Four Months, Four Albums – 2021’s Best Thus Far

There has been a lot of music to wade through thus far in 2021. Most good. Some not so much, depending on who you ask. Despite the title of this post, I don’t think my four favorite albums of the year thus far represent each month, but who cares. Let’s go!

Atravan - The Grey LineAtravan – The Grey Line 

This album was the biggest surprise of the year, so far. Out of the blue back in January, Shayan Dinati of Iranian prog-metal band Atravan contacted us about a review of their album. I gave it a listen and immediately discovered this was worth spending a lot of time with. They dwell in the area of prog metal perfected by Riverside – atmospheric and brooding with thoughtful lyrics. Sure, they’ve got room for improvement to reach the heights of Riverside, but this is a great album in its own right. I was hooked right away, and I highly recommend the album. The Dutch Progressive Rock Page had similar praise for Atravan: https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2021-032 

Steve Hackett Under A Mediterranean SkySteve Hackett – Under A Mediterranean Sky

When I heard last year that Mr. Hackett was working on an acoustic album, I was very excited. I’ve really enjoyed his recent solo output. His last three rock albums are some of the best from his entire solo career. But I also really like his acoustic moments, and he doesn’t disappoint on Under A Mediterranean Sky. He takes us on a grand instrumental tour of the Mediterranean, something sorely needed in an age of travel restrictions. The combination of his stunning guitar work, Roger King’s masterfully arranged symphonic notes, and various world instrumentation make this a beautiful and contemplative album. It isn’t rock, but it’s gorgeous. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2021/02/02/steve-hackett-under-a-mediterranean-sky/

Nad Sylvan Spiritus Mundi album_coverNad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi 

Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album is a slight departure from his last three albums, but it’s just as good an album, if not better. Putting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music may not be a new idea, but Nad has done a wonderful job with it. The album has its rock moments, but it also has pastoral tones that haven’t been as prevalent in his work. His voice is top notch with a versatility that shows he is so much more than a Gabriel or Collins sound-alike. Check out Rick Krueger’s recent interview with Nad, and check out my review.

And now for my favorite album of the first four months of 2021…

Soen - IMPERIALSoen – Imperial

Swedish prog metal supergroup Soen can do no wrong, it seems. I first became cognitively aware of Soen a couple years ago through one of the editors at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page, who frequently sang their praises in reviews and best-of lists. I quickly became a fan of their last couple of albums, and I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across their new release back in January. I was listening to their 2019 album, Lotus, one Friday evening when I wondered if they had any new music coming out soon. It just so happened that they released Imperial that very day, so I dowloaded it and have been happily enjoying it ever since. It’s heavy when it needs to be, but it can recede to quieter moments when necessary.

Joel Ekelöf has one of the best voices in metal, and he really sets Soen apart. They have a heavy guitar crunch that’s more typical of mainstream metal and hard rock bands, but the music is distinctly progressive. Their melodies and lyrics are catchy yet intelligent. My only complaint with the album is that it isn’t longer. It’s 43 minutes, but I could easily listen to much more. Great stuff. 

https://soenmusic.com

Hopefully the rest of 2021 will be full of more excellent music! 

 

 

The Peaceful Beauty of Nad Sylvan’s “Spiritus Mundi”

album_coverNad Sylvan’s latest solo album, Spiritus Mundi, is one of the finest records released thus far in 2021, and I expect it to be one of the top albums of the year come December. Sylvan brought his vampirate trilogy to a close with 2019’s The Regal Bastard. Spiritus Mundi, which is Latin for “spirit of the world,” departs from the more classic prog sound on his previous three albums, but it hasn’t quite set sail for new genres. Rather it explores different musical territories, including classical, folk, acoustic, and rock, all befitting the beautiful poetry of William Butler Yeats which serve as the lyrics. The musical elements from his previous albums are all here, but they are interpreted in a different way. In an interview with Progarchy’s very own Rick Krueger, Nad expands upon the development of the record and his collaboration with Vermont-based musician Andrew Laitres, so I’ll direct you to that for more info about how the album came to be. 

As it should be, Nad’s voice is the centerpiece on the record. All of the musical elements serve to frame his voice and the lyrics, bringing the poems to life through varying sounds. The baroque elements found on Nad’s vampirate trilogy pop up now and again, such as on “Cap and Bells” and “The Realists,” which I think adds a flavor that is uniquely Sylvan. Laitres also provides some lead and backing vocals, which adds some variety.

Musically the album is more open and relaxed than Sylvan’s previous records. It doesn’t have the heavier rock moments that those albums had, but the lyrics don’t call for it. Nad plays most of the keyboards, as well as some of the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, and the orchestration. Jonas Reingold and Tony Levin also appear on bass, along with Steve Hackett on the 12 string. The Flower Kings’ Mirkko De Maio appears on drums. There are a few other guests too, but this should give you a sample of what to expect. It seems fitting that Nad, who’s become well-known for his work with Steve Hackett’s touring band, releases this sort of more acoustic and classically inspired record soon after Hackett released a beautiful acoustic album, Under a Mediterranean Sky

I’ll readily admit I’m frequently skeptical when an artist says they’re going in a new direction on their next album. While I didn’t have particular reservations about this album going into it, I was admittedly curious about what that different sound might be. I didn’t expect him to move into some sort of techno-pop trash like Steven Wilson, and thankfully he didn’t. Instead he leaned more heavily into the folk and classical elements that already existed in his music. At times the music is reminiscent of Big Big Train, and at other times I hear bits that remind me of Jethro Tull. The rock is still there though, with a fantastic bass line and slide guitar on “The Fisherman.”

Spiritus Mundi is a well-rounded album that offers a breath of fresh air in a very dark time in our world. Perhaps that is fitting since many of Yeats’ poems offered a similar freshness to the broken and hurting world of the early twentieth century. Nad Sylvan may have taken an unusual path to rock stardom in his 50s and early 60s, but that seems to have brought a maturity to the music he makes. This album is well-crafted, and it is both a fitting tribute to Yeats’ poetry and a wonderful introduction of that poetry to new audiences a century after it was written.

Sylvan is one of the most creative people working under the broad umbrella of progressive rock today. He seems to get better with each passing record. I only hope he gets the chance to tour his own music someday. Check out Spiritus Mundi along with his other solo albums. You won’t be disappointed. 

https://www.nadsylvan.com
https://www.facebook.com/Nadsylvanartist
https://twitter.com/sylvanofficial

Signed albums available from Nad’s webstore: https://www.nadsylvan.com/cd-shop
Or purchase from Burning Shed: https://burningshed.com/tag/Nad%20Sylvan&filter_category_id=261

Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview

Born in California and raised in Sweden, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nad Sylvan is a music lifer who formed his first band in 1968, toured for the first time in 1975 and signed his first record contract in 1983. With three eclectic solo albums already under his belt, Sylvan’s 2008 collaboration with keyboardist Bonamici Unifaun caught the prog community’s ear; it’s a stunningly fine pastiche that goes beyond superficial gestures to embody the musical soul of Genesis’ progressive period. One thing led to another from that point: Sylvan joining Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold in Agents of Mercy; his ongoing gig with Steve Hackett, providing a visually and vocally flamboyant focus for multiple Genesis Revisited tours since 2013; and the deliciously Baroque solo albums on Inside Out that constitute his Vampirate trilogy (2015’s Courting the Widow, 2017’s The Bride Said No and 2019’s The Regal Bastard).

Nad’s new effort Spiritus Mundi sees him joining forces with guitarist/songwriter Andrew Laitres to set poems by W. B. Yeats — including visionary classics such as “The Second Coming,” “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Stolen Child.” This is a fresh, winning album, focused on Laitres’ acoustic guitar, shimmering orchestral colors — and Sylvan’s voice, ably navigating the spry melodies, inhabiting Yeats’ weighty words with grace, power and panache.

Nad Sylvan spoke with us last in 2019; after seeing him in concert with Hackett three times, it was delightful for me to chat with him about Spiritus Mundi and related topics. Recovering from a long day of shipping out preorders (roughly five times the amount he anticipated), Nad was nonetheless thoughtful, charming, and engaged throughout. The audio of our conversation is below, with a transcript following.

So, let’s talk about the new album, about Spiritus Mundi.  How did you decide on a direction after you finished the Vampirate trilogy?

You got that one right!  Vampirate — good!  It’s my own invention; think of the vampire and the pirate combined into one character.

Well, to make a long story short, I was approached by Andrew Laitres, who I’ve done this record with.  About two and a half years ago.  And he asked me if I would be interested to track my voice for a song of his that was gonna go on one of his solo records.  And that was a song called “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which turned out to be a bonus track on The Regal Bastard, my previous album.

So I asked him, “could I use this for this album?”  ‘Cause I thought, it just went so well, it sounded so good, and I thought, “what a nice thing to use as a bonus track.”  And so he granted me permission to do that!

So after I’d finished the trilogy, I immediately came to “where am I gonna go now?  What should I do now?  I feel like doing something completely different.”  And then before you knew it, you had the pandemic as well come along.  And I thought, well, spiritus mundi means sort of “the spirit of the world,” if you like.  And that’s very much what we’re concerned about these days, more so than ever.  It’s also a quote from the first song, “The Second Coming.” Where he sings about spiritus mundi.  And it sounds so lovely, and it’s got some power behind those words.  And I thought “why not use that as a title?” 

And so I asked Andrew, “would you be keen to make a full album with these lyrics of Yeats?  Let’s write these songs together.”  I don’t have any prestigious thoughts about “I have to do everything.”  I’ve already proven that I can write, ‘cause I’ve done three albums already.  So he was enticed to go along with my idea, and then we started to work together – I would say it kicked off December of ’19.  So during the whole pandemic, as I returned home from the tour with Hackett about a year ago – I would say mid-March of 2020 — I’ve been completely absorbed by this work.  And it comes down to everything, even the artwork I’ve done for the album, so I could totally focus on this record, and I think it shows.  It just sounds and comes across as being a bit more mature this time.

Well, that was one of the things that struck me, that you’re using Yeats’ poems for lyrics, because that strikes me as an amazing challenge.  They’ve been set to music almost since the moment they were originally written.

Yeah, I know, but this was Andrew’s idea, you see.  I wasn’t even that familiar with Yeats’ poems; I’ve heard of him.  But once [Andrew] presented all his demos for me, I’d cherry pick: “Oh, this sounds nice.”  And we started to mold the songs together, like “maybe this bit should be restructured” or “maybe we should change these chords” or stuff like that.  It was very much a combined work effort.  So, yes, Yeats has been covered by The Waterboys, back in the late 80s, I believe.  But I didn’t even know that!  I just thought, “what lovely poems!  Let’s do it.”

Continue reading “Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview”

Bryan’s Best of 2019

Here we are at the end of another year. As you’re probably well aware, 2019 has been the latest in a string of great years for progressive rock and metal. Overall it didn’t blow me away like other years have (a few particular albums did however), but I think that’s more because of how my year has gone. I finished up grad school in the spring, and I spent the entire year job-searching before finally starting a new job at the beginning of this month. A couple of important people in my life died this year as well, so overall it has been a year full of challenges. My ability to properly soak in all the great music that has been released understandably suffered. But nevertheless, I found much to enjoy this year, and the following are some of my favorites. They are in no particular order except for my top three down at the bottom of this list.

Rise Twain – Rise Twain

The first album by Philadelphia-area duo Rise Twain is a stellar example of what popular music should be. Brett Kull and J. D. Beck are excellent songwriters and equally talented musicians. They combine the simplicity of a good song with the more technical aspects of prog. While it may be hard to call this a “prog” album, it certainly has many varied influences that make this a solid showing. Check out my review and interview with Brett Kull here: https://progarchy.com/2019/08/30/a-conversation-with-brett-kull-of-rise-twain/

Soen – Lotus

This is a magnificent album. Beautifully heavy, as any metal album should be, it retains an ability to move int0 peaceful contemplative spaces. When this album rocks, it rocks hard, and it keeps an upbeat tone that so many metal albums often lose. “Lotus” delivers musically, lyrically, and vocally. Check out Time Lord’s review here: https://progarchy.com/2019/01/09/album-preview-soen-lotus-soenmusic/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2019”

Steve Hackett Sells England By the Pound – Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI – 10/3/19

Steve Hackett, Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI, October 3, 2019
Band:
Steve Hackett, Nad Sylvan, Craig Blundell, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend, Roger King

Setlist:
Set 1
Every Day
Under the Eye of the Sun
Fallen Walls and Pedestals
Beasts in Our Time
The Virgin and the Gypsy
Tigermoth
Spectral Mornings
The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
Clocks – The Angel of Mons

Set 2
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Deja Vu
Dance on a Volcano

Encore
Los Endos

I had been looking forward to this concert ever since I bought tickets at the beginning of the year. I had never seen Steve Hackett live, but it had been at the top of my bucket list for a while. He’s my favorite guitarist, and I’ve loved all of the recent Genesis Revisited live albums. I consider Selling England By the Pound to be one of the finest albums ever made, so I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see Mr. Hackett and company perform it live. They didn’t disappoint.

During the first half of the show, the band played highlights from Hackett’s 1979 solo album Spectral Mornings and this year’s At the Edge of Light. The whole set was very strong, but I particularly enjoyed Craig Blundell’s drum solo. Some drum solos can be a little boring, but not this one. Very engaging, interesting, and complex. The opening “Every Day” really highlighted the light and airy style of Hackett’s solo music, while “Beasts In Our Time” showed how heavy his music can be. Jonas Reingold’s bass was exceptional all night, but the bass line on “Under the Eye of the Sun” really allowed his talent to shine.

Continue reading “Steve Hackett Sells England By the Pound – Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI – 10/3/19”

Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up

There has been a lot of quality prog released this summer. Overall I’d say there isn’t as much top tier level stuff (i.e., albums that rank with some of the best ever made in the genre), but there have been a lot of solid albums worthy of your attention released lately. This list won’t be exhaustive, but it should be a good starting point for people looking for some new music. Order is completely arbitrary. Ok maybe this first one is at the top for a reason.

Nad Sylvan – The Regal Bastard

Steve Hackett’s touring vocalist released his best solo album to date this summer. It is a little more accessible than the first two albums in the Vampirate trilogy, but it retains some of the same themes and motifs. Sylvan has a lot of talent, and this album stands above the crowd this summer. If you only listen to one album off this list, choose this one. And check out my interview with Nad from earlier this summer: https://progarchy.com/2019/06/30/the-vampirate-speaks-a-conversation-with-nad-sylvan/

Tool – Fear Inoculum

I’ve only ever passively listened to Tool, but I found this album to be quite good. Was it worth the wait for diehard Tool fans? I’m not sure, but this is a solid album that is heavy without being overpowering. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2019/09/01/tool-fear-inoculum/

Continue reading “Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up”

The Vampirate Speaks: A Conversation With Nad Sylvan

Nad Sylvan, The Regal Bastard, InsideOut Music, 2019

Tracks: 1. I Am The Sea (7:49), 2. Oahu (4:19), 3. Whoa (Always Been Without You) (7:22), 4. Meet Your Maker (6:36), 5. The Regal Bastard (12:22), 6. Leave Me On These Waters (5:49), 7. Honey I’m Home (3:02)
Bonus Tracks: 8. Diva Time (4:52), 9. The Lake Isle of Innisfree (3:43)

On July 5, the mighty Nad Sylvan releases the third in his trilogy of Vampirate themed albums, following 2015’s Courting the Widow and 2017’s The Bride Said NoThe Regal Bastard finds the Swedish artist subtly transforming his sound for a third time. Across all three albums, his sound has developed and matured while remaining distinctly Nad Sylvan. Nobody else makes music quite like this. He honors the tradition of progressive rock (can a tradition be progressive?) musically and lyrically. The music is complex without being overly technical, and it shifts in style enough to keep the album incredibly interesting on repeated listens. In fact, it is layered in such a way that the listener discovers more with each listen.

Some have commented that some of the songs take a bit more of a pop approach, and if that’s true, then it is in the vein of Steven Wilson’s definition of pop, not whatever trash is currently sitting atop the American top 40 charts. This music is tasteful. And it is still 100% prog.

It is hard to nail down particular stand-out tracks because every song is fantastic. “Whoa,” “Meet Your Maker,” and the bonus “Diva Time” are my personal favorites, but the longer “The Regal Bastard” is also a very compelling progressive piece. You can’t go wrong anywhere on this album. His guest artists, which include the likes of Steve Hackett, Guthrie Govan, Nick D’Virgilio, Tony Levin, and many other talented folks, interpret Nad’s music faithfully while adding their own touch. Jade Ell, Sheona Urquhart, and  Tania Doko return on backing vocals – their voices have helped add depth to Nad’s music in the past, and it is great to hear them return.

2019 has been an especially strong year for prog so far, and even in that environment, Nad Sylvan’s The Regal Bastard stands out. His music is unique and powerful. This is not an album to be missed.


This past Friday, June 28, 2019, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Nad via Skype about the album, his writing process, singing for Steve Hackett, and other related topics. I screen-captured the whole interview, but even the compressed video file is too big for WordPress’ liking. You can still listen to the audio or read the transcript, which has been very lightly edited for readability, although it is wholly uncensored.

Continue reading “The Vampirate Speaks: A Conversation With Nad Sylvan”

My Apologies to Nad Sylvan

Dear Mr. Sylvan,

I owe you a huge apology. Last year in my review of your brilliant The Bride Said No, I said: “I feel that Sylvan’s 2015 album, Courting the Widow, played the Genesis card far too safely, making the album sound a bit stale.” Wow, was I wrong. I listened to it again for the first time since 2015, and it’s fantastic! I think The Bride Said No is better, but Courting the Widow is definitely amazing. It is not stale at all, and the Genesis comparison was simply lazy analysis on my part. It doesn’t really sound like Genesis at all. It is all its own. Sorry Nad! I’ll never doubt you again.

Yours,
Bryan Morey

Bryan’s Best of 2017

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.

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2017”