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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RIP Alan White

This morning I decided to wear my Yes “90124” t-shirt. It’s one of my favorites as I love the band and of course the album. Then I find out that Alan White passed away today. Now I am honoring one of the greatest drummers in rock history. Alan White played with such power and when that started to slip, you knew something was wrong. I remember him as he was. An icon.

I am curious how long Steve Howe will milk the Yes name now that Alan is gone. It really isn’t Yes now, Steve. I think one more tour to honor Alan and the 50th year is fine but unless Jon Anderson comes back, shut it down. It’s a tribute band.

RIP Alan White and thank you for all of the music.

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The Pineapple Thief – “Give it Back”

Normally when a band re-records their music, it’s a last ditch effort to salvage what’s left of their career. They paint it as how the current lineup interprets their classics. “Give it Back” by The Pineapple Thief is not that however. While it is a band re-recording older songs, it’s more about a reinterpretation of songs by a lineup that now features legendary drummer Gavin Harrison. They have referred to this as the songs being “re-wired.”

It’s an opportunity really newer fans that came on because of Harrison to get acquainted with a sampling of the band’s back catalog AND a chance for old time fans (like myself) to hear these songs with a fresh coat of paint. The performances are all absolutely stellar of course and Harrison knows when to attack a song and when to lay back a bit. The only question when it comes to any sort of “compilation” style album (or live album for that matter) is song selection. And of course there are plenty of songs I might have preferred but that’s not to take away from the songs chosen.

One of my favorite choices and interpretations is “Build a World.” It’s a great song so it lends itself well to whatever you might decide to do. But I like the intro where the band gives it the same arrangement as the bonus disc from “Versions of the Truth.” Eventually it kicks in and that dynamic just makes it more interesting to me. A classic like “Shoot First” has even more teeth than the original. It is interesting that 5 of the songs are from the same album, “All the Wars.” At that point, why not just re-record the rest? That said, the choices from it are great, including the song that gives this set its title, “Give it Back.” I really do wish they had done “We Subside” because I can hear Harrison attacking the end of that song and making it even more powerful.

“Give it Back” accomplishes the task of being an album all fans of The Pineapple Thief will enjoy while also making a great place to start for those who have never checked them out. It’s a great showcase for the songwriting talent of Bruce Soord who is on par with ANY modern prog artist (yes you, Steven). I hope the band decides on a sequel as well, assuming Harrison has time with Porcupine Tree returning to action. Time will tell. Until then, we can celebrate the history of a band that’s success is long overdue.

Release Date: 13 May 2022
Label: Kscope

Tracklist:

1. Wretched Soul (Rewired)
2. Dead In The Water (Rewired)
3. Give It Back (Rewired)
4. Build A World (Rewired)
5. Start Your Descent (Rewired)
6. 137 (Rewired)
7. Shoot First (Rewired)
8. Boxing Day (Rewired)
9. Warm Seas (Rewired)
10. Someone Pull Me Out (Rewired)
11. Last Man Standing (Rewired)
12. Little Man (Rewired)

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Porcupine Tree – “Closure/Continuation”

For years now, fans of Porcupine Tree have been begging for a new album. After the release of 2009’s “The Incident,” band leader Steven Wilson embarked on a very successful solo career. It seemed he no longer needed Porcupine Tree, nor was interested in revisiting his past. But after 2 very poppy albums (both were pretty terrible, in my opinion), Wilson surprised everyone by reforming Porcupine Tree, albeit without bassist Colin Edwin. There’s been no explanation for his absence as of yet.

The remaining trio of Wilson, drummer Gavin Harrison and keyboardist Richard Barberi formed an company called “Porcupine Three Limited” earlier in 2021 which led people to speculate the reason for it. Then the band started up all their social media accounts and before long we had a new song “Harridan” released on November 1, 2021. It was official! A second single “Of the New Day” was released on March 8th. And the full album “Closure/Continuation” is coming out on June 24th.

Prior to hearing “Harridan,” I was definitely concerned that Wilson’s song writing might not be up for the task since I hated the songs (not the style) of his last 2 solo albums. But “Harridan” was a Deadwing-era sounding STOMPER! I was very excited and that continued with the more mellow “Of the New Day.” The mix of styles and textures on “Closure/Continuation” not only brings in “Deadwing” and “Fear of a Blank Planet” but many tracks, including “Of the New Day,” would not sound out of place on “Hand.Cannot.Erase.” which has always felt very PT to me. Wilson actually takes over on bass, in addition to guitar and vocals making this very much a “And Then There Were Three” type project.

After the first two tracks, the great songs keep going with “Rats Return.” The song has some of those angular riffs and moody keys that Porcupine Tree were/are known for. GREAT SONG! The range of the album is clear when you compare the next two tracks. “Dignity” is very melodic and would not sound out of place on “HCE” while “Herd Culling” has some of the thickest riffs that PT have done which is reminiscent of “In Absentia” or “Deadwing.”

“Walk The Plank” has that odd etereal sound that was heard in the past on “Gravity Eyelids” or “Sleep Together,” though it’s probably stranger than each one. The nearly ten minute “Chimera’s Wreck” has plenty of everything that makes this band amazing, moody as hell, cool riffs and great playing! Another highlight for me is the instrumental “Population Three” which is a clear reference to their new company.

But the key for ALL of these songs are the reference points (even if I am overdoing that). Rather it’s that these are GREAT songs with a ton of tension, hooks and memorable moments. All of those have been seriously lacking for me with regard to Wilson’s solo career of late.

“Closure/Continuation” is the album Porcupine Tree fans have been waiting for. Period. The only question is, is this a closure or a continuation? If this winds up being the actual end for this band, they have gone out on top. Part of the problem for me was always that “The Incident” was good but not truly great. I felt they needed a masterpiece to end on. This is definitely a masterpiece, I just hope it truly isn’t the last one.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:
1. Harridan
2. Of The New Day
3. Rats Return
4. Dignity
5. Herd Culling
6. Walk The Plank
7. Chimera’s Wreck
BONUS TRACKS
8. Population Three * †
9. Never Have * †
10.Love In The Past Tense †

* Limited Audiophile Deluxe LP
† Limited Audiophile Deluxe CD

Label: Music For Nations/Megaforce Records
Release Date: June 24, 2022

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