Tree Of Life – “Awakening Call”

AwakeningCallTree of Life is a multi-national instrumental prog metal band with roots in Christian faith. As I have mentioned before, I am an Atheist. But I really don’t have any issue with Christian bands so long as the topics are not overtly religious. All of this is completely avoided with Tree of Life since they are INSTRUMENTAL! With song titles that contain the words “God,” “Heaven,” and “Salvation,” there’s no mistaking what their beliefs are. But it just assures that this will be uplifting music.

The band is made up of guitarist Carlos Hernandez, bassist Fernando Fossi and most notably Eric Gillette of the Neal Morse Band. Gillette plays guitar for Neal but on “Awakening Call,” he is on drums and keyboards. I had no idea he was just as talented on those instruments as well. At times, this album is a bit of a shredfest but Hernandez can flat out play so I don’t mind that. I do wish he would use a melodic guitar hook more often instead of going for broke each time out.

Still, it’s Gillette who is the MVP. His drum fills are always tasteful and he keyboard playing is nothing short of sublime. Whether it’s the piano solo on “The Greatest Of All The Gifts Of God” or the synth playing on “Words From Heaven,” he sounds GREAT and always chooses the right instrument for the song. Fossi is a talented bassist to be sure but his role is to provide a foundation for each song rather than solo. I do wish he had the spotlight at some point.

Every track on “Awakening Call” is really great and varied enough that you can easily separate the style and mood for each. The songs that need to kick some ass do just that! It’s like Liquid Tension Experiment meets Neal Morse I guess but without the obvious Christian message. Good music is good music regardless of faith and Tree of Life prove that on “Awakening Call.”

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. The Greatest Of All The Gifts Of God
2. Words From Heaven
3. Garden Of Salvation
4. No Longer Forbidden
5. Awakening Call

Website: www.treeoflife-project.com

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Roger Waters & Styx: Their Comeback Albums

Styx-The-Mission-album-art-2017-billboard-1240Roger Waters hadn’t released a new studio album in 25 years. Styx hadn’t released new material in 14 years. Each are missing key ingredients to their respective sounds. Roger Waters is missing David Gilmour (and the rest of Floyd for that matter) and Styx is missing Dennis DeYoung. So with no real NEED for new music, it was a surprise to me that each would even bother.

I am glad they did! This year has been a year of odd disappointments for me. The new Steven Wilson material has been iffy, I don’t like the new Anathema album (again) and to have both “Is This the Life We Really Want?” and “The Mission” to be so DAMN GOOD is a shocker to be honest. Waters proves that he still can write a great song and even his somewhat weak vocals actually sound good throughout the album!

Styx not only go back to the concept album but did it without the guy who loved the whole concept album idea. But while “Kilroy Was Here” was just bad high school music theater, “The Mission” is a 42 minute, intelligent and damn catchy ride! The album relies enough on the Styx sound of old but never gets cheesy. Yes some of the songs are too short but many of these songs are some of the best Styx have EVER done. Yes I said it!

cover_502672142017_rWaters knows a thing or two about concept albums and while “Is This the Life We Really Want?” isn’t a story line like “The Wall,” it is very observational like “Animals.” And that’s why it works so well. For me it’s not about specific politicians, even if you know who Waters is singing about. Rather this is about how we keep fucking up, the same ways, time after time. He is pissed off and so am I, which is just another reason I love it. And yes it sounds more like Floyd than any of his solo albums. That doesn’t hurt either.

If you have ever been a fan of Styx or Pink Floyd (or both like me), you need to check out each of these albums. It’s refreshing to me that artists that don’t NEED to make new music have not only made new music but have made some of the best music of their careers. And that’s why there’s hope.

Ratings for both: 9.5/10

Styx: styxworld.com
Roger Waters: rogerwaters.com

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ProgressiveMusicPlanet.com voted 71st best rock blog by Feedspot

First off, I do appreciate that another site would care enough to rank this site at all. Rankings are all just personal preference. Odds are there are a lot more than 70 blogs/sites better than this one. I guess if you add in the Facebook page and the radio show, maybe then I am 71st.

So while I don’t know most of the sites that are on the list, I do know a few and it’s good company. I have no idea how what I do compares to what anyone else does because I don’t read other sites. It means that if something resembles anyone else, it’s completely random. It also proves people with a bizarre alternative to what might exist out there. Or not.

Thank you to Anuj and Feedspot…sounds like Blogspot fucked Feedburner and had a child. I do appreciate it as much as someone like me appreciates things. I assume next year I will fall out of the top 100. That will be my goal!

-Rob

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Vintersorg – “Till Fjälls del II”

vintersorg2017tillfjallscdFor those who don’t know, Vintersorg is both a band and the alias of band leader Andreas Hedlund. Hedlund is also a member of Borknagar (one of my favorite bands) and Cronian (with Øystein Brun of Borknagar) among many other projects. Hedlund has a very distinct clean AND harsh vocal which makes him one of my favorites. The band Vintersorg also features Mattias Marklund on guitars, plus new addition Simon Lundström on bass. Everything else is performed by Hedlund.

The last few Vintersorg albums have been incredible and epic as fuck. Both Orkan and Naturbål are massive slabs of extreme metal infused with folk metal and black metal. So now what does the band do? They write a sequel to their 1998 full length debut “Till Fjälls.” It’s an interesting move and one that makes sense if the band were going for the more stripped down sound of that record.

But times have changed in the last 19 years since that album. The band are stronger, Hedlund’s vocals are definitely stronger. So while “Till Fjälls del II” is a sequel in name, the overall vibe and style feel more in line with what the band has done over the last 7 years or so versus an album from their formative years. In some ways, this album sounds like what the first album COULD have sounded like if done by a mature band. There’s nothing wrong with any of that either.

“Till Fjälls del II” is a long album and has a LOT going on. The arrangements are complex, the instrumentation is very detailed also. And while I still don’t understand the lyrics, I don’t need to. This is a very cinematic album. I feel that I am returning “to the mountains” but the landscape has changed drastically in 19 years. It’s less volatile yet still challenging. There’s a chill to it which comes courtesy of the more folk instrumentation used on the album.

While the press releases claim there is no “progressive trickery,” I find this album to be as progressive as anything Vintersorg (the band or the man) has ever done. It is very epic and you can feel the mystic nature surrounding you as you listen to “Till Fjälls del II.” Rather than a sequel, this is the next chapter of a book. “Till Fjälls del II” is not a return to the band’s roots because they never left anything behind. This is evolution.

Rating: 9/10
Release date: June 30, 2017

Tracklist:

CD 1
1. Jökelväktaren
2. En Väldig Isvidds Karga Dräkt
3. Lavin
4. Fjällets Mäktiga Mur
5. Obygdens Pionjär
6. Vinterstorm
7. Tusenåriga Stråk
8. Allt Mellan Himmel Och Jord
9. Vårflod

CD 2
1. Tillbaka Till Källorna
2. Köldens Borg
3. Portalen
4. Svart Måne

Label: Napalm Records
Facebook: www.facebook.com/vintersorganic

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Voyager – “Ghost Mile”

Voyager_Ghost-MileI love Voyager and it goes beyond just them being a great band. Their music helped me through a very difficult time in my life so I have a very special place for them in my heart. After their last album “V” blew me away, I was VERY excited to hear “Ghost Mile” which I pre-ordered without hesitation.

I heard the song “Misery is Only Company” when they released it and I assumed it was just a left over track from “V” which was clearly not good enough for the album. If they were going to use it on the next album, I assumed it would get revamped or just stuck on the end of it as a bonus track. This is where things go off the rails for me. That song is the same as it was and it is the second track on “Ghost Mile.”

To say I am disappointed with “Ghost Mile” is probably an understatement. Sure my expectations are REALLY high but given that each of the last two Voyager albums were masterpieces, I didn’t think the band would run into a brick wall. The riffs are awkward, the hooks are few and overall this album is confusing as hell. The first two songs need to grab the listener and one I already mentioned doesn’t. The first song “Ascension” never takes off and really goes nowhere.

So what does work? There are bits and pieces of things that should have been developed more. The chorus on “Lifetime” is great but gets lost amongst the debris of the rest of the song. The title track has some great riffing but it tends to stick with one riff rather than flow to some additional great riffs. The weird 80s key sounds on that track don’t exactly help matters.

It’s really hard to figure what happened. To put it into perspective, none of these songs are better than ANY of the songs on the last two albums. It’s also telling that “Ghost Mile” is significantly shorter in length than “V.” “V” sounded effortless. The songs just flow and take you for a ride. The songs on this album feel very labored. It’s actually hard for me to get through the album which for me and a Voyager album is unheard of!

I still love Voyager and that will never change. Perhaps others love this album and I’d love to know how! HAHA! “Ghost Mile” sounds like a band that should have perhaps delayed the album to work out the riffs and overall kinks. I suppose even the best are capable of a misstep. For now, I’ll wait for the next album and perhaps revisit “Ghost Mile” down the road.

Rating: 6/10

Tracklist:

1. Ascension
2. Misery Is Only Company
3. Lifeline
4. Fragile Serene
5. To The Riverside
6. Ghost Mile
7. What A Wonderful Day
8. Disconnected
9. This Gentle Earth
10. As The City Takes The Night

Website: voyager-australia.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/voyageraustralia

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Ethos – “Shade & Soil”

ethosEvery once in a while I’ll run into a band that contains an element that I usually refer to as the “love it or hate it factor”. This is the one element that can potentially be the “make it or break it” tipping point that dictates, often unfairly, whether a listener will give a piece of music a chance. Being a progressive music fan, I feel that my tolerance level is set higher than the casual listener by default, and it usually takes something egregious in the mix to turn me off of music that I would normally enjoy. For Ethos, that love it or hate it factor for many people will be the vocals, although I would implore those initially off put to give “Shade & Soil” a chance.

Much like other contemporaries who choose to pursue this type of vocal style, the aforementioned love it or hate it factor has absolutely nothing to do with the performance, production, or execution of the vocal parts, which largely drive the album. The performance in my opinion is stellar throughout. However, the tone of the vocals largely subscribes to a higher, somewhat nasal-style delivery not unlike the Coheed’s and Thank You Scientist’s of the world. Whereas this style has never been an issue for me personally, I know more than a few individuals who simply can’t or won’t get past this style in order to reap the musical rewards within (TYS being a 50% love it/hate it amongst my personal recommendations). That attitude is fair enough I suppose, but one that is worth at least being cognizant of.

With that out of the way, Ethos play in a thoroughly modern style of alt-tinged progressive hard rock that flirts with occasional heaviness and large scale melody courtesy of an omnipresent piano and orchestral arrangements. In fact, to draw an aforementioned comparison a bit further, the overall sound reminded me at times of a less jazz inflected and more mellow Thank You Scientist, sans horns. I say that as a compliment, as that band is one of the best things going in modern prog. The compositions are lean and tight rhythmically, and the clean sounding production really accentuates what is going on structurally, at the expense of a certain grit.

Early album highlights include “Wood for the Fire”, which has a killer verse and chorus and driving main rhythm. “Tragedy” similarly has a huge and anthemic vocal and some really tasty guitar lines hovering over the proceedings. Really great stuff. Elsewhere on the record, the three part “Archetype Suite” ebbs and flows in pretty epic fashion, at times recalling a Heliocentric/Anthropocentric era The Ocean. I really enjoyed this attempt at a prog epic, and the scale and use of piano and orchestral elements is tastefully done and not overplayed.

Overall “Shade and Soil” is a solid effort that really plays to Ethos’ strengths and doesn’t overreach while still aiming to be musically expansive. This record is a great example of the style of blurred line genre blending that has become synonymous with modern prog, and it is done in a way that utilizes most of the styles strengths and few of its weaknesses. Although I would have liked a little more diversity and variation on some of the record’s other tracks, the listen is brisk and satisfying overall. The tightness and direct nature of the compositions and the conviction in which they are performed really comes through, and if one can look past the vocals (again style, not performance), a solid and well done effort will reveal itself.

Score: 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Shade and Soil
  2. Spectre
  3. Wood for the Fire
  4. Tragedy
  5. Frozen Memory
  6. The Archetype Suite I. Strangle Atlas
  7. The Archetype Suite II. The Lonely King
  8. The Archetype Suite III. Apotheosis
  9. Coup D’ Etat
  10. Evergreen
  11. Agnosia

Website: www.ethosband.com

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