Album Review: Steve Hackett – At The Edge Of Light


Check out the great review by my fellow Progarchy editor, Bryan Morey, over at DPRP. Here’s an excerpt:

Hackett’s solo albums have gotten progressively better over the past several years. I wasn’t sure he would be able to top 2017’s The Night Siren, but he has with At The Edge Of Light. This album is brilliant. His calls for peace are held up by his diverse selection of musical themes and sounds. He shows us what it means to reach through divides. He shows us the best of what humanity has to offer. I’m not exaggerating when I call Steve Hackett a genius. 2019 has only just begun, but I may already have my favorite album of the year locked in. This album is so lyrically and musically deep that I’m sure I will find more and more to enjoy as the year progresses.

I agree!

Collective memory decay


About that paper in Nature, “The universal decay of collective memory and attention,” which “concludes that people and things are kept alive through ‘oral communication’ from about five to 30 years,” Kevin Berger asks Cesar Hidalgo:

In your mind, what is a classic example of collective memory decay?

I thought everybody knew “Imagine” by John Lennon. I’m almost 40 and my student was probably 20. But I realized “Imagine” is not as popular in her generation as it was in mine, and it was probably less popular in my generation than in the generation before. People have a finite capacity to remember things. There’s great competition for the content out there, and the number of people who know or remember something decays over time. There’s another example, of Elvis Presley memorabilia. People had bought Elvis memorabilia for years and it was collecting huge prices. Then all of a sudden the prices started to collapse. What happened is the people who collected Elvis memorabilia started to die. Their families were stuck with all of this Elvis stuff and trying to sell it. But all of the people who were buyers were also dying.

Album Preview: Soen – Lotus @soenmusic


Thanks to Martin Lopez, the drummer for Soen, and to the good people at Silver Lining Music, Progarchy has been enjoying a nice preview of Soen’s forthcoming album, Lotus.

There’s a satisfying edge and intensity to this new offering, which builds on all the strengths of their previous gem, Lykaia.

“Opponent” gets things off to a relentless start, but then “Lascivious” begins with more open space and a more relaxing groove before turning quickly to alternate again with the tremendous heavy guitar sound Soen has chosen for this album.

This second track, “Lascivious,” really showcases the musical subtlety that is Soen’s strength, which they are able to juxtapose with the heaviest kind of rocking out. No doubt this ability stems from Soen’s commitment to explore creative depths, a fact emphasized in the album’s press release:

Having spent the last 6 months digging deep into the muddy depths of their emotions, the nine songs comprising Lotus are intoxicating, addictive aural therapies, questioning much of today’s darkness while juxtaposing them with moments of great escape and hope.

We are all very fortunate to have this place where we can go and explore thoughts, perspectives and emotions which everyday life maybe does not have the room for,” says Martin Lopez, one of Soen’s founding members, “there are definitely things that we say, and places we go, in Soen which would be very hard to express without us coming together and creating music.

“Martyrs” is the third track, which Soen has released already as the second of its advance release tracks for the album. It’s simply fantastic, and a clear contender for best song on the album. A taut bass line ties the whole thing together, with a headbanging chorus that emerges from some nifty riffing and certainly proves most uplifting. The unexpected keyboard meditation at the three-minute mark allows the song to regroup and summon all the emotional power the band has at their disposal. The drums and bass then start to rebuild the tension, leading to the song’s gloriously cathartic climax rising up from the keyboard’s gentle chords.

Following “Martyrs” is the devastating title track, “Lotus,” which begins softly, but then slowly builds its own emotional embrace, not fully unfurling itself until the guitar solo beginning at 2:50. Just as “Martyrs” also exhorted you to pay attention to your essence, so too “Lotus” sings about how we need to listen to our instincts:

Talk to yourself,
let your essence be the answer,
while we chase the meaning of who we are,
navigating through a storm. 

Taking central place, as track number five, “Covenant” provides a musical contrast to the more straightforward ballad nature of “Lotus.” “Covenant,” rather, starts with a definite riff and groove that soon explodes into nimble acrobatics. Here too the theme is modern society’s unique challenges:

Produced by David Castillo and Iñaki Marconi at Ghostward Studios and Studio 6 between July and October 2018, the album marks the first recorded Soen work of new Canadian-born guitarist Cody Ford, whilst the centre-point of the album remains those trademark, snap-heavy, progressive Soen riffs.  Songs such as “Rival”, “Covenant” and “Martyrs” are dissertations on modern societies, fraught with poetic, finitely designed confusion and chaos, yet as the name Lotus suggests, there is still strength, beauty and purity to be extracted from what at times seems like an endless cycle of human regression.

The world right now is undeniably a very strange, tense place,” says Lopez, “I think the songs clearly reflect that, but they also reflect that we must now be stronger than ever in challenging confronting and dealing with the pandemonium life throws at us all.”

“Penance” has an unusual introduction and then slips into a beautiful melody married with the unique Soen ensemble sound. Again, Soen deploy a trademark song structure whereby the heavy rocking does not simply terminate in itself, but rather builds to a point that allows the song to eventually break upwards into a higher melodic plane. The effect is one of a musical transformation that transcends darkness into the upper atmospheres of happiness. The sweet strings at the end of “Penance” make just such a sonic affirmation.

Over keyboard washes and acoustic guitar, “River” highlights the heartfelt singing of Joel Ekelöf. It’s deceptively simple and highly effective. Then when the drums kick in after a minute and a half, the song continues to weave even stronger emotion into its elegant waltz rhythm.

The penultimate track, “Rival,” was the first to have been released in advance by Soen. If you’re like me, you’ve already downloaded it and already played it into double-digit repeated listens.

“Lunacy” clocks in at the perfect prog-length of 8:05 (it fools you into thinking it ends around the five minute mark) and provides a suitably epic finale to Soen’s greatest album yet (as Joel returns at the seven-minute mark to bring it all home).

As with the whole album, I really love the guitar sounds on this final track. But the whole team deserves commendation for the sonic excellence of the entire offering, with perfect levels and balance between the gut-punch drums and extra-thick bass and crystalline vocals and glorious guitars.

Kudos to Soen for crafting such a fine album with a life-affirming message:

We each have our own personal ideas as to what it means,” says Lopez, “but we’d much rather discuss what others think, what our audience think, what the media thinks. I think it’s extremely important that we all communicate with each other and take the time to fully conceive our own meanings and interactions with life and creativity.

Ultimately,” concludes Ekelöf, “Lotus is about rising from whatever darkness, or dark places, you might find yourself.  And its inspiration comes from a deep motivation to not just settle for the situation you might find yourself in.  Lotus is about changing life -both your own and your surroundings for which we must all take responsibility- and make them better rather than letting darkness pacify you and take you down.

Joel Ekelöf – Vocals
Martin Lopez – Drums
Lars Åhlund – Keys & Guitar
Stefan Stenberg – Bass
Cody Ford – Lead Guitar

Written by Soen
Produced by David Castillo and Iñaki Marconi
Mixed by David Castillo
Mastering by Jens Bogren
Cello by Emeli Jeremias


The Amazing Grace of Wytch Hazel


One of the best albums of 2018 was Wytch Hazel’s II: Sojourn. It was tied for the #10 spot on my Top 10 Metal list, but I should not have put down Seventh Wonder’s Tiara instead of it because, now in January, I am repeatedly returning to listen to Wytch’s Hazel’s great concept album of metal in the classic style, instead of Seventh Wonder.

Take a look at that album cover. Isn’t it just awesome? And the picture sums up the story of the album. You can gaze at it as you listen, if you like. It helps to draw you in to the story.

“The Devil is Here” kicks off the album with the theme of the arrival of the enemy who must be fought in war. After three tracks chronicling the warrior’s battles, we then have the magnificent “See My Demons” (track #5) which pairs incredible music with the poignant theme of the PTSD of a medieval war veteran. (This was the first track to really grab my attention: its nimble musicality is truly excellent.)

But then our hero finds redemption on the next track, “Barrow Hill,” which (obviously anachronistically but nonetheless theologically timelessly) echoes famous lines from the hymn “Amazing Grace,” as our hero speaks of once being lost but now being found (and later on this album’s side he will even sing of once being blind but now seeing).

Born again from this spiritual rejuvenation, we then get the album’s best two tracks next, which are cross-faded into one another for one big long proggy epic: “Chorale” and “Slaves to Righteousness.” The former begins with a church organ solo and then breaks into a breakneck instrumental of rocking out, whereas the latter has our spiritually rejuvenated hero riding again into the final crucial battle, obedient to righteousness.

Our hero then achieves “Victory” in the penultimate track, but of course as in every great war movie this hero sacrifices his life for the victory, so in the final track “Angel Take Me” we have his dying prayer on the battlefield. The great part of this album is that it is neither pro-war nor pro-religious propaganda but rather just fine storytelling and excellent classic metal. Don’t make my mistake of underrating it, until giving it a chance for a few more listens. It packs a real punch, so enjoy at maximum volume.

Phoenix – “Listomania” @AOC

This is Phoenix’s “Listomania,” from their terrific album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. It’s the opening track, but my fave on the album has always been “Love like a Sunset” (Part 1 and Part 2 — shades of prog!), not to mention also “Lasso” (track six). Wait, who’s that dancing in the video below?