Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).
Yesterday, I posted an editorial about 2018 being a moment of prog “selah”–as we all take a collective breath. If anything, 2018 thus far has been defined not by its studio albums, but by its live albums. I listed three: Glass Hammer’s Mostly Live in Italy; Marillion’s All One Tonight, and Big Big Train’s Merchants of Light. Very stupidly–and quite by oversight–I forgot to mention a critical fourth live release, Ayreon Universe.
Here’s my review of Ayreon Universe: https://progarchy.com/2018/07/01/ayreon-opera-prog-totally-and-utterly-over-the-top/
With all of my apologies, Arjen! As I noted in the previous review, you are THE MASTER!
Ayreon Universe: The Best of Ayreon Live (Mascot, 2018). In various forms-including CD, DVD, and/or Blu-Ray. Whichever version you purchase, you’ll get 30 tracks.
The stage is massive. The number of musicians is massive. The visuals are massive. The sound is massive. Some might even state—without exaggeration—that this whole thing is over the top. But, then, what do you expect? It’s part opera, which is always over the top. It’s part prog, which is always over the top. How could prog opera not be doubly over the top?
Then, of course, it’s all written by Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who is always over the top. Now, it must be at least triply over the top, right?
No, you’d be wrong.
A great DJ is just a step below a great producer and sound engineer.
From time to time, I’ve considered joining a streaming service permanently. I’ve toyed around with Spotify, Pandora, and iTUNES.
I just can’t understand the attraction.
There was a time in my life, I really loved radio. From the years between late grade school and the end of high school (class of 1986), I listened faithfully to Wichita’s KICT-95. The station introduced me–rather gloriously–to album rock radio, back when radio actually played entire sides of albums. I got to know the DJs, the music, and their various programs. I knew when to expect a full album side, and when to expect the latest news in the rock world. I knew when T-95 broadcast concerts, and I knew when the radio station sponsored bands to play live in Wichita. It was a golden age of rock. I was always far more taken with prog than I was with acid or hard rock, but T-95 presented all as a rather cohesive whole, thanks to the quality of the DJs.
But, streaming? I just don’t get it. It’s bland. It’s tapioca. There’s no personality, no matter how great the music is.
As much as I love all things Arjen Lucassen, nothing of his has hit me quite as hard as Universal Migrator Part I. I’m sure it has to do with the fact, in large part, that Ayreon takes the overall story of the blind minstrel from Arthur’s court from high fantasy to high science fiction with this album. It serves as a wonderful transitional album, essentially moving Lucassen as well as us from Ayreon 1.0 to Ayreon 2.0.
(For what it’s worth, I think we’re living in Ayreon 4.0, but that’s a post for a different time.)
This, today, from the master of prog opera, Arjen Lucassen.
I also want to take this moment (and opportunity) to thank as publicly as possible, Jon Bleicher of the U.S. office of Mascot, for being so gracious and generous.
|Dear Ayreonauts and other prog-loving people,
It’s finally here! 6 months after Ayreon Universe was performed in the 013 venue in Tilburg, the Netherlands, the show is available on CD, vinyl, bluray, DVD and digital (more on that later).
ITEMS AND FEATURES
The DVD and blu-ray will have an extensive making of documentary, including interviews with the entire cast, and highlights from the try-out show performed a few weeks earlier.
The triple vinyl is currently out of stock in our European store, so get out the door and pick it up at your local record store instead. A repress has been scheduled, but it could take some time before we have it back in stock.
SIGNED BY ARJEN
All the best,
Here we are again, folks. We find ourselves at the end of another great year for prog. Sadly, we’ve had to say goodbye to some amazing artists this year, including John Wetton, but we at least have their music by which to remember them.
I know I’ve been a bit quiet here at Progarchy lately due to beginning graduate school this fall. Hopefully things settle down going forward, and I’ll be able to contribute more. For now, here are my favorite albums from 2017 in vaguely ascending order.
As you all happily know, Timelord has announced his top albums of 2017 already. When he did, I was a bit surprised. Wait, is it that time of year already? What about albums that come out in December? The more I thought about it, the more I thought Timelord was absolutely right to announce his top picks. Not much is going to happen this month, and, even if something does come out, it will be hard to measure against what already exists. Should something come out and shake up my list, I will, of course, be happy. For any thing that could possibly shake up this list would have to be really, really good.
And, as you also happily know, Tad Wert took a unique perspective on his top picks, focusing on the live releases of the year rather than on the studio releases. Bravo!
Unlike 2012-2016, this is the first year that I found actually easy when ranking. That is, picking and ranking has been relatively easy. As some of the other progarchists have said over the past half decade, so much prog had come out in any previous years that it felt like “taking a sip from the fire hose.”
This year, 2017, just feels different. The quality definitely outdid the quantity.
Before starting rankings, though, I would be dead wrong not to mention two critical things.
First, God bless, Jerry Ewing, and his glorious PROG magazine. For a time there, we all thought the ship was gone, our captain lost at sea in a corporate hurricane of insanity and avarice. Then, Ewing emerged—and stronger than ever. Congratulations, Jerry. Long may you lead our little platoon of prog-loving weirdos.
Second, may God bless, Tim Hall (Kaylr). I never actually met Tim, but I really appreciated his views on everything. He was always intelligent and prudent, and our loss is heaven’s gain. Tim, if you can, please say hello to Hendrix, Morrison, Emerson, Lake, Squire, and all of the other greats of the last half century. And, say hi to my dad, my grandparents, and my daughter, Cecilia Rose, as well. Someday, brother, someday. . .
On to the show!
Let me just state from the outset that I love that Chris had the gumption to post his favorites albums of the year already. We’re not even in December, Chris! Love it.
So, just as an experiment, I checked my player’s settings and calculated the albums I listened to the most. While I can’t claim this to be a fair statement of what I think the best of the year was–after all, some albums, such as Glass Hammer’s UNTOLD TALES. It’s only had a month to compete against some albums that have had 11 months. Still, it’s a marker.
Additionally, because my player calculates the number of plays for the year total, it registers all albums in my collections, not just those that came out in 2017. So, by the number, folks, by the numbers—the ten most played albums in the Birzer house for the last 11 months.
No. 10 most played of 2017:
It took almost seven years for Israel’s proggers Soul Enema to come up with a follow-up to their 2010’s debut album “Thin Ice Crawling,” but as it turns out, “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns” was worth a wait. On the new album, the quintet has collaborated with a number of musicians, including a guest appearance by Ayreon’s Arjen Lucassen and ex-Orphaned Land’s Yossi Sassi.
Keyboardist and composer Constantin Glantz told us about the creative process behind the new record, and more.
Hey folks. How are you doing?
Thanks, it’s damn hot outside, but everything else is quite well otherwise. The new album came out June 23 and now the video for “Spymania” is out – that one was a hell of a fun to make. Interesting period, definitely!
You are just launched your second album titled “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns.” How do you feel about the release?
I feel that we accomplished what we planned here, and it’s going great so far! Very positive feedbacks, the amount of people that are really moved and touched by it – it’s just really surprising. People typically get to hear our album by chance, and then we receive some comments like – “How come you’re not more famous with this music!?” I don’t know. Seriously, we are top secret, and you are reading strictly classified information here.
How much of a challenge was to work on the album?
I think everything was a challenge, because that was one of our aims. We didn’t really do “the next studio album“, we just tried to make as great and special a record as possible, and then some. I don’t know if we succeeded, but I’m not sorry – I think this stuff deserved such attention and dedication.
What other artists similar to your genre that are coming from Israel are you friends with?
We are friendly with many, and there are some new, that came in touch in the wake of the album release. That makes me think we might have done something right in the end. Maybe vodka really connecting people, but music may do it even better sometimes (laughs). In general, there’s a sort of mini explosion right now – many good Prog-related bands from Israel, some of them have quite a presence internationally, and it’s really a feature for such a small country. So, you’d better keep your eyes on the Israeli Prog scene, it has some goods to deliver, and nowadays it’s becoming more and more obvious. A touch of Middle Eastern specifics is also a distinct factor sometimes, but it’s not always raised on hummus – there’s pretty much everything here.
What is your opinion about the current progressive rock/metal scene?
I’m not a big expert, there’s really a huge amount of new coming bands and artists, and it’s hard to stay deeply in touch. In general, it’s nice to hear more originality, more gifted visionaries, and less of the “production line”. So once in a while when I recognize something of a kind, combined with great music writing – that may make me happier as a listener.
Can you tell me something about your influences?
As you can hear on the new record – it’s quite eclectic. As we jokingly put it – “from Abba to Zappa, from King Crimson to King Diamond”. Everything could be a potential influence. When I recorded some animal voices and Guinea pigs and my own kid, all of them were influences as well – they made the right kind of sounds for a particular occasion, so they ended up being on the album. I must admit that Guinea pigs received no credit in the end, so I’m giving them a tiny moment of fame here – cheers, homies! Life is the biggest possible influence; you just have to configure your antennas to catch those signals and translate them into something creative.
What are you listening to these days?
Well, last days it was some ethnic breakbit album, for some reason. Ah, here’s the reason: it was really well-done. The singing, the arrangements – they just made this electronic thing come alive on their own terms. Hardly a surprise, but I listened to some old time favorite along the way as well: “Pawn Hearts” album by VDGG – this one never falls short of brilliance for me. What else here… Split Enz, the early albums – such a unique band.
Your 5 favourite records of all time?
Impossible to limit it to just five. So, i will focus on some of my Prog-related favorites, besides the one already mentioned in the previous answer:
Cardiacs – “A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window” – 1988 (ABC reissue, 1995). Some say that Prog was nearly dead in the 80’es, except a bit of Neo and a bit of RIO. I wouldn’t take it for granted. This one is beyond any clear boundaries and definitions, and Tim is a certified genius. One of my all time favorites.
Voivod – “The Outer Limits” – 1993. If I still need one single Prog Metal album to pick – this is it. Always mindblowing. For some reason there’s no 5000 clones of this band and this particular album, and I’m fine with that, actually.
Genesis – “Selling England by the Pound” – 1973. No surprises here, contains a few of the greatest tracks ever recorded in history of rock music. No, not “More Fool Me”. Yes, those ones you think of first.
Pink Floyd – “Animals” – 1977. There’s an opinion that Prog was finished by ‘77 and replaced by Punk. Haha, not in PF world at least – this is their proggiest record yet, but it has a grain of punkish anger and sarcasm as well. This is their peak for me. No single note or sound is out of place, nothing is non essential. Zero compromise with wider public tastes, despite hitting the real rock stardom level with a large stadium tours and other attributes.
Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys – “Smile/The Smile Sessions” – 1967/2004/2011. What can I say here? It should have been the most revolutionary record of the 60’es. It’s unbelievable what Brian was very close to achieve here with those limited studio technologies and his wild fantasy.
I left outside at least a similar amount of albums that deserve top places as much as those.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the gear you used to record “Of Clans and Clones and Clowns”?
I can talk about my side, as far as keyboards go. Since I prefer the period between mid- 60’s and the early 80’s, predominantly some analog types of keyboard gear, I used anything that can convincingly replicate the authentic qualities of those instruments, without sticking too much to the retro approach. It’s mostly different VST software with some appropriate editing. Besides typical rock band instrumentation, we used violin, flutes and more exotic stuff like sitar and samisen. Sometimes not in a very strict way; for example Michael recorded those sitar licks and then I processed them in a few spots, reversing it to make the atmospheric drone that you hear on “The Age of Cosmic Baboon”. Yossi Sassi (ex-Orphaned Land, Yossi Sassi Band) used his signature bouzoukitara – a two headed beast of bouzouki and guitar on the track “Aral Sea II”. Then the mix was done by renowned sound engineer Jens Bogren in Fascination Street Studios. The analog gear that he used was particularly instrumental in keeping our sounds as authentic as possible. I think we managed to retain the general warmness while getting that big sound.
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
We will put the new video soon, and it will be beautiful, I think I can admit to that. That’s all I can tell so far, keep following.
Any words for the potential new fans?
If you are still reading to the very end, you are hopefully ready to let the music do the talking. We have done a very complex and time consuming job here in order to take it to another level, so we hope your journey with this album will be really addictive and long lasting!