The Unmatched Brilliance of Devin Townsend

In the documentary for his album Empath, Devin Townsend commented that many people have trouble understanding much of his musical output because his albums vary drastically in style. His work with Strapping Young Lad was as extreme as metal can get. On other albums he shows prog, classical, country, and even pop influences. He explained that he doesn’t play only one type of music because he would get bored. He doesn’t listen to only one kind of music for the same reason. 

I share Townsend’s sentiment. Why on earth would you want to listen to only one kind of music? Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really seen myself as a real metalhead, even though I really enjoy metal. You go to a metal concert, and many of the people in attendance only listen to metal. That’s fine – people can listen to what they like. I happen to get bored by listening to one kind of music, which is probably why I like progressive rock so much since it includes a broad array of sounds. But even within contemporary prog you’ll get those fans who will only listen to Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Marillion, etc., or those folks who still only listen to Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc. and haven’t bothered to dig into the music being made today.

DevinTownsend_DevolutionTo those people who aren’t familiar with Devin Townsend (which includes Steven Wilson, by his own admission), you’re missing out on perhaps the most creative genius working in the music industry today. In the Empath documentary he talked about working with Mike Keneally, who has worked with many brilliant people, including Frank Zappa. Townsend says he would never dream of comparing himself with someone like Zappa, but I would. Townsend is every bit as creative, albeit in different ways. That documentary, which I believe is only available on the super deluxe version of Empath that Devin released last year, helps shed some light on Devin’s creative process. It also shows him in a very open and honest way. His new acoustic live album, Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds, was his attempt to strip away all the fluff from his stage shows and connect with audiences in a very open way. 

Continue reading “The Unmatched Brilliance of Devin Townsend”

The Anchoress, The Art of Losing

A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.

Ascription for Psalm 102, King James Version

The Art of Losing, the second album by Catherine Anne Davies working as The Anchoress, hits where the listener lives. Lyrically erudite? You bet; Davies borrows the title from American poet Elizabeth Bishop, quotes a roster of literary titans from Julian of Norwich and C.S. Lewis to Margaret Atwood and Jorge Luis Borges in the liner notes, then depicted herself exhaling (vomiting?) her contribution to the conversation on the album sleeve. Musically sophisticated? Again, a slam dunk; beyond her compelling writing and powerful, nuanced singing, Davies plays most of the instruments with gusto, creates the unique sound world only a virtuoso producer could, and pulls influences from Depeche Mode to modern classicist Max Richter into the mix.

But that’s all secondary, picked up on repeated listens, trailing in the wake of this music’s overwhelming initial impact. Davies’ keenly honed portrayals of mayhem, trauma, loss and grief (reflections of her recent life) suck you into a maelstrom where happiness is barely a consideration. The question she seems to insistently ask on The Art of Losing is: how to endure?

How to endure being treated like a possession — by responding in kind? (“The Exchange”, duetting with Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield) How to endure in a world where the wicked and unjust prosper and even gain greater influence (“Show Your Face,” rocking like a truck full of bricks as Davies snarls the chorus)? How to endure the ache of separation, the innumerable endings that life inevitably brings (the uneasily propulsive title track and “Unravel”)? The preternaturally quiet “5 AM” arrives at the abyss: just piano, cello and Davies’ unflinching vocal, recounting incidents of domestic abuse, sexual assault and baby loss, implacably inventorying the damage that comes for no reason, beyond what others think you are or owe them.

Groping for a path forward, Davies broods on the nature of sacrifice in “The Heart Is A Lonesome Hunter”, then explodes on the fierce incantation “My Confessor”. “With the Boys” brings another hushed, apocalyptic reckoning, as Davies tallies up the price of her choices– and concludes the outcome has been worth it:

All of my life I’ve been waiting for something I might call my own
And learn to hold something inside
A voice unworn that gets a little louder when you laugh at me
And tell me not to speak

And she goes round and round
Chasing circles with the palm of her hand
She got to be good got to be certain if she wants to play
With the boys . . .

But I can’t and I won’t shut my mouth this time
Can’t control what you don’t know
What was it you were hoping for guarding all the doors?
Guarding all the doors?

The Anchoress’ answers to the inherent ache of life — of embodiment in a broken world where, seemingly beyond redemption, we choose to love things and use other people — aren’t cheap, easy or sentimental. But they are bracing and genuinely moving. At the end of The Art of Losing, endurance is the only viable solution (and quite possibly its own reward); the acceptance of time’s passage and the willingness to continue is the only possibility worth pursuing. Where the strength to do it comes from — yourself? Others? Someone you pour out your complaint to? — may remain a mystery. But by channeling her (and our) dilemma into 40 minutes of ambitious, unforgettable art-pop, Catherine Anne Davies has given us an undeniable gift. Open it for yourself and listen below:

The Art of Losing is available on LP and CD at Bandcamp and Burning Shed.

— Rick Krueger

Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview

Born in California and raised in Sweden, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nad Sylvan is a music lifer who formed his first band in 1968, toured for the first time in 1975 and signed his first record contract in 1983. With three eclectic solo albums already under his belt, Sylvan’s 2008 collaboration with keyboardist Bonamici Unifaun caught the prog community’s ear; it’s a stunningly fine pastiche that goes beyond superficial gestures to embody the musical soul of Genesis’ progressive period. One thing led to another from that point: Sylvan joining Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold in Agents of Mercy; his ongoing gig with Steve Hackett, providing a visually and vocally flamboyant focus for multiple Genesis Revisited tours since 2013; and the deliciously Baroque solo albums on Inside Out that constitute his Vampirate trilogy (2015’s Courting the Widow, 2017’s The Bride Said No and 2019’s The Regal Bastard).

Nad’s new effort Spiritus Mundi sees him joining forces with guitarist/songwriter Andrew Laitres to set poems by W. B. Yeats — including visionary classics such as “The Second Coming,” “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Stolen Child.” This is a fresh, winning album, focused on Laitres’ acoustic guitar, shimmering orchestral colors — and Sylvan’s voice, ably navigating the spry melodies, inhabiting Yeats’ weighty words with grace, power and panache.

Nad Sylvan spoke with us last in 2019; after seeing him in concert with Hackett three times, it was delightful for me to chat with him about Spiritus Mundi and related topics. Recovering from a long day of shipping out preorders (roughly five times the amount he anticipated), Nad was nonetheless thoughtful, charming, and engaged throughout. The audio of our conversation is below, with a transcript following.

So, let’s talk about the new album, about Spiritus Mundi.  How did you decide on a direction after you finished the Vampirate trilogy?

You got that one right!  Vampirate — good!  It’s my own invention; think of the vampire and the pirate combined into one character.

Well, to make a long story short, I was approached by Andrew Laitres, who I’ve done this record with.  About two and a half years ago.  And he asked me if I would be interested to track my voice for a song of his that was gonna go on one of his solo records.  And that was a song called “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which turned out to be a bonus track on The Regal Bastard, my previous album.

So I asked him, “could I use this for this album?”  ‘Cause I thought, it just went so well, it sounded so good, and I thought, “what a nice thing to use as a bonus track.”  And so he granted me permission to do that!

So after I’d finished the trilogy, I immediately came to “where am I gonna go now?  What should I do now?  I feel like doing something completely different.”  And then before you knew it, you had the pandemic as well come along.  And I thought, well, spiritus mundi means sort of “the spirit of the world,” if you like.  And that’s very much what we’re concerned about these days, more so than ever.  It’s also a quote from the first song, “The Second Coming.” Where he sings about spiritus mundi.  And it sounds so lovely, and it’s got some power behind those words.  And I thought “why not use that as a title?” 

And so I asked Andrew, “would you be keen to make a full album with these lyrics of Yeats?  Let’s write these songs together.”  I don’t have any prestigious thoughts about “I have to do everything.”  I’ve already proven that I can write, ‘cause I’ve done three albums already.  So he was enticed to go along with my idea, and then we started to work together – I would say it kicked off December of ’19.  So during the whole pandemic, as I returned home from the tour with Hackett about a year ago – I would say mid-March of 2020 — I’ve been completely absorbed by this work.  And it comes down to everything, even the artwork I’ve done for the album, so I could totally focus on this record, and I think it shows.  It just sounds and comes across as being a bit more mature this time.

Well, that was one of the things that struck me, that you’re using Yeats’ poems for lyrics, because that strikes me as an amazing challenge.  They’ve been set to music almost since the moment they were originally written.

Yeah, I know, but this was Andrew’s idea, you see.  I wasn’t even that familiar with Yeats’ poems; I’ve heard of him.  But once [Andrew] presented all his demos for me, I’d cherry pick: “Oh, this sounds nice.”  And we started to mold the songs together, like “maybe this bit should be restructured” or “maybe we should change these chords” or stuff like that.  It was very much a combined work effort.  So, yes, Yeats has been covered by The Waterboys, back in the late 80s, I believe.  But I didn’t even know that!  I just thought, “what lovely poems!  Let’s do it.”

Continue reading “Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview”

Riverside: This Sweet Sweet Shelter of Mine

Riverside_Waste7and_01Over the last few weeks I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to dig into the growing pile of CDs I’ve received for review. Not that there’s anything wrong with those albums. They’re actually all quite good. It’s just that I keep finding myself returning to Riverside’s music. There are very few bands that have produced such high-quality music on every single one of their studio releases. Whether they’re playing metal or more atmospheric prog, everything Riverside does is brilliant.

Seeing them live on their Wasteland tour helped open my eyes to just how good they are. Everything about their performance was astounding: from the mind-blowing musicianship to the endearing way Mariusz Duda interacts with the crowd. They’re a band that should be playing in concert halls that seat thousands, yet here in the US they’re forced to play in bars with stages in the back with room for maybe 300 people. If someone un-initiated in the wonders of progressive rock asks me for new music recommendations, Riverside is one of my top recommendations. 

Riverside jumped into the prog metal scene in 2004 with the extremely mature-sounding Out of Myself. This was a band with a developed sound right from the start. They didn’t have a sophomore slump either, releasing the moody and emotional Second Life Syndrome a year later. 2007’s Rapid Eye Movement completed the Reality Dream trilogy of albums, and taken together as a whole the three albums are some of the finest music in the history of progressive rock. The slow but steady build on “The Same River” to open Out of Myself showed that Riverside wasn’t afraid to take chances. Not many bands are willing to open their debut album with a 12-minute epic. Even fewer bands are able to pull it off so well with compelling melodies, storming bass, and a unique guitar tone.

The band’s 2009 album Anno Domini High Definition showcased their heavier tendencies, proving that they could go toe-to-toe with the heaviest bands in prog. Their next release, Memories in My Head (2011), foreshadowed lyrical themes they would cover at greater depth on 2018’s Wasteland, after the tragic passing of their brilliant guitarist Piotr GrudzińskiShrine of New Generation Slaves (2013) has some of their best and most poignant lyrics. “The Depth of Self-Delusion” and “We Got Used to Us” frequently run through my head… ha voices in my head. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine found them at perhaps their most Floydian. Wasteland found the band retaining their identity even after the loss of Grudziński in 2016. It also found them willing to experiment. The musical tribute to Ennio Morricone and the music of the spaghetti westerns on “Wasteland” was unexpected, but it fit the theme of the album so well. As a fan of those Clint Eastwood films, I absolutely love it. 

Riverside’s music absolutely nails everything for me – the heavy, the quiet, the atmospheric. But without brilliant lyrics Riverside wouldn’t be what they are. Duda is one of my favorite lyricists. There’s no nonsense with him. He’s open and honest in his lyrics, but he’s also a cutting cultural critic. Not in the same way that Andy Tillison is, though. It’s much more subtle with Duda. New Generation Slave is a precise critique of modern society without being in your face. 

Continue reading “Riverside: This Sweet Sweet Shelter of Mine”

Bologna’s Earthset Perform Concert Film For Silent Science Fiction Film, “L’Uomo Meccanico”

This is pretty cool. Earthset, a band from Bologna, Italy, sent me this video and some additional info about a live concert they recently did to go along with footage from the Italian movie “L’Uomo Meccanico,” or “The Mechanical Man.” It’s a science fiction silent film from 1921 that apparently was quite influential in the history of film. Earthset’s music for the film is experimental and atmospheric, but it has its heavier moments to go along with the movie. There’s a lot of interesting guitar work, and I think it’s a cool idea to bring these films back to life with contemporary music.

Here’s some more info from the band about it: Continue reading “Bologna’s Earthset Perform Concert Film For Silent Science Fiction Film, “L’Uomo Meccanico””

Interview with SAFFEK

Israeli alternative progressive rock act SaffeK, led by composer Oren Amitai, has just released an animated music video for the song “Mad,” taken from the group’s recent EP entitled “All Too Human.” In support of that launch, Amitai speaks for Progarchy about his beginnings, starting SaffeK, and more.

Let’s start from your early music beginnings. How did your musical career begin? When did you start playing? Which groups have been your favorites? Please tell us something more about your early life.

I started like many Rock lovers of my age group with the first album of Linkin Park when it was released, I was around 11. I found myself reading Manga with Linkin Park as a soundtrack and just exploding with awe and emotion. Life was felt so strongly and vivid. Quickly after I found out about System of a Down and The Doors, two bands that closed the deal for me – Music is my trigger, I am at another level of existing when the fire of it holds me.  

By the age of 15 I was doing my own adaption of Rock on a broken classic guitar. In those years I also got really deep into classic Prog and quickly after I found myself a part of my dream cast prog group made out of my best friends growing up. We named ourselfs Hanagaria (“The Carpentry”) after Dean’s dad carpentry where we used to sit every night. After Hanagaria released an LP we broke up. Dean went on playing Bass in SaffeK and the talented Ilan Barkani from the group also joined me for a couple of years on the drums. 

How did you go about starting SaffeK? Who was the most influential when the band started its musical journey?

After Hanagaria broke up I decided to dream my own musical voyage, leading my interpretation of Alternative Prog Rock. The project was originally named “Oren Amitai’s Stitches” but then I got around to the understanding that the name was a teeth breaker so I decided to change it to SaffeK, which means “doubt” in Hebrew. My experience of existeen is summed up in this word and it only made sense that my life’s project will be named the same. 

In the beginning, did you have some “fixed” tempo in composing songs or everything was a product of jamming, improvising?

All of SaffeK’s music started out in my bubbling head. I used to work out the main themes and different parts on guitar and vocals and then I went around meeting all of the band members individually, working with them on what I had in mind and using their talent and input in order to mold the best part with them for the song. Then, we went on the extraordinary and exciting sessions of finding out how the imaginary world turns to ecstatic insanity in the rehearsal room.

After the first couple of years I decided to make everything much more down to earth. Today I send out everything ready for everybody without us meeting, including the final draft of the song. Then, when we reach the rehearsal room, those talented basterds bring their amazing approach to the piece and we polish it all and find out what the finished song will be. 

How would you describe SaffeK music on your own?

SaffeK’s music is a mash of the ideas and musical influences that made me who I am with a focus on the rock & guitar elements. It’s music that turns me to an animalistic emotional madman. A music that steps on the core of existing for me, pushes the epicness of life is I feel it through music and comes with a message of acceptance to all the other weird souls who wander this earth with me and are confused but at awe as hell. 

Tell me about the writing and recording sessions for “All Too Human” EP.

Writing down “All Too Human” was a very deep and emotional journey for me. The E.P describes the main 4 elements in my character that make me suffer as a human, the 4 main features that separates me for the most part of what I feel and describe as divine. In order to really flesh them out I had to venture into my destructiveness and fill myself  with the sadness, anger, pressure and alienation. The best part of it, of course, is that I feel that the best way to describe these elements is to burn them out, scream them out, feel them to the maximum effort. And that is what I tried to do with the compositions themselves. The rec sessions were great, great flowing vibe and in awesome happy energetic accomplishment.  

What is the most important thing for the structure of your songs? Is it a riff, a melody line, vocal arrangement?

For me the most important thing is the story itself. I have to ask myself all the time if the story makes sense to me, if it works me out emotionally. If you listen to the song and you swim with the journey, not nodding your head going “…What?”.

Besides that, I find that what I usually work around with at first is the melody/riff to start me off. That’s the first thing that moves me. 

Recommend us some good progressive rock/metal acts coming from your area.

One of the most exciting, well developed and pecked with originality is Subterranean Masquerade. Their concerts are a must see! 

I have to recommend “Bzaat” as well. virtuoso guitar & drums insanity! 

Are you also involved in any other projects or bands beside SaffeK?

I used to float around and work with different projects, today I’m focusing on SaffeK as my passion. Otherwise, I work as a teacher at Just Music Academy in Israel and develop productions and mix & master for beautiful people that come my way. I find the work of teaching intense and inspiring. It’s a true beauty to see people transforming their passion and flare into an authentic creation.  

So, what comes next for SaffeK?

A new video is coming out in the next few weeks, a work of a lot of great minds which I am very proud of. It’s gonna take SaffeK’s visual presentation to a new level. 

Afterwards it’s all about counting down the days till summer when we will release a new album followed by a European tour. Beside that, truly, all we can’t wait for is to see the people, the crowds, what we live for. We can’t wait to break the lonesomeness, the dreadful silence of the music with you.

“All Too Human” is available from Bandcamp here. Follow SaffeK on Facebook and Instagram.

Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog

One indication of the absolute glut of recorded music available today: more of what I’ve whimsically labelled “DIY (for Do It Yourself, a la Peter Gabriel) Britprog” is available than ever. With Prog Magazine providing a megaphone and Big Big Train’s international impact paving the way, countless musicians from England have brushed up their chops, dusted off their home recording setups, and churned out self-released albums by the bushel in the past decade. Even as the chances of market penetration narrow in the age of Spotify and live lockdowns, an astonishing number of artists seem compelled to keep plowing the furrows first tilled by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and their sundry heirs. The sheer amount of “meh” music that’s resulted notwithstanding, three recent releases (and a teaser of more to come) indicate there’s still enough fertile soil in that ground to keep yielding fresh harvests.

First up: Tiger Moth Tales’ The Whispering of the World from late 2020, for which TMT mainman Peter Jones stripped down both his writing and his usual instrumentation. Working with producers Robert Reed and Andrew Lawson, Jones eschewed multi-sectional tunesmithery and one-man-bandship in favor of a song cycle for voice, piano and string quartet. The result works like gangbusters! From the vigorous, propulsive opener “Taking the Dawn” through melancholy mini-epics like the title track, “Quiet Night” and “Waving, Drowning” to the grave, sweeping pop of “Blackbird” (no, not THAT one, but arguably as affecting) and the closer “Lost to the Years”, every track feels unpretentious, fresh and heartfelt. The semi-classical sonics mesh effortlessly with the compelling songcraft; Jones’ sensitive singing and lush piano playing weaves in and around the light and shade of the strings. Even better, the music proves the right medium for the lyrical message, as Jones narrates a cathartic passage through (in his words) “special or significant moments . . . coming to terms with both losing those close to us and our own mortality and place in the universe.” Sound a bit heavy? Well, yeah — but paired with Jones’ solo Quiet Room Session, The Whispering of the World is a sentimental journey well worth taking. Sample it for yourself, then order it on Bandcamp.

Continue reading “Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog”

Debut Album From Portugal’s ARTNAT Out Now

Press Release:

CoverARTNAT is a new progressive rock band formed by lead guitarist and founder of the known TANTRA prog group from Portugal, Manuel Cardoso. They recently released their first album, The Mirror Effect. The name reflects the continuity in symphonic prog style of music between TANTRA’s music and ARTNAT. With high compositional levels together with wild experimental themes, this is a colorful and multi ambiance work with top-level musicians, but with no technical show off.

Manuel Cardoso says about the project:

Well, after several excellent albums with TANTRA I felt that though in my heart and mind, I just felt like doing the same type of music, obviously with a natural evolution, being the only link to the original group I should use a different name. So ARTNAT just felt right… Mirrored word for an evolving music, like a mirrored dimension.

Still, to me, it’s just TANTRA´s evolution in the 21st century!”

Check out the album on Bandcamp: https://artnat.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/ARTNAT.Art.Prog.Rock/

Big Big Train Release Companion Track to Go With Upcoming “The Underfall Yard” Re-issue

Today the mighty Big Big Train released a new single entitle “Brew and Burgh.” The song is a companion track that will be the final song on the special second CD (or third LP) of their upcoming reissue of 2009’s The Underfall Yard. The song also features an animated film by Love Fagerstedt, who has worked with Rikard Sjöblom in the past.

You can pre-order the reissue on CD or vinyl from Burning Shed (UK): https://burningshed.com/store/bigbigtrain
Or from The Band Wagon (USA): https://thebandwagonusa.com/collections/big-big-train

High Resolution digital download pre-order: https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/album/the-underfall-yard-2

More info on the upcoming reissue: https://www.bigbigtrain.com/underfall-yard/

Long live Big Big Train!

Weekend Roundup – Three Album Reviews – Prog Metal, Blues, and Alt Rock

Happy Friday! Today we’ve got a special review edition of three prog metal, blues, and alt rock albums: What Lies Ahead of Us by Brazil’s Pentral; Loss & Love by El Salvador’s Steady Rollin; and the self-titled debut album by Glasgow, Scotland, duo der Mist. All reviews written by Chloe Mogg.

Pentral – What Lies Ahead of Us – Out May 7, 2021

Pentral are the explosive trio you need in your life. Having released their first single ‘Silent Trees’ from their forthcoming album, the band have gained support from New Noise Magazine, Prog Magazine and many other outlets across the web. “What Lies Ahead of Us” is an exhilarating album that’s best served with a clear mind and your full engagement. Known for creating music without boundaries, this hard rock outfit are heavily influenced by the metal industry too.

“What Lies Ahead of Us” features lyrical content that should never be pushed into the shadows. Speaking about their views on environmental protection, equality and the fight against racism, the important topics that Pentral cover within the album need to be heard. Exploring different relationships between people from mixed background and cultures, ‘What Lies Ahead of Us’ is reality and details what it’s like to be a human in today’s modern world.

From lead single ‘Silent Trees’ and it’s hindu like mantro introduction, to fierce anthem ‘Aiming for the Sun’ – this album is best described as iconic and refusing to sit down. As for stand out tracks, ‘The Shell I’m Living In’ is easily up there with the best on the album. Using an addictive guitar melody to enter the full band arrangement, ‘The Shell I’m Living In’ is fuelled with attitude and hard-hitting drums.

Twelve tracks that could easily cement this outfit with a legendary status, ‘What Lies Ahead of Us’ steals your attention with it’s rebellious aura, yet comforts you in times of darkness. A stand out moment in Pentral’s career so far.

Continue reading “Weekend Roundup – Three Album Reviews – Prog Metal, Blues, and Alt Rock”