Haken, Fauna, Inside Out Music, 2023 Tracks: Taurus (4:49), Nightingale (7:25), The Alphabet of Me (5:34), Sempiternal Beings (8:24), Beneath the White Rainbow (6:45), Island in the Clouds (5:46), Lovebite (3:50), Elephants Never Forget (11:07), Eyes of Ebony (8:32)
Haken have never been a band to shy away from experimentation, yet no matter what musical pond they dip their toes into, their albums always sounds distinct. There’s no mistaking their music for someone else’s. Maybe it’s the syncopation and the speedy jazz-influenced guitar riffing. Or Ross Jennings’ signature voice. Or the band’s ability to make quiet music remarkably complex while still being able to lay down intensely heavy riffs that hold their own amongst the heaviest prog metal powerhouses of the day. And they can go back and forth between the two seamlessly.
Fauna is in many ways a typical Haken album, then, in the sense that is features the band’s playfulness and willingness to experiment. “The Alphabet of Me” has both rapped lines (before you get mad, even Dream Theater has tried that) and trumpet. “Sempiternal Beings” (sempiternal is a fancy word for eternal) has a masterful balance between the dark and light sides of Haken’s music. “Island in the Clouds” even has cowbell.
The ocean between us is where we find inner peace.
“Beneath the White Rainbow” is magnificently chaotic. The bizarre filter on the vocals make it seem a bit cloudy, and the heaviness of the music give it a djent edge. “Lovebite” has a pop edge with a catchy melody in the chorus, but the chorus remains heavy enough to make it palatable to my prog snob ears. Keyboardist Peter Jones’ (original Haken keyboardist who rejoined the band; not the Tiger Moth Tales PJ) swirling key acrobatics adds a layer of interest here as well, as does the brief guitar solo in the final third. The drum blast beats to open the song are anything but pop.
“Elephants Never Forget” is the prog star of the record and the best song here, in my opinion. This is the kind of song that made me fall in love with Haken a decade ago. It has the playfulness of “The Cockroach King” with the epic grandeur of “Crystallised.” The vocal harmonies return, although they probably could have been used to even greater effect. But they are there. The song’s length gives it space to breathe and move, which is generally what holds my interest in music. And it doesn’t get more prog than singing about the “leviathan of Doggerland.”
I think the album would have been better served by ending on this track rather than “Eyes of Ebony.” It has a sort of swell to it that feels complete. “Eyes of Ebony” is still a great track, especially once it gets rolling, but I don’t think it’s the best choice for an album closer. It kind of just tapers off, leaving the record on a bit of an uncertain note. “Elephants Never Forget” has a satisfying ending.
Truth be told, I’d be perfectly happy if Haken made an entire album of songs like “Elephants Never Forget,” rather than the rabbit trails they often go down into other musical genres. A lot of the electronic, rap, etc. does very little for me, but I appreciate how they are able to fold those elements into their sound without compromising their style of music. I generally prefer the softer elements in Riverside’s and TesseracT’s music over Haken’s softer side, but that may be because both of those bands have a spacier Floydy edge that Haken doesn’t really have. It all comes down to preference. All in all this is another solid record from one of the foremost names in the prog metal scene today. It’s one of the best records released thus far this year, second only to Riverside’s ID.Entity.
From the inbox this morning, we got sent this new single from UK-based band, Barricane. The group is a six-piece based around singer songwriters Rosy Piper and Emily Green. Also featuring Charlie Lane (bass), Chris Alchin (keyboard, acoustic guitar and synt), Hamish Wall (electric guitar), and Gary Neville (drums).
“Saltwater” packs a lot into a mere five minutes. It begins with atmospheric guitars and spacey drums with ethereal vocals over the top before gradually building. The real treat is the ending where the song shifts into a proggy synth space before the electric guitar comes in for a hard rock solo complete with a wall of drums. It’s great. Check it out.
Dream Theater vocalist James Labrie has released a single, “Give and Take,” off his upcoming solo album, Beautiful Shade of Grey. I just received a promo copy of the album, and after one quick listen I’d have to say it’s pretty good. It’s far more subdued than Dream Theater. At times it reminds me of Glass Hammer. There’s even a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.”
More from Inside Out Music:
James LaBrie, known internationally as the vocalist for progressive metal icons & Grammy-winners Dream Theater, embarks on uncharted waters with his fourth solo album, titled ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’, out on May 20th, 2022. Today sees the launch of the album’s second single, “Give & Take”, and you can watch the Wayne Joyner-produced video here: https://youtu.be/-cxWibWBi_o
James comments: “This track is a take on the coercive manipulation between the corporate elite and the proletariat class. An atmospheric soundscape with beautiful feel and scope.”
Paul Logue adds: “Musically Give & Take is a nice balance of Dream Theater, Eden’s Curse and a even little Queensryche thrown in for good measure. The dark musical undertones allow James’ vocals to really shine whilst his lyrics take the listener on a journey through the classic tale of good versus evil.”
The new endeavor sees him traverse personal maturation, loss, a myriad of complex relationships, and most importantly – LaBrie’s burning passion for music. On paper, the latest studio offering from the Canadian singer first took shape shortly after the global pandemic began to emerge. But in reality, LaBrie formed a bond with his fellow collaborator, bassist Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse), nearly a decade earlier.
The two first met in 2011, when James would lend his voice to a feature for Logue’s band, UK melodic metal outfit Eden’s Curse, on the song “No Holy Man”. As years went by the two remained in touch, occasionally kicking the tires on the idea of working together on another project. But when Dream Theater performed in Glasgow during the late winter of 2020, LaBrie and Logue would run into each other at the airport – once again asking the question. But this time, armed with the knowledge that a drastic change in the world was all but imminent, LaBrie made the decision to set things in motion.
On the album, Logue plays acoustic rhythm guitar (both six & twelve string) and acoustic bass, while guitarist Marco Sfogli, who’s contributed on all of LaBrie’s solo albums since 2005’s ‘Elements of Persuasion’, handled the leads and solos. Logue recruited Eden’s Curse keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen to lend his playing on the record, while the suggestion to recruit James’s son Chance to play drums would also come from Paul. ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’, as LaBrie describes it, was a title that only came to him once he identified the record’s two core themes throughout its track list. “A lot of these lyrics are dealing with the beauty of human beings, and a lot are dealing with the grey areas of the in between. You’re not exactly happy, but you’re not exactly sad, either.”
The record starts off (and ends) with the track “Devil In Drag”, which emerges as a wall of synthesizers and acoustic strumming before exploding into a full-blown ensemble. LaBrie expresses that the song was written about “someone who started out as a decent human being, but along the way lost touch with their roots – overtime becoming self-serving, narcissistic and devoid of principles or values.” Going on to say, “’Devil In Drag’ is written from the perspective of someone who’s known them all their life and, seeing them now, asking ‘what happened?’”
Big Big Train – Welcome to the Planet, January 28, 2022
Tracks: Made From Sunshine (4:05), The Connection Plan (3:55), Lanterna (6:29), Capitoline Venus (2:27), A Room With No Ceiling (4:52), Proper Jack Froster (6:38), Bats in the Belfry (4:54), Oak and Stone (7:12), Welcome to the Planet (6:41)
Perhaps it’s a strange quirk of fate that the album Big Big Train releases after the tragic death of David Longdon is one of their most upbeat albums to date. It’s a very positive album, much like 2021’s Common Ground. Welcome to the Planet sounds even more hopeful, more full of life, and more accessible than ever. It’s a more than welcome antidote to the insanity of the world today – insanity amplified by David’s death.
“Made From Sunshine” is a beautiful opening to the album, giving us a jolt of energy to start us off. It isn’t a Big Big Train anthem like past album openers, but it has a similar upbeat feel. Come to think of it, none of the tracks on this album fall into the anthem category. “Made From Sunshine” is about the joy of parents as they look at their newborn child and enjoy that child’s early years. The name of the song and the accompanying lyric was inspired by guitarist Dave Foster. In a track-by-track overview of the album made in October, David Longdon commented that when he first met Foster in studio in November 2020, he commented to him that he was a ball of energy. Foster told him that his parents told him when he was a child that he was “made from sunshine.” The song features a vocal duet with Longdon and new member Carly Bryant, pointing to new developments in the band as they grow with new musicians in the fold.
Fans of Nick D’Virgilio’s vocals will love “The Connection Plan,” which features him singing both backing vocals and lead on the bridge. I think I can hear Rikard singing on the bridge too, as well as what I assume is Rikard’s Hammond organ swirling around.
“Lanterna” sounds like it could have been on any of the band’s albums with Longdon, or at least any after The Underfall Yard. This song was originally supposed to be part of “Atlantic Cable” on Common Ground, but Greg Spawton decided to split it into a separate track. The song is about an historic lighthouse, with the lyrics about the idea of lighthouses shining light into the dark. It brings in the history element Big Big Train is known for, but it’s more subtle this time around. Rikard has some stellar guitar licks, which really pump the song up starting about two minutes in. Greg’s bass brings a booming deep end over Nick’s drums, with piano and violin periodically popping up. Carly’s piano matches the theme of the song really well.
By now you’ve probably heard “Proper Jack Froster,” which the band released several months ago in advance of Christmas. It has everything Big Big Train is known for. It’s pastoral and nostalgic with a warm feel throughout. Longdon’s vocals are emotional, with his delivery really stealing the spotlight. The vocal harmonies add to the overall mood, but David is the star here. We also get a solo vocal from new band member Carly Bryant, whose warm and bluesy voice fits the song rather well. The guitar work and of course Greg’s bass also get their opportunity to shine. While this might be considered a Christmas song, it isn’t overtly connected to the holiday, meaning it can be listened to all year.
Some might call this album pop, but calling something “pop” has the same problems with calling something “prog.” People never seem to define the word. For a progressive rock band or artist to “go pop,” they have to give up the soul of their sound. Becoming more accessible doesn’t necessarily mean a band is going pop. In that regard, I don’t think Welcome to the Planet is pop at all. It’s pure Big Big Train, with the only track that sounds drastically different being the title track.
By accessible, I mean the songs are all on the shorter side, and they take on a more traditional song format. For the most part, the lyrics depart from the band’s storytelling, but that isn’t new for the band. They’ve written these kinds of songs before, although they’ve never really made a whole album of them. The storytelling is still there, but as I mentioned about “Lanterna,” it is more subtle. I expect Welcome to the Planet will reach a wider audience because in many ways the record sounds more traditional. I don’t think that makes it pop, though.
Just listen to an instrumental like “Bats in the Belfry” and try to tell me that’s pop. D’Virgilio pulled out all the stops in writing this track. It may be short at under five minutes, but it has both slow and quick sections. Greg’s bass is front and center in the mix, as well it should be. Close listeners will pick up on elements that Nick used in his drum solo tracks in their last tour. The album actually features multiple instrumental tracks, so while there may not be any long epics, there’s still a healthy sprinkling of Big Big Train’s proggiest moments.
The album has its more sedate moments, such as “Capitoline Venus” and “A Room With No Ceiling.” The former is a love song Greg wrote for his wife. It originally appeared as a demo in the Passengers Club with Greg on vocals. I remember thinking when they first released it how good of a track it was, and I’m very happy to hear a completed version of it with David on vocals. It’s a smooth, touching track that David’s voice breathes brilliant light into. I actually rather like the raw honesty that Greg’s voice has in the demo, but David had the best voice in the business. Nothing can compare to that. The song features just David on vocals and Greg on acoustic guitar and synths. I can just imagine the rest of the band leaving the stage and the two of them playing this track front and center stage. It would have been beautiful.
“Oak and Stone” is another calmer track dripping with Big Big Train nostalgia. There’s a piano moment that takes me back to “East Coast Racer.” The opening bass to the instrumental “A Room With No Ceiling” is a great reminder that in addition to being the greatest lyricist in prog today, Greg Spawton is also one of the finest bassists out there.
The biggest deviation, or progression, in the Big Big Train sound comes from the title track, placed at the end of the album. “Welcome to the Planet” is Carly Bryant’s debut song for Big Big Train. She wrote both the music and the lyrics, and it’s unlike anything the band has ever made. It’s a great song, but if you’re a longtime fan of the band, it will stand out quite a bit. I don’t know if I would have liked an entire album from Big Big Train made in this style, but it’s a pleasant change that still features the BBT flair, including the brass band. David begins the vocals, but Carly quickly takes over and sings for the rest of the track. She even brings a bit of blues grit in at one point. The smooth section with vocal harmonies singing “welcome to the planet” is a beautiful moment on the album. I think the song would have been better served ending with a fadeout of this rather than the somewhat abrupt ending it has, especially since they chose it to close the album. It’s a bit of an odd ending, with the line “Aunty Carly’s singing lullabies to all the children that she never made,” and ending with Carly sighing. Clearly a personal note, and a bit sad all the same. The lyrics are somewhat dark, but they’re honest, something Big Big Train has always been. In hindsight, with David’s passing, this song might better be served elsewhere on the album, since David takes a back seat on this one. But aside from that, it’s a bold choice for the band to mix up their sound and to end the album with this song. Overall it does work, and I find it ends up being the most memorable song on the album.
The band released this live acoustic duet version with David and Carly yesterday, although the album track has a much fuller sound. If you’d rather go into the song hearing the original first, then watch this after you’ve had a chance to listen to the album.
While overall the album sounds more accessible than Big Big Train’s past records, I find when you break it down song-by-song the tracks could each fit on any of the band’s albums from the last decade, except perhaps the title track, which brings with it the influences and tastes of a new band member. Simply put, Welcome to the Planet is another excellent album by Big Big Train. It has a very different feel from Common Ground, which I think adds to my enjoyment of it. This isn’t just an album of b-sides that didn’t make it onto that record. I like every song on the album, and I know it will make my best-of list come the end of 2022. Whatever the future may hold for Big Big Train, they can be proud of this album.
Michael Woodman, Psithurism, 2021
Tracks: Sacramento (2:32), Petrichor (3:32), Cloned In Error (5:36), The Levitant (6:44), Seachange (6:57)
Thumpermonkey vocalist Michael Woodman released Psithurism in August 2021, and we’re finally getting around to reviewing the lovely digipack CD he sent us. I’m calling it an EP because it’s less than a half hour long, but it could very well be an album. Semantics.
The music is relaxed and mildly atmospheric, although not quite in a Pink Floydian way. It has a more contemporary sound to it, somewhat reminiscent of Steven Wilson, although it isn’t as dark as that. Nevertheless the music is still rather haunting, which matches the artwork. The record focuses on the vocals and lyrics, with electric guitar and drums being the primary instruments. There are gaps in the instrumentation where the songs are carried along by a cappella vocals. The music is sometimes light, but it has its heavier moments. “Petrichor” starts off slow and sparse before building into a heavy blend of guitars and drums that then gets overlaid with saxophone. Quite nice.
At times the lyrics are more prose than poetry, or if it’s poetry it’s non-rhyming. There is a lot to dig into in the lyrics, since they’re on the denser side. This provides reasons to come back to the record, as well as a good reason to pick up the digipack, which has the lyrics printed on the inside of the foldout sleeves. Thematically the lyrics are very dreamlike. Images flash before the narrators eyes, much as it does in imagist poetry. The stories told are mildly in the horror, or at least mystery, genre, with cryptids lurking around corners and murders in the woods, adding to the haunting sense I mentioned earlier.
Reflection Club, Still Thick As A Brick, March 3, 2021 Tracks: Prelude (2:00), Time Out (4:03), Years on the Fast Track (3:31), Rellington Town (6:17), The Club of Hopeful Pinions (3:47), The Foray of the Sharks (5:45), Sentimental Depreciation (5:19), Nervesoothers (3:09), The Great Dance around the Golden Calf (3:36), Bedlam (5:48), Look Across the Sea (4:24)
Berlin-based progressive rock project Reflection Club have mastered the spirit and sound of the classic era of Jethro Tull. A frequent critique from some people regarding the current wave of progressive rock is that it often sounds like it’s copying the sounds of the 70s – particularly Genesis and Yes. Reflection Club avoid that critique by making it abundantly clear where they get their influence. They aren’t pretending to make their own unique sounds, but they place themselves out on a ledge by blatantly “reflecting” Jethro Tull, because in doing so they have to live up to the hype they’re creating. Thankfully, they do.
Reflection Club is primarily the creation of German multi-instrumentalist Lutz Meinert together with German guitarist Nils Conrad, American flautist Ulla Harmuth, and English vocalist Paul Forrest. Not surprisingly, Forrest sings in a tribute band called Jethro Tull Experience. He expertly matches the tone and style of Ian Anderson’s voice circa 1972. Lyrics are written by one George Boston… Ok they’re really written by Meinert.
In the style of the original Thick As A Brick, the group created a beautiful hardcover booklet in a magazine style satirizing music magazines, album and concert reviews, and interviews. It’s really quite hilarious if you take the time to read it. The booklet comes with a CD and a DVD, which has the album on a 5.1 mix or a high quality stereo uncompressed stereo mix. The DVD has a slideshow to go along with the album, helping tell the story. The album is also available on vinyl.
While this music certainly sounds like Jethro Tull, it in no way sounds like a copy of Thick As A Brick. It is a concept album like the original, and the lyrics are written in Anderson’s style. The album is split into 11 tracks, but it’s really one long song with seamless transitions between tracks. The lyrics deal with many of the issues we deal with in our complex modern world. Thankfully there’s no mention of the pandemic.
As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.
Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.
John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.
The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth:Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!
Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together:Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).
Often reminding us of 70s prog or jazz rock, and at times of their Motörhead roots, Voivod sound pretty much their usual self. Live recording adds some rough textures, but not enough to eclipse the classical symphony, or those intricate transformations, or even those strange lyrical plots. It’s also easy to notice that interesting contrast — two songs on the EP occupying slightly different ends of their musical spectrum. ‘The End of Dormancy’ reflecting their proggy sophistication, while ‘The Unknown Known’ rooted in their more dissonant past. Giving us all a glimpse into that unique set of influences only Voivod dares to blend.
Sam Healy–while complying with Big Euro Brother laws, regulations, and microintrusions–offered a wonderful teaser/trailer for the forthcoming North Atlantic Oscillation album, coming sometime this year.
Granted, it’s only a full-eighteen seconds worth, but it’s eighteen more seconds then we had before. . .