Virgil & Steve Howe – “Nexus”

cbb21336-34e9-4a67-a945-b7cfbcdf2de3“Nexus” was to be the first connection between father and son. Steve Howe on guitars and his son Virgil Howe on everything else. Sadly, the younger Howe’s death on September 11, 2017 turned this album into his epitaph. The bond between them is clear through out the album. They speak the same musical language and while this is further away from Steve’s past releases on his own and with Yes, he blends perfectly with his son’s more ambient and electronic leanings.

There are some tracks that are more acoustic and others that feature Virgil’s passion for electronic music. But those moments never take over any of the tracks. Instead, they are more like sprinkles atop a musical cupcake. It’s miles away from Virgil’s DJing and remixing. The songs are all piano based tracks that Virgil wrote and send to his father to add guitar too. It wasn’t until after Steve added his guitar that Virgil revealed the remaining instrumentation for each track. It turns out to be a process that worked perfectly. The album is a treasure trove of atmospheric beauty.

The album starts with the beautiful title track which is a lovely acoustic duo. “Hidden Planet” still has an acoustic base to it but has synths and electronic percussion, coupled with Steve’s guitar work. The lush “Leaving Aurora” showcases Virgil’s piano work as does “Nick’s Star” which is a tribute to a friend of Virgil’s who passed away. It becomes even more poignant with Virgil’s passing. “Dawn Mission” is another stellar track.

“Nexus” is an incredible tribute to the talent of Virgil Howe. Sadly it makes you want to hear more like this from him and that’s no longer possible. It is a sad listen if you think of it in those terms but consider the joy that went into creating this album and you’ll hear it in another light. My condolences to the entire Howe family. Rest in peace, Virgil Howe.

Rating: 9.5/10

1. Nexus
2. Hidden Planet
3. Leaving Aurora
4. Nick’s Star
5. Night Hawk
6. Moon Rising
7. Passing Titan
8. Dawn Mission
9. Astral Plane
10. Infinite Space
11. Freefall

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 17 November, 2017

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Dream Theater at the Palace Theatre, Albany NY on November 14, 2017

23473018_10156074170883938_7719840119486177290_nI saw Dream Theater for the first time back in 1993 on the Images and Words Tour at the Palace Theatre in Albany, NY. So it was very cool to see them yet again, but this time 25 years after that first time on the Images, Words and Beyond Tour. The first set was the “Beyond” set which had 2 songs that I could live with never hearing again in “The Dark Eternal Night” and “As I Am.” The latter contained a snip of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” which just confirmed what I’ve always said about the song. It’s a re-write of that song.

But other than those two songs (and that they cut “Don’t Look Past Me” for the first time on the tour), the rest of the songs were excellent choices. It was nice that John Myung had a solo spot featuring his rendition of the Jaco Pastorius song “Portrait of Tracy.” In addition, it was nice to hear “To Live Forever” which was written during the Images and Words era. “Breaking All Illusions” was a great closer to the first set.

The second set contained all of “Images and Words” in order plus solos from John Petrucci on the outro of “Take the Time,” a drum solo from Mike Mangini in the middle of “Metropolis Part I” and an improv piece prior to “Wait for Sleep” by keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess. Musically the band were in top form. Singer James LaBrie told a lot of fun stories in between the songs and for the most part did a good job on the old stuff. But he didn’t try many of the insanely high notes and did strain a bit on others. But it was an excellent effort on 25 year old songs.

23517851_10156074170888938_9204488800009433604_nAt one point, LaBrie asked what a certain button in front of his feet did and asked “Does this button make my voice go higher?” So it was nice that he has a sense of humor and also the crowd was clearly with him the whole way. While this is 3/5 of the band I saw way back in 1993, they still treated I&W with respect. Perhaps acknowledging the contributions of former members Mike Portnoy and Kevin Moore would have been nice, I can completely understand why they didn’t. Especially Portnoy who has been a constant distraction since he left six years ago.

The band returned to do the 23 minute “A Change of Seasons” as the encore, since it also was written for “Images and Words.” I kinda wanted them to revert back to the old arrangement of the song but again, I understood that most people are used to the official 1995 released version. It sounded great and made the perfect finish to a fun night of nostalgia. I am definitely older but so is Dream Theater and it felt like we are aging together. That’s a comforting feeling.

Setlist:
Set 1:
The Dark Eternal Night
The Bigger Picture
Hell’s Kitchen
To Live Forever
Portrait of Tracy (Jaco Pastorius cover by John Myung)
As I Am (With Enter Sandman)
Breaking All Illusions

Set 2: Images and Words
Happy New Year 1992 – Intro Tape
Pull Me Under
Another Day
Take the Time (outro – John Petrucci guitar solo)
Surrounded
Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper (with Mike Mangini drum solo)
Under A Glass Moon
Wait for Sleep (with Jordan Rudess improv intro)
Learning to Live

Encore
A Change of Seasons

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Galactic Cowboys – “Long Way Back to the Moon”

MTR75402_CD_webAt the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I’ve been into Galactic Cowboys since their self titled debut album came out back in 1991. Since then, I’ve picked up each album (and the EP) immediately and the band never disappoint. Until 2000, when they broke up. By that point, the band were down to just original members Monty Colvin (bass,vocals) and Ben Huggins (lead vocals) along side guitarist Wally Farkas. Original guitarist Dane Sonnier left the band back in 1994.

The band had done some brief reunion gigs but finally after 17 years, the band officially reformed with the original lineup (including drummer Alan Doss) and have a new album, “Long Way Back to the Moon.” Once again, the band do not disappoint. I will say the album might not be as good as their first two albums but it certainly fits in nicely with the rest of their catalog.

Many of the things that make Galactic Cowboys who they are are still very much present on “Long Way Back to the Moon.” Meaty riffs, great harmonies and a wry sense of humor. I do wish that the band still utilized Huggins on acoustic guitar and harp (like on the first two albums), but that’s not the case here. But that’s just a minor issue since there’s no mistaking this band’s sound. No one else sounds like them but them!

The album starts with “Above the Clouds” which is actually a really old song. It was written by Doss and Colvin after their previous band The Awful Truth broke up in 1989. The song did not make the cut for the first album but it clearly has the sound of that album. It’s not the typical fast song opener that GC goes for on their albums and it actually took longer for me to really like the song. That’s not a bad thing either.

From there, the album has two very solid singles in “Internal Masquerade” and “Zombies.” Both have really great hooks with the latter having one of my favorite choruses that GC have ever done! “Next Joke” reflects that wry sense of humor in the lyrics. Huggins sings about lots of positive affirmations only to be undercut by the “Next Joke” refrain.

“Amisarewas” showcases the band’s knack for a great slow song: think Someone for Everyone but maybe not quite as awesome. “Drama” and “Agenda” are both mid tempo rockers that kinda remind me of each other, while “Hate Me” is more of the fast paced thrash track they are known for. I admit that’s never quite been the style that I prefer from them but they pull it off like usual.

While Huggins does sing lead, Colvin has always done his share of lead vocals through the years and does so on the epic title track which is my favorite song on the album. Both bonus tracks are great songs with “Believing the Hype” mocking the band’s own comeback. I like both tracks more than some of the ones that made the album!

The band are as refreshing as ever and not as rusty as one might think given that this lineup hasn’t written music together since 1993! I think this is the solid start that I expected from them and hopefully they will continue to make awesome albums in the future. The world was not ready for the band the first time around but “Long Way Back to the Moon” proves that the world needs the Galactic Cowboys.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:

1. In The Clouds
2. Internal Masquerade
3. Blood In My Eyes
4. Next Joke
5. Zombies
6. Drama
7. Amisarewas
8. Hate Me
9. Losing Ourselves
10. Agenda
11. Long Way Back To The Moon
12. Believing The Hype (Bonus Track)
13. Say Goodbye To Utopia (Bonus Track)

Label: The Mascot Label Group
Facebook: www.facebook.com/galacticcowboys
Website: www.galacticcowboys.com


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Entheos – “Dark Future”

Entheos-Dark-FutureEntheos have followed-up their 2016 debut CD with “Dark Future,” released November 11, 2017 on Spinefarm Records. Less than 18 months between two full-length CDs you ask? Chaney Crabb (vocals), Navene Koperweis (drums, ex-Animals as Leaders, Animosity), and Evan Brewer (bass, ex-The Faceless, Animosity) have returned including new guitarist Travis LeVrier (guitar, ex-Scale the Summit) for 10 tracks of heavy, rhythmic, atmospheric, syncopated and dark contemporary extreme metal (no clean singing, FYI).

Just as with my review of “The Infinite Nothing,” I must again give props to Chaney and the vocals here. This is a metal vocal buffet – guttural/death metal vocals, shrieked/black metal vocals, and now including computerized/effected vocals which does lend a certain creepy/sci-fi vibe which plays well into the title of Dark Future.

Anyone familiar with Evan Brewer’s solo CD “Your Itinerary” or Navene K’s solo material will recognize the trademark bass sounds and electronic treatments (respectively) and these attributes add a depth to “Dark Future” that kicks the experience into the next level (i.e. intro and middle of track 4, middle of 6, middle of 7, 10).

Once again, Brewer’s bass tone which is a partial result of Brewer’s right hand playing style is a testament to his originality, tastefulness and adaptability – this is the funk-metal bass 2.0 you were looking for. Travis LeVrier quit his long-lasting full-time position as guitarist with Scale the Summit to join Entheos in 2016. If that doesn’t say enough right there, the solos you’ll find placed within “Dark Future” display the elegance of LeVrier’s style which offer a comfortable respite from the metal brutality.

Eyebrow-raising moments? Tracks 4, 6 -> 7, 8. This is the “new jeans which are fashionable but also happen to fit super well” of 2017 metal releases.

Rating: 8.2/10

Tracklist:

1. Black Static (I)
2. White Noise (II)
3. Melancholia
4. Pulse of a New Era
5. Sea of Symmetry
6. Inverted Earth (I)
7. Sunshift (II)
8. Suspended Animation
9. The World Without Us
10. Resonance

Label: Spinefarm Records
Facebook: www.facebook.com/entheosband

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Almanac – “Kingslayer”

almanac-kingslayer Just over a year after their debut album “Tsar”, Almanac is back with their second outing, “Kingslayer.” Almanac is the project of guitarist Victor Smolski, formerly of Rage. The band have not one but THREE vocalists. That is part of my issue because they really don’t need all three.

Jeannette Marchewka is relegated to harmony vocals and the occasional line here and there. Andy B. Franck has the better voice but tends to yield to lead lead vocalist David Readman, who has a bit of a gravely voice but sounds a tad affected. The music on “Kingslayer” is really great through out. My issue tends to be how the vocals are done. There are way too many shouted/chanted vocals which seem geared to a stadium crowd. It winds up sounding cheesy.

“Hail to the King” is a perfect example of this. The title of the song is basically the lone part of the song I don’t like because it is chanted. It ruins things for me. “Regicide” almost falls prey to the same thing but for whatever reason, it doesn’t sound quite as bad as that. “Children Of The Sacred Path” works fairly well vocally though as does the brief title track.

Stylewise, Almanac remind me of Ayreon or even latter day Savatage, right before they fell into being TSO. It’s a solid mix of power metal, symphonic metal and prog metal. And the band move easily between these genres to make their own sound. It’s never a case of trying to be everything at once. The music fits the song and the style is a part of that.

I am probably never going to be a huge fan of Almanac but they are really good and I think many people will appreciate “Kingslayer.” And even “Tsar” for that matter. It’s finely crafted, epic metal that will please those that love a bit of Game of Thrones in their metal diet.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Regicide
2. Children Of The Sacred Path
3. Guilty As Charged
4. Hail To The King
5. Losing My Mind
6. Kingslayer
7. Kingdom Of The Blind
8. Headstrong
9. Last Farewell
10. Red Flag

Label: Nuclear Blast
Website: www.almanac.band
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlmanacVS.band

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Cloak – “To Venomous Depths”

a0393852871_10For me, Atlanta’s Cloak fit the progressive death metal tag. Now, I do realize that many people will suggest otherwise and honestly, I can understand that argument. But their debut album “To Venomous Depths” is packed with great riffs and hooks and a dark atmosphere that is sure to please fans of bands like Opeth, Enslaved and Arcturus. They remind me a fair amount of Tribulation but that’s not a bad thing since I love that band.

The album kicks off with a great one-two punch of “To Venomous Depths / Where No Light Shines” and “Within the Timeless Black” which are uptempo blackened death metal anthems. They just flat out rock. And what I love about the album is that even though this is “extreme metal,” the songs are memorable which is something that’s not always easy to achieve within the genre. I suppose it’s like deafheaven in that regard, though stylistically different.

The album never lets up from start to finish BUT the songs are so strong, it’s never overwhelming at all. Things get really amazing at the very end with the epic closer “Deep Red.” The song is as vicious and catchy as anything prior. It’s just bigger and longer. It ends first with a fury and then a glorious peaceful end.

Cloak does not reinvent the wheel with “To Venomous Depths.” Sure there are things that I’ve heard before and they aren’t uniquely identifiable. But they write well crafted songs and are really good musicians who sound great. This is an album that deserves checking out by anyone who loves well written progressive death metal.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. To Venomous Depths / Where No Light Shines
  2. Within the Timeless Black
  3. The Hunger
  4. Beyond the Veil
  5. Death Posture
  6. In the Darkness, the Path
  7. Forever Burned
  8. Passage
  9. Deep Red

Label: Season of Mist
Bandcamp: cloakatlanta.bandcamp.com/album/to-venomous-depths

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Spock’s Beard – “Snow Live”

CoverSnowLiveThe one album that Spock’s Beard never toured to support was their double concept album “Snow.” Neal Morse left the band immediately following the release of the album (his conversion to Christianity being the reason). So “Snow” was basically left for dead since the remaining band immediately returned to the studio to record their first album without Neal, “Feel Euphoria.” At last year’s “Morsefest,” the current band teamed up with Neal and former drummer Nick D’Virgilio to perform “Snow” in its entirety.

The live album and DVD document the performance and needless to say if you are a fan of Spock’s Beard, this is absolutely ESSENTIAL. The band (including now ex-drummer Jimmy Keegan) sound amazing. The band are clearly enjoying themselves. Neal is very much the center of attention, with Nick taking the occasional lead vocal. NDV does a great job on “Welcome to NYC” which he did not sing on the original album.

While Keegan definitely gets a chance to shine on drums (with NDV), current vocalist Ted Leonard is effectively sidelined and yields to Neal on lead vocal for most of the performance. He finally steps to the fore on “Devil’s Got My Throat” after being basically a rhythm guitarist in the back of the stage until then. It’s a shame because Ted does a great job as usual.

Other than keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, all of the band sing and sing quite well. There are moments when they all trade off vocals, which works very well on “Open the Gates Part 2.” The trio of Neal, NDV, and Ted step forward to sing “Solitary Soul” together and it’s definitely one of the show’s highlights. NDV’s falsetto is as great as ever. Another chance for that great falsetto comes during “Carie” which is still one of my favorite songs on “Snow.” A fantastic performance of it. He sounds great on “Looking for Answers” too!

Alan Morse is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists in all of prog, with his unique style (no guitar pick). Ryo is not only a keyboard wiz but he is always fun to watch. Like any great bassist Dave Meros is rock solid and unfortunately with such a crowded stage, he is left toward the back and doesn’t get a ton of camera time. Neal of course gets plenty especially when things get a bit dramatic during “I’m Dying.” Jimmy gets a lead vocal on “Freak Boy, Part 2” which is very cool. I have to admit that after seeing this, I really wish he hadn’t left the band.

The encores are phenomenal as well. “June” has some incredible vocals by the whole band (except Ryo of course!). And the live premier of the new epic “Falling For Forever” which was originally released on the 2015 compilation “The First Twenty Years.” The song sounds great live and makes for a fitting closer to a truly epic night.

“Snow” always seemed like a clear indication that Neal was going to pursue a more Christian direction with his music. The central character was a Christ figure of sorts and the album is a very positive story of miracles and redemption. Part of me felt that Neal left the band more so he could have more artistic freedom, not that the band ever protested his leadership. “Snow” was the crossroads in many ways for Neal and Spock’s Beard.

This live performance finally gives this album it’s due that it never was allowed. I’ve often been critical of the “Snow” album but this performance actually points out all of the album’s strength and is arguably better than the studio album.

ColorSnowLiveJoelBarrios

Photo credit: Joel Barrios

DVD 1:
1. Made Alive/Overture
2. Stranger In A Strange Land
3. Long Time Suffering
4. Welcome To NYC
5. Love Beyond Words
6. The 39th Street Blues (I’m Sick)
7. Devil’s Got My Throat
8. Open Wide The Flood Gates
9. Open The Gates Part 2
10. Solitary Soul
11. Solitary Soul (continuation)
12. Wind At My Back
13. Second Overture
14. 4th Of July

DVD 2:
1. I’m The Guy
2. Reflection
3. Carrie
4. Looking For Answers
5. Freak Boy
6. All Is Vanity
7. I’m Dying
8. Freak Boy Part 2
9. Devil’s Got My Throat Revisited
10. Snow’s Night Out
11. Ladies And Gentlemen, Mister Ryo Okumoto On The Keyboards
12. I Will Go
13. Made Alive Again/Wind At My Back

Encores:
1. June
2. Falling For Forever

Label: Radiant Records
Website: www.spocksbeard.com

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