Jan Akkerman – “Close Beauty”

775500I let the latest solo album by ex-Focus guitarist Jan Akkerman pass me on by. I listened to it initially and it just didn’t hit me at all. I even thought how he and Focus should reunite since Focus’ latest album did nothing for me either. But as I do frequently, I decided to revisit “Close Beauty” with fresh ears. I am glad I did.

I am not sure what I expected from Akkerman when I first listened to this. I mean he does certainly showcase his ability, though a good bit of it is done on an acoustic guitar. This does subdue a few things but when you pay closer attention (like I didn’t do the first time!), it’s clear that he is an incredible talent. The first few songs, “Spiritual Privacy” and “Beyond the Horizon” have a Latin vibe to his playing which is very cool. The title track finally shows off some electric guitar in the second solo part. It’s beautiful piece that crosses prog with new age and jazz.

Things really get interesting with “Retrospection,” which has a wonderfully atmospheric start that has Akkerman using his volume knob to solo over an organ backdrop. The song does kick in for a bit before it’s back to a jazzy acoustic solo. The song has a lot of tasty moments and movements, the track covers a lot of ground. I love a good journey! A favorite for sure.

The slow bluesy “Tommy’s Anniversary” is another favorite. It has a lushness and a sway that is really uplifting. Akkerman is able to really stretch out on this one. This is a song that I completely missed the first time through. This is one you have to check out. Next is a funky jazz cut called “Don Giavanni” which does have some great solos from Akkerman. At this point, I am wondering what in the hell was wrong with me the first time!!

I also really like the poppy “Fromage” which proves that Akkerman can still write a catchy hook. It also has a tasty solo of course! “Good Body Every Evening” is another one that I really like. Some jaw dropping playing here. It reminds me a bit of vintage Jeff Beck (a personal favorite of mine). Fantastic song! The bottom line is that “Close Beauty” is a beauty and I needed to get closer to see that. Don’t miss this one like I almost did. Jan Akkerman does not need Focus. He has his guitar and that’s all he ever needs to make some beauty.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Spiritual Privacy (Sunset Tango) (7:02)
2. Beyond the Horizon (7:06)
3. Reunion (4:39)
4. Close Beauty (3:00)
5. Retrospection (6:13)
6. Passagaglia (2:56)
7. Tommy’s Anniversary (8:17)
8. Don Giovanni (4:06)
9. Meanwhile in St. Tropez (4:51)
10. French Pride (3:00)
11. Fromage (5:20)
12. Good Body Every Evening (8:16)

Label: Music Theories Recordings
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Bandcamp: janakkerman.bandcamp.com/album/close-beauty

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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 17

godsticks cover

Godsticks – “Inescapable”
Label: Kscope
Release Date: 7 February 2020

Godsticks are a band that definitely get better with each album. There have been times in the past where I wasn’t sure just how much I liked them. But they are a band that’s a “grower.” The more you listen to them, the more you appreciate them.

“Inescapable” continues their growth and could be their heaviest album to date. Godsticks have always walked the line between prog rock and prog metal with a dash of alt rock mixed in. Darran Charles has turned up the volume on these riffs and they are more meaty as well.

“Denigrate” is the opener and one of those tracks with a big ass riff. Great way to start the album. The moody “Victim” follows and I love the whole vibe on this one. It’s definitely a favorite. “Relief” is has an interesting riff and an abundance of the word “fuck.” It’s a good track and different enough from the rest.

The near ballad “Surrender” is another song that I really enjoy. It’s tracks like this that showcase the dynamics of Godsticks. I also like the epic “Change” which is another moody atmospheric song. While Charles can certainly write heavy riffs, he also understands setting the mood as well. The album closes with “Time” another riff-tastic tune that has an awesome guitar solo in it. Darren Charles can play, if you didn’t know.

“Inescapable” is a great album though I am not sure that I like it more than their last outing “Faced With Rage.” However, it’s clear that Godsticks are on an upward swing. Kscope made a wise investment as this band has a bright future. I still think Charles’ voice takes getting used to and that could pose an issue for some. It took me a bit but he has a unique tone that I’ve grown to appreciate. Hopefully more will feel the same.

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Pyogenesis- “A Silent Soul Screams Loud”
Label: AFM Records
Release Date: 14 February 2020

Pyogenesis caught my attention with the first part of their steampunk trilogy “A Century In The Curse Of Time.” It was actually the stellar artwork that caught my attention. “A Silent Soul Screams Loud” is the third part of the trilogy and continues the high quality that includes part 2 “A Kingdom To Disappear.” Each album have big riffs, powerhouse vocals and a massive closing epic track.

Pyogenesis remind me of a more proggy Killing Joke. “Survival of the Fittest” is the big and bold opener and it pounds! I love the swing that the band can infuse into their music too. The two part “I Can’t Breathe” is one of those songs that picks you up and takes you somewhere thanks to the swing of their rhythm section…and those big choruses.

“Modern Prometheus” has one of the coolest guitar parts on the album starting it off. Once it kicks it, it also has a mid tempo groove that glides into yet another big chorus. But the track that makes this album worth it is the big epic at the end, “The Capital (A Silent Soul Screams Loud).” Like the epics on the previous two albums, the song takes you somewhere the way an epic should. It’s a journey to be sure.

The Night Flight Orchestra - Aeromantic - Artwork

The Night Flight Orchestra – “Aeromantic”
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 28 February 2020

Plain and simple? Holy shit this is awesome! The Night Flight Orchestra have quickly become a personal favorite. They are fun first and foremost but also they just write great tunes: hook laden, high quality and great musicianship. Imagine if Dream Theater decided to be Toto mixed with Journey. Even that doesn’t quite sound right though.

The band is led by Soilwork vocalist extraordinaire Speed who can sing anything and make it sound good. But the good news is that the music that NFO create is amazing regardless. This makes for an unbeatable combination and it makes me wonder if Speed doesn’t prefer doing NFO over Soilwork. NFO has been cranking out albums with regularity. The latest masterpiece is called “Aeromantic.”

“Aeromantic” doesn’t sound too much different from the previous albums, because if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it. The lead off track “Servants of the Air” has a very prog intro! I love that because this would make a good concert opener as well. The song kicks in and then kicks ass. A real barn burner!“Divinyls”is the next track and the first single from the album. No the song does not sound like the band of that name, thankfully. But it has an infectious chorus that you will be humming after one listen.

The album has great song after great song. “The Boy’s Last Summer” is a relentless driving track while “Curves” has this really cool funky vibe to it. “Curves” sounds like it was a hit or should be one! Each track has it’s own identity which is what makes NFO great and “Aeromantic” yet another killer album by them. “Transmissions” is the second single and it’s hard to argue that. The throbbing synths and the lead violin make for an interesting combo. But it’s that catchy chorus that will grab you. The title track is another favorite of mine. This one had me going “wow” when I heard it (even the disco bass). Your head WILL be bobbing right away. And that damn chorus gets me.

Without question, “Aeromantic” will be one of my favorite albums of 2020. The Night Flight Orchestra take classic rock, make it fun and just know how to write great songs. This is the band I’ve been wanting for many years now. If you want to lose yourself in great hooks and timeless music, “Aeromantic” is essential. I cannot recommend this album enough! Masterpiece!

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Ihsahn – “Telemark” EP

019643Ihsahn is one of my favorite artists. In my book, he is a musical genius that can do whatever he wants and pull it off. His plan now is to release two EPs with the first one being “Telemark,” named after his hometown. This EP is the heavy one apparently. But it’s still not like Emperor. This is very much along the lines of his first 2 solo albums with a bit of Arktis. mixed in. Here’s a song by song breakdown of the 5 track EP:

Stridig: The main riff reminds me a lot of a Voivod riff. I could definitely hear Piggy playing it. That really works for me! The song itself is aggressive, like a full on onslaught. It transitions to a doomy middle section which is very cool before it goes back to main riff. It’s a great opening track that would sounds great live. The vocals are some of Ihsahn’s most abrasive especially the final moments.

Nord: This track has this rolling riff which is pretty cool and the drums have a swing to them. I could definitely could hear Enslaved doing this. It’s a heavy track and the horns are a nice touch. But what I love about this song is the AWESOME guitar solo!!! It’s near the end and reminds me what a great player Ihsahn is.

Telemark: The title track has a heavy folk riff, that almost sounds like it could be done on bagpipes. It’s a very interesting riff that has a lot of space. There’s an atmosphere to the song while still maintaining it’s heavyness. Then comes the blast beats! What a maelstrom! There are a far amount of twists and turns on this one. Very progressive but over the top. This is another that will translate well in a live setting.

Rock and Roll is Dead: Lenny Kravitz cover. Musically it’s not that much different from the original. Same vibe and groove. But the harsh vocals definitely are the curve ball. But it works. It shows that Ihsahn is fearless and can do anything really. This one was a pleasant surprise! Very enjoyable.

Wrathchild: Iron Maiden cover. This is a more expected cover. It mostly sounds as you might expect. Not much of this is too different other than the horn section which are on most of the EP. The horns add a cool twist to this cover!

Ihsahn has done it yet again. He goes where he wants to go and it’s that sort of authenticity that makes him amazing. He took a major left turn in 2013 with “Das Seelenbrechen” and nailed it. He now is trying something different again with these EPs. “Telemark” is a wonderfully vicious snapshot of a musical genius doing what he does best: creating exciting extreme music!

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

1. Stridig
2. Nord
3. Telemark
4. Rock And Roll Is Dead
5. Wrathchild

Label: Candlelight
Release Date: 14 February 2020

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Blind Ego – Preaching to the Choir

blind egoBlind Ego return 4 years after the fantastic 2016 album, Liquid. It came to me right around when I was getting back into music heavily again. I was just rediscovering all the prog and metal releases that I had missed over the previous decade. And in the middle of all that prog and metal, Liquid brought a nice, more straight forward, yet still heavy and progressive in places, set of songs that bridge my love of melodic rock and the aforementioned styles nicely. So naturally, it held a special place for me. Shortly after that album, the band set out to tour but with a different lead singer in Scott Balaban who is handling vocal duties on this release as well. And he handles them extremely well here.

Being primarily a solo project for RPWL guitarist, Kalle Wallner, he brings with him some stellar talent in Sebastian Harnack from Sylvan on bass, Julian Kellner of Dante on guitars, and Michael Christoph on drums. All shine on this release.

 

We start things off with Massive and some killer grooves and great riffs, which you will find is the name of the game on this album. The chorus greets us with a great melody and harmony combo.

 

Preaching to the Choir sees a more restrained, yet groove laden opening with a laid back verse and vocals delivered and a low, distorted effect which then heads in to a more frantic and catchy chorus.

 

Burning Alive is the first single released for this album and makes sense as it is the most catchy and radio friendly one. This actually wouldn’t sound out of place in rotation in a U2 playlist. Very reminiscent of their song Beautiful Day. And this is the first time, but not the last, on this album that Scott’s vocals have a strong resemblance to Bon Jovi here. Imagine if Bon Jovi were still writing great music with strong hooks and melodies and still rocked out? I do want to note at this point, that while I am making comparisons to the sounds of other singers and bands here, Blind Ego is their own thing. Their own sound. I’m just throwing out a frame of reference to what I hear. Does the band sound like Bon Jovi? No. I’m just hearing his voice at times in Scott.

 

small4-Blind_Ego-Session-2019-©AlexeyTestov[1]Line in the Sand continues laying down the groove and has another brooding verse into an almost industrial, at least vocally, pre-chorus and then into a very Stone Temple Pilots sounding chorus (you know… back when STP rocked). The band is very tight and shines on tracks like this.

 

More of that “Bon Jovi-ness” comes through strongly in Dark Paradise and delivers one of the most ballad-like songs on the album. Once again, nailing something Mr. Bon Jovi hasn’t really been able to in a long time. This song goes into an almost Alter bridge type sound as well. This is one of my favorite songs on this album so far.

 

In Exile is a more upbeat rocker that makes for a great “driving down the road with the top down” kind of song. Such a catchy tune and another one of the more melodic ones.

 

Heading for the Stars starts in and… I hate to keep making comparisons, but it is the best way for me to get across what this sounds like. And this sounds a lot like one of the slow building rockers by the band Live. Scott is, indeed, a versatile vocalist. The chorus has a soaring melody to it that fits the title.

 

The first song to not fully grab me is Broken land. There isn’t an immediate hook here but it IS a good song! It is more a of slow burn.

 

The Pulse, the longest track on the album, and the closer, comes in subtlety with a great baseline …. and kicks into another groove and riff show and then to a driving chorus with abrupt stops and starts. The Jovi shines through here once again.

 

Blind Ego deliver. Maybe a little more raw this time around, but they know how to write and pound out killer tracks. Don’t get me wrong. The production here is great! Just has a more “in your face” feeling to it. If you dig the last one, definitely give it a go! Check out the vids below! Also including the link to their live show with Scott handling songs from their past.

samll2-Blind_Ego-Session-2019-©AlexeyTestov[1]

 

Rating: 8.5/10

 

Tracklist:

1. Massive
2. Preaching To The Choir
3. Burning Alive
4. Line In The Sand
5. Dark Paradise
6. In Exile
7. Heading For The Stars
8. Broken Land
9. The Pulse
Label: Gentle Art of Music
Label: Gentle Art of Music
Release Date: 02/14/2020

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Sepultura – “Quadra”

quadraI reviewed the last Sepultura album and I know people were surprised since they aren’t really prog. That said, there was plenty of prog moments on “Machine Messiah.” The title being a reference to the Yessong. They are back on my list again with a CONCEPT album. Now that does not automatically make it prog but once again, Sepultura has some very prog moments all over “Quadra.”

Once again even the title is prog. The concept behind the album is numerology. Thus the album is divided into 4 sections, hence “Quadra.” The 12 tracks are separated into 4 groups of 3. The style of each section is slightly different. Now, this is not enough to make you notice immediately but it’s there. I should mention that Jens Bogren produced this album as well as it’s predecessor.

The first three tracks are classic Sepultura. Heavy, thrashy and more direct. The second set of three adds in more percussion and has a Brazilian vibe. I’ve read that it’s more like the “Roots” album but I don’t hear that. It’s not dog shit like “Roots.” The albums back half is where the magic is for me. That’s not to say that I don’t really enjoy the first half.

The third set of three is the prog section with the instrumental “The Pentagram” being one of the best things that Sepultura has ever recorded. “Guardians of Earth” and “Autem” are my other two favorite songs on the album and they are on each side of “The Pentagram.” What’s interesting is that even with the move towards these proggy tracks, they aren’t THAT far away from the ones prior. The sequencing is like Sepultura is guiding you thru the album itself. Although, there is ONE exception…

The fourth section is still a bit of prog with a slower overall pace to it. The title track starts it and it’s a very cool acoustic guitar piece by Andreas Kisser. Kisser is such an underrated guitarist so it’s great that he can showcase this side. It flows beautifully into “Agony of Defeat” which is has an epicness to it that makes it a great closing track.

But the problem is “Fear, Pain, Chaos, Suffering” comes after it and seems like it’s tacked on because of it. It’s a good song but pales in comparison to “Agony of Defeat.” Additionally, the track has guest vocals by Emmily Barreto which are good but unnecessary. Derek Green is a KILLER vocalist who has a great harsh vocal but also a powerful clean vocal too. I really would have preferred him doing the clean vocal on this. Perhaps the song could have been prior to the title track but that is my only quibble with “Quadra” as a whole.

“Quadra” is very much a heavy album which will not appeal to many of you that are strictly old school progheads. But if you love heavy prog metal, I think there’s a lot about the album that you’ll enjoy. Sepultura have released some of their best music lately and proven that they are very much willing to grow and experiment. “Quadra” is a masterpiece of pounding rhythms, complex riffs and powerful vocals. It’s Sepultura the way that I like them.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. Isolation
2. Means To An End
3. Last Time
4. Capital Enslavement
5. Ali
6. Raging Void
7. Guardians Of Earth
8. The Pentagram
9. Autem
10. Quadra
11. Agony Of Defeat
12. Fear, Pain, Suffering

Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 7 February, 2020

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Virgil Donati – “Ruination”

800919As a drummer and composer, Virgil Donati is one of the best on the planet. [Insert a Planet X joke in here.] Yes I first learned about Donati from his collaboration with Derek Sherinian in Planet X. To be honest, the two of them really make their best music together. I like Sherinian’s solo albums and Sons of Apollo…nevermind. Donati’s solo albums are good too. Well that leads us to his new one “Ruination.”

The album has things that I expected from Donati and some things that I did not expect. While I do think it’s great to be surprised, I prefer to be pleasantly surprised. The opener “Castle Bastards” is a mind blowing mix of prog metal and jazz, you know the style you expect from Donati. “Eleven Part 2” and “The Quiet Place” are my two favorite tracks and both are just insane musically.

I expected that “Ruination” was going to be a masterpiece. Then the vocals hit me. Irwin Thomas sings on a few tracks on the album including “Back to Me,” the title track, “The Last Night That I Lived,” and “Time is a Lie.” He has a decent voice but it’s limited and when you have music that can be UNLIMITED, something has to give. The vocals and music just don’t mix well and Thomas sounds completely out of place. Plus, the music is not as complex since it would probably sound even more at odds.

I’d be curious to hear those songs without vocals. My guess is that they would be a lot better and the album would benefit. The rest of the tracks are just amazing so it’s a shame. The closer “If There Were Nothing” finishes with some amazing fretless bass and I’m left thinking “damn what if!” While it’s nice that Donati wanted vocals, he needed someone with a jazz vibe to their voice. Thomas sounds more like a singer/songwriter vocalist who is clearly lost among the notes swirling around him. “Ruination” was indeed ruined by it.

Rating: 6/10

Tracklist:
1. Castle Bastards (4:50)
2. Back To Me (5:30)
3. Ruination (5:03)
4. The Crack (3:57)
5. Eleven Pt. 2 (6:38)
6. The Quiet Place (5:10)
7. The Last Night That I Lived (7:41)
8. Time Is A Lie (5:20)
9. Pinprick (4:01)
10. Out Of The Dirt (2:57)
11. If There Were None (5:36)

Website: http://virgildonati.com
Release Date: February 7, 2020 (physical release), October 24, 2019 (digital)

Posted in jazz, progressive metal | Tagged | 1 Comment

Psychotic Waltz – “The God-Shaped Void”

Press_Cover_01Fans have been waiting for 23 years for new music from Psychotic Waltz. The band reformed in 2010 after disbanding back in 1996. They’ve maintained a loyal cult following for all of those years but fans wanted more than just a reunion. They wanted a fifth album. “The God-Shaped Void” is that album and while the band might not have the same pressure as Tool, they certainly have some very high expectations to meet.

Psychotic Waltz started back in 1986 and, along with bands like Fates Warning, Watchtower and Queensrÿche, were the creators of the US prog metal scene. But like Watchtower, success eluded them. Yes all 4 albums they released in the 90s were amazing and very well received, but they never quite caught on. Since then, lead vocalist Devon Graves formed the band Deadsoul Tribe which did well but still it didn’t satisfy those wanting a reunion.

The wait is now over with “The God-Shaped Void.” Is it worth the wait? Oh hell yes it is! This is the band firing on ALL cylinders. Graves’ singing is as strong as ever and the music is classic. While there’s no mistaking this sounds like classic Psychotic Waltz, they sound current at the same time. Part of that is because, in my opinion, Psychotic Waltz was ahead of their time. They mix the hooks of Queensrÿche and Fates Warning with the structures that Watchtower would use.

The album opener “Devils and Angels” kicks major ass. I love the intro to the track, it builds and builds and then kicks in. It would make an awesome concert opener. “Stranded” is next and would sound right at home on “Bleeding.” It should be released as a single, great hook and chorus. “All the Bad Men” is the second single from the album and packs crunch and a steady, grinding groove. This one will pound live!

On the more mellow side, there’s “Demystified” which is another favorite. The highlight on this one is the flute solo from Graves. I was hoping he would get to use his skills again and it sounds amazing. “Sisters of the Dawn” is another massive sounding track. Very epic and powerful. Psychotic Waltz are one of those bands that don’t need a 10-15 minute song to sound epic. The album finishes with the moody “In The Silence” which eventually ends with a beautiful acoustic section.

Psychotic Waltz is definitely back and I think they are better than ever. “The God-Shaped Void” is the album that fans have been waiting for and hopefully this will get the attention of prog metal fans that missed out on them for all these years. The world has caught up with what Psychotic Waltz did back in the 1990s and “The God-Shaped Void” is the masterpiece that gives everyone a second chance to appreciate them.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Devils And Angels
2. Stranded
3. Back To Black
4. All The Bad Men
5. The Fallen
6. While The Spiders Spin
7. Pull The String
8. Demystified
9. Sisters Of The Dawn
10. In The Silence

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: February 14, 2020
Website: http://psychoticwaltz.com/

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