Gandals Fist – Universal Wanderings revisited

frontcover-wanderer-reissue

Well, not content with upping the ante last year with their triple disc magnum opus The Clockwork Fable (which to be honest is one of the finest albums ever made) and triumphantly headlining their own Fistival, the boys are giving us a bonus remastered Fisting with their remaster and re-tooling of their 2013 album A Day in the Life of a Universal Wanderer.

However, the Fist being the Fist never do things by half, so this see’s the album remastered, parts re-recorded, new linking narratives from Paddington’s Santa, Mark Benton (who also played a memorable part in The Clockwork Fable – oh, and Doctor Who) and the new track The Stowaway and the Fable, which according to the band, brings this release in line with the sonic template of 2014’s A Forest of Fey, and 2016’s a Clockwork Fable.

Now, for some artists chucking out a quick sneaky remaster of an album, scant years after it’s initial release could be seen as lazy, however having seen the care and attention the ‘Fist boys put into their work, this is more a case of taking that classic old car that’s been off the road for a year or two, putting in the hard yards and getting it race ready again.

The main difference between the original release (which I’ve not heard) and this new vision, is that since this was released drummer Stefan Hepe and bassist Chris Ewen were recruited to join the nucleus of the band Dean Marsh (guitars/keys/vocals) and Luke Severn (vocals/keys) and made their recorded debuts on the phenomenal A Forest of Fey (which was my first fisting).

It seems appropriate then to have the drum parts for Universal Wanderer re-recorded, with Stefan adding a his teutonic precision, giving it that mighty full Fist band sound that makes their latest releases so epic.

With Mark Benton providing linking narration, this pulls it right into the Fist family, and the mix of harder edged rock, full on epic space ballads, powerful epics, and tight coherent narrative this has all the hallmarks of a Fist classic.

Listening to the music here, and the plotting and way the songs lead the narrative, this could almost have been a dry run for The Clockwork Fable (and I have no doubt that somewhere in the fertile imagination of those Fist boys, this ties in somewhere with that and Forest of Fey).

They do like their harder edged sounds and epic tracks like the Nine Billion Names of God, and the new epic that has snuck it’s way here, or indeed like a pigeon found it’s way home ‘The Stowaway and the Endless Night, features some of their heavier sounds, impressive guitar riffing and a fab hard edge.

This subtle blend of light and dark works with tracks like Orphans of the Sky, and long term Fist associate Melissa Hollick provides superb vocals on here and forms part of that mighty Fist sound.

The concept here is around The Universal Wanderer a 26th Century mythical figure who has wandered the Universe since the dawn of time, I wonder if he’s ever bumped into someone similar who happens to fly round in a blue Police Box, I bet they have plenty of things to chat about at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

And having wandered the Universe the Fist have certainly got plenty of diverse musical sounds that they weave together to create a coherent whole, the wonderful Battle for Tannhauser Gate with William Stewarts violin duelling with the guitars, is a fab slice of folk rock prog, with another superb duet and pulls more strands of the story together.

In fact the album is as much as rich musical tapestry with the diverse genres and sounds, pulled together like a well made jumper, bringing the strands together to create a coherent whole, and one that is worth losing yourself in for an afternoon.

The closing The Wanderer Goes is the stitch that pulls those threads together, reprising the opening Nine Billion names of God, with a fantastically epic closing section, worthy of the name, bringing the album back full circle.

If you’ve never heard of Gandalfs Fist then it’s time you got fisted, and if you are familiar with them, and think you already have this album, according to the guys this is as different from the original as could be, reworked, retooled, remastered and reissued to give it a bigger place in the Universe.

Whatever you think of the bands name (and it has been described in certain quarters as a maarmite name, and  I like it) Gandalfs Fist certainly are some of the most ambitious musicians when it comes for big concept albums and mighty sounds, and what is gratifying is that they have the musical chops and storytelling nous to pull it off with style and aplomb.

I look forward to where their fertile imagination plans on taking us next musically, whilst they ponder that in their secret Fist bunker where plots are plotted and albums are hatched, let us enjoy this story of a Universal wanderer and see where he takes us.

A day in the Life of a Universal Wanderer (Special Edition) is available now from

https://www.gandalfsfist.com/store

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 3)

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2, here is the third and final part of my ‘Best of 2013’ list: positions 5 to 1 in my Top Ten.

(By the way, if you are wondering at the absence of Big Big Train’s magnificent English Electric: Full Power, remember that I am excluding rereleases of older material; without that restriction, it would most certainly be up near the top of my list!)

 

5. Maschine – Rubidium

The debut release from the formerly-dubbed Concrete Lake, featuring two alumni of The Tangent: guitarist Luke Machin and bassist Dan Mash. Be prepared for a rollercoaster ride through a dizzying array of different musical styles as this album jumps effortlessly from prog metal shredding to jazz to salsa (yes, really!) and back again. It’s bonkers, but I love it to bits.

 

4. Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves

A minor change in direction for Poland’s premier prog rockers finds them flirting with more straightforward hard rock, blues and even jazz influences in places, to great effect. The resulting album is more cohesive conceptually than any of their previous work and touches on similar issues to those explored by The Tangent’s latest opus. Disc 2 of the special edition features over 22 minutes of instrumental music quite different in tone from the main album but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

 

3. Sanguine Hum – Weight Of The World

An accomplished follow-up to 2010’s Diving Bell from Joff Winks, Matt Baber & Co. Sanguine Hum’s sound calls to mind Turin Brakes, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, the layered electronica of North Atlantic Oscillation and even Porcupine Tree in their more reflective moments. It’s captivating, however you describe it, and the songs on this album are beautifully constructed. Apparently, the band have two album’s worth of new material already written, which bodes well for the future.

 

2. The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail

The best release yet from the ‘Steely Dan of prog’, offering a more coherent vision than their earlier high points Not As Good As The Book and A Place In The Queue. With music loosely inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring and a thought-provoking, opinion-polarising message regarding the mundanity of the daily grind and our role as wage slaves, this is a progressive tour de force as far as I’m concerned.

 

1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Quite simply, Steven Wilson’s finest work to date. Opting for a live recording approach over meticulous overdubs has paid off handsomely and the music frequently builds to a thrilling intensity as this masterful band of players feed off each others’ energy. It is difficult to pick out highlights from something so consistently brilliant, but Guthrie Govan’s guitar solo in Drive Home really does take the breath away, leaving us wondering how in the name of prog Wilson is going to better this.

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 2)

Following hot on the heels of Part 1, here is the second part of my ‘Best of 2013’ list: positions 10 to 6 in my Top Ten.

 

10. Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X

This liturgically-themed piece, recorded with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, was my introduction to Ulver. It had a powerful effect on me when first I heard it and I shall certainly be exploring their back-catalogue in future. Messe is solemn, haunting and mysterious – best heard on headphones late at night with the lights turned off.

 

9. Freedom to Glide – Rain

A richly atmospheric, superbly recorded album, evoking the grandeur of Pink Floyd in places and with liquid guitar solos that Dave Gilmour would be proud to call his own. Rain‘s story is set during World War I and is based on the experiences of band member Pete Riley’s grandfather. It’s a powerful and moving piece of work that assumes particular relevance with the imminent centenary of that awful conflict.

 

8. Henry Fool – Men Singing

A welcome return by Tim Bowness & colleagues, a mere twelve years after their debut release. The title is a neat little joke, given that this is an entirely instrumental album, Tim electing to merely play guitar rather than treat us to his wonderful and distinctive voice. What you get for your money here are four tracks of proggy, jazzy, semi-improvisational brilliance.

 

7. Bruce Soord with Jonas Renkse – Wisdom Of Crowds

This collaboration between The Pineapple Thief’s frontman and Katatonia’s vocalist is a revelation. The album consists of nine simple, elegant songs written by Soord with Renkse in mind, and the clean, minimalist production gives that spellbinding voice the space to work its magic. A modern masterpiece.

 

6. Haken – The Mountain

Haken are arguably progressive metal’s leading proponents in the UK. Each album has improved upon its predecessor and The Mountain is their best yet. These guys have the musical chops of Dream Theater but are considerably more adventurous. They also don’t take themselves too seriously, as this brilliant video for The Cockroach King shows.

 

See Part 3 for my five favourite albums of 2013…

Days Are Gone (Best of 2013 — Part 13)

With this post, I now conclude my Top Thirteen Albums of 2013. Maybe, because earlier on I had invoked Black Sabbath, you were expecting me to nominate their album “13” for my #13 slot. (Melinda Selmys, after all, noted of their video for “God Is Dead?” that it is “the most Christian music video of the year.”) Well, if that is what you were expecting, then I have successfully faked you out. Because here is my twist ending…

In my final #13 slot, I give you, not heavy metal, but the pop perfection of:

Haim

I choose Haim’s pop masterpiece “Days Gone By” (which iTunes currently has on sale for a limited time) because I never want to become complacent as a citizen of the republic of Progarchy. Sure, we listen to prog because we are able to get, from prog, so much more than we usually get from the mainstream musical venues.

But sometimes the big record companies actually do get things right. (I mean, The Beatles weren’t so bad, were they?) So, it behooves Progarchy to recognize excellence wherever it may arise. (For me, that is the true spirit of prog. Devotion and dedication to excellence, in all forms. Which will, of course, take you in time towards all our favorite prog bands.)

Therefore, since this is the last day of the year, why not crank up “Days Are Gone” and send out the year on a happy note? There is nothing quite like genuine pop perfection, and anyone with a smile and a sweet tooth has got to love Haim.

2013 has been a great year for music! A big thank you to all my fellow Progarchists for sharing their musical experiences here, thereby expanding my own.

I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day, when I will reveal the name of my fave EP from 2013 — since EPs do not count towards my Top Ten lists, which (in good prog fashion) I always dedicate to the recognition of the best contributions towards the keeping alive of The Art of the Album.

Time and Space (Best of 2013 — Part 12)

Continuing with the final three albums of my Top Thirteen of 2013, I now reveal that the #12 slot is reserved for:

Lobate Scarp

Their excellent “Time and Space” disc was actually released on December 12, 2012 (12-12-12) and although it is therefore technically ineligible for a Best of 2013 list, just as I found a loophole to get Chasing Dragons into the #11 slot for 2013, I have found a place at #12 for Lobate Scarp in my Top Thirteen of 2013.

In addition to my riffing on the band’s harmonious use of the number 12 by placing them at #12, my logic of inclusion is that I actually did not get this album until 2013, when somehow the band found a way to make the CD magically appear at home in a bundle of my snail mail. Captivated by the beautiful packaging and lyric booklet, I soon learned that what Carl concluded earlier on this year is absolutely true: this album is a first-rate achievement that deserves wider recognition.

The first track is the title track, “Time and Space.” While other bands will save their longest and most epic prog track for last (two examples from 2013’s best would be Dream Theater’s “Illumination Theory” and Sound of Contact’s “Mobius Slip”), Lobate Scarp instead kicks things off by putting their most epic track first! Wow. It’s a great way to establish their prog bona fides right from the get-go. Nicely done!

Next up is “Jacob’s Ladder,” the only track that is shorter than five minutes long. But it’s really catchy and gives us a chance to catch our breath after the epic opening.

The third track is the excellent “Beginning of Us,” which has an enchanting melody that hooks you in slowly. Then the excitement builds and soon you find yourself either singing or humming along. By the time we hit the second verse, things have gotten so funky, and the tasty synth is so perfect, we hardly expect the stratospheric guitar launch of the instrumental section that soon ensues. But off we go! Again, wow. This is a magnificent song that takes us on quite an interstellar journey in just under seven minutes.

The fourth track, “The Contradiction,” is also a supremely interesting musical journey that showcases the astonishing abilities of these fabulous musicians. These folks have supreme jazz sensibilities that really distinguish them as musicians and that mark their compositions with a peculiar brand of proggy individuality.

My favorite track on the album turns out to be the fifth track, “Save My Soul,” which starts out with an awesome heavy riff before pulling back and then slowly building up to yet more excitement. The track then goes on to have so many interesting changes and contrasts, including an epic horn freakout, that you want to stand up and cheer at the end of the thing. Amazing!

Track six, “Moment,” slows things down, but only for the first few minutes. Pretty soon Lobate Scarp finds their way into yet another one of their trademark grooves, and we get to go on another exhilarating ride with them. Zoom!

The concluding seventh track, “The Mirror,” is an ambitious musical extravaganza that even includes a gigantic choir singing in Latin. Whoa! Man, you have got to give this band kudos. They do not shy away from any sort of daring musical enterprise. Instead, propelled by their wonderful grooves, they boldly go… where no prog has gone before.

Do yourself a huge favor and buy a copy of this album. It is lovingly crafted by people who are obviously musicians’ musicians. Only rarely do ambitious projects like this succeed. But Lobate Scarp has made the jump to hyperspace and you are invited to come along for the ride to the higher musical dimensions of this upper-echelon labor of love.

Chasing Dragons (Best of 2013 — Part 11)

I discovered this band purely by chance. Instigated mainly by my nephew (but also by others), I was attempting a Web search on “Imagine Dragons,” that overrated and overhyped band. But, as I tried to recall the name of that band I was searching for, I accidentally typed in the wrong name. Instead, I typed in “Chasing Dragons,” which is — let’s face it — a much cooler name for a band. But as I realized my mistake, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised. For I had just discovered a much better band that was playing much more interesting music. I had discovered Chasing Dragons, the under-estimated and under-appreciated hard rock band from Leeds.

Two string-meisters, Mitch and Ant, handle the mayhem on guitar and bass. At the other two ends of this quadrilateral, on vocals and drums, we find the incredible Tank and the mighty Kate. All four of these outstanding musicians demonstrate an exceptional degree of talent.

I am very impressed with the way that Chasing Dragons stands out from the crowd. In addition to being riveted by their uncommon energy and passion, I am also very impressed by the careful artistry and consummate craftsmanship that they put into every aspect of their songwriting.

This band is so tight and generates such dramatic musical excitement that I could not believe my luck when I stumbled across them in their current relative obscurity. Who knew that hidden away in Leeds is such great musical talent, about to take the world by storm! I am hoping that they develop their fan base further and thus gain the wider recognition that they deserve. (It will be fun to follow their career as their future records take shape.)

Therefore, by the powers vested in me as a citizen of the republic of Progarchy, I am creating a special 11th spot on my traditional end-of-year, “Top Ten” list… for Chasing Dragons, my #11 for this year. I am taking this extraordinary action because it is in 2013 that I discovered this band, an epochal event which I want to commemorate somehow.

Luckily, I have a loophole: Chasing Dragons released a first-class single in 2013. By combining it with the material from their 2012 EP, “Take Flight for a Firefight,” I argue that Chasing Dragons has, as of this year, released enough music that, in composite, forms what I consider to be a solid LP of very impressive material.

The following is the playlist — the “virtual LP” — that I have fashioned for myself. I have been listening to it repeatedly. I argue that this playlist showcases a “Virtual LP” that constitutes, from beginning to end, a first-rate achievement. In my own mind, I christen this “Virtual LP” with the name “Seeds of Tomorrow,” because that Chasing Dragons song is arguably what should be considered their signature track:

Chasing Dragons — “Seeds of Tomorrow” (Virtual LP created from EP & Single):
1. Into the Pit
2. Under the Earth
3. Spawn of the Succubus
4. Mirror’s Edge
5. Black Velvet
6. Seeds of Tomorrow
7. City of Steel
8. Hindsight’s a Bitch
9. Let Sleeping Lions Lay

“Unplugged” Bonus Tracks:
10. It’s Bravery, Honestly
11. Spawn of the Succubus (Live Acoustic)
12. Into the Pit (Live Acoustic)

The first nine tracks as above form a solid 40 minutes of excellent female-fronted metal music. The last three tracks are 12 minutes of acoustic bonus tracks that prove the band’s remarkable musical versatility, thus pointing towards a promising future. By the way, “Black Velvet” is a cover of the tune by 1990 Grammy winner Alannah Myles, and it is even better than the original. So, I say that, any way you look at it, Chasing Dragons have shown themselves capable of producing not just the cumulative output of an LP’s worth of material, but of astoundingly upper-echelon material.

I myself think of the LP-sized slice of nine tracks above as forming a showcase of “Past” (“Into the Pit,” “Under the Earth,” and “Spawn of the Succubus”), “Present” (“Mirror’s Edge,” “Black Velvet,” and “Seeds of Tomorrow”), and “Future” (“City of Steel,” “Hindsight’s a Bitch,” and “Let Sleeping Lions Lay”). What I mean is that the band shows their “Past” first by singing songs with themes that are genre-bound in lyrical inspiration; then they showcase in the “Present” the fact of their undeniable ability as a band to write truly superb original songs and the fact that they are so talented themselves that even their covers can transcend the original inspirations and showcase the band’s unique personality; and finally they give some exciting indications of the directions in which their “Future” work might head. In short, this is a very dynamic band moving quickly, rapidly developing before our very ears, hurtling from one excellent achievement to another. The Virtual LP captures that truth in a musical snapshot.

If I had to pick favorite tracks by Chasing Dragons they would probably be “Mirror’s Edge,” “Seeds of Tomorrow,” and “City of Steel,” because of Tank’s great lyrics in them. But really, all the band’s tracks are excellent. Sample them all, and please notice how there are nice bursts of creative genius from all four corners of this band. As just one example, take this great line from the chorus to their 2013 single, their ode to hindsight:

If regrets were made of bullets
then we’d all be dead inside

Keep your ear on this band. If you like female-fronted metal, then be sure to try out all the tracks. As I have said, I find they all work exceedingly well together as a solid unit in the playlist order that I have invented and listed above.

Make sure you always buy music from and support the promising artists in our midst like Chasing Dragons. Indeed, this young band arguably has within them the “Seeds of Tomorrow.” Therefore, let me end my review here with a quote from their own song of that name. This song could be considered their musical signature. Arguably, its lyrics, paired with the powerful music, sum up how we should best construe the meaning of the band’s formidable name, Chasing Dragons:

Chase the demons away
Show them where the trouble’s at
Take up arms and fight
Show them that you won’t hold back

Chase your demons away
Show them you’re not here to play games
Take your life in your hands
Tomorrow’s ours
So let’s take it back

Top Ten… or Top Thirteen?

For my personal Best of 2013 list, I have just posted (over the last few days) an alphabetical listing of my Top Ten:

Big Big Train: English Electric Part Two

Deep Purple: NOW What?!

Dream Theater: Dream Theater

Haken: The Mountain

Holy Grail: Ride the Void

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Sound of Contact: Dimensionaut

Spock’s Beard: Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories

The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs

But, as promised, I am now going to add three more to the list, as three bonus additions, and thus make this a Top Thirteen list.

Why? Well, because this is the year 2013, and also because Black Sabbath released 13 this year (which also happened to be one of Mike Portnoy‘s favorites).

So, stay tuned for #11 on my Top Thirteen of 2013…