To write is human, but to edit is divine

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It’s time to admit it. Too many bands are releasing albums that are too long.

Digital technology makes it possible, but reviewers must now unite in their opposition to today’s most ridiculous musical trend.

Any album longer than 45 minutes must be criticized mercilessly if the artist has failed to edit it.

The first item in any review should be a list of the songs that should have been cut. If the artist won’t do it, then the reviewer should begin the review with an elementary lesson for the artist in how their new release is abusing the listener’s patience.

If artists don’t want the reviewers editing their work for them, and if artists don’t want listeners only downloading or listening piecemeal, then they have to start showing some discipline.

There is so much good music out there. But too many artists are wasting our time.

There, I said it. Let the discussion begin at Progarchy on this. Perhaps we can begin by taking AMG as our reference point:

I want artists to produce coherent, holistic albums. This is not the same thing from lining up 10 songs you wrote in a specific order that works pretty well. For me, the peak of the album is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or The Wall. When I start The Wall I listen to it front to back and I enjoy the whole experience. Similarly, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Symphony X‘s V: The New Mythology Suite. These are albums that use the form to create something cohesive and should a band need 75 minutes to do that, more power to them. The key, though, is immersion. Listeners lose themselves in the music and the album is akin to looking at a painting. Sure, you could look at the left half now and the right half later, but a painting is meant to be seen in its totality. Such albums are usually carefully crafted so as to be continuously interesting and engaging; both as composition and narration. The best album-as-whole is the record that has likely been heavily edited because it needs to be perfect.

Releasing the 15 songs I wrote in the last 18 months without consideration for time and space is not constructing an album. This is, rather, a playlist. There are plenty of great records that are playlists; in fact, I think most albums that are released are simply playlists.2 But that changes expectations. In this case, there will be varying compositional quality and it behooves bands to remove the worst material to improve the flow and feel of their playlist. Historically, this meant sitting down and cutting down to the LP length. And while this is hard, anyone who makes music knows that we all write stuff that we don’t like as well. We all produce music that we think is subpar, even if we like this riff or that idea. The musician who wants to produce the best album possible will either re-write those pieces or drop them. They edit.

Playlist albums are more likely to be repetitive at longer lengths, particularly if they lack dynamics. I love Amon Amarth, but those guys write pretty much the same songs for every album. They’re really good at it, but a 75 minute Amon Amarth album would fall absolutely flat. By the 40-minute mark, you’ve heard everything you’re going to hear and at that point you’re pretty much ready to move on. You’ll see them live, of course, but then they play 120 minutes of their best material, not their most recent.

Sometimes you’ll encounter albums where every song is great but it’s super long, making it enjoyable in two sittings. But is that a successful album? My answer is no. A successful album is something that you want to hear in a single sitting. Generally, the most successful albums are the ones which end before you’re ready. The ones that leave you wanting more. I review new albums on these terms. When enjoyable records crest at 55, 60, or 70 minutes and I’m bored, I consider it an editing problem. An album with plenty of interesting sections but that falls flat on a total listen is a failure which could have been averted with better editing.3 I’d say the same thing of a 30 minute album that I was bored with by the end, too. It’s the whole that matters.

Ultimately, I think that records that bloat make for bad records and that labels are releasing fewer good records because of it. If you’re a person who doesn’t enjoy albums as a whole, then this isn’t a problem. But what are we to do when we review? Our job is to review albums. That means pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the whole product that we’re reviewing. Since we judge them as single units, rather than rating how much we like each song and creating a composite score, length risks dropping scores due to dropping quality.

People, we must learn from ages past. Vinyl is the gold standard here, and we must learn from it. Exceed the running time length of an LP at your own peril, dear artists. You have been warned.

Swan Hunter by Big Big Train: Live at Cadogan Hall, London, in October 2017

Filmed and recorded live at Cadogan Hall, London, in October 2017. Swan Hunter will be released as a single on 13th July 2018. The single features live and studio performances of Swan Hunter and new versions of Seen Better Days and Summer’s Lease (both previously unreleased.) Swan Hunter is available to pre-order on digipack CD with 12 page booklet from http://www.burningshed.com, http://www.themerchdesk.com and other good record stores. Available on download and streaming from release date. Merchants of Light live album, featuring the full set-list from the Cadogan Hall shows will be released as a vinyl box set, double CD, and on download and streaming on 27th July 2018.

Discovered Hidden in a Vancouver Record Shop, the Magical Goblet of Prog

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Back before the Internet days, we used to hunt down rare albums via crosstown visits to obscure record shops. Nowadays, with Amazon and eBay and online third party retailers, this experience never happens anymore, since you can source whatever you need digitally, either immediately, via YouTube, or virtually, purchased through one of the aforementioned online retailers with global reach.

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Well, it almost never happens anymore. Imagine my surprise when I found out that local guitar virtuoso Daniel James released a funky prog rock album back in May with his band Brass Camel. Their Facebook page says it’s available at three uber-cool Vancouver indie record stores. In vain I sought to find a digital download online, so I happily saddled up, just like in the goode olde days, and made the one-hour trek into town to buy this rare prog album that cannot be bought online (not even from those three Vancouver retro retailers) but only in person, at a record store that is actually a RECORD store (i.e., with wall-to-wall vinyl in plastic collector’s bags).

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Man, what an experience. I hadn’t felt the thrill like this since I was a teenager waiting outside a record shop waiting for it to open. Sure enough, I arrived today in Vancouver fifteen minutes before opening time, and I had to stand out on the sidewalk peering in the window, as the lone employee inside pointedly ignored me. In an age of instant downloads, does anyone ever feel such excitement these days? I was getting a total kick out of this happy retro vinyl buyer’s experience, and my only regret was that I was going to be buying the album on CD when the store opened, since there is no vinyl release yet.

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The record store dude unlocked the door promptly on the hour. Suddenly a second employee magically appeared out of nowhere on the sidewalk and slipped past me into the store as the glass door swung open. I had to cool my heels another minute as employee number one put out a sidewalk sign and then he finally let me in. When I asked for the Daniel James Brass Camel CD, he had never heard of it. But he eventually found it in a basket of CDs filed alphabetically in envelopes behind the counter. Then he had to walk across the store to find the empty gatefold CD jacket on a shelf, and next insert the CD from the back-counter envelope, and — voila — sell it to me. And get this, which was the ultimate thrill to cap the experience: they only had one copy in stock, and my long trek had paid off big time, with me capturing the last disc left! Oh man, what a thrill. Brought back so many good memories of hunting down rare albums back in the glory days!

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Well, I am happy to report the album was a great pleasure to listen to all the way home. I will follow up this post with a review of the progtastic DJBC album soon. For now, I just wanted to let you know that the magical experience of hunting down the Holy Grail of Prog is still alive and well in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Prog on, chillun!

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Ancient Empire, “Eternal Soldier”

Not only can you now hear “The Fifth Column,” the eight and final track on the forthcoming album Eternal Soldier (July 27, 2018), but you can now also watch and listen to the first killer track which shares the same title as the album itself: “Eternal Soldier.”

In other good news, I hear that Ancient Empire’s first album When Empires Fall (2013)(currently my abstractly top-ranked favorite, but of course I love whichever one I am listening to in the moment) will be getting a re-release with an extra bonus track.

This is fantastic, because the CDs are all sold out and I don’t own a copy. Yet I have to! It is one of the best metal albums I have ever heard, with upper-echelon, truly supreme tracks like “Shadow of the Cross,” “Wings of Steel,” “Ancient Empire,” and “When Empires Fall.”

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Music fans of a certain age will have the listening experience to understand why these connoisseurs of classic heavy metal are serving up some of the best metal you will ever hear — because these dudes have that same life experience, as well as the metal chops to deliver the goods!

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Ancient Empire, “The Fifth Column”

Check out this awesome complete track from the forthcoming album Eternal Soldier now up at Ancient Empire’s Bandcamp page.

The album is described as: “The 4th saga from the ongoing struggle between humanity and the ancient alien invaders.”

You can read about the preceding trilogy here on Progarchy (just follow the link), or simply gaze at the “pulp fiction”-style album art.

My favorite is Part 1, When Empires Fall (2013). But what will be my response to Part 4? Stay tuned…

Ancient Empire: Eternal Soldier release date announced (July 27)

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Stormspell Records has teased a look at the Eternal Soldier album art as they announced the release date for Ancient Empire’s next album on Facebook. I am predicting that it will be an album to be reckoned with. So, as we wait, below are the album covers from the band’s preceding metal trilogy. Perhaps my favorite is the art on the cover of When Empires Fall, which matches the album’s lyric contents perfectly. By the way, what distinguishes Ancient Empire from other metal bands is their meticulous attention to lyrical excellence. Every song is carefully crafted, with the utmost intelligence given to the crafting of compelling lyrics.

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Album Review: Gygax, “2nd Edition” @GygaxGuild

What if the kids from Stranger Things got a little bit older and then formed a band with their number one influence being Thin Lizzy?

That’s exactly what Gygax sounds like on their 2nd album, 2nd Edition (2018), which achieves the magical combination of geeky Dungeons and Dragons lyrical themes and a resurrected Phil Lynott hard rock aesthetic.

The first album Critical Hits (2016) from Gygax didn’t quite hit the mark with me, but I did really love two tracks from it, which I listened to quite a bit: “The Rope of Shadow” and “Demons.” Both are excellent, especially “The Rope of Shadow,” which is my favorite Gygax song.

On their second outing, “Dice Throwers & Rock ‘n’ Rollers” kicks things off with a spot-on Thin Lizzy hard rock shuffle. Then “It Makes It Worth It” ups the ante with even more intense blistering funk and some tasty flamethrower lead guitar lines. And “The Lascivious Underdark” makes it a hat trick with yet more of the magical Gygax 70s spell.

Things shift down slightly with “Pure Hearts,” which is unexpectedly perhaps the finest track on the disc, being an uncanny imitation of Phil Lynott at his most moving. But “Song of the Silverhands” ramps up the action once more into the speedy shuffle zone. Although “Wish” returns to more subtle rocking, the downshift is again highly satisfying as the tension builds nicely and the groove is undeniable. Toes will tap: resistance is futile.

The only skippable track for me is the penultimate no-drums “Heavy Meddle,” and yet it is an appropriately deployed smoke break before the pull-out-all-the-stops grand finale “Second Wind.”

I’ve always been a big fan of Thin Lizzy, and even though Black Star Riders continues to fly the flag, I am more impressed by the second Gygax outing, since its exercises in nostalgia come across as truly heartfelt.

Like the aforementioned “Pure Hearts,” what we have here is youthful joy captured like bottled lightning. And who wouldn’t want to drink that magic potion? Well, now you can.

Gygax = D&D R&R
Eric (Cleric) – Bass, Vocals
Bryant (Fighter) – Guitar
Wes (Wizard) – Guitar
Ian (Druid) – Keys