L’anima – “Departures”

front-cover-l-anima-departuresWhy is it that all the indie prog bands have to do it all themselves? When was the last time the major prog labels like Inside Out or Frontiers released an album by a completely unknown band? I don’t know honestly. Too often these labels are either releasing bands they’ve finally signed after they’ve been with smaller labels (Haken, Leprous, Circus Maximus) or they just sign established artists that are switching labels (Fates Warning, DGM, etc).

Bands like L’anima are left with no choice but to self-release. After listening to their debut album “Departures,” it makes no sense that L’anima aren’t signed. They do remind me of a less metallic version of fellow British countrymen Haken at times. That is not a bad thing. Singer Andy Mitchell has a very strong voice and the band is tight.

Like Haken’s debut album “Aquarius,” “Departures” has a song called “Point of No Return.” And while the song is VERY strong with a great chorus, it does start off a bit awkward. I think this is sometimes typical of a new band. Look, if a young band can somehow release a perfect album, they have no room to grow. L’anima have a HUGE upside and that’s very obvious.

Whether it’s the aforementioned strong hooks of the opening track, the awesome keyboard solo that closes “Path to Sirius” or “Gema” which is an odd song structural but still works. “My Dying Cell” is another off-kilter track that works with some tasty fretless bass Luca Forlani. But the choral part really doesn’t work for me. It feels really out of place.

The key to what the band does “Departures” is that the songs are important. This is not a band that ever over plays. They also aren’t afraid to attempt an unexpected arrangement like on “My Bloody Silhouette.” The song isn’t a favorite but I really respect the chances that the band took on the track. Also, there are some spoken word interludes here and there on “Departures” but thankfully they don’t last too long.

The album finishes strong with “Elephant Cemetery” though not an epic, it still does a nice job finishing up a strong debut. My hope is that one of the smaller indie prog labels take note of a band such as L’anima. Of course the way to do that is for you the prog fan to check this band out. “Departures” does not reinvent the prog wheel but it doesn’t need to. Instead, it shows a band with tremendous talent and a bright future.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Point Of No Return
2. Path To Sirius
3. Gema
4. My Dying Cell
5. Hold Out
6. My Bloody Silhouette
7. The Sound Of Waves
8. The Elephant Cemetery

Website: lanimaofficial.com

Posted in progressive metal | Leave a comment

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – “On Her Journey To The Sun”

0IO01701_636256919750541961Rikard Sjöblom is best know as the former frontman and multi-instrumentalist for Beardfish. Beardfish were a favorite of mine so I was quite upset when they disbanded last year. Prior to that, Sjöblom released his second solo album “The Unbendable Sleep” which was more akin to his work with Beardfish than his debut solo album which was an all instrumental affair. Sjöblom also joined UK prog rockers Big Big Train.

So while Beardfish was officially over, Sjöblom was clearly not done making music. He comes back already with another release, this time under the moniker Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly. Gungfly was the side project that recorded the music that initially didn’t fit with Beardfish, 2 albums worth before this. Now that Beardfish is done, it’s clear that Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly is now the primary outlet for all of his music. And “On Her Journey To The Sun” has all of the elements that Beardfish had plus the melodic sensibility that was on his last solo album. Add in that his old Beardfish bandmate David Zackrisson is in Gungfly too and you have half the band on this album.

The first track “Of the Orb” is very much like a long lost Beardfish epic. Yes I know Beardfish was a band and yes so is Gungfly but let’s be honest, Sjöblom is the creative force behind each. His voice is very distinct as is his songwriting. There is just no mistaking that. The title track is another great track, shorter yes but proggy as well with a great keyboard solo in the middle and a great closing guitar solo.

The main thing that makes this album more inline with Beardfish is that this does feel more like a band. The songs flow really well together too. But again, there’s more of a willingness to have melody step to the fore which is the main difference here. “He Held an Axe” is a great example of that. It’s pure 70s FM radio prog. “My Hero” goes back to sounding very much like Beardfish. With awesome keys once again by Sverker Magnusson.

And if you don’t know Beardfish, you really need to! That band (and this one) have plenty of vintage Yes technicality in them, a dash of Zappa whimsy and the regal nature of Genesis. But again, that is Sjöblom because all of that does show up here as well. For as much as I did enjoy the last Beardfish album “+4626-COMFORTZONE,” it sounded labored and that is definitely not the case with “On Her Journey To The Sun.”

“Polymixia” might be my favorite track on the album. Beardfish were always great with weird, quirky instrumental epics and that’s how this track starts out. Tight playing with plenty of interplay between various guitars and keys and yes the bass as well. This track has it all including weird wordless vocals. I still consider it an instrumental though.

“Over My Eyes” is a fine acoustic based track with violin, piano and a great vocal from Sjöblom. “Old Demons Die Hard” reminds me of Yes which shows that both Sjöblom and Gungfly are capable of going from strength to strength. I just wish there wasn’t a phone ringing in the track. It drives me nuts every time I hear it. “Keith (The Son of Sun)” is another instrumental but completely different from “Polymixia” but no less great.

The album closes out with another epic in “The River of Sadness” which has a catchy chorus, while “All I Dream” is a brief peaceful outro with some spoken word on it. It winds up being the only part of the album that does nothing for me. So 2 minutes out of 75 don’t work for me. Those are great numbers and “On Her Journey To The Sun” is a great album by a very good band. I am really glad that Rikard Sjöblom still has an outlet for his considerable talent.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. Of The Orb
2. On Her Journey To The Sun
3. He Held An Axe
4. My Hero
5. If You Fall Part 1
6. Polymixia
7. Over My Eyes
8. Old Demons Die Hard
9. Keith (The Son Of Sun)
10. The River Of Sadness
11. All A Dream

Label: Inside Out Music
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rikardsjoblom
Website: www.rikardsjoblom.com

Posted in progressive metal | Leave a comment

Interview with Jonah Weingarten of Pyramaze

pyramaze-50ff992058cbc

Congrats, Jonah on the new album “Contigent,” I like it a lot. What’s been the reception?

Thank you so much! The reception has been great honestly, fantastic reviews across the board. I receive loads of messages every day from fans who are liking this current incarnation of Pyramaze, even though it is a little different sounding than our first three albums.

It must be nice to be able to come back relatively quickly with a followup to Disciples of the Sun. Even with the busy schedules of many of you. How did you manage to accomplish that?

I would attribute our quick turnaround for the album to Jacob mainly. The fact that he has 24 hour access to his own studio really helps a lot, and of course he is a fantastic producer. Actually we are talking about working on a new album this summer already!

pyramaze_artwork_1500.jpg

Do you feel the current lineup has gelled even more since the last album and how did that familiarity play out on “Contingent”?

Absolutely, and I think its evident in the quality of Contingent. We really bonded a lot when we played Prog Power USA last year and I think that gave us some serious momentum as a unit. We all know what to expect from each other an at the same time we each continue to grow and mature as musicians. I fully expect our next album (#6) to be even more of a progression and to be more epic!

The album is very hooky with many of the songs being almost instantly singable. “Heir Apparent” is one of those tracks for me. Was there more of a conscience effort on melody?

We do make a conscience effort try to make our choruses huge and memorable which has been a trademark of Pyramaze since the beginning. I think every song on the record has a hook really, both vocally and musically. For me “Star Men” and “Nemesis” have some of the biggest choruses on the record.

What are your favorite songs on the new album and why?

“Star Men” for sure will go down as one of the greatest Pyramaze songs of all time, but also “Kingdom of Solace” and “A World Divided” which were both singles. I think these songs really just encapsulate the essence of what Pyramaze is today with this current lineup. “Tides That Wont change” which is the grand piano ballad on the record, was really a labor of love for me so it is close to my heart.

What are your touring plans?

Well this year we are playing Prog Power Europe in the Netherlands, and are currently working to set up a few more shows around that date, possibly in Germany and Denmark. We don’t get to play nearly as often as we would like for various reasons, so when we do it is something special for sure!

I know you have some other projects. Tell me about them!

The biggest thing I’m working on right now is my new project with Matt Barlow called Sentinels. Its just me and him as a duo, and it is basically epic film score music with Matt singing on it. I like to think we are inventing a new genre of music and Im very excited for people to finally get to hear what we have cooking. Also Jacob Hansen (Pyramaze) will be mixing the record. In addition to that I just finished working on some orchestration and piano stuff for the debut album of CyHra for my friends Jake E. (Ex-Amaranthe) and Jesper Stromblad (Ex-In Flames) on Universal/Spinefarm.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pyramaze
Website: http://www.pyramaze.com

pyramaze_band_02_web

 

Posted in power metal, progressive metal | Tagged | Leave a comment

Valdez – “This”

valdezI realize that every reviewer of the debut album by Valdez will type the following but whatever. “This” is the debut album by Valdez. Get it? Whatever. So who are Valdez? Besides being fronted by the very talented and very clever Simon Godfrey (of Tinyfish and Shineback), the band also has Echolyn bassist Tom Hyatt along with production from Echolyn guitarist/vocalist Brett Kull.

Since I’ve been a huge fan of Echolyn since 1995, I’ve really been excited for “This.” That and I know Simon is quite good as well! Simon sounds fantastic vocally on the whole album. Also, there’s no denying the presence of Echolyn DNA throughout the entire album, but it’s clearly a perfect mix of what Simon can do with a melody and the playing of the entire band. Think 10cc jamming with Todd Rundgren and you get the idea. Keyboardist Joe Cardillo particularly stands out for me and always seems to know what a song needs keyboard-wise: piano or synth or whatever!

Rather than start with the praise (of which there is a LOT), I’ll mention the things I don’t care for. Other than the great instrumental break in it (Hooray, Tom!), the track “Colorado” is the lone dud on the whole album. It’s not terrible but it just seems listless compared to the rest. But I do wish at times there was a little more up tempo moments like the opener “Black Eyed Susans” which kicks just enough ass to make for a great opener. “Sally Won’t Remember” is a little sleepy but it still works.

Yeah that’s it for my complaints as they are. Highlights are everywhere. The album has an incredible epic closer in “Smile For the Camera” which not only has an awesome melody but also affords the band to stretch out musically. Another favorite of mine is “No Stone Unturned” which in an alternate universe that actually has taste, the song would be a massive hit and Valdez would be incredibly wealthy.

“This” is a great album. I am still not tired of this pun and I don’t see myself getting tired of THIS album either. I had high expectations going in and Valdez delivered the goods. I hope the band is not just a side project because they are way too good at what they do to be relegated to that! “This” is damn good and you need to check “This” out. Okay, right…enough of that.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. Black Eyed Susans
  2. Thirteen
  3. Sally Won’t Remember
  4. Spite House
  5. Little Keys
  6. This
  7. No Stone Unturned
  8. Driving All Night
  9. Colorado
  10. Smile For The Camera

Label: Bad Elephant Music
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Facebook: www.facebook.com/valdezrock

Posted in art rock, progressive metal | Tagged | Leave a comment

Big Big Train – “Grimspound”

grimspoundBig Big Train have gotten bigger and bigger. I don’t mean just popularity wise. There are now 8 people in the band! It’s fine assuming all of the members are put to good use but I have yet to be convinced of that. I realize that all that I am about to say will just be sacrilegious for the prog world out there since BBT have become very popular over the last few years. Good for them though because they have earned it.

However, there’s really a sameness to what they do and their latest outing “Grimspound” is no exception. As I said, the band has 8 members yet only 2 of them write the music. That’s a HUGE waste of talent because both Rikard Sjöblom and Nick D’Virgilio are top notch song writers and I’d LOVE to hear them contribute a lot. While Sjöblom  co-wrote two tracks, I’d like more! I assume this is part of the band agreeing as a whole but it comes at the expense of the music. There’s not a whole lot of difference from “Grimspound” to “The Underfall Yard,” for example. Even long time keyboardist Danny Manners got to co-write a track, “”On the Racing Line” and yet it still fails to deviate much.

This is not to say that BBT fans won’t love this album because let’s face it, if it ain’t broke…why fix it? I will say that tracks like the epic opener “Brave Captain” and “Experimental Gentlemen” are some of the best songs that BBT have ever done. But for a prog rock band, the issue for me is that they rarely “rock.” Much of what BBT does is more pleasant and pastoral. There’s a time and a place for that but I need more than that to hold my attention for very long.

And very long is what every BBT album is. So unless the band really work hard to make each track unbelievably unique, that sameness creeps in for me and yes it does here. “Meadowland” is a nice little track and I like it.  But the title track is really the same type of track so things get a little bogged down. “The Ivy Gate” is different to a degree but it’s too folky for my taste and just gets skipped.

“A Mead Hall in Winter” is another epic which is nowhere near as good as “Brave Captain.” It’s definitely the standard BBT sound and has some really good moments in it musically (I imagine that is Sjöblom). Lyrically, it doesn’t work for me. The album closes with lead vocalist David Longdon sounding even more like Peter Gabriel than usual on “As the Crow Flies.” Not a bad track but calling something this obvious progressive seems weird to me.

I fully expect people to let me know how wrong I am about this album, which is fine. As you know, if you read my reviews, I am not one to just say something is great because everyone else does. This is no different. But I actually like “Grimspound” but to call it a masterpiece is really misplaced. I like it more than “Folklore” but there are better prog bands out there that are actually trying to push the genre forward and not backward. Still, nostalgia is nice so I always find myself giving time to BBT. “Grimspound” is a good album by a talented band but it could be so much more…band and album.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Brave Captain
2. On The Racing Line
3. Experimental Gentlemen
4. Meadowland
5. Grimspound
6. The Ivy Gate
7. A Mead Hall In Winter
8. As The Crow Flies

Website: bigbigtrain.com
Bandcamp: bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/album/grimspound-hi-resolution-audio

Posted in progressive rock | Tagged | 1 Comment

Interview with Tony Piccoli of Imminent Sonic Destruction and James Byron Schoen of Edensong

17362913_1292381914130346_7458683048139358260_n

I got together with Tony Piccoli of Imminent Sonic Destruction and James Byron Schoen of Edensong ahead of their 2017 North American tour to talk about how these two seemingly different prog bands got together for a tour and we discussed their influences plus what they each don’t like prog wise.

Here are the dates for the tour along with ticket information:


5/22 – TORONTO – Hard Luck Bar
TICKETS: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1442894-imminent-sonic-destruction-toronto/

5/24 – ST. LOUIS – Fubar Saint Louis
TICKETS: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1469335-imminent-sonic-destruction-st-louis/

5/25 – CHICAGO – Martyrs’ WSG – District 97
TICKETS: http://martyrslive.com/thu-may-25-8pm-10adv12door

5/26 – DETROIT – The Loving Touch
TICKETS: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=7235225

5/27 – ERIE, PA – Sherlocks Erie PA
TICKETS: coming soon, Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/633409563531193/

5/28 – NEW YORK CITY – DROM
TICKETS: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1464108

https://www.facebook.com/edensongtheband/
https://www.facebook.com/imminentsonicdestruction/

ISDedensong

Posted in progressive metal, progressive rock | Tagged | 1 Comment

Labyrinth – “Architecture of a God”

labyrinth1Italian prog power metal legends Labyrinth have been around a long time. I recall getting “Return to Heaven Denied” back in 1998 and not really being sure if I liked it initially but it grew on me. Then I remember how disappointed I was with the follow up “Sons of Thunder.” That roller coaster continued.

The self titled album renewed my faith in them only to be unsure about “Freeman” and then really hating “6 Days to Nowhere.” Now granted, the band went through various lineup changes over the years which really didn’t help matters. Notably, guitarist Carlo Andrea Magnani (Olaf Thorsen) left after “Sons of Thunder.” He came back for 2010’s sequel “Return to Heaven Denied Pt. II” which seemed a tad calculated to me.

Finally years later, the Italian label Frontiers offered a contract to guitars Andrea Cantarelli and Magnani to make peace with lead vocalist Roberto Tiranti and make some new music. This is not the first time this label has dangled the carrot to get a band to make some music. So the three of them recruited 3 additional new members to round out a new formation, which includes ex-TNT/Ark drummer John Macaluso.

The band sound great over all on the new album “Architecture of a God” but without long time keyboardist Andrea De Paoli, it just doesn’t seem like a true “reunion” album. Plus, De Paoli made better choices for patches than new player Oleg Smirnoff. Still, there is no denying that the music is really strong, the band is tight as fuck and Tiranti can still really sing. Check the high note on “Still Alive.” WOW!

Given my own love/hate relationship with Labyrinth, I figured “Architecture of a God” would evoke a strong response one way or another. The good news is that this is not a steaming pile of shit like “6 Days to Nowhere” and while maybe it isn’t as incredible as the self titled album, it is much closer to THAT than probably anything they’ve done. Sure there are iffy moments here and there; most are from Smirnoff. For example, what the fuck is with the video game keyboards on “Take on My Legacy”???? “A New Dream” also has some questionable key sounds.

Another positive thing is that Frontiers didn’t force the band into an AOR metal sound like many of the label’s acts. So if you’ve ever liked Labyrinth, I think you should give a listen to “Architecture of a God.” It’s not a masterpiece but it’s not forced either. I’ll be curious to see how long this lineup survives before they are pissed off at each other or something.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Bullets
2. Still Alive
3. Take On My Legacy
4. A New Dream
5. Someone Says
6. Random Logic
7. Architecture Of A God
8. Children
9. Those Days
10. We Belong To Yesterday
11. Stardust And Ashes
12. Diamond

Label: Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Website: labyrinthmusic.it

Posted in power metal, progressive metal | Tagged | 1 Comment