LEAH Working on Next Album

Got this email in my inbox this morning:

Well, hello, hello! I hope all is well in your neck of the woods 🙂

I wanted to give a quick update on all things music, including a surprise coming up!
OK, it might not be that quick, but I promise it’ll be good!

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NEW ALBUM:

It’s very funny…  I started out last year, thinking I was going to write a non-metal album. The idea was to keep it in the Celtic and Fantasy vein, similar to some of my non-metal tracks I’ve already put out. That was my intention.
Let’s just say I’ve strayed from that idea quite a bit!

You might know I’ve been working with producer Oliver Philipps (Phantasma, Everon, and he does a lot of work with Delain, and many, many bands).
The cool part about working with him is he’s really encouraged me to just let the music come out however it needs to, and to not try and force it into a certain box. This has been very good for me.
And you know what came out?

A lot of metal! 😆

I guess you can take the girl out of metal, but you can’t take metal out of the girl.

Well, I’m looking at the 8 songs we have completed pre-production for, and so far there’s a really nice balance of more ambient, mellow or mid-tempo tracks, and higher-energy metal songs.

Also, I didn’t mean to, but a lot of my little prog tendencies have come forth from the depths of Leah-land, haha!

Oliver is just now finishing the orchestration for what, at the moment, is an 11-minute beast of a track! And the interesting part is, neither he or I ever get bored of this song. He told me — “It’s the good side of prog without the evil” (or annoying parts)! 😉

My goal is to have 10 tracks for this album and keep it shorter (though I’m not helping the situation with 11-minute tracks!), so I have a couple more songs to go. I have at least two that are contenders, which I need to finish writing, so that is my objective in the coming week.
Continue reading “LEAH Working on Next Album”

Bryan’s Best of 2015

2015 turned out to be another fantastic year for prog, as well as metal. Last year, I made a top 10 list, but this year, there has been far too much great music in prog, metal, and rock to narrow it down to 10 albums. Apart from my top 4, there will be no particular order for the rest of my picks. Most of this will be prog, but there is some straight up metal here as well.

The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment

grandexperimentNeal Morse and company have made another outstanding album. “Alive Again” might be one of the top 10 best long progressive songs ever made. It is remarkably beautiful. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is exceptional, as always, and, like last year, this isn’t the last we shall hear of him on this list.

 

 

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

cd_top1The Oblivion Particle is my first introduction to Spock’s Beard, and I am heartily impressed. Ted Leonard’s vocals really round out the band. “Bennett Built a Time Machine” is my personal favorite from the record.

 

 

Stryper – Fallen

stryperfallenart1-602x536I’m brand new to Stryper, and after listening to their last two albums, I’m flabbergasted. Their new music is better than their original stuff from the 80s. The drummer has grown incredibly, and Michael Sweet’s vocals soar to the heavens. The best thing – Stryper hasn’t given up on their values. They blast metal to honor God.

 

Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

71R0HHLaiqL._SY355_I was pleasantly surprised by this album. The music has just the right amount of complexity, with a few pop hooks here and there for good measure. The song “Lonely Robot” should be a radio staple, but rock radio sucks.

 

 

LEAH – Kings and Queens

a1021213633_16The reigning queen of prog metal released a masterpiece this year. A long masterpiece. Her combination of metal with celtic influences works amazingly well. She creates a wonderful sound that no one else really tries to duplicate. Originality abounds.

 

 

Dave Kerzner – New World (Deluxe Edition)

david-kerzner-new-world-deluxeThe deluxe edition came out this year, so it counts as 2015. Plus, I overlooked the album last year since it came out in December, and for that I sincerely apologize to Dave. This album brilliantly revives classic elements of Pink Floyd, and Kerzner’s voice is eerily reminiscent of David Gilmour’s. This is an album meant to last.

 

 

The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak

81SPiEsz2HL._SX425_Wow! AC/DC meets Mike Portnoy! Richie Kotzen’s voice has grown on me, as has the “Dog’s” music. From the virtuosity of the first track, “Oblivion,” to the hard rock bombast of “Captain Love,” Hot Streak is a fantastic album. Billy Sheehan’s bass balances Portnoy’s drums and Kotzen’s guitars beautifully. The quiet piece, “Fire,” is a nice change up, as well.

 

Next to None – A Light in the Dark

3655066_origI saw these guys live in concert with Haken this spring, and I was impressed. For teenagers, these guys have serious chops. Max Portnoy stands out though, as he has clearly inherited his father’s raw talent. Check out my review of the album and interview with Max – https://progarchy.com/2015/07/20/metal-mondays-interview-with-max-portnoy-of-next-to-none/

 

Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance

safe_image.phpYou could call this a supergroup for thrash, although it seems anything with Mike Portnoy in it could be called a supergroup. His double bass thrash drumming is a nice change for him. The abundant guest performances from bands such as Testament, Anthrax, and many other groups really round out their sound. Normally I don’t like thrash because of the lyrics, but the lyrics here are great. The combination of guests makes this album one of the greatest thrash albums ever made.

Disturbed – Immortalized

81FC381L9HL._SY355_This isn’t prog in any sense of the word, but Disturbed’s first album since 2010 is a return to form for the band. They didn’t want to make an album again unless it was really good, and they delivered on that desire. Immortalized is one of the best album’s they have made, with only one song that I don’t like. Their cover of “The Sound of Silence” is better than the original, in my opinion.

 

Flying Colors: Live at the Z7

CD_FC-2ndNatureLIVE_digi-03-625x567The live Blu-ray is one of the best live shows I have seen. The music is played flawlessly, and the production for sound is excellent. It was filmed in 4K and you can choose from two sound choices – front row or sound board. Well played, FC, well played. Oh ya, more Mike Portnoy, too.

 

Rush – R40 Live 

1035x1511-R40.Tour.Cover7.FNL-copyThis needs no explanation. Long live Rush.

 

 

 

 

Steve Hackett – Wolflight

wolflightFrontCoverAnother great solo effort from one of the greatest guitarists ever. I have such a great respect for Steve Hackett and his dedication to his craft and the genre. Of all the 70s prog giants, Hackett is probably the best ally to the newer prog artists and musicians.

 

 

4. Muse – Drones

MUSE-DRONESAnother fantastic album from Muse, and a dystopic concept album at that. I’m convinced that Matt Bellamy has the best voice in the business, plus he’s a god on the guitar. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass is underrated, as well. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2015/08/11/back-to-basics-muses-drones/

 

3. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

A year ago, I couldn’t stand Steven Wilson. Now I’m a fan. Go figure. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is simply brilliant. The story telling is at an extremely high level, and this album, while rather depressing, is so addicting to listen to. Wilson is an incredibly important figure in progressive rock.

 

 

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld Path 2

81ADonu6jjL._SX355_Combined with part 1, these two albums are a masterpiece. I’m still deciphering what the story is about, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. These guys have been going strong for a long time, and they have only gotten better with age. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2015/11/18/vanden-plas-another-stroke-of-genius/

 

1. The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

tangent1Yeehaw, this is a great album! Holy crap, I don’t know how Andy Tillison does it! He is a master of cultural criticism, and while I don’t agree with him politically, I do respect him immensely. This album is well worth your time.

 

 


 

Like I said, a great year for rock of all kinds. As I promised, Mike Portnoy features prominently in my list, just like last year. He certainly deserves it since he is one of the hardest working men in the business. His “Hello Kitty” drum video for Loudwire was an instant classic.

Cultural RePercussions 2 (1)Best prog book of the year goes to Progarchy’s very own Brad Birzer for his excellent book on Neil Peart, a man of letters. Well worth your time.

Get it at Amazon here.

 

 

kansas_miraclesThe new Kansas documentary, Miracles out of Nowhere, is excellent. While it only goes through Point of Know Return, it is an excellent look at the band, from the band members themselves, as well as Brian May and Garth Brooks. It was great to see that the band members don’t hate each other. In fact, they genuinely seem to like each other. If at all possible, order it from the band because it comes with a bonus disc featuring the band reminiscing and a few other features – http://www.kansasmerch.toursync.com

Check out Carl Olson’s fantastic review of the documentary: https://progarchy.com/2015/08/19/miracles-and-music-out-of-kansas/

915g7JKrT-L._SX385_One final documentary/live concert that is worthy of any “best of” list is Roger Waters’ movie, The Wall. It combines a live concert from his recent tour with short scenes that examine the meaning of the album for him. The concert itself is outstanding – better than his 1990 The Wall concert in Berlin, performed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The music is basically indistinguishable from the album. A worthy look at one of the best and most important albums ever made.

 

Sorry if I have bored you with my list, but I am nothing if not thorough. I’m just amazed by the quality of music that has been released the last few years, and I eagerly look forward to what the coming year has in store. New Dream Theater coming in January. And who knows what Mike Portnoy will release. Such excitement. Merry Christmas everybody, and prog on into 2016.

Celtic Convictions: The Lovely Metal of Leah McHenry

Leah, KINGS AND QUEENS (Innerwound Recordings, 2015).

Track listing: Arcadia; Save the World; Angel Fell; Enter the Highlands; In the Palm of Your Hand; Alpha et Omega; Heart of Poison; Hourglass; Palace of Dreams; This Present Darkness; The Crown; Remnant; There is No Farewell; Siuil a Run

Birzer rating: 9.55/10 

Lovely Leah.
Lovely Leah.

***

Leah McHenry is a diamond, but not in the rough. Indeed, her talents are perfectly shaped and polished, ready to appear alone or in a company of other gems. Whatever the setting, though, Leah will be the brightest in the room.

I’m not sure I could honestly call this piece a review in any journalistic or Brian Watson-sense of the term “review.” I count Leah among my friends, however much distances across North America might separate us, and I’m proud to include anything she does as progarchist. At a personal level, she and I share the same views on political, religious, cultural, and familial matters, and I’m deeply honored to know her.

That admitted, I think I can also state with some objectivity (as much as beauty allows an objective statement to be made about it) that Leah possesses one of the three best voices in modern music. Only David Longdon of Big Big Train and Susie Bogdanowicz rival her for a top position among the best three. This is not to state I don’t have a fond affection for other singers. After all, I love Geddy Lee’s voice, but I would never claim—even under the pretense of objectivity or perhaps even under torture—that he wields a “pretty” voice. Leah, David (well, handsome), and Susie do.

After justly-famed progarchist and classical philosopher, Time Lord, introduced me to the music of Leah in 2012, I quickly fell under the pull of her siren song (though, quite holy and post-Homeric pagan).  Her first album, OF EARTH AND ANGELS, really introduced me to metal. I’d heard some prog metal, but Rush was generally as heavy as my musical tastes had developed. Admittedly, I’m still trying to figure metal out, but I loved what Leah was doing with the genre in 2012. There was simply so much life in every note and every lyric. So much life. Life teeming with life. Life everywhere. And, on that first album, she revealed a real knowledge of Celtic and Scandinavian folk tunes and medieval wisdom. Her opening song, “Prisoner,” though lyrically about something altogether different than my interpretation here, sounded like she could be a true warrior princess leading her troops into a battle for all that is good and sacred.

Shortly after hearing her first album, I came across her Christmas EP, LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENCE. While there’s a long tradition of great artists dipping into this holiday genre, it always remains a risky venture. When taken seriously, Christmas songs live up to the immense gravitas of the birth of what Christians consider the messiah. Writing about the Word made Flesh is no easy task, and it should never be done for light or transient (or commercial) reasons. Mediocre Christmas songs just sound ridiculous. Leah’s metal take on the birth of Jesus has all the drama necessary to honor Mary’s son.  Thus, though I have no divine authority, I assume that Leah will not be spending eternity with the unbelievably tacky Dan Schutte or Marty Haugen.

It was Leah’s second EP, OTHERWORLD, that convinced me of her nearly divine status as an artist. Imagine if her fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan hadn’t gone full-blown pop and more than a bit wacky after her brilliant first three albums. If you can imagine this, the path not taken by McLachlan, you have Leah and OTHERWORLD. As with everything Leah does, she sings and plays every single note with absolute attention to detail and, most importantly, with humbling conviction.

I’m still trying to understand the entire genre of metal (hence, the 9.55/10 rating), and Leah’s KINGS AND QUEENS is about as metal as I’ve ever heard. It’s far harder and more driving than anything she’s previously done. Much of it comes out of the huge sum of money she deservedly raised in a campaign leading up to the making of this second full-length album.

One could never accuse of Leah of lacking confidence, but KINGS AND QUEENS possesses even more confidence than the first several releases. She’s also fully embraced all things medieval, Celtic, and Scandinavian in this album. Indeed, KINGS AND QUEENS might very well serve as the soundtrack to the Viking invasion of Ireland. When Leah sings, the listener stands with Bran the Blessed, Arthur, and Leif Erikson. The listener also stands with Leah at the heart of a storm, though as an observer, not as a participant or victim. Indeed, the power of Leah’s voice and song writing is akin to some kind of classical force of nature, perhaps transcending all but the Fates.

As the title KINGS AND QUEENS suggests, Leah has entered fully upon a world of the past with her beautifully produced, dense, and textured music. The artist herself claims not to be a progger (not out of distaste, but, instead, as a patriot of pure, raw metal), but the album is very progressive. There’s a coherent, if not single, story going on throughout the album, and the themes of loyalty, betrayal, and duty leap out of every song.

I’ve listened to the entire thing through several times now. Each time I listen to it, I hear something new, and I think “I like this song best,” but it’s never the same track when I listen to the album the next time. Admittedly, if Leah sang the entirety of page 452 of the Oxford English Dictionary, I’d buy the cd and love it. Yes, she has that kind of voice.

And, as I’ve written before, and I’ll write again: given her tenacity, her talent, her voice, and her age, Leah McHenry is the future of rock. That she’s as beautiful and kind as she is talented doesn’t hurt, either.

Lovely Leah, Again

Leah, Metal Maid.
Leah, Metal Maid.

I finally received my copy of Leah’s extraordinary new album, KINGS AND QUEENS, along with a very nice t-shirt this past week.  It has taken me several listens to get what Leah is trying accomplish, and I’ll post a long and serious review sometime in the next week or two.  Her previous EP had simply punched right into the best of my soul, and I still listen to it weekly or so.  My entire family loves it.  It was a delicate and bardic affair.  KINGS AND QUEENS is something altogether different.  It’s much more metal, and no one would dare call it delicate.  As always, the three trademarks you’d expect from Leah are there: her outstanding voice (rivaled in the rock world only by David Longdon and Susie Bogdanowicz); her compositional confidence; and her sibylline lyrics.  It’s a Leah album, and, yet, it’s something quite special as well.

But, for now, I need to get ready for St. Augustine in one class and John Dickinson in another.

To order or visit Leah, go here.

Album Review: LEAH — Kings & Queens

LEAH-KAQ

Sonic Cathedral reviews LEAH — Kings & Queens:

Leah’s 2012 debut, Of Earth and Angels, came out of nowhere and blew me away with its catchy, epic music and beautiful, ethereal vocals. Naturally, I bought her follow-up EP,Otherworld, but didn’t like it as much, since it was much mellower (except for “Dreamland” with guest Eric Peterson).

Thus, I was very excited to learn that Leah’s next release would feature Delain guitarist Timo Somers. I figured Timo was exactly what Leah needed to find her heavier sound again, since he has contributed some of Delain’s best guitar work. As an added bonus, Timo produced and arranged the album and also recruited ex-Delain drummer Sander Zoer.

Does Leah’s new team deliver? Yes. Kings & Queens is epic, heavy, and beautiful. Timo contributes excellent riffs and solos; Sander provides driving rhythms along with bassist Barend Courbois (from Blind Guardian); and Leah sounds as delicate and ethereal as ever. Her voice is high, clear and perfect, much like Liv Kristine’s.

The music, voice, and lyrics evoke far-away lands and heroic stories. Leah has explained: “One theme in particular is the historical and metaphorical grip around our throats we feel from top-down agendas that threaten our freedoms. It seems to be a never-ending game of chess between those who demand power and those who would preserve freedom. It’s the theme of every good fantasy book and film, and the message rings true for even our modern world. In addition, the line-up and stellar musicianship of the guys who came on board this project heightened the sheer epicness and caliber of the music itself.”

Read on at the Sonic Cathedral link and discover the rationale behind their 8 out of 10 rating.