Album Review – Haven of Echoes “The Indifferent Stars”

Haven of Echoes, The Indifferent Stars, 2022
Tracks: Sirensong (6:11), The Orator’s Gift (4:49), Stasis (5:31), Endtime (9:03), The Lord Giveth… (6:02), Let Them In (12:15)

UK and German duo Haven of Echoes have created a compelling blend of moody synth and bass-based prog. The group is a new project featuring UK-based Paul Sadler on vocals and electric guitar and Germany-based Andreas Hack on all other instruments. Sadler wrote the lyrics and vocal lines while Hack wrote and arranged the music, as well as produced and mixed the album. Their music is perhaps best described as melancholic progressive rock. Sadler is known for his work with progressive metal band Spires, while Hack is known for his work with Frequency Drift. The band was joined by electric harpist Nerissa Schwarz (Frequency Drift) on “Stasis” and “The Lord Giveth…”, the latter of which she wrote.

The opening of the record quickly shows how Hack has no intention of making “The Indifferent Stars” sound like a typical “prog” album. While one might be tempted to start the record with some soaring guitars, Hack chose a wall of drums with strings filling in the rest of the space. As the album progresses, it becomes clear that the approach to rock music is a bit more roundabout. Bass and drums create a solid rhythm section, but even the bass is very understated. The layers of synth sounds and Sadler’s layered vocals are what drive the record forward. The balance of delicate sounds with heavier broodiness create a unique and compelling sound.

“Endtime” has a melancholic brood to it with an interesting chant style to the singing in the second half. The song starts more upbeat before taking a dramatic turn in the second half. Sadler’s voice really shines, with his vocal layering done very well. A lot of times a singer harmonizing with himself doesn’t work very well, for me at least because it sounds so obvious, but Sadler sings in a couple different styles, which almost makes it sound like there are multiple vocalists. As such the vocal performances on the entire record stand out and make it an album worth listening to. On top of that, Sadler’s lyrics are interesting and intelligent, drawing the listener into reflection.

All man’s desire is nothing but fire

“Endtime”

As the longest track on the album, “Let Them In” has room to move through various musical themes. It can be elegant and gentle one minute with vocals over calm piano, while the next minute it’s building on top of heavier guitar, bass, darker piano, and a wall of synths. Before you know it, it’s back in a calmer space built on a layer of cleaner piano, bass, and guitars. The closing guitar solo real seals the deal.

The album was superbly mixed by Hack. There’s a lot of depth and clarity in the mix. There is a layered effect to it that invites you to dig deeper on repeated listens. There’s much to uncover in the subtle bass, dancing cymbals, and myriad keyboard sounds.

If I had a complaint, it would be the lack of electric guitar leads. Sadler only plays on the last track, and his solo is very good. I think it would have added another layer to the album if he played throughout. The record gets its depth and heaviness from a mix of moody synths and low bass. There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact the result is very interesting. But some more guitar solos wouldn’t have hurt either.

It’s clear that Sadler and Hack are an extremely dynamic duo. Sadler’s lyrics and vocal talent are a perfect match to Hack’s musicianship and skill as a producer and mixer. The band’s sound is built by a wall of sound, combining all the instruments to create an effect, rather than any particular instrument standing at the forefront. Their goal is more about the overall sound than the individual parts, as it should be. The result is worthy of your time and attention.

https://havenofechoes.com
https://frequencydrift.bandcamp.com/album/the-indifferent-stars

An Evening with Lingua Ignota

Lingua Ignota, Live at Union Transfer
Philadelphia, PA
December 15, 2022
8:30 pm

Concert review by Bob Turri

We arrived a half hour early or so on a rainy, dreary Thursday night in Philadelphia. Lingua Ignota, the enigmatic singer/multi-instrumentalist was scheduled to play two sets. In some ways a perfectly fitting scenario as to what we were about to experience. Lingua Ignota’s most recent album, Sinner Get Ready is a stunner of an album. Using central Pennsylvania as a backdrop, it evokes an emotional sound with religious overtones and conflicting emotions. I first read about Lingua Ignota in Prog Magazine. The reviewer mentioned some of the Pennsylvania references, wondering why an artist like this would choose to live there, but also ended the review by saying you should at least listen to the album once. This piqued my interest, and I ordered the album directly from her website. Her voice is somewhat Nico-esque but the emotional delivery and range is what hooked me. There is almost a reverent quality to her sound steeped in dark mysticism.

Union Transfer was the Spaghetti Warehouse prior to being turned into one of Philadelphia’s hippest musical nightspots. Because of the cavernous nature of the venue, the sound quality has been questionable in the past, but on this night, there was only a piano in the center of the stage with one spotlight on it. An email was sent on the day of the show letting attendees know the show would start on time. Not much after 8:30 the lights went dim, my eyes focused on the stage waiting for Lingua Ignota’s entrance. Much to my surprise a lone light shaped like a candlestick with a beaming almost fluorescent light at the top appeared in the middle of the floor and there was Lingua Ignota breaking into her first song, sung a cappella, which sounded like an African-American spiritual.

After finishing she quietly moved through the crowd and entered the stage, sat at her piano and started playing. The piano strings had been treated with metal objects and chains which gave a somewhat dissonant percussive sound as she struck the keys. She played a number of songs, mostly new, as far as I could tell, and went from one song to the other. The audience, mostly made of art school graduates or attendees, with some older folks thrown in to boot, was mostly transfixed throughout the first set and barely clapped, yelled or said anything. Lingua Ignota was completely silent except for her singing and piano playing. She ended the first set with a magnificent version of the Gavin Bryar song ìJesusí Blood Never Failed Me Yetî, and left the stage.

After a short break the second set began. This was different using taped music, piano, additional vocals, and possibly synthesizers, holding court utilizing the candle stick beaming lights, adjusting them now and again, and singing her head off, although her voice sounded like it might need a rest as she has been on tour for a while. There is a somewhat perplexing quality to her stage show and visuals. The projection screen throughout the second set consisted of Christian evangelical gatherings, spontaneous baptisms, people I’m guessing speaking in tongues, and evangelical preachers in a constant loop.

Her lyrics dive into religious topics and icons such as Jesus Christ, Satan, blood, the body, and the sacraments. It almost felt at times like being at a church service, but it was difficult to discern what the sermon was. Anti-Christian, pro-spirituality, or just a commentary on how religion can either guide or misguide people. It’s difficult to say but the way the music, singing and lyrics are presented, in such an emotional heartfelt way its hard not to get caught up in this.

In the same email that told everyone to get to the show on time it mentioned that Lingua Ignota was considering dropping her stage moniker and using her real name, Kristin Hayter. I think this would be a good idea as the Lingua Ignota persona may have reached a limit and it would be very interesting to see what this dynamic performer and singer might do next. The second set ended with an encore of the Dolly Parton song, “Jolene.” Again, her beautiful voice, expressed in many different octaves was captivating. The crowd during the end of the second set started to wake up, catcalls, whistles, and yelps began to be heard, and Ms. Hayter thanked the Philly contingent and said this time around was much better than the last visit. It’s tough to shake off our demons, but if there is one artist worth watching, you might want to tune in.

https://linguaignota.net/home

Kruekutt’s 2022 Favorites

A few notes before I dive in: items I’ve reviewed here are linked to the relevant Progarchy article via the artist/album title; If I didn’t review an item here or elsewhere, it’s marked with an asterisk (*) — but I hope the capsule description and listening/order links will encourage you to check it out!

My favorite new music of 2022:

  • Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: A thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album about love, longing, hope and a future. Lyrics of rich simplicity cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. My interview with Bainbridge is here.
  • Big Big Train, Welcome to the Planet: what turned out to be BBT’s final effort with the late David Longdon consolidates the widened horizons of Grand Tour and the intimate subjects of Common Ground, casting an epic light on the everyday glory of family, community, joy and loss.
  • Cosmograf, Heroic Materials: Elegiac in its evocation of past achievements, urgent in its contemporary call to action, breathtaking in its poised blend of fragility and strength, Robin Armstrong’s latest is a riveting listen.
  • The Flower Kings, By Royal Decree: TFK’s third double album in a row, this is the sound of Roine Stolt and company refreshed and revisiting their optimistic roots, soaring on the wings of one marvelous melody after another. As much a joy to hear as it must have been to create.
  • Mary Halvorson, Amaryllis & Belladonna: free jazz guitarist Halvorson hits a major label with two albums — teaming with a boisterously simpatico sextet on Amaryllis, then dancing atop and around modern classical textures from the Mivos Quartet on Belladonna. Audacious and engrossing, this music will open your ears real good!
  • Dave Kerzner, The Traveller: confident, appealing songwriting with hooky yet sophisticated melodies and structures, Kerzner’s best, widest ranging vocals to date and perfectly judged contributions from a stellar guest list. Letting his new songs sell themselves and keeping proceedings to the point, he both satisfies us and leaves us wanting more. 
  • The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Cold As Weiss: An immediately accessible reboot of a classic jazz trio format. Organist Lamarr, guitarist Jimmy James and drummer Daniel Weiss are thrilling players who never fail to make their instruments sing. Funky, catchy bite-size tracks with great individual playing and razor sharp ensemble. 
  • Marillion, An Hour Before It’s Dark: The front half of Los Marillos’ latest has more swagger than they’ve mustered in a while; the back half’s meditative downshift climaxes with the sweeping smashcut finale “Care,” as power chords and massed choirs climb heavenward. Unique as anything in their catalog, and another thoroughbred winner.
  • Pure Reason Revolution, Above Cirrus: this fifth album reveals PRR at their best, consistently upping their game to the next level. For every moment of blissful harmonies and glidepath atmospherics, there’s an equal and opposite moment of feral guitar/drum slammin’ — and when they layer the two together, look out! Well worth buckling up for the ride.
  • The Smile, A Light For Attracting Attention: A Radiohead side project worth your while. Thom Yorke overflows with apocalyptic dread; Jonny Greenwood’s off-kilter instrumental instincts are keener than ever; Tom Skinner’s skittering beats relentlessly drive the grim, lush soundscapes forward. Music for our contemporary dystopia, irresistibly sucking you in.
  • Tears For Fears, The Tipping Point: Roland Orzbaal & Curtis Smith’s catchy-as-always comeback goes for catharsis via unstoppable rhythms, unforgettable choruses and naked vulnerability on every single track, Devastatingly gorgeous, uncompromising art-pop that will haunt you long after every listen.
  • And my Top Favorite of the year — Wilco, Cruel Country. A double set that detours from Jeff Tweedy’s thoughtful dad-rock toward Nashville and Bakersfield, the tactile interplay of the band and Tweedy’s quizzical, empathetic probes of societal alienation elevate this to an album of genuine tenderness and subtlety, gathering strength and heart as it unrolls. After a digital-only release this year, it’s finally coming out on LP and CD January 20!

My favorite reissues of 2022:

  • The Beatles, Revolver Special Edition*: No Revolver, no Sergeant Pepper — no prog? Regardless of what ifs, the Fabs’ great leap forward of 1966 was brilliant in its own right, dragging pop headlong toward the avant-garde. Here it gets a subtle yet effective remix, with fascinating studio outtakes framing the cutting-edge results.
  • Tim Bowness & Giancarlo Erra, Memories of Machines: an irresistible mix of unflinchingly intimate art-rock and lowering ambient backdrops. Ten years on, original arrangements and track lengths are restored, Erra’s textural work is inched forward — and as always, Bowness breaks your heart with his ringing couplets and his stoic voice.
  • My Top Favorite Reissue of the year: Robert Fripp, Exposure/Exposures. The guitarist’s 1979 return to active duty after a post-King Crimson sabbatical, binding together a disparate set of songs and guest artists with his innovative ambient Frippertronics. Whether by itself or as part of a gargantuan box set that chronicles Fripp’s entire “Drive to 1981,” it’s a wild, worthwhile listen in and of itself, while providing distinctive previews of coming attractions.
  • Marillion, Holidays in Eden Deluxe Edition*: my introduction to the band (I first saw them live on the US tour promoting the album), Holidays was partially a product of record company pressure for hit singles, but it also has plenty of Marillion’s trademark ambition, power and lyricism. A fresh remix complemented by exciting live shows on both audio and video.
  • Soft Machine, Bundles*: Add blazing young guitarist Allan Holdsworth to one of the pioneering British jazz-rock bands, stir in quirky compositions by keyboardists Karl Jenkins and Mike Ratledge, and stand by for fireworks! This fresh reissue also includes a hot live set featuring Holdsworth’s successor John Ethridge (still active with the Softs today).
  • Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Super Deluxe Edition*: The album that put Wilco on the map (after they were dropped by their label), YHF mutated from Americana through dream-pop to electronica-tinged folk-rock as band members and producers came and went. Eight discs that copiously chronicle the recording process, plus blistering two live sets.

My favorite (re)discoveries of 2022:

My favorite live album of 2022: Big Big Train, Summer Shall Not Fade*. Equal parts power and grace, BBT’s 2018 headlining gig at Germany’s Night of the Prog may be their best live release yet. Playing to their largest crowd ever, David Longdon commands the stage; Greg Spawton and Nick D’Virgilio provide a muscular foundation; Dave Gregory, Rikard Sjobom, Danny Manners and Rachel Hall serve up one delightful moment after another. Bryan Morey’s review nails it; this is indispensable.

My favorite rock documentary of 2022: In The Court of the Crimson King: King Crimson at 50*. The most unconventional band of the last five decades gets the most unconventional documentary possible. Crims past and present weigh in on “living, dying, laughing, playing and rocking out”, with Robert Fripp providing the ever-present focal point in a particularly puckish fashion. There’s also a deluxe edition with live Crimson video (both in the studio and at 2019’s Rock in Rio festival) and four bonus CDs of soundtrack cuts, rarities, etc.

My favorite books about music of 2022:

  • Vashti Bunyan, Wayward: Just Another Life to Live. Singer-songwriter Bunyan’s unlikely late-60s odyssey from Swinging London to the Hebrides forms the heart of this evocative narrative. Laboriously traversing the heart of England, she gains understanding of the natural world, of human kindness and cruelty — and of her own sturdy inner core.
  • Dan Charnas (with musical analysis by Jeff Peretz), Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm*. In Charnas’ telling, Dilla emerges as an innovator who laid down new paths for neo-soul and conceptual hip-hop, via his subtle yet unsettling variations on previously straight-up rhythms. Peretz’s equally innovative graphic depictions of rhythmic innovations across the decades buttress the page-turning narrative.
  • Robert Fripp, The Guitar Circle*. More a philosophical tome than a how-to book, though still remarkably practical, Fripp’s highly conceptual explanation of his process (as unfolded in Guitar Craft courses and Guitar Circles) won’t be for everyone. But those who dig in will grasp where this eternally questing musician is coming from better than ever before.
  • David Leaf, God Only Knows: The Story of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys And The California Myth*. The third edition of Leaf’s lifework chronicles The Beach Boys’ journey from surf-rock through eccentric art-pop to the dead end of nostalgia, then sidesteps to Wilson’s solo comeback, culminating in the completion of his masterwork Smile. Not in the least objective, but comprehensive, even-handed toward the rest of The Beach Boys, and heartfelt.
  • Grant Moon, Big Big Train – Between The Lines: The Story Of A Rock Band. How BBT became a prog powerhouse — through sheer bloody-mindedness, growth in craft and a keen ear for musical contributors — is the tale told in this richly detailed bio/coffee table tome. Both a celebration of the music made and an unflinching look at the price paid for a dream.

And in closing . . .

If you’re interested, check out these recordings I played or sang on that were released in 2022:

— Rick Krueger

Bryan’s Best of 2022

This year has been an interesting one for me musically. For much of the middle of the year I was absorbed by older progressive metal music, primarily diving into back catalogs for Meshuggah, Pain of Salvation, TesseracT, and Caligula’s Horse. I found that I wasn’t as compelled by more traditional “prog rock,” at least not in its shorter forms. I did find myself enjoying some of the longer form tracks, like Lobate Scarp’s “Flowing Through The Change” and Ryo Okumoto’s “The Myth Of The Mostrophus.” Much of my favorite new music leaned towards post-progressive music, with a few more traditional picks thrown in as well. I’ve reviewed a lot of music this year and listened to far more, some of which would have made a best-of list in years past where I listened to less music. Alas.

The following order is relatively arbitrary apart from my top album at the end.

GH-2022-cover-1080px-PREVIEWGlass Hammer – At The Gate
The third record in Glass Hammer’s Skallagrim trilogy of fantasy albums doesn’t disappoint. In fact in may be the best of the trilogy. Equal parts heavy and proggy, I think my favorite parts are when the band goes full Rush. You don’t hear many bands really showing a mature Rush influence (as opposed to hearing elements of a Rush sound), and it was great to hear it on this album.

tangent-hard-shoulderThe Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder
The Tangent returned this year with a collection of prog epics (and one R&B, disco, funk track), sure to thrill longstanding fans and possibly scare away the uninitiated. Check out my review of the album: https://progarchy.com/2022/06/28/album-review-the-tangent-songs-from-the-hard-shoulder/. Check out Rick Krueger’s interview with Andy Tillison, as well: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/27/andy-tillison-the-progarchy-interview/.

Lobate Scarp - You Have It AllLobate Scarp – You Have It All
This record was a long time in the making for Lobate Scarp and it’s mastermind, Adam Sears. The record masterfully blends prog with pop sensibility, all while bearing a strong Spock’s Beard influence. My favorite song is the 17-minute “Flowing Through The Change.” Beyond that, I’ve found many of the uplifting lyrics from other tracks running through my mind over the course of the year. Check out Time Lord’s review: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/06/album-review-you-have-it-all-by-lobate-scarp/.

a0006828710_10Dave Brons – Return to Arda
Dave Brons recently released a follow-up to his 2020 Tolkien-influenced record, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost. Return to Arda looks at nature within Tolkien’s “Middle-Earth” through a celtic progressive rock lens. Featuring vocals from Sally Minnear, and mixing by Dave Bainbridge. Check out the album on Bandcamp: https://davebrons.bandcamp.com/album/return-to-arda.

Gabriel Keller - Clair ObscurGabriel Keller – Clair Obscur
I reviewed quite a few albums from France this year, and this record was my favorite of those. It contains a blend of English and French lyrics with multiple vocalists. The album has a variety of styles, gradually getting darker and heavier as it goes along. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/11/13/gabriel-kellers-stunning-musical-journey-clair-obscur/.

8716059014463-cover-zoomInhalo – Sever
I reviewed this debut album from the Dutch proggers for the Dutch Progressive Rock Page earlier this year, and it was a very pleasant surprise for me. It reminded me of TesseracT if they were playing just hard rock and not metal. Very atmospheric with a mature sound. I love their wall-of-sound approach. It’s a solid record, and I look forward to more music from the band. Check out my DPRP review: https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2022/071.

Big Big Train - Welcome to the PlanetBig Big Train – Welcome To The Planet
This record was bittersweet, being the final Big Big Train record to feature David Longdon on lead vocals. It was also an album of change for the band, with new member Carly Bryant taking a more prominent role on the record compared to Common Ground released a mere six months earlier. The record contains a pleasant blend of the band’s more accessible bits as well as their proggy moments. “Capitoline Venus” is a touching love song, while “Oak and Stone” fits in a long tradition of Big Big Train’s pastoral contemplative tracks. The title track is a bit unlike anything we’ve heard from the band, at least during Longdon’s tenure, reflecting Bryant’s new influence. It took me a few listens, as it took me by surprise at first. But once I “got” it, I really came to enjoy it. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/01/19/album-review-big-big-trains-welcome-to-the-planet/; and check out Rick’s review too: https://progarchy.com/2022/01/21/ricks-quick-takes-for-january/.

Big Big Train Summer Shall Not FadeBig Big Train – Summer Shall Not Fade
The band’s 2018 performance at the Night of the Prog in Loreley, Germany, has been a bit legendary amongst the band’s fans for years, and I suspect the band decided to release it this year due to Longdon’s tragic passing last year. The concert finds the “classic” lineup of the band playing at or near their best in front of a very large crowd. We’re reminded of how great a frontman Longdon really was. It’s a pleasant way to remember this part of the band’s history. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/11/05/big-big-train-summer-shall-not-fade/.

Bjørn Riis Everything to EveryoneBjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone
This record dominated my listening early in the year. Riis is an excellent guitarist, and his atmospheric rock is always compelling. Every one of his solo albums is worth listening to for his music, vocals, and lyrics. His albums are melancholic, like most of the progressive rock I’ve heard from Norway. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/09/album-review-bjorn-riis-everything-to-everyone/.

dt-lightwork-front-coverDevin Townsend – Lightwork/Nightwork
Devin may have gone quieter on Lightwork, but the album displays his talent as well as any of his records. His skills as a mixer, writer, composer, guitarist, and singer are on full display. The companion album, Nightwork, has some heavier moments, perhaps to soothe parts of his fan base. Either way, both records are great. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/12/22/devin-townsend-lights-the-night-lightwork-and-nightwork/.

meshuggah-immutableMeshuggah – Immutable
It has taken me close to a decade of listening to progressive metal before I was able to finally get into Meshuggah, and it happened this year! I’ve long known about them and respected them, but I just couldn’t get it. Maybe me getting into Devin Townsend’s more extreme side over the past couple years helped open that door, but I’m now a big Meshuggah fan. I could even hear a Meshuggah riff (from “Demiurge”) coming from my knife and cutting board when I was chopping celery last week. “Immutable” is a fantastic record, finding the band tweaking their sound a bit without changing their substance at all. “Broken Cog” is heavy, brooding, and atmospheric. The scream of “broken cog” close to the end is absolutely epic. Check out Mahesh Sreekandath’s review: https://progarchy.com/2022/11/25/immutable/.

Porcupine-Tree-–-Closure-ContinuationPorcupine Tree – Closure Continuation
I didn’t get into Porcupine Tree until after their hiatus following 2009’s “The Incident” and subsequent tours. I had no real expectations for this record, since Porcupine Tree has played a lot of different styles over the course of their long career. I kept an open mind, and I was highly rewarded. This album is pure Porcupine Tree without feeling like it’s trying to create a certain sound. It’s just what came about from the members writing and playing together on occasion over the past decade. Upon reflection, I think my dislike for some of Steven Wilson’s poppier solo work might be tempered if he continues to make music like this in other outlets. Check out Rick Krueger’s review of the band’s live show in Chicago: https://progarchy.com/2022/09/23/porcupine-tree-in-concert/.

marillion-ahbitd-1Marillion – An Hour Before It’s Dark
Another record that dominated my listening early in the year. This record is almost as good as 2016’s F.E.A.R. Perhaps not quite, but it is close. It’s one I’ll likely enjoy for years to come. Well written music and lyrics (for the most part – I have my beefs with one track) that ponder the turmoil of the last few years. It’s a hopeful album that has some calls to reflect and change our ways. In the end, it makes you think, as all good art should. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/03/27/we-still-have-time-marillions-message-of-hope-an-hour-before-its-dark/.

Oak - The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise1. Oak – The Quiet Rebellion Of Compromise
Oak never disappoint me. Their latest record finds them evolving their sound a little bit, but it is still definitively Oak. Their layered soundscapes, haunting vocals, and thoughtful lyrics have kept them at the top of my list of favorite newer bands since I first heard them in 2016, and they’ve only confirmed that for me with this record. They’re a band that deserves far more recognition from the prog world. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/12/14/oaks-third-masterpiece-the-quiet-rebellion-of-compromise/.


steven-wilson_limited-edition-of-one_bookMy favorite prog book of the year was Steven Wilson’s Limited Edition of One. Breaking the mold of rock artist memoirs, Wilson (and Mick Wall, who helped him in the writing process) created a post-modern masterpiece. I typically dislike anything deconstructive (in an academic sense), but Wilson turned it into an art form. He combines memories with lists of his favorite music, books, and movies along with more philosophical commentary on his career and on music in general. Check out my full review of the book: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/08/more-than-a-memoir-steven-wilsons-limited-edition-of-one/.

I only went to one concert this year: Steve Hackett. Interestingly, Hackett was the last concert I saw before governments shut everything down for Covid. The band played the Seconds Out setlist, along with some of his solo tracks. It was a brilliant show, with Hackett clearly demonstrating that his band is the best thing touring right now. He even released a live album from the tour that is well worth checking out. Check out my concert review: https://progarchy.com/2022/04/27/live-again-steve-hackett-plays-st-louis-4-26-22/. And check out Rick’s concert review too: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/06/steve-hackett-in-concert-from-spectral-surrender-to-seconds-out/.

This best-of list feels woefully incomplete considering how much excellent music was released this year… Muse, The Flower Kings, Six by Six, Ryo Okumoto, The Bardic Depths, Cosmograf – all great records, but the above list really captured my attention for one reason or another.

Hopefully 2023 will be another great year for prog. As usual for me, music has been an escape, a sedative, a lighthouse in the storm. With 2022 being one of the most difficult years of my life, music provided much needed comfort and direction over the course of the year. I suspect that will continue in the new year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks so much for reading.

Top 10 Albums of 2022

This year was packed with so many excellent new releases, I had a very difficult time compiling a list of the Top 10 Albums of 2022. I was able to put together a roster of my 30 favorite albums, but found it too hard to cut that down to 10. But, rather than inflict a list of 30 on you, I looked instead to my Apple Music data to find out which albums I gave the most number of listens. So, with that objective component to measure my own personal subjective pleasures, here is the slashed down list of 10. I begin with the best album of the year:

#1 Lobate Scarp, You Have It All

While it was arduous to edit down a list of the 30 best into my top 10, it is nonetheless very easy to name the #1 album of the year. Without a doubt, it is the amazing sophomore disc from Lobate Scarp. This CD was a decade in the making, and it could fill all ten slots of my top 10 list, if that could be allowed. It’s so good, you have to hear it to believe it, as I explained at length in my ecstatic Progarchy review.

#2 Pure Reason Revolution, Above Cirrus

The return of this band has been something special to celebrate ever since 2020’s Eupnea. Their stunning debut, 2006’s The Dark Third, has long been on the prog short list for a Greatest of All Time. I discuss in detail in my Prograchy review of Above Cirrus how this brilliant new disc fits within their exciting oeuvre.

#3 Brass Camel, Brass

Here’s an obscure one for you, but it will seduce your heart and mind. A genuinely unique mixture of hard rocking funk plus an intricately overlaid tapestry of prog. Dive into this album (the follow-up to their 2018 debut) by sampling the prog cred on tracks like “King for a Day,” “Easy,” and “Last Flight of the Vulcan.” I’d say one of the strongest contenders for Prog Song of the Year is “Last Flight of the Vulcan,” because the way that song takes flight is truly thrilling. As it fades out, you just want it to circle back and never end. The album itself ends perfectly with “Only Love.”

#4 Sloan, Steady

Canada’s own version of The Beatles (but with a harder edge). A four-man band of talented musicians and each of them songwriters, they gave us this incredible masterclass in power pop. Every track slays, but check out “Magical Thinking,” “Spend the Day,” and “Scratch the Surface” for a hard rockin’ intro. Then pick your own favorites, which for me include “Dream It All Over Again,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “Keep Your Name Alive.” But there’s enough here to excite anybody with classic tastes for the finest indie rock.

#5 Ghost, Impera

The union of AOR and metal takes the world by storm again. Radio would be conquered, if that were still a thing. But this gem of an album is where Ghost has perfected their previously undeveloped full potential. “Spillways,” “Call Me Little Sunshine,” and “Driftwood” are miraculous tracks that combine studio craftsmanship with the utmost musical skill, to achieve the most splendid of audio effects.

#6 Dorothy, Gifts From the Holy Ghost

The first track and the last track of this album grab you first, but then repeated listens pull you in ever further. While “A Beautiful Life” is a joyous song that can instantly turn your mood around for the better, and is thereby a perfect opening track, “Gifts From the Holy Ghost” also consolidates the uplifting mood and thereby makes for a perfect parting track, a rousing song full of hard-won wisdom, earned no doubt via 12-step recovery. Once you open yourself to this album, it will rock you hard, in an unexpected way, somewhat like the experience sung about on the suitably pounding track, “Hurricane.”

#7 Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation

Porcupine Tree never stole my heart, even if they had some head appeal thanks to their skillful artistry. On the contrary, Steven Wilson as a solo artist is what excited me the most, especially with Raven and Hand. But now this disc converts me to extended PT headphone excursions. Absolutely fascinating songs and sonic landscapes are discoverable here, thanks to Wilson’s uncanny production skills. And I really love the Rush “Tom Sawyer” allusions in the solo section of “Chimera’s Wreck.”

#8 Coheed and Cambria, Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind

This may be a concept album with a story that arcs over multiple albums, but this disc alone is the one that blindsided me with its ridiculously catchy prog metal. Try out “Beautiful Losers,” “Shoulders,” and “The Liars Club” and see if you can resist its charms. The singing alone is so unique, and the band’s YouTube 2M2LN Rush tribute should garner your willingness to give this incredible new album a try. No wonder I listened to this CD again and again.

#9 Alter Bridge, Pawns & Kings

The first few tracks didn’t convince me right away, but the middle of this album is what knocked me over and brought on the repeated listens. “Sin After Sin” (which had me pumping the volume, thanks to its thrilling finale), “Stay,” “Holiday,” and the totally epic “Fable of the Silent Son” brought me back again and again to this album. The heavy guitar sound and the one-of-a-kind vocal gifts of Myles Kennedy are a perfect combination. Unexpectedly, on this disc, the songwriting breaks into a new level, making this my favorite of all the Alter Bridge albums, or of any Myles collaboration with Slash.

#10 The Cult, Under the Midnight Sun

If you thought The Cult was currently resting in The “Where Are They Now?” File, you are sadly mistaken. Sure, keep playing your copy of 1987’s Electric. But don’t miss this 2022 triumph, which shows the band to be moody and mature rock geniuses. Check out “Vendetta X,” “Outer Heaven,” and the six-minute prog-ish “Knife Through Butterfly Heart.” The title track, “Under the Midnight Sun,” invites your compulsive return, with its brooding and haunting poetry. With a short, thoughtful album that gets right to the point, these no-longer young dudes show they still know how to deliver the goods.

Keep calm and prog on, dear citizens of Progarchy. The year 2022 has been magnificent, and I look forward to all of us sharing new music with each other in 2023.

Devin Townsend Lights the Night – “Lightwork” and “Nightwork”

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

“Equinox”

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

It’s alright

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?

“Sober”

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.

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VENTIFACTS’ Mixture of Unconventional and Catchy on “Chronic Town” is a Rewarding Experience

“Chronic Town” by Brattleboro, Vermont-based Ventifacts is an experimental rock album that explores the world of microtonal music. The band’s use of unconventional tunings and scales creates a sound that is both familiar and alien, with each track taking the listener on a journey through a variety of musical landscapes.

The record opens with “Wolves, Lower,” a track that sets the tone for the rest of the album with its blend of pounding drumwork, courtesy of Connor Reilly, and intricate microtonal melodies by guitarists (and also singers) Damon Waitkus and Been Spees, as well as bassist Oliver Campbell. The band’s use of unconventional tunings and scales is particularly noteworthy, with each track featuring a unique and distinct sound.

One of the standout tracks on the album is “1,000,000,” which showcases the band’s ability to create complex and dynamic compositions that incorporate elements of microtonal music. Ventifacts’ use of unconventional chord progressions and dissonant intervals adds a layer of tension and unease that is truly unique.

The production on “Chronic Town” is excellent, with each instrument and vocals given a clear and distinct place in the mix. The use of unconventional tunings and scales is also well-executed, with each track featuring a unique and distinct sound which works extraordinarily well in the song format.

Overall, “Chronic Town” is an outstanding album that showcases Ventifacts’ mastery of the experimental rock genre and their approach to microtonal music. It is a must-listen for fans of “non-regular” and experimental music, and anyone looking for an intellectually stimulating and musically challenging listening experience. The band’s ability to blend elements of microtonal music into a cohesive and enjoyable rock album is truly impressive.

“Chronic Town” is available on Bandcamp.

Chronic Town by Ventifacts