Have Yourself a Merry Christmas

Well, it seems a little early to talk about Christmas.  But, not about Christmas music!  As we get close to Advent (begins this Sunday) and prepare for Christmas and the holiday season, you have a lot of wonderful offerings from the music community.  Indeed, there almost seems to be a revival of the Christmas song.  Lots and lots to choose from.

reasoning xmas

If you want a great two-track EP, get The Reasoning’s “It’s Christmas (Sing it Loud),” out today, and available from amazon.com and iTunes.  Rachel Cohen has the voice of an angel, of course, and it shows in every note she sings with one of the greatest prog/rock outfits around today.  Thank you, Matt Cohen, master of many, many things.  For those of you who shy away from prog, no worries.  This is just a wonderfully joyous song.  I think it could’ve easily been the finale to HOME ALONE.


Neal Morse, never unwilling to profess his own faith (in Christianity and in prog!) has two CDs out you might like.  The first, out last year at this time and still available, is a PROGGY CHRISTMAS–featuring just about everyone you could imagine.  As I wrote last year:

All of the members of Transatlantic (Portnoy, Trewavas, and Stolt), Steve Hackett, Steve Morse, and Randy George.  Portnoy is even “The Little Drummer Boy”!  Jerry Guidroz does his usual extraordinary mixing and engineering.

Also available–as a member of the Neal Morse Inner Circle–“Christmas 2013.”  These songs date back almost 20 years.  Very delicate as well as energetic.

leah christmas

Our own progarchist, lovely Leah, “metal maid,” has a gorgeous EP out, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”  Three tracks introduce the listener to our favorite Canuck rocker (that is, below the age of 60.  Sorry Geddy, Alex, and Neil) and the spirit of a metal Christmas.


Finally, out just since last Friday, is another progarchist album, In Dulci Jubilo.  This one comes from classical and progressive guitarist Kevin McCormick and his oldest daughter, Rachel.  My best description of this album is “immaculate.”  In Dulci Jubilo is 14 tracks long at 46 minutes.  A much more detailed review forthcoming.

TrinityLive–May 2014

Matt Cohen.  Shamelessly stolen from Matt's Facebook Page.  Unless progarchy gets a letter from Matt's lawyer, it will remain the image for this post.
Matt Cohen. Shamelessly stolen from Matt’s Facebook Page. Unless progarchy gets a letter from Matt’s lawyer, it will remain the image for this post.

One of our progarchy favorites, Matt Cohen–the Welsh Odysseus of the rock world–posted something quite intriguing today.  The TrinityLive show, forthcoming in May, 2014.  The trinity in question–no, not that Trinity!–The Reasoning, Magenta, and Touchstone.

This is where being an American is a real limitation.  Jealous of our British and European friends who can attend.  Plan now to enjoy.



For some reason, I’ve always been quite taken with the idea of the “cover,” a great group or artist remaking the old art into something new, profound, and tangible for a new audience.

220px-PeopleAreStrangeUnfortunately, the result of the cover is often a mere imitation of the original.  This, sadly, does nothing but waste everyone’s time.  In this instance, I can’t help but think of Echo and the Bunnymen’s remake of “People are Strange.”  It is almost note for note and instrument for instrument the same as the original by the Doors.  No matter how great, Echo, they will simply not best a classic by merely imitating.  There’s nothing even remotely interesting or unusual in the Echo version.  They sound bored, and they probably are.  Echo was simply too good to be a glorified cover band.

BookendsThere are also inferior versions of a once great song that simply had never had a wide audience in the first place.  Here, I think specifically of the Bangles remaking A Hazy Shade of Winter.  The Simon and Garfunkel version is in every way superior except one.  When it was originally released, A Hazy Shade of Winter appeared around a number of other attention-gathering songs off of the album, Bookends.  It would’ve been pretty hard to complete with “Mrs. Robinson.”  And, A Hazy Shade never became absorbed into American culture the way so many other Simon and Garfunkel songs did.  When the Bangles released it in 1987, it climbed to #2 on the American pop charts.  Who can forget first hearing that song, realizing the immense disconnect between a barely talented hack corporate band and some of the best lyrics ever written?  No, it shouldn’t have succeeded, but it clearly did.  Commercially, a success.  Artistically, a travesty.

Over the last decade or so, though, a number of excellent songs have been covered by various prog bands.  In each case, at least as I see it, the songs covered are–quite the opposite of the Bangles assault on and diminution of a classic–in most respects far better than the originals.  Three things help account for this.  First, some of this improving, I’m sure, is a product of better technology.  Still, we can all think of examples where the newer technology has driven the life out of a song or an album.  Technology, in the end, is a tool, neither good nor bad in and of itself but a means to a good or bad end.

Second, in ways that could never be measured, a remake is importantly the result of the love the artist of today feels for the artists and traditions of the past.  The current prog artist has absorbed some beloved songs for years and years, and the songs have become an essential part of the art itself and of the artist herself or himself.

Third, very importantly, few progressive rock acts perform merely to be commercial.  They do so for love of the art itself.

Again, let me go back to that Strawband, the Bangles.  What did they have to offer to a Simon and Garfunkel song?  Nothing in the least.  Per the above three points.  First, the technology made them mere apes, allowing them to present sanitary mimicking of a great song.  Second, the Bangles play their version as though they’d only encountered the original version days or possibly hours before recording.  Their version came out twenty years later, but it, in no way, feels as though an artist had absorbed that song for twenty years.  Third, the Bangles wanted to cash in on a piece of art that failed to reach its full potential two decades earlier.  And, they did.  Again, a commercial success, but a artistic horror.


But, what about some wonderful, beautiful, intense, gorgeous covers?

artworks-000011754621-tdrn2o-t500x500Nosound’s remake of Pink Floyd’s 1971, “Echoes.”  Four minutes longer than the original, the Nosound version not only records their version with affection, but there is an unmistakable Nosound sound.  Where Floyd used a cold and rather impressive technology to make certain unusual sounds, Nosound substitutes a much greater organicism to the song.

1479671968-1The Reasoning’s remake of Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur.”  This was certainly the best and most interesting track off of Rio (1982).  And, Rachel Cohen of the The Reasoning has never once hidden her admiration of the best rock of the 1980s.  Matt, Rachel, and the others do wonders to the original, making it far, far superior.  At once more delicate and yet harder than the original, The Reasoning makes this a serious work of art.  Matt’s deep and haunting bass is especially good.  But, so is Rachel’s voice.  The Reasoning takes a good pop/rock song, and makes it a short but haunting masterpiece of prog.

bbt masterBig Big Train’s “Master of Time.”  Sheer bucolic glory.  Next to the original by the former Genesis guitarist, BBT’s Master is a blatant and full-voiced work of immaculacy.  It makes the original seem a fine sketch of a song, while paying all due homage to it.  Even in its BBT’s intensity, joy multiplies as the song progresses, following NDV’s driving drums.  If this isn’t a glimpse of a pre-fallen Eden, nothing is.  And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Longdon’s voice has an angelic counterpart in the spheres far beyond this world.

Peter_Gabriel_-_Scratch_My_BackPeter Gabriel’s Scratch Your Back, in many ways, corrects the errors of the Bangles.  While the whole album is good, and Gabriel covers everyone from Elbow to David Bowie to the Talking Heads, nothing bests his own version of the Paul Simon song, “Boy in the Bubble.”  While it’s not necessarily better than Simon’s version, it is a penetrating look at the darker aspects of the song.  I would challenge anyone to listen to Gabriel’s version with headphones and not tearing up at the terrors and tragedies revealed anew in the lyrics.  This might be Gabriel at his absolute highest as an artist.  “These are the days of miracle and wonder.  Don’t cry, baby.  Don’t cry.”

glass hammer south sideGlass Hammer remaking Yes’s “South Side of the Sky.”  This has been one of my two or three favorite Yes songs going back to my early childhood in the mid 1970s.  Certainly, when I saw Yes play live in Grand Rapids for the 35th Anniversary tour, this song was the highlight.  Nothing, however, prepared me for hearing Glass Hammer’s version when I first purchased “Culture of Ascent.”  This cover is a perfect example of a band and a group of artists that had fully absorbed the song–every single aspect of it–over  period of two or three decades.  This song by Yes is simply an immense part of the DNA of Glass Hammer.  And, it shows in every aspect of Glass Hammer’s version.  Everything is simply perfect, and it’s as obvious as obvious can be that Glass Hammer recorded and produced their version with nothing but love, pure and unadulterated love.  And, dare I say it without risking the reader just switching off and heading to the wilds of a new website. . . Susie Bogdanowicz was born to sing this song.


There are other songs I’d love to write about, but time prevents me at the moment from doing so.  Let me just conclude with this.  When a cover is done well and with love, it’s a hard thing to beat.  And, while I would never want the current progressive moment to become imitative at its heart, it’s a healthy thing to remember and honor those who came before us.  In particular, I think there are a number of songs from the 80s that were brilliant in their time, but could really benefit from being progged up.  Imagine Thomas Dolby’s One of Submarines redone as full-blown prog.  Or, Big Country’s The Seer. Or, The Cure’s Disintegration.  Or, New Model Army’s Whitecoats.

So much to be done.  So little time.

golden age

Schnikees: The Reasoned Thief!

frontpage_newlogoI guess I’m a little behind on prog news.  This was announced a few weeks ago–The Reasoning will be working with Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief on the next album.  Wonderful news.

For the first time we’ll be bringing in an outside producer, too: we’re honoured to welcome the wonderful Bruce Soord on board. The band are full of excitement and enthusiasm right now about getting firmly stuck into this new piece of work.

For the full article at PROG, go here–http://www.progrockmag.com/news/bruce-soord-to-produce-the-reasoning/

What a solid collaboration–one for the ages.

HRHProg In Pictures

So much to do, so little time…

With half-finished reviews of recent releases from Amplifier and Cosmograf still vying for my attention, I’ve not been feeling much enthusiasm for the idea of writing about my experiences at the recent HRHProg festival at Magna in Rotherham. Thankfully, Alison has spared me the trouble with her excellent account, leaving me free to try something different.

So here it is, in the form of Images Not Words (to misquote Dream Theater). Clicking on any of these photographs takes you to the Carousel, where you can view it at higher resolution and move between photos using the left and right arrow keys. Just a few of my photographs are included here; the full set can be viewed on Flickr.

Foxbat–a new band with The Reasoning’s Matt Cohen

foxbat photoAn invitation just appeared on my Facebook wall to “like” Foxbat, a band only recently formed around bassist extraordinaire Matt Cohen (The Reasoning).  There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding this, but here’s what’s appeared at the official Foxbat FB page:


A brand new British Rock band bringing the 70’s vibe, screaming and kicking in to the present day. Formed by Matthew Cohen, Keith Hawkins, Ian Harris and Simon Hobson. Full press release in February 2013.
Founded 2012

Genre Rock

Members Simon Hobson – Lead Vocals
Keith Hawkins – Guitars and BVs
Matthew Cohen – Bass and BVs
Ian Harris – Drums and BVs
? – Hammond and BVs

Hometown UK

Record Label Comet Music

Influences Deep Purple
Led Zeppelin
Black Country Communion
Iron Maiden
Bad Company
Captain Beyond
Black Sabbath
Def Leppard
Yngwie J Malmsteen
The Who
The Eagles
Thin Lizzy
Uriah Heep

Nick’s Best of 2012 (Part 1)

2012 has been a fantastic year for progressive music. I’ve listened to a huge pile of albums and still don’t feel like I have scratched the surface of all the great material that’s out there at the moment. I know of albums that would probably be on my ‘Best Of’ list if only I’d had the time (and money) to hear them in full before now – Katatonia’s Dead End Kings, Mörglbl’s Brutal Romance and The Void from Beardfish spring immediately to mind. But a list must be produced, so let’s activate the ERTEM and get on with it!

First, some restrictions. My list considers only original releases of full albums from 2012: no reissues or remixes and no EPs. (Hey, I’ve got to simplify things somehow, OK?)

I’ll also split my list into three parts: ‘Highly Commended’, ‘Top 5 Contenders’ and ‘Top 5’. To avoid the paralysis of indecision, only the last of these will actually be ranked; the other two will be listed alphabetically.

We’ll begin with my Highly Commended category: 10 albums that I have enjoyed hugely this year.

AstraAstra – The Black Chord

Follow-up to their 2009 debut The Weirding, boasting higher production values. Variously described as ‘retro’ or ‘classic’ in sound, I suppose because of the liberal use of Hammond organ and Mellotron. I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s trippy, atmospheric and darned good! The epic title track is particularly splendid.

CrippledBlackPhoenixCrippled Black Phoenix – (Mankind) The Crafty Ape

A big brooding monster of an album from the stoner prog legends, probably their best yet – although I have yet to hear the follow-up that appeared recently, No Sadness Or Farewell. (Yes, you read that right: two albums in one year). Pretty much how I’d expect Pink Floyd to sound if they’d all been born 25 years later.

District97District 97 – Trouble With Machines

Yes, yes, “former American Idol finalist”, blah blah blah. Forget all that nonsense about vocalist Leslie Hunt and concentrate instead on the music – precise, technical and totally absorbing, all crunching guitars and shifting time signatures, with Hunt’s voice weaving intricate and unusual melodies throughout. Top-class prog metal. John Wetton guests on one track.

TheEnidThe Enid – Invicta

How do you even begin to categorise such a unique band? Some people simply don’t ‘get’ The Enid, but if your tastes encompass the classical or symphonic, there’s a good chance you will fall in love with them. This latest release features a wonderful new lead vocalist, Joe Payne. There is high drama here – think opera or musical theatre – but also moments of great beauty and delicacy.

FlyingColorsFlying Colors – Flying Colors

Given my innate scepticism regarding supergroups, I really wasn’t expecting this to be as good as it is. Album opener Blue Ocean starts off like a more upbeat version of a track by The Doors, and Kayla is a superbly catchy pop anthem. There’s even some real, honest-to-goodness prog in here, in the form of long-form album closer Infinite Fire. A thumbs-up to all concerned; on this evidence, the second album really will be something to relish.

SteveHackettSteve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II

What can I say? A set of well-crafted, tasteful reinterpretations of classic Genesis tracks spanning the entire Hackett era, plus new versions of a few songs from his solo career. Call me a heretic, but I think some of them improve upon the originals. There are things on here that will make you smile and probably one or two that will make you frown, but discovering which is part of the fun. See my review for more details!

NineStonesCloseNine Stones Close – One Eye On The Sunrise

The follow-up to 2010’s Traces. Powerful and atmospheric, achieving true Floydian grandeur in places, with plenty of long liquid guitar solos that would would make Dave Gilmour proud. The excellent vocals of Marc Atkinson – sadly now moving on to pastures new – are also worthy of note. Stand-out tracks are probably The Weight and Frozen Moment.

AlanReedAlan Reed – First In A Field Of One

The solo format allows this former Pallas front man’s vocal talents to really shine. Well-crafted songs with a varied mix of styles, successfully blending prog, pop, rock and even folk influences. The finger-clicking jazzy opening of final track The Usual Suspects is unexpected, to say the least!

TheReasoningThe Reasoning – Adventures In Neverland

Reviewed elsewhere in the hallowed pages of Progarchy. A real statement of intent from a band still mourning the disappearance of former guitarist Owain Roberts. I might quibble with the production, which needs to be more crisp and dynamic, but the songs are very good – particularly those on the second half of the album.

ShadowOfTheSunShadow Of The Sun – Monument

Debut album from ex-Reasoning guitarist/singer Dylan Thompson’s new band. More straight metal than prog, with only hints of The Reasoning here and there. A very enjoyable blend of heavy stuff with one or two quieter and more mellow pieces. Definitely worth a listen.

The Best 15 Albums of 2012, The Greatest Year in Prog. Ever.

IMG_3725by Brad Birzer, Progarchy editor

One of my greatest pleasures of 2012–and there have been many–has been listening to massive quantities of progressive rock, mostly for pleasure.

Being a literary and humanities guy, I’d contemplated rejecting the entire numerical ranking scheme.  Rather, I thought about labeling each of my best albums with various qualities of myth.  These albums achieved the level of Virgil; these of Dante; these of Tolkien, etc.  But, I finally decided this was way too pretentious . . . even for me.

Below are my rankings for the year.  Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by any of these choices.  I’m not exactly subtle in what I like and dislike.  Before listing them, though, I must state three things.

First, I loved all of these albums, or I wouldn’t be listing them here.  That is, once you’ve made it to Valhalla or Olympus, why bother with too many distinctions.  The differences between my appreciation of number 8 and number 2, for example, are marginal at best.

Second, I am intentionally leaving a couple of releases out of the rankings: releases from Echolyn, The Enid, Minstrel’s Ghost, Galahad, and Kompendium, in particular, as I simply did not have time to digest them.  Though, from what I’ve heard, I like each very much.

Third, I think that 2012 has proven to be the single greatest year in prog history.  DPRP’s Brian Watson has argued that we’re in the “third wave of prog.”  He might very well be right.  But, I don’t think we’ve ever surpassed the sheer quality of albums released this year.  This is not to belittle anything that has come before.  Quite the contrary.  I am, after all, a historian by profession and training.  The past is always prologue.  Close to the Edge, Selling England by the Pound, and  Spirit of Eden will always be the great markers of the past.

Ok, be quiet, Brad.  On with the rankings.

Continue reading “The Best 15 Albums of 2012, The Greatest Year in Prog. Ever.”

Threnodic Introspections in Neverland: The Reasoning

Call me a total nerd (and it would be true, for better or worse), but I experience a thrill every time I meet a new word.  Hello new word, I’m Brad.  Well, ok, I’m generally not quite this formal, especially with vocabulary.

With The Reasoning’s newest masterpiece, Adventures in Neverland, I had to look up the word, “Threnody.”  A funeral dirge.  For the previous EP, And Another Thing, I had to look up “Apophenia.”  A false perception of patterns.


From the first moments I can remember listening to Progressive Rock, I have always appreciated not only the intelligence and creativity espoused by the artists themselves, but I’ve also loved the ways in which prog artists demand a certain intelligence and creativity on the part of the listener.

If I’m going to spend any where from thirty minutes to 120 minutes listening to something, I want full immersion.

Every The Reasoning album is a full immersion into the wonderful and meaningful ream of art–by design and certainly without apology.  “Here we are,” Matt, Rachel, and the gang seem to be proclaiming.  “We’ve given you everything we have, and we very much hope you enjoy it as well.  Regardless, we’re having a blast.”

And enjoy it I do, Matt and Rachel.  Every album, every song, every time.

I first encountered their music in 2008 with the release of their second album, Dark Angel.  No mediocre band would give themselves such a lofty name, I correctly assumed.  I was equally intrigued by the title and cover of that album.

The cover itself is worth describing (and I’ll paste a picture of it here, I hope–please wordpress, please!).  A gorgeous, leather-clad, barefooted, winged woman walks across black and white tile (my first thought is a chessboard) in the ruins of a castle or cathedral, with a full moon and ravens above her.  A few planets hover in the background, as does a small glimpse of a renaissance village, and the floor decays as the angel moves forward, away from the village.

Since that moment four years ago, I’ve purchased everything The Reasoning has recorded in the studio, including their haunting cover of Duran Duran’s best song, “The Chauffeur.”

The first album, Awakening, appeared in 2006.  Dark Angel came out in 2008, and the Duran Duran cover in 2009.  In 2010, The Reasoning released Adverse Camber.  This year, The Reasoning released the EP, And Another Thing, in the spring, and Adventures in Neverland just about a month ago.  These guys are unstoppable.  And, we’re all the better for it.

The newest album, Adventures in Neverland, lives up to every one of my very high expectations.  From the opening moment–guitar, keyboards, and a countdown–until the last note, Adventures in Neverland drives and rocks.  It is a truly great album.  Superb in every way.

As it does move, it moves almost relentlessly, driving the listener toward the Apocalypse.  Most of the music has been written by the bassist, Matt Cohen, and the lyrics have been penned by his wife, Rachel Cohen.

He’s clearly a perfectionist, one of the best bassists in rock, and a man driven.  Rachel’s clearly a brilliant and poetic wordsmith, possessed of a voice equal to her imagination.  I could listen to her sing me into the gates of heaven itself.

As with other The Reasoning releases, the cover of the new CD is inviting, if a bit ominous.  It appears, visually, to be a sequel to Dark Angel.  Rather than seeing the angel cross the ruins from inside of the ruins, the viewer sees the ruins (most likely) from a great distance, with birds still hovering but an omniscient eye overseeing it all, including what appears to be the Dark Angel atop the ruins themselves.  Fading at each end, the title: “Adventures in Neverland” hangs at the bottom.

Every song on Adventures in Neverland is a gem:











If you’re happy with this new wave of progressive rock (Brian Watson of DPRP fame called it the “third wave”), you’ll be especially happy with The Reasoning.  For me, they’re an intimate part of the revival.  They’re leading, and they’re leading very well.

Every reader of Progarchy should support The Reasoning.  Here’s the official website (click here).

As a sidenote, I have also followed Matt Cohen (@thereasoning) on Twitter and Facebook for quite some time.  The guy is absolutely hilarious, down to earth, and extremely talented.  He also calls things as he sees them.  In other words, he’s not just a great artist, he’s a real person.