from her sledgehammer showcase The Poisoner. The new Throne disc seems likely to achieve the greater good of metal, thanks to her exciting new vibe.

Album Review: “You Have It All” by Lobate Scarp

Lobate Scarp, You Have It All (Indiegogo/Bandcamp) ★★★★★ A+ 10/10

What kind of band would you get if you combined Keith Emerson on keyboards, Steve Hackett on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Neil Peart on drums, and Robby Steinhardt on violin? That’s the best way I can try and communicate to you what the sound of Lobate Scarp is like. But don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to suggest that Lobate Scarp is simply a pastiche of familiar sounds from ELP, Genesis, Yes, Rush, and Kansas. Not at all. What I mean is that the sound of Lobate Scarp is like some impossible dream come true.

As if it burst forth from the dream world of their cover art, Lobate Scarp does indeed have their very own unique sound. That’s the wondrous fact now firmly established by You Have It All, their second full-length album. It is a truly magnificent achievement. It instantly secures You Have It All a permanent place in the celestial upper echelon where my all-time favorite records rotate in eternal bliss.

Back in 2012, Lobate Scarp’s first CD, Time and Space, contained exquisite intimations of greatness. I am forever grateful to Adam Sears himself for boldly going where no band had gone before and introducing his work to me. I was simply floored. This band was offering something new: yes, their own sound; and who cares about fashion, we always want bravely epic prog with unlimited daring. Helmed by Adam’s visionary hand, that courageous debut album also hinted at a future greatness, because right away there was debate about the merits of the CD on this site. That’s a small clue a band just may be very special.

That kind of debate does not happen for a band that is a mere copycat nostalgia act trying to replay the glories of the era of the birth of prog. No, a band with their own sound, and doing something new and interesting, will inevitably provoke different and polarizing responses. First, Progarchy published a negative assessment, and then a positive assessment. Finally, I tried to break the deadlock at Progarchy, by myself declaring the album one of the very best albums of the year.

Over the years, I was delighted to learn of the band being quietly at work, with an occasional burst of beautiful light in 2016 and 2019. And now the patient work of a decade has come to fruition. You Have It All is an apt title for an album of such staggering ambition that actually and successfully attains all the moonshots it takes.

The first thing that has to be said about this record is just how good it sounds. It is absolutely one of the best sounding audio experiences of my life. Steven Leavitt and Rich Mouser and Michael Bernard have all done amazing work with this CD and created an audio paradise. The production and engineering investment of talent that has been lovingly poured into this record is indisputable in every note. Every penny that was crowdfunded has been spent to dazzling effect.

The startlingly immediate surround-sound of the drum kit on every track is a marvel to behold, whether it is special guest drummer Eric Moore (of Suicidal Tendencies, and Infectious Grooves) on the two epic tracks “You Have It All” (14:31) and “Flowing Through the Change” (17:25), or Jimmy Keegan (of Spock’s Beard, and Pattern Seeking Animals) or Mike Gerbrandt on the other tracks. And the various guitar tones will have you doing double takes… who is that? Is Steve Hackett on this album, or what??? And Adam Sears can be likened to Keith Emerson for his uncompromising pursuit of sound for the sake of glorious sound.

Usually, Lobate Scarp is Adam Sears (vocals/ keys), Andy Catt (bass), Peter Matuchniak (guitar), Evan Michael Hart (drums), and Christina Burbano-Jeffrey (violin), as when they performed most recently at RoSFest in April in Sarasota, Florida. But the impressive parade of studio musicians appearing on the CD recording is a testament to Lobate Scarp’s unrelenting pursuit of excellence by any means necessary. I have the impression that they will record and re-record, and collaborate and re-collaborate, again and again, in any permutation and combination of talents, regular or extraordinary, as they pursue the perfect sound and the perfect record. And gosh darn it, their diligence of a decade has paid off mightily with this release.

You Have It All has the effect of a typical Yes album on me, in that it unfailingly elevates my spirit and transforms my mood for the better just by listening. This is no small musical miracle. Yes is a band prized as rare on this earth for just that reason. Operating in that same prog tradition of making intimate contact with the listener, Lobate Scarp uses their magic power to do what only the rarest of musicians have the power to do.

As far as I can discern the story tying the album together, it goes something like this. The hero of the story is Everyman, so let’s call him Adam, since that is what the word Adam means. Adam is jamming with his prog band on “Conduit,” the opening instrumental track, with his band endlessly practicing in pursuit of perfection. But people think Prog Adam is crazy for loving to spend his precious time practicing prog music like this. This instrumental: It’s so long! Over five minutes long and there aren’t even any lyrics yet! The people are criticizing Prog Adam for his super-proggy instrumental. So, he replies in track two, telling them there is “Nothing Wrong” with his life. He’s doing what he wants to do. But just telling the haters to stop it is not enough. Prog Adam therefore goes in search of spiritual sustenance, looking for a spiritual “Life-Line” on the next track, as sustenance for his prog, and finding it. With this spiritual enlightenment attained, Prog Adam goes back to his band, and then they communicate the spiritual enlightenment by expressing its lesson in the epic track, “You Have It All.” Jon Davison even makes a guest appearance on this track, making a cameo as the voice of the universe that teaches Prog Adam what he needed to learn, so that he is then able to communicate it with the epic musical power of “You Have It All” (14:31). End of Part One.

Part Two begins with “Beautiful Light,” with Prog Adam viewing the universe on a daily basis through the mystical lens he learned about in Part One. But then, with “Test Tube Universe,” Prog Adam, either back in his day job as a scientist, or simply by making an analogy on the basis of considering a scientist in his lab, considers the thought that maybe the universe is just like an experiment that, although beautiful and supportive to us (see Part One’s lesson), does not really matter to its creator. But then in “Flowing Through the Change” (17:25), Prog Adam makes spiritual contact with the transcendent creative force behind the universe and taps into its deepest essence: namely, love. This final spiritual awakening to the fullness of love is foreshadowed with “In the Night I” and “In the Night II” which are threaded between the earlier tracks on the album, since “In the Night III” is the second movement within “Flowing Through the Change,” wherein Prog Adam sees the face of God, and thereby finds his way to the path of love.

If all this sounds a bit woo to you, what can I say except that, I’m probably making this all up, or else, if you listen to the music, it will make you into a believer in prog and love and light, and so on. The radiant power of the music on this album magically transforms whatever it comes into contact with. Unless your heart is made of stone. Or, maybe even then, too; that’s how good this music is.

So, what are you waiting for, Bandcamp Friday? It’s already here! You Have It All has everything you need.

Reviewed by C.S. Morrissey for Progarchy.com

Album Review: “Above Cirrus” by Pure Reason Revolution

Pure Reason Revolution, Above Cirrus (Inside Out Music) ★★★★★ A+ 10/10

This brilliant new release draws upon all the best features of Pure Reason Revolution’s back catalogue. But it also reveals PRR developing now into a heavier band, with cascades of sound that can suddenly rock the listener at unpredictable junctures.

I have listened to no other record this year more times than I have this one. Its beauty and complexity continues to unfold after repeated spins. My considered assessment is that this album lays claim to being PRR’s best work yet.

Those are bold words to commit to print, because Pure Reason Revolution burst upon the scene with a stunning debut LP in 2006, The Dark Third, foreshadowed only by their 2005 EP, Cautionary Tales for the Brave. The Dark Third earned them so many accolades, and was such an unexpected prog rock masterpiece, that it has been almost impossible for reviewers to avoid invidious comparison of their later work with that glorious debut.

For example, many listeners were baffled by the emphasis on dance grooves and electronica synth sounds on 2009’s Amor Vincit Omnia and 2010’s Hammer and Anvil. But those paying closer attention would have realized that PRR cannot be easily pegged as a conventional prog band, ready to unproblematically adopt a nostalgic label like “the new Pink Floyd.” That has always been a lazy inference, based solely on the David Gilmour-esque guitar of “Aeropause,” the opening track of The Dark Third. Rather, it is “Golden Clothes,” the last track on the 2 CD edition of The Dark Third (which unites disparate tracks from the UK and US editions), that contains the seeds for PRR’s later adventures, especially on their next two albums. The fact is, there is no genre that PRR works within other than: “no limits”; and so “prog” is simply the easiest way to try and categorize a band so creative that they consistently defy nominal categorization. They continually change musical shape, and not just from album to album, but typically within any given song.

Above Cirrus feels like the second half of a double album experience that began with PRR’s recent reunion on 2020’s Eupnea. On this new disc, the otherworldly harmonic duo of Chloe Alper and Jon Courtney consolidate their best musical insights and experiences from Eupnea. Hence, Greg Jong, also on guitars and vocals, is now a full PRR member again, which had not been the case ever since after The Dark Third had been recorded and just before it was released. Perhaps it was Greg’s stellar contributions to Eupnea that led to the realization that there was something in the debut LP’s ternary chemistry that was still untapped. Adding a fourth element, Geoff Dugmore contributed drums to Eupnea and, now here once again, his thunderous impact is heard to thrilling effect all through Above Cirrus. Consider, for example, how he seems to singlehandedly guide his bandmates on a trip from dance to metal in “Phantoms.” The only thing present on Eupnea that is not augmented further on Above Cirrus is Chloe’s complete metamorphosis into the new Kate Bush. Like the queen herself, Chloe too is capable of slaying at a distance with the emotional power of her unmatched phrasing. But on Above Cirrus she selflessly recedes into the harmonic structures, with no full blown leads or duets. Yet she still occasionally unveils her lone voice, on songs like “Cruel Deliverance,” with sparing turns of phrase that pierce the soul.

The theme of Eupnea (literally, “breathe well”) seemed to be “life,” and the theme of Above Cirrus seems to be “afterlife,” in the sense that the music this time around explores the theme of re-birth; that is, of what kind of positivity and regeneration can still come forth after encounters with evil and darkness. The impressionistic lyrics of PRR are so poetic and arresting, they add yet one more uncanny effect to be savored upon repeated listens and contemplations of the band’s work. On Above Cirrus, “Our Prism” and “New Kind of Evil” each allude to coping with the shadows of the pandemic, and “Phantoms” confronts lies, disinformation, and malice. “Cruel Deliverance” invokes death, failed escape, emotional wounds, and deception. Most epically, “Scream Sideways” is ten minutes of astonishing, visceral, haunting explorations of conflict, grief, and love. “Dead Butterfly” exquisitely contemplates violence and the fragility of life, while “Lucid” kaleidoscopically depicts lovers fighting their way through to reconciliation. Each of these songs connects powerfully with the listener on a deep emotional level. They generously repay the patient auditor with delicate and graceful bursts of radiance and consolation.

Looking back at The Dark Third 2 CD edition, that debut was really an era of a double album’s worth of material, adding up to an hour and half in total (if you also include “Sound of Free” from The Intention Craft EP). The theme was twofold: dreams and reality, and the moveable boundary between the two.

Further, PRR’s next two albums may together be considered to form a double album: Amor Vincit Omnia focuses on the theme of “love,” and Hammer and Anvil on the theme of “war.” Each disc complements the other; in themselves, they each contain carefully intricate musical tapestries. I am continually amazed that songs like “Victorious Cupid” or “Les Malheurs” or “Never Divide” or “Blitzkrieg” are not more widely recognized as the works of pure genius that they are, equal to or surpassing anything on The Dark Third. But such is the conundrum of being a devoted listener of PRR. Part of the pleasure lies in one’s expectations being repeatedly confounded and subverted by this endlessly clever and imaginative band. Only the joy and ecstasy of the music is itself the reward. Any reviewer’s words that come afterwards may serve only as mere nods to others, like us, who have also found their way to this incomparable band.

Eupnea and Above Cirrus, as I have already opined, take the shape of two halves of one whole, and not without precedent, at least if my above remarks also strike other listeners as true. Eupnea, with its theme of “life,” seems to possess a gentler prog idiom than Above Cirrus‘s fearless exploration of “afterlife,” namely, the life still possible after darkness and death. This new PRR disc may be too challenging for some in that it is scarcely comprehensible on first listen. But perhaps in that way it mindfully rises to embody its theme.

Jon, we are told, asked Greg, who knew all the cloud names: Well, what’s above cirrus? Nothing’s above cirrus, replied Greg. Well, if the only thing after life can be life, then this dazzling music is a fitting celebration of the miracle of life’s regenerative powers. For music is already beyond life. In this way, too, for PRR — with Eupnea and Above Cirrus now indisputably proof of a PRR back from the dead — music is their afterlife. And they take us right to the heart of the miracle.

Reviewed by C.S. Morrissey for Progarchy.com

For further immersion into PRR, click to Progarchy’s interviews with Jon Courtney here and here.

Jon Courtney talks about Pure Reason Revolution’s new album Above Cirrus

Jon Courtney of Pure Reason Revolution spoke with Progarchy.com today about Pure Reason Revolution’s new album Above Cirrus, which will be released next month.

Listen to “Phantoms,” or “New Kind of Evil,” or click on the audio file above to listen to what Jon Courtney had to say about these tracks, and all the others on the album, during today’s Progarchy interview.

Pink Floyd Fights Fascism

Pink Floyd has long been a powerful artistic voice against fascism. One of their most unforgettable studies of how fascism lurks within the human heart is their unforgettable rock opera The Wall. A cinematic recap of the essentials:

Now Pink Floyd stands in solidarity with Ukraine against today’s incarnation of fascist genocide:

Don’t look away. Add your voice to Gilmour’s guitar solo. Otherwise this is the way the world ends. Tear down the wall.

Album Review: Revel in Time — Star One

Arjen does it again on the third sci-fi metal outing of his supergroup starship known as Star One. ★★★★★

If you like prog metal, and if you like sci-fi movies and TV, then this is another fantastic disc from Star One. Arjen Anthony Lucassen is once again in the captain’s chair, steering the starship for this new mission into the galaxy of sci-fi shows about time travel.

Each track assembles a mighty away team to explore the thematic terrain of sci-fi artworks both famous and obscure. The key personnel on the bridge are Arjen on guitar and bass and Ed Warby on drums, starring roles like those of our beloved Kick and Spock. Erik van Ittersum on Solina Strings and Joost van den Broek (of After Forever) on Hammond are akin to mission support from Bones and Scotty. Here’s the breakdown of the away teams track-by-track:

Track 01, “Fate of Man” (05:29), is inspired by The Terminator. The magnificent maiden Brittney Slayes (of Unleash the Archers) delivers a killer vocal performance. The peerless Michael Romeo (of Symphony X) adorns the track with a scintillating guitar solo. CD2 of the package includes the same tracks as CD1, but with different vocalists: for this track, that’s Marcela Bovio (of Elfonia, The Gentle Storm, Stream of Passion, and MaYaN). Slayes is a tough act to follow, but Bovio shows she’s as spectacular as a supernova on her turn.

Track 02, “28 Days (Till the End of Time)” (07:20), is inspired by Donnie Darko. Russell Allen (of Symphony X) sings lead and keeps the disc feeling like a Symphony X album. John Jaycee Cuijpers (of Praying Mantis) does vocals on CD2. Timo Somers (of Delain) steals the show with a sweet guitar solo. 

Track 03, “Prescient” (06:34), is inspired by Primer. Ross Jennings (of Haken) supplies his truly unique vocals, along with Michael Mills (of Toehder), for a very satisfying combo. Will Shaw (of Heir Apparent) handles it on CD2. I watched Primer a long time ago and, unlike the familiar references on the first two tracks, I had to look it up to remind myself of the plot: “Friends and fledgling entrepreneurs invent a device in their garage which reduces the apparent mass of any object placed inside it, but they discover that it has some highly unexpected capabilities – ones that could enable them to do and to have seemingly anything they want. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity is the first challenge they face. Dealing with the consequences is the next.”

Track 04, “Back from the Past” (04:50), is inspired by Back to the Future, and it’s a real hoot. Jeff Scott Soto does the spirited vocals and Ron Bumblefoot Thal (of Sons of Apollo, Guns ’n’ Roses) the mind-bending guitar solo. John Jaycee Cuijpers (of Praying Mantis) does vocals on CD2.

Track 05, “Revel in Time” (04:37), is inspired by Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and is the most whimsical of all the tracks. Arjen is having lots of fun with this whole project, so it seems right to make this the title track. Also, the “revel” is a nice pun on “travel”, since “travel in time” is the unifying album theme. Brandon Yeagley (of Crobot) does vocals and Adrian Vandenberg (of Vandenberg, Whitesnake) the raucous guitar solos. John Jaycee Cuijpers (of Praying Mantis) does vocals on CD2.

Track 06, “The Year of ’41” (06:20), is inspired by the movie The Final Countdown. I guess this song is okay, and the movie has receded in my memory. Joe Lynn Turner (of Deep Purple, Rainbow) does vocals and the amazing guitarist Joel Hoekstra (of Whitesnake, Cher, TSO) does really fine work on the soloing. Jens Johansson (of Rainbow, Yngwie, Stratovarius) does the synthesizer solo, but on CD2 it’s Alessandro Del Vecchio on both vocals and the synthesizer solo. I had to recall the plot: “During routine manoeuvres near Hawaii in 1980, the aircraft-carrier USS Nimitz is caught in a strange vortex-like storm, throwing the ship back in time to 1941—mere hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.” Fine, that’s great, but I think I’d prefer to hear the song by Europe that has the same title.

Track 07, “Bridge of Life” (05:13), is inspired by the movie Frequency. The inimitable Damian Wilson (of Threshold, Headspace, Landmarq) contributes memorable vocals, and I feel sorry for Wilmer Waarbroek on CD2 who has to be compared to the great Damian. I had to remind myself of the plot here also: “When a rare phenomenon gives police officer John Sullivan the chance to speak to his father, 30 years in the past, he takes the opportunity to prevent his dad’s tragic death. After his actions inadvertently give rise to a series of brutal murders he and his father must find a way to fix the consequences of altering time.”

Track 08, “Today is Yesterday” (05:46), is inspired by the movie Groundhog Day. Dan Swanö (of Nightingale, Second Sky, Edge Of Sanity) hams it up on vocals. At first, I thought the vocal performance was as ridiculous as the umlaut on the last vowel of his name. But after more listens, I warmed up to it. The track has nice thoughts about the classic Bill Murray flick. Lisa Bella Donna contributes Moog synth, and Marcel Singor (of Kayak) the appropriately obnoxious guitar solo. Arjen Lucassen himself (of Ayreon, The Gentle Storm, Stream of Passion, Ambeon, Guilt Machine, in case you forgot) does all guitars, bass, keyboards, and even the vocals on CD2. You can listen to this track every February 2nd: “A narcissistic TV weatherman, along with his attractive-but-distant producer, and his mawkish cameraman, is sent to report on Groundhog Day in the small town of Punxsutawney, where he finds himself repeating the same day over and over.”

Track 09, “A Hand on the Clock” (05:51), is inspired by the movie Source Code. The brilliant Floor Jansen (of Nightwish, After Forever) is stellar on vocals here, and it’s hard to believe someone of her talent is buried on track nine. Then again, I can understand wanting to lead with Brittney’s star turn on track one, and the rationale here seems to be Arjen saving his favorites for last, placing Jansen in the antepenultimate position, so that the excitement and anticipation builds as we listen to the CD and eagerly await her turn. Joost does a Hammond solo to add extra zip. Floor’s sister Irene contributes backing vocals but also the vocals on CD2 together with Marcela Bovio. I’ve only watched this movie once, back when it was first out: “When decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.” Pretty decent, but it’s Floor’s singing that I would return to again and again.

Track 10, “Beyond the Edge of it All” (04:52), is inspired by the British sci-fi/horror TV series Sapphire and Steel, which I did not know about until listening to this CD. John Jaycee Cuijpers (of Praying Mantis) does good vocals, and I think Arjen does the guitar solo here as part of the “best for later” logic of the album tracking. He must be a big fan of the show, because after looking it up and watching it, now I am too. I can’t believe I had never seen it before, because it is absolutely classic, and I am grateful to Arjen for bringing it to my attention through this album. Mike Andersson (of Tungsten, Star One) does vocals on CD2. Perhaps listeners will want to have a two-week film festival of all the movies Arjen has made this album about. That’s a great idea, and I welcome you to it. My own festival ended up being a Sapphire and Steel marathon:

“Sapphire & Steel is a British television science-fiction fantasy series starring David McCallum as Steel and Joanna Lumley as Sapphire. Produced by ATV, it ran from 1979 to 1982 on the ITV network. The series was created by Peter J. Hammond who conceived the programme under the working title The Time Menders, after a stay in an allegedly haunted castle. Hammond also wrote all the stories except for the fifth, which was co-written by Don Houghton and Anthony Read.  In 2004, Sapphire and Steel returned in a series of audio dramas starring David Warner and Susannah Harker.”

Track 11, “Lost Children of the Universe” (09:46), is inspired by the movie Interstellar. That movie is one of my top-ten favorites, so I approve of the “best for last” implication here. Roy Khan (of Kamelot) does vocals here, and the Hellscore Choir also shows up near the end for an unexpected twist. Steve Vai delivers an Academy Award-worthy guitar solo.

Surprisingly, Tony Martin (of Black Sabbath) is placed on CD2 instead, but I think Arjen faced an impossible choice here, because Khan’s dramatic delivery is just so darn good. I think Ray Gillen was a better singer for Sabbath than Tony Martin was, but alas Tony is better known.

Marcela and Irene contribute truly stellar interstellar backing vocals, as on so many other places on the album: they really deserve a lot of credit as the (perhaps unsung) background singing heroes that they are here on this disc.

Note: Arjen released this track as an advance single, with a mix of vocals from both Roy and Tony. So, if you are true fan and total collector like me, you will want all three versions of the song.

Thanks you Arjen and crew for another thrilling journey. I am grateful for hours and hours of so much enjoyment with this virtuous circle of sci-fi movies and songs. Rock on at warp speed!