Album Review – @Echo_Us – The Windsong Spires

a3501667282_10Echo Us, The Windsong Spires, June 22, 2021
Tracks: We Seek the Descending Levers, (8:06), If You Can Imagine… (5:29), The Night Sky (3:19), When the Windsong Spires, (5:49), Squals (3:53), (Fly You Home) (4:41), And When They Dance At Dusk, (4:16), I’ll Wave You In (4:54), (And Acquiesce) (5:41), If We Can Breathe Again… (3:39), Under the Smallest Sky (11:40)

Electronic. Atmospheric. Ethereal. These are just a few of the words I could use to describe Portland, Oregon, music project Echo Us. The band was founded by composer and multi-instrumentalist Ethan J. Matthews 20 years ago. He is joined on the record by drummer Andrew Greene and vocalist Charlotte Engler. Matthews provides vocals, guitars, hammered dulcimer, glockenspiel, percussion, and synthesizers.

Just based upon the variety of instruments Matthews plays, you might guess that his music has a rather eclectic mix, and you’d be right. Their sound ranges from atmospheric to classical and folk, all within a subtle rock context. I even picked up what sounded a bit like a Pacific Northwestern Native American influence in the opening moments of the album. Piano plays a prominent role on the record, along with clean electric guitar. 

The vocals contribute to the ethereal tone of much of the music, but the drums keep the music grounded here on earth without allowing the album to get too heady. In that way there’s a nice balance between the various sounds. The mix of male and female vocals also contributes to the balance of the sound on the record. Matthews’ voice reminds me of Tim Bowness, and Engler’s voice reminds me a bit of Kate Bush or Amanda Lehman

The Making of the Windsong Spires – Youtube

The music helps tell a story. “The Night Sky” is primarily piano with synth sounds swirling around it and ghostly vocals at times throughout the brief track. The listener is left picturing a calm, cool night sky away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Greene’s drums and percussion on the record might sound relatively straightforward at first notice, but when you dig in you notice there’s a lot going on. One moment it might be a simple drum part, but the next might have a military-style snare drumming, such as on a portion of “When the Windsong Spires.” This conjures up new images in the mind, adding to the musical tapestry Echo Us create. 

I’m not positive that this is intentional, but I get the feeling that the names of the tracks are meant to be read together as you might read an imagist poem. Since the names of the songs include punctuation, I suspect I’m right.

We Seek the Descending Levers, If You Can Imagine… The Night Sky
When the Windsong Spires, Squals (Fly You Home)
And When They Dance At Dusk, I’ll Wave You In (And Acquiesce)
If We Can Breathe Again… Under the Smallest Sky

This is a pretty cool way to add texture to a record. You have the poetry of the lyrics, but to use the very names of the songs to create another poem is unique. 

One might classify The Windsong Spires as ambient music, but there’s a lot more going on than just ambient sounds. The drums and guitars bring in elements of rock, although I don’t know if I can call this outright rock ‘n roll. At the end of the day genres can be rather meaningless categories to which we assign music. What really matters is whether or not the music is good, and Echo Us is very good. Their music has had a calming effect on me, which has been much appreciated and needed lately. When everything else seems to be crashing and burning, it’s nice to settle back into something that slows you down and makes you think. 

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The Ones We Missed – France’s Esthesis

The hardest part about reviewing music is finding the time to dedicate to writing, listening, and looking for new music. We all do this for free in our free time. We’ve got day jobs, and that leads to some overlooked music. Like the debut album from French band, Esthesis, aptly titled “The Awakening.” Moody, brooding, atmospheric, Floydian – this is good stuff. So good that it earned the reader’s choice for best unsigned band in Prog magazine’s reader’s poll last year. 

Check out Esthesis’ press review for more info: Continue reading “The Ones We Missed – France’s Esthesis”

Shining Pyramid’s Atmospheric Triumph

Shining Pyramid, Tree, December 29, 2020
Tracks: Transmitter C (9:18), Triskel (4:11), Campfire (3:03), Rain (4:58), Like Katriona (10:20), Weird Science (6:15), Joy? (5:32)

London’s Shining Pyramid released their third album back at the very end of December 2020. This follows 2015’s self-titled debut, loosely based on the 1895 Arthur Machen of the same name, and 2018’s Children of Stones. Their latest album, Tree, was my introduction to the band, as they generously sent me a CD to review. I was hooked from the opening electronic notes, which reminded me a little bit of Oak, who I seem to mention a lot around here. The duo is comprised of Nick Adams on guitars and Peter Jeal on keyboards. A page on their website offers a breakdown of the guitars and keyboards used on the album. I’m not a musician, but I found it interesting that Adams used such a wide array of guitars and basses on the record. They all sound wonderful.

Swirling synths set the stage on Tree, but the spacey guitar quickly steps into the spotlight, taking on a Floydian tone with a bit of the late Piotr Grudziński (Riverside) thrown in for good measure. It would be a mistake to describe this album as only ambient, or only atmospheric, electronic, or space rock. It contains elements of those things, but the guitar keeps the album rooted in rock territory, even if the album is on the sedate side of the rock spectrum. 

Shining Pyramid

Perhaps what I like most about Tree is the variety it contains, even though it’s only 44 minutes long. The opening track, “Transmitter C,” centers around a very spacey guitar with electronic synth sounds swirling around it. “Campfire” places an undistorted guitar seemingly just behind the bass in the mix, giving it a bit of a distant feel before the keyboards build and take the main spot in the mix. It isn’t particularly atmospheric. The next track, “Rain,” offers an ambient sound centered on a simple repeated piano refrain. That refrain, along with the bass, serves as a framework to support the varying synth sounds that keep the track interesting as it proceeds. Each track on the record sounds unique. They share common elements, but the band approach them in different ways. 

My favorite tracks are “Transmitter C” and “Like Katriona.” They’re both the longest songs on the album, allowing the music to build and grow. They also both feature a spacey Floydian guitar tone and appropriately proggy keyboards. These tracks sound the most musically focused and cohesive as well. A fun fact from their website: the ring of sound waves printed on the physical CD was taken from Adams’ guitar on “Like Katriona.” That’s a pretty cool little thing to throw into the physical product. 

I couldn’t help but feel a calming sense of peace when I listened to Tree with undivided attention. The music is calm and almost hypnotic at points. Frankly it was just what I needed. It gives you space to reflect, but it does so with interesting musical textures that make you want to return to it. For those into the atmospheric and ambient sides of prog, give Shining Pyramid a listen. They won’t disappoint. 

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Metal Mondays: Iran’s Atravan – “The Grey Line”

Atravan, The Grey Line, 2021
Tracks: 
The Pendulum (2:35), The Perfect Stranger (6:45), My Wrecked House (6:05), Vertigo (5:09), Dancing on a Wire (6:01), The Grey Line (9:12), Uncertain Future (3:35)
Line-up:
Masoud Alishahi – Vocals
Shayan Dianati – Guitars
Arwin Iranpour – Bass
Marjan Modarres – Piano, Keyboards
Shahin Fadaei – Drums
Pedram Niknafs – backing vocals (tracks 2, 4) 

There’s a first time for everything, folks, and I think today’s Metal Mondays review is the first time we at Progarchy have ever reviewed an album from an Iranian band. I know it’s the first time I have. Tehran’s Atravan released their latest album, The Grey Line, about a month ago, and it has quickly become my favorite new release of 2021. It’s absolutely phenomenal.

Atravan can be best described as a progressive metal band with atmospheric elements. The songs are incredibly well-written, with the instruments all played expertly. The bass plays a prominent role – arguably more prominent than the guitars. The Grey Line isn’t particularly heavy, although it has its heavier moments. “Dancing on a Wire” for instance leans on a synth sound with acoustic guitars and soaring vocals. “My Wrecked House” has the same elements, but it has a much heavier sound with heavier drums and electric guitars. By the end of “The Perfect Stranger,” the band is pounding away in full-blown metal.

All of those elements remind me most of Riverside, especially on the aforementioned track. The bass and keyboards also play a central role in Riverside, with spacey guitars layered over the top. There are also moments that remind me of the atmospheric aspects of Porcupine Tree or even Devin Townsend (think “Deadhead”), but Atravan strike me as being rather unique at the same time. Maybe it’s the warmth and depth of Masoud Alishahi’s vocals (yes, the lyrics are in English). Maybe it’s the stunning Floydian keyboards. Maybe it’s the way the band builds a song gently but gradually through the combination of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. The drums are intricate throughout. Shahin Fadaei always plays to whatever the song requires in the moment. Sometimes that requires rapid-fire double-bass pounding, and sometimes it requires a more sedate Nick Mason-style beat. Careful with that axe, Atravan.

The keyboards provide unique sounds throughout the album that set a melancholic and contemplative mood. The opening of the nine-minute title track is all keyboards. The song slowly builds with added vocals before a loud but simultaneously gentle bass takes center stage. The song continues to build with additional instruments picking up. It takes about five minutes before they return to a really heavy sound, but everything works so perfectly that you end up appreciating whatever and however the band plays. None of the songs feel rushed, which is rather surprising in an album that’s only forty minutes long.

The electric guitars on the opening of the final track, “Uncertain Future,” have a spacey Gilmour-esque sound to them. They’re used sparingly as the bass, drums, and keyboards begin to take over. It’s a three and a half minute-long track, yet it still doesn’t hurry. It asks the listener to slow down with it and just enjoy the moment. It’s an instrumental track to help you unwind at the end, even though the album is on the short side. In closing it out this way, Atravan bookend the album, since the opening track was also a spacey instrumental piece that served to warm up the listener for the rest of the record. 

Definitely give The Grey Line a listen. I’m so glad the band reached out to us, because I probably wouldn’t have come across this album otherwise. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to become my favorite album of the year thus far. There’s a lot of 2021 left to go, but Atravan have set a very high bar for everyone else in the prog world to hurdle. Every track on this album is fantastic. I look forward to more from the band in the future. 

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SomeWhereOut – Deep In The Old Forest – Album Review

SomeWhereOut – Deep In The Old Forest, January 15, 2021

Tracks: 1. Prelude – The Stories (1:40), 2. Blood, Bones and Fear (5:08), 3. Mara (3:38), 4. Someone With No Name (6:55), 5. Our Promise (4:07), 6. Interlude I – Covenant (1:07), 7. The Fallen One (8:33), 8. You and I (6:00), 9. The Midnight Bell (5:21), 10. The Crystal Mountain (4:29), 11. Interlude II – Winter (1:14), 12. The Old Forest (14:49)

Classically-trained Spanish guitarist, composer, and music teacher Raúl Lupiañez has long held a love for rock and metal. His formal training in both guitar and composition is immediately clear on his latest SomeWhereOut album, Deep in the Old Forest. He is the primary musician for the group, handling guitar, all of the keyboards, and most of the bass. Francisco Garoz plays all of the drums, and there are a few other players who contribute guitar and bass solos as well as violin and other string work. There are also eight vocalists featured on the album. 

Deep in the Old Forest transcends progressive and atmospheric elements while remaining a thoroughly metal album. At points the verses on songs will be more sedate before pounding into a more straight-forward metal or prog metal chorus. There are symphonic elements as well, but I wouldn’t label SomeWhereOut a symphonic metal band because the strings are used more in the way Steve Hackett uses them on his albums. They add atmosphere when needed, but they aren’t the driving force in the music. I think a symphonic metal band places almost equal importance on the symphonic elements and the metal elements. 

The album is full of musical surprises. For instance the light accent of Spanish-style acoustic guitar strumming behind the wall of metal guitars on parts of “Bloods, Bones and Fear” is a nice touch. The solo violin parts add a calmer reflective touch. The violin on “Our Promise” even reminds me of Rachel Hall’s work with Big Big Train. There are many moments across the album, particularly in the keyboards, bass, and some of the guitar solos, that remind me of Steven Wilson’s more progressive solo albums. Apart from the vocals, which sound nothing like Wilson, the track “The Fallen One” could have come off Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Continue reading “SomeWhereOut – Deep In The Old Forest – Album Review”

Lucid Planet

Metal Mondays: Lucid Planet’s “II”

Lucid Planet, II, November 2020
Tracks:
Anamnesis (12:25), Entrancement (5:33), Organic Hard Drive (9:39), Offer (4:15), On The Way (9:38), Digital Ritual (4:57), Face The Sun (11:49), Zenith (9:56)

Perhaps I’m going out on a limb in calling Lucid Planet’s new album “metal,” but I’ve always had a pretty broad understanding of what metal can include. For instance I’ve long considered much of Rush’s output to be metal. But be not deceived. Lucid Planet’s sophomore album, II, released five years after their debut, is not Dream Theater progressive metal. Rather they remind me of Tool in many ways, especially in the rhythm sections on “Anamnesis,” “Organic Hard Drive,” and “Zenith.” 

Maybe “heavy prog” is a better term. The Melbourne, Australia-based band uses the terms “progressive,” “tribal,” and “psychedelic” on their website, and those are all good descriptors for what they do. They travel in and out of various styles and influences seamlessly. No one track limits itself to any particular style. The primal elements are particularly strong on “Entrancement,” which creates a psychedelic atmosphere through droning vocals and simple acoustic instrumentation. The song is a bit unexpected after the first track, but it works well in expanding the horizon of what the band does. Right away we know that this group plans to cover a lot of ground. The female vocals in parts of that track add a pleasant touch to what would otherwise be a rather dark song. The primal elements mesh well with their album artwork as well. 

Continue reading “Metal Mondays: Lucid Planet’s “II””

Novembre – Ursa – Album Review

Artist: Novembre Album Title: Ursa Label: Peaceville Records Date Of Release: 1 April 2016 This album has proved to be one of the most difficult to write during 2016 so far. And the reason for this is the simple fact that this album has had me torn in two for such a long time. However, […]

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