Leah — Otherworld (Best EP of 2013)


My favorite EP of 2013 came from Canada’s Leah, who has transported us again to the Otherworld.

A lot of artists don’t feel constrained by the old “singles and album” format. Because this new era of technology enables and encourages it, we see more and more EPs happening.

There were a lot of great EPs released in 2013, as artists shared their gifts in small bursts of creativity. For example, I really enjoyed the EP releases from Sean KellyHalestorm, Chasing Dragons, Anthrax, and Adrenaline Mob.

Leah released Otherworld on All Hallow’s Eve. I know that Brad and Carl are big fans; so too are Socrates and Count Floyd, who had an interesting discussion about the new EP on Halloween, and here’s a brief excerpt from their dialogue:

Socrates: Thank you for playing your music so loud, Floyd. I am glad that it attracted me inside to your studio, so that I could learn about this amazing Canadian songstress. This EP is one that I will recommend to Plato, and to all my other young friends who enjoy beautiful poetry and inspired artistic craft. I really do love how this EP tells a musical story by moving through five stages, in five tracks. Remarkable!

Count Floyd: What story is that, Socrates? Is it scaaaary?

Socrates: The story of Otherworld, as I understand it, is this:

[1] Being challenged by the difficulties of life (“Shores of Your Lies”);

[2] trying to fight back (“Northern Edge”);

[3] then, after the battle is done, surrendering spiritually to a Higher Power (“Surrounded”), thereby turning the physical defeat into a spiritual victory (hence, the title has a lovely twofold meaning);

[4] then, from this higher vantage point, singing from beyond the grave — to those still alive — about the “Otherworld” — the hope of the resurrection of the dead (“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep”); and, finally,

[5] a “saving tale” of the sort that Plato tells — a myth that just might shock your soul into taking your life seriously (“Dreamland”).

Days Are Gone (Best of 2013 — Part 13)

With this post, I now conclude my Top Thirteen Albums of 2013. Maybe, because earlier on I had invoked Black Sabbath, you were expecting me to nominate their album “13” for my #13 slot. (Melinda Selmys, after all, noted of their video for “God Is Dead?” that it is “the most Christian music video of the year.”) Well, if that is what you were expecting, then I have successfully faked you out. Because here is my twist ending…

In my final #13 slot, I give you, not heavy metal, but the pop perfection of:


I choose Haim’s pop masterpiece “Days Gone By” (which iTunes currently has on sale for a limited time) because I never want to become complacent as a citizen of the republic of Progarchy. Sure, we listen to prog because we are able to get, from prog, so much more than we usually get from the mainstream musical venues.

But sometimes the big record companies actually do get things right. (I mean, The Beatles weren’t so bad, were they?) So, it behooves Progarchy to recognize excellence wherever it may arise. (For me, that is the true spirit of prog. Devotion and dedication to excellence, in all forms. Which will, of course, take you in time towards all our favorite prog bands.)

Therefore, since this is the last day of the year, why not crank up “Days Are Gone” and send out the year on a happy note? There is nothing quite like genuine pop perfection, and anyone with a smile and a sweet tooth has got to love Haim.

2013 has been a great year for music! A big thank you to all my fellow Progarchists for sharing their musical experiences here, thereby expanding my own.

I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day, when I will reveal the name of my fave EP from 2013 — since EPs do not count towards my Top Ten lists, which (in good prog fashion) I always dedicate to the recognition of the best contributions towards the keeping alive of The Art of the Album.

Time and Space (Best of 2013 — Part 12)

Continuing with the final three albums of my Top Thirteen of 2013, I now reveal that the #12 slot is reserved for:

Lobate Scarp

Their excellent “Time and Space” disc was actually released on December 12, 2012 (12-12-12) and although it is therefore technically ineligible for a Best of 2013 list, just as I found a loophole to get Chasing Dragons into the #11 slot for 2013, I have found a place at #12 for Lobate Scarp in my Top Thirteen of 2013.

In addition to my riffing on the band’s harmonious use of the number 12 by placing them at #12, my logic of inclusion is that I actually did not get this album until 2013, when somehow the band found a way to make the CD magically appear at home in a bundle of my snail mail. Captivated by the beautiful packaging and lyric booklet, I soon learned that what Carl concluded earlier on this year is absolutely true: this album is a first-rate achievement that deserves wider recognition.

The first track is the title track, “Time and Space.” While other bands will save their longest and most epic prog track for last (two examples from 2013’s best would be Dream Theater’s “Illumination Theory” and Sound of Contact’s “Mobius Slip”), Lobate Scarp instead kicks things off by putting their most epic track first! Wow. It’s a great way to establish their prog bona fides right from the get-go. Nicely done!

Next up is “Jacob’s Ladder,” the only track that is shorter than five minutes long. But it’s really catchy and gives us a chance to catch our breath after the epic opening.

The third track is the excellent “Beginning of Us,” which has an enchanting melody that hooks you in slowly. Then the excitement builds and soon you find yourself either singing or humming along. By the time we hit the second verse, things have gotten so funky, and the tasty synth is so perfect, we hardly expect the stratospheric guitar launch of the instrumental section that soon ensues. But off we go! Again, wow. This is a magnificent song that takes us on quite an interstellar journey in just under seven minutes.

The fourth track, “The Contradiction,” is also a supremely interesting musical journey that showcases the astonishing abilities of these fabulous musicians. These folks have supreme jazz sensibilities that really distinguish them as musicians and that mark their compositions with a peculiar brand of proggy individuality.

My favorite track on the album turns out to be the fifth track, “Save My Soul,” which starts out with an awesome heavy riff before pulling back and then slowly building up to yet more excitement. The track then goes on to have so many interesting changes and contrasts, including an epic horn freakout, that you want to stand up and cheer at the end of the thing. Amazing!

Track six, “Moment,” slows things down, but only for the first few minutes. Pretty soon Lobate Scarp finds their way into yet another one of their trademark grooves, and we get to go on another exhilarating ride with them. Zoom!

The concluding seventh track, “The Mirror,” is an ambitious musical extravaganza that even includes a gigantic choir singing in Latin. Whoa! Man, you have got to give this band kudos. They do not shy away from any sort of daring musical enterprise. Instead, propelled by their wonderful grooves, they boldly go… where no prog has gone before.

Do yourself a huge favor and buy a copy of this album. It is lovingly crafted by people who are obviously musicians’ musicians. Only rarely do ambitious projects like this succeed. But Lobate Scarp has made the jump to hyperspace and you are invited to come along for the ride to the higher musical dimensions of this upper-echelon labor of love.

Chasing Dragons (Best of 2013 — Part 11)

I discovered this band purely by chance. Instigated mainly by my nephew (but also by others), I was attempting a Web search on “Imagine Dragons,” that overrated and overhyped band. But, as I tried to recall the name of that band I was searching for, I accidentally typed in the wrong name. Instead, I typed in “Chasing Dragons,” which is — let’s face it — a much cooler name for a band. But as I realized my mistake, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised. For I had just discovered a much better band that was playing much more interesting music. I had discovered Chasing Dragons, the under-estimated and under-appreciated hard rock band from Leeds.

Two string-meisters, Mitch and Ant, handle the mayhem on guitar and bass. At the other two ends of this quadrilateral, on vocals and drums, we find the incredible Tank and the mighty Kate. All four of these outstanding musicians demonstrate an exceptional degree of talent.

I am very impressed with the way that Chasing Dragons stands out from the crowd. In addition to being riveted by their uncommon energy and passion, I am also very impressed by the careful artistry and consummate craftsmanship that they put into every aspect of their songwriting.

This band is so tight and generates such dramatic musical excitement that I could not believe my luck when I stumbled across them in their current relative obscurity. Who knew that hidden away in Leeds is such great musical talent, about to take the world by storm! I am hoping that they develop their fan base further and thus gain the wider recognition that they deserve. (It will be fun to follow their career as their future records take shape.)

Therefore, by the powers vested in me as a citizen of the republic of Progarchy, I am creating a special 11th spot on my traditional end-of-year, “Top Ten” list… for Chasing Dragons, my #11 for this year. I am taking this extraordinary action because it is in 2013 that I discovered this band, an epochal event which I want to commemorate somehow.

Luckily, I have a loophole: Chasing Dragons released a first-class single in 2013. By combining it with the material from their 2012 EP, “Take Flight for a Firefight,” I argue that Chasing Dragons has, as of this year, released enough music that, in composite, forms what I consider to be a solid LP of very impressive material.

The following is the playlist — the “virtual LP” — that I have fashioned for myself. I have been listening to it repeatedly. I argue that this playlist showcases a “Virtual LP” that constitutes, from beginning to end, a first-rate achievement. In my own mind, I christen this “Virtual LP” with the name “Seeds of Tomorrow,” because that Chasing Dragons song is arguably what should be considered their signature track:

Chasing Dragons — “Seeds of Tomorrow” (Virtual LP created from EP & Single):
1. Into the Pit
2. Under the Earth
3. Spawn of the Succubus
4. Mirror’s Edge
5. Black Velvet
6. Seeds of Tomorrow
7. City of Steel
8. Hindsight’s a Bitch
9. Let Sleeping Lions Lay

“Unplugged” Bonus Tracks:
10. It’s Bravery, Honestly
11. Spawn of the Succubus (Live Acoustic)
12. Into the Pit (Live Acoustic)

The first nine tracks as above form a solid 40 minutes of excellent female-fronted metal music. The last three tracks are 12 minutes of acoustic bonus tracks that prove the band’s remarkable musical versatility, thus pointing towards a promising future. By the way, “Black Velvet” is a cover of the tune by 1990 Grammy winner Alannah Myles, and it is even better than the original. So, I say that, any way you look at it, Chasing Dragons have shown themselves capable of producing not just the cumulative output of an LP’s worth of material, but of astoundingly upper-echelon material.

I myself think of the LP-sized slice of nine tracks above as forming a showcase of “Past” (“Into the Pit,” “Under the Earth,” and “Spawn of the Succubus”), “Present” (“Mirror’s Edge,” “Black Velvet,” and “Seeds of Tomorrow”), and “Future” (“City of Steel,” “Hindsight’s a Bitch,” and “Let Sleeping Lions Lay”). What I mean is that the band shows their “Past” first by singing songs with themes that are genre-bound in lyrical inspiration; then they showcase in the “Present” the fact of their undeniable ability as a band to write truly superb original songs and the fact that they are so talented themselves that even their covers can transcend the original inspirations and showcase the band’s unique personality; and finally they give some exciting indications of the directions in which their “Future” work might head. In short, this is a very dynamic band moving quickly, rapidly developing before our very ears, hurtling from one excellent achievement to another. The Virtual LP captures that truth in a musical snapshot.

If I had to pick favorite tracks by Chasing Dragons they would probably be “Mirror’s Edge,” “Seeds of Tomorrow,” and “City of Steel,” because of Tank’s great lyrics in them. But really, all the band’s tracks are excellent. Sample them all, and please notice how there are nice bursts of creative genius from all four corners of this band. As just one example, take this great line from the chorus to their 2013 single, their ode to hindsight:

If regrets were made of bullets
then we’d all be dead inside

Keep your ear on this band. If you like female-fronted metal, then be sure to try out all the tracks. As I have said, I find they all work exceedingly well together as a solid unit in the playlist order that I have invented and listed above.

Make sure you always buy music from and support the promising artists in our midst like Chasing Dragons. Indeed, this young band arguably has within them the “Seeds of Tomorrow.” Therefore, let me end my review here with a quote from their own song of that name. This song could be considered their musical signature. Arguably, its lyrics, paired with the powerful music, sum up how we should best construe the meaning of the band’s formidable name, Chasing Dragons:

Chase the demons away
Show them where the trouble’s at
Take up arms and fight
Show them that you won’t hold back

Chase your demons away
Show them you’re not here to play games
Take your life in your hands
Tomorrow’s ours
So let’s take it back

Top Ten… or Top Thirteen?

For my personal Best of 2013 list, I have just posted (over the last few days) an alphabetical listing of my Top Ten:

Big Big Train: English Electric Part Two

Deep Purple: NOW What?!

Dream Theater: Dream Theater

Haken: The Mountain

Holy Grail: Ride the Void

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Sound of Contact: Dimensionaut

Spock’s Beard: Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories

The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs

But, as promised, I am now going to add three more to the list, as three bonus additions, and thus make this a Top Thirteen list.

Why? Well, because this is the year 2013, and also because Black Sabbath released 13 this year (which also happened to be one of Mike Portnoy‘s favorites).

So, stay tuned for #11 on my Top Thirteen of 2013…