Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 16

ZeitgeistCover

Frank Wyatt and Friends – “Zeitgeist”
Release Date: 1 November 2019
Website: frankwyattmusic.com

Frank Wyatt is one of the founding members of prog rock legends Happy the Man. The band was signed to Arista Records in the late 70s when prog was actually going out of style. They were a mostly instrumental band with some of the craziest playing I have ever heard. Their first 2 albums are ESSENTIAL for anyone that loves prog rock.

More recently, Frank formed Oblivion Sun with former HtM cohort Stanley Whitaker. The band release two top notch albums which sound quite a bit like Happy the Man. That’s inevitable really. So I was very excited when Frank contacted me about his new project “Zeitgeist” which is billed as Frank Wyatt and Friends.

Who are the friends? Well the list does include many of his former Happy the Man bandmates including Stanley Whitaker on vocals and guitar, Ron Riddle on drums, Mike Beck on percussion, Rick Kennell on bass, David Rosenthal on keyboards and yes even the great Kit Watkins on keyboards and “cool sounds.” Now to be clear, they all aren’t on every track but Whitaker and Watkins are together on the title track. While Riddle and Whitaker join Wyatt on “Twelve Jumps,” which works well for Riddle’s playing.

Kennel and Rosenthal are on the track “Eleventh Hour,” one of my favorite tracks. Original HtM drummer Mike Beck adds percussion to “Fred’s Song.” But this is definitely Frank’s show. Frank Wyatt shows how important he was to his original band’s sound. The only disappointment being that Wyatt didn’t play any sax on the album as he did back in the day. It always added a bit of a “madcap” vibe to the music. And the music? It’s the usual mix of jazz, prog and ambient beauty.

What I love about Happy the Man is they had a sound that was unique to them. NO ONE sounded like them and that’s what separates great bands from the pack. It’s nice to hear that the essence of that band is still very much alive on “Zeitgeist.” I might not get a full on Happy the Man reunion but this is damn close and it works for me!

 

bask

Bask – “III”
Label: Season of Mist
Release Date: 8 November 2019
Bandcamp: basknc.bandcamp.com

“III” is the aptly titled third album by Asheville, North Carolina’s Bask. The band blend post rock and stoner rock with psychedelic rock mashed with just enough prog to get me excited. The riffs are thick and would not sound out of place on a Mastodon album or the last few Opeth records. In fact, Bask would be a better fit as an opening act for Opeth than Graveyard!

The only problem that I have with “III” is it’s only 36 minutes. I wish it was longer only because it’s really awesome. But it’s better to have a solid 36 minutes than add filler to make it longer. The highlight for me is the two part of “Noble Daughters.” The first part has the cool riffs while the second has possibly the best melodies on the album. Plus the guitar solo on Part II is killer.

There are moments that remind me of Elder or Thrice or King Buffalo but never a rip off of either of those bands or the others I’ve mentioned. It’s a point of reference. The playing is tight and Zeb Camp has a really great voice…plus his name is Zeb. The album is really strong from start to finish and they finish with some banjo on “Maiden Mother Crone.” You can’t beat that.

 

voyager

Voyager – “Colours in the Sun”
Label: Season of Mist
Release Date: 1 November 2019
Bandcamp: voyager.bandcamp.com/album/colours-in-the-sun

I have a special place in my heart for Voyager. That said, their last album “The Ghost Mile” was a big disappointment for me. I suppose it was bound to be a let down after their masterpiece “V.” So I was curious if they could bounce back with “Colours in the Sun.” Did they ever!

While I am not sure if “Colours in the Sun” is as amazing as “V,” this new album is the album I wanted the last one to be. The melodies are stronger, the riffs are there and the band have an even more 80s vibe going. As my buddy Matt said to me, they sound like “if Duran Duran went prog metal.” It’s a fair description!

As for a more modern prog comparison, Voyager have a lot in common with Leprous. Even more so now that Leprous mainman Einar Solberg provides guest vocals on “Entropy” which really makes the song. His unique vocals fit the track, and I suppose it doesn’t hurt that Voyager singer Danny Estrin also has a unique voice!

But it’s the music that really makes a comeback on “Colours in the Sun.” From the hooks in the lead track “Colours” (a favorite) to the shimmering synths on “Brightstar” to the jagged riffs on “Reconnected,” this is a true showcase of what Voyager is capable of. I suspect that the album will grow on me more and more and who knows, maybe it is as good as “V.” At least, it shows that Voyager is back with a vengeance!

Posted in jazz, modern prog, progressive metal, progressive rock, stoner metal | Tagged | Leave a comment

Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra – “Legacy Of The Dark Lands”

blind-guardian-twilight-orchestra-legacy-of-the-dark-landsIn addition to progressive metal and rock, one of my favorite types of music are dramatic film scores. And in that realm, one of my all time favorite groups is Two Steps From Hell, as they are one of the leaders in symphonic music that tends towards the dramatic. Think the more aggressive parts of the Gladiator soundtrack. I bring this up to let you know that this album is RIGHT up my alley. This is as if TSFH decided to make a fantasy concept album and released some of their best material as the foundation.

According to the news release from Nuclear Blast, Guitarist André Olbrich and singer Hansi Kürsch from Blind Guardian hatched this project based on ideas that started up back in the 90’s when Blind Guardian started using orchestral elements in their albums. Thankfully, the planets started to align and helped bring this project to fruition. They also teamed up with an author for a book tie in as a prequel to the story on the album. The book is called “Die Dunkien Lande” or “The Dark Lands” in english, by author Markus Heitz, who apparently is a long time friend of Hansi who used to play role playing games together. The book, and this album, deal with a mercenary named Nicolas and his part in the Thirty Years War. But also be warned, this isn’t just some small prequel for marketing purposes. The book clocks in at about 560 pages. So it is fairly hefty itself.

The album is a full on, orchestral onslaught. No guitars in sight. So, definitely be aware of that when going into this. If you are looking for a heavy metal experience, this is not it. What it IS is and album full of dramatic and beautiful orchestrations, deep emotional moments, huge choirs, and an interesting story with a small sprinkling of voice acted parts in between the main songs. And we are talking some high quality story interludes with professional voice acting. Reminded me a bit of the voice acting in Gandalf’s Fist’s The Clockwork Fable. Heck… I think one or two of the same cast are used by the sound of it. Or someone VERY similar. And don’t worry… if you don’t like that kind of thing, the interludes are numerous but the longest one is not quite a minute and a half with most being under a minute.

As would be expected with an orchestral album, we start things off with an overture. 1618 Ouverture sets up the mood for this album nicely and reminds me in part of the soundtrack to Beetlejuice.

War Feeds War is the first full song and the orchestration starts off soft but then goes full on into the dramatic department. The verses sounding kind of like a broadway musical and then getting huge in choir and music for the chorus. There is a great instrumental section going all movie soundtrack on us. I mention the broadway musical aspect but don’t let that scare you away. These songs all go through different moods within themselves. Some parts are that broadway sound, some parts that sound like a menacing film score, and some that sound like a song marching to battle. Epic stuff.

Dark Clouds Rising starts of rather cheerfully in the verses and goes into a very upbeat and damn catchy chorus. Their penchant for melody shines brightly in this track. The title very much belies what is held within song.

In The Underworld is a darker track with a few flights of fancy. But definitely still epic. With some voice acting in the middle.

The Great Ordeal starts off like the beginning of a broadway musical about the revolutionary war. I know that is rather specific, but you’ll know what i mean… I think… Lol. That’s the feeling I get anyway. Parts of this really remind me of some of Rob Dougan’s stuff. Again… huge choruses. Love it.

Honestly don’t know what is going on in the Bez interlude here. Gonna need some context.

One of the longer tracks on the album is In the Red Dwarf’s Tower, with some fantastic musicianship present throughout. Seriously, this is written brilliantly. And I’m a little disappointed it wasn’t about one of my favorite british scifi comedies.

We get another song that carries an air of nationalistic anthems in Treason with its marching beat and almost anthemic in the chorus.

Point of No Return has some very playful vocalizations and melodies driving it. Sounds like the orchestra might have had fun with this one. And god, the choir again sounds freaking glorious. And the violins near the end give me goosebumps.

I’m getting carried away with talking about each track. Trying to wrap this up.

Nephilim is a slower burn of a track with a haunting choir with bursts of the dramatic.

Harvestor of souls, with its vocal acrobatics, has more of an angry feel to it and This Storm, and Beyond the Wall are over the top dramatic and each sound like they could have closed this album out. Every song is just so good. This is a fairly packed cd, and they could have tried to make it a huge 2 disc set, but I am glad they stuck to one. The music is focused and never gets boring.

I do have a small issue with the way they chose to release it. You can buy a 2 CD set with the full, 24 tracks with interlude voice over tracks on one disc and the instrumental version of the just the main songs on the 2nd disc. But if you want a disc with just the main songs, you have to purchase the earbook, which seems to only be available in the Euro Nuclear Blast store (extra shipping for us in the US). Looking on their Facebook page, there is a special, 4 disc set, with broken links to purchase. Not sure if sold out or if it really exists or what. But I digress… the reason i have an issue with the 2 CD set is, if you make a playlist of just the main songs, they will not transition well as some of the effects of the interlude tracks carry over into the main songs. I am assuming (we know what that does) that they are made to transition better on the disc in the earbook. And I only see this as a small issue, as the dialog doesn’t bother me at all. I like listening to the whole thing. YMMV.

So there you have it. This is truly a stellar album. Like, as I said before, what I would expect if Two steps from Hell released a concept album. And that is my highest praise.

Rating:  10/10     I was going to deduct something for the small frustration with the was the release is handled as noted above, but i just can’t. This is SO GOOD.

 

Tracklist:

01. 1618 Ouverture
02. The Gathering
03. War Feeds War
04. Comets And Prophecies
05. Dark Cloud’s Rising
06. The Ritual
07. In The Underworld
08. A Secret Society
09. The Great Ordeal
10. Bez
11. In The Red Dwarf’s Tower
12. Into The Battle
13. Treason
14. Between The Realms
15. Point Of No Return
16. The White Horseman
17. Nephilim
18. Trial And Coronation
19. Harvester Of Souls
20. Conquest Is Over
21. This Storm
22. The Great Assault
23. Beyond The Wall
24. A New Beginning
Release Date: November 8, 2019
Label: Nuclear Blast
Posted in cinematic metal, power metal, progressive metal, soundtrack | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Night Watch – “An Embarrassment of Riches”

cover The Night Watch - An Embarrassment Of RichesThere’s something about this band, The Night Watch, that that screams uniqueness. The first thing that attracted me to this band was the band’s moniker, referring to the classic King Crimson song “The Night Watch” but it was the stellar songwriting and instrumentation that kept me interested.

The Night Watch infuse heavy, raw guitars by Nathanael Larochette, with melodic violin, perfectly performed by Evan Runge and gentle acoustic guitar interludes for a wonderful sound. Add to that the beautifully flowing and technically proficient bass lines of Matthew Cowan and the booming drums of Daniel Mollema and you have a seriously well developed progressive rock band. The band will tell you that they are a progressive metal band but the feeling of the music reminds me more of classic prog with a heavy post metal sound.

The album starts off with an 11 minute journey of a song using all of their signature traits. The bass lines in the acoustic sections of the opener “Land Ho!” are mesmerizing. “Mendoza”, song two, adds some speed to the mix. Following “Medoza” is “The Summit (Part I)” which alternates between gentle passages and some very technical heavy guitar and odd time signatures from drummer Daniel Mollema.

“Dance of the Mountain People” has some fantastic percussions that accompany a ‘jazz-meets-Spanish classical music’ type song that conjures up 15th century Spanish folk music. For a moment there I thought I was on a hill near a castle. The song includes an a cappella vocal section that pops up out of nowhere, but it works… somehow. The rest of the album continues in perfect fluidity and masterful perfection with the songs “Shamaniac”, “Telling Brow and Tongue Root”, “The Summit (Part II)” and the beautifully morose “Currents”, all demonstrating the bands abilities to write great folk prog songs while keeping their own style and never imitating anyone else.

It’s very difficult to describe this band so I suggest that you go to their Bandcamp page and listen for yourself. But don’t limit yourself to this fantastic new album, start at the beginning with their self-titled 2013 release and continue with 2016’s “Boundaries” and you will experience the wonderful progression of how they got to this place in time and how important bands like The Night Watch are to progressive music. In an umbrella genre like progressive rock, encompassing thousands of bands, it’s important to have those bands that stick out from the crowd and keep our music afloat. Do yourself a favor and check out one of the best modern prog bands out right now, The Night Watch.

Rating 10/10

Tracklist:
1. Land Ho!
2. Mendoza
3. The Summit (Part I)
4. Dance of the Mountain People
5. Shamaniac
6. Telling Brow and Tongue Root
7. The Summit (Part II)
8. Currents

Release Date: November 15, 2019
Label: Anamnesis Arts
Bandcamp: thenightwatch.bandcamp.com/album/an-embarrassment-of-riches

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PH – “Osiris Hayden”

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The album Osiris Hayden is the fifth release from the Finnish band that was known as Mr. Peter Hayden, now PH.

Osiris was a god in ancient Egypt who was considered the Lord of the Earth, life, death and resurrection.

It is a resurrection of sorts when a band releases a new album. Old sounds are sloughed off and new sounds emerge.

To me, this is all new, as PH/Mr. Peter Hayden are not a band I knew before I was given this album to review! And yet again, the internet (and Rob) have helped me to discover and learn more about some amazing music I might not have otherwise known of.

The track Thr33 of Wands leads off the album, rising to a steady ominous beat. There are snippets of voices as the song builds and then segues into the next track, Emergence

This set of tunes fits as an atmospheric soundtrack to a dark-themed video game. The music has a heavy and mysterious feel as it draws me in to listen and pay attention. Consider it psychedelica, perhaps, with electronic textures.

Tachophonia closes the album, sounding like a final, gothic battle as a voice intones, in my imagination, the narration of a closing scene

I found Osiris Hayden to be an engaging and intriguing listen. Hearing this album has prompted me to want to check out their other releases.

Check out the video below to hear a track from the album.

Rating: 8/10

Available November 1, 2019

1. Thr33 of Wands
2. Emergence
3. Justified
4. Uhrilahja
5. Sun Sets for One
6. Origo
7. Ad Coronam
8. M47eria Prima
9. Tachophonia

Label website: svartrecords.com
Band website: mrph.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/mrpeterhayden
Twitter: twitter.com/mrpeterhayden

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Year of the Cobra – “Ash And Dust”

ATOZ_12in_GATEFOLD_YOTC_ASH_FNLABCIn four years, Year of the Cobra have managed to cement themselves in the stoner/doom realm as an absolute powerhouse duo. Truly, what else could you ever want or need in a great stoner band? Pounding drums, fuzzy, heavy bass, and haunting vocals. Year of the Cobra had my full attention with their first release “…In the Shadows Below”, and have fully recaptured it with their latest full-length release “Ash and Dust”.

A haunting album that drifts from heavy doom riffs to skirting the edges of dark psychedelia with the use of effect pedals. The opening track “The Battle of White Mountain” is a great introduction to this wandering drift, carried into the fog-laden sky from the battlefield in the second track “The Divine”. Slightly more psych-stoner, and lighter in a heavy way (if that sentence makes any sort of sense.)

Each song takes you on a journey through the landscape carved by the music. Covering quite a bit of ground through each track. The title track even takes a dive into a more punk sound, a la The Kills. All while still maintaining that stoner doom sound to it. While the vocals might seem out of place to some, it ties in with the arching story and soundscape for me, personally. Shifting across so many styles in one album is a skill not too many can say they have.

If ever there were a band I would tell people they need in their collection, and to keep an eye on, it would be Year of the Cobra. “Ash and Dust” is a fine example of their skills, and just what they can do together. It is a must have, or at least a must listen, for any fan of doom/stoner rock. “Ash and Dust” is definitely going to be a staple in my headphones and on my play list for quite some time.

Rating: 10/10 (Yep, it hit all the points for me.)

Tracklist:
1. The Battle of White Mountain
2. The Divine
3. Ash and Dust
4. Demons
5. Into the Fray
6. At the Edge
7. Dark Swan
8. In Despair

Released on: 1st November, 2019
Label: Prophecy Productions

Website: https://www.yearofthecobra.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yearofthecobraband
Bandcamp: https://yearofthecobra.bandcamp.com

Posted in doom, psych rock, stoner metal | Tagged | Leave a comment

Novembers Doom – “Nephilim Grove”

Novembers Doom Nephilim Grove coverNovembers Doom has been one of those bands on my “Will Listen To” list for quite some time. I mean, they are staple of the death-doom metal scene, after all. When the chance came to review their eleventh studio album, I figured it was time to finally delve deep into the catalogue to familiarize myself with it. Their latest release “Nephilim Grove” was quite an introduction to the band and their sound.

Right off the bat, it is my personal favourite of the whole discography. Drawn in with their familiar heavy guitars and drums, and haunting harmonies on “Petrichor”, reminiscent of the sludge-prog sounds of a few of my personal favourite bands. It is a powerful opening track to an equally powerful album. While it slows down around track three with the title track on the album, it is no less a beautiful song. With a few more of the doom elements laced throughout than the first two. While there are those heavier parts laced throughout, I’m quite a fan of the slower, more haunting parts. Bringing the images of walking through an old, overgrown graveyard.

The vocals on this album are solid, both clean and growling. In neighbouring tracks “What We Become” and “Adagio” are perfect examples of both styles at their peak. Their blend of sounds presented in a lovely package. While the later part of the album contains songs that don’t tickle my ear’s fancy too often, unless in the mood, it does round out the album quite well. Especially with the final track The Obelus. Perhaps my second or third favourite track on the whole album.

All in all, a solid addition to their extensive catalogue of songs. If someone were to ask where to start with Novembers Doom, I would suggest this one to them first, then tell them to have fun exploring. “Nephilim Grove” has it’s peaks, and its downfalls with me, but is still a fantastic piece.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Petrichor
2. The Witness Marks
3. Nephilim Grove
4. What We Become
5. Adagio
6. Black Light
7. The Clearing
8. Still Wrath
9. The Obelus

Released on: 1st November, 2019
Label: Prophecy Productions

Website: https://www.novembersdoom.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NovembersDoom1989

Posted in atmospheric metal, death metal, doom, progressive metal | Tagged | Leave a comment

Alcest – “Spiritual Instinct”

Alcest - Spiritual Instinct - ArtworkAlcest are one of those bands that somehow never disappoint me. Granted, it took me longer to get into their “Shelter” album (it was a bit of a change) but now it’s one of my favorites by them. What makes Alcest so damn good? Being the pioneer in the blackgaze subgenre does have something to do with it. They are able to combine two very different styles of music, black metal and shoegaze, into a completely unique sound. Now you have a ton of imitators out there.

But it takes more than just blazing a new path. Mainman Neige is a great songwriter and is multi-talented vocally and instrumentally. The secret weapon is drummer Winterhalter who pushes the songs in the direction they need to go. Alcest finally got signed to a larger label, Nuclear Blast, after spending years on one of my favorite labels, Prophecy Productions. “Spiritual Instinct” is the first Nuclear Blast album and it serves as a good introduction to the band, rather than pushing their sound in a new direction.

Alcest’s last two albums, “Shelter” and “Kodama” each explored different elements of the band’s sound. “Shelter” was essentially a straight up shoegaze/dream pop album that eschewed the band’s black metal side. “Kodama” brought back the black metal but added a Far Eastern vibe to the proceedings. “Spiritual Instinct” is what I would call a standard Alcest album. The opening track “Les Jardins De Minuit” leans heavily on Winterhalter’s blast beats which is fine but seems to avoid the band’s atmospheric side.

“Protection” and “Saffire” are the first two singles which makes sense since each have English titles. If you are going to make it to the next level, it does make sense. For me, the fact that Neige sings in French makes no difference since it’s hard to understand his harsh and clean vocals. I actually like that because it’s more about the SOUND of his voice and the melodies. “Protection” features a big sound and excellent riffing. It’s actually catchy!

“Saffire” is slower to start before finding it’s groove. It’s another user friendly song. Things get more complex with “L’Île Des Morts” and the title track. Each mix the ethereal with the aggressive, the dynamics that drew me to Alcest to begin with. So yes those are my two favorite songs so far. But as I have learned with Alcest, their music grows with time. So while I do really like “Spiritual Instinct,” I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the last two albums. But it’s still an incredible album that works as an introduction to the pure greatness of Alcest.

Rating: 8.5/10

Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 25 October 2019
Bandcamp: https://alcest.bandcamp.com › album › spiritual-instinct

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