Neil Peart: Cultural Repercussions Now Available

As any Neil Peart fan well knows, the great man just celebrated his 63rd birthday and his sequel to his co-authored novel, CLOCKWORK LIVES, comes out tomorrow. We all eagerly await with intense and immense anticipation this new work by Peart and Hugo-nominated science-fiction author, Kevin J. Anderson.

Out September 15, 2015.
Out September 15, 2015.

I must also proudly note that my intellectual biography of the world’s greatest drummer comes out tomorrow as well. NEIL PEART: CULTURAL (RE)PERCUSSIONS (WordFire Press). It will be available in paperback ($14.99) and ebook ($5.99) but is now available for pre-order.

I have to thank a lot of folks for their encouragement with this book project, and I hope I give everyone due credit in the book. When I read the works of Steve Horwitz and Rob Freedman, I just knew that I had to write a book on Peart. I’ve loved Neil Peart’s words and musicianship since first encountering MOVING PICTURES in March 1981. I was in seventh grade, and I’ve never been the same. To me, Peart fits in the same category as J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, and Milton Friedman as influences on my young life. As Peart has grown, so have I. And, so, I presume have most of us.

This book also turns out to be my fifth published biography. The other biographies, however, have been almost completely academic. When I first started to write this book, I’d wanted to write an autobiography with the emphasis on how Peart shaped my own life and thoughts on a variety of things. Even during the first draft, I started deviating from this plan. By the final product, I’d left in only a few personal experiences. There are two reasons for this.

First, almost everyone who reads the book wants to know about Peart, not me. Second, some of the experiences are still too painful to make public fully. I can only state that Peart’s art and example has meant as much to me and my life as any figure outside of my family.

In the book, I focus on Peart as a man of letters, one of our greatest in the English language. I was pretty thrilled when PROG’s Johnny Sharp wrote:

But author Bradley Birzer does go a little over the top in his gushing praise of his subject. When an intro mentions Peart in the same sentence as Socrates and Cicero. . .

He’s completely correct, of course. But, you should’ve seen earlier drafts! Ha. Anyway, if you like what we do at progarchy, you’ll like the bio.

Actually, I was just thrilled that my favorite magazine reviewed my book! Even if Sharp had hated it, I’d still be pretty honored that Jerry Ewing and Grant Moon took it seriously enough to review. Still, I’m so glad Sharp actually enjoyed it!

Here’s hoping you will as well!

Jerry Ewing’s Mighty PROG: The Real Deal

The gift of friendship. . . and PROG!
The gift of friendship. . . and PROG!

As many of you probably know–and, if you live in the United States, you definitely know–when PROG hits the newsstands in the U.S., it is always two full issues behind what is being released in PROG’s home, the U.K.  Barnes and Nobles carries them as does Hastings.  Booksamillion might, too.  I’m not sure.  Hastings, I’ve noticed, gets them a little faster than does B&N.

Regardless, they’re slow in crossing the Atlantic and appearing on our magazine shelves.  In large part, this is simply because the U.S. does not possess the magazine reading culture that the U.K. does.  Not a great comment on the U.S., but true, nonetheless.  Things such as Soap Opera Digest and Us that one finds at grocery store checkouts sell very well, while magazines and journals dealing with news, foreign policy, science fiction, music (except for Rolling Stone), or anything else that is basically not too ephemeral sell poorly.  Such is life.

Editor Jerry Ewing has worked extremely hard–as he does on all things–to make PROG more accessible here in the States.  And, the iPad app created by Jerry and Teamrock is truly a thing of beauty.  I eagerly download my new copy of PROG the moment it hits the newsstands in the U.K.

Just this week, however, a Facebook friend very kindly–though, he’s probably sick of me whining about not getting PROG quickly enough in the U.S.–sent me a copy of PROG 52.  It features Rush, so this was a double blessing and gift for me.  Indeed, I’m thrilled.  On FB, my generous English friend uses the the latinized version of his name, and I don’t want to take advantage of his privacy.  Still, it was a wonderful gift on his part.  Mark, I thank you profoundly.

Within a half hour of receiving and delving into the actual tangible issue, PROG hooked me.  The iPad app is a beautiful thing, and I do read it fully.  But, there is nothing akin to holding the actual issue in my hand.  The size, the quality of paper, the always excellent writing, and rather eye popping graphics of the real, tangible deal are just so much better than anything the iPad can show.

Even more than than the joy of a book being actually held, the magazine–with its spectacular mix of image and word–is a very, very (very!) nice thing.  So, I splurged–purchased a print subscription within a half hour of Mark’s gift arriving in the mail.

Thank you, Mark.  Thank you, Jerry.  I’m sold.

Zee Baig is an American: Long Live, Fire Garden!

I just found out that Chicago’s master of all things Prog, Zee Baig, became an American citizen today.  Getting to know Zee–even if only virtually–over the last year has been one of the great joys of editing progarchy.  

Sound of Majestic Colors (2014) by Fire Garden.  A masterful work of prog metal.
Sound of Majestic Colors (2014) by Fire Garden. A masterful work of prog metal.

His success today is the kind of thing that makes me say: good for Zee and incredibly good for America!

So, let me be blunt–let’s please help Zee celebrate by supporting his excellent band, FIRE GARDEN.  


A U.S. citizen.
A U.S. citizen.

Brett Kull of Echolyn Co-Producing the New Fractal Mirror CD

News from a favorite band, FRACTAL MIRROR:

All Fractal Mirror artwork by Brian Watson.
All Fractal Mirror artwork by Brian Watson.

Our second album, Garden of Ghosts is being co-produced by Brett Kull and Fractal Mirror.  We expect to release it in October/November 2014.  Early buzz from friends and other musicians around the studio has been great!

  • We will start a pre-order campaign in early September with an immediate download of one of the album’s tracks available at the time of the order.
  • We also have been filming some of the recordings and we will be posting clips on our Facebook page.

The album is also being mixed by Brett, who has graciously added acoustic and electric guitars and is responsible for many of the background/harmony vocals.   We can tell you that with Brett’s assistance the music sounds great (to us at least!) and we are excited to get to the finish line.   There will also be special guest appearances by Larry Fast, Don Fast on guitar and sitar, Jacque Varsalona, and Charlotte Koperdraat on background vocals, with a special appearance by the Echolyn choir.

A brief history:

The origins of Fractal Mirror can be traced back to the mid-eighties when three friends from Amsterdam started to make music together influenced by bands from the famous 4AD label and artists like David Sylvian and Japan. At the same time a new wave of progressive rock was expanding its listening audience with bands like IQ, Pendragon, Twelfth Night, Marillion and Pallas but especially the virtually unknown Canadian band Terraced Garden having an influence on their writing.

Ed and Leo continued making music together into the 21st century, focusing on the Alternative or Progressive audience. They met their drummer and lyricist via the Big Big Train site and met the challenge of transatlantic recording and communications with the release of Strange Attractors to very positive reviews. Their music is song based and there are no long instrumental passages or difficult time signatures. The music has a dark, raw edge and they often use the Mellotron. In March 2014 Fractal Mirror signed a deal with Third Contact, a record label owned by Larry Fast (Synergy/Peter Gabriel). They released the physical album in US and Canada and digitally worldwide on March 18 2014.

For Garden of Ghosts, Frank wrote most of the lyrics while traveling and sent them over to Leo/Ed, who then write the music.  Our ability to work together remotely has evolved, as has our music and recording skills.  Garden of Ghosts will contain a full lyrics booklet and an explanation of the songs, which focus on how our memories evolve over time, how we connect and relate to each other in this new digital world.


“Fractal Mirror have made a strong opening statement with a fine combination of upbeat, crafted pop rock songs nicely offset by the darker,  melancholic and somber pieces.  An album to return to often…” Bob Mulvey of The Progressive Aspect, UK

“One might call it New Wave/prog or alt rock/prog. I can, however, state unequivocally, it’s gorgeous, stunning, moody, intense, brooding, uplifting, inspiring.”  Brad Birzer, Progarchy

“How do these guys manage to sounds so accessible yet so critically hypnotizing? “ Lady Obscure,

“Fractal Mirror gives the mid-tempo rock bittersweet without instrumental showboating , recalling much REM and Bowie, sometimes with touches of  the Kinks.  MusicSphere (France)

Happily PROG-ed.



August 11, 2014

Well, I admit it. Freely admit it. I was more than wrong.

Last week, I was pretty much banging my head on the wall trying to get the new PROG iPad app to work. Despite following the instructions, I just couldn’t get the thing to work. By the way, for those of you who know me personally, you won’t be surprised that 1) I couldn’t get it to work; and 2) I was frustrated.

Strangely enough, some technology comes to me immediately, and I can flow gracefully through, with, and around it. Other technology confounds me and makes me feel like a total idiot. Generally, I get along well with computers, but, equally, I can’t figure out cell phones worth a . . . well, you get the idea.

Part of my frustration came from the obvious fact that PROG is my favorite magazine, and I love basically everything that Jerry Ewing does.   So, I wanted my PROG!

After some very kind help from Ally at TeamRock this mornin, I was able to get my first new, improved, and enhanced issue of PROG.

And, holy schnikees, was it worth the wait. Using the same format as CLASSIC ROCK, the new PROG app allows for deep reading, support for hunting through the maze of web information surrounding a band or album, and, graphically, jumps off the page of the iPad. In other words, TeamRock has figured out what most traditional publishers still don’t understand—how to explore and utilize the possibilities of the iPad to their very limits. Good for them. And, great for us.

So, I didn’t get immediate gratification last week. I am now more than satiated. Thank you, Jerry and Ally. Thank you very, very much.

My faith is restored. Yours, Brad

The Dramatic Rock of Fire Garden’s “Sound Of Majestic Colors”


During the month of May, some of us Progarchists switched into “Rush Appreciation Mode” as we paid tribute to the group that, for some of us, forever altered our view of what music could be on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut release. This very site is a reflection of our appreciation for a genre of music that, for so many of us, started with our first exposure to Rush. For so many, they were springboard into the world of progressive rock.

Of course, there’s another generation of progressive rock fans from the 1990’s who cut their teeth on prog through Dream Theater, while for some of us older folks, Dream Theater was the group that picked up the torch for progressive rock starting in the 1990’s, when iconic bands such as Rush and Yes had either changed their songwriting approach and/or gradually declined in popularity. Still other prog fans recently found their love of the genre through Tool’s and/or Steven Wilson’s works.

In the spirit of the more recent iconic, progressive hard rock groups such as Dream Theater, Chicago-based Fire Garden has released their first full-length album, “Sound Of Majestic Colors,” which follows their December 2012 EP release, “Prelude.” As is the case with most prog, repeated listens will reveal layers within the music, but the album is also accessible from the get-go.

Prog fans will have little trouble picking out styles and sounds similar to Dream Theater, but anyone who dismisses the group simply as a knockoff of DT does so at their own peril, for Fire Garden is very much their own band.

That said, the album opens with perhaps the group’s biggest nod to its Dream Theater influence in “The Joker.” Guitarist/songwriter Zee Baig channels John Petrucci’s guitar sound from “Train Of Thought,” there are echoes of the Derek Sherinian era DT with some nice organ work, some percussive keyboard patches that take from Jordan Rudess’ work in later years and even some fast kick drum work that might recall Mike Portnoy’s heavier playing prior to his departure from DT.  A vocal-heavy middle section breaks up the influences noted above, showcasing the group’s range.

Despite liking “The Joker” quite a bit over repeated spins, I was a bit fearful that I might be subjected to an album not unlike “Train Of Thought,” which is one of my least favorite DT albums, but oh, how Fire Garden quickly proved me wrong.

It’s rare that I’ll hear a succession of tracks for the first time and think, “This one’s my favorite!,” then say to the next, “No – THIS one’s my favorite,” but that’s exactly what unfolded during the first four tracks on “Sound Of Majestic Colors” as “The Joker” gave way to the soulful “Alone,” abandoning the bombast of the opening track for a slower, more atmospheric vibe. We then get a touch of “Images And Words”-era Dream Theater with the big-sounding “Time Machine,” but Fire Garden then shows us an altogether different side with “Endless Memories,” with bassist Barry Kleiber weaving melodic bass lines over acoustic/electric guitars, setting the tone for what is easily the most accessible track on the album. The track features a lovely, soaring chorus that’ll no doubt have audiences singing along.

This changing up and blending of styles that Fire Garden seem so comfortable writing continues throughout the album with a trifecta of big rtracks in “Redemption,” “Behind The Face”, and “Echoes Of Silence,” then broken up by the lovely, harmony-laden “Far From Grace,” and finally, the cinematic album ender, “The Last Step.” If rock radio was still open to progressive hard rock they way it was 20 years ago, tracks from “Sound Of Majestic Colors” would find a place in station’s rotation, to be sure.

It’s worth mentioning that throughout “Sound Of Majestic Colors,” singer Kevin Pollack does a fine job using his range – a bit lower but a welcome change from the wails of many prog/metal vocalists – bringing the proper measure of energy, emotion and, well, gravitas to each song.

The lyrics on the album tend to explore dark themes – battling demons both internal and external, sometimes literal – in “Alone,” “The Joker,” “Echoes In Silence” and “Redemption,” greed in “Time Machine,” love lost in “Endless Memories,” and finally, reaching for redemption/rejuvenation in “The Last Step.”

Half of the 10 tracks on “Majestic Colors” clock in between eight and nine minutes, giving the band plenty of space for stylistic exploration without falling into the noodling/padding trap that’s so often a cliche of prog.  They also avoid cramming as many time signatures into each tune as possible just for the sake of it, making the album quite accessible to those ears tripped up a bit by odd-meter shifts.

Fire Garden also gets it right with the album packaging and liner notes, very much reminiscent of Hugh Syme’s best work with Rush and Dream Theater, as each lyric is mated its own piece of artwork, beautifully complementing our listening experience in way that liner notes from the aforementioned bands do.

Knowing that the prog community is a tight-knit one, I would highly advise any reader with influence over any prog festival or cruise – as is the case these days – to quickly snap up Fire Garden as they’d be a worthy addition and sure-fire fan favorite. Better still, how’s about groups like Rush and Dream Theater consider the next generation of prog by dropping the well-worn “Evening with…” format and getting these guys out on tour to build as big a following as possible?

“Sound Of Majestic Colors” is more than enough evidence that Fire Garden has an extensive palette of talent and styles to “paint” with, making this release a more than worthy addition to prog fans’ libraries.  Dream Theater’s ridiculously, prodigiously-talented lineup may still have a tight hold on prog’s hard rock torch, but Fire Garden stands as a potential successor with “Sound Of Majestic Colors.”

Fire Garden Band Photo 1