The Flower Kings – “Islands”

It hasn’t even been a year since the last album by the Flower Kings. “Waiting for Miracles” came out November 8th, 2019. But with the world basically shut down due to the pandemic, Roine Stolt and company went right back into the studio to record “Islands.” The first thing you will notice about the new album is the artwork which was designed by the legendary Roger Dean. It’s about time he did a cover for TFK!

Unlike most Flower Kings albums, “Islands” doesn’t have any huge epics. And considering this is double album, it’s even more surprising. Still the album is 92 minutes long and has a ton of great music, it’s just done in a more…digestible manner. There’s a theme of isolation running through the album, though it’s not a “concept album.” Considering we are all dealing with more isolation with COVID-19, we are each our own little island. So the songs are linked, though not a true long song with many little parts like “Garden of Dreams” was on “Flower Power.”

Musically, it sounds like…well, The Flower Kings. The vintage prog sound is very much intact. There are a lot of strong melodies through out “Islands.” The songs range from mellower moments like “Morning News” to more overt prog like Yes-like opener “Racing With Blinders On.” Right off the bat, that song let me know this was going to be a fun album. “From The Ground” is a bit of prog pop as only Roine Stolt can write. Great tune. But there are a lot of great songs.

The first disc has some fine songs like “Black Swan” which has a swing to it that the band are great at, or the insane instrumental “Journeyman” which is just under two minutes and perfect. There’s also the 9 1/2 minute mini epic “Solaris” and the majestic “Heart Of The Valley,” which is another favorite of mine. “Man In A Two Peace Suit” showcases Stolt amazing guitar talent. And if the album was one disc, it still would be amazing.

But wait! There’s more!

“All I Need Is Love” kicks off the second disc and once again Hasse Fröberg adds his great voice to a great song. Plus another thing we all need is positivity and here’s a song with just that. “A New Species” is shows the jazzier side of the band that really first came into play back on “Unfold the Future.” You get more of that on “Hidden Angles” which is just under a minute but it is anything but filler! “Serpentine” keeps the coolness flowing (very much classic TFK). And that’s another thing I need to mention. The track order is really perfect. The songs flow so well together style wise.

It’s funny that the second disc has just as many amazing songs on it. The mellotron soaked “Telescope,” the bouncy “Between Hope & Fear” with a great use of strings and the title track which closes out the album, a song that would make Steve Hackett proud. A great guitar track to close out a GREAT album!

“Islands” is easily one of the best albums that The Flower Kings have ever done. Rather than worry about how long the songs are, it is all about how GOOD the songs are. For those who have never quite gotten into this band, this album could very well be the one you’ve been waiting for. For fans of The Flower Kings, this is another great album to get lost in. You’re own island.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

CD 1 (49:40)
1 – Racing With Blinders On 4:24
2 – From The Ground 4.02
3 – Black Swan 5:53
4 – Morning News 4:01
5 – Broken 6:38
6 – Goodbye Outrage 2:19
7 – Journeyman 1:43
8 – Tangerine 3:51
9 – Solaris 9:10
10 – Heart Of The Valley 4:18
11- Man In A Two Peace Suit 3:21


CD 2 (43:01)
1 – All I Need Is Love 5:48
2 – A New Species 5:45
3 – Northern Lights 5:43
4 – Hidden Angles 0:50
5 – Serpentine 3:52
6 – Looking For Answers 4:30
7 –Telescope 4:41
8 – Fool’s Gold 3:11
9 – Between Hope & Fear 4:29
10 – Islands 4:12

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 30 October 2020

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Fates Warning – “Long Day Good Night”

Fates Warning is one of my favorite bands, so this review has a bit of a bias. That said, my expectation for any new album by them is very high – especially on the heels of their last album, “Theories of Flight,” which was a masterpiece. “Long Day Good Night” is a lot of music – 13 songs that clock in at 72:22! – and Fates covers a lot of ground in the process.

“Long Day Good Night” is an album that shows every side of the band. It takes a piece from every direction that the band has explored with singer Ray Alder. The album has the directness and radio-ready sounds of “Parallels,” and it has the epic prog nature of “A Pleasant Shade of Gray,” PLUS the atmosphere of “Disconnected.” Sometimes it happens within one song, but more often, each song gives a nod to each period.

The album starts with the expansive “The Destination Onward,” which starts slowly and has a definite “Disconnected” feel to it before the band launch their attack halfway through. The song is an amazing opener, but Fates are great at that. “Shuttered World” is one of the heavier Fates tracks the band has ever done – great riffs from Jim Matheos, as always. The chorus is hook-laden and would sound at home on “Parallels.” This should be a single.

“Alone We Walk” is a mix of the first two songs: atmosphere and aggression. Another killer song. “Now Comes the Rain” has an opening riff that once again harkens back to the radio-friendly side of the band. This was the second single the band released, so most fans have heard it and know it. It’s at this point of the album that I realized just how great this thing is sounding. “The Way Home” would have fit well with “Theories of Flight,” with its gorgeous opening section…and then there’s the insane prog middle section where Bobby Jarzombek shows why he is one of the most underrated drummers on the planet. Wow!

“Under the Sun” is notable for its use of strings, which is something that Fates Warning has never done. And wow, does it add to this song! The other thing is the main guitar melody, which reminds me of another melody line but I can’t for the life of me think of what it is! I know I’ve heard something VERY close to it. It’s still a great melody. “Scars” was the first single, so most folks know it. Great tune that starts the second half of the album well. “When Snow Falls” is a song that sounds more like “Disconnected” or even OSI. After all, Gavin Harrison guests on drums on it and there’s a fair amount of Kevin Moore inspired keys and electronics on it.

One would assume that a 13-track album would mean no epics, but there are a few mini-epics on Long Day Good Night: “The Way Home,” plus the 11 1/2 minute track “The Longest Shadow of the Day” which showcases the whole band, including a killer bass solo by Joey Vera. The song has various styles: jazz, thrash, prog. It’s a true epic.

The album closes with a quiet acoustic number, “The Last Song.” Hopefully it’s just meant as the last song on the album and not the last song for the band. It has yet another incredible vocal by the amazing Ray Alder, who seems to get better with age. It is yet another side of Fates Warning that “Long Day Good Night” showcases.

This is easily the most diverse album the band has done, and one of the best. “Long Day Good Night” is another masterpiece from a band that has released quite a few of them. It’s also a great place to start if you’ve never checked out Fates Warning. It allows the listener to go back and explore the various paths this legendary band has gone down.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

1. The Destination Onward
2. Shuttered World
3. Alone We Walk
4. Now Comes the Rain
5. The Way Home
6. Under the Sun
7. Scars
8. Begin Again
9. When Snow Falls
10. Liar
11. Glass Houses
12. The Longest Shadow of the Day
13. The Last Song

Bandcamp: fateswarning.bandcamp.com/album/long-day-good-night

Label: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 6 November 2020

 

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Wobbler – “Dwellers of the Deep”

Wobbler are one of those bands that I think all fans of prog rock should be aware of and hopefully checked out. If you haven’t, the good thing about Wobbler is that they have had a sound that has remained consistent and music that has always had the highest of standards. They do wear their influences proudly. But not to the point of ripping anyone off.

Wobbler mixes vintage Yes with some ELP and Pink Floyd thrown in. Yes is definitely the most prominent touchstone with the vocals and bass sounding like the late Chris Squire is actually in the band. On their lastest opus “Dwellers of the Deep,” all of this remains. The band have also shown additional growth since revamping themselves on their last album “From Silence to Somewhere.” These two albums definitely sound connected and that works for me just fine.

The album opens with “By the Banks” which is the standard almost 14 minute Wobbler ditty. Right from the start, Wobbler comes roaring out of the gate. Bass, drums, organ and then the vocals: it’s classic Wobbler. So if you are new to the band, this is how they sound. Yes they are from a time gone by but so am I. And if you love mellotron, there is ample supply on much of their music including “By the Banks.”

The band were always good with melodies and really they seem to have gotten better with each album. There are a lot of things happening in their music but they never lose the listener and THAT is what makes great prog versus the bands that try to be prog. “By the Banks” could be on any early Yes album and fit…but it sounds modern at the same time. 

The next track is the song released as the first single/video “Five Rooms.” About a minute in, the band really takes off. Much like the first song, Wobbler show they can rock. Then they downshift to show their dynamics. The organ solo around 5 1/2 minutes in really jams. “Naiad Dreams” is the “short” song on “Dwellers of the Deep.” It’s a 4 1/2 minute acoustic that reminds me of Gentle Giant, Yes and for some reason Greenslade. Since the latter had no main guitarist, I could be off. It has a medieval vibe to it and is more subtle than Wobbler tend to be. But they do that sometimes.

Much like “From Silence to Somewhere,” “Dwellers of the Deep” has 4 songs. The big epic on this album is the 19 minute closer “Merry Macabre.” Wobbler fit with other current old school prog bands like The Flower Kings or The Tangent and that’s where a track like “Merry Macabre” falls in. Granted I prefer the vocals of Wobbler to the other bands (though I do love those bands too). The song does go into various sections including a short jam right before the 7 minute mark that will definitely have you thinking Squire lives on (the bass is ridiculous). Overall, this is one of Wobbler’s best epics.

“Dwellers of the Deep” is yet another great album by one of prog rock’s true champions. Wobbler don’t PLAY prog rock, they ARE prog rock. If you’ve never listened to them, “Dwellers of the Deep” is a great starting point. If you’ve been a fan of them, you will not be disappointed.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. By the Banks
  2. Five Rooms
  3. Naiad Dreams
  4. Merry Macabre

Label: Karisma Records
Release Date: 23 October 2020

 

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Chaos Divine – “Legacies”

I’ve been patiently awaiting Chaos Divine’s follow-up to the 2015 masterpiece Colliding Skies.  Feeling like a lifetime since then, I was eager to hear what the last half-decade has done to this melodic Australian metal band.

The syncopated hat-tip to Leprous, surgical insertion and rhythmic shift of the chorus, and inclusion of guttural vocals on set opener “Instincts” says to me Chaos Divine is swinging for home runs and/or attempting to level up.  “No Saviour” is thrash metal with melodic choruses.  “Unspoken” is the bridge between 2015’s Colliding Skies and 2020’s Legacies.

All the hallmarks of contemporary metal are present!  The production on Legacies is nothing short of top shelf.  My experience with this release versus Colliding Skies is that Legacies has taken longer for me to “get into.”  I suppose Colliding Skies was a torrid affair and for Legacies we must do the work?

The pacing up to track four “Only Son” is excellently decided and the guitar solos here are fantastic – these descriptions lack luster but the intention behind the composition of this CD is an art in itself.

“Colours of War” is five-star Chaos Divine – thrashy and melodic with alternating vocal styles and tempos.  Singer David Anderton is as powerful as ever.  After mid-tempo “Beacon” we’re shifted back into thrash gear with “False Flags” which should be an intense live experience.

Kicking off the final 3rd of Legacies, “Dead Rivers Flow” is a dense, emotional mid-tempo track which leads into metalcore-influenced “Behind the Seal.”  Syncopation is key to “The Key” – I’d love the band to get deeper into the prog-metal weeds.  There is no pointless noodling here, rest assured.  Palate-cleanser instrumental “Legacies” leads into grand finale “Into The Now.”  Drummer Tim Stelter, joining the band since Colliding Skies, passes the exam without a problem.  I’d be a fan of even more Ryan Felton guitar solos.

I’ve just listened to a few tracks from Colliding Skies to compare to Legacies.  The production/mix is now much more detailed and forward but avoids being “volume-wars offensive” – congratulations on that!  Bottom line: if you are a fan of Chaos Divine this should be an auto-purchase.  If you’ve never heard Chaos Divine but are aware of the whole Australian Prog Metal “thing” (including Karnivool, Caligula’s Horse, Dead Letter Circus, Circles) let this be your introduction!

Rating: 7.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. Instincts        4:04
  2. No Savior (Rise Fall)    4:19
  3. Unspoken        4:58
  4. Only Son        3:40
  5. Guarding Gravity    5:09
  6. Colours of War        4:36
  7. Beacon            5:29
  8. False Flags        5:42
  9. Dead Rivers Flow    5:04
  10. Behind The Seal        4:56
  11. The Key            4:39
  12. Legacies        1:47
  13. Into The Now        8:01

Release Date: 16 October 2020
Website: www.chaosdivine.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/chaosdivine

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Crippled Black Phoenix – “Ellengæst”

Justin Greaves must be either unlucky or a pain in the ass to work with. The leader of Crippled Black Phoenix has lost the majority of the band twice now. The first time was back in 2014 when members tried to take control of CBP before leaving en-masse to form Vly.

Now in 2020, Daniel Änghede, Jonas Stålhammar, Daisy Chapman and Mark Furnevall have left to form their own band Venus Principle. Each time Greaves stated that it was great to have a new start without all the negativity. And yet the common thread is him. Regardless of whatever drama follows him and CBP, the music cannot be denied. The question is can CBP rise again from the ashes.

And now we have a new album “Ellengæst” which means “mischievous demon.” Autobiographical? Kidding. Musically, it sounds like the more lumbering side of CBP rather than the atmospheric Floydian side. “House Of Fools” and “Lost” both hit hard and show that CBP is back once again and perhaps with more aggression. Since the band have always had male vocals and female vocals (Änghede was the male vocalist), guest vocalists were used on the album. Vincent Cavanagh (Anathema) applies his talents to the opener “House of Fools” and I wish he had been on the whole album.

Belinda Kordic is still very much a member of CBP (of course) and her vocals on “Lost” stand up well to the thundering percussion that Greaves deals out. There are few times that samples work but CBP are a band that use them well especially on the start of “In the Night.” Unfortunately the problem on this track is the spoken guest vocals by Gaahls Wyrd that are basically a hush. It just doesn’t work for me and Änghede is definitely missed. The song soldiers on and it does get bigger as it goes, with a fantastic solo.

“Cry of Love” has guest vocals by Suzie Stapleton and Ryan Patterson. Yes more guests. Musically the song is a galloping romp and kicks ass. Once again, the vocals hold this one back. Patterson just doesn’t have any color to his voice and Stapleton is lost in the mix. It’s a shame. With a strong vocalist, both of these last two tracks would be stellar. On the moody “Everything I Say,” Kordic reminds me a bit of the late Natasha Shneider of Eleven. It’s an imperfect perfect vocal that fits the song well especially when the chorus kicks in.

The epic “The Invisible Past” has (yep you guess it) another guest vocalist, Jonathan Hulten of Tribulation. His voice and style really fit CBP and I’d love to have heard him on more tracks. You know, like those ones in the middle of the album. Musically, the track reminds me of those Floydian type tracks the band are good at, though this song is perhaps even more cinematic sounding.  Plus it’s a study in how to use dynamics, as half way in CBP get lift off. Excellent track and the best on the album.

I think “The Invisible Past” would have made a better closing track then the Bauhaus cover “She’s in Parties.” If you like that classic gothic band, you are all set. They’ve never done anything for me and this version of the song doesn’t change that. This cover would fit well on CBP’s “Horrific Honorifics” which was aptly named. What a mess that was. So the album ends on a sour note for me.

The bottom line is that Crippled Black Phoenix just don’t feel like the band they were. Rightly so, since the band has turned over twice now. The first time worked out okay, though I always preferred the band that was on the pre-Season of Mist albums. Unfortunately, without a strong vocalist and what seems like no real direction, “Ellengæst” is decent at best but really a let down. Moreover it seems like Greaves is leading what he calls the strongest incarnation of Crippled Black Phoenix (not even close) to date into what sounds like a third and final act.

Rating: 7/10

  1. House Of Fools
  2. Lost
  3. In The Night
  4. Cry Of Love
  5. Everything I Say
  6. (-)
  7. The Invisible Past
  8. She’s In Parties

Label: Season of Mist

Release Date: 9 October 2020

 

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Gargoyl – “Gargoyl”

The self titled debut album by Gargoyl can be summed up as Alice in Chains meets Voivod at an Opeth concert. I could just stop there because I think that’s gotta interest a lot of people. And it should! This album was a surprise for me. Taking some obvious yet very different influences and making them work is fascinating. The band was founded by guitarist David Davidson of Revocation and Luke Roberts (Ayahuasca) on vocals and guitar. Each provide the cornerstones for the band’s sound.

The album opens with an a capella song “Truth of a Tyrant ” which is like the Alice in Chains barbershop quartet. Ok maybe not that extreme but you do get an idea of Roberts’ vocal abilities and how easily he would fit into AIC. “Plastic Nothing” kicks in with a climbing riff and chords that the late Piggy of Voivod would love. Once Roberts starts singing, you’ll get my opening description.

It’s definitely worth noting the other members of the band. Drummer James Knoerl is amazing and can basically play anything. Brett Leier has a rumble to his bass tone that does remind me of Blacky. Another favorite track is “Electrical Sickness” which has some fucking insane chords on it that sit atop Leier’s killer bass line.  The mellow “Wraith” is where the Opeth comparison comes in. Opeth has covered AIC. This sounds like AIC covering Opeth.

“Ophidian” has Roberts harmonizing with guest vocalist Jocelyn Barth which just makes for an even odder than usual vibe. Yes I love that. Then there’s “Waltz Dystopia” which starts off like a lost Vulture Industries track before blasting into a frantic Voivodian groove. Amazing. “Acid Crown” is yet another great song that adds some sax to Gargoyl’s sound. The sound eventually gets quite Floydian the process. However, it’s more like Voivod doing another Floyd cover (which they are known for).

To be clear, none of what Gargoyl does sounds like a rip off of any of these bands. They manage to take these clear influences and mix them together to make something new and very interesting. Just when I find myself getting bored with new bands, Gargoyl comes along and twists my brain. Are they grunge? Are they metal? Are they prog? Yes they are all of that and more. By the way, there is no E on the end of the name. This was not a typo but this IS an album you need to check out.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. Truth of a Tyrant (2:30)
2. Plastic Nothing (5:55)
3. Cursed Generation (4:20)
4. Electrical Sickness (6:10)
5. Wraith (5:01)
6. Ophidian (4:42)
7. Nightmare Conspiracy (5:17)
8. Waltz Dystopia (6:18)
9. Ambivalent I (3:58)
10. Acid Crown (5:09)
11. Asphyxia (5:07)

Label: Season of Mist
Release Date: 9 October 2020

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Enslaved – “Utgard”

For me, Enslaved can do no wrong. But still, many artists have come to disappoint me (you know who they are). Fortunately with “Utgard,” Enslaved continue to be one of the great bands of our time. The band seems to evolve just a little bit on each album while maintaining the core of their sound.

With their latest album “Utgard,” Enslaved incorporate the progressive expansion of “E” with the stripped down approach of “Vertebrae.” It’s like taking pieces of each album and creating their next step. The result is a 45 minute masterpiece of progressive metal. They trimmed away some of the fat and leave the listener with the perfect combination of complex yet almost direct music that Enslaved have ever made.

One highlight of the album is the clean vocals of new drummer Iver Sandøy, who also is been the co-producer.  Sandøy has a grit and rasp to his voice that the band hasn’t had before. His performance just adds another layer to a rich album. Keyboardist Håkon Vinje had been the only clean vocalist and still adds some as well. Of course his keyboard work is stellar as is was on “E.” The clean vocals really shine on both vocals and keys on two of my favorite tracks, “Sequence” and “Distant Seasons.”

Speaking of drums, let’s not forget the band had to replace long time drummer Cato Bekkevold who was a cornerstone of the band’s sound. Sandøy understands Enslaved’s music well, so the band never miss a beat (sorry about the pun). The band still maintain their black metal roots thanks to bassist Grutle Kjellson and his dry choked out harsh vocals. There are many harsh vocalists that I just can’t take anymore but Grutle is not one of those. He can shift from a violent growl to a sinister grumble without losing power. Plus his vocals just make the clean vocals even more powerful.

The album kicks off with “Fires in the Dark” which starts with chants, an acoustic guitar and eventually a guitar line that sounds exactly like Robert Fripp. Yep, Enslaved. The song has the feel on a march that Grutle is preaching over. The song takes off and you are swept away. It’s a killer opener in the great Enslaved tradition.

The band has so far released 3 tracks prior to release: “Jettegryta,” “Homebound,” and “Urjotun.” “Jettegryta” is a snarling beast of a track which lets everyone know that Enslaved still have their edge. “Homebound” is the prog/groove metal track which ramps up to hyperspeed from time to time. It made an excellent first single. This is one of the songs that shows the raspy vocal approach that Sandøy adds. So much more emotion and power! The song also has a killer guitar solo. “”Urjotun” starts out with some new age synths and a rattling bass line from Grutle. This is a track that I could hear on “Vertebrae.”

In the middle of the album is the short, spoken piece “Utgardr.” I’m not a huge fan of that sort of thing but this piece is eerie and powerful. It’s a nice bridge between the first half of the album and the second half. “Flight Of Thought And Memory’ is an all out blitz on the verses while being lush and grand on the chorus. It’s classic Enslaved. And I love “Storms Of Utgard” which has a Maiden style gallop mixed with a ton of atmosphere. Enslaved are the kings of dynamics and this track underscores that.

I am always thinking that Enslaved will somehow run out of amazing ideas and music, yet they never do. “Utgard” is easily one of their best albums and that’s saying something because Enslaved have so many masterpieces to their credit. The lineup may have changed but the band never stop putting out incredible extreme prog metal. This is a candidate for album of the year.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

1. Fires In The Dark
2. Jettegryta
3. Sequence
4. Homebound
5. Utgardr
6. Urjotun
7. Flight Of Thought And Memory
8. Storms Of Utgard
9. Distant Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Bandcamp: https://enslaved.bandcamp.com/album/utgard

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Jakko M. Jakszyk – “Secrets & Lies”

2020 has been a terrible year. Fortunately the music of 2020 has been amazing. InsideOut has released a lot of great albums this year and here’s a look at one of the latest. Current King Crimson frontman Jakko Jakszyk took avantage of the lack of Crimson touring to record another solo album, “Secrets & Lies.” Jakszyk is a talent in his own right so it’s great for him to get the spotlight.

Jakszyk has an amazing voice which is all about the rich tone and his ability to emote. Of course he is one of the guitarists in Crimson so yes he is an amazing player as well. The music on “Secrets & Lies” is very much about the song versus some great virtuosity. Sure there’s amazing playing. You have Robert Fripp, Gavin Harrison, Tony Levin, and Mel Collins of King Crimson plus Mark King (Level 42) and Peter Hammill (VDGG), so there’s all kinds of musicality.

But there’s memorable hooks and great melodies as well. “Before I Met You” is a menacing opener and a great tune with Levin on bass. “The Trouble With Angels” could have been on the “A Scarcity Of Miracles” album which he recorded as part of Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins. That project led to Crimson’s reformation. “Fools Mandate” has a Peter Gabriel vibe while “The Rotters Club Is Closing Down” is just a great ballad. The latter has some very tasty guitar lines…and isn’t that Fripp in the background?

“Uncertain Times” actually reminds me of something off of the Sylvian / Fripp album “The First Day.” Harrison’s drumming on the whole album is amazing but he adds something very Crimson to this song. There isn’t a way to escape the amount of Crimson DNA that’s all over and through “Secrets & Lies.” This especially comes from Jakszyk. It goes even beyond that he has been a member. The influence is a part of him which is why he has been a great fit for the band. Another highlight of the album is the chorus of “It Would All Make Sense” which would not sound out of place on a John Wetton album. The guitar solos on that song are also stunning.

“Secrets, Lies & Stolen Memories” has some stellar orchestration by Nigel Hopkins which provides a bed for Jakszyk’s guitar to lift off and soar from. It’s a well placed instrumental and points out that he could have a soundtrack career. “Under Lock & Key” is very Gabriel-esque rhythmically, and has another great vocal too. It was written with Fripp and has his fingerprints all over it.

The mostly a capella “The Borders We Traded” has layers and layers of backing vocals which shows yet another side of Jakszyk’s talent. This leads to “Trading Borders,” a song written by his daughter, Amber, who also plays piano on the song. It’s a lovely instrumental with a Celtic slant to it. The album closes with the Fripp / Jakszyk song “Separation.” It sounds like King Crimson because it was written for the band. Add in the band plays on it…you have a Crimson song in all but name. A definite highlight.

It goes without saying that if you love King Crimson, you really need to check out “Secrets & Lies.” But this also makes an excellent way for prog fans who have never checked out that band to get a safe entrance. “Secrets & Lies” is the not a King Crimson album but like any member of that band, the music has a flow and vibe that is unmistakable. We may not have a new King Crimson studio album but this will definitely do.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Before I Met You (05:41)
2. The Trouble With Angels (05:30)
3. Fools Mandate (04:13)
4. The Rotters Club Is Closing Down (04:06)
5. Uncertain Times (05:00)
6. It Would All Make Sense (05:25)
7. Secrets, Lies & Stolen Memories (02:45)
8. Under Lock & Key (04:06)
9. The Borders We Traded (03:05)
10. Trading Borders (02:32)
11. Separation (06:43)

Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: October 23rd, 2020


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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 22

Albums that you should consider checking out. First is the latest from the German collective Panzerballett called Planet Z. The main difference on this album versus past albums is the use of guest drummers. The list of drummers is quite impressive too: Marco Minnemann, Virgil Donati (Planet X), Grammy Award winner Morgan Ågren (Zappa), Gergo Borlai (Tribal Tech) and Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Blotted Science). You might think that shifts like this would cause the album to not flow well. Consider that this is Panzerballett so crazy changes are common.

Leader/guitarist Jan Zehrfeld ensures that the signature jazz prog metal sound is always present. He also chooses great songs for each drummer. And each drummer is able to put his own stamp on the song as well. Personal favorites are the opening track Prime Time with Donati and Open Your Mind with Ågren. But my two top favorites are the ones with Borlai, “No One is Flying the Plane” (incredible track) and the closer “SOS.” Perhaps he just FITS Panzerballett the best? The bottom line is that “Planet Z” is essential if you love instrumental prog with amazing playing. And if you are sick of bedroom guitarists with their computerized drums.

Next up is a one man project by the multi-talented John Bassett (of Kingbathmat fame) called Arcade Messiah. Arcade Messiah started out as an instrumental band but has evolved into something more akin to his main gig by adding vocals to it. “The Host” is the first album not to be named with a number. Musically, it doesn’t differ to much from the previous albums.

Bassett can write a good riff and this album does have quite a few of those. While I did enjoy when Arcade Messiah was all instrumental, Bassett has a great voice so it’s nice to hear it on “The Host.” My only complaint is that the drumming is not as over the top as the guitar work and tends to lag a bit behind. Sorry. But overall, this is a fine addition to the Arcade Messiah catalog.

Finally, while they aren’t “prog” I am LOVING the new album by Doves called “The Universal Want.” The band remind me of a cross between Elbow and Thrice. Since I love both of those bands, Doves are a new love. They mix alt rock with art rock and a bit of post prog as well. The songs on “The Universal Want” are all top notch: great hooks, great melodies and  a ton of atmosphere! This album will definitely be one of my favorites of 2020.

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Ihsahn – “Pharos” EP

Ihsahn decided on releasing two EPs versus one album. He split the tracks into two buckets: heavier and more melodic. The first EP was “Telemark” which was released earlier in the year. That was the heavy one. Now we have “Pharos” which is the more melodic one. Now this doesn’t mean each EP doesn’t have elements of both sides on each. Ihsahn isn’t that one dimensional. Rather, I would say “Telemark” sounds overall like he tends to sound, while “Pharos” is more of a leap.

And because of that leap, I think “Pharos” is one of the best things that Ihsahn has done. For those who just can’t handle harsh vocals or any sort of black metal, this EP is a great way to understand why Ihsahn is so great. All three original tracks are great SONGS. “Losing Altitude” starts off mellow before finding a cool groove midway through. And yes it also has a really cool, weird ass riff to keep things interesting.

“Spectre at the Feast” is ridiculously catchy, but still very much an Ihsahn song. I think his clean vocals are often passed over because of his great harsh vocals. This guy can fucking sing. This song proves it. The title track veers from ballad to…well it has this sway to it, and then it gets really gothic. There’s a lot to unpack on this song which is one of the things Ihsahn is good at. He can take you so many places and never lose you.

Just like “Telemark,” “Pharos” closes with two covers. The first cover is the Potishead track “Roads.” The cover is very true to the original which means it pushes Ihsahn into his upper register vocally. And he nails it! It’s a beautiful cover of a beautiful song. The other cover is even more interesting, a-ha’s “Manhattan Skyline.” For this one, Ihsahn taps out on vocals and brings in his good friend Einar Solberg of Leprous. Ihsahn is a massive a-ha fan as it turns out and he does a faithful version which songs incredible. It also closes out a perfect EP.

Those of you who prefer Ihsahn stick to his black metal roots might want to just revisit “Telemark.” But if you are like me, you enjoy when Ihsahn pushes the envelope. An EP like this might not seem edgy for the average prog musician to release but “Pharos” is a showcase of the creativity and genius of Ihsahn!

Rating: 10/10
Label: Candlelight/Spinefarm
Release Date: 11 September 2020

Posted in art rock, melodic rock, modern prog, progressive rock | Tagged | 1 Comment