InteReview: Light’s “The Path”

Light, The Path, January 8, 2023
Tracks: Seekness (14:15), Cornua (1:31), The Sweet Release Of Death (5:04), Blue Sun (8:38), Tibia (1:19), Betray (3:13), Newts (6:44), Electris (1:40), The Sublimation Of An Oak (4:13), Tympana (1:23), Dive (13:57), Chalemia (1:47), Mesmerize (3:12), Burning Birds (7:12), Lux Æterna (3:24)

Light is the brainchild of Toulouse, France, based artist Camille De Carvalho, who wrote The Path together with Auriann Rossard, Loup Vaillant, and Paul-Henry Touzac. Carvalho plays an astounding number of instruments on the record, from keyboards to clarinet to duduk and everything in between. She’s joined by a talented cast of other musicians providing additional orchestral work as well as guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. The record is a unique blend of prog, jazz, and classical, leaning most heavily on the symphonic with a distinctly modern flair.

“Blue Sun” perhaps best exemplifies what Light does best. The symphonic overtones dominate, but the overall sound gradually builds adding in the rock elements as it crescendos in a King Crimson-esque wall of controlled chaos. The vocals come in after the midway point, adding further depth to the sound. As the record moves along, the vocals increase, typically in a more classical form than the lead vocals to which rock listeners might be accustomed.

The album’s mix is very lush, with the varied instruments all sounding clear in the mix. There’s a lot of depth to the overall sound as well, making it a very immersive experience.

The Path is an album that will stretch the typical prog fan’s ears, but there is much to enjoy in this album.

Progarchy got the chance to interview Light mastermind Camille about her recent release and what it took to make this project a reality.

You released an album in January 2023 entitled “The Path” How do you feel about the release? 

I’m very excited ! I’ve been working on this for 14 years, almost half of my life !

I’ve spent so much time and money in it, it’s really strange to see it done. I thought (and many of my friends too) that I’d never finish it, that I’d always find something to change, to add, to tweak… Having now the CD in my hands feels unreal.

How much of a challenge was it to work on the album?

It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Basically, I wanted to write for orchestra, but I had no orchestra and the ones I contacted were not interested.

I had to learn to play around 100 instruments, spend all my evenings playing, writing, practicing or reading books about how to write for all of these instruments.

And then when I met the first persons interested by the project, I had to manage the recordings, the rehearsals, the writing of the lyrics, the communication…

It was really a lot, but I stayed determined.

Speaking of challenges, did you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?

Yes, at the very beginning, the challenge was to record an album featuring only keyboards (then I heared White Noise 2, hated it, and decided it was a bad idea)

Also, every piece I wrote was challenging : there’s always a point where I tell myself «and what if, instead, I did this ?» and it’s always some horrible over complicated polyrythm, or scale… the piano part of Dive, for example, is really a nightmare to play. I wrote it in 2010, and managed to play it in 2020, after years of working on my fingers independance and stamina

Tell us about the different instrumental aspects that you explore on these new songs.

I tried to mix a lot of genres, mainly prog rock but also jazz, classical and a little bit of metal. But the main way I see my music is that I want to write impossible things.

Apart from the interludes and maybe one or two simple tracks, all are impossible to play live as is : it can be because of the polyrythms (particularly the infamour 107:100:93 in Blue Sun, or the 48:47 in The Sublimation of an Oak), the time signatures (I used some things like 61/32 and 47/16), or the instruments’ balance : as every instrument is recorded separately, I can make the ocarina sound louder than the trombone for example, and it’d be impossible in real life. I wanted to push the complexity as far as I could, but keep “listenable” by anyone. I don’t want my music to be seen as really harcore to listen to, even though I love some pretty hardcore bands. I want people to groove, in a way, when they listen to it. To think it’s strange, but in a good way.

I love math, and used a lot of formulas or concepts to create a starting point for the tracks. I don’t let math do all the work, because I didn’t like the results obtained by the people who tried it; I only use it as a basis and it’s often a challenge to adapt to what it has created, because it doesn’t follow musical logic. I drew explanation for the things I used and put it in the booklet, you can try to decypher it and find how it has helped me.

Also, all the interludes are inspired from plain chant, a singing technique used by monks in medieval times. I love it ! And it’s so rarely used

What is your opinion about the current progressive rock scene? 

I must confess I don’t listen to enough new bands, there are so much things to discover in the past I tend to forget the present ! But still, Auriann, the drummer of the band, is constantly searching for new music and dragging me to shows so I know some, like Ni, PoiL, Piniol, Pryapisme, Sungazer, Haken, Myrath… I think prog rock never died and will never die, and now with modern techniques and instruments, we can push the music further than ever. You have to search for them, but there are really good bands currently.

Let us know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape the your music.

Haha it’s hard to answer without being boring so I’ll limit myself, but I have to categorize : 

In classical music, I’m really fan of the beginning of the 20th Century : Ravel is my first love, Holst the reason why I’m not single anymore, and Lili Boulanger my current obsession.

For rock, my 2 main and most obvious inspirations are Magma and Frank Zappa, and I’m a huge fan of Gentle Giant, King Crimson and all the 70’s era.

For jazz, I’d say that Coltrane, John Zorn, Andy Emler and Louis Amrstong shaped my tastes, even if their influence isn’t as prevalent as Zappa’s or Holst’s in this album

What are your top 5 records of all time?

Hard question, I think it is for everyone. I think the best way to answer it is with rare unknown albums, as they’re better to help understanding the tastes of someone. So yes, I could say Relayer by Yes, or Kid A by Radiohead and sure, they’re great, but it’s also obvious that I love them.

Here is my pick : 

1 – “Everywhere At The End of Time”, by The Caretaker : my biggest musical shock, an album about dementia ; you can’t stay the same after you’ve listened to this madness

2 – “Trout Mask Replica”, by Captain Beefheart : well known, but I had to. A lesson in what is freedom, and music. Try again if you hate it : you’ll get it (eventually)

3 – “8”, by Supersilent : it’s an improvisation band, without any planning or concertation. First time I listened to this, I was at work : the walls and roof disappeared and I suddenly was in a cold storm, completely lost. My tasks did not progress after that

4 – “Rire, c’est pas sérieux”, by Raoul Petite : I love Zappa but as english is not my main language, I don’t always understand the lyrics. Well if you love Zappa but speak french primarily, there’s Raoul Petite for you

5 – “Circus”, by Circus : this album taught me something very important : to shut up. Sometimes, there are unexpected silences in their music, and it creates a very peculiar atmosphere that can be mimicked by nothing else. I can’t say I used it in my album, at all, but I will probably in the future

Besides the release of “The Path” are there any other plans for the future?

I’ve already started to write the concept of the next album, which will be greatly inspired by the life of Lili Boulanger (and her music).

Also, a music video will be released with the album, and I have a few covers I still have to finish recording, as they were rewards of the Kickstarter campaign. I’m currently working on Shine On You Crazy Diamond, it’s nearly finished ; it’ll contain no guitar, no bass and no drums… you will see!

Check out Light and The Path on Bandcamp:

Rick’s Quick Takes from March

“Delays, delays!”

Marvin the Martian, “Hare-Way to the Stars”

(A quick note: for new releases, order links are embedded in album titles; online playlists/previews/etc. follow reviews when available. For catalog albums, playlists are linked with titles.)

Once again, I get to second a positive review from Bryan — this time of Fauna, the new release from prog-metallers Haken. Wildly creative, I found this to be the British sextet’s most appealing effort since 2016’s Affinity, stirring in flavors of fusion, postmodern pop, funk, reggae, electronica and even opera alongside one heavy yet tuneful chorus after another. Whether on the short, sharp shocks of “Taurus” and “Lovebite” or the extended journeys of “Sempiternal Beings” and “Elephants Never Forget”, Ross Jennings’ vocals soar, Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall’s guitars crunch, Peter Jones’ keys fill what few sonic crevices remain, and rhythm section Conner Green and Raymond Hearne thunder. Play it loud — but look out for multiple, exciting curveballs on every track!

Last month also saw the release of two live albums from veteran bands who’ve made it through the pandemic back to the stage:

Van der Graaf Generator’s The Bath Forum Concert (a CD/DVD/BluRay set) documents the venerable trio’s 2022 return to action; tackling an ambitious setlist that spans their entire career, guitarist/pianist/singer Peter Hammill is as declamatory and vehement as ever, organist Hugh Banton covers the aural spectrum between cathedral and crypt, and drummer Guy Evans locks into or disrupts the grinding soundscapes as the spirit moves him. The beautifully filmed video shows VDGG working hard and watching each other, opting for the flow as they feel it rather than relying on clinical precision; warts and all, this is refreshingly in the moment, a strong show that captures the band’s existential angst and humanistic idealism in full.

Two years after their 2020 Far Eastern tour collapsed around them, King Crimson satellite band Stick Men returned to Japan and blew away any cobwebs that might have accumulated at Osaka’s BB Live venue. The resulting album Umeda showcases avant guitarist Markus Reuter, multi-bassist Tony Levin and percussionist Pat Mastelotto at their aggressive, angular best; whether on long-standing improvisational frameworks “Cusp”, “Schattenhaft” and “Swimming in Tea”, newer compositions “Ringtone”, “Tentacles” and “Danger in the Workplace” or Crimson classics “Red”, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt. II” or “The Sheltering Sky”, these guys are frighteningly good, whether working up a hair-raising din or backing off for spacey, unexpectedly lush interludes. A great introduction for newbies and a must for fans.

Plus, in February and March the recorded music industry resumed cranking out deluxe box set reissues and compilations — apparently the market of Boomers (like me) with more money than sense isn’t tapped out yet:

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes from March”

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirty-Five): Hartmut Zinn

I am ashamed to say it has been a full year since I last posted in this series! But I have returned, this time with Hartmut Zinn, a German musician whose debut effort, Heile’s Land, will transport listeners back fifty years to Mike Oldfield’s legendary debut Tubular Bells. Like Oldfield, Zinn released his first album at a very young age (20), played every instrument himself (over a dozen, sans tubular bells), and opted for an entirely instrumental concept album. Although the highlight of the work is the two-part title track (which opens with beautifully layered keys, similar to the aforementioned T. B.), the shorter pieces showcase Zinn’s talents on various acoustic guitars, which he plays with skill and gusto.

This is no cheap imitation of Mike Oldfield, but rather an album that deserves greater attention, especially from aficionados of instrumental symphonic prog.

But enough from me. Enjoy:

Acts Of God

Immolation’s impact is beyond dispute, but over three decades of high quality records could use some reflection. Those infamous soaring leads, complex drum patterns and increasingly sophisticated arrangements. Needless to say, this melancholic train exhibits all the sublime deathly qualities, that subtle convulsive precision and more, in short everything which separates death from the rest is illustrated. Even more than that, these rather tortuous harmonies are uniquely memorable, and often tend to get stuck in our head. Riffs and drums playing in a loop, even hours after the album ended.

Acts of God does not deviate from their typical signature. Just like their earlier works, it’s an ongoing duet of contradictions. It’s like a discord of wistful guitars with bludgeoning drums, of aggressive tremolo picking with mournful growls, and of sorrowful depth with grunt tech death precision. Eventually crafting a texture so intricate, tangled, and yet comfortingly atmospheric. Just like that famous duality of man, Immolation is on a perpetual sonic duel, a tussle of contradictions which seems to never concede. Thankfully the consequence is all immersive death metal, and a career trajectory so rich and consistent, that it defies all known universal laws.

Album Review – Haken’s “Fauna”

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.

“Sempiternal Beings”

“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.

Rick’s Quick Takes for February

Transatlantic’s The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia is a worthy souvenir of the latest — and last? — tour by our favorite “more never is enough” classic-prog supergroup. Over three hours, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy and sidekick Ted Leonard play every possible note of their ultra-epic The Absolute Universe, plus generous chunks of the band’s first three albums (sorry, Kaleidoscope fans). You might notice some rough edges in Morse’s singing despite a few preemptive downward key shifts, but Transatlantic still delivers the goods without fail — the jaw-dropping ensemble work, knockout solos, choral counterpoint, head-spinning transitions and heart-stopping climaxes just keep coming. And if this is their swan song, thanks for 20+ years of over-the-top thrills and spills are well past due!

Rick Wakeman’s latest album, A Gallery of the Imagination, is less a conceptual effort (like The Six Wives of Henry VIII or even the recent The Red Planet) than an impressionist suite based on a overall musical approach (as on his Piano Portraits releases). As such, Wakeman’s strong suit — spacious melodies decorated with arpeggios aplenty, then rocked up via finger-busting solo work — is here in abundance, with appropriately sturdy backing by The English Rock Ensemble. But be prepared — the line between prog and middle-of-the-road pop is remarkably thin at times, especially when sentimental lyrics like “A Day Spent on the Pier” are declaimed with stagey brio by vocalist Hayley Sanderson. If you can deal with that, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom (best known in the prog world for the Sound of Contact album Dimensionaut with Dave Kerzner and Matt Dorsey) veer in a heavier direction with their new project, eMolecule’s The Architect. The initial blasts of electronica-laced prog-metal, amped up with gusto by Nordstrom, slot in beautifully with the dystopian sci-fi narrative, but it takes a while for Collins’ trademark vocal inflections to peek through the robotic audio processing. Ultimately, the light and shade of “Beyond Belief” and “Awaken” (a ballad in the Phil-to-Simon family tradition) and a building sense of Floydian atmospherics provide the contrast needed for eMolecule’s well-executed sound and fury to fully connect.

I stumbled across the British post-rockers Plank via 2014’s excellent Hivemind. After tackling animals and insects as their previous subjects, the trio widen their horizons here, returning after 9 years for their new concept opus The Future of the Sea. This is a stunning set of limpid, gorgeous instrumentals, weaving elements of psychedelia, prog and math-rock into textures of massive breadth and heft (whether the big guns are being held in reserve or out on parade at any given moment). The closing 6-part suite “Breaking Waves” is a full-on, monolithic delight that mounts to a shattering, satisfying climax. Give this one a try!

The ongoing passing of rock legends tends to direct me toward their most recent releases, especially if I’d dismissed them on initial notice. Thus, when David Crosby died in January, I bit the bullet and picked up his Lighthouse Band’s CD/DVD Live at the Capitol Theatre. Ignoring this beauty, released late last year, was a mistake; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, even moving document of Crosby’s late career renaissance, here shown in collaboration with Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and singer/songwriters Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. Yes, the man’s voice is a shadow of its former self here — but so is his legendary ego; this lovely set may be more of a team effort than Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young) ever was. The jazz-inflected songwriting, the hushed vocal blend, the lovely sense of understatement and space all make this delicate music blossom and take root in the heart. This tour came to West Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend of 2018; hearing this set, I’m sorry I missed the show! Yes, it’s that good.

I wish I could say the same about 18, the collaboration with Johnny Depp that turned out to be guitar legend Jeff Beck’s swan song; even putting aside Depp’s recent notoriety, there’s a mismatch of tone that makes the album a puzzling listen. Though Beck’s rich melodicism is as compelling as ever, his soaring aesthetic keeps bouncing off the consistently lugubrious song selection and morose vocals from Depp. Usually I’d be all over an album that ricochets from Motown and the Everly Brothers to Killing Joke and The Velvet Underground, but the eclectic selection simply refuses to cohere. Some glorious moments (instrumental takes on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk” and “Caroline, No”, the John Lennon cover “Isolation” that closes the album on a solid footing), but Beck’s light and Depp’s dark cancel each other out far too often for the music to take wing.

In the meantime, the past month has seen multiple first-rate releases in the jazz (and jazz-related) world:

From out of left field, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price teams with guitarist/songwriter Vilray Blair Bolles for I Love A Love Song! This second duo effort pairs Price’s well-honed jazz and pop sensibilities with whimsical Vilray originals in the Great American Songbook tradition. Well-upholstered arrangements from a finely tuned large combo and a boxy yet lush recorded sound set up the retro feel; but ultimately it’s Price’s subtle, in-the-pocket sense of swing that sells the music, often breezy and melancholy at the same time.

Piano legend Brad Mehldau has never hesitated to incorporate rock songs into the jazz canon; with Your Mother Should Know, he makes a program of Beatles tunes (plus David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” — it originally featured Rick Wakeman on piano!) sound not just obvious, but inevitable in the idiom. Above all, this is fun, albeit often of a serious stripe; from the headlong boogie woogie of “I Saw Her Standing There” through the thickened harmonies of “I Am the Walrus” and hovering balladry of “Here There and Everywhere” to the stretched-out gospel of “Baby’s in Black” and the ecstatic extended solo of “Golden Slumbers”, Mehldau’s instincts for where to take these songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison are unerring, his invention refreshing and often astonishing, his technique impeccable. Absolutely worth a listen, whether you’re a Fabs fan or not.

Are improvisational Australian trio The Necks “jazz”? Hard to say; but while their music resists categorization (or even description), their latest release Travel is as attractive a summation of what they do as anything. Four pieces of music, each one made from scratch at the start of a day in the studio, building from a minimal idea that gains momentum, complexity and impact through repetition and variation of ideas, dynamics and sounds. “Signal” rambles, “Forming” smolders, “Imprinting” shimmers and “Bloodstream” flares up for a riveting double-album journey. Is it world-inflected rock? Ambient jazz? Something else? I frankly don’t care; I just know that after an online listen, I had to buy it. (And kudos to Vertigo Music of Grand Rapids for having it in stock!)

P.S. In the “blast from the past” department, I’ve spent a surprising amount of time reveling in the swagger of Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, a widescreen slab of power-pop brilliance from 1979. And sticking my toe in the deep waters of Guided by Voices last month led me to their slam-bang “best of” compilation from 2003, Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. Both highly recommended if you wanna rock!

— Rick Krueger

Beautiful Prog Epic (20:20) from Lesoir — Babel EP

If you like Porcupine Tree, or Pink Floyd, or The Pineapple Thief, or Riverside, or Anathema, or The Gathering, then you’re sure to dig the 20:20 stunning epic “Babel” from Lesoir.

We are big fans of Lenoir’s album from 2020, Mosaic. What a thrill to then hear them take things to the next level, with this beautiful long-form song that clocks in a quad-digit run time.

They’ve done a limited edition pressing of the CD version of this song. If you pay attention to the sensitive and empathetic lyrics, it should come as no surprise that Lesoir has announced that they are donating all proceeds from their Babel CD to the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria:


When the flood disaster in Limburg (NL) took place in 2021, the band Lesoir decided to donate all proceeds from their one-off Babel live performance to the victims of the disaster. Now with the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Lesoir wants to do the same.

The band cannot bear to watch how the people in this area have to deal with the terrible suffering. Lesoir therefore wants to donate all income (excluding shipping and transaction costs) from the Babel EP (CD) to Giro555.

Will you help Lesoir collect a nice amount and then donate it?

Of course, the song is 1 whole, but especially for the CD, we have marked the different parts separately, so you can ffwd to your favourite part right away.

Art rock band Lesoir made a virtue of necessity in the quiet but turbulent lockdown period and in 2020 started working on something that would then become an ‘interim project’ for the band. Recorded at various locations in South Limburg, the resulting 20-minute and 20-second epic grew into a full-fledged addition to the band’s already existing repertoire. 

Under the name Babel, Lesoir’s creation was released on vinyl, handmade and limited to only 250 pcs in January 2022. Each piece is numbered and on request signed by the band. 

By popular demand the band have released Babel as a limited edition CD in January 2023. All proceeds of the album sales since the devastating earthquake will go the victims in Turley and Syria.

Starlifter: Live Performance by Crown Lands

Prepare for prog liftoff! Are you ready for Rush: The Next Generation? This exciting new video from Crown Lands shows them playing their newest song live. It’s an amazing performance. We can’t wait for their Fearless album release at the end of March.

As noted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

Crown Lands’ music tells a story inspired by what songwriter Cody Bowles calls “Indigenous futurism.” There’s a science fiction narrative running throughout their catalogue, about an anti-capitalist space hero fighting colonization across the stars. Genre pastiche is a huge part of Crown Lands’ approach, but this feels unique.

Why not explore their back catalogue while you await the Fearless double LP to be released at the end of March 2023?

Catch them live, if you can, because they’re an outstanding duo in concert!

0:00 I. Overture

3:09 II. Begin Transmission 

3:52 III. Fearless Awakens. 

5:35 IV. Departure 

6:53 V. The Journey

9:40 VI. Interfacing The Machine 

11:26 VII. Requiem 

12:52 VIII. The Battle Of Starlifter 

15:32 IX. Event Horizon

I. Overture

I’ve returned  

Beyond the realms of light

Yet I see a tarnished world devoid of life

I recall 

In the deeps within the void 

Of a greed that grips the hearts of mortal men

To the stars

They colonized our worlds  

And a vast machine has caged our dying sun!

II. Begin Transmission 


III. Fearless Awakens 

All around the winded spires 

There I did arise

Where the oceans that once churned

The sands replaced in time 

All the ones I’ve known and loved 

Have passed so long ago

And their distant echoed voices 

Trapped within the stone

The imposing fortress 

Lines the outer wall

By my hand I swear 

I will bring its fall!

Power-hungry tyrants hailing 

From a distant star 

A disregard for life! 

On the worlds eclipsed by war

Trekking down the barren road 

To where the great ships loom

Starlifters set to launch    

To spell the planet’s doom 

Calling ancient wisdom 

Present evermore

For my name is Fearless

And this world shall be restored 

IV. Departure

Wicked engines wheeling 

Through the dizzying abyss 

Riding silver flames 

Into the great beyond 

V. The Journey 

Through vast oceans of space

I sail across the stars 

To rout the Syndicate 

Before the dawning war 

Steal into the brig

Encounter the machine 

Risking everything 

I recognize 

The artificial prisoner 

Held against its will

Destroying outer worlds

To turn the planets still 

Two minds combined into

The integrated whole

Synaptic matrices 

I must take control 

VI. Interfacing The Machine 


VII. Requiem 

In the dark

A cold machine 

I am

I am lost, but I see 

I transcend   

This mortal shell 

And I await the reckoning 

If life is a wheel

Please let it spin…

VIII. The Battle Of Starlifter

We alone command the Starlifters

You will not win this war…

The stellar engine cannot be destroyed

This is the end for you, Fearless

We control the stars 

And all the fates of our worlds!

IX. Event Horizon

Event Horizon

Point of no return 

Black hole!!

Machine Messiah   

One-one zero-zero 

Sail into the point

Of no return!!

Album Review: The Winery Dogs — III

They say the third time’s the charm. But the third album from The Winery Dogs is more than just charmed, because we have already heard undeniable magic on their first two albums. This time, however, we witness a truly jaw-dropping breakthrough.

What is worth noting here is that we have been given a solid album with ten songs that strongly lock together. They flow inexorably, as the coherent whole of what I believe will eventually be recognized as a classic album, one even better than the merely rave reviews it has already been getting. Its magnificence gets more and more impressive with each further listen.

On previous releases, I found myself picking out favorite songs. The range of the band’s material was stunning, and while all of it was impressive, there were still standout tracks that clearly rose above the rest. On the debut, for me those were: “Elevate,” “I’m No Angel,” “Not Hopeless,” and “Regret.” On Hot Streak, they were: “The Bridge,” “War Machine,” “Devil You Know,” and “The Lamb.”

But on this release, rather than pick favorite songs, I can only pick out favorite moments within the songs. Because every track is a standout, I love them all, and I cherish those detailed special moments that each one of them contain for the dedicated listener.

“Xanadu” and “Mad World” were the two pre-release singles, which led us to expect more of the same Winery Dogs virtuosity from their earlier albums. Their magical ability is to bring Richie Kotzen’s guitar and Billy Sheehan’s bass and Mike Portnoy’s drums together in astonishing acrobatic coordination, a higher realm of musical motion which only the true greats can access, like Alex and Geddy and Neil on “Free Will.”

Yet while we get more of such magic, we also get interesting new details on this album, like the startling jazz chords in “Mad World” or the unusually intriguing lyrics to “Xanadu” which shift and change even with the musical repetitions of the chorus. Kotzen’s impassioned vocals seem to be taking an accusation (living clueless in Xanadu/Malibu) and flipping the accusation around as a badge of honor to be worn, as Kotzen makes it clear he (and the band) doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

With that declaration of independence, and with their secession from the world’s madness, The Winery Dogs then shift direction and reveal the first two tracks to have been something of a head fake. “Breakthrough” seems to me like the kind of killer radio-friendly track that a record company would demand as the first single. But, as track three, it comes as an unexpected twist after the clever “business as usual” first two tracks.

With this twist, the album launches into the upper echelons of the most classic of classic rock territory. The punchy power chords of the chorus invite air guitar participation. Both the riff and the vocal phrasings unexpectedly remind me of Saturation-era Urge Overkill, which I found to be a delightful and obscure surprise.

“Rise” astonishes with its complexity and soulfulness, as the band continues it third-album ascent, now conducting cakewalk “business as unusual.”

But it’s “Stars” that veers off into truly delightful prog territory. Sheehan supplies a steady bass pulse for Portnoy and Kotzen to go completely bonkers around. Kotzen demonstrates beyond all doubt that he is one of the greatest of all time on this track, because his guitar solo lasts for a minute and forty seconds of such insane, imaginative, and inventive sounds that it’s unbelievable. The song enfolds all this into such a satisfying and catchy groove, it marks an outstanding conclusion to a staggeringly impressive Side A.

But the album’s B-side is astonishingly equal in achievement to the A side. The kickoff, “The Vengeance,” has one of those cathartic Kotzen vocals (like “Regret” or “The Lamb”) whose emotions are equalled by the intelligence of the lyrics (which wisely affirm that it is the weak, not the strong, who need revenge).

This track illustrates well my thesis about each album track having additional small but memorable details: here, it is the helicopter-like synth-sounding pattern which leads into each chorus, and I call it “synth-sounding” because it somehow bleeds into what sounds like a guitar. It’s a truly magical transformation, and such a thrilling little detail, yet I have no idea how it is done, but it excites the listener to no end each time it is heard.

As if that were not enough, “The Vengeance” also has more Urge Overkill overtones, with those little “ooh ooh ooh” background vocals that remind me of the musical positivity of “Positive Bleeding.”

“Pharaoh” levels the listener with a heavy riff that knows just when to hold back and also just when to smash, all while Portnoy builds pyramids with massive slabs of pounding drums.

And then there’s no respite, as the following track, “Gaslight,” delivers a musical imitation of a gaslighting assault of craziness. Its boogie blitz comes charging out of the gate with more notes per second than the human mind can possibly count. All you can do is try and shake your tail feather to keep up.

Perfectly timed for breath-catching, “Lorelei” is a slow, bluesy 6/8 waltz. It’s the type of song that would function for a lesser band as a filler cool-down track at album’s end. But for The Winery Dogs, this become merely the penultimate track, and yet another one that they use to confound listener expectations.

Sometimes nothing is more boring than a blues guitar solo, but Kotzen convinces us that we have not heard it all before, as he plays his solo lines with such feeling that we find ourselves amazed. Not only that, when he sings on the chorus, he soulfully adopts such unusual phrasing that I am reminded of Steve Perry 80s Journey. The song unexpectedly wormholes me on a journey into a magic world of nostalgic teenage school dance waltzes.

The epic final track, “The Red Wine,” begins by seeming to deliver on the promise of the album opener’s Rush-word: “Xanadu.” For the first eighteen seconds, “The Red Wine” sounds like classic Rush. I did a double-take the first time I heard those bars, and had to look again at the song name, which for those moments I thought was actually: “The Red Star.”

But after those opening flourishes, “The Red Wine” makes an abrupt stage-left turn and turns into a funky and groovy dance-along track, replete with a sing-along “party time” chorus. We even get a verse imagining senior citizens playing air guitar with their canes, as the whole world falls under the spell of The Winery Dogs’ live music.

Happily, the track ends back in Rush mode, as the camera pans up (or so I imagine) from the outside dance party, up past the patio lanterns, and then ascends into the stars as the band turns again into the Rush of the opening half-minute. We get a mellow cosmic cool-down to end the album, as the band invokes the atmospherics, yes you guessed it, of Rush’s classic “Xanadu” mood. Billy’s bass is the last one sucked into the Cygnus X-1 black hole, but it beams back a cosmic echo, advising you to buy this album and find your way to the Dogs’ dance party.

Confounding the cynics, Kotzen and Sheehan and Portnoy are clearly not just a super-group of super noodlers. With this album, they demonstrate they are one of the greatest bands to have ever rocked the Earth. With III, they leave their paw print in the pavement, preserved for all time, in the pantheon of the Rock of Fame.