Marco Hietala – Pyre of the Black Heart

marcoAnd now we get the English version of this great album. Though, most of you will already be familiar with this (if you too are a fan of Nightwish), having heard the Finnish version released last year. And yes, I like it. A lot. But then again, I’m a big fan of his work with Nightwish, so it was kind of expected. But now, the rest of us, in part, get to delve into the lyrics too. But I’m gonna tell ya… not much brightness here, as the title kind of gives away. There are glimmers of hope and light here and there, but it’s a fairly dark album. And I can’t help but make comparisons to Nightwish, as would be expected, and unsurprisingly, bass is featured prominently. Let’s dig in.

Stones, the first single released (See below), is a great rocker that starts off and sets the mood of the album. Not sure what Marko has against rocks, but man, he sees them everywhere. Or maybe he likes them. I don’t know. At first, the repetition on this one bothered me but it is growing on me.

The Voice of My Father is a slower track with some nice synthwave sounds in the chorus. Seems to be kind of speaking out against following religion. A theme that pops up here from time to time.

“They told us that we are dust. But we are ashes of the stars.”

Just when I think we are getting a synthwave laced track, Stars, Sand, and Shadow quickly changes to an upbeat rocker. One of the catchier choruses on the album. He does have a penchant for them. Not unlike one of Nightwish’s straight ahead rockers. And that is a good thing!

“Ohohwahahowahahoa!!!!”

Dead God’s Son seems to tell the story of a lost soul. It is a slower , brooding track with yet another great and catchy chorus.

“Journey into fear. Home was never here.”

For You has a bit of a heavy electronic sound to it. Very much a slow burn of song and the longest one on the album. But again… great melodies. And a great, pink Floydish guitar solo that really fits the atmosphere and closes the track.

I am the way starts out with a piano and Marko singing as a slow intro, then more electronic percussion driving the verses. Another slow burn of a song. Then the full band comes in with a meaty chugging riff and a soaring chorus. Lyrically? A ballad from the devil? Not sure…

“House of High Heaven. Houses of the damned, sixes and seven.” I learned a new term here.

A rocker is very much needed at this point, and Runner of the Railways, fiddle filled and all, delivers. It’s a catchy song that I really like… except for the extremely repetitive chorus. Never liked one line, repeated choruses and I never will. So I tolerate this song for the killer music and instrumental section.

“Ooohhhh oooohhh ooohhhh ohhhhhh” Sorry. Having a hard time making out the other lyrics. Ha!

Death March For Freedom has a really dirty bass beginning (love it!) and then the full band kicks in and gives us yet another catchy as hell song. Marko knows how to write a great melody. There are no two songs alike here. And ends with what sounds kind of like a gospel choir and some fantastic keys and some driving drums.

Man, I love the bass tone on I Dream. It features prominently on this track. With a smooth vocal delivery from Marco that turns into a spoken word at times. The full band joins in a little later, but still with a slow brooding sound. It seems to be about self reflection on one’s worth and deeming one’s self not worthy? Maybe I missed the meaning here.

“My hopes go up against the black space. Defiant. Then at once they die.”

We close out with a slower, acoustic track called Truth, with as hopeful of lyrics as your going to find on this album. And the end of this one is just beautiful with the heavy drums, orchestration, and acoustic guitar. What a way to end the album.

“I’m grateful for the pain. It says we are alive.”

This album took a little to grow on me fully, but it did. You can definitely hear Nightwish’s influence, in both music and lyrics, on Marco (or vice versa) but this is definitely a different sound over all. And the production is fantastic. Such a great mix that lets you hear everything.

Rating 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Stones
2. The Voice Of My Father
3. Star, Sand And Shadow
4. Dead God’s Son
6. For You
7. I Am The Way
8. Runner Of The Railways
9. Death March For Freedom
10. I Dream

11. Truth Shall Set You Free

Label: Nuclear Blast

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Neil Peart 1952-2020

It’s hard to put into words how much Neil Peart meant to me. It’s staggering to see how much he meant to SO MANY people. It was more than his talent as a drummer or even his ability to craft such meaningful lyrics. He had so much tragedy in his life and yet he found a way through. He lived his life on HIS terms and he died the same way. He passed on Tuesday January 7th after a three year battle with brain cancer and managed to keep that a secret…and we didn’t find out that he died until three days later. That is Neil Peart. Even in death he was elusive and private. I respect that more than I can tell you. Classy, intelligent and brilliant. RIP.

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Moron Police – “A Boat on the Sea”

mpI get a lot of submissions from labels and PR reps. When Roie Avin of Royal Avenue Media (and InsideOut and the Prog Report) sent me “A Boat on the Sea” by Moron Police, I wasn’t blown away. I listened and thought it was just average. I shelved it and didn’t review it. I do make it a habit of revisiting albums like that in case I missed something the first time around. I definitely missed A LOT the first time around.

First off, don’t let the name fool you. Yes, Moron Police is a funny name and they do have a wry wit to some of their lyrics but they are anything but a comedy band. The band merge very technical playing which can be VERY prog with incredibly catchy melodies and choruses. “A Boat on the Sea” kicks off with the short opener “Hocus Pocus” which is NOT the Focus song. The song is really great but over too quickly. It sounds like half a song so I do wish they had developed it more.

Things really get going after that with 3 exceptional tracks that culminates with one of my favorite tracks “Beware the Blue Skies.” The band have a bright sound so the dichotomy within the lyrics really works. After it is what I would say is the weakest track “The Dog Song.” It does have funny, clever lyrics but the music sounds a bit like Rusted Root or something. Matt (Restless Amoeba) mentioned that Moron Police sound like O.A.R. and I think that’s a good comparison from a melody stand point.

The final three songs on “A Boat on the Sea” are my favorites. “Captain Awkward” melts a very weird tech part with a big AOR sound and somehow it really works. “The Undersea” is a song that should be on the radio somewhere and the closer “Isn’t It Easy” is my favorite track. HOLY SHIT that song is amazing! It’s got some sick playing and a chorus that’s in my head as I am typing this review.

The album is a bit too short at 33 minutes though. It could use another song or two (along with expanding the opening track). But it’s hard to hold that against Moron Police when you consider just how great this album is otherwise. I am really glad I went back and re-listened to this album! It’s a shame I waited until after 2019 was over because this would have made my top 20 of 2019. Don’t sleep on this album like I did!

Rating: 9.5/10

Bandcamp: moronpolice1.bandcamp.com
Website: www.moronpolice.com

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Dead Kosmonaut – “Gravitas”

dkI’d never heard of the Swedish band Dead Kosmonaut before getting sent this promo but I liked the description so I gave it a shot. They definitely merge Sabbath and Maiden but also have a Uriah Heep vibe going as well. Their sound is rooted in that 70s metal/rock scene but they don’t sound “old school.” I would even include Mastodon in there as well.

So “Gravitas” is basically all of this mixed together without exactly sounding like any of them. Dead Kosmonaut walk a line between being unique and yet still fitting in as well. Lead vocalist Pelle Gustafsson has a really stong voice and I know he reminds me of someone but I am still not exactly sure who. He has good range along with a nice grit as well. The songs are solid though I am not sure the hooks are quite as strong as I would like.

The playing is off the charts though! The soloing is just amazing. I do love it when band members trade off solos and they are really good at it. That’s when the band really take off. “Black Tongue Tar” and “Iscariot’s Dream” make a solid 1-2 punch to start off the album. But I am drawn to the longer tracks. “Hell – Heaven” is a slow burn which shows that Dead Kosmonaut can dial it in when needed.

The two part closer “Dead Kosmonaut” make for a perfect way to close out the album. Part I is a short choral introduction which is anything but filler. Part II is the grand statement. The organ makes the song and I wish they used more keys on the rest of the album. Although I kept waiting for the band to explode at some point but this song is not that type of closer.

Dead Kosmonaut are yet another talented Swedish band who have a great vibe. “Gravitas” won’t change the world but it does make for fun listening and we all need that. If you like aforementioned bands or the direction that Opeth has gone of late, you should give this album a spin.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:

1. Black Tongue Tar
2. Iscariot’s Dream
3. Vanitatis Profeta
4. The Spirit Divide
5. Hell – Heaven
6. Gravitas
7. Dead Kosmonaut – Part I
8. Dead Kosmonaut – Part II

Label: High Roller Records
Release Date: 31 January 2020

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Transport Aerian announce European tour for 2020

Here’s a press release from Transport Aerian announcing an upcoming 2020 European tour. No dates have been published yet however. But a new song is coming on January 24th via Melodic Revolution Records!


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Belgian progressive rock project Transport Aerian comes back with a new live line up, aiming at the local and European tour the coming years, with the first series of shows planned for the winter-spring season of 2020. The line up features contemporary composer and pianist Umut Eldem, Gent’s young and gifted drummer Paul De Smet, and Transport Aerian’s long term partner, experimental guitar player Stefan Boeykens. Besides sharpening tools for coming back on air shows, the band is to release a new single titled Big Heart, which will feature feature critically acclaimed guests from all across the Europe, including Chris Allan, Peter Matuchniak and Marco Ragni and is planned to be released as a charity effort. You can follow the journey of this progressive rock extravaganza on the official websitetransport-aerian.com.

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Restless Amoeba’s Top Albums of 2019… and other things…

mattLast year was a real pain in the ass trying to compile a list of my top albums of 2018. So much so, that i made a concerted effort to start tracking and building my list as I went along. Which kind of helped and kind of didn’t. I had something to start from this time, but things I had wrote up, say in February, I completely forgot about come December and I had to go back revisit everything and retype almost all of it anyway. So… I guess its a pain in the ass regardless. (Edit: and I forgot how much of the PITA it is to format lists like this in wordpress! FML!) But it is a labor of love. I love music and I love sharing music with others in hopes of helping people find their new favorite bands.

I have my list of top albums below, that are numbered, but the numbers get rather meaningless as you make your way down the list. If the album is on the list, I love it. Regardless. The ones closer to the top I definitely connected with more, though.

Also to note… I listen to a lot more than just prog. And that is reflected in this list. I have marked the genre for each entry, so if you are only looking for Prog, those are clearly marked. You can just skip over the rest.

And before anyone asks: Yes, I heard the new Tool. And no, it didn’t do much for me. Rob has it covered in his list: here.

The next section below top albums is one for top EPs.

PS- I spent waaaay too long getting the formatting right on this. Didn’t even feel like going over the thing looking for typos or grammmerrrr errorrses. So… as you were.

Top Albums:

1. Disillusion – The Liberation (Progressive Metal)

https://disillusion-official.bandcamp.com/album/the-liberation

This one came out of nowhere. Rob asked if I was interested in reviewing it. Initially, the first single released impressed me but as I was busy doing other things while listening, I kind of brushed it off for a while. I wound up giving it a concentrated listen later and holy crap. I hung on every note. The atmosphere on this one is immense. And Time to Let Go just freaking spoke to me. Though, the single they later released kind of destroyed the atmosphere for this song with the changes they made to it. So I just listen to the album version.

My review for this one: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/09/02/disillusion-the-liberation/

 

2. Avantasia – Moonglow (Power Metal)

Channeling what you would expect from the Avantasia sound and getting the best possible out of Tate. The choruses, the melodies, the meat loafyness. Epic. Just an epic album all around. and never having experienced an Avantasia show before, i traveled to see this one as it may have been my only chance to see Tate sing these songs live. And it was amazing.

My review for this one: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/02/12/avantasia-moonglow/

 

3. Steve Hackett – At the Edge of Light (Progressive Rock)

Prog Rock from one of the masters. The orchestration on this one is immense and the songs are all killer. Definitely check this one out if you haven’t.

Rob’s review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/01/15/steve-hackett-at-the-edge-of-light/

 

4. Evergrey – The Atlantic (Prog Metal)

Monster of a progmetal album. Back at the top of their game. Lots of harmony and melodies. And kick ass riffs. The atmosphere (I talk about this a lot as it is important to me) on this one is so thick as to be oppressive. But that suits the material and subject matter. It is an emotionally heavy album. But still one of my favorites of the year. Weightless just checked all the boxes for me and loved hearing it at ProgPower USA this year. A definite highlight for me!

My review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/01/01/evergrey-the-atlantic/

 

5. Two Steps From Hell – Dragon (Dramatic Orchestral Music)

Every time I turn around, there is a new TSFH release that I wasn’t expecting. And every time, they deliver nothing but class and atmosphere. This is the new classical music but always with an edge and beauty not found very often in others of its kind.

 

6. Devin Townsend – Empath (Prog Metal)

 

What can I say about a DT release? Epic? Yep. Eclectic? Yep. Over the top assault on the senses? Definitely. Loved this album from first listen. The Epic took a bit to grow on me but it did. I’m sure everyone has already seen this video but it is still my favorite music video for the year.

Rob’s review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/03/30/devin-townsend-empath/

 

7. Cheeto’s Magazine – Amazingous (Prog Rock)

https://cheetosmagazine.bandcamp.com/album/amazingous

Eclectic, proggy, crazy, goofy… you name it. Freaking amazing album from Barcelona! This was my intro to them and fell in love with their stuff immediately. Totally fun album with some extremely beautiful passages. The earlier albums are name your price on bandcamp too!

 

8. Jon Anderson – 1000 Hands (Prog Rock)

Outside of some goofiness in the lyrics ( i mean… that is to be expected) this is a pretty flawless album. Gorgeous melodies, excellent musicianship, stellar cast of musicians. Jon spent a lot of time on this one and it shows. Definitely one of his best albums.

 

9. Voyager – Colours in the Sun (Prog Metal)

https://voyager.bandcamp.com/album/colours-in-the-sun

Voyager returned with one of their most catchy, hook filled albums to date. This album oozes style and 80’s style synth. Seriously, they sound, to me, like Duran Duran doing prog metal. I couldn’t get enough of this album.

10. Soen – Lotus (Progressive Metal)

https://soen.bandcamp.com/album/lotus

One of the masters of Prog metal deliver again with one of their catchiest albums to date. Some songs stand out more than others but the disc as a whole is just a gem. And their set at ProgPower USA was just fantastic.

Rob’s review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/01/27/soen-lotus/

 

11. Mostly Autumn – White Rainbow (Prog Rock)

 

Prog rock with shades of Pink Floyd and Anathema at times. Some extremely beautiful passages throughout that just makes for one heck of an experience to absorb.

 

12. Flying Colors – Third Degree (Prog Rock)

 

I wound up putting this one off as I haven’t quite gotten over my Neal Morse burn out (too much content. I still have about 5 live sets that I haven’t listened to or watched that I got from the Radiant sales.) So, on a whim, I threw this one on one evening and: holy crap! What an amazingly awesome and catchy album! I’ve liked the other Flying Colors albums, but this one is a big step up. Catchy and melodic as all hell.

Rob’s review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/10/01/flying-colors-third-degree/

 

13. Thousand Sun Sky – The Aurora Complex (Instrumental Prog Metal)

https://thousandsunsky.bandcamp.com/album/the-aurora-complex

This was one of the unexpected ones on my list. The djenty prog metal albums do tend to all run together at some point, but this one stood out with the songwriting. Each track held up as unique to me for the most part and kept my attention throughout. Some beautiful stuff on here.

 

14. Beast in Black – From Hell with Love (Power Metal)

 

Gloriously styled 80’s synth metal! You will be hard pressed to find a catchier metal album out there this year.

 

15. Monkey3 – Sphere (Instrumental Prog Metal)

https://monkey-3.bandcamp.com/album/sphere

Yet another our dear friend Rob introduced me to this year. Brooding prog metal with a mood and an attitude. They work in textures and know how to build up the tension. Has a kind of post-apocalyptic vibe… at times Pink Floyd-ish in tone.

 

16. Crazy Lixx – Forever Wild (Melodic rock/metal)

Just about a perfect Melodic rock/metal album. If you miss the 80’s era stuff like motley crue and Bon Jovi, you will dig this. If you don’t, skip down a bit.

 

17. Work Of Art – Exhibits (AOR)

 

Another that I didn’t give enough of a chance to the first time I listened to it. The AOR ballads and ballad rockers just ooze style and harmony. And one of my favorite musicians, Vince DiCola, guests on a track, though is a bit under utilized. Still fantastic though.

 

18. Find Me – Angels in Blue (Melodic Rock)

 

More catchy as hell straight up rock. In a year bloated with releases, few of these kinds of albums stand out. (Except that my list tends to have a lot of them on it. Believe me… there were a LOT more). But this one stood out to me and called for repeated listens.

 

19. Gin Annie – 100% Proof (Melodic Rock)

 

Perfect hard melodic rock. Hooks and choruses to the horizon. Another I couldn’t let go with one listen.

 

20. Battle Beast – No More Hollywood Endings (Power Metal)

 

Pun intended here, but this is a beast of a power metal album. Synth and hook heavy.

 

21. Ola Englund – Master of the Universe (progressive Instrumental)

 

Again, lots of releases this year, even in this genre, but this one stood out as well for the songwriting. Melodic and catchy stuff.

 

22. Eyala – Awaken (Prog Rock/Metal)

https://eyalamusic.bandcamp.com/

Hailing from Mexico, this album is a great slab of prog metal with great harmonies and melodies. Catchy songs and hard rocking tracks really grab you and don’t let go. At times reminding me of earlier Dream Theater.

 

23. Darkwater – Human (Progressive Metal)

https://ulteriumrecords.bandcamp.com/album/human

Another one that i enjoyed but didn’t fully gel with on first listen but grew on me as the year went on. Originally, I had felt i had heard it all before but that was because it is a fantastic throwback to the prog metal of old (can’t believe I can use that phrase accurately now. What year is it?) but not sounding dated at all. This is a full slab of prog metal that delivers.

My review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/02/28/darkwater-human/

 

24. MONO – Nowhere Now Here (Instrumental Post Rock/Metal)

https://monoofjapan.bandcamp.com/album/nowhere-now-here

Another great album of glorious and brooding post rock/metal. That atmosphere I was talking about before… these guys embody that phrase.

Susan’s review: https://progressivemusicplanet.com/2019/02/13/mono-nowhere-now-here/

 

25. Pinn Dropp – Perfectly Flawed (Prog Rock)

https://pinndropp.bandcamp.com/album/perfectly-flawed

This one was released digitally at tail end of 2018 and the CD in 2019. Therefore it had a chance to be in a top list and has done so for this year. Prog rock reminiscent of Rush (early 80s), Enchant, and Subsignal.

 

26. Evan Carson – Ocipinski (Prog Rock)

https://evancarsondrums.bandcamp.com/releases

Some eclectic and cinematic music right here. The vocals are haunting and beautiful at times and the music is pretty challenging too.

 

27. Inglorious – Ride to Nowhere (Hard Melodic Rock)

 

More melodic rock (it was definitely a good year for it) but with a much harder edge. This one oozes a Whitesnake feel. In a year that actually saw another Whitesnake release, this was a much better one.

 

28. A New Revenge – Enemies and Lovers (Hard Rock)

 

I am hesitant to call it an album as it is only about 36 minutes in length, but it is an action packed 36 minutes and 10 tracks. Featuring Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals, channeling at times Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy and others Jon Oliva (primarily on Only the Pretty Ones).

 

29. Thomas Bergersen – Seven (Dramatic Orchestral Music)

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/thomasbergersen10

One of the masterminds behind Two Steps from Hell released his solo symphony and it is majestic.

 

30. Floating Worlds – Battleship Oceania (Progressive Metal)

 

The songs themselves on here are great. Heavy, melodic, progressive. Almost everything I could want in an album. But the voice acting leaves me a bit wanting in places. Ok… a lot. And sadly, the voice acting is made part of the songs so I can’t just make a playlist of just the songs. That didn’t keep me from listening to it more than few times though. I pushed through. But this album would have ranked much higher without it.

Best EPs

1. Animal Drive – Back to the Roots (Heavy Metal with progressive tendencies)

 

Fresh on the heels of last year’s LP, they decided to release an EP of covers of some of their favorite songs. And they sound awesome in the Animal Drive sound.

RIP Marie…

 

2. Even Flow – Mother (Prog Metal (Normally))

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/evenflow3

        Was hoping for another album from them this year but i will take what i can get. But this time around they opted for a more acoustically focused EP. Not fully acoustic, mind you. But there is some great piano and guitar work on display here. Always love hearing from them.

 

3. The Resonance Project (Prog/Djenty Metal)

https://theresonanceproject.bandcamp.com/releases

Some beautiful and haunting compositions on this one with some great cinematic moments. Clocking in at 36 minutes with 6 tracks… the band seems to think this is an album… but this is flirting with album length while looking a whole lot more like an EP.

 

4. Two Steps From Hell – Orion (Dramatic Orchestral Music)

Only TSFH can release a 1 hour and 20 minute EP. Lol! It is really a 27 minute EP, but with multiple versions of each track that add up to that total time. They can do no wrong in my eyes. More fantastic music. And another unexpected release.

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Sons of Apollo – “MMXX”

SonsOfApolloAlbSomehow, prog metal supergroup Sons of Apollo survived to make a second album, “MMXX.” I’ll admit I was worried that I would not like “Psychotic Symphony,” but overall it was a really good album with enough hooks and prog craziness to be interesting. The lineup is the same for “MMXX” with Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian still calling the shots. They lean heavily on Ron Thal for riffs but this time out, the riffs are all basically the same.

What made the debut album interesting was that the songs were different from each other. Yes there were essentially three buckets that the songs fell into, straight metal, prog metal epics and classic rock. These songs are all basically metal songs with the occasional detour into Dream Theater-ish prog. The hooks are really weakened by what seems like Portnoy and Sherinian wanting to prove they can be really heavy. It sounds really forced.

The songs really plod at times too. The lead track “Goodbye Divinity” is a good example of that. It actually gets worse on knuckleheaded songs like “Asphyxiation” and “Desolate July” which are interchangeable in their complete silliness. The only two songs that have any sort of life are “King of Delusion,” which is half really good and half really dumb, and the epic closer “New World Today.”

The problem is that it’s a battle to stay interested long enough to get to the last track. I literally fell asleep listening to “MMXX” the first time I put it on. I woke up somewhere in the middle and had to start over. And I almost did it again. I kept waiting for the songs to do something other than have basic riffs and be predictable. It didn’t happen.

Jeff Scott Soto wrote the lyrics and they are pretty goofy. It actually makes me wonder if Portnoy shouldn’t do it (and that’s saying something). I guess “MMXX” is the album that I expected the first album to be. I think many people will still like the album but those are the Portnoy sycophants. Sherinian should revive Planet X immediately and Portnoy might wanna cling tighter to Neal Morse. “MMXX” is a band on borrowed time.

Rating: 3/10

Tracklist:
1. Goodbye Divinity (7:16)
2. Wither To Black (4:48)
3. Asphyxiation (5:09)
4. Desolate July (6:11)
5. King Of Delusion (8:49)
6. Fall To Ascend (5:07)
7. Resurrection Day (5:51)
8. New World Today (16:38)

Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: 17 January, 2020

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