Mastodon – “Emperor of Sand”

Mastodon-Emperor-of-SandI don’t expect this review to convert any new fans nor sway any old fans who either cry over the band’s evolution or want them to copy “Crack the Skye.” Mastodon has entered the same level of scrutiny of bands like Opeth. For fans that claim to be into “progressive” bands, many just want the same old shit shoved down their throats time and again.

“Emperor of Sand” is the natural result of a band that used their last 2 albums to explore a more melodic sensibility. While I’ll give you that maybe some of the results were mixed, there just is no denying that without a song like “The Sparrow” (from “The Hunter”), there is just no way a beautiful closer like “Jaguar God” could ever exist.

Still, people will complain because there are no 10 minute plus songs. Why does that even matter? A song should be as long (or short) as it need be. And to those who think “Show Yourself” is too poppy, when you hear that song on top 40 radio, let me know. It’s a catchy song but a GOOD one. Yeah it reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age. I happen to like QotSA though. So for me, like the whole album, it works.

On the vocal front, I was really blown away by drummer Brann Dailor’s development. His voice sounds better than ever and he sounds really confident. His voice works really well with Troy Sanders’ howl and Brett Hinds’ gritty style. They always seem to pick the right member to sing the right part. Musically, the band are as tight as ever and attack each song like they mean it!

Mastodon is back doing a concept which is something they do better than most bands. You can read about the concept all over the place, so I am not going to waste your time with the details but a concept about cancer is powerful. The songs really reflect that too. Brendan O’Brien really brings the best out of the band as well. No this is not “Crack the Skye Part II” and that would be pointless. Rather it is an album that sounds like it could have come right after that one. But again, without the two albums before this one, it would not have happened.

I find myself looking forward to the next track, track after track. No weak spots to be found. My favorites are “Ancient Kingdom” (those chimes!), “Jaguar God” (of course), “Clandestiny” (that middle section is amazing), and “Roots Remain.” To be fair, there is not a track I’d ever skip and I do rock the fuck out to “Show Yourself.” If you don’t, my guess is that you don’t like fun.

“Emperor of Sand” really combines everything that Mastodon have been working on style-wise for the last 10-15 years. If you still need them to sound like they did on “Remission,” there are bands out there right now who are ripping that sound off. If you need another “Crack the Skye,” just go listen to that one again. But if you are actually into a band PROGRESSING, then “Emperor of Sand” is for you.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Sultan’s Curse
2. Show Yourself
3. Precious Stones
4. Steambreather
5. Roots Remain
6. Word To The Wise
7. Ancient Kingdom
8. Clandestiny
9. Andromeda
10. Scorpion Breath
11. Jaguar God

Label: Reprise Records
Website: www.mastodonrocks.com

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2017 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees YES Featuring JON ANDERSON, TREVOR RABIN, RICK WAKEMAN ANNOUNCE ADDITIONAL NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES

More dates announced below!

YES featuring ARW (credit Deborah Anderson Creative)

PHILADELPHIA, PA (April 12, 2017) – YES Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman have added additional dates to their recently announced 2017 North American tour.

The newly confirmed dates include:

Tue/Aug-29 Friant, CA Table Mountain Casino
Thu/Sep-21 Port Chester , NY Capitol Theatre
Thu/Oct-5 Albany, NY Palace Theatre
Tue/Oct-10 Melbourne, FL King Center For The Performing Arts
Fri/Oct-13 West Palm Beach, FL Kravis Center For The Performing Arts
Sat/Oct-14 Miami , FL Adrienne Arsht Center For The Perf. Arts

On-sale dates announced soon.

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Ayreon – “The Source “

image006First off, I need to give you some context for this review. I have had a “hot and cold” relationship with Arjen Lucassen’s music. On the positive side, I love Guilt Machine and the last Star One album. I would even say that I “like” the Ayreon album “The Human Equation.” But many times, I really don’t like some of the albums. It all culminated with the last album “The Theory of Everything.”

I made reference to that album on this site when I was editorializing about concept albums. That album was an example for me of what I didn’t like about some albums. It felt to me like the concept forced the music. Arjen contacted me directly to explain how the album was actually written. While I think we had a great discussion, it didn’t change how I felt about that album. The concept was terrible and the overall album suffered because of it.

So when I was asked by the Mascot Label Group to review the new Ayreon album “The Source,” I was leery to say the very least. I am not a huge fan of multiple vocalists but that’s how Arjen works and I do understand why he does it. On the positive side for this album, I really like most of the vocalists he used.

I love James LaBrie, yes I am a Dream Theater fan. Plus Tommy Rogers of Between the Buried and Me is another favorite of mine. The full list of vocalists are: James LaBrie, Tommy Karevik, Tommy Rogers, Simone Simons, Nils K. Rue, Tobias Sammet, Hansi Kürsch, Mike Mills, Russell Allen, Michael Eriksen, Floor Jansen. And yes most of them are singers that I really enjoy. In addition, special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan, Marcel Coenen and keyboardist Mark Kelly.

So okay, I can take the vocalists for the most part but what about the music. Surprisingly, I love most of the music on this very long album. Well that’s something Arjen does, right? But from the opening epic “The Day That The World Breaks Down” it was clear to me that “The Source” was much more appealing to me than “The Theory of Everything.”

In fact, it’s easier for me to point out the moments that I don’t like because…there are so few of them! Weird right? One track that overall doesn’t work for me is “All That Was.” The celtic vibe is just not a style that I am into plus the vocals remind me of the Indigo Girls. Too sickly sweet on top of all that. The song does improve when it kicks in. The opening of “Aquatic Race” is another annoying moment. Super high pitched vocals that for some reason remind me of Bon Jovi on helium. Worse is that the song is better than the awful intro.

The brief closer “March of the Machines” ends the album rather unceremoniously. The album starts so much stronger. BUT I do understand the point of the song with relation to the overall concept. A concept that I am not going to give away other than it’s a prequel to “01011001.” So yes it’s sci-fi which Arjen is better at, in my opinion.

So you are thinking, does he like this album? Hell yes. Songs like “Everybody Dies,” “Star of Sirrah” (great vocal by LaBrie), and “Deathcry of a Race” along with the opening track are really GREAT songs. And THAT is the key! These are songs that can exist without the overall concept. For me that’s what makes a concept album a good one. Can the music exist apart from it? Indeed.

So the bottom line is, I am definitely impressed which given the background and context that I gave means that the rating is EARNED. Ayreon fans should rightly loses their shit over this album and those of us who are not always impressed should have something to really enjoy.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
Chronicle 1: The ‘Frame
1. The Day That The World Breaks Down
2. Sea Of Machines
3. Everybody Dies
Chronicle 2: The Aligning Of The Ten
4. Star Of Sirrah
5. All That Was
6. Run! Apocalypse! Run!
7. Condemned To Live
Chronicle 3: The Transmigration
8. Aquatic Race
9. The Dream Dissolves
10. Deathcry Of A Race
11. Into The Ocean
Chronicle 4: The Rebirth
12. Bay Of Dreams
13. Planet Y Is Alive!
14. The Source Will Flow
15. Journey To Forever
16. The Human Compulsion
17. March Of The Machines

Release Date: April 28, 2017
Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings
Website: www.ayreon.com

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2017 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees YES Featuring JON ANDERSON, TREVOR RABIN, RICK WAKEMAN ANNOUNCE NORTH AMERICAN TOUR

The key to this is that ARW is now using the YES name!!

YES featuring ARW (credit Deborah Anderson Creative)

Press Release:

 

Monday, April 10, 2017.

 

2017 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees
YES
Featuring
JON ANDERSON, TREVOR RABIN, RICK WAKEMAN
ANNOUNCE NORTH AMERICAN TOUR

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA (April 10, 2017) – Rock icons Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman are proud to announce that effective immediately, they will officially be known as ‘YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman’, which is the name they will be touring under in North America during the latter half of 2017.

 

“It’s very simple,’ explains band founder and vocalist Jon Anderson. “The fans want it, we want it and it’s our right to use the name. YES music is in our DNA!”

 

The definitive line-up of the greatest progressive rock band ever – Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman – together again LIVE!  For tickets, tour and VIP information, go to YESfeaturingARW.com.

 

The reviews are in from their recent worldwide tour…
“Every song sounds like a celebration. Every song is uplifting.”  – Classic Rock Magazine
“There were multiple ‘pinch me’ moments throughout the show.” – Daily Express
“Yes, These Guys Still Have It: Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman faithfully delivered the spirit and the essence of the music of the band from which they derived…and they did  so in grand style.”
– Creative Loafing Tampa Bay
“Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin & Rick Wakeman affirm Yes’ musical legacy” – St. Louis Post Dispatch
“There were many standing ovations on the evening, not surprising with the commendable performance put on by these five musicians.” – Rock Show Critique
“Truly was a momentous concert. Great song selection, tight performances from everyone, and a little fun at the end…If they’re coming to a town near you, DO NOT miss it.” – Progarchy
“Can Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman still dazzle? Yes, indeed!” – The (Salt Lake City) Herald Extra
“Sometimes comebacks from beloved musicians can be disappointing; not so this time.” – Goldmine Magazine

 

Since reuniting for a U.S. tour in 2016, YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman have performed sold-out shows in Israel, the UK, Belgium and Holland, and have a Japanese tour scheduled for April. Due to public demand, they return to tour the U.S. again from August 26th through October 11th. In addition to the tour dates, the trio will be recording new material throughout the summer for a projected album release of early 2018. Also upcoming is a DVD that was filmed at the final UK show of their recent European tour (at Manchester Apollo, on March 25th), for release later this year. And to the delight of longtime YES fans, all three were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame on April 7th.
The most successful prog rock group of all time, YES, was co-founded by Jon Anderson and the late Chris Squire in 1968 and went on to sell millions of units with releases such as Fragile, Close to The Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans, Going For The One and 90125, as well as embarking on several record-breaking world tours.
Whilst Rick is predominantly associated with the ’70s “prog era” of the band (which saw YES become a worldwide stadium headliner) and Trevor associated with the ’80s “pop era” of the band (which furthered the band’s popularity – including the band’s biggest chart success), Jon is the bridge between both factions (as he was a member of both eras). The touring band line-up is completed by two extraordinary musicians – Lee Pomeroy on bass and Louis Molino III on drums – who help to ensure that YES’ immaculate artistic legacy remains intact.

 

The worldwide tour with YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman is being produced by renowned concert promoter Larry Magid, who is considered an architect and leader of the modern concert business. With over 17,000 concerts and live events to his credit and still counting, he has produced national and international tours for YES, Billy Crystal, Richard Pryor, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Robin Williams, Gladys Knight, The Isley Bros., Earth Wind & Fire, ARW, Il Divo, The Allman Brothers Band, Patti LaBelle, Grover Washington Jr. and many others. In 1985 Larry Magid, co-produced the American portion of Live Aid, and in 2005, he was the American producer of Live 8. In 2001, he produced the United We Stand concert at RFK Stadium to benefit the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

Yes_Logo

Confirmed 2017 YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman Tour Dates
All shows are going on-sale shortly
Go to www.YESfeaturingARW.com for on-sale information
Additional U.S. and International dates to be announced soon
Sat/ Aug- 26 Stockton, CA  Bob Hope Theater
Mon/ Aug- 28  Saratoga, CA  Mountain Winery
Thu/ Aug- 31  Las Vegas, NV Smith Center
Sat/ Sep- 2  Layton, UT The Kenley Amphitheater
Sun/ Sep- 3  Littleton, CO Hudson Gardens
Tue/ Sep- 5  Kansas City, MO Kauffman Center
Thu/ Sep- 7  Milwaukee, WI Riverside Theater
Sat/ Sep- 9  Hammond, IN Venue at the Horseshoe Casino
Tue/ Sep- 12  Kettering, OH Fraze Pavilion
Wed/ Sep- 13  Vienna, VA Wolf Trap
Fri/ Sep- 15  Akron, OH Goodyear Theater at East End
Sat/ Sep- 16  Toronto, ON Massey Hall
Mon/ Sep- 18  Quebec City, QC Grand Theatre du Quebec City
Tue/ Sep- 19  Montreal, QC St. Denis Theatre
Sat/ Sep- 23  Wallingford, CT Toyota Oakdale Theatre
Sun/ Sep- 24  Brookville, NY Tilles Center
Wed/ Sep- 27  Newark, NJ NJ PAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center)
Fri/ Sep- 29  Reading, PA Santander Performing Arts Center
Sat/ Sep- 30  Trenton, NJ Patriots Theater at the War Memorial
Sun/ Oct- 1  Philadelphia, PA Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center
Wed/ Oct- 4  Boston, MA Orpheum Theater
Sat/ Oct- 7  Niagara Falls, NY Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino
Sun/ Oct- 8  Red Bank, NJ Count Basie Theatre
Wed/ Oct- 11  Clearwater, FL Ruth Eckerd Hall
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Haunting Skies – “Into the Ether”

16b0f2d45dc0cf6eb3187ae54e80ca68Haunting Skies are an American prog metal band with plenty of musical talent. The band can definitely play. The riffs on their album “Into the Ether” are solid from the opening of “Manifestation.” The problem I have with the album is that the clean vocals by Jesse Walker sound off key. It might just be the tone of his voice but I have a hard time getting past it.

The good news is that Walker’s harsh vocals are solid. It seems to be his mid to upper range that are the issue. He falls off of notes or just misses them. The first notes on “Exploring the Mothership” are nowhere near where they need to be. It’s a shame because the music underneath is often quite good. This is just a matter of getting better over time.

Musically, the band have that Dream Theater, Fates Warning, old school prog metal vibe while also channeling modern bands like Haken. In some ways, “Into the Ether” reminds me of Dream Theater’s “When Dream and Day Unite.” The talent is there but vocally things are just off.   Maybe people won’t mind it like I do and if that’s the case, I think a lot of people will enjoy Haunting Skies. For me, I really can’t get into it. I’ll await their next outing and see where they are headed.

Rating: 5/10

Tracklist:
1. Manifestation
2. Exploring the Mothership
3. Redeemer
4. Dead Once Again
5. Eating Clocks
6. Puppets with Perception
7. I Foresee Catastrophe
8. The Beginning Is Near
9. Vacant of Memory

Facebook: www.facebook.com/hauntingskies

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Cosmosquad – “The Morbid Tango”

TMT-LPI was reared on the instrumental guitar album, and it is this style that in many ways informed my initial dive into progressive rock and metal. As a musician, an active listener, and an analyst (for better or worse), there can be a certain inherent satisfaction in being bombarded by notes and technique. It is often enjoyable and eye opening listening to talented musicians pushing themselves to the limits of their ability, and one doesn’t have to venture much further than the progressive genre to find ample examples of musicians doing just that.

With that being said, these stylistic archetypes are easy to fumble, especially within the realm of instrumental music. The risk of boring the listener with bland technical displays and lackluster songwriting always exists on the periphery for bands that choose to do it strictly instrumental, and the balance between songwriting, technique, experimentation, and melody is ever illusive for many extremely talented bands. Cosmosquad’s “The Morbid Tango” deftly avoids these pitfalls and provides a refreshingly diverse instrumental record that is as varied as it is well executed and passionately performed.

To call “The Morbid Tango” a guitar album is unfair, because although the guitar drives the songs melodically, weaving in and out of extended lead sections, the other instrumentalists more than achieve the same high standard set by (demanded by) the guitar and the overarching compositions as a whole. The bass has ample time to shine with some absolutely killer syncopated lines and the drum parts always groove with a flair that seems to accent exactly what they need to, with style to spare. The band really sounds like a unit that is communicative and locked in to creating a shared space for these songs to unfold, and although chops abound, it rarely ever feels overwrought or forced, instead making sense within the context of the piece. I can say from experience that this is a difficult balance to achieve, which makes how well this band do it really stand out that much more.

I can also appreciate just how diverse the record is sonically. Opener “Morbid Tango” is just that: a metallic onslaught that also happens to groove hard while coaxing the listener to bang their heads. A great track that had my interest right off the bat. Elsewhere on the record the band explore metal, prog, jazz fusion, funk, hard rock, blues, and even some country inspired guitar licks, and the ever tasty playing had me grinning at every turn. The riffs, chord progressions, and jams really work, and in my opinion hold together really well. “The Ballad of Rick James” is an especially fun ride that reminded me of some of my favorite and most creative Shrapnel-era players, namely the fusion-inspired Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, and Michael Lee Firkins LPs. Closer “Beyond Death’s Door” benefits from a truly spectacular build and great, emotive guitar melody that really pays off and ends the record on a high note.

Overall, the record stands as a great example of how to do chops-centric instrumental music the right way. Nothing here feels forced, and is not only bursting with solid ideas and experimentation as to maintain the interest of the listener, but also genuinely rocks and sounds like a band that is having a lot of fun playing together. As long as the listener isn’t opposed to strictly instrumental music and can appreciate a great guitar solo (or 30), there is sure to be something for the avid prog and fusion fan to love on “The Morbid Tango”. An easy album to recommend.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Morbid Tango
2. Cyclops
3. The Ballad of Rick James
4. Anatomy of a Beatdown
5. Recollection Epilogue
6. Always Remember the Love
7. The Crosses
8. Still Life
9. Sangfroid
10. Beyond Death’s Door
11. Beyond Death’s Door Reprise

Label: Marmaduke Records
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cosmosquad

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IT – “We’re All In This Together”

ITIT are a UK prog band that remind me a LOT of fellow neo-proggers Pallas, Galahad, Arena and, to a lesser extent, IQ. If you had told me this was a new Pallas album, honestly I would have believed you. So it’s fairly easy to say that if any of those bands are on your favorites list, IT would be a band that would appeal to you.

While I do like those bands, Pallas has been on the fringe somewhat for me and IT would be as well. This is not because of talent but rather what I would call, misplaced melodrama. Bands like this rely on tension and drama to deliver their music. The problem is if it’s done in excess, it loses impact. “The boy who cried wolf” if you will.

“We’re All In This Together” kicks off with “Power” which underscores the point I was making. It’s a good song, a bit direct and would fit on an Arena album. Singer Nick Jackson does have a tendency to over play his hand. Many people will LOVE this and I don’t mind it to a degree but it gets to be a tad cheesy. “Born into Debt” sounds more like Pallas. Plenty of build up but since it’s more of a transitional track, it never explodes.

“The Working Man” sounds like a single (and it is). Nothing wrong with a catchy tune and this is one of them. The lyrics are a tad trite which is another issue I have at times. You know what’s coming. The world does suck, we’ve fucked it up and we rely on the hard work of others. “The Last Chance” falls into the same “typical” sounding trap. Musically, it’s fine but lyrically I’ve heard it before over and over.

Sadly things get a bit into the “filler” category after a while. “Gamble the Dream” isn’t anything special. “Voices” has a bit of a malaise to it. On the plus side the closer “Revolution” has some punch to it but again, the rhyming of the lyrics is a bit obvious.

To be clear, I don’t mind this album. It’s starting to sound like I hate it. Honestly, it really doesn’t hit me either way which is a problem. Having said this if you are a fan of those classic neo-prog bands, IT is a band you should check out. “We’re All In This Together” has a good sentiment to it, it just feels a little contrived.

Rating: 6/10

Tracklist:

1. Power
2. Born Into Debt
3. The Working Man
4. Last Chance
5. Gamble The Dream
6. Voices
7. The Path of Least Resistance
8. House
9. Down The Hatch
10. Revolution

Label: Progressive Gears
Bandcamp: itofficial.bandcamp.com/album/were-all-in-this-together

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