Agusa – “Agusa”

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There is a warm breeze in the air. You have a prime spot on the grass for this music festival.

The music starts to flow from the stage, as one of the bands on the bill begins to play. The sound of guitars, drums, organ and flute blend together in harmony and wash over you in a wave. It’s that progressive sound, that left of center rock sound of the 1970s.

You wake up. It was a dream! Dang! It’s not the 1970s anymore. But there is a band keeping that sonic feeling alive.

Agusa are from Sweden, and they have been around as a group since 2013. Their songs, at least on this release, are all instrumental. Their musical aim, from what I read on their Facebook page and can hear affirmed in their songs, to is to keep the classic sound of prog rock alive.

I hear hints of Jethro Tull in their work – probably because of the flute! – but other elements that make up what would be consider “prog” reside in the songs as well.

The guitar on Sorgenfri is quite beautiful to me. I would have thought I was listening to a “lost classic” if I didn’t know better! As a fan of progressive rock bands of 1970s, I feel that Agusa fits right in with Gentle Giant, Renaissance, Strawbs and their peers. If you love that time in music, then you will love Agusa.

Rating: 9/10

Release date: 13 October 2017

Tracklisting
1. Landet Längesen 10:29
2. Sorgenfri 05:00
3. Den förtrollade skogen 08:33
4. Sagor från Saaris 09:20
5. Bortom hemom 10:19

Band Members
Tobias Petterson – Bass
Mikael Ödesjö – Guitar
Tim Wallander – Drums
Jeppe Juul – Organ
Jenny Puertas – Flute

Label: The Laser’s Edge Group
Facebook: www.facebook.com/agusaband
Bandcamp: agusaband.bandcamp.com

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Godsticks – “Hard To Face”

godsticksGodsticks are a band that I never give up on. I have the last 2 albums and just when I thought I hadn’t figured them out…the light bulb went on. I keep listening to “Emergence” over and over. And while I kept thinking “I should really like this,” something wasn’t clicking. Godsticks don’t do the “obvious” chord progression nor does Darran Charles sing the standard melody. Your brain expects what it expects and Godsticks does not conform to that. Once you allow the music to do as it will, that lightbulb goes on. In some ways, they remind me of King’s X but not the massive harmonies.

So after unlocking my own truth with Godsticks, I was curious to hear if it would carry on with the new album “Hard to Face.” Let’s just come out and say that this is the best album Godsticks has done to date. The riffs are heavy, the melodies are tricky but more memorable and Charles can still REALLY play guitar. The album kicks off really strong with “Guilt” and the title track. These songs walk the line of being direct yet slightly obtuse which is what this band does well.

“Open Your Eyes” (or “Open Your Goddamn Eyes”) is as insistent as you might expect while “We are Leaving” is more trippy. The latter switches things up at the right point of the album. I love the rumble of “Angry Concern” which not only has a solid groove but a smooth chorus. It makes for a nice contrast. “Avenge” adds a little funk to the groove while “Revere” is more tranquil and even jazzy. I really love “Everdrive” which is plenty prog with it’s oft kilter riffs and overall epic vibe. Check the guitar solo six minutes in!!

Kscope made a wise choice signing Godsticks because they were due to make their best album next. “Hard to Face” feels like a band realizing all of its potential and channeling into the music. If you love dark heavy prog rock that stops just short of what you might call “metal,” you should give “Hard to Face” a listen.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Guilt
2. Hard to Face
3. Open Your Eyes
4. We are Leaving
5. Angry Concern
6. Avenge
7. Revere
8. Unforgivable
9. Everdrive
10. Fame and Silence

Label: Kscope
Wesbite: www.godsticks.co.uk

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White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone

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Atone tells a musical tale of a relationship, in three parts.

Part One pulls the listener in with the piano and string driven Incarnate. Two people have discovered each other, and with the male and female vocal back and forth in Rising Sun, the story is established.

The music is gentle, chill, with just a hint of tension.

An Ocean Away is lively, yet not jarring, brought along by the bass line.

Part Two opens with the track Penitence – is one of the lovers asking for forgiveness? Is one of the partners being indecisive? There is a stringed instrument featured here, perhaps a koto, that adds a bit of variety to the sonics of the album, but it does not sound out of place.

Part Three opens with Deep Earth, setting a haunting and baleful tone with sonic rumbles, a mournful female vocal and a male voice stating “Surrender to Earth”.

By the closing track, Evelyn, which features an operatic female vocal, the listener is left to decide for themselves the fate of these lovers.

This album comes across as lyrical and grand without being over the top.

There are hints of “prog”, but I feel the music has a more cinematic and symphonic feel to it.

While I think the album is one to play when I want to relax, the music is never “sleepy”. These tones drew me in from the beginning and kept my ears engaged even during my first listen. Repeated listens uncovered other layers in the story and sounds. Everything “fits”, there is no musical waste. At around 38 minutes, it is a concise listen and never boring.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:

1. I: Incarnate
2. Rising Sun
3. Tempest
4. An Ocean Away
5. Symmetry
6. II: Penitence
7. The Sage
8. The Serpent
9. Atone
10. III: Deep Earth
11. Evelyn

Band Members
Daniel Tompkins – Vocals and Arrangements
Jordan Turner – Vocals
Keshav Dhar – Guitars and Programming
Randy Slaugh – Keyboard and Programming
Mac Christensen – Drums

Label: Kscope

Release date: 1 September 2017

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/whitemothblackbutterfly/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/whitemothblackbutterfly/

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Hallatar – “No Stars Upon The Bridge”

hallatar_coverOn paper, this album seemed like a perfect situation for me. Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen is one of my favorite vocalists ever. Also, Swallow the Sun guitarist Juha Raivio wrote all the music and he can write some really epic songs. On the Hallatar project they are joined by former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick, and not being familiar with HIM, I couldn’t tell you how good he was. He does fit the music on this album however.

All of the lyrics were written by Juha’s late partner, Aleah Starbridge. Her death was obviously a devastating blow for Juha. They had just completed getting their side band Trees of Eternity’s debut album “Hour of the Nightingale” released. So this project served as a tribute to her. It’s very dark and doomy. Honestly, it’s a difficult listen for me because of the background and also because it’s more funeral doom at times than the more progressive doom I’d hoped for.

Another challenge for me was that Tomi doesn’t always sound like himself! On the opener “Mirrors,” he uses an extreme black metal vocal which he does quite well. It’s just that it literally doesn’t even sound like him! This is more about my own expectations versus the quality of the vocal. The man can really do just about anything with his voice and Hallatar provides him with another outlet for other facets of his vocal prowess.

One major downside is the abundance of shorter poetic tracks. I fully understand why they are there, but they just do nothing for me musically and just break the flow of the album. So while I do appreciate what this album represents, I don’t think it’s an album that I can listen to on a whim. It’s music that you have to be ready for. “No Stars Upon The Bridge” is doom as an artform rather than a music genre. It’s not progressive yet it does take you on a dark journey into the dark place that Juha Raivio has lived in since April of 2016.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:

1. Mirrors
2. Raven’s Song
3. Melt
4. My Mistake (feat. Heike Langhans)
5. Pieces
6. Severed Eyes
7. The Maze
8. Spiral Gate
9. Dreams Burn Down (feat. Aleah Starbridge)

Label: Svart Records
Release date: 13 October 2017
Bandcamp: hallatar.bandcamp.com/album/no-stars-upon-the-bridge

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Daniel Cavanagh – “Monochrome”

DanCav_Monochrome_smlWhen I found out that Daniel Cavanagh of Anathema was releasing his first solo album not long after Anathema released their last album “The Optimist,” I found it to be a bit curious for sure. Cavanagh is Anathema’s primary songwriter and that last Anathema album was an absolute snooze for me PLUS the album before that “Distant Satellites” was incredibly annoying to me. So if these songs on his solo album “Monochrome” were not good enough for those albums, it was a cause for concern.

It turns out the material on “Monochrome,” while all DEFINITELY sounding like Anathema is FAR superior to anything on those last 2 albums and for me, it harkens back to “Weather Systems” and the 3 albums prior as far as song quality. The interesting thing is that the overall vibe is similar to “The Optimist” in that it’s mostly laid back and sounds good for listening in a dimly lit room. Honestly, “Monochrome” is the album that I wish “The Optimist” was.

I think removing the other forces within Anathema from the equation and letting Danny make all of the decisions proved to me that I am less a fan of the band and more a fan of this man’s songwriting talent. Plus, with all due respect to his brother Vincent, Danny has an awesome and powerful voice. He can do all of the mellow, introspective material AND hit the big notes when needed.

He also has Anneke Van Giersbergen guesting on vocals on three tracks. For me, she is a massive up grade on Anathema’s Lee Douglas whose bleating vibrato often drives me fucking nuts. Anneke has more power, sounds better when singing quietly and has more overall control of her vibrato. So when you listen to a track like “Soho,” it sounds like Anathema in exile or something. “This Music” sounds like it should have been on “Weather Systems.” These are all top line songs!

One track that really gripped me is “The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours” which is longer and has a mid section that Anathema hasn’t tried (very instrumental and also atmospheric) but they should! The only track that doesn’t quite hit me is the closer “Some Dreams Come True” which sounds more like 3 separate pieces for a movie soundtrack. To be clear, it’s still very good but not as good as the rest of this album.

Anathema fans need this album. It’s that simple. If you are like me (probably not!) and feel that Anathema hasn’t delivered a great album since “Weather Systems,” then you NEED to check out “Monochrome.” This is the album that should have followed that one. “Monochrome” is a showcase of Daniel Cavanagh’s song writing talent and a chance for him to be firmly in the spotlight as he should be. This is one of 2017’s best albums and makes up for “The Optimist” putting me to sleep!

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:
1. The Exorcist
2. This Music
3. Soho
4. The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours
5. Dawn
6. Oceans Of Time
7. Some Dreams Come True

Label: Kscope
Release Date: 13 October 2017

Facebook: facebook.com/anathemamusic
Website: www.anathema.ws

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Lunatic Soul – “Fractured”

KSCOPE358_sml.jpg“Fractured” is the latest release from Lunatic Soul, the side project of Riverside’s Mariusz Duda. Duda is one of the biggest talents in prog, in my opinion. Lunatic Soul has been very free form as far as style is concerned. Anything can happen! Some songs have been ambient, some more standard in structure, and others have been bigger and more epic (not as much as Riverside of course).

“Fractured” continues along the lines of the last album “Walking on a Flashlight Beam” in that it has a bit of everything. “Anytime” is very much the straight forward song with a lot of repetition. Unfortunately, it’s a little TOO repetitive and the song never really takes off. The opener “Blood on the Tightrope” is one of my favorite tracks, real drums through out and a solid hook. It’s quite progressive as well.

One of the most progressive tracks that Duda has ever done is the lengthy “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” which starts out as a sort of folk song before going more electronic and then more of a full band vibe. It really feels like a true journey. Just when you think you’ve arrived, there’s more to go! There’s a lot of electronics on the album which is okay when it’s used to start out a song like on “Battlefield,” but when it dominates the song too much like on “Red Light Escape,” I’m left a bit cold.

“Fractured” as whole is a very good album. I’d say it falls somewhere between the last album and elements of the “Eye of the Soundscape” album that Riverside released. Mariusz Duda is a formidable talent who follows his muse and rather than force his music to BE a certain way, he allows it to grow naturally. While others are lauding Steven Wilson, perhaps we should all be praising this artist for really breaking new ground rather than revisiting old ideas.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Blood on the Tightrope
2. Anymore
3. Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes
4. Red Light Escape
5. Fractured
6. A Thousand Shards of Heaven
7. Battlefield
8. Moving On

Label: Kscope
Website: www.lunaticsoul.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lunaticsoulband
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lunaticsoulband

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Patrick Grant – “A Sequence of Waves (twelve stories and a dream)”

a4115876396_16There are people who have pure talent. I think regardless of what they do, it comes through. Art, music, poetry. Patrick Grant is one of those people. I had heard his music as part of the “Titled Axes” project which Robert Fripp was a part of. Do I have your attention now? “A Sequence of Waves (twelve stories and a dream)” is the latest from the multi-talented Mr. Grant. He plays guitar, bass, viola, piano, keyboards and percussion on the album while getting great support from other very talented people.

The album has great variety to it when it comes to sounds with the vibe feeling more like a soundtrack to a non-existent movie. From the violin led opener “Lucid Intervals” to the Dixie Dregs influenced “Driving Patterns” to the slow drag of “Tobacco” to the upbeat Kansas feel of “Firearms” to the open jam of “Breaking Butterflies Upon a Wheel”:the arrangements are connected even when the approach is different. This gives each track (and I mean each track) its own unique identity. This is a rare commodity.

Kudos to Lynn Bechtold on violin who really shines throughout the album! Drummer John Ferrari also turns on a great performance on all tracks. So plenty of praise right? Ah but it’s not perfect. There’s a vocal sample on “Sevens Years at Sea” that drives me crazy! I don’t mind samples when used sparingly but this one loops through out the song and gets really annoying. There are two preludes on the album and as someone who finds short interludes to be a crapshoot, I’m not sure how vital they are to the album as a whole.

There’s actually a lot of music packed into “A Sequence of Waves (twelve stories and a dream).” Which track is the dream? I suppose they all could be stories or dreams, depending on your view of things. One thing is for sure, Patrick Grant is a fine composer and “A Sequence of Waves (twelve stories and a dream)” is an album that will please fans of great instrumental music.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. Lucid Intervals
  2. Driving Patterns
  3. Prelude I
  4. Alcohol
  5. Tobacco
  6. Firearms
  7. Seven Years at Sea
  8. Breaking Butterflies Upon a Wheel
  9. Lonely Ride Coney Island
  10. Primary Blues
  11. Prelude II
  12. To Find a Form That Accommodates the Mess
  13. One Note Samba

Bandcamp: tiltedaxes.bandcamp.com/album/a-sequence-of-waves-twelve-stories-and-a-dream

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