Leprous – “Malina”

Leprous-MalinaI got into Leprous right after they released “Bilateral.” The album completely blew me away. The band itself were so tight and the music had plenty of twists and turns. But they also knew the importance of melody. They have kept all of those elements intact on subsequent albums. In addition, they have one of the most dynamic and unique voices in Einar Solberg.

Those subsequent albums were almost polar opposites for me. Initially, I didn’t like “Coal” but I just kept listening to it and while I don’t LOVE it, at least I do like it now. “The Congregation” blew me away from the moment I heard it. To me, it was everything that I wanted “Coal” to be. So now, Leprous have their next offering in “Malina” and it actually reminds me a bit of both previous albums.

“Coal” started with the song “Foe” which I have always thought was the wrong song to start any album with since it really does NOTHING. I’ve never really gotten into the song. “Malina” starts off in the same confounding way with “Bonneville.” While I think “Bonneville” is weirder than “Foe” (and thus better), it’s just an awkward way to start the album. “Stuck” and “From the Flame” are next and they are like a 1-2 punch, hitting you right in the face. Both are CLASSIC Leprous in style and execution. GREAT songs.

Another favorite on “Malina” is the song “Illuminate” which has a high energy chorus and is off kilter enough to be a perfect single. The title track is another interesting song. While it is experimental, it has a flow to it despite what feels like chaos within the arrangement. Another experiment of sorts is the closing track “The Last Milestone.” It’s a string laden, gloomy piece that showcases Solberg’s amazing voice.

For me, “Malina” isn’t QUITE as great as “The Congregation” or (of course) “Bilateral.” However, Leprous is doing more in shorter spaces on this album than really any previous release. The shorter songs feel packed with power and the longer ones have many layers to explore with further listens. “The Weight of Disaster” has both! Fans of Lepous will definitely enjoy “Malina” while newcomers have a perfect place to start.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. Bonneville
2. Stuck
3. From the Flame
4. Captive
5. Illuminate
6. Leashes
7. Mirage
8. Malina
9. Coma
10. The Weight of Disaster
11. The Last Milestone

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Website: www.leprous.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/leprousband

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Rage – “Seasons of the Black”

rageseasonsoftheblackcdRage are one of those bands that I’ve kept meaning to check out for a LONG time and for whatever reason, I just never have. I recall I really became interested in their “Soundchaser” album because it was a concept album and was often mentioned back in 2002 as a great album. So with their new album “Seasons of the Black,” I am finally getting on with it.

Now the first problem for me is that, since I haven’t checked them out before, I knew I would need a crash course in all things Rage in order to have a point of reference for the new album. So I finally checked out “Soundchaser” and a few other albums from the band’s storied past. First off, I should have gotten into Rage back then. “Soundchaser” is awesome and quite progressive.

“Seasons of the Black” is more direct and perhaps a bit more aggressive. One factor is that long time band leader Peter “Peavy” Wagner (vocals/bass) has a new lineup as of 2015, so this album maintains the course set on “The Devil Strikes Again.” This is more about the band’s power metal and thrash side. That said, “Seasons of the Black” has a few prog moments thrown in, the end of “Serpents in Disguise” is an example. It’s brief but it’s there.

The songs aren’t quite as varied as I would have liked but there’s no denying that the album as a whole does kick ass. Wagner is using a more husky, gravely tone rather than singing the way he has done in the past. It does fit the aggression of the music though. The peaceful, yet brief, “Gaia” does let Wagner just sing and you can definitely hear that his vocals have aged a bit. My favorite tracks are probably the title track (a kick ass opener),”Bloodshed in Paradise,” which just stands out more because it has some dynamics and the EPIC closer “Farewell” which harkens back to their orchestral collaborations. Awesome way to finish the album!

Based on my quick research, I don’t think “Seasons of the Black” ranks as one of Rage’s best albums (granted there are many I haven’t heard yet!) but I do think it’s a very strong album and I am really glad that it made me aware of this band. If you like power metal that isn’t cheesy at all and music that will probably cause you to drive way too fast if you listen to it in the car, “Seasons of the Black” is definitely something you need to check out.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Season Of The Black
2. Serpents In Disguise
3. Blackened Karma
4. Time Will Tell
5. Septic Bite
6. Walk Among The Dead
7. All We Know Is Not
8. The Tragedy Of Man – Gaia
9. The Tragedy Of Man – Justify
10. The Tragedy Of Man – Bloodshed In Paradise
11. The Tragedy Of Man – Farewell

Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: July 28, 2017
Website: www.rage-official.com

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Interview with Frank Hall of Necromandus

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Frank, congrats on the new Necromandus album! I love it! It’s been a long time coming. How rewarding is it for you to finally get the name out there and have a band to go with it?

Its very rewarding to finally have a real showcase for the Necromandus project that was originally put together 44 years ago. The original band worked so hard in 1973, putting the first album together, getting gigs and performing the length and breadth of the country.. Now we have a new line up of exceptionally talented musicians, its a brilliant feeling and I’m very proud!

 

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The original lineup was really on the verge of making it. What happened and how tough was it for you?

As you can imagine with all the hard work the original members put in, on the brink of being a signed, successful band only to be dropped was devastating. With Tony Iommi in the States with Sabbath on tour, when Baz Dunnery seemed to lose all faith, wouldn’t fly and decided enough was enough, that was the end of it.

How did you go about finding the new lineup? I know John Branch is the son of original vocalist Bill Branch so that must be quite interesting for you to say the least.

I always wanted to put Necromandus back together and spent years trying to find the right people/musicians. To find a guitarist capable of playing the way Baz Dunnery did takes some skill, I had listened to a lot over the years but no one seemed to hit the mark and have the unique quality that I was looking for. One day I heard about a very special young guitarist who was playing at a Battle of the Bands contest in Cumbria, so I decided to check him out – I wasn’t disappointed! After hearing him I new he was the obvious choice, I was so impressed by his unique style and the advanced way he played for his age, his name was Dean Newton, that was in 2011, he’s only got better since and he sings as well! The keyboard player, is John Marcangelo and Ive known him since Junior School. He is an incredible musician and composer, he has a great personality and sense of humour, a natural choice for the band. I found the new albums bass player Banjo Cunanan when I heard him play with another band that I dep for occasionally. Banjo is an incredibly kind person and a damn fine bass player, sadly his part with our band was short lived as he had to return to to the Philippines with his family. His successor is Paul Spedding, who I met over 14 years ago when we played together in the Gerry Gillard band. Paul is one of the finest bassists Ive ever heard, we had lost touch but as fate would have it, our paths crossed again and my friend is now a key part of the band. Now the lead vocalist, Billy Branch’s son, John Branch… Who else?, it couldn’t be anyone else really. I bumped into John in the street one day and asked him straight out – would you like to be Necromandus lead singer? He laughed, but when he realized I was being serious, he decided to give it a try. I knew he had sung his fathers Necromandus parts for years and his first moments in the studio sent shivers up our spines. John has that timbre in his voice that Billy had, no need to look any further, I was honoured that he said yes. I have known John since he was a toddler and he has grown into a fine, talented gentleman with a hell of a voice.

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What are your influences musically and have they changed since the old days?

My musical influences have changed vastly over the years, people like the one and only Bill Ward had a huge impact on my drumming, great respect for that man. Back in the day I suppose that YES and MARHAVISHNU were real the favourites for me. Nowadays I’m listening to people like Dave Weckle, Scott Henderson and Jazz Fusion.

Is it true that you were asked to be Genesis’ touring drummer?

The Genesis thing came about when I was trying to put together the first Blizzard of Ozz band, together with (again) Baz Dunnery and Dennis McCarten from the original Necromandus line up. We were always very close to John (Ozzy), and the ‘Sabbath guys. Jeff Banks ( Phil Collins personal assistant) told me that Phil was looking for a drummer and that I would fit the bill. At that time (1976/7) Phil was wanting to sing up front and a combination of musical preferences and loyalty to Ozzy and the guys made me turn it down. On reflection, I wish I’d taken it.

Many people stated that Necromandus was like Sabbath meets Yes which I think is true. Were you guys prog metal in your opinion? Not that that label existed back then.

I would describe that sound as Prog,Jazz/Metal ( if there is such a thing , ha ha!). Yes plays ‘Sabbath was Rolling Stone’s description I think.

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How would you describe the sound of the current Necromandus?

The current Necromandus is progressive but will keep faith with the original the core musical style of the 1973 band. This newly released album is a blend of Prog, Rock and a little jazz fusion, I’m immensely proud of this piece of work and the efforts that band members and our great producer, Tom Tyson, have made in creating it.

Much of the album references our Cumbrian roots, Borderlands, Alauna, Warriors and Hardknott relate to a troubled history and the nostalgic Hymn to Her is a local story too.

What does the future hold for Necromandus? I’m sure that’s a question you probably didn’t think you’d have to answer! Do you guys have plans to hit the road?

We’ve concentrated on making our “Necromandus” album as good as it could possibly be and we are already 5 tracks into a second album, which includes some “guests”. We are very interested in live performances, but the right ones at the right time. The enthusiasm generated by the album in Germany, Sweden, France, Australia and the USA has been encouraging and has created opportunities. Our manager, a long time friend of Billy Branch, Tim Knowles, who also runs the Mandusmusic Label, is looking at a combination of gigs and festivals – watch this space!

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Gentle Knife – “The Clock Unwound”

Gentle-Knife-Clock-Unwound-Gentle-Knife-II-2017I always find it refreshing listening to a band that aims to sound different on every track, and I usually applaud artists willing to take this risk even if the results don’t always pan out. Gentle Knife takes this varied approach on “The Clock Unwound”, and racks up a trove of hits along with the misses, leading to a record that is a bit uneven but that I ultimately enjoyed.

When spinning Gentle Knife’s “The Clock Unwound”, I took note of the stylistic shifts on display, and I definitely appreciated them. Opener “Fade Away” sets the stage with some solid Big Big Train neo-prog bombast before shifting into an unexpected mid track Crimson flavored heavy-prog section that almost elicited a banging of the head from this reviewer. As someone unfamiliar with the band, I truly didn’t expect this after how the song began, and I was pleasantly surprised as the instrumental section developed.

Next, “Plans Askew” begins in similarly pastoral fashion before a huge sounding melodic solo section and closing vocal melody, as flutes flutter on over the proceedings. “Prelude Incipit” functions as an atmospheric piano-centric piece built around a haunting and vibe-y horn theme. So far so good, and the sound of the record has established itself as relatively mellow and melodic prog with some dense instrumentation and occasional flashes of heaviness.

For as much as I enjoyed what came before and what was to come after, “Resignation” just largely didn’t work for me. Although the flute intro and initial instance of noir-esque spoken vocals was pretty effective, the song is a little too long and meandering for my taste and seemed to drag a bit. The build towards the instrumental break in the middle is mostly effective, but it then ultimately settles back into the same progression that began the song, and nothing apart from the spoken part really grabs the listener’s attention.

The remaining two tracks end the record on a high note however, as “Smother” and “The Clock Unwound” both recapture and expand on the rock inflection of the earlier part of the record. “Smother” especially is a ton of fun. The synth line is infectious, as are the vocal melodies, conjuring an 80’s arena rock meets prog-pop vibe that had me wishing for a bit more of this sound. The hooks on this track really grab deep, and I would probably go as far as to say it was my favorite track of the record.

“The Clock Unwound” similarly explores an unsettling atmosphere and some dense, angular, and heavy guitar riffs and harmonies. The song takes a little while getting to where it wants to go, but that seems like a trait of Gentle Knife on the whole, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the time from point A to point B is filled with interesting visuals. For the most part it is.

One final note would be in regards to the mix and overall production, which is uniformly fantastic, especially in regards to the drum tone. Regardless of the assessment of the songs and what did or didn’t work, the record sounds spectacular and the band and engineers should be proud. Overall a record to check out for those who like their prog traditional but with a bit of experimentation, and some well thought out instrumentation to boot.

Score: 7.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. Prelude Incipit
  2. The Clock Unwound
  3. Fade Away
  4. Smother
  5. Plans Askew
  6. Resignation

Website: www.gentleknife.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/gentleknife

Posted in art rock, experimental rock, jazz, neo-prog, progressive rock | Tagged | 1 Comment

Prospekt – “The Illuminated Sky”

cover_1490710819093368The 90s ushered in a new age of prog metal. When bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X expanded on what bands like Fates Warning and Queensrÿche had started in the 80s. This new brand of prog metal was more deeply rooted in technicality while still writing good hooks. This led to many bands springing up in the 90s who essentially sounded a LOT like Dream Theater.

UK’s Prospekt would have fit right in during the 90s. They do not hide their influences and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I heard their debut album, 2013’s “The Colourless Sunrise,” I felt it was a bit aptly titled. The band were certainly great musicians but they really didn’t stand out from any other prog metal band that had those aforementioned influences. The biggest issue for me was the utterly bland vocals of keyboardist Richard Marshall.

“The Illuminated Sky” not only marks the return of Prospekt but it also sees a changing of vocalists. New singer Michael Morris has the range needed for the type of music that Prospekt play. The guy can fucking SING! Replacing Marshall on keys is Rox Capriotti who is equal to the task of keeping up with guitarist extraordinaire Lee Luland.  The results are impressive.

The songs are much better than the ones on the debut, in part because Morris really SELLS them with his vocals. I still find there to be a bit of sameness here and there but this is a young band with a ton of talent who are clearly developing quickly. The album sports two guest spots (Greg Howe and Marc Hudson), neither of which do anything for me. I just never get having guests when you have the talent within the band to do the same thing.

One of my favorite songs includes “Beneath Enriya” which sounds like a lost Symphony X track. The song has that big sound along with piano parts I associate with Michael Piniella. “Titan” has a meaty riff and relentless attack to it, another great track. Another great track is the title track which closes out the album, the song showcases the band’s playing while still being catchy.

Prospekt aren’t reinventing the wheel here but with “The Illuminated Sky,” they have clearly found their footing and are digging in. If you love bands like Symphony X or even love what Circus Maximus USED to sound like, there’s a very good chance you will really enjoy what Prospekt do. They have the talent to fill a void (with fellow Brits Haken) that seems to be emerging in prog metal. “The Illuminated Sky” is the first step.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Where Masters Fall (feat Marc Hudson)
2. Beneath Enriya
3. Ex Nihilo
4. Distant Anamnesis
5. Alien Makers of Discord (feat Greg Howe)
6. Titan
7. Akaibara
8. In The Shadows of The Earth
9. Cosmic Emissary
10. The Illuminated Sky

Label: Laser’s Edge
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ProspektUK
Bandcamp: lasersedge.bandcamp.com/album/the-illuminated-sky

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