This morning/today, I have a piece at The American Conservative introducing a 26-year old band as America’s greatest rock band. Please check it out. And, note, there’s nothing political in the article, despite the venue. So, humans of all political persuasions, be not afraid!!!!
Creating Glass Hammer in 1992, long-time friends, Steve Babb and Fred Schendel—who had played in several 80s metal bands—decided to dive into what they loved most: complicated, intricate, baroque, over-the-top rock. At the time of the band’s creation, the term “progressive rock” was more than out of favor, evoking for most the horrors of bloated songs, the wearing of capes, the stabbing of keyboards with knives, and lyrics about Hobbits. Though, if Babb and Schendel had hoped to avoid the “progressive rock” stereotype, they failed miserably. If anything, their music—what they called “fantasy rock,” bringing the speculative and imaginary worlds of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others to life—was inordinately more nerdy than “progressive rock.”
Happy 2018 to our loyal IZZ fans! We wanted to take a moment to let you know that there is new music on the horizon.
In late Spring, Laura Meade will release her first full-legnth studio album which features special guest artists including several of her IZZ bandmates. Written by Laura Meade and arranged and produced by me (John!), Laura’s album combines her passion for musical theatre with her art-rock sensibilities. Doone Records will have an announcement about the release date in the near future. On Wednesday, May 9th, Laura will be joining District 97 and Schooltree in Arlington, MA at the Regent Theatre for a night of Female-fronted art-rock, presented by NewEars.org. More information to follow.
IZZ is also back in the studio in full recording mode after writing together for the better part of a year. We are really excited about the freshness of the songs and can’t wait for you all to hear what we have been working on. We recently got together to film one of our final rehearsals before we went into the studio to start recording and we plan on releasing some of that footage later on this year in conjunction with the album release. We really enjoyed having a camera crew there filming as a “fly on the wall” of our rehearsal. They were able to capture some great stuff, including a new interview where we discussed a wide range of topics for the first time together on film.
So stay tuned…We have exciting new music in store for you in 2018.
Astra posted this seven hours ago on social media. Excellent news! The first two albums are simply outstanding. Great psychedelic prog. The “Prisoner” ending is a little spooky, however!
First off, I have to apologize for just dropping off the map for so long. You all deserve much more than that and since so many of you have been nice enough to write and ask “What’s going on with ASTRA?” I wanted to give you all a status update.
Back when our drummer David Hurley left ASTRA in 2013, no one could really foresee the difficulties ahead. We knew carrying on without Dave would be a hard road to travel but we had no idea just how much of an impact his departure would have on us. The 5 of us had an undeniable chemistry that just worked so well in every aspect, but especially when it came to songwriting. After Dave left, I think we were all pretty bummed out and while we were working on writing material for our 3rd album, our frustrations slowly started cropping up. We decided to take a short break which turned into a long break, which turned into a longer break, which happens to be where we’re at now. Because of this long hiatus some of the guys have become extremely busy with their own musical projects which, unfortunately, now leaves very little time for ASTRA.
However, I do have some good news! I just recently spoke with all of the original ASTRA members, including Dave, and everyone is down to record a 3rd ASTRA album if we can get enough material together. Another bit of good news is that Stuart and I have been playing and writing together and we’re hoping that we can eventually make this 3rd album a reality.
Now, none of this is a guarantee but I think it is a step in the right direction. ASTRA will always be my baby and my first love when it comes to music and I don’t want to give up on her so I’m going to do all that I can to make this happen. This will most likely take quite some time since everyone is so busy but I will try to keep you all updated as best I can. I will also try to be much more diligent in responding to your emails and messages in the future.
Lastly, a huge THANK YOU is long overdue, so, thank you all for sticking with ASTRA through the years and for being such amazing fans. I love you all more than words can say and I’m going to do my best to bring some new ASTRA music to your ears as soon as possible.
2016 has been a random and rather crazy year for me, I started the year ostensibly living on my own in a one bed rented flat in Bedminster, and now find myself at the end of the year living with the love of my life, and three cats in a flat that I now own on the edge of Bristol with wonderful views over the countryside and hills to Dundry, however the move (which I may have alluded to previously) has been the most stressful move I have ever done, and as a result I have received albums from bands over the year that I may have been lax in getting finally reviewed and updated here.
Again I apologise for this, and to paraphrase John Lennon, ‘Life is what happens whilst your busy making other plans’
I don’t do these reviews professionally, like the hugely talented Progarchy team of which I am but a small cog in a mighty wheel, we all do this for the love of the music, and if just one person buys a record and loves it based on my words then I feel like I’ve done a good job. But enough about me!
Here then is a round up of two releases from the opposite sides of the world that have made it past my door and which I feel you guys should really get into your ears!
Released back in March, and building on their two previous cracking albums 2014’s The Wistman Tales and 2015’s Tregeagles Choice, this talented duo of Nathan Jon Tillet and Gordon Midgely focus squarely on storytelling and the classic big prog sound.
Their latest opus Hell and High Water is split into two distinct concepts, the first three tracks focuses on s paranormal investigator and is based around the ruined Holy Trinity Church of Buckfastleigh (the Napiers Bones boys love building on existing mythology and weaving it into their wider storytelling, this really roots the music and gives them something to build on), whilst the final 4 tracks are all based around the flood legends that have cropped up throughout history and takes us to Yorkshire and Lake Semerwater.
Their albums with tales rooted in geographical and local mythology are ripe for a guidebook!
The first song cycle focuses on a Paranormal investigator and the mysterious Squire Cabell and Buckfastleigh Holy trinity, and weaving in the contemporary obsession with reality TV, the constant search for something else beyond the pale and human scepticism and the need to answer every question, creates an intense and dynamic story.
The opening track An Air of Mystery is powerful classic rocker with some great vocals from Nathan, whilst Broadcasting live has some fantastic instrumental sections and great guitar and keyboard work, considering this is the work of a duo, and is totally home produced this doesn’t sound like it, and their musical skills are fully up to their ambition to realise the concept.
Like it’s predecessor Tregeagles Bones, the first song cycle is performed as much as a drama as a song, and Nathan’s performance and Gordon’s music is perfectly judged and brilliant executed. The finale, the 10 minute epic No Return is reminiscent of the powerful story cycle albums by Ayreon, and wraps the story up in true style, with some beautifully performed atmospheric keyboard parts.
Onto the second part of the album, this is an album of contrasts and the two different concepts on display here, show two sides to Napiers Bones, and are a subtle blend of both the dark and the light.
The 4 part song cycle that makes up the second half of the record with it’s mythology reflects the best of folk rock, and the multilayered and musically complex No Room at the Inn is another one of their beautifully executed story songs, pulling together some fantastically haunting keyboard sounds and Nathan’s passionate vocals.
The wonderful Rain Down with it’s fantastic lyrics and great musical moments leads into the closing A Wake in Yoredale which rounds off the second part of this majestic album.
Napiers Bones are in their nature story tellers and they use their music to facilitate and take us with them on their tales, years ago you could imagine them sat in low roofed pubs trading tales for tipples, now you can take them with you and engage in their immersive songwriting.
American heavy progressive rock duo Randy Sepe and Wade Greenwood recently released this, their second album (following up 2014’s debut UVTraveler) and it takes their blend of progressive and classic rock into another dimension.
I know fellow Progarchist Brad Birzer refers to me as the English progmaster, and I will admit that is where my interest in the genre was originally piqued and where my first love lies, but there is lots of exciting new prog coming from all over the globe, and to my mind UVTraveler are one of the best the states has to offer.
Producing a fine blend of classic prog whilst sitting on the harder and heavier side of the fence, they mange to pull the two influences together to create a musical union, and with the title and cover art, is there a homage going on here to Deep Purple/rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore?
In fact these influences run through the music as well, with the powerful and brooding Waiting for an Answer having some fantastic vocals from Wade that are reminiscent of Ronnie James Dios work with Black Sabbath in the early 80’s.
This doesn’t mean they are mere copyists however, after all most musicians are influenced by someone else, and it’s how you use that influence and weave it into your art that shows your mastery of your craft.
Sepe and Wade are talented enough to build elements of the heavier end of metal into prog and retaining their own musical identity that was forged on their debut album (which is also well worth a listen)
They are also masters of the blend of light and dark with If (based on the Rudyard Kipling poem) providing a contrast to the opening power of the first two tracks, with a more classily acoustic led piece that showcases Sepes versatility and again acts as a springboard for Wades impressive vocals, proving that like all the best singers he can turn his hand to the softer side of music without compromising his sound.
With guest musicians on the album fleshing out the sound, with the power of Michael Schiavo on bass and Greg Annunziata on drums, the opening rocking Deaths Call is a calling card for the album, and the rest of the tracks more than deliver on the opening promise.
The 70’s vibe runs through this record like a groove in vinyl, and tracks like a reworked version of their own When the Sun gets in your Eyes has a power and swagger of its own, whilst the closing duo of Calm before the…. provides an technically complex melodic instrumental introduction to the closing title track Stormchaser (with a nice play on words there as well, who says modern albums aren’t structured in a well thought out manner) which with it’s big riffs and fantastically catchy chorus brings the big heavy prog bands of the seventies to mind again, however this is no copy, more an honest homage blending the best of UVTraveler with some fantastic nods to bands like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple.
There is no curse of the second record here for Randy Sepe and Wade Greenwood, indeed they have taken all the elements that made their first album so good, and built on them, progressing their sound, and refining their style into another cracking slice of heavy prog.
Tracks: In Illo Tempore; On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 1); Voices from California; The Uncharted Path; Reloj de Sol; On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 2); The Silent Sentinel; 12/12; Sentinel’s Reprise: The Exit Interview; Second Thoughts; On the Wings of an Ant (Verse 3); and Romanitas.
Birzer Rating: 10/10
Without question, this is one of the most interesting releases I’ve heard in a long, long time. I don’t mean there aren’t or haven’t been other incredible releases in the recent past. There’s no question that 2015 has turned out to be one of the finest years in the history of prog. This is high praise, indeed, as the last five or so years have been nothing short of mind-bogglingly good.
By claiming that SILENT SENTINEL is interesting, I mean INTERESTING. Really interesting. There’s never a shortage of musicians doing the tried and true, just as there’s never a shortage of musicians trying to do something radically new. It’s rare that the former last long, and it’s equally rare that the latter can create something of beauty. The best art is always that which honors the past while making the old palatable to the present. This is where Advent admirably succeeds. SILENT SENTINEL is art, pure and simple. It’s also well-executed and beautiful art. It honors the past while making something old new.
Over four decades of listening to prog, I’ve never heard anything quite like this new Advent album. I hear elements of Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, and A LOT of what sounds like Glass Hammer—at least in terms of music composition. What makes SILENT SENTINEL so fascinating is 1) its vocal lines; and 2) the intersection of its vocals and Glass Hammer like music.
As it turns out, this is Advent’s third album. I must admit, I thought it was the band’s second. And, I’m more than a bit embarrassed about this mistake. I’ve been listening to what I thought was the band’s first, CANTUS FIRMUS, rather lovingly for years. I’m now eager to get the first album. My loss, and soon my gain.
Regardless. . . .
If I had to compare this new album to anything on the current music scene, I would definitely name it the cousin of the work of Babb and Schendel, as mentioned above. But, SILENT SENTINEL not a clone, by any means. And, I hope this doesn’t turn off any readers, but it must be said. This is Glass Hammer if someone were writing really artsy and innovative jazz mixed with some really good (not Marty Haugen!) liturgical music. There’s an element of Hebraic chant, but there’s an even stronger element of Palestrina-like music. Don’t worry: no one is screaming scripture at you. The religious element—as far as I can tell (as I don’t have the lyric sheet)—is in the music and vocal lines, not the words.
I’ve said in half-seriousness for several years that CANTUS FIRMUS is Chestertonian prog. SILENT SENTINEL is more Tolkienian prog. I could easily imagine this music being sung in the First Age of Beleriand, most likely under the protection of Melian. It’s Sindarin Elvish, to be sure.
As you can see—even from a cursory glance at the track listing—this is a joy, pure and whole. There are a lot of themes that repeat throughout the album, and there’s playfulness intermixed with intensity passages of beauty. The production of the album is especially crisp, with every instrument really shining forth as a part and as a part of a whole. Really, everything—drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass—sound perfect. And, it’s clear that the producer and sound engineer gave everything to make this cd work so beautifully. I have a feeling that no matter how many times I listen to this, I’ll be rewarded with hearing something new.
While there’s nothing half-way done on the album, and I like it all, I’m most drawn to the epic title track, The Silent Sentinel. I’m not exactly sure what the context of the story is, but the music flows mysteriously and cinematically. I presume it’s a play on the title of the band, as Advent is a time of watchful waiting. Thus, the Silent Sentinel is a guard over time as well as space.
Again, I don’t have the lyric sheet, but it sounds like there’s some real Homeric evil happening as well, with the guardian protecting the crossroads of this world and the next.
I really can’t exaggerate or overstate how much SILENT SENTINEL grabs and intrigues me. It’s the kind of release that makes me not only proud to be a prog fan, but it actually makes me proud to be alive–to live at a time that produces such artists. This is the equal of Big Big Train and The Tangent in terms of quality, innovation, and beauty.
Progarchists, SILENT SENTINEL is something truly special. Don’t let this release pass you by. Pre-order and prepare to be dazzled and downright overwhelmed.
I promise to provide a much more in-depth review of this album in the coming weeks. It arrived happily this morning at the Birzer estate in Longmont, Colorado. The sun is shining, the Rockies radiating, and some of the best music of the progressive rock era (about my age, as it turns out) is playing for the third time. As most of you know, “Everlasting Instant” is the conclusion to the trilogy that began with “The Darkened Room” (2009) and continued with “Crush of Night.” (2012).
As this is merely a mini review, let me state a couple of things.
First, the album is absolutely outstanding.
Second, while it is an excellent piece of art on its own, “Everlasting Instant” successfully incorporates themes (lyrically and musically) from the previous two albums, thus closing the trilogy with a profound sense of accomplishment.
Third, the music surprises me a bit—only because it’s as melodic as all IZZ albums, but its minimalism at points and its equally hard progressive aspects jarred me several times during the initial listens. Frankly, this album is far more prog than the previous two, and it’s gone well beyond what I expect of IZZ. All to the good!
As proggers, we should all rejoice with the release of this gorgeous album.
As American proggers (those of us who are), we should raise our fists in victory. This has been a VERY, VERY good year for American prog: Glass Hammer, Neal Morse, IZZ. Please, keep them coming!
This month at Progarchy, in addition to writing and analyzing about many, many things, we’re having a bit of celebration of Kevin McCormick’s first album, With the Coming of Evening (1993). It’s been 20 years since it first appeared, and, sadly, this masterpiece is still relatively forgotten.
This needs to change.
It’s nearly impossible to label in terms of styles. McCormick, much influenced by every great composer, performer, and group from Andres Segovia and Viktor Villa-Lobos to Rush and Talk Talk, brings everything good to his music.
A nationally award-winning poet, published composer (for classical guitar as well as choir), and professional classical guitarist, he offers his very artful being and soul to his music. Like many in the prog world, McCormick’s a perfectionist in everything he does. But, it’s not completely fair to label this album “in the prog world,” though it comes as close to prog as any genre in the music world.
Had With the Coming of Evening been released now, in the days of internet sovereignty, many would label this album as post-rock or post-prog, akin to the Icelandic shoe-gazing of Sigur Ros. No doubt, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock hover lovingly over this work, though McCormick is always his own man.
Very much so.
Nor, would he have it any other way. As humble as he is talented, McCormick would gladly take blame for any fault, and, being Kevin, he would rarely take credit for anything brilliant he produces. He would say he discovered what is already, simply having been the first to notice it or remember it.
Still it’s his name on the work, and he recognizes that this comes with a certain amount of responsibility and duty–to all who came before him and all who will come after him. McCormick would even want his inspirations to be proud of him. After all, what would Mark Hollis think of just some ghastly American cover band?
No, McCormick is his own man.
I should be upfront about my bias. I’ve known Kevin since the fall of 1986, when we were each freshmen in college. Though we’d talked off an on our first month and a half of the semester, it was on a plane ride from Chicago to Denver over fall break that really allowed us to get to know each other. After that, we were as thick as thieves. Well, as thieving as two would-be Catholic boys could be.
As with all meaningful college friendships, we talked late into the night, read and critiqued each other’s work, had deep (well, at the time, they seemed deep) philosophical debates, talked (of course) about girls, discussed which albums were the best ever, mocked the cafeteria food, and so on.
The following year, we traveled throughout southern Europe and also the UK together. I spent the year in Innsbruck, Austria, and Kevin lived in Rome.
When traveling together for three weeks in England, we paid homage to all of the great recording studios, tried to find Mark Hollis at EMI headquarters, and even (oh so very obnoxiously) thought we’d tracked down Sting’s house. Kevin rang the doorbell, but, thank the Good Lord, neither Mr. Sting nor Mrs. Sting answered.
We also, of course, visited Stonehenge.
If we’d had Facebook, then, we probably would’ve visited Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Matt Stevens (was he in kindergarten, then?), Robin Armstrong, Matt Cohen, and Giancarlo Erra, too. “Who are these crazy Americans knocking on our door! Go visit someone like Mr. and Mrs. Sting!”
Our third year, back at our Catholic college in northern Indiana, we shared a dorm room. That year, I also hosted a Friday night prog show (called, can you believe it, “Nocturnal Omissions”–I really thought I was clever) on our college radio station, and Kevin would often co-host with me. He founded a band, St. Paul and the Martyrs, which became the most popular band on campus, covering everything from XTC to Yes to Blancmange.
Our final year, I helped produce an extremely elaborate charity concert, and St. Paul and the Martyrs performed–the entire Dark Side of the Moon, complete with a avant garde film and elaborate stage lighting, followed by a performance (less elaborate in terms of production) of side one of Spirit of Eden.
When Kevin returned from several years in Japan and (truly) traveling the world, we spent a few years together in graduate school, Kevin in music, me in history.
Kevin is godfather to my oldest son, and I to his second daughter. We remain as close as we ever were.
What about the music?
Come on, Birzer. This is a music site, not a “here’s what I did in college” site. True, true. But, so much of my own thoughts regarding Kevin’s music are related to our friendship. Every time I put on one of his albums, it’s as though I’ve just had one of the best conversations in my life.
So, I’ve asked others at Progarchy to review With the Coming of Evening. You know my bias–so, now I’ll state what I believe as objectively as possible.
Kevin is brilliant, as a lyricist, as a composer, and as a person. His first album, With the Coming of Evening, the first of a trilogy, is a stunning piece of work, and it deserves to be regarded not just as a post-rock classic, but as a rock and prog classic.
It’s not easy listening. Kevin takes so many chances and weaves his music in so many unusual ways, that one has to immerse oneself in it. It’s gorgeous. It’s like reading a T.S. Eliot poem. No one who wants to understand an Eliot poem reads it as a spectator. You either become a part of it, or you misunderstand it.
If there’s a misstep on the album, it comes with the 9th track, “Looks Like Rain.” Its blues structure and blue lamentations stick out a little too much. A remix of this album would almost certainly leave this song out. It’s still an excellent song. It just doesn’t fit tightly with the rest of the album–which really must be taken as an organic and mesmeric whole.
Kevin took six years to write and record the follow-up album, Squall (1999), and he’s ready to record the conclusion to the trilogy.
More on Kevin to come. . . .
But, for now, treat yourself to his backcatalogue. I give it my highest recommendation. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he one of the nicest guys in all of creation. . . .