Riverside – “ID.Entity”

I don’t really write reviews unless somehow I am motivated. I am motivated in this case because Riverside is back. I mean really back. Following the death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński in 2016, it was unclear how or even IF Riverside would continue. The band initially decided to proceed as a trio with guest guitarists assisting them. This seemed like a tentative step forward but made sense for sure.

In 2018, they released “Wasteland” which just didn’t click with me. They clearly missed Grudziński and his sense of melody. The guitar work was mostly handled by Mariusz Duda and it was good but they were like a car with only three wheels. Even current guitarist Maciej Meller’s solos didn’t really fit. But he was subsequently asked to join the band. I wasn’t sure it would work but thankfully it has. The new album “ID.Entity” shows that the band has indeed gelled and Meller is the right person for the job.

Musically this sounds more like classic Riverside to me. Think a mix of “Second Life Syndrome” and perhaps “Rapid Eye Movement.” The album looks at how technology is taking over our lives and musically it’s more aggressive than “Wasteland.” The band sound more confident as well. The songs are just a strong batch. When the first two singles are the last two songs on the album, you know this is a VERY strong album musically. Both the heavy “I’m Done With You” and the closing track “Self-Aware” are killer. The latter is much longer on the album which needs to be heard. A great ending.

“Friend or Foe?” leads the album off and sounds different than really anything they have done and I love the track for that reason. But by the time the second song “Landmine Blast” it sounds like the aforementioned classic Riverside. The opening voice on “Big Tech Brother” is annoying but the song makes up for that. That’s probably the only downside of the whole album. “ID.Entity” has a timely (and intelligent) theme running thru it lyrically and this is some of the best variety of music that Riverside have ever done. There’s something for every Riverside fan on this album.

Rating: 9/10
Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 20 January 2023

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My Top 10 of 2022

Here are my 10 favorite studio albums of 2022 (in order):

  1. Elder –  “Innate Passage”
  2. Umphrey’s McGee – “Asking For a Friend”
  3. Threshold – “Dividing Lines”
  4. Tedeschi Trucks Band – “I Am The Moon: I-IV”
  5. Tangerine Dream – “Raum”
  6. Porcupine Tree – “Closure / Continuation”
  7. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – “X: Bleed Here Now”
  8. The Gathering – “Beautiful Distortion”
  9. Voivod – “Synchro Anarchy”
  10. Devin Townsend – “Lightwork”
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My top studio album of 2022 is the new album by Elder, “Innate Passage.” Highest possible recommendation. This band just gets stronger and stronger.

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Lonely Robot – “A Model Life”

I am a huge fan of John Mitchell, the man behind Lonely Robot. I am glad he does all of these projects outside of Arena. What projects? Lonely Robot is one but also he’s had supergroup Kino and the resurrected It Bites. Each benefit from Mitchell’s immense talent. The songwriting is always TOP notch. He’s a great guitarist for sure, but I really love his distinctive vocal style. “A Model Life” is the fifth Lonely Robot album and possibly the best so far.

Lonely Robot was initially conceived as a musical trilogy but InsideOut pushed for more. And I am glad they did. From the opener “Recalibrating” which has a bit of It Bites pop to it to the interesting “Digital God Machine” that has odd verses coupled with a big chorus. Mitchell can really write a chorus! He really writes great melodies, honestly some of the best in music today. Yes all music. I said it!

The big ballad is something Mitchell is a MASTER of. “Starlit Stardust” fits that mold and it’s one of the best songs his written. It sits nicely along side songs like “Crystalline” or “In Floral Green.” Just a great song. The sheer insanity of “The Island Of Misfit Toys” proves that he is willing to push his sound while never losing the plot. Another favorite of mine is the title track. Power, melody and great lyrics. I love the early 80s Genesis style of the arrangement too.

It’s hard for me to even come up with new ways to express just how strong this album is musically. Even the short “Mandalay” is essential and not filler! “In Memoriam” closes the album in style. It’s stark and fragile musically but once again those fucking vocals CUT through it all. Brilliant way to finish it. “A Model Life” is John Mitchell taking Lonely Robot to the next level. I actually didn’t think that was possible but he did it. An album like this is essential for anyone who loves melodic modern prog.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Recalibrating
2. Digital God Machine
3. Species in Transition
4. Starlit Stardust
5. The Island of Misfit Toys
6. A Model Life
7. Mandalay
8. Rain Kings
9. Duty of Care
10. In Memoriam

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 26 August 2022

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Bjørn Riis – “A Fleeting Glimpse”

It’s no secret that Pink Floyd is a massive influence on the band Airbag and their guitarist Bjørn Riis. Riis has had a very busy solo career and just released an album in April of 2022 called “Everything to Everyone.” And he is back again! This time with an EP/mini album which is intended as an homage to Pink Floyd. I suppose there’s no reason to try to hide the influence. Why not celebrate it? And that he does on “A Fleeting Glimpse.”

Adding to the connection is Floyd backing vocalist Durga McBroom who guests on the opening track, “Dark Shadows (part 1).” She does some wordless improv vocals similar to what you have heard on tracks like “The Great Gig in the Sky,” those done by Claire Torry. Oddly enough, it’s those vocals that might be my only issue with this mini-album. McBroom can SING! But it gets overwhelming and really takes over the song at times. It’s just too out in front of the mix and a bit startling at first. But after you get used to it being out front, it’s good.

Musically, Riis and Airbag have never hidden their Floydian roots. “A Fleeting Glimpse” just makes it perhaps more obvious. “Dark Shadows (part 1)” glides along like a good Floyd tune would, complete with Riis’ Gilmouresque fills. “A Voyage to the Sun” starts off sounding like a mix of “Welcome to the Machine” or “Time.” The keys and vibes channel that ominous side of Pink Floyd and because of that, it is my favorite song. A great instrumental. The bells at the start of “Summer Meadows” seem like a nod to “High Hopes” maybe? The song itself is acoustic based and gorgeous to start with. It builds slowly going from an acoustic solo to an electric solo and then back again. Very Dark Side of the Moon to me. And yes another great instrumental.

The mini album closes with “Dark Shadows (part 2).” The song revisits all of the vibes of the previous tracks, arrangement similar to “A Voyage to the Sun.” I like the sparseness of the middle section which allows for a nice solo in a bit of a “Momentary” style. It rounds out this EP really well. Overall, this is NOT derivative sounding. While it doesn’t hide the Floyd influences, those influences are present in some shape or form on everything Riis has done. “A Fleeting Glimpse” is very strong, and definitely will please his fans and Airbag fans while perhaps get Pink Floyd fans to check out the talent of Bjørn Riis.

Rating: 9/10

1. Dark Shadows (part 1)
2. A Voyage to the Sun
3. Summer Meadows
4. Dark Shadows (part 2)

Label: Karisma Records
Release Date: 30 September 2022

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SiX BY SiX – “SiX BY SiX”

Supergroups are nothing new to Robert Berry. Back in 1988, he fronted the band 3 (a personal favorite) which also featured ELP’s Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. Prior to that he was briefly in GTR with Steve Howe. Recently he revisited that band and wrote music with Keith, prior to the keyboard legend’s tragic death. 3.2 was yet another triumph. Now Berry has formed another supergroup called SiX BY SiX, which features Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler and guitarist Ian Crichton of Saga. This trio seems very different musically from one another. Berry and Crichton perhaps the closet music-wise with Glockler being the heavy metal “basher”, yet one of the best and most underrated drummers in general.

Going into this album, I was curious how this trio would gel. Berry is capable of playing every instrument needed, and has. He is vastly talented and really doesn’t NEED anyone. Crichton is one of the most distinctive guitarists in music history. When he plays, you KNOW it’s him and there are few who have that ability. His shape throwing makes Saga sound like Saga. So I worried that SiX BY SiX might sound too much like Saga. Then you have Glockler who is, as mentioned, known more for a classic metal style rather than prog. Would this is a case of 3 ingredients so wildly different that they don’t mix? Or would this be a new blend altogether?

The lead track and single “Yearning to Fly” does have a bit of Saga when it starts out which is bound to happen. Yet when mixed with Glockler’s drums, it’s more like Saga on steroids. The chorus is instantly memorable and this is what makes Robert Berry a great tune-smith. It’s a great song with some really cool playing. “China” has a really meaty riff from Crichton and has an urgency to it that always works for me. The solo bounces off the walls but still suits the song. That’s the key with this album. It’s about the SONGS. All three are talented players which is important for the genre but if you don’t have the songs, who cares how well you can play?

The 8 minute “Reason to Feel Calm Again” starts with a solo spot for Crichton. And he reminds me once again why I love this man’s style. You know who it is. When the track kicks in, it almost has a tribal feel based on the choice of percussion and how the original guitar part is subsequently featured. This is a unique track with plenty of passion and power. The middle section reminds the listener that this is a prog band. Strap in. And the song ultimately exits as it started. A cool mini epic. Another asset to this band is Berry’s bass playing, as evident on “The Upside of Down.” There’s no instrument the man can’t play! But wow the bass on this is just amazing (great synths by him too). And cowbell! Thanks, Nigel. The track is a great rocker. As is the next track “Casino.” It’s one great song after another.

The short acoustic track “Live Forever” is a nice change of pace which is well placed in the album. That sets up the rocking “The Last Words on Earth” so well. “Skyfall” has a cool dramatic synth riff that really makes the song for me. Plus a killer Crichton solo just adds to it, and of course it fits the song. What does the album need now? A ballad? “Battle of a Lifetime” starts off sounding like it’s going to be a typical ballad before finding a bit of a groove. The key to this song is the duo guitar solos: one is mellow and the other a brain bender. The album closes with the other single “Save the Night.” The main riff after the chorus is the other near Saga moment. And yes I love it! Just a killer closing number.

The debut self titled album by SiX BY SiX is defintely a rocking album. It also answers all my concerns about if these three would gel musically. This is a fully realized band that proves supergroups can still be incredibly exciting. SiX BY SiX is the sound of three virtuosos melting into a true force to be reckoned with. While all three have other bands and projects, hopefully this is not just a one off project but the start of a long musical relationship!

Rating: 9/10
Available here: https://SixBySixBand.lnk.to/SixBySix
Release Date: 19 August 2022
Label: InsideOutMusic

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Sigh – “Shiki”

In my opinion Mirai Kawashima of Sigh is on par with the great Ihsahn when it comes to talent and vision within the progressive black metal community. The first album that really got my attention was “Imaginary Soundscape” from 2001. While I didn’t discover it til much later, the album does not sound 21 years old. It was ahead of its time and still is. “Scenes From Hell” took Sigh into a gloomier, sludgier direction. It sounded like it was actually recorded in hell. And another favorite of mine was 2018’s “Heir to Despair” which proved that Mirai, Dr. Mikannibal and Sigh were very much still on the top of their game. Now we get “Shiki” which is based around a traditional Japanese poem. It’s the next chapter in the long incredible career of this band.

The album opens with the 16 seconds of “Kuroi Inori” which is pretty forgettable. But what is anything but forgettable is the sledgehammer hook on “Kuroi Kage.” This is Sigh at its most epic. The riff just pounds. It’s a slower pace which just makes the all out assault of “Shoujahitsumetsu” all the more mindblowing. The album is off to an incredible start. And of course, it’s not easily comparable to anything from Sigh’s past. Not exactly anyway. The chugging riff on “Shikabane” is yet another change of pace. The song forces you to bob your head along with it. Mirai spits out the vocals with his usual venom. Not being able to speak Japanese has no bearing. You can feel the emotion and power. And the drum fills and guitar soloing just add to the track. Awesome.

Mike Heller deserves mention for his drum work on the album as a whole. Not just on “Shikabane” but then the next track “Satsui – Geshi No Ato” is a showcase for his playing. A band is only as good as their drummer, as I have always said, and Heller is incredible. What a track!! The album just flows too. It is one great song after another. The relentless “Fuyu Ga Kuru” is yet another one. But Mirai does like to keep listeners on their toes, so even this track has an oasis in it.

Are their weak moments? Not really. While the opening intro and the minute long “Kuroi Kagami” aren’t essential, they don’t detract from the album either. The album takes another wild turn with “Mayonaka No Kaii” which to me has a Mr Bungle type vibe. Not uncommon for Sigh. This track was released as a video and makes for a great intro to this band. Just the usual insanity from Sigh. The album closes out with the peaceful “Touji No Asa” which is a nice way to gently let the listener off the sonic meathook of the album. “Shiki” is one of Sigh’s best albums to date. And it’s amazing to me that they still surprise me with their music. It’s not easy music to handle but it is so rewarding. Great things are.

Rating: 9/10

Label: Peaceville
Release Date: 26 August 2022

Tracklist:

  1. Kuroi Inori
  2. Kuroi Kage
  3. Shoujahitsumetsu
  4. Shikabane
  5. Satsui – Geshi No Ato
  6. Fuyu Ga Kuru
  7. Shouku
  8. Kuroi Kagami
  9. Mayonaka No Kaii
  10. Touji No Asa
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A-Z – “A-Z”

A-Z is the new project/band formed by former Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder. He enlisted the services of his former bandmate the legendary Ray Alder on vocals. And that’s where the band name comes from A-Z, Alder-Zonder. The goal, according to Zonder, was to create something more accessible. “I was thinking beer commercials, car commercials and Cobra Kai,” says Zonder, “I wanted to have a very accessible band that would appeal to the masses and would lead to the ability to tour larger venues and build a second and third record off the success of the first. I did not want to hear things like, ‘I don’t hear a single, it is too proggy, I just don’t get it, let me listen to it a few more times’. I knew from myself and the others that I would recruit, it would have some sophisticated music parts but the big hook was the main priority.”

Oddly enough, I don’t think the album is very commercial or hooky. In fact, the drums are quite proggy at times which seem at odds with the structure of the music presented. To be clear, this is not bad at all. It’s just not a GREAT batch of songs. One thing that saves the album as a whole is Alder’s vocals. The man can SING and can sing anything and make it work. Were it not for him, this album wouldn’t be memorable. Songs like “The Machine Gunner” showcase great playing, yes proggy and great vocals. Overly memorable? Well no. “The Far Side of the Horizon” seems like the music is fighting the melody at times. It has potential for sure.

The musicians are top notch too. Zonder is still a master, the rest of the band is very talented. But it sounds like a gifted set of players struggling to simplify their approach but not really being able to. I do hear elements of “Parallels” in the fills and drumming of Zonder. Check the opener “Trial By Fire” for an example. Almost like he was purposefully harkening back to his last almost commercial breakthrough in an attempt to “get it right” this time. The problem is he doesn’t have the songwriting of Jim Matheos to fall back on. A driving track like “Window Panes” lacks a hook to sell its urgency.

The artwork by Hugh Syme is just abysmal. Something I NEVER thought I’d say! The mouth of a zebra with an apple in it just looks terrible. It’s only made worse by a band logo that is equal part ASIA pyramid and near swastika. Nazi Asia? There’s an image inside of an ant and a zeppelin which is better. And I know Zonder is upset by anyone who didn’t like the artwork. I got mocked for questioning it on Facebook. But I expected a lot more from Hugh Syme. So disappointing.

And I guess in that regards the art fits, because the album itself is a disappointment. Overall, it’s a good album at times. But again, if you want GREAT songs, you need a great songwriter. It’s just not enough to be great musicians trying to sell something as catchy without that being the case. There’s enough promise here that MAYBE the next album will hit the mark. For this album Ray Alder gets a 10/10 but the rest of this…not so much.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklist:
1. Trial By Fire
2. The Far Side of the Horizon
3. The Machine Gunner
4. Rise Again
5. Window Panes
6. Run Away
7. Stranded
8. At the Waters Edge
9. Borrowed Time
10. Sometimes
11. The Silence Broken (Bonus Track)

A-Z lineup:

Ray Alder – Lead and Backing Vocals
Mark Zonder – Drums
Philip Bynoe – Bass Guitar
Vivien Lalu – Keyboards
Joop Wolters – Guitars

Label: Metal Blade
Release Date: 12 August 2022

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David Paich – “Forgotten Toys”

It’s pretty hard not to have heard at least one song written by the legendary David Paich. He is best known as the main writer and keyboardist of Toto. Beyond that, he has worked with so many artists, it’s staggering. It’s hard to believe that someone as prolific as Paich has never released an album under his own name, but when you have a creative vehicle like Toto, I suppose it’s not needed.

Now with his bandmates, Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams releasing solo albums, plus COVID, the time is right for the debut solo album by David Paich, “Forgotten Toys”. The one downside is the length. At a mere 30 minutes, one could argue this is more like an EP rather than an album. However, when the 30 minutes are as strong as these, why risk it? The 7 tracks include an orchestral intro called “Forward” which is just 30 seconds but it certainly serves as a tip of the hat to his legendary father Marty.

“willibelongtoyou” could easily be a Toto song…but that’s true of most tracks and how could they not be? Paich is a massive part of that band. The song features a co-lead vocal by Williams and kicks major ass. The driving “Spirit Of The Moonrise” was the first single and I knew I was going to love this release as soon as I heard this song. It would be on the radio, if the radio was like it was when I was a kid of course. The song wouldn’t sound out of place on an album like “Mindfields” (a personal favorite) or even “The Seventh One.”

The gentle “First Time” is next up. This has a very radio friendly Adult Contemporary vibe to it. It’s the perfect change of pace at this point. Also, Paich sounds great vocally. He really shied away from singing over the last few decades on Toto albums, which is a shame because he still has it. He knows when his voice fits a song and it fits well here. “Queen Charade” has a great groove to it. It’s a stomper of a track, yes another style the man can write. I could hear Luke singing this one but again Paich does it justice.

If there is one song that I might not love as much as the rest is “All The Tears That Shine.” Mostly the vocal which sounds like it has an effect on it? The music is good though so even with the oddness on the vocal, it’s a good track. And the closer “Lucy” showcases Paich’s love of jazz. This is a GREAT track complete with a horn section. I could get into an entire album of this!!

While you don’t feel cheated by the 30 minutes, you do wind up wanting more when the album is done. But the album covers so many facets of what makes David Paich a LEGENDARY songwriter and performer. “Forgotten Toys” were ideas floating around in his head that needed to be recorded. Thankfully they were! This album is a MUST for any Toto fan and really anyone who loves great music.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Forward
2. willibelongtoyou
3. Spirit Of The Moonrise
4. First Time
5. Queen Charade
6. All The Tears That Shine
7. Lucy

Label: Mascot Label Group
Release Date: 19 August 2022

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My Top 10 Albums of the first half of 2022

Here are some albums you should check out. These are in alphabetical order.

Mikael Åkerfeldt – “Clark (Music from the Netflix Series)”
Cave In – “Heavy Pendulum”
The Dear Hunter – “Antimai”
The Gathering – “Beautiful Distortion”
Marillion – “An Hour Before It’s Dark”
Voivod – “Synchro Anarchy”
Porcupine Tree – “Closure/Continuation”
Pure Reason Revolution – “Above Cirrus”
Tangerine Dream – “Raum”
Von Hertzen Brothers – “Red Alert In The Blue Forest”

Honorable mention: Big Big Train – “Welcome to the Planet” (technically some of it came out in 2021)

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