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.
Devin Townsend, Lightwork, 2022, Inside Out Music/Hevy Devy Records
Lightwork Tracks: Moonpeople (4:44), Lightworker (5:29), Equinox (4:39), Call of the Void (5:53), Heartbreaker (7:00), Dimensions (5:23), Celestial Signals (5:12), Heavy Burden (4:23), Vacation (3:10), Children of God (10:06)
Nightwork Tracks: Starchasm, Pt. 2 (4:34), Stampys Blaster (0:38), Factions (5:13), Yogi (3:57), Precious Sardine (10:14), Hope is in the World (4:16), Children of Dog (6:45), Sober (4:37), Boogus (3:33), Carry Me Home (4:04)
Devin Townsend seems to be the most eclectic artist operating in what could broadly be called the progressive music scene. He’s most well known for his work as a metal artist, having some of the finest clean and distorted vocals in the business. He’s also a stellar guitarist and an even better producer. Beyond the metal, he’s long dabbled in ambient music, and as of late he’s been blending the two together to marvelous effect. 2019’s Empath was a masterpiece demonstrating that extreme metal, musical theater, opera, and ambient music can blend into a powerful and moving epic.
Last year he released The Puzzle, a minor release that is primarily ambient with vocals serving more of an instrumental role, meaning it was more about the sound than the actual lyrics. That record reflected Devin’s mind as he processed the Covid-19 pandemic, especially the early phases of it. At the same time he released Snuggles, a shorter ambient album whose goal was to calm and soothe the listener. I can state from personal experience that it does just that. It’s a great antidote to anxiety and depression.
Last month found Devin releasing his latest “major” release, Lightwork, along with its slightly heavier companion album, Nightwork. His intention was to go lighter on this record, although the metal elements still pop up now and again, especially in the vocals, which vary from clean to distorted depending on what the songs need. It’s a very different record than Empath. I hesitate to call it “pop,” as that might conjure up images of Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites. I think there are some interesting parallels between Townsend and Wilson that are worth exploring in a future article, but Townsend’s approach to pop (for lack of a better word) is far more introspective than Wilson’s. Wilson often wears his influences on his sleeve, while still creating a signature sound. Townsend creates his own sound, incorporating elements from myriad genres to make music that sounds like no one else. If Lightwork can be called pop, it is because it is more accessible than some of Townsend’s other work. It still remains complex in its layering, lyrical themes, and overall sound.
Lightwork has less of a flow to it, with the focus being more on the actual songs. With the wall of sound approach Devin is known for, there is some blending together between tracks, so it never feels disjointed. There is a loose overall theme to the record of love and light – a port in the storm, as it were. Musically it ebbs and flows. “Lightworker” has some epic soaring vocal moments with orchestral layers and backing vocals, not dissimilar from bits of Empath. Devin holds nothing back vocally.
“Equinox” sees Devin delving into his more atmospheric rock side while incorporating memorable melodies. The use of distorted vocals in parts of the song is a contrast to the spacier elements of the music, but since Devin’s distorted vocals are easy to understand (one of the reasons he’s my favorite metal vocalist), it works really at conveying the emotion of the lyrics.
The world is gonna turn without you baby Don’t worry about a thing it’s all a game
Just as it’s falling apart, I’ve fallen for you Just as I tear it apart, I’ve fallen for you
Though we try to pretend that it’s not the end It keeps us calm now babe
This is easily my favorite song on the record. It’s relatively simple, but the intricate layers and vocal work draw me in every time. I feel like I’m standing in a giant open space surrounded by stars and a dancing aurora as the music swells over my head. Perhaps that’s a testament to Devin’s unmatched skill on the mixing board.
From the very beginning going back to his Strapping Young Lad days, Townsend has always been blisteringly brutal and honest in his lyrics. Those lyrics reflected his emotional state at the time. His lyrics today are equally emotional and honest, but they’re so much more uplifting and hopeful. “Call of the Void” calls the listener to maintain composure in the face of the world’s insanity. Devin’s voice leads the charge with soulful grit.
Cause whеn you see the world’s insane reaction
To follow your hеart, the worst reaction is to freak out
So don’t you freak out
Cause when you feel the urge to feign reaction
Just follow your heart, the worst reaction is to freak out
So don’t you freak out
You want them to see the world the same as you and
To feel the pain the same as you
But everybody in the world’s different point of view
Can never see the world the same
“Call of the Void”
“Dimensions” is a heavier track with an industrial sound. The bass, courtesy of Jonas Hellborg, dominates. The song is metal, but not in a traditional sense. It’s closer to a band like Rammstein than Iron Maiden. The screamed section is sung over a quieter section of music, and when his vocals step into the background, the music gets louder. An interesting back and forth. The song also features a guitar solo from Mike Keneally.
“Celestial Signals” follows it with a much larger and more open sound, flinging us back amongst the stars in swirling guitars and swelling vocals from both Devin, the choir and Ché Aimee Dorval and/or Anneke van Giersbergen (both sing on both records, and usually it’s easy to tell the difference, but the backing vocals on this track are set pretty deep into the mix).
The final track, “Children of God,” is the longest at just over ten minutes. It also has a large and open sound with lyrics dancing on a cliff of blended sounds, with drums being the most distinct.
Lightwork is hard to nail down as any one “thing.” There’s so much going on. “Vacation” is in direct opposition to “Heavy Burden,” and yet somehow it works. Devin’s quirkiness keeps you on your toes.
While Nightwork may be a companion album, it’s every bit as good, or maybe better. As the name may imply, the album is heavier than Lightwork. It opens with a more straightforward “Devin” metal track. Blasting drums (thanks Morgan Ågren), crunching guitars, and both Devin and Anneke on vocals. Steve Vai also contributes “additional instrumentation” to “Starchasm, Pt. 2.” For those curious about “Pt. 2,” “Starchasm” is a track on last year’s The Puzzle. “Stampys Blaster” picks right up with a 38 second bit of uplifting heavy metal bordering on extreme metal with intense blast beats, all while Devin sings “I love you all.”
“Factions” is another blistering metal track with brilliantly complex drumming and Devin’s signature crunchy guitars and vocals. It’s lightyears away from Lightwork, yet it’s right at home in the Devin universe. The atmospheric screams of “Sorry… I’m sorry…” over a wall of drums is eminently relatable. The song has two neoclasslical style shredding guitar solos that sound different from Devin’s playing, but the album notes don’t say they were played by anyone else, so…
Nightwork does bounce around in style, though, with “Yogi” being a different animal entirely. Quirky, bouncy, not metal at all, but still definitely Devin. “Precious Sardine” reminds me of The Puzzle, with various musical styles and vocals acting more like background instruments. “Hope is in the World” and “Children of Dog” (a reworking of “Children of God”) are more upbeat tracks like Lightwork. They retain metal elements, but they’re brighter songs.
“Sober” is my favorite track off both albums. It is atmospheric, spacey, and intensely emotional. The backing sound of waves add to the ebb and flow of the song. The lyrics are profoundly moving, reflecting the confusion and desperation of addiction as it relates to relationships:
How can you want me, if I can’t stay sober? And how could you leave me in this state?
I can’t help these feelings that have come into my life I can’t seem to be the one I used to want to fight
How can you want me, if I can’t stay over? And how could you leave me in this place?
Time is falling into silence I’m already tired All the dreams we had are dying You’re not even trying
How can you want me, if I can’t stay sober? And how could you leave me in this state?
How could you leave me?
It’s a very reflective song, which is slightly disturbed by the next song, “Boogus.” “Boogus” is a very fun song made in a distinctly 1960s style reminding me of The Munsters sound track. It’s very fun, and not a style you hear much anymore. But, I think it should have been placed somewhere else on the album, with “Carry Me Home” following “Sober” to close the record. “Carry Me Home” is a peaceful track reflecting the realities of a couple’s love after many years into a relationship:
But oh, I hope you understand I still love you now the way I did back then
“Carry Me Home”
Mental health has been a prominent theme in Devin’s lyrics in the past, especially in more recent years with his positivity seemingly meant to uplift his listener’s spirits.
‘Cause it’s so hard to give when it’s hard enough to live And you wanna die, defeat flat on the floor Well, the nights go by, and still we try to keep some sense of this Give me hope Home, on the way home And I wonder why I ever left at all Carry me home, all the way home Let’s simplify and get right back to it all Carry me home…
“Carry Me Home”
Sometimes life is just hard, and we need someone to carry us home.
In many ways, Nightwork is my favorite of the two records, despite it being a companion. Perhaps the heaviness of the first few tracks is more my speed, or the atmospheric brilliance and honesty of “Sober” and “Carry Me Home” keep running through my head. I find it hard to separate the two albums. I bought the fancy special edition in a vinyl gatefold-sized package (2 CDs, 1 blu-ray) with colorful artwork for days, and my iTunes automatically put Nightwork as disc two of the deluxe edition of Lightwork, rather than a separate album.
The variety of musical sounds on these albums might not be for everyone, but I appreciate the art Townsend is making. He’s making the music he feels like making, even if he knows (and worries) that it may upset some people. His sensitivity shines through, and if you keep an open mind, you’ll find a lot to enjoy while broadening your musical horizons. For those turned off in the past to Devin’s heavier side, Lightwork is a must-listen. I think you’ll find it much more accessible, and perhaps you too can come to more fully appreciate the brilliance of Devin Townsend. He is, after all, one of the most interesting artists in music. Everything he makes is worth paying attention to. As such, I recommend you get one of the editions that includes both albums, rather than just Lightwork.
Oak, The Quiet Rebellion Of Compromise, 2022, Karisma Records, Tracks: Highest Tower, Deepest Well (5:57), Quiet Rebellion (4:51), Dreamless Sleep (5:37), Sunday 8 AM (5:54), Demagogue Communion (6:16), Paperwings (13:52), Guest of Honour (7:03)
Oslo’s Oak have been my favorite “new” band since I discovered them in 2016 when they released their 2013 album, Lighthouse, on CD. The album blew me away. I had never before heard rock, classical, and atmospheric music synthesized with such precision and in such a beautiful way. I was equally if not more stunned with their 2018 follow-up, False Memory Archive. It continued their sound, and it saw the band mature as they developed their wall of sound, their compositions, and their arrangements.
In November the band released The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise, a masterpiece standing toe-to-toe with both their previous releases and any release from the giants of the genre (I’m looking at you Marillion, Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Big Big Train). Upon first listen I thought perhaps this record didn’t live up to its predecessor, but that was based upon my mild shock at some of the new elements the band added to their sound. After a few listens, their brilliance convinced me. I don’t typically rate albums for my Progarchy reviews, but in this case I give it a 10 out of 10.
This record includes the atmospheric overtones, the piano, the swelling rock sounds, singer Simen Valldal Johannessen’s deep brooding vocals and his evocative lyrics – everything the previous albums contained. But they’ve included more of the electronic influence to their sound on this record. While always there, it is more pronounced, especially on “Paperwings.” Typically not a genre I listen to, I wasn’t sure how to respond to the electronic elements at first, but after careful listens, I came to appreciate how it fit into the music and into the band’s sound.
Another element I did not expect was the introduction of black metal-style distorted vocals. I don’t listen to black metal, but I’m familiar with the unique form of distortion those vocalists use. It’s different from the type of metal I typically listen to, which tends to use either a grittier distortion (Meshuggah) or a higher-end distortion (Devin Townsend). Black metal vocals are low and smooth, befitting Johannessen’s natural singing voice. To be clear, he uses it on four lines on “Paperwings,” and considering the lyrical content of the album, it fits perfectly. The album covers intense themes of mental health and suicide, with the font used on the album cover based upon handwriting from actual suicide notes. Chilling, to say the least. But the band did their research, consulting scholars and mental health professionals. All that to say, the distorted vocals, while new to Oak’s sound, are used sparingly and to great effect when you consider these lyrics in the light of suicidal thoughts:
One thought takes hold Seeps out rules all Lights fade, time bends One step so it ends
Oak – “Paperwings”
It took me over ten listens before I picked up on distorted growls deep in the mix on other tracks, not singing any particular lyrics – just adding to the band’s wall of sound. I think it appears in two places, and it’s very subtle. I’ll let you listen for it.
I appreciate how the band reach back into their previous work and pull in brief lyrical and musical excerpts, tying this record to those others and creating a sense of continuation. In doing so, Oak create their own mystique – a musical world you can fall into and feel like you’re somewhere else. Interestingly, it makes me feel connected to potential future albums as well.
Musically Oak blows me away. Whether its Johannessen’s soothing piano, Sigbjørn Reiakvam’s intricate drumming, Stephan Hvinden’s atmospheric guitars, or Øystein Sootholtet’s basswork (as well as acoustic and electric guitar and keyboards) – this band stands out. Steinar Refsdal adds some wonderful saxophone, which dances nicely atop the wall of sound created in the swelling instrumental passages that have become a signature part of Oak’s sound.
One of my favorite parts on the album is the bassline in the second half of “Sunday 8 AM.” The first half of the song is a bit of slow burn for me, but when it hits the instrumental part halfway through, I’m in musical heaven. The drums sing, the piano and keyboards build gently, and then that deep bassline comes in – wow. The musical highlight of the year for me. Even when the saxophone comes in on top of that, it’s the bass that steals the show with a memorable line that makes you want to skip back to the beginning of the instrumental passage once the song ends. I can’t even imagine how amazing this would be live.
I’ve mentioned the “wall of sound” a couple of times. What I mean by that is the way the band layer and gradually add (or subtract) musical elements to create a sound more majestic and powerful than any of the parts taken in isolation. Devin Townsend and Steven Wilson are masters of this sound, and I would place Oak up with them in terms of quality and its prominence on their records. It also helps that the album is mixed very well. There is a lot of dynamic range, with the record sounding very clear. They’ve also played a bit with the stereo mix, with some of the programmed sounds or percussion dancing around the mix.
The band use a variety of sounds, some of which have become staples in their music – percussion sounds I haven’t heard other bands use, thus making Oak’s music instantly identifiable for me. By including them on this record, I feel a sense of nostalgia to when I first started listening to Oak five years ago, even if the band have begun to include other elements in their sound. It still sounds unmistakably like them. They also include spoken tracks, probably from other sources like movies, which help add to the mystique. “Paperwings” has a passage with a hypnotist speaking to a patient over a calm musical section, which immediately proceeds a heavier and more chaotic section that eventually includes the distorted vocals. Musically we are drawn into the hypnosis with the subject.
Oak know how to end an album like few bands. “Psalm 51” off False Memory Archive may be one of the best album closers I’ve ever heard. The musical build-up to end the song is absolutely perfect. You’re left completely satisfied. I don’t think “Guest of Honour” is quite that good, but it was a high bar to match. Nevertheless, it’s a great song. The lyrics, “Walking blind through damp corridors / Piercing sounds, of footsteps or guns / Racing heart – I’m wearing you out” have particularly stuck with me, especially that last line.
The physical CD comes in a digipack, making it the nicest of their physical releases thus far. I’m sure the vinyl is even more stunning. I liked the album art from their first two albums a lot more than this, because I felt those fit the band’s aesthetic better. With that said, there’s something very unsettling about the expression on the face of the female bust on the cover, which given the subject matter on the album seems entirely the point. Suicide and mental health concerns are inherently unsettling.
It didn’t take long for The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise to blow everything else out of the way at the top of my best albums of the year list. It’s an album I can listen to over and over again, finding new bits to enjoy and investigate after many listens. That’s one of the things I’ve loved about their previous records. I can keep listening and never grow tired of them, and it appears this record has that same quality. Oak are a criminally under-appreciated band that deserve widespread attention. They’re one of the most imaginative bands in the genre right now, and they aren’t to be missed. Everything they have done is worth paying attention to. It isn’t often that a band like this comes around. Don’t let the close of the year pass without diving into this record.
Gabriel Keller – Clair Obscur, 2022 Tracks: Tumulte (3:29), Time (5:01), Train To Resolution (4:27), Open Arms (5:13), Melancholia (3:50), Sonate Au Clair Obscur (6:42), Nothing Human (5:35), Out Of My Life (6:51), Honey (4:45), Acclamie (2:59)
We’re back into our mini series of reviews of French progressive rock albums, and today’s album has been my favorite of the batch. Gabriel Keller’s Clair Obscur has a range of influences, from the Beatles and Pink Floyd to Porcupine Tree and Opeth. The album features four different vocalists, each of whom wrote their own lyrics in their language of choice (English and French). There are three different guitarists and a host of stringed and blown instruments as well.
The first half of the album leans more on the pop influences, much influenced by Emi B’s smooth and clear vocals. The lyrics touch on struggles of love in difficult circumstances. The melodies on these tracks (“Time,” “Train to Resolution,” and “Open Arms”) are very catchy and very memorable. The melancholic pop of “Open Arms” makes a nice transition to Charlotte Gagnor’s appropriately entitled track, “Melancholia.” The French lyrics and Gagnor’s voice create a haunting atmosphere that is beautifully supported by strings and the occasional Gilmour lick from Keller’s guitar.
As the album moves along, it gradually gets heavier until it is solidly in progressive metal territory by “Honey.” One might think the differences in style across one album would be jarring, but the gradual shift as it goes makes it work really well. Even though there are four different singers with four different styles of writing, and thus varying lyrical themes, the album feels very cohesive. That’s a testament to Gabriel Keller as a musical writer.
The instrumental opening track sets the stage nicely, giving the listener a flavor of what’s to come: guitar-driven rock with spacey backgrounds and layered sounds with varying levels of heaviness. Similarly, the instrumental closing track helps the listener decompress after the album gradually ascended the mountain of rock.
The variety of instrumentation also set this album apart. “Sonate au Clair Obscur” demonstrates the layers to be found on this record. It’s a longer primarily instrumental piece complete with stringed quartet, piano, and varying styles of guitar. It starts off quieter before gradually moving into heavier and more complex territory. The strings take on a more abrupt pace, complementing the growing heaviness of the guitar tone. There are some lyrics in the song, but they are more like backing vocal tracks with the music taking center stage. This track is really about the music.
“Nothing Human” is the closest to Porcupine Tree that we get on the record. The mournful guitar playing in the back of the mix behind Maïté Merlin’s vocals. The guitars have a heavy crunch throughout, especially in the chorus. My only beef in this song comes from pronunciation on a particular vowel in the word “winner,” which repeats in the chorus. In French and English, the letters “i” and “e” are pronounced opposite from each other. As such, the way Merlin pronounces this word in English comes out a bit differently than intended. I’m immature so I found it funny, which clearly isn’t the intent of the song. Honestly, that is the only complaint I have with the record – I’m grasping at straws for that. The song is great. The heaviness is well-balanced by Merlin’s vocals.
This record has certainly grabbed my attention over the several months I’ve had it (yes, yes, I know, I’m slow at reviewing and I have a backlog), so much so that Clair Obscur will find its way into my year-end best of list. The songs are memorable, and they draw you in with each listen. The stylistic variety on the album works well because of how the album is arranged. It gradually builds by the end leaving you wondering how you got to where you ended up. If you’re looking for an album to take you on a journey through realms of melancholic pop and hard rock crunch, put Clair Obscur on your list.
Solace Supplice, Liturgies Contemporaines, June 15, 2022 Tracks: Le Tartuffe Exemplaire (5:12), Sunset Street (4:12), A Demi-Maux (4:03), Les Miradors (6:46), Cosmos Adultérin (3:57), Schizophrénie Paranoïde (3:14), Au Cirque Des Âmes (4:10), En Guidant Les Hussards (4:19), Liturgies Contemporaines (3:53), Dans La Couche Du Diable (4:46), Marasmes Et Décadence (4:33)
[Edit: I discovered just after finishing this review and posting it that primary band member Eric Bouillette passed away last month. Our deepest condolences to his family and the band. He was an incredibly talented musician and artist.]
For my third review of recent French releases (see 1 and 2), I bring you Solace Supplice’s Liturgies Contemporaines. Ok, I’m cheating. The band is technically based in England, but the lyrics are in French and the primary players are French. The album has a solid soundscape that is both moody and epic, with a variety of musical textures and sounds.
Primary members Eric Bouillette and Anne-Claire Rallo are members of Nine Skies, a fine band that has made some waves in prog circles in recent years. Both are multi-instrumentalists, with Bouillette playing guitars, keyboards, and violins as well as singing. Rallo plays keyboards and bass. They are joined by Jimmy Pallagrosi on drums, Laurent Benhamou on saxophone on a couple tracks, and Willow Beggs (Nick Beggs’ daughter) on bass on several tracks.
The record opens with an old English-language clip from the BBC. The song quickly dives into a fast-paced guitar-driven gallop, with that BBC clip popping up again periodically. I liked the inclusion of that clip because it elevates the scope of the record just a bit – makes things feel a little bit more epic.
The title track, “Liturgies Contemporaines,” is probably my favorite on the record. It is brooding and atmospheric, slightly reminiscent of Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree. The vocals and guitars really shine over the repeating keyboard line and simple drum riff. Bouillette’s vocals really stand out on this song. The tone he creates on this is rather different than on the rest of the record, and I think he sounds best on this song. Sometimes his vocals are a bit monotonous when singing the French lyrics, but his voice is very dynamic on the title track.
Lyrically the album leans on the more obscure, allowing for more interpretation. It also helps that they’re in French, forcing English listeners to either dig deep (lyrics posted on their website), or just appreciate them for the way they sound. Bouillette’s style of singing works well on “Dans La Couche Du Diable.” The song starts quieter with piano and acoustic guitar, over which he gently sings. A pounding guitar and drum riff kicks in with a marching beat, and the vocals march along with it. The result is quite effective, especially as the song builds towards the end. The track swells towards the end as the keyboards swirl in the background. With a little extra working at the end, I think it would have made a better ending track to close the album, as “Marasmes Et Décadence” doesn’t go much of anywhere musically for most of the song until the guitar solo, bass, and keyboard solo kick in at the end. “Dans La Couche Du Diable” sounds more like an album closer to me.
Bouillette’s guitar work is dynamic throughout the record, with clean solos on “A Demi-Maux” and grittier shredding on “Les Miradors.” The atmospheric guitar on the title track really shows the range of his capabilities, with the guitar contributing to the soundscape and standing center-stage in the second half of the song. The band scatter in some unexpected musical moments to keep us on our toes. Bouillette’s violin on “Au Cirque Des Âmes” has a gypsy jazz feel to it, and the saxophone on “En Guidant Les Hussards” adds a jazzy and atmospheric sound.
I’ve found Liturgies Contemporaines compelling on repeated listens. It has a solid rock drive with multiple textures and a variety of sounds that manages to remain cohesive. The title track really makes the album for me – I just wish it were longer. The songs could have also been edited to flow together a little better, as the general production value strikes me as being a concept album. All the same, the record is worth multiple listens for fans of contemporary prog. Certainly fans of Nine Skies will want to check it out, if they haven’t already.
Bjørn Riis, Everything to Everyone, Karisma Records, April 8, 2022 Tracks: Run (5:56), Lay Me Down (11:40), The Siren (7:20), Every Second Every Hour (13:20), Descending (4:33), Everything to Everyone (7:28)
At the risk of throwing objectivity out the window, I’ll start this review by saying I absolutely love this album. I think it’s the best music I’ve heard in a long time. But it’s Bjørn Riis! By this time I expect no less than the best from him.
While I still haven’t quite gotten into Airbag, the band for which Riis is most well known, I love his solo albums. They’re all excellent, and they seem to get better with each record. His 2019 album, A Storm is Coming, was brilliant, and it made my year-end best-of list. I expect Everything to Everyone will be near or at the top of that list this year. To make a contemporary comparison, Riis’ style reminds me most of Steven Wilson, both his more progressive solo albums and his work with Porcupine Tree. Riis is on that same level, as well.
Rather fascinatingly, Riis says the influence for the concept behind this album came from Dante’s Inferno. He comments,
A bit pretentious perhaps, but I’ve always been fascinated by that very personal journey and the search for some kind of peace or redemption, while being both mentored and hurt along the way. Musically, I wanted to take the listener on that journey, experiencing both hope and anxiety.”
The lyrics are filled with emotion, reminding me at times of Mariusz Duda’s lyrics. Riis is clearly a very thoughtful man, and I’ve found his lyrics always resonate with me. There’s a lot of depth in them, which allows for reflection on repeated listens. The music is often melancholic, which I especially enjoy, and this is frequently reflected in the lyrics.
The opening instrumental track acts as an overture for the rest of the album. With a careful listen you’ll spot musical themes from this track throughout the album. Parts of “Run” are on the heavier side, which sets a nice stage for the record, which has both its heavier rock sides and its spacier contemplative moments. Both are equally alluring.
“Lay Me Down” may start off a bit slow, and admittedly it is a bit of a jarring transition from the heavy rock of the opening instrumental track. The song really catches its groove a minute 20 seconds in, though, when the drums kick in. A little later female vocals come in to back Riis’ soothing voice, and the result is very [don’t say Floyd, don’t say Floyd, don’t say Floyd] spacey. The song is almost 12 minutes long, so it ebbs and flows through various passages, some of which do indeed remind me of Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is obviously an influence on Riis’ guitar playing, and Riis lives up to his musical influences. The song also has its heavier parts, reflecting the opening track.
“The Siren” was one of the singles for the record, complete with its own video. It’s a haunting track on the relaxed side of Riis’ musical spectrum. The lyrics are from the perspective of someone sitting in the audience at a dance performance, where the dancer performs for both you individually and for everyone all at the same time. It’s an interesting dynamic, but the lyrics are also written in such a way that deeper meanings can be inferred. I’ve found mine own rather personal meanings in it, and as such the song has grown on me to the point where I find it very moving.
I’m not the biggest fan of the artificial vocal distortions on parts of “Every Second Every Hour,” mainly because I think Riis’ voice is great and shouldn’t be hidden, but it doesn’t take away from the song too much. Just a minor quibble. I have to keep my enthusiasm in check somehow. Overall this song is epically wonderful. It’s over 13 minutes long, and like the other similarly long song on the album, it ebbs and flows along the range of Riis’ styles. The acoustic guitar and piano passages with simple singing abound, but these also give way to soaring guitar solos and walls of drums. The synth soundscapes help create a wall of sound that isn’t particularly dense, but it lays a beautiful background to the song.
“Descending” is another instrumental track that has an interesting name because the music actually appears to ascend rather than descend. It starts out quiet and gradually gets louder and heavier as more elements are layered onto the song. If we go back to the inspiration from Dante’s Inferno, however, I think we get our answer to that question. In Inferno, Dante is given a tour of Hell by the poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as a ring of concentric circles, with each circle filled with increasingly brutal punishments for increasingly heinous sins. As such, the story gets more intense the further Dante and Virgil descend into Hell. When viewed in this light, “Descending” makes sense for this particular song on this particular album.
The title track is a quintessential Riis track, featuring the spacey electric guitar solos, walls of acoustic guitars, and emotion-filled vocals. There’s also more female backing vocals. The song gradually builds as it closes out, with a wall of sound created through guitars, drums, and piano. It’s very Porcupine Treeish in the best of ways. The lyrics talk about reaching out for help as we stumble through the dark parts of life.
Put simply, Bjørn Riis’ Everything to Everyone is a thing of beauty in very dark times. The album reflects the good and the bad we experience through our emotions, and it tells a beautiful story through music and words. Do yourself a favor and buy this record. Dwell with it. Let the music and lyrics wash over you. You won’t be disappointed.
Fairy Tale, That Is The Question, 2021 Tracks: Wasting The Sound 1 (1:36), That Is The Question (3:48), Time Heals Nothing (4:37), Wasting The Sound 2 (1:42), Wake Up (4:13), Girl Of The Opera (3:24), Wise Men Keep Silent (5:00), Wasting The Sound 3 (1:14), Sophie (11:19), Dot (0:24)
While Slovakia’s Fairy Tale may be a new band to Progarchy, the group has a long history making music dating back to the mid 1990s. The longtime project of Peter Kravec has seen a couple iterations, but the current version was created in 2003 when Kravec met singer Barbora Koláriková. They have since made five albums, including this one, released at the end of October 2021. Kravec plays guitars and produced the record, and Koláriková plays bass guitar in addition to handling all the vocals. They are joined by drummer L’ubomír Pavelka, and Marek Škvarenin and Adam Lukáč play keyboards on various tracks.
The album ranges in tone from ambient and electronic sounds to a harder progressive rock edge. The band describes themselves as art rock and prog with elements of ambient. At under forty minutes, it’s a short record, which means the disparate sounds of ambient music with heavier rock sometimes clash, although I don’t think the album is necessarily meant to be a concept album.
The heavier parts of this record, such as the title track, have a very upbeat tempo, which contrasts with the more ambient elements. With that said, even the title track has a deeper moment with heavy bass and an overlay of Fripp-Like guitar. This smoothly blends into “Time Heals Nothing,” which opens with quieter keyboards and clean electric guitar.
The strongest part of the record comes in the second half of “Time Heals Nothing,” which features a seriousness and an intensity in the music and the lyrical delivery that is more pronounced than on other songs. The song gradually builds towards the end into a wonderful “wall of sound” effect, which blends the ambient with the rock in a seamless way. I also think this song also has the best lyrics of the album. It deals with themes of joy and suffering, forgiveness and grace. There is an element of nihilism in the second half of the song, which can be gleaned from the title. For example:
Souls are burning And we are boring Time heals nothing
Souls are burning Knowledge is boring Time heals nothing
The electric guitar opening to “Wise Men Keep Silent” has a soothing atmospheric quality that reflects the shorter instrumental tracks, although these more ambient qualities are not tied in throughout as well as they could be. “Wise Men Keep Silent” demonstrates what Fairy Tale does best: ambient and atmospheric music sprinkled with rock influences. The instrumental track includes Barbora using her voice as an instrument, which adds a calming sensation. As I’ve been listening to Devin Townsend’s late 2021 ambient record, Snuggles (which I really should review at some point) recently, I’ll add that I hear similar elements in this song, as well as in other parts of That Is The Question.
At just over eleven minutes in length, “Sophie” is the epic of the album. It has a more electronic influence to it, and it allows the varying musical influences to dance with each other more so than on many of the other songs. There are moments where it feels disjointed, particularly in the transitions, but overall it works well.
If the artwork looks familiar, that’s because it’s by the great Hugh Syme, who is perhaps most well known for his work with Rush. The artwork throughout the CD digipack is characteristic of his work, and it is quite good. It adds an extra layer of professionalism to the overall packaging.
While the individual musical elements on the album are all quite good, I think the album could use a bit more focus, or a longer running time with extended songs that tie the various musical elements together better. The shorter songs help serve that purpose, but I’m not entirely convinced that their style of upbeat rock works with more melancholic ambient tones, apart from the ending of “Time Heals Nothing,” which addresses this concern very well. My concerns may be a matter of taste, however, and you should be the judge of that for yourself. Overall I still say the music is very good and worth checking out.
Bjørn Riis is one of the most criminally underrated guitarists and artists out there. I have been consistently returning to his solo albums over the past few years, and they never disappoint. He’s a brilliant guitarist, and he manages to make so much out of the sparsest sounds. Where it would lack in other artists’ music, a simple drum beat creates the perfect mood and textures in Riis’ work. He is a master of a spacey atmospheric sound that is hauntingly beautiful.
Today he released a music video for his song, “The Siren,” told from the perspective of someone watching a dancer. The song is off his upcoming album, Everything to Everyone. The track features piano from Simen Valldal Johannessen of Oak, one of my favorite bands of the last several years. Riis has also provided guest guitars on a few Oak tracks.
Brought to you (mostly) by the letter B! Purchasing links are embedded in the artist/title listing; a sample follows each review.
Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: put simply, a thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album. Separated from his fiancée on the eve of their wedding by the COVID pandemic, guitarist/keyboardist Bainbridge focused on the essentials — love and the longing it stirs, the beauty of the world and the changing seasons, the desire for hope and a future. Poet Lynn Caldwell’s words (movingly sung by Sally Minnear and Iain Hornal) capture these themes with rich simplicity, cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. Often evoking the palette of his breakthrough band Iona, Bainbridge and a stellar group of collaborators grab your attention and your heartstrings again and again, whether on the dramatic instrumental “Rain and Sun”, the epic paean to the creative spirit “Ghost Light”, the classically-tinged rhapsody “Infinitude (Region of the Stars)” or the yearning sprint of “Speed Your Journey”. Already one of my favorites of 2022, and recommended without hesitation. (And check out our extensive interview with Dave here.)
Chances are that if you’ve seen Dave Bainbridge’s name on this website, it’s due to his role as the current guitarist in Lifesigns (both live and on their fine Altitudealbum). If you’re deeper into modern progressive rock, you may have heard his guitar on Downes Braide Association’s Halcyon Hymns. Or maybe even his keyboards on the last two Strawbs albums, The Ferryman’s Curse and Settlement. (That’s right – Bainbridge is a world-class player on both instruments!)
But Dave Bainbridge’s track record goes a lot deeper than his recent credits; from the 1990s through 2015, he was a major creative force in Iona. Fusing rock with progressive, jazz and folk elements and steeping it all in the spirituality of early Celtic Christianity, this British band captured an international audience while collaborating with prog luminaries like Nick Beggs (the band’s first bassist) and Robert Fripp (who provided ambient sounds for two of their finest albums).
After Iona wound down, Bainbridge continued making music; his solo albums feature both a sweeping range of styles and an impressive array of collaborators. His new album, To the Far Away(exclusively available in multiple formats from Gonzo Multimedia) is a genuine tour de force, based on deeply personal subject matter; it simultaneously evokes the sound of Iona and hones the power of Bainbridge’s solo work into a dramatic swirl of thrilling acoustic and electric guitar work, pounding rhythms and lush orchestral soundscapes. I haven’t heard anything quite like this in a long time; it’s gripping, heart-on-sleeve romantic stuff. But don’t worry — on epics like “Ghost Light,” (extensively featured starting at 1:50 in the promo video below) the guitars and synths still go all the way to 11!
Which meant I was delighted when Dave Bainbridge agreed to talk about To The Far Away, his recent revamp of the Iona catalog, his other band projects and much more with me; he was genial and generous with his time, willing to dive deep into every question, and obviously grateful for what he’s been able to accomplish in his career. You can hear our conversation just below; selected excerpts, as well as a link to a complete transcript, follow the jump.