Album Review – Shades of Plato’s “Malware” – When Plato Met Jethro Tull

a0998253074_10Shades of Plato, Malware, March 28, 2022
Tracks: Malware (3:57), Death Of Me (4:23), All Women To Me (3:11), Oliver Reed (3:44), Clickbait (3:59), Time Is Not Your Friend (3:49), Ecdysis (3:57), Une Place Au Soleil (5:14), A Little Learning (3:53), She’s Always Hitting On Me (4:41), No Friend To Me (3:35), The Dead Don’t Dance (3:38), Mr. Von Hugo (3:22), People Suck (6:14), Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Shadows (4:54)

Three years in the making and five years after their debut album, UK band Shades of Plato’s sophomore album Malware blends musical and lyrical influences into a compelling and hard-hitting rock album. The result sounds a bit like Jethro Tull minus the folk influence. Sprinkle in a bit of Canterbury scene influence (hey, the album was recorded in Kent) and straight up hard-rock, and you have a pretty good idea of their overall sound. Frank Zappa’s eclecticism also seems to be a pretty strong influence.

The four band members play behind pseudonyms: Ol’ Dirty Flute on vocals and flute, Captain Black on bass and keyboards, Jack Sorrow on guitars and keyboards, and Pandora on drums. Ol’ Dirty Flute’s voice is very reminiscent of Ian Anderson, albeit without the range Anderson had in his prime. His flute make the Tull influence unmistakable, yet it manages to still not sound pastoral at all.

The music itself leans perhaps more classic rock than prog as we might think of it today. The tracks are on the shorter side, and they tend to show off varying influences while still maintaining a cohesive sound across the record. The bass on the title track has a heavy Tool sound, while the opening rhythm of “Death Of Me” reminds me a lot of early Black Sabbath, a sound maintained in the song by a distinct guitar crunch.

The songs contain memorable hooks and melodies, which help serve the quite exceptional lyrics. The band even shows some quirkiness with a track like “Mr. Von Hugo,” which has a catchy repetitive chorus. The vocals on the album could be a bit stronger, as the limited range does seem cause the vocals to fade back into the mix a little bit. Having the lyric sheet included with the digipack CD is a help.

The lyrics really stand out on this record. As the band’s name might suggest, Plato is a big influence here, with his ideas spread throughout the record. The philosophic bend to the lyrics reminds me of Neil Peart’s lyrics at times, especially in the middle period of Rush’s career. Shades of Plato also have a strong grasp on contemporary culture, and as such there are some great critiques of modern ills. “Clickbait” brings up the negative aspects of the internet, such as the ability of it to radicalize people or turn them into virulent “activists” in ways they might not be in real life.

You can be an activist
It takes one finger to enlist
Virtue-signalling your friends
With whatever twitter trends
Share the same ideology
Hash tag haters by decree
Then selfie surfeit Instagram
Like a good Kardashian

“Clickbait”

“Time Is Not Your Friend” is a good reminder that life is fleeting. Things you wanted to tell your loved ones but didn’t should be said when you get the chance. No matter how far away we think the end is, it is indeed there waiting for us, and that should cause us to act.

Counting on your demise
As a far distant event
Well think again, it sits in wait
At every hour you are sent
Time is not your friend
And you’re always close to the end
And you can’t go round again

“Time Is Not Your Friend”

“A Little Learning” is fantastic. Every big-name musician or any actor who decides to use their platform to push beliefs which have nothing to do with how they make their living really should take this song to heart.

I’d put a sock in what you’ve said so far
You ain’t changing shit with your guitar
Keep your polemics to yourself
Your audience, they don’t share your wealth

Don’t proselytize on my timeline
Your diatribes don’t define
My anarchy, it’s not okay
Keep your own counsel, is what I saw

A little learning is a dangerous thing
I’m going to duck you in the Pyrian spring…

“A Little Learning”

Shades of Plato save the best for last: the final track, “Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Shadows,” takes its influence from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. For those unfamiliar with said allegory, the short version is everyone is living in the darkness of a cave where their reality is limited to shadows cast by a candle. Someone escapes from the cave and discovers the brightness of reality in the outside world. That person (the philosopher) returns to the cave to bring everyone else out into reality, but they refuse to leave their world of shadows. Shades of Plato similarly call the listeners not to “let your dreams be shadows,” choosing instead to “run free through orchid meadows / Unhindered by the hedgerows.” Experience life as it really is, not as the internet projects it to be (see “Clickbait”).

And I’ll be waiting for you
Here on the outside
When light comes streaming through
I’ll be your guide
Until you’re accustomed to
The cosmos in your eyes
And our ascent to the firmament
Is assured; undying; heaven-sent.

“Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Shadows”

Earlier I said this album had more of a classic rock edge, but this is no mere straightforward hard-rock album. The lyrics move far beyond that, and combined with the subtle keyboard washes and the recurring flute, this album begins to take on a progressive edge. While not necessarily a concept album, there are lyrical themes that pop up across the album that connect with each other in subtle ways, some of which I have touched on in this review. The album is worth digging into for the lyrics alone, but you’ll also find the music very rewarding.

The album is available at Bandcamp for download or a CD – both priced at £5.

https://www.facebook.com/shadesofplato/
https://shadesofplato1.bandcamp.com/album/m-a-l-w-a-r-e

Jethro Tull Release Song From Upcoming Album

Jethro Tull have released a new song, “Sad City Sisters,” off their upcoming album, The Zealot Gene, which is set to be released on January 28, 2022. Ok, I have a little trouble calling Ian Anderson’s band Jethro Tull without Martin Barre contributing, but that’s what Anderson is going with now. I have nothing against Joe Parrish-James or Florian Opahle, who play guitar on the album. In fact I think Opahle is a fantastic guitarist (I’ve hot heard Parrish-James’ work). I’ve seen Opahle live twice with Ian Anderson’s band on the Thick As A Brick tour in 2012/13, and he was great. But I see this as an Ian Anderson solo album, not Jethro Tull.

With that said, I quite like this little ditty. It has a bit of the folkish aspects of late 70s Tull, and Ian Anderson’s vocals sound way better than I was expecting. Like way way way better. Obviously he’s singing in lower key, but still. The song also prominently features longtime keyboardist John O’Hara’s accordion, which has become a bit of a staple in the live shows and on Anderson’s solo albums. Longtime drummer Scott Hammond and bassist David Goodier join on the album as well. Any way you slice it, this is Jethro Tull’s first official album since 2003’s The Jethro Tull Christmas Album.

More info via Louder (Prog Magazine): https://www.loudersound.com/news/jethro-tull-premiere-brand-new-video-for-sad-city-sisters

Jethro Tull – Sad City Sisters – YouTube

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Eight): Jan Dukes de Grey

Combine the following ingredients in a vintage mixing bowl: the Gothic atmosphere of Van der Graaf Generator, the versatility and dexterity of the members of Gentle Giant, the guitar of Jimi Hendrix, the flute of Peter Gabriel, and include dash of Jethro Tull for taste. The result? Perhaps the most polished of obscure gems I have reviewed thus far. Jan Dukes de Grey’s Mice and Rats in the Loft is a psychedelic, folk-inspired acid trip that will leave the listener both mildly disturbed (listen closely to the lyrics) and suitably impressed.

After Sorcerer‘s (their debut album) cool reception from both fans and critics, British duo Jan Dukes de Grey (multi-instrumentalists Derek Noy and Michael Bairstow) brought on drummer Denis Conlan to give their follow up effort some “umph.” Although Mice and Rats in the Loft received little attention upon its initial release, it has since acquired a dedicated cult following; the album is now an in-demand collector’s item. Like many prog albums of yore, Mice and Rats in the Loft includes only three songs, but they are heavy hitters:

The opening number, “Sun Symphonica,” begins like a Jethro Tull song: your ears are greeted by the lovely, pastoral sound of a lilting flute. But soon the madness begins: Conlan pounds the drums, and Bairstow and Noy sound like two madmen enjoying themselves through music. The latter two gentlemen display their talents on just about everything: keys, guitar, flute, sax, clarinet, etc. Noy’s theatrical vocals combine with some rather ominous lyrics to weave a tale that is sure to leave you rattled by the end.

“Call of the Wild” skips the pleasant opening notes of the first song and gets straight to the madness. Noy’s work on twelve-string guitar on this album is superb – comparable to Hackett or Howe, in fact – and he shreds (yes, shreds) on this song. There are several moments – one about eight minutes in, another at the end of the piece – where Noy’s distorted guitar transports the listener into a Gothic-folk setting. This song is downright Lovecraftian in atmosphere.

The title track leaves the listener feeling no less worried about his mental or emotional state: we are greeted with the sound of a wailing siren before Noy’s electric guitar (sounding like Hendrix here) is unleashed on our ears. Like the previous two songs, the lyrics are meant to unsettle (“The blood trickled down between his…fingers”). It’s not long before we begin to wonder what exactly those mice and rats are doing upstairs….

This album is a marvelous maelstrom – a chilling cacophony – a sinister symphony – of sound. The (slightly) twisted minds of Bairstow, Noy, and Conlan offer the best elements of prog: fantastical lyrics, theatrical vocals, unbelievable versatility, and an overall unsettling atmosphere that will satisfy even the most persnickety of proggers. Do yourself a favor and give this one a listen.

Reflecting Tull: Reflection Club’s “Still Thick As A Brick”

Reflection Club - Still Thick As A BrickReflection Club, Still Thick As A Brick, March 3, 2021
Tracks: Prelude (2:00), Time Out (4:03), Years on the Fast Track (3:31), Rellington Town (6:17), The Club of Hopeful Pinions (3:47), The Foray of the Sharks (5:45), Sentimental Depreciation (5:19), Nervesoothers (3:09), The Great Dance around the Golden Calf (3:36), Bedlam (5:48), Look Across the Sea (4:24)

Berlin-based progressive rock project Reflection Club have mastered the spirit and sound of the classic era of Jethro Tull. A frequent critique from some people regarding the current wave of progressive rock is that it often sounds like it’s copying the sounds of the 70s – particularly Genesis and Yes. Reflection Club avoid that critique by making it abundantly clear where they get their influence. They aren’t pretending to make their own unique sounds, but they place themselves out on a ledge by blatantly “reflecting” Jethro Tull, because in doing so they have to live up to the hype they’re creating. Thankfully, they do. 

Reflection Club is primarily the creation of German multi-instrumentalist Lutz Meinert together with German guitarist Nils Conrad, American flautist Ulla Harmuth, and English vocalist Paul Forrest. Not surprisingly, Forrest sings in a tribute band called Jethro Tull Experience. He expertly matches the tone and style of Ian Anderson’s voice circa 1972. Lyrics are written by one George Boston… Ok they’re really written by Meinert.

In the style of the original Thick As A Brick, the group created a beautiful hardcover booklet in a magazine style satirizing music magazines, album and concert reviews, and interviews. It’s really quite hilarious if you take the time to read it. The booklet comes with a CD and a DVD, which has the album on a 5.1 mix or a high quality stereo uncompressed stereo mix. The DVD has a slideshow to go along with the album, helping tell the story. The album is also available on vinyl. 

While this music certainly sounds like Jethro Tull, it in no way sounds like a copy of Thick As A Brick. It is a concept album like the original, and the lyrics are written in Anderson’s style. The album is split into 11 tracks, but it’s really one long song with seamless transitions between tracks. The lyrics deal with many of the issues we deal with in our complex modern world. Thankfully there’s no mention of the pandemic.

Continue reading “Reflecting Tull: Reflection Club’s “Still Thick As A Brick””

Have a Very Merry Prog Christmas

I’d like to strike the next person who says “Christmas this year will look a bit different.” Well it doesn’t have to sound different. If you find yourself alone this Christmas Eve/Christmas (like me), there’s plenty of Christmas-related prog to keep you entertained.

Devin Townsend’s Christmas livestream
A couple hours ago Devin Townsend released a Christmas-themed live stream. If you’ve ever wanted to see the mad genius imitate a crooner, you’re in luck. Mostly he plays his own music spanning his career, and his whole demeanor is incredibly calming. It’s an acoustic set and a one-man show, so if you’re not as big a fan of the extreme side of his career, then this is the show for you. Ok it’s Devin so there are a few screams, which are almost comical considering he’s playing an acoustic guitar. The acoustic version of Strapping Young Lad’s “Love” is pure gold in that regard. The man has a golden voice no matter how he’s using it.

Dream Theater’s “The Holiday Spirit Carries On”
The mighty Dream Theater released a Christmas medley track a couple weeks ago to raise money for their live crew. It’s $2.99, and all the proceeds go to their crew. If you’ve ever wanted to hear James LaBrie sing “Fa-la-la-la-la la la-la la, then you had better buy the track soon because it’s only available during the month of December: https://dreamtheaterofficial.bandcamp.com. Here’s a brief sample:

Neal Morse’s “Last Minute Christmas Album”
Neal Morse decided to write a Christmas album over the last couple weeks, and it is available for download over at his label, Radiant Records. It’s his singer-songwriter side of things rather than his prog side, but it’s still Neal Morse. https://www.nealmorse.com/2020/12/19/download-now-neal-morse-last-minute-christmas-album/

Big Big Train’s “Merry Christmas” and “Snowfalls”
Big Big Train released the single “Merry Christmas” along with the even-better B-side “Snowfalls” back in 2017. They’ve become two of my favorite tracks of the season, and I would love to hear a whole album of original Christmas music from them, along with their take on some classic Christmas carols.

Jethro Tull’s Christmas Album
“The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” has been a favorite of mine for several years now. I listen to it every Christmas season.

LEAH’s “Ancient Winter”
It’s been a while since we’ve heaped praises upon the head of Canadian Leah McHenry. Last year she released “Ancient Winter,” a wonderful album celebrating the winter season. This album leans more into her Celtic influences than her metal influences, which fits the season. Definitely worth a listen or two.

There’s other Christmas prog out there, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. May you have a blessed holiday in spite of everything going on in the world. Christmas is a time when we remember that God humbled Himself to be born as one of us so that He could live like us before sacrificing His very life so that we might live forever if we follow Him. His burden is light when compared to the weight of our sin, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we’d all be better off bearing that burden than the weight of the world. There’s always hope in the world, no matter what’s going on. This music is just a little glimpse of the goodness available to us even in the darkest moments.

Merry Christmas.

The Big 2019 Fall Prog (Plus) Preview!

What new music, live albums, reissues (regular, deluxe or super-deluxe) and tours are heading our way between now and All Hallows Eve?  Check out the exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with other personal priorities — below.  Click on the titles for pre-order links — whenever possible, you’ll wind up at the online store that gets as much money as possible directly to the musicians.

 

 

  • August:
    • Dave Kerzner, Static Live Extended Edition: recorded at the 2017 Progstock festival.  Kerzner’s complete Static album in concert, plus selected live highlights & new studio tracks.  Pre-orders ship in late August.
  • August 30:
    • Sons of Apollo, Live with the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony: recorded at Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s Roman amphitheatre (the site of previous live efforts from Anathema and Devin Townsend).  Available in Blu-Ray, 3 CD + Blu-Ray, and 3 CD + DVD + Blu Ray versions.
    • Tool, Fear Inoculum: Tool’s first album in 13 years.  Available via digital download, as well as “a deluxe, limited-edition CD version (which) features a 4” HD rechargeable screen with exclusive video footage, charging cable, 2 watt speaker, a 36-page booklet and a digital download card.”  Really. 

Continue reading “The Big 2019 Fall Prog (Plus) Preview!”

Rick’s Reissue Roundup: Attack of the Spring Box Sets!

Shed a tear for the hardcore prog collector — actually, don’t.  This week has been absolutely crammed with articulate announcements looking to part fans from their hard-earned cash or pull them deeper into debt.  And no, I’m not talking about the upcoming Derek Smalls solo album.  Check out what’s coming our way as winter (hopefully) gives way to the spring of 2018:

Continue reading “Rick’s Reissue Roundup: Attack of the Spring Box Sets!”

Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report

by Rick Krueger

As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set.  From the merch stand (where Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter was kind enough to make change for me as I bought CDs), their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more.  Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt!  (Props to Progtoberfest’s Facebook group admin Kris McCoy for the picture below.)

Kinetic Element

The second high point of the festival for me followed, as fellow Detroiters Discipline held the Rock Club spellbound with their baleful, epic-length psychodramas. Matthew Parmenter reeled in the crowd with his declamatory vocals and emotional range; from there, the quartet’s mesmerizing instrumental interplay kept them riveted. The well-earned standing ovation at the end felt oddly cathartic, as if the audience was waking from a clinging nightmare, blinking at the newly-rediscovered daylight — even while rain clouds and colder temperatures rolled in outside.

IMG_4264

Continue reading “Progtoberfest: Day 3 Report”

Rick’s Retroarchy: Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull

By Richard Krueger

IMG_3263
The Hand.

Retrenching after the thwarted theatrical ambitions of A Passion Play, War Child and Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die, Ian Anderson moved from London to Buckinghamshire in 1976.  The Jethro Tull album that followed Anderson’s country retreat, Songs from the Wood, showcased a fruitful new path for both the writer and the band.

With Anderson’s withering cynicism relaxing (ever so slightly) into amused, skeptical acceptance of human folly, David Palmer’s energetic keyboard counterpoint refreshing the group’s core sound, and a focus on traditional British folklore and festivity (courtesy of PR guy/manager Jo Lustig and Anderson’s production work with Steeleye Span), the surprising results included increased record sales, higher chart positions, and expanded tour dates, especially in America.  Parlophone’s latest reissue box, released for the 40th anniversary of Songs from the Wood, ably showcases this incarnation of Tull’s appeal.

Continue reading “Rick’s Retroarchy: Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull”

Let me bring you strings from the crypt

JT1

Jethro Tull: The String Quartets

 

No stranger to classical arrangements and the fuller sound that an orchestra or string quartet can bring to his music, former Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson and long term collaborator John O’Hara having seen the Carducci Quartet decided to get together with them and rearrange a selection of classic Tull songs for string quartet, with Ian Andersons instantly recognisable flute weaving through some of the tracks, and John O’Hara playing piano on a couple of them, Ian even adds his distinctive vocals to a few of the tracks as well.

JT2With the striking artwork this splendid addition to the canon is released on 24th March.

Some of you out there might think that releasing an album of old material slightly rearranged is a holding exercise (or a cynical exploitation exercise), after all Ian’s last album Homo Erraticus was released in 2014, and whilst he’s taken his Ian Anderson/ Jethro Tull live show on the road, there’s been no new material since then.

Continue reading “Let me bring you strings from the crypt”