Ayreon – “Into The Electric Castle: The 20th Anniversary Edition”

AITECimageFirst of all… 20 freaking years since this came out. Is it classic rock yet? Time, please stop… or just slow down a little. Get your foot off the gas, at least!

Let’s just get down to it. Same album, remixed and remastered. Is it worth it? Indeed!

I went back and listened to the original before listening to this new version and there was a lot of care put into this. Yes, it’s a little louder than the original, but not at the sacrifice of the signal. Most everything is allowed to peak properly. And the mix! There is a heck of a lot more spaciousness here. The opening track alone (is that Squidward from Infinity War narrating? ) sounds more… I don’t know… more! Much more effective.

This version has multiple editions, though I think the ultimate is the earbook with the 4 CDs (two for the main story and two for the instrumental versions, both remixed and remastered versions) and a DVD with the 5.1 mix and documentaries. Love these 5.1 mixes.

So if you love Ayreon (you’ve probably already pre-ordered) or you are new to their work, you probably want to check this out.

For those not familiar with this album, a synopsis of the story (from the wiki):

“There are eight main characters (each one sung/played by a different vocalist, as is standard in every Ayreon album) from different times and locations. They find themselves in a strange place; guided by a mysterious voice which tells them that they must reach “the Electric Castle” if they want to survive.”

Guests on this one were, among others:
Fish of Marillion
Damian Wilson formerly of Threshold
Anneke Van Giersbergen of VUUR
Sharon Den Adel and Robert Westerholt of Within Temptation
Edward Reekers of Kayak
Arjen Lucassen of course

That is one heck of a cast.

Tracklist:

Disc 1
1. Welcome to the New Dimension 03:06
2. Isis and Osiris 11:11
(Let the Journey Begin – The Hall of Isis & Osiris – Strange Constellations – Reprise)
3. Amazing Flight 10:15
(Amazing Flight in Space – Stardance – Flying Colours)
4. Time Beyond Time 06:05
5. The Decision Tree (We’re Alive) 06:24
6. Tunnel of Light 04:05
7. Across The Rainbow Bridge 06:19

Disc 2
1. The Garden of Emotions 09:41
(In the Garden of Emotions – Voices in the Sky – The Aggression Factor)
2. Valley of the Queens 02:25
3. The Castle Hall 05:49
4. Tower of Hope 04:54
5. Cosmic Fusion 07:27
(Soar on the Breeze – Death’s Grunt – The Passing of an Eagle)
6. The Mirror Maze 06:34
(Inside the Mirror Maze – Through the Mirror)
7. Evil Devolution 06:31
8. The Two Gates 06:28
9. “Forever” of the Stars 02:03
10. Another Time, Another Space 05:20

Label: Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Website: https://www.arjenlucassen.com/content/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArjenLucassenOfficial/

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Sutej Singh – “The Emerging”

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Sutej, hailing from Solan, Himachal Pradesh (INDIA), is very new to me and I can only say… what an introduction! The whole thing is a very cinematic experience, layered in melody with a lot of emotion. 
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Some fantastic players joining Sutej on this release, that you may recognize, is Kylan Amos from Arena on bass, Scott Higham (who had been with Pendragon for a time) on drums for all but the title-track, which features Raymond Hearne of Haken.
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We start things off with an Overture and then jump straight into The Comeback Trail, which greets you with, what I can best describe as, a cross between Dream Theater’s Eve, in style, with a Trans-Siberian Orchestra instrumental flavor. Just listen and tell me if I am wrong. This sets the mood for what is to come.
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Then there are ambient like cinematic pieces, rocking cinematic pieces, and then some flat out rocking moments, and then some mixed together, like the aforementioned title-track and Oceans Apart. That last one being one of my favorites here. Very melancholy and very beautiful.
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Recommended if you like prog, rock, and orchestral/cinematic music.
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I can’t think of anything to give this BUT 10/10.
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Tracklisting:
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1. Overture 01:40
2. The Comeback Trail 06:42
3. Timeless 09:07
4. Come Into Existence 05:50
5. The Emerging 11:29
6. Oceans Apart 07:39
7. Walk My Path 05:34
8. Revelations 06:11
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Label: Pinecone Records, India
Release Date: Already out!
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sutejsinghmusic/
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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 4

make-me-young-etcThumpermonkey sounded VERY much like Faith No More when I last heard them on “Sleep Furiously,” so when I heard a track from their new album “Make Me Young, Etc” I was surprised by how it sounded. “Veldt” is the song in question and it strips away any traces of that FNM influence and is an amazing song. It starts slow and build quite dramatically.

Needless to say, Thumpermonkey seem to have harnessed their chaotic power into something that is not only more focused but actually more powerful as well. Where guitars ruled their sound before, keyboards give the band a dynamic that they lacked before. And it doesn’t stop with “Veldt.” Every track is powerful in its own way and has more colors than ever.

Where it was easy to catalogize Thumpermonkey’s sound before, with “Make Me Young, Etc” it’s not that simple. I do hear a more modern prog sound similar to that of Amplifier (they are on that band’s label now) and to an extent, Steven Wilson but more like “Grace for Drowning” or “Insurgentes.” Simply put, “Make Me Young, Etc” is one of the big surprises of 2018 for me and it puts Thumpermonkey firmly on the prog map.

Label: Rockosmos
Release Date: 26 October 2018

unnamed(1)So what is the difference between Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly and Beardfish? I don’t mean the band that backs Rikard Sjöblom but rather soundwise, how are they different? This used to be easier to define when both bands existed. Gungfly was more 70s rock radio and Beardfish were straight up prog. But now Gungfly sounds more like a combination of the two.

To be fair, Gungfly did have some tracks that were a tad proggy because that’s just what Rikard Sjöblom does well! The latest album “Friendship” is probably the most prog sounding album for Gungfly OR it’s the poppiest album by Beardfish! Ok maybe I am kidding on that last part but the title track along on this album is as epic and satisfying as anything Beardfish ever did!!

Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: 9 November 2018

SpiresSpires is one of the most overlooked, underrated prog metal bands on the planet. People always ask me to promote indie bands. I post Spires quite a lot on the Facebook page and yet where the fuck are the likes? Folks, if you don’t check out this band, you are missing out. Yes there is something quite Opethian about Spires but since Opeth has moved on from this style, someone needs to fill the void.

To be clear, I bought this album and it is NOT a promo like many releases. I am a fan, first and foremost. So I was excited to hear “A Parting Gift.”  It is their latest opus and it might very well be the best Spires album to date. Plenty of heaviness, death vocals, and blast beats intermixed with the somewhat operatic clean vocals of Paul Sadler and the delicate interludes that create what Spires does well.

The band know their way around a prog metal epic as evident with “The Seer” and the closing track “Etchings in the Emptyness.” But it’s the ethereal beauty of the title track that not only shows dynamics but somehow makes the heavier tracks even heavier. The key is that the band write good SONGS. No matter the style or the length, it’s the songs that matter. These songs could easily be played with any arrangement and work. THAT is why “A Parting Gift” is so damn good and why you need to be a Spires fan right NOW!!!

Label: Unsigned
Release Date: 28 September 2018

Posted in atmospheric metal, death metal, experimental rock, extreme metal, modern prog, progressive metal, progressive rock | Tagged | Leave a comment

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – “Wasteland”

895435English rockers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have returned with a concept album for the modern age. Of a world wiped of memories and personality. Where the zombified humans are glued to their screens. Receiving information fed to them, but forever dragging their feet through a dystopian world. (Sound vaguely familiar?) Having just recently discovered these guys through another psychedelic band I listen to with a similar distorted, recorded on old tape sound, this was a pretty interesting album to follow 2015’s The Night Creeper.

Although only eight tracks long, and less than an hour in length, it is a very strong album at its core. Opening with the haunting “I See Through You”, setting the scene for this hazy hellscape. Sweeping into the single “Shockwave City”, one of my favorites from the album. “No Return” brings an almost doom edge to the psychedelic sounds of the album. Heavy like the footfalls of the blank-minded masses in the dark, almost 1984-inspired world of the album.

Some songs like the title track “Wasteland” skirt the edges of an almost Black Sabbath sound. The mood carried from it through the final two tracks “Bedouin” and “Exodus” respectfully. The latter featuring perhaps the cleanest vocals on the whole album.

Wasteland is deserving of a listen, and a spot in your collection. A cautionary tale of the worst sides of humanity, while strangely offering some form of hope for the future. With the stripped down production, the band has nowhere to hide, and prove themselves true craftsmen.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. I See Through You (5:53)
2. Shockwave City (4:08)
3. No Return (9:06)
4. Blood Runner (4:09)
5. Stranger Tonight (4:02)
6. Wasteland (8:02)
7. Bedouin (5:44)
8. Exodus (6:59)

Label: Rise Above Records
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Website: https://www.uncleacidband.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uncleacid/

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Soft Machine – “Hidden Details”

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Soft Machine is a band that even those folks who say they aren’t into progressive rock seem to know and love. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the band touch on something beyond prog that becomes their own genre – a blend of prog, jazz (fusion and free!) and modern classical.

The first version of the band was formed in 1966, and it has continued on in some form, with lineup changes and name tweaks, ever since.

The music on this album, though rooted in the legacy of the band, sounds fresh and engaging to my non-musician ears.

Hidden Details is a strong entry in Soft Machine’s discography. I say it would be a good place to start for those not familiar with the band. Many of the folks I am connected to on social media have praised the album, which encouraged me to accept the offer to review it. (And yes, I bought a vinyl copy. As I always say, if you really enjoy the music, buy a download or a physical release. It’s the best way to support the creators.)

The interplay between the players is wonderful, and the sound is welcoming and balanced. The production gives all the members of the band a chance to be heard. These musicians sound intent on making music that engages the listener and make the latter want to return to the album again and again.

My favorite tracks: the guitar-lead Heart Off Guard and the Art Ensemble of Chicago – provoking Life on Bridges.

It was (and still is!) a very enjoyable listen for me and has me looking forward to what Soft Machine might give the world next.

Here’s a taste of the album below:

Rating: 9/10

Available now

Vinyl edition includes bonus tracks.

Track Listing

Hidden Details
The Man Who Waved at Trains
Ground Lift
Heart Off Guard
Broken Hill
Flight of the Jett
One Glove
Out Bloody Intro
Out Bloody Rageous (Part 1)
Drifting White
Life on Bridges
Fourteen Hour Dream
Breathe
Night Sky (bonus track)

Current members
John Marshall – drums, percussion
Roy Babbington – bass
John Etheridge – guitar
Theo Travis – saxophone, flute, piano

Website: softmachine.org
Bandcamp: softmachine-moonjune.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/softmachinelegacy

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Seventh Wonder – Tiara

SeventhWonder-TiaraI’m a bit of a late comer to Seventh Wonder. I was introduced to them via Mercy Falls, and sadly missed that performance the year they played it at ProgPower Usa. I really liked that album, even though I found the dialog portions extremely cheesy. But few bands get that right anyway. So here we have their first studio album since 2010 and I can say it is well worth the wait. Still present are the fantastic guitar work and solos, riffs galore, and lots of melody and harmony.
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At present, they are still made up of Andreas Blomqvist on bass, Johan Liefvendahl on guitar, Andreas Söderin on keys, Stefan Norgren on drums (first time on album since he joined after The Great Escape was recorded (or so I read), and Tommy Karevik (who is still pulling double duty in Kamelot) on vocals. So you have a group of guys who, at this point, should be very comfortable together and it shows.
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Digging into the album, we are greeted with a symphonic intro in Arrival, a short piece that leads into The Everones. A nice, ripping prog metal treat with some great harmonies, as is their style. And some lyrics via a synthesized voice, I think, every so often. I say “I think” as I can’t really make out what it is saying. This and some of the main vocals are a bit low in the mix, which is loud. It appears we have another loud album here, folks (More on that later). This is one of the singles released for this album. Linked below for you to hear.
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Dream Machines is another rocking track with great harmonies. And Against the Grain gives us some nice acoustic guitar that I wish stayed around longer. Some impressive playing right there. Less than a minute and the full band is back.  Then we hit a moment of just keys and vocals with a strong “What About Me?” (Moving Pictures) mixed with Meatloaf feel, and yeah, it is still loud. Then the full band comes back with the harmonies. Really loving this track. 
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With Victorious we are back to straight ahead prog metal. I can see this being a great sing along song in concert. That chorus just screams for audience participation. The single is out for this one too. Check it out below as well.
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The Farewell Suite
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Tiaras Song – One of the first singles released for the album (also linked below), it provided a good taste of what was to come. The song didn’t much grab me until the more theatrical section toward the end gave it a little extra something.
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Goodnight – We get a ballad-like song here with a lot of emotion and a nice proggy instrumental section… and a bar singalong. Yep. You read it right. Part of the story, it seems.
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Beyond Today – Closing out the suite is a more ballady ballad. Beautiful orchestration.
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The Truth has a nice bass and guitar only lead in before some deep drumming ensues. We are still in a ballad like territory here. And another one that I feel the band might make into a big concert singalong, given the large choir of voices singing on the chorus. Again, some great orchestration at play.
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By the Light of the Funeral Pyres bring the power/prog metal back into focus. Decent enough song.
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Things slow back down just a tad for Damnation Below. Still a rocking track, though. I point all this out as I want to show there is some variety here. There is an instrumental section with some samples of spoken word, but I’ll be damned if I can make out what most of it is saying. Everything is just so loud (almost there).
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Procession is the shortest track on the album, giving us a funeral feel, as expected. And is followed by the longest track, Exhale, which is a good power/prog metal track with a great instrumental section that lets all the participants showcase themselves. This is a good song, but hasn’t fully grabbed me yet. I’ve played it on repeat a lot. I’ll will continue to hammer on it. We’ll see.
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The album closes with Tiara’s Song – Acoustic as a bonus track on some editions (though I haven’t found which ones yet). It is what it says. I like it.  Nice to hear it in this setting.
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Regarding the loudness… Maybe I have sensitive ears. Don’t know. When I first listened to this, I had to take a break about half way through to give my ears a rest. It was almost as bad as Rush’s Vapor Trails (first edition) was. As I took a break, I went and opened the files in Audacity and about half the album is almost brick walled. Not all the tracks. Some flirt with it and a couple don’t come too near. We are hoping the actual release won’t be like this.
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As it is, the album itself is around a 9/10 but the production on it with the mix being a little off, to me anyway, and it losing to the loudness war, I am forced to make this a 7/10.
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Oh well…
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Rating: 7/10

Tracklist:

1. Arrival 1:30
2. The Everones 6:13
3. Dream Machines 5:38
4. Against the Grain 6:58
5. Victorious 04:55 Show lyrics
6. Farewell (Part 1: Tiara’s Song) 7:16
7. Farewell (Part 2: Goodnight) 7:10
8. Farewell (Part 3: Beyond Today) 5:06
9. The Truth 4:17
10. By the Light of the Funeral Pyres 3:54
11. Damnation Below 6:44
12. Procession 0:45
13. Exhale 9:30
14. Tiara’s Song (Acoustic Bonus Track) 5:24

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Label: Frontiers Records

Release Date: 12 October 2018

Website: http://www.seventhwonder.se/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seventhwonderofficial/

The Everones:
Victorious:
Farewell (Part 1: Tiara’s Song)
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