Album Review – The Rebel Wheel’s “Simple Machines”

The Rebel Wheel - Simple MachinesThe Rebel Wheel, Simple Machines, November 11, 2020
Tracks: 
Pulley (4:06), Hammer (5:21), Inclined Plane (4:48), Screw (5:40), Fulcrum (4:36), Switch (5:19), Wheelsuitewheel (11:37)

I’ve been sitting on the promo CD for Ottawa, Ontario band The Rebel Wheel’s latest album, Simple Machines, for a while, although I’ve been listening to it a fair amount. The album has been a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve listened to it. The Canadian three-piece is comprised of Andrew Burns (bass, keyboards, vocals, producer), David Campbell (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Alex Wickham (drums, keyboards, vocals).

While The Rebel Wheel have several albums and several decades under their belt, Simple Machines finds them making a few changes, with every band member contributing to the writing and a different band member producing it compared to past records. Their overall sound is hard to pin down, as it is rather varied. I think Primus must be a major influence for Andrew Burns, who produced the record. Skimming through their discography on Bandcamp, I definitely recognize some similar musical ideas, but a Primus influence sounds much more prominent on Simple Machines. I hear this in some of the vocals, particularly on “Inclined Plane” and “Wheelsuitewheel,” as well as in the funk-influenced brand of metal on the album. That influence is present in the music and vocals, but not in the lyrics, which are rather simple in their construction, yet still deep with meaning. Not surprisingly I also hear a Discipline-era King Crimson influence in the guitars and bass.

With those two prominent influences there is still plenty of room for innovation. Some of the music almost approaches metal, if we’re going to call what Primus does a kind of metal. But it’s probably more accurate to call The Rebel Wheel progressive rock with heavy a jazz influence. The drums are distinctly jazzy. The bass drives the songs with guitars adding the flourishes and the keyboards filling the soundscape. There are experimental moments too, such as on the eleven and a half minute-long final track.

Even though I’ve made the connections to both Primus and King Crimson, the resulting record sounds quite unique and fresh. A King Crimson influence might be common enough in the prog world (I mean, who hasn’t been influenced by them to at least some degree), but Primus not so much. With the more progressive synth sounds, the record takes on its own life. The vocal harmonies add a nice touch. There’s even some blisteringly heavy guitar at points that remind me of Rush, but I’ll leave that to you to find those moments in the album.

I highly recommend The Rebel Wheel and their latest album. It’s a welcome departure from the Neo-prog territory common amongst most straightforward “prog” bands today. It’s got a crunch and a pleasant quirkiness that doesn’t blend into a symphonic backdrop. It grabs your attention. You won’t find too many other bands making music that sounds quite like this.

https://www.facebook.com/TheRebelWheel/
https://therebelwheel.bandcamp.com/album/simple-machines

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””

Album Review – The Weever Sands’ “Stylobat’s Travels”

Weever Sands Stylobat's Travels album coverThe Weever Sands – Stylobat’s Travels, 2020
Tracks: 1. Intro/The Breakout Session (3:29), 2. And Aphrodite Took The Veil (7:03), 3. Stylobat’s Travels (25:27), 4. Acropolis (The Big Wave) (6:12) 

Cologne, Germany’s The Weever Sands combine the album format and experimental playfulness of the early 1970s with what could be considered post-rock or ambient rock. To be honest, I didn’t quite get it at first, but then the other day I was listening to Gentle Giant and it hit me. The synth and organ sounds that predominate in Gentle Giant’s music are very similar to what I hear on Stylobat’s Travels, The Weever Sands’ sophomore album. Add in some flute and strong bass and you have the makings of a classically inspired progressive album. But this is stripped back. The music isn’t as heavily layered as you might get on a Gentle Giant or Jethro Tull record, and that’s by design. The band are also heavily influenced by Mike Oldfield’s idea of a “powerful miniature,” where the songs aren’t as heavily developed yet still stretch out into varying sounds. 

The album opens with some spoken word that sets the stage for a concept that is told primarily through music, the wonderful cover artwork and other artwork included with the CD, and promo notes telling me what the story is about. The band describe the concept as a story about a bat (Stylobat) in Ancient Greece who goes on a quest to find his sweetheart. Most of the album is instrumental, so you’ll have to use your imagination, with some help from the artwork, to see Stylobat searching for his beloved. 

The first two tracks most closely resemble what we would call progressive rock, but the 25 minute “epic” is most certainly post-rock, with all of the elements that might make up a layered prog song spread out and played individually. A splash on the high hat here, a symphonic tone there, a synthesized beep. Four minutes in and I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on. The first five minutes of that track are subtitled “Flatlined,” so the musical scene is apparently meant to be at a hospital bedside. Things pick up after that with the next section, “Stereobat,” but I would still label it experimental. There’s melody, but the combination of different synth sounds keeps it sounding unique, although it still references the gentlest of giants.

The third section, “Ah! These Ionic Beams!” nicely builds to a combination of keyboard combined with a rock riff that’s a lot more traditional. An electrical guitar finally comes in, elevating the music by leaps and bounds. Not that there was anything wrong with the music before, but the guitar solo is quite nice and certainly welcome. This section of the song is the best music on the album. 

This is the point where I notice that the song has built gradually to this moment. The song began with disparate sounds, but they have gradually been brought together and build upon each other. The fourth section, “Introducing Fire Ghosts,” returns to some of the disparateness of “Flatlined,” but it never becomes that sparse again. It soon returns to the musical complexity of the previous section. The final section, “Underwater,” winds down with a synth sound that fills the musical space, perhaps suggesting being covered by water. The final song, “Acropolis (The Big Wave),” continues that nautical theme, but it builds and morphs into more of a rock song with heavier drums and heavier keyboards with a vintage 70s sound. 

Stylobat’s Travels isn’t your typical instrumental prog album. Usually instrumental albums feature a lot of musical noodling, but this record seems to focus more on telling a story through music. Personally I would’ve preferred a bit more guitar and fewer moments of sparseness in the long track. Some more spoken word sections beyond the opening track would’ve helped move the story along as well. The opening spoken word passage reminded me a bit of a radio drama, and I think a few more instances of that on the record could have helped tell the story more clearly and coherently.

The Weever Sands are quite unlike most of what you’re going to find in progressive rock these days. They don’t seem to be copying any particular sound, even though I made that Gentle Giant connection earlier. Rather they start with a more ambient base and build that up until it’s no longer ambient… if that makes sense at all. It isn’t quite rock, even though it does have rock moments (which I wish were more numerous). It’s a fun little journey that has a few bumps in the road, but it’s worth checking out if you’re looking something inspired by classic progressive rock that isn’t symphonic prog. 

https://www.the-weever-sands.com
Buy the CD from: https://shop.trommelfell-records.de/the-weever-sands/
Full album playlist on YouTube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRqGY_YLULtQlBHPovPjj8sGvM-4AX0y2

Interview with SAFFEK

Israeli alternative progressive rock act SaffeK, led by composer Oren Amitai, has just released an animated music video for the song “Mad,” taken from the group’s recent EP entitled “All Too Human.” In support of that launch, Amitai speaks for Progarchy about his beginnings, starting SaffeK, and more.

Let’s start from your early music beginnings. How did your musical career begin? When did you start playing? Which groups have been your favorites? Please tell us something more about your early life.

I started like many Rock lovers of my age group with the first album of Linkin Park when it was released, I was around 11. I found myself reading Manga with Linkin Park as a soundtrack and just exploding with awe and emotion. Life was felt so strongly and vivid. Quickly after I found out about System of a Down and The Doors, two bands that closed the deal for me – Music is my trigger, I am at another level of existing when the fire of it holds me.  

By the age of 15 I was doing my own adaption of Rock on a broken classic guitar. In those years I also got really deep into classic Prog and quickly after I found myself a part of my dream cast prog group made out of my best friends growing up. We named ourselfs Hanagaria (“The Carpentry”) after Dean’s dad carpentry where we used to sit every night. After Hanagaria released an LP we broke up. Dean went on playing Bass in SaffeK and the talented Ilan Barkani from the group also joined me for a couple of years on the drums. 

How did you go about starting SaffeK? Who was the most influential when the band started its musical journey?

After Hanagaria broke up I decided to dream my own musical voyage, leading my interpretation of Alternative Prog Rock. The project was originally named “Oren Amitai’s Stitches” but then I got around to the understanding that the name was a teeth breaker so I decided to change it to SaffeK, which means “doubt” in Hebrew. My experience of existeen is summed up in this word and it only made sense that my life’s project will be named the same. 

In the beginning, did you have some “fixed” tempo in composing songs or everything was a product of jamming, improvising?

All of SaffeK’s music started out in my bubbling head. I used to work out the main themes and different parts on guitar and vocals and then I went around meeting all of the band members individually, working with them on what I had in mind and using their talent and input in order to mold the best part with them for the song. Then, we went on the extraordinary and exciting sessions of finding out how the imaginary world turns to ecstatic insanity in the rehearsal room.

After the first couple of years I decided to make everything much more down to earth. Today I send out everything ready for everybody without us meeting, including the final draft of the song. Then, when we reach the rehearsal room, those talented basterds bring their amazing approach to the piece and we polish it all and find out what the finished song will be. 

How would you describe SaffeK music on your own?

SaffeK’s music is a mash of the ideas and musical influences that made me who I am with a focus on the rock & guitar elements. It’s music that turns me to an animalistic emotional madman. A music that steps on the core of existing for me, pushes the epicness of life is I feel it through music and comes with a message of acceptance to all the other weird souls who wander this earth with me and are confused but at awe as hell. 

Tell me about the writing and recording sessions for “All Too Human” EP.

Writing down “All Too Human” was a very deep and emotional journey for me. The E.P describes the main 4 elements in my character that make me suffer as a human, the 4 main features that separates me for the most part of what I feel and describe as divine. In order to really flesh them out I had to venture into my destructiveness and fill myself  with the sadness, anger, pressure and alienation. The best part of it, of course, is that I feel that the best way to describe these elements is to burn them out, scream them out, feel them to the maximum effort. And that is what I tried to do with the compositions themselves. The rec sessions were great, great flowing vibe and in awesome happy energetic accomplishment.  

What is the most important thing for the structure of your songs? Is it a riff, a melody line, vocal arrangement?

For me the most important thing is the story itself. I have to ask myself all the time if the story makes sense to me, if it works me out emotionally. If you listen to the song and you swim with the journey, not nodding your head going “…What?”.

Besides that, I find that what I usually work around with at first is the melody/riff to start me off. That’s the first thing that moves me. 

Recommend us some good progressive rock/metal acts coming from your area.

One of the most exciting, well developed and pecked with originality is Subterranean Masquerade. Their concerts are a must see! 

I have to recommend “Bzaat” as well. virtuoso guitar & drums insanity! 

Are you also involved in any other projects or bands beside SaffeK?

I used to float around and work with different projects, today I’m focusing on SaffeK as my passion. Otherwise, I work as a teacher at Just Music Academy in Israel and develop productions and mix & master for beautiful people that come my way. I find the work of teaching intense and inspiring. It’s a true beauty to see people transforming their passion and flare into an authentic creation.  

So, what comes next for SaffeK?

A new video is coming out in the next few weeks, a work of a lot of great minds which I am very proud of. It’s gonna take SaffeK’s visual presentation to a new level. 

Afterwards it’s all about counting down the days till summer when we will release a new album followed by a European tour. Beside that, truly, all we can’t wait for is to see the people, the crowds, what we live for. We can’t wait to break the lonesomeness, the dreadful silence of the music with you.

“All Too Human” is available from Bandcamp here. Follow SaffeK on Facebook and Instagram.

Debut Album From Portugal’s ARTNAT Out Now

Press Release:

CoverARTNAT is a new progressive rock band formed by lead guitarist and founder of the known TANTRA prog group from Portugal, Manuel Cardoso. They recently released their first album, The Mirror Effect. The name reflects the continuity in symphonic prog style of music between TANTRA’s music and ARTNAT. With high compositional levels together with wild experimental themes, this is a colorful and multi ambiance work with top-level musicians, but with no technical show off.

Manuel Cardoso says about the project:

Well, after several excellent albums with TANTRA I felt that though in my heart and mind, I just felt like doing the same type of music, obviously with a natural evolution, being the only link to the original group I should use a different name. So ARTNAT just felt right… Mirrored word for an evolving music, like a mirrored dimension.

Still, to me, it’s just TANTRA´s evolution in the 21st century!”

Check out the album on Bandcamp: https://artnat.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/ARTNAT.Art.Prog.Rock/

Shining Pyramid’s Atmospheric Triumph

Shining Pyramid, Tree, December 29, 2020
Tracks: Transmitter C (9:18), Triskel (4:11), Campfire (3:03), Rain (4:58), Like Katriona (10:20), Weird Science (6:15), Joy? (5:32)

London’s Shining Pyramid released their third album back at the very end of December 2020. This follows 2015’s self-titled debut, loosely based on the 1895 Arthur Machen of the same name, and 2018’s Children of Stones. Their latest album, Tree, was my introduction to the band, as they generously sent me a CD to review. I was hooked from the opening electronic notes, which reminded me a little bit of Oak, who I seem to mention a lot around here. The duo is comprised of Nick Adams on guitars and Peter Jeal on keyboards. A page on their website offers a breakdown of the guitars and keyboards used on the album. I’m not a musician, but I found it interesting that Adams used such a wide array of guitars and basses on the record. They all sound wonderful.

Swirling synths set the stage on Tree, but the spacey guitar quickly steps into the spotlight, taking on a Floydian tone with a bit of the late Piotr Grudziński (Riverside) thrown in for good measure. It would be a mistake to describe this album as only ambient, or only atmospheric, electronic, or space rock. It contains elements of those things, but the guitar keeps the album rooted in rock territory, even if the album is on the sedate side of the rock spectrum. 

Shining Pyramid

Perhaps what I like most about Tree is the variety it contains, even though it’s only 44 minutes long. The opening track, “Transmitter C,” centers around a very spacey guitar with electronic synth sounds swirling around it. “Campfire” places an undistorted guitar seemingly just behind the bass in the mix, giving it a bit of a distant feel before the keyboards build and take the main spot in the mix. It isn’t particularly atmospheric. The next track, “Rain,” offers an ambient sound centered on a simple repeated piano refrain. That refrain, along with the bass, serves as a framework to support the varying synth sounds that keep the track interesting as it proceeds. Each track on the record sounds unique. They share common elements, but the band approach them in different ways. 

My favorite tracks are “Transmitter C” and “Like Katriona.” They’re both the longest songs on the album, allowing the music to build and grow. They also both feature a spacey Floydian guitar tone and appropriately proggy keyboards. These tracks sound the most musically focused and cohesive as well. A fun fact from their website: the ring of sound waves printed on the physical CD was taken from Adams’ guitar on “Like Katriona.” That’s a pretty cool little thing to throw into the physical product. 

I couldn’t help but feel a calming sense of peace when I listened to Tree with undivided attention. The music is calm and almost hypnotic at points. Frankly it was just what I needed. It gives you space to reflect, but it does so with interesting musical textures that make you want to return to it. For those into the atmospheric and ambient sides of prog, give Shining Pyramid a listen. They won’t disappoint. 

http://shiningpyramid.org
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Album Review – Rain’s “Singularity”

Rain, Singularity, November 23, 2020
Tracks: Devils Will Reign (7:02), Dandelion (7:01), Walkaway (12:51), Magician (11:17), Singularity (9:24)
Band Members: Rob Groucutt: Vocals, Guitar, Keys
Mirron Webb: Vocals, Guitar
Andy Edwards, Drums plus additional instruments
John Jowitt: Bass

Digging back into the end of 2020, we’ve come across another album from last year that’s not to be missed. UK-based Rain feature unique vocal harmonies, lush musical textures, and compelling lyrics. The band features two well known prog musicians in John Jowitt of IQ, Arena, *Frost, and Jadis and Andy Edwards of IQ and *Frost. Vocals and guitars are handled by Rob Groucutt and Mirron Webb, who both excel on the album. The talents of these four member mesh masterfully on Singularity

Right from the get-go on “Devils Will Reign” the band makes it clear that they aren’t going to limit themselves to any pre-cut style or expectations. The vocal harmonies are beautiful, and the musical shifts mirror the vocal shifts as the song bounces back and forth between Groucutt and Webb on vocals. The Spanish guitar passage was both unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable. Lyrically they pull no punches, but I’ll leave my interpretation out of it and let you absorb it for yourself.

“Walkaway” sounds like it could be a Haken b-side. It isn’t metal, but it sounds very much like Haken’s quieter moments, particularly on The Mountain. The combination of vocal harmonies and the abrupt way in which they sing the lyrics sounds very similar to Haken. Musically the song is more reminiscent of pre-pop Steven Wilson. Some instrumental passages remind me of Steven Wilson’s “Transience” off Hand. Cannot. Erase. Lyrically the song appears to rail against growing totalitarianism that many western countries are engaging in using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse. No conformity here. Rain think for themselves. The vocals take on a layered robotic sound about ten minutes in, which brings in the theme of growing technocracy that appears elsewhere on the album.

Your freedoms are old news
And lying is double truth
Your freedoms are old news
You’re missing the good times

You’re craving human connection
A new world is here before you
And no one knows what to do – no
 – Walkaway

“Walkaway” builds to a soaring guitar solo backed by a simple yet prominent bassline. The song then returns to the Haken-like chanting “walk away, hesitate, take a day, isolate, walk away, hesitate…” At just under 13 minutes, the song is epic in the traditional progressive rock sense. It has the space to move through different musical and lyrical themes. 

Rain shines with a truly unique sound on”Magician.” I suppose the vocal harmonies are a nod to Gentle Giant, but the varying musical styles the band moves in and out of throughout the song keep it sounding fresh. Lyrically the song seems to tap into that theme of growing technological overreach, and that gets reflected in the music as well through various keyboard sounds. Even the guitar work at points reminds me of a computer with a simple back and forth that could be interpreted as the 1s and 0s of a computer. The guitar takes on a bit of a Robert Fripp tone in those moments. 

The final track, “Singularity” is the most atmospheric and experimental song on the album. The vocals again remind me of Ross Jennings from Haken, but the music is much softer with swirling keyboards, airy guitar sounds, smooth jazzy drums, and steady bass. In the second half it start to sound experimental with various sampled sounds and lyrics repeated from earlier in the album – almost as if the band are sampling themselves.

In some ways the final song is a departure from the rest of the album, but at the same time it really isn’t because the band never limited themselves to any one sound. They try different things, and careful listenings will pick up new musical and vocal sounds on repeated listens. I appreciate the band’s courage in their lyrical content. In an era of mass conformity, Rain throw conformity out the window in both their stated words and their music.

Singularity would definitely have made my best of 2020 list had I heard it when it came out. It is incredibly interesting on all levels. The vocal harmonies really lift their sound by adding an extra layer of complexity to their already-complex musical soundscape. This band works really well together, and I hope they continue to release new music in the future. 

Buy the cd from: 
https://www.lasercd.com/cd/singularity
https://rainprogband.bandcamp.com/album/singularity

Youtube playlist of whole album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRM7BpZzvD0&list=PLp87vn7bPFfSYuGAvyaJSZYwwetwssmeg

Metal Mondays: Iran’s Atravan – “The Grey Line”

Atravan, The Grey Line, 2021
Tracks: 
The Pendulum (2:35), The Perfect Stranger (6:45), My Wrecked House (6:05), Vertigo (5:09), Dancing on a Wire (6:01), The Grey Line (9:12), Uncertain Future (3:35)
Line-up:
Masoud Alishahi – Vocals
Shayan Dianati – Guitars
Arwin Iranpour – Bass
Marjan Modarres – Piano, Keyboards
Shahin Fadaei – Drums
Pedram Niknafs – backing vocals (tracks 2, 4) 

There’s a first time for everything, folks, and I think today’s Metal Mondays review is the first time we at Progarchy have ever reviewed an album from an Iranian band. I know it’s the first time I have. Tehran’s Atravan released their latest album, The Grey Line, about a month ago, and it has quickly become my favorite new release of 2021. It’s absolutely phenomenal.

Atravan can be best described as a progressive metal band with atmospheric elements. The songs are incredibly well-written, with the instruments all played expertly. The bass plays a prominent role – arguably more prominent than the guitars. The Grey Line isn’t particularly heavy, although it has its heavier moments. “Dancing on a Wire” for instance leans on a synth sound with acoustic guitars and soaring vocals. “My Wrecked House” has the same elements, but it has a much heavier sound with heavier drums and electric guitars. By the end of “The Perfect Stranger,” the band is pounding away in full-blown metal.

All of those elements remind me most of Riverside, especially on the aforementioned track. The bass and keyboards also play a central role in Riverside, with spacey guitars layered over the top. There are also moments that remind me of the atmospheric aspects of Porcupine Tree or even Devin Townsend (think “Deadhead”), but Atravan strike me as being rather unique at the same time. Maybe it’s the warmth and depth of Masoud Alishahi’s vocals (yes, the lyrics are in English). Maybe it’s the stunning Floydian keyboards. Maybe it’s the way the band builds a song gently but gradually through the combination of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. The drums are intricate throughout. Shahin Fadaei always plays to whatever the song requires in the moment. Sometimes that requires rapid-fire double-bass pounding, and sometimes it requires a more sedate Nick Mason-style beat. Careful with that axe, Atravan.

The keyboards provide unique sounds throughout the album that set a melancholic and contemplative mood. The opening of the nine-minute title track is all keyboards. The song slowly builds with added vocals before a loud but simultaneously gentle bass takes center stage. The song continues to build with additional instruments picking up. It takes about five minutes before they return to a really heavy sound, but everything works so perfectly that you end up appreciating whatever and however the band plays. None of the songs feel rushed, which is rather surprising in an album that’s only forty minutes long.

The electric guitars on the opening of the final track, “Uncertain Future,” have a spacey Gilmour-esque sound to them. They’re used sparingly as the bass, drums, and keyboards begin to take over. It’s a three and a half minute-long track, yet it still doesn’t hurry. It asks the listener to slow down with it and just enjoy the moment. It’s an instrumental track to help you unwind at the end, even though the album is on the short side. In closing it out this way, Atravan bookend the album, since the opening track was also a spacey instrumental piece that served to warm up the listener for the rest of the record. 

Definitely give The Grey Line a listen. I’m so glad the band reached out to us, because I probably wouldn’t have come across this album otherwise. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to become my favorite album of the year thus far. There’s a lot of 2021 left to go, but Atravan have set a very high bar for everyone else in the prog world to hurdle. Every track on this album is fantastic. I look forward to more from the band in the future. 

https://www.facebook.com/atravanband
https://atravan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Spotify

 

Neal Morse, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt

Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics

This is probably the only time I’ll have a legitimate reason to use this cool new WordPress feature.

Transatlantic have reached the ripe old age of 21, and with that they’ve released a brand new album. Wait, that isn’t right. They’ve released two brand new albums. Well, no, they haven’t really done that either. What they have done is released two versions of one album: one at ~65 minutes and the other at ~91 minutes. The Absolute Universe: The Breath of Life is the short one, and The Absolute Universe: Forevermore is the long one. For the sake of clarity (both mine and yours), I’m going to refer to the albums as the extended version and the abridged version.

Now why on earth, you may ask, would a band want to release two different versions of an album? Excellent question. I was a bit miffed when Big Big Train did it with Folklore (the vinyl and Hi-Res audio version was longer with some tracks from the Wassail EP and a slightly altered track listing), and I’m a bit miffed that Transatlantic has done it. Apparently the band couldn’t come to an agreement on whether they should release a longer version of what they had written or a condensed version, so they decided to release both.

The abridged version is $9.99 on iTunes, while the extended edition is $16.99, so it’ll cost you just under $30 to buy the downloads. You may need to take out a loan to buy physical copies. And don’t think you can get away with buying just the extended version thinking you’ll just get the abridged version plus some extra tracks. Nope they’ve gone and changed things in the tracks that overlap, so in many ways they’re very different. There’s also a third version on Blu-Ray only that combines the two into a ~96 minute version. Good grief. I haven’t heard that version, nor do I intend to.

If you’re going to buy only one of them, I suggest you buy the extended version. It has a much better flow to it with smoother transitions than the abridged version. Even though it’s longer, it isn’t packed with filler. To my ear it sounds more like a Transatlantic album. There are more songs with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. Yes of course he sings on the abridged version, but he sings less in the second half of that album. That makes the abridged version seem to morph into a Neal Morse album as it comes to a close. “Lonesome Rebel” towards the end of extended version remedies that by restoring some balance. In addition to Roine’s stellar vocals, the mix of wonderful electric and acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies really makes this track stand out.

Continue reading “Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics”

SomeWhereOut – Deep In The Old Forest – Album Review

SomeWhereOut – Deep In The Old Forest, January 15, 2021

Tracks: 1. Prelude – The Stories (1:40), 2. Blood, Bones and Fear (5:08), 3. Mara (3:38), 4. Someone With No Name (6:55), 5. Our Promise (4:07), 6. Interlude I – Covenant (1:07), 7. The Fallen One (8:33), 8. You and I (6:00), 9. The Midnight Bell (5:21), 10. The Crystal Mountain (4:29), 11. Interlude II – Winter (1:14), 12. The Old Forest (14:49)

Classically-trained Spanish guitarist, composer, and music teacher Raúl Lupiañez has long held a love for rock and metal. His formal training in both guitar and composition is immediately clear on his latest SomeWhereOut album, Deep in the Old Forest. He is the primary musician for the group, handling guitar, all of the keyboards, and most of the bass. Francisco Garoz plays all of the drums, and there are a few other players who contribute guitar and bass solos as well as violin and other string work. There are also eight vocalists featured on the album. 

Deep in the Old Forest transcends progressive and atmospheric elements while remaining a thoroughly metal album. At points the verses on songs will be more sedate before pounding into a more straight-forward metal or prog metal chorus. There are symphonic elements as well, but I wouldn’t label SomeWhereOut a symphonic metal band because the strings are used more in the way Steve Hackett uses them on his albums. They add atmosphere when needed, but they aren’t the driving force in the music. I think a symphonic metal band places almost equal importance on the symphonic elements and the metal elements. 

The album is full of musical surprises. For instance the light accent of Spanish-style acoustic guitar strumming behind the wall of metal guitars on parts of “Bloods, Bones and Fear” is a nice touch. The solo violin parts add a calmer reflective touch. The violin on “Our Promise” even reminds me of Rachel Hall’s work with Big Big Train. There are many moments across the album, particularly in the keyboards, bass, and some of the guitar solos, that remind me of Steven Wilson’s more progressive solo albums. Apart from the vocals, which sound nothing like Wilson, the track “The Fallen One” could have come off Hand. Cannot. Erase.

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