Voyager — V (Best Prog Albums of 2014 — Part 8)

Before I devoted a lot of listening time to Voyager’s V, I was warned that the back half of it wasn’t as good as the front. But the odd thing is that as I got to know the album better, it was actually the back half of it that I liked the best! The songs that made the best early impression on me began with “Embrace the Limitless” (track 6) and went on to the end (“Seasons of Age”, track 13).

The dopey repetition in the chorus of the first track (I instantly hated the repetition of the word “Hyperventilating”) and the almost-grating second track annoyed me in the beginning (“Breaking Down” seemed too slogan-ey as a chorus phrase to me: an undeveloped idea, not a full lyric). Only as I warmed to the whole album did I eventually come to enjoy the first five tracks maximally. It just took awhile. After all, the guitar solo break in “Hyperventilating” is awesome and the musicianship is stellar, as it is everywhere on this disc.

I came to think of the album in three sections: the first five tracks (which it took the longest for me to warm up to, due to their seemingly too-commercial sound); the middle three tracks; and the last five tracks.

“Embrace the Limitless” (track 6) is a refreshing burst of loopy synth metal energy. Where none of the first five tracks grabbed me, this one actually made me sit up and take notice. Then track 7 (“Orpheus”) gets all dark and cool and interesting with even a bit of guttural vocals to match its mythological underworld theme. And finally track 8 was able to get me totally enthused with its cool riffing action and intelligent lyrics (“The Domination Game”). For a while, I would just skip the first five tracks and begin listening at track 6 to the album — with the first five appended to my playlist at the end (to hear if I had time). Eventually, I came to love the whole album and I now just listen to it sequentially as released, with no more playlist shenanigans.

Despite the advance word on the album, for me the finest moments come in the last block of five songs. Track 8 (“Peacekeeper”) is borderline dopey with its almost too-cute lyrical conceit, but it actually maintains its perfect metal balance and never crosses the line for me. In fact, it became one of my early favorites (and remains so) because the music is so darn good. Okay, confession: I love the guitar work on this album. The guitar sounds are just so excellent and well produced. And this track is a prime example.

But the best is yet to come: Track 9 (“It’s a Wonder”) has a strong claim for totally favorite track, especially because of its out-of-left-field uber-cool outro, which I absolutely love; it makes me want to listen to the track on repeat, every time!

But then, instead of hitting the replay button, we get the treat of the epic-scale last three tracks. “The Morning Light” (track 11) is a glorious sonic marvel. It clocks in as the longest track (5:58) with metal riffs and keyboards taking us to the prog places we all want to go. Whew! What a ride! Can it get any better? Well, we actually get to catch our breath with track 12 (“Summer Always Comes Again”), a stunningly beautiful song that is completely unexpected as a ballad-ey break. It’s only 2:21 long, but we end up wishing the beauty could go on forever.

The album could have ended there, leaving us with a sweet sense of infinite beauty and infinite longing. Instead, we get total appetitive gratification with the amazing album-closer: Track 13, “Seasons of Age”. This song has a magical sound and it totally rocks its way out to a jaw-dropping, drum-whacking finale.

This is proggy metal at its most melodic and accessible. Don’t be a hater; embrace the excellence. Superb musicianship, luminous production, and superstar vocal stylings? Yes! This disc definitely makes the cut for my Top Ten Prog Albums of 2014.

Bryan’s Best of 2014

Without a doubt, 2014 has been a great year for Prog. It seems as if we have been barraged by great music from all sides.  The string of excellence continues. This list is my arbitrary ordering of what I liked best from this year. I’m really not a huge fan of “best of” lists because I don’t think you can really judge art in that way. So, consider this a list of what I enjoyed. The order of numbers 10-3 is relatively interchangeable.

10. Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics 8530215

I should have reviewed this album when it came out back in January, but I’m lazy. This was a fantastic sophomore release by the Lexington, Kentucky prog outfit. Their first album, Lost and Gone Forever, was an excellent concept album. These guys do a fantastic job of combining classic prog influences with a harder rock edge. The beginning of the album sounds almost Pink Floydian, and there are definite nods to The Wall. The singer also sounds a bit like Roger Waters. Heretics is another concept album, and it clocks in at over 70 minutes in length. Check these guys out – they are ascending as a band and are making some great music.

http://www.dreamtheelectricsleep.com

9. Cosmograf – CapacitorCapacitor

Robin Armstrong’s latest offering, combined with the efforts of such wizards as Andy Tillison, Nick D’Virgilio, and Matt Stevens, is a fresh take on prog rock. As of right now, I haven’t listened to any other Cosmograf albums, but this one is quite good. I’m sure there are others here at Progarchy that could tell you more about the band, and I’ll wager they would be more than happy to. Capacitor is definitely worthy of any 2014 “top 10” list.

http://www.cosmograf.com

8. Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom Into the Maelstrom

Three words – Mike freaking Portnoy. He teamed up with Bigelf to drum on their latest album, and it was insane. He has to be the hardest working musician in prog. This isn’t the last we shall hear from him on this list.

Bigelf’s breed of prog metal is unlike anything I have heard before. Maybe it’s lead singer Damon Fox’s awesomely bizarre vocals, or their fantastic combination of metal and classic rock, or maybe it’s Portnoy. Or all of the above. Whatever it is, Bigelf has created something special with Into the Maelstrom. They have been around since the early 1990s, have four studio albums, and have toured with Dream Theater, so they know their way around the business. Certainly worth the time for any Mike Portnoy fan, as well as any fan of prog metal.

https://www.facebook.com/bigelfmusic/info?tab=page_info

http://www.bigelf.com

7. The Gift – Land of Shadowscover

London’s The Gift masterfully combine prog metal with symphonic metal and Gabriel-era Genesis prog. This album is refreshing in its tonal clarity and its thematic prowess. It is definitely an album worth listening to over and over again through the years. Here’s my review of it from several months back:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/20/the-gift-land-of-shadows/

http://www.thegiftmusic.com/index.php

 

6. Voyager – Vimage013

Australian prog metal outfit Voyager have released a very solid album this year. While I feel like it could have been more tightly constructed and some of the songs featured unnecessary repetition, there are some awesome riffs to be found here. This band rocks, and they rock hard. Many comment that the second half of the album is a let down, but I think it is just the opposite. Voyager ventures into the wonderful void of prog in the second half of V, including some softer songs. Time Lord wrote a very nice review of the album earlier this year:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/05/voyager-v/

http://voyager-australia.com

5. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope (Kaleidoscope)

I told you Mike Portnoy would be heard from again on this list. Supergroup Transatlantic cranked out a fantastic album this year. Made up of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, and Pete Trewavas, Transatlantic has several albums under their belt, and they continue to impress. Kaleidoscope was my first introduction to Transatlantic, and it was an excellent first impression. The cover songs found on the accompanying special edition are all excellent. Anyone who can cover Yes, King Crimson, Elton John, Focus, Moody Blues, and a few others while still sounding entirely unique deserves immense respect. The live album, KaLIVEoscope, that came out in October, was equally brilliant, with three hours of musical genius. The collective talent in this band is shocking, and it clearly shows on Kaleidoscope.

http://www.transatlanticweb.com

4. Chevelle – La GárgolaLaGargola

No, this isn’t a prog album. However, Chevelle released one of the best albums of their career with La Gárgola. Their heavy, yet not overly heavy, style of metal has been a staple of contemporary hard rock over the past 15 years. Their excellent vocals, steady bass, clear guitar, proficient drumming, and haunting lyrics makes Chevelle one of the most interesting metal bands of the 21st Century. I found this album to be an excellent return to their heavier beginnings, while simultaneously exploring new and more complicated territory.

http://getmorechevelle.com/home.php

https://progarchy.com/2014/08/26/chevelle-la-gargola/

3. Pink Floyd – The Endless RiverThe Endless River

Is Pink Floyd even capable of making an album that isn’t good? Their latest (and final) album combines extra recordings from The Division Bell with recordings from David Gilmour and Nick Mason, as well as studio musicians. Mainly instrumental (only one song has singing), this album hearkens back to the instrumentation found in Wish You Were Here and Animals. The one thing missing, in my opinion, is Roger Waters’ bass. I feel like his involvement in this album would have made it even more spectacular, as well as thrill millions of fans. Even so, this is clearly Pink Floyd, and any fan of psychedelic prog will love this album. The album serves as a worthy sendoff for Richard Wright.

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/index2.php

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/theendlessriver/

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld397022

Vanden Plas’ latest album might very well be the best progressive metal album I have ever heard, with no disrespect to Dream Theater’s Images and Words. It is just that Netherworld so beautifully captures the intricacies of metal, “high prog,” and magnificent story telling. There have been some excellent albums released this year, but few reach the brilliance of Vanden Plas. Having listened to some of their previous work, this album is not out of the ordinary for them. One of the nicest things about this band is the vocals are not your traditional “metal” vocals – there is no screaming, yelling, whining, etc. Andy Kuntz’s voice is beautifully melodic and mysterious, and it is perfect for this album. Vanden Plas perfectly crosses over between the worlds of full-on head banging metal riffs and quieter, classic progressive rock. This album also has one of the best beginnings and endings of any album I have ever heard. There is a clear and definite start and resolution – you aren’t left hanging or wishing there was more. It is perfect just as it is.

Check out Gianna’s and Time Lord’s reviews of Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld.

http://www.vandenplas.de

1. Flying Colors – Second NatureSecond Nature

Mike Portnoy again. The guy sure does get around. Neal Morse again too. Go figure. Also in the band are Steve Morse, Casey McPhersen, and Dave Larue.

Second Nature is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Flying Colors combine prog rock and pop rock in a way not seen since the glory days of Styx and Kansas. Seeing them live merely solidified my position on the matter. Catchy yet complicated riffs abound, as well as thoughtful lyrics. If prog wants to become mainstream and popular again, then bands need to take note of Flying Colors.

Check out my review of Second Nature, as well as my review of their live show.

http://flyingcolorsmusic.com

***

Well, there’s my top 10 of 2014. A fair mixture of metal, prog metal, and straight up prog. Honorable mention should go to Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus, Fire Garden’s Sound of Majestic Colors (which I thought had far too much of a “garage band” mixing to make my top 10 list), Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts, Salander’s STENDEC, and Glass Hammer’s Ode to Echo. Special mention goes to Haken’s recent EP, Restoration EP. Had this been an album, I would have placed it in my top 5. Dishonorable mention goes to Yes’ Heaven and Earth.

Top concert of the year goes to Dennis DeYoung. His voice has not changed in 40 years, and his backup band and vocalists are better than Styx. He also has a singer who sounds better than Tommy Shaw did 40 years ago. Runner up for best show goes to Flying Colors, from their brief Second Nature tour. The reason I’m not placing them as best live show of the year is because of the audio problems they had during the show. The sound system for Dennis DeYoung’s show was superb, with no feedback issues during the show. I also had a wonderful time at the B.B. King concert, as well as seeing the CSO perform the music to Return of the King live. It was a great year for concerts!

I would also like to mention Dream Theater’s self-titled album as one of my most listened to albums of 2014. Everything about this album was fantastic, including the live album on Blu-Ray they released a few months back. From the metal virtuosity to the lyrics, this album will be on the rotation for years to come.

2014 has been another fantastic year for prog, and I look forward to more of the same in 2015. Neal Morse’s next project, The Neal Morse Band The Grand Experiment, comes out in February. Take a wild guess at who the drummer is. Muse will also be releasing an album in 2015, one which they claim will return to their rockier roots. There is also talk of a Rush 41st anniversary tour (I think there is, anyways). Much to look forward to in the coming year, and much to appreciate from 2014.

Prog on, Progarchy!

 

Cynic — Kindly Bent to Free Us ★★★★★

CYNIC

This is the third album in my “Four for the Fourth of July” series. I have selected four star-spangled five-star albums that already have a lock on my year-end Top Ten for 2014. Vanden Plas and Voyager have already been reviewed. Today I commend to you this nifty new prog rock release from Cynic.

Cynic is famous for their infrequent but innovative and influential contributions to the prog cause: Focus (1993) and Traced in Air (2008), plus the EPs Re-Traced (2010) and Carbon-Based Anatomy (2011). On this new release, they have entirely eliminated any trace of death-metal vocals and taken a new direction to boot. The style not so much metal as it is groovy, jazz fusion-ey rock.

It sounds totally classic to me. I love the retro vibe on this album. It is kind of like discovering a hidden gem from the 70s in a time capsule. The disc is 42 minutes long and is thus reminiscent of a vinyl-length listening experience. And the album even divides nicely into a “Side A” and a “Side B”, with four tracks on each side.

“True Hallucination Speak” (6:03) is the first track and it locks us in with a solid groove. When the guitar solo comes, it transports us to amazingly ecstatic musical heights. But then, suddenly, just when we expect it to escalate further into an even wilder guitar freak-out, the rug is pulled out from under us as, after a moment of silence, we experience a calm and mellow meditation, which is all the more effective because of where it is inserted. And then we get to groove again.

“The Lion’s Roar” (4:35) is track two and it is a real beauty of a song. The songwriting and instrumental virtuosity fit together perfectly as the musical journey unfolds wonderfully. Here we have a model of what a chorus can be and of what makes a great song a great song. The title phrase hits us with such exquisite fittingness every time it is uttered, we don’t want this chorus to ever end. But when it does eventually come to an end, the song surprises us then in a very satisfying way. Listening to the conclusion, you would not want this to end any other way. It is just right.

“Kindly Bent to Free Us” (6:27) is track three and it is like the band has been saving up the most exceptional experience for third. We have already been won over by the ultra-groovy first two tracks. But now we get some super-awesome riffing and jazzy group dynamics that, unbelievably, take the album to even more exciting places not yet heard. I can understand why this is the title track. There’s something special about it. It’s an epic jazzy prog rock track that clocks in at six and a half minutes and so only track seven, “Holy Fallout” (6:36) is longer — by nine seconds. The band really shines when stretching out on this sort of scale. There’s a lot of tension and excitement built up by the trio’s energetic instrumental interactions. We’re dealing with absolutely upper-echelon prog here. I especially love the classic bass guitar sound.

“Infinite Shapes” (4:57) as track four feels like a bit of a chill-out after the steadily accelerating upwards trajectory of the first three tracks on “Side A”. The wall of sound is still heavily rocking out, but it feels more straightforward than the preceding tracks. So we can gather ourselves to do it all over again — because “Side B” follows the same escalating pattern of “Side A”.

“Moon Heart Sun Head” (5:21) as track five just might be my favorite track — it is so hard to pick — because just like track one on “Side A” we get an usually powerful and highly effective guitar solo that functions to transport us to spiritual heights. Here, the singing guitar solo blasts off after a spoken-word set-up from some kind of guru voice. If that sounds on paper like it could be gimmicky, rest assured that no, it works amazingly well. Prog rock theurgy doesn’t get better than this.

“Gitanjali” (3:59) as track six continues the devotional voyage. Apparently the title word can be translated as “a prayer offering of song”. As with “Side A”, we are ascending once again as the tracks progress sequentially. Some cool sonic layering here will impress you. And the pauses and pacing work amazing things, pulling you in to the inner thinking of the riffs.

“Holy Fallout” (6:36) as track seven is a mind-blowing experience. Even though it is the longest track, we wish it could go longer. There are so many moods and feelings that it runs through. It has nifty rock-out sections with nimble dances of virtuosity and yet also atmospheric washes of contemplation. The guitar work here is incredible and highly impressive. What a great sound. The trio dynamics are spectacular and the drumming is especially graceful and delicately fierce.

“Endlessly Bountiful” (3:56) is the chill-out for the “Side B” trajectory and it ends the album on a suitably meditative note. If Plotinus had had a prog rock band, I imagine this would have been one of his favorite contemplative jams. Here we have a unique sonic experience that unfolds in layers and draws us in to the heart of this band’s musical beauty. There’s a nice Sigur Ros-like vibe here but with a unique twist. The mellow guitar outro that ends the whole thing is beyond perfect. What a sweet way to end such a stunning album.

Cynic — Kindly Bent to Free Us

Progarchist Rating: ★★★★★

Voyager — V ★★★★★

Before I devoted a lot of listening time to this disc, I was warned that the back half of it wasn’t as good as the front. But the odd thing is that as I got to know the album better, it was actually the back half of it that I liked the best! The songs that made the best early impression on me began with “Embrace the Limitless” (track 6) and went on to the end (“Seasons of Age”, track 13).

The dopey repetition in the chorus of the first track (I instantly hated the repetition of the word “Hyperventilating”) and the almost-grating second track annoyed me in the beginning (“Breaking Down” seemed too slogan-ey as a chorus phrase to me: an undeveloped idea, not a full lyric). Only as I warmed to the whole album did I eventually come to enjoy the first five tracks maximally. It just took awhile. After all, the guitar solo break in “Hyperventilating” is awesome and the musicianship was stellar, as it is everywhere on this disc.

I came to think of the album in three sections: the first five tracks (which it took the longest for me to warm up to, due to their seemingly too-commercial sound); the middle three tracks; and the last five tracks.

“Embrace the Limitless” (track 6) is a refreshing burst of loopy synth metal energy. Where none of the first five tracks grabbed me, this one actually made me sit up and take notice. Then track 7 (“Orpheus”) gets all dark and cool and interesting with even a bit of guttural vocals to match its mythological underworld theme. And finally track 8 was able to get me totally enthused with its cool riffing action and intelligent lyrics (“The Domination Game”). For a while, I would just skip the first five tracks and begin listening at track 6 to the album — with the first five appended to my playlist at the end (to hear if I had time). Eventually, I came to love the whole album and I now just listen to it sequentially as released, with no more playlist shenanigans.

Despite the advance word on the album, for me the finest moments come in the last block of five songs. Track 8 (“Peacekeeper”) is borderline dopey with its almost too-cute lyrical conceit, but it actually maintains its perfect metal balance and never crosses the line for me. In fact, it became one of my early favorites (and remains so) because the music is so darn good. Okay, confession: I love the guitar work on this album. The guitar sounds are just so excellent and well produced. And this track is a prime example.

But the best is yet to come: Track 9 (“It’s a Wonder”) has a strong claim for totally favorite track, especially because of its out-of-left-field uber-cool outro, which I absolutely love; it makes me want to listen to the track on repeat, every time!

But then, instead of hitting the replay button, we get the treat of the epic-scale last three tracks. “The Morning Light” (track 11) is a glorious sonic marvel. It clocks in as the longest track (5:58) with metal riffs and keyboards taking us to the prog places we all want to go. Whew! What a ride! Can it get any better? Well, we actually get to catch our breath with track 12 (“Summer Always Comes Again”), a stunningly beautiful song that is completely unexpected as a ballad-ey break. It’s only 2:21 long, but we end up wishing the beauty could go on forever.

The album could have ended there, leaving us with a sweet sense of infinite beauty and infinite longing. Instead, we get total appetitive gratification with the amazing album-closer: Track 13, “Seasons of Age”. This song has a magical sound and it totally rocks its way out to a jaw-dropping, drum-whacking finale.

This is proggy metal at its most melodic and accessible. Don’t be a hater; embrace the excellence. Superb musicianship, luminous production, and superstar vocal stylings; this disc is the second one of my “Four for the Fourth of July“, star-spangled five-star album picks at the midpoint of 2014. (Or should I say… “V” stars?)

Voyager — V

Progarchist Rating: ★★★★★

Voyager — V Preview

V

Here’s the key excerpt from the interesting review by Steel Druhm of the new Voyager disc, V:

They have a very distinctive sound and approach to power-prog and their ear for melody and hooks is second only to Anubis Gate. Naturally, as the release of grew near I became giddy like a school girl at a Justin Bieber kissing booth. Now I’ve spent some serious time with V  and it actually comes close to my high expectations…at first. This is really a tale of two albums: the first half is one slick, smooth, memorable song after another, but the second half drops way off, becoming far more pedestrian and unremarkable. V also sacrifices heaviness for more poppish melodies and their musical palette seems less diverse than before, but when it works, it works very well. Unfortunately, that’s only about 60% of the time here.

Read more over at Angry Metal Guy.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I do think the back half of V is pretty darn great!

Read more about the awesomeness of Anubis Gate here at Progarchy.