Cloak – “To Venomous Depths”

a0393852871_10For me, Atlanta’s Cloak fit the progressive death metal tag. Now, I do realize that many people will suggest otherwise and honestly, I can understand that argument. But their debut album “To Venomous Depths” is packed with great riffs and hooks and a dark atmosphere that is sure to please fans of bands like Opeth, Enslaved and Arcturus. They remind me a fair amount of Tribulation but that’s not a bad thing since I love that band.

The album kicks off with a great one-two punch of “To Venomous Depths / Where No Light Shines” and “Within the Timeless Black” which are uptempo blackened death metal anthems. They just flat out rock. And what I love about the album is that even though this is “extreme metal,” the songs are memorable which is something that’s not always easy to achieve within the genre. I suppose it’s like deafheaven in that regard, though stylistically different.

The album never lets up from start to finish BUT the songs are so strong, it’s never overwhelming at all. Things get really amazing at the very end with the epic closer “Deep Red.” The song is as vicious and catchy as anything prior. It’s just bigger and longer. It ends first with a fury and then a glorious peaceful end.

Cloak does not reinvent the wheel with “To Venomous Depths.” Sure there are things that I’ve heard before and they aren’t uniquely identifiable. But they write well crafted songs and are really good musicians who sound great. This is an album that deserves checking out by anyone who loves well written progressive death metal.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:

  1. To Venomous Depths / Where No Light Shines
  2. Within the Timeless Black
  3. The Hunger
  4. Beyond the Veil
  5. Death Posture
  6. In the Darkness, the Path
  7. Forever Burned
  8. Passage
  9. Deep Red

Label: Season of Mist
Bandcamp: cloakatlanta.bandcamp.com/album/to-venomous-depths

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Spock’s Beard – “Snow Live”

CoverSnowLiveThe one album that Spock’s Beard never toured to support was their double concept album “Snow.” Neal Morse left the band immediately following the release of the album (his conversion to Christianity being the reason). So “Snow” was basically left for dead since the remaining band immediately returned to the studio to record their first album without Neal, “Feel Euphoria.” At last year’s “Morsefest,” the current band teamed up with Neal and former drummer Nick D’Virgilio to perform “Snow” in its entirety.

The live album and DVD document the performance and needless to say if you are a fan of Spock’s Beard, this is absolutely ESSENTIAL. The band (including now ex-drummer Jimmy Keegan) sound amazing. The band are clearly enjoying themselves. Neal is very much the center of attention, with Nick taking the occasional lead vocal. NDV does a great job on “Welcome to NYC” which he did not sing on the original album.

While Keegan definitely gets a chance to shine on drums (with NDV), current vocalist Ted Leonard is effectively sidelined and yields to Neal on lead vocal for most of the performance. He finally steps to the fore on “Devil’s Got My Throat” after being basically a rhythm guitarist in the back of the stage until then. It’s a shame because Ted does a great job as usual.

Other than keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, all of the band sing and sing quite well. There are moments when they all trade off vocals, which works very well on “Open the Gates Part 2.” The trio of Neal, NDV, and Ted step forward to sing “Solitary Soul” together and it’s definitely one of the show’s highlights. NDV’s falsetto is as great as ever. Another chance for that great falsetto comes during “Carie” which is still one of my favorite songs on “Snow.” A fantastic performance of it. He sounds great on “Looking for Answers” too!

Alan Morse is definitely one of the most underrated guitarists in all of prog, with his unique style (no guitar pick). Ryo is not only a keyboard wiz but he is always fun to watch. Like any great bassist Dave Meros is rock solid and unfortunately with such a crowded stage, he is left toward the back and doesn’t get a ton of camera time. Neal of course gets plenty especially when things get a bit dramatic during “I’m Dying.” Jimmy gets a lead vocal on “Freak Boy, Part 2” which is very cool. I have to admit that after seeing this, I really wish he hadn’t left the band.

The encores are phenomenal as well. “June” has some incredible vocals by the whole band (except Ryo of course!). And the live premier of the new epic “Falling For Forever” which was originally released on the 2015 compilation “The First Twenty Years.” The song sounds great live and makes for a fitting closer to a truly epic night.

“Snow” always seemed like a clear indication that Neal was going to pursue a more Christian direction with his music. The central character was a Christ figure of sorts and the album is a very positive story of miracles and redemption. Part of me felt that Neal left the band more so he could have more artistic freedom, not that the band ever protested his leadership. “Snow” was the crossroads in many ways for Neal and Spock’s Beard.

This live performance finally gives this album it’s due that it never was allowed. I’ve often been critical of the “Snow” album but this performance actually points out all of the album’s strength and is arguably better than the studio album.

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Photo credit: Joel Barrios

DVD 1:
1. Made Alive/Overture
2. Stranger In A Strange Land
3. Long Time Suffering
4. Welcome To NYC
5. Love Beyond Words
6. The 39th Street Blues (I’m Sick)
7. Devil’s Got My Throat
8. Open Wide The Flood Gates
9. Open The Gates Part 2
10. Solitary Soul
11. Solitary Soul (continuation)
12. Wind At My Back
13. Second Overture
14. 4th Of July

DVD 2:
1. I’m The Guy
2. Reflection
3. Carrie
4. Looking For Answers
5. Freak Boy
6. All Is Vanity
7. I’m Dying
8. Freak Boy Part 2
9. Devil’s Got My Throat Revisited
10. Snow’s Night Out
11. Ladies And Gentlemen, Mister Ryo Okumoto On The Keyboards
12. I Will Go
13. Made Alive Again/Wind At My Back

Encores:
1. June
2. Falling For Forever

Label: Radiant Records
Website: www.spocksbeard.com

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Loch Vostok – “Strife”

a2479108472_16I reviewed the last Loch Vostok album “From These Waters” back when I wrote for PowerofMetal.dk in 2015. It actually seems like a lot longer than that for some reason. I wasn’t as impressed with that album as I was hoping I would be. Now it’s time to give Loch Vostok another shot with their new album, “Strife.” I actually had to re-read my own review of the last album to see what the issues were.

While there’s no mistaking that “Strife” continues the heaviness of it’s predecessor, the one difference I hear is definitely a more progressive/avant garde vibe to the music. It’s less straight up melodeath and more complex while never wandering into noodling. Teddy Möller still has a top notch harsh vocal but the upside is that his clean vocal sounds better. I think it’s actually the mix that helps. The mix by David Castillo is fucking amazing as is the mastering by the great Jens Bogren (of course). So Möller sounds more a part of the music versus being left out too much in the open.

The songs are all really well written and the band sounds very tight. Loch Vostok know how to write a good riff and mix it with enough chaos to make it interesting. “Babylonian Groove,” which starts the album, is a good example of this balancing act. One issue I had on the last album was that the choruses weren’t strong enough but that seems to have been remedied.

“Summer” is a manic attack which is augmented nicely by the keys but it still has a solid chorus. The main riff on “The Apologists Are the Enablers” is one of the band’s very best and the chorus is awesome, making it a favorite of mine. And the riffs are quite strong on “Strife,” from the off-kilter riff on “Cadence” to the full throttle of “Yurei” to the hook on “Ventilate,” it’s all here. The problems are that some of the songs feel quite similar to each other as you get deeper into the album. Also, the lyrics aren’t the most interesting at times. “Consumer” bemoans the addiction to shopping which won’t have you jumping out of your chair.

All in all, “Strife” is an improvement over their last outing. I wouldn’t call it Loch Vostok’s masterpiece but if you enjoy heavy riffs and quirkiness in your prog, it’s certainly worth checking out. “Strife” is modern prog metal in the purest sense of the genre: heavy hitting and making no apologies.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:
1. Babylonian Groove
2. Summer
3. The Apologists Are the Enablers
4. Cadence
5. Forever
6. Yurei
7. Purpose
8. Ventilate
9. Consumer
10. Expiry Date of The Soul of Man

Label: ViciSolum Productions
Release Date: 24 November 2017
Bandcamp: vicisolumrecords.com/album/strife
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lochvostok

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Interview with Mikko Von Hertzen of the Von Hertzen Brothers

1280px-Provinssirock_20130614_-_Von_Hertzen_Brothers_-_20First off, I am a HUGE fan of the band so much so that one of my cats is named Mikko. And yes I do post a lot of VHB related things on the Progressive Music Planet Facebook page. It’s fun to remind you guys when your albums have been released. You guys seem to be very in touch with your fan base. How important is that for you?

Well thank you! I’m truly honored since I believe cats are pretty much the most true and no-bullshitting creatures on planet earth. We do our best to keep in touch with our friends. For me personally, the communication in our social media outlets has to feel natural and genuine. Like music, when communication is made from an “equal ground” then it usually resonates with our “fans” as well.

I have to say the new album “War is Over” is particular amazing. Congratulations on it. The overall vibe of the album is a bit more progressive than the last album “New Day Rising.” In many ways it reminds me more of “Approach” or “Love Remains the Same.” What led to that direction?

We felt a lot of freedom working on this album. After making of New Day Rising, with which we gave a lot of attention to what other people thought we should sound and be like, this time we kind of gave ourselves permission to be what we truly are. Particularly so on the arranging of the songs. We were in no hurry to wrap things up and/or restrict ourselves to certain forms or norms. Quite the contrary actually. The overall feeling in the studio was very positive and almost playful at places. Being the serious minded perfectionists we are when it comes to music, this was quite revolutionary in many ways for us.

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You guys have always had a great sense of melody, even a somewhat pop sensibility. But you always manage to keep things progressive. Is it easier for you to mix in the prog or is it easier for a more streamlined approach to your songs?

You know, all that stuff just comes naturally for us. We don’t really analyze the art we make apart from the mood and experience we want to convey. The progressiveness has to do with who we are and what kind of experiences we had in those tender teenage years when we were growing up surrounded by music. For us, it’s all about the melody, the mood and the genuine desire to create substantial stuff for people to enjoy and experience. Some songs require very little. They are like a simple clear thought in the mind’s sky. Some songs are meant to be huge paintings in which a whole sequence of things are portrayed. It really depends on so many things how the songs end up being.

You also are back with drummer Sami Kuoppamäki, who was on “Approach.” His performance, specifically on the title track, is amazing. What led to this reunion?

Sami’s performance is always outstanding. He is a good friend and an amazing musician. When rehearsing for the recordings, we hardly had to tell him what we were after. I guess he drank the same milk with us when we were kids. So the background and common influences helped a lot to make the album the best we’ve ever made. After touring with New Day Rising it became clear to us that it was time for many changes regarding the band and our partners in business. We wrapped things up with our label, our management and the two members of the band with whom we had played with for ten years. It was all quite natural but sad in a way. Anyway, when we started having the framework for this album, I called Sami and pleaded him to come and play these songs on the record. He luckily agreed and now he will also tour with us. I can’t even say how happy I’m about this. I mean, the world needs to see this guy play. Seriously.

What was writing like for “War is Over”? Was it different than previous albums? You each wrote AND produced your own tracks?

Yes and no. The process of writing was actually pretty similar to the previous albums. We all withdrew to our own little holes and started digging for water. Luckily all of us found some and stuff started flowing. Sharing what we’d come up with, we got even more enthusiastic and that reflected to even more creative juices flowing. Once we had enough material we spent a week going through the songs together and decided which ones to work on. The decision to produce the album ourselves was due to the fact the we pretty much knew how #7 should sound like. We really felt that bringing in a producer would only water down the vision we had. Of course we knew that this meant lots of extra work for us but we have never been afraid of work. So we decided to start by oursleves and share the responsibility of leading the songs to the person who initially wrote them. This worked well and was a good, clear plan for making a great album.

The title and cover are quite optimistic and positive. I know this isn’t a “concept” album per se but tell me about the themes that run through the album.

The “after the war theme” came obviously from the title track, on which we had already worked on a couple of years back. After deciding that we should include this song on the album (War Is Over was the last song to be added on the list of possible album tracks) I had a theme that suited also some of the other tracks. The silver thread that runs through the album is the hope of peace and the struggle and pain of war that preceded that feeling of relief and joy. The traumas, the anxiety and the insecurity… and then the sudden freedom.

Tell me about your upcoming touring plans. I’ve heard one of my favorite bands Kylver are playing with you. Is it just a European tour?

Yea, we are starting out from the UK and were lucky to find really good bands to share the stage with. After spending all our money on making the album we are concentrating on the strong markets first. Namely, UK and Finland. Next year will see us touring central Europe and hopefully a few shows in the US and Japan as well.

Thank you guys for answering my questions and thank you for another GREAT album!

Thanks for your support and regarding answering these questions, believe me, the pleasure is all mine!

My review of “War is Over”: progressivemusicplanet.com/2017/11/01/von-hertzen-brothers-war-is-over

Label: Mascot Label Group
Website: www.vonhertzenbrothers.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/vonhertzenbrothersofficial

War is Over

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Antimatter – “Leaving Eden” 10th Anniversary Limited Edition

Antimatter-LeavingEdenLUThis is a unique review for me. While I am not reviewing the 10 year old masterpiece that is “Leaving Eden” by Antimatter, I am “reviewing” the bonus commentary disc that comes with it. When I say review, I guess that’s not in the traditional sense since it’s not like it’s my place to question the commentary. Instead, let’s look at the commentary as it relates to the music as a whole.

This is tricky because I don’t want to give too much away either! OK no spoilers either! One very important aspect to the album itself is what happened going into the album. Mick Moss discusses the departure of Duncan Patterson prior to “Leaving Eden” and what that meant for the future of the band. He also discusses the connection to Anathema. Was he ever in Anathema? Was Danny Cavanagh ever in Antimatter? These were some of the very interesting stories told during the early part of the disc.

Of course, Mick also discusses each song in detail from every solo to every lyric. I really enjoy how Mick acknowledges each person’s input on each song. Yes this is a “one man band” but the musicians that take part in it are so important to the end result. That is certainly not lost on the man himself. In addition, Mick also talks about the reaction to the album and the songs. Who called Antimatter “the most depressing band ever”? That is another burning question that is answered!

“Leaving Eden” is a depressing album from a mood stand point but given where Mick was personally at the time, it makes sense. And the topics of these songs are universal because we all go thru these things. But it’s Mick’s insight on this bonus disc that just adds to the understanding of the songs. It’s a personal touch that makes me appreciate the songs all the more. Not only do you get this commentary but also two exclusive new remixes for the songs “Ghosts” and “The Immaculate Misconception.” A really sweet bonus!

If there ever was an album that benefits from having an artist reflect on his own music, it’s definitely “Leaving Eden.” This is a look back at not only this album, but a wonderful 10 years of Antimatter with Mick Moss at the helm. For me, this is Antimatter. And it all starts with this great album. If you don’t know the band, you need to change that. “Leaving Eden” is a fine place to start. If you are a fan, you need to BUY this special edition, because it defines the word “special.”

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Label: Prophecy Productions
Puchase it from Antimatter here: http://antimatter.bigcartel.com/product/leaving-eden-10th-anniversary-double-digipack-w-handwritten-lyric-sheet

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A Special Conversation with Hamlet of Transport Aerian on his new album “Therianthrope”

I’ve had a very interesting friendship with Hamlet of Transport Aerian. I’ve definitely not loved his music all the time but I am always honest with him and he is quite the same in return. He asked me to take part in an experiment of sorts. Rather than do the traditional album review and interview, he thought of basically combining the two. So what you have here is me playing his new album “Therianthrope” and reacting to it in real time while talking with Hamlet. Honestly, I really enjoyed this experiment! This is NOT your typical interview at all. Enjoy!

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Progman Rob: Ok we are off with track 1. Well that’s a nice uncomfortable start. Castanets! It sounds like a death march and it’s surprising so far that it sounds cohesive given that the musicians had no clue what they were each doing.

Hamlet: In the “normal” songs musicians were just improvising. The “blind improvisation” are only Abstract Symphony songs.

Progman Rob: Ok so this is the former?

Hamlet: This one is pre-written, with improvisations by Paul Sax, Elvya and Dyian recorded with one take. But even in the “normal” songs, musicians weren’t told what to play.

Progman Rob: Ok that makes sense, “Smoking Sirens.” I liked the chorus…

Hamlet: Smirking!

Progman Rob: You sound great, but don’t let that go to your head! Oh there’s a note…very impressive and it works well.

Hamlet: What themes does this make you think of?

Progman Rob: very dark. death gloom, depression. Maybe I need more coffee?

Hamlet: I think you might require quite some if you want to survive to the end of this.

Progman Rob: I thought the violin provided some hope within all of the darkness though.

Hamlet: It’s about the irrational fears and paranoid aspect of the depression, and also about how an irrelevant element in everyday life can trigger it. I remember shuffling through the vinyl records in the local store and bumping against some famous pseudo-jazz starlet on a poster looking right through me. When a person dealing with these mental issues, anything can be a trigger. The song is attempting to describe it.

Progman Rob: And I can relate to that. I’ve been triggered by less.

Hamlet: Yes, I believe everyone who suffers from this has that. But that’s where the music starts: to describe it to those who aren’t one needs a strong image.
That seemed like a strong enough one. As for violin: I’m very very happy that Paul Sax (Curved Air, Praying for the rain) joined in. He really knew exactly what the song needed to become beautiful, as it’s otherwise rather monotonous.

Progman Rob: The song is the place where those thoughts wind up.

Hamlet: Exactly.

Progman Rob: Yeah plus castanets. Who doesn’t love castanets?

Hamlet: Don’t you think an out-of-place piece of arrangement can add a lot of gloominess? [wink]

Progman Rob: It adds discomfort and makes sense on that level.

Hamlet: Yes. Discomfort. I like the word.

Progman Rob: So track 2 is up, “Pitchfork Martyrs.” I am liking this already.

Hamlet: Lovely!

Progman Rob: Malevolent Pop

Hamlet: Or a cabaret satire?

Progman Rob: Somewhat like Crimson on Broadway. Belew era to be clear on that.

Hamlet: And it has the seed of that era. Irony and satire are the seeds of this one.

Progman Rob: The guitar reminds me of Bowie’s player Reeves Gabriels.

Hamlet: Peter Matuchniak did all the guitars here! He thinks in terms I can’t and I think it adds what’s needed.

Progman Rob: Shape throwing guitar

Hamlet: Association. I think the initial skeleton I’ve made had the seed of cabaret pop, and that’s what it has started revolving around in the end.

Progman Rob: I think that one would make a good “single.”

Hamlet: The theme could be too evil for that.

Progman Rob: I always found cabaret to be evil but that’s me.

Hamlet: It’s a satire for the modern day populism – not the one that comes from top down, but the one in brains of people standing in lines to buy another discriminative cheap cartoon magazine. I generally stay away from social topics. But racism and xenophobia anger me beyond measurements. And that’s what it is about.

Progman Rob: there’s plenty off things to satire with today’s society of idiots.

Hamlet: Yes, exactly. I remember that magazine portraying drowned boy as a future rapist. It has been totally accepted by our highly educated first world society. yet, if somebody ever dare to touch them… That’s where satire ends. It only can hurt the defenseless. It’s disgusting.

Progman Rob: Indeed it is.

Hamlet: So yes, pitchfork martyrs. Pretending to be martyrs, preparing pitchforks for those who dare to speak up. We don’t need repressions to control the crowd – the crowd is already enough by itself.W hat does this have to do with an album about mental illness? Well, just the realization of this state of things can make any thinking person mentally ill.

Progman Rob: “Let You Never Perish” is next, track 3. Well now, this is half comfortable and half not.

Hamlet: What happens if Hamlet tries to write “a normal” song.

Progman Rob: So maybe call it let you never get comfortable with notes.

Hamlet: its me, JoJo Razor on female voice and Darren Brush on a warr gutiar! In fact, he plays the instrument he has built himself from the scratch!

Progman Rob: I love the guitar for sure!

Hamlet: it looks like a warr guitar, but it has different shape and more strings. Lovely instrument, and I always thought I want one eventually on one of my records.

Progman Rob: Not into the track other than that to be honest. Obviously it never lets you get too close to it.

Hamlet: I think it means I did exactly what I intended. A sense of something disjointed, feeble.

Progman Rob: Why am I not surprised? hahahaha! Disjointed is a good word for that one.

Hamlet: Self-pity has place in any mental state, and this one speaks of it not only in lyrics but in its very form.

Progman Rob: Next is “Destroy Me” which probably will…

Hamlet: Title says a half. Lyrics say the other half. And the choice of voice correlation explains why.

Progman Rob: I prefer your fake drums sounding more fake.

Hamlet: These are no drums though. I think in trip-hop context drums are allowed to be looped. In this song its only me and Rachel Bauer, who also sang for Darkblue

Progman Rob: Yes that’s what I mean. To me, they should be clearly programmed. I like the vocal a lot. Tranquil, yet it’s riding this edge…

Hamlet: She has this very distinctive timbre, that you won’t get from a singer with school. It’s natural and I never tell her how to do it.

Progman Rob: The synths are on the verge of something which adds to it nicely.

Hamlet: I wanted this song to be supressive.

Progman Rob: Yes that’s the word for it! It sounds like it will explode but doesn’t.

Hamlet: As any well-suppressed pain, that will never be spoken – for the sake of saving what’s built carefully. Any family eventually devour each other into one blended two-back creature and pains are not to be spoken anymore, but to be kept deep inside.

Progman Rob: Which I can relate to.

Hamlet: Anybody can, I fear. Which is why I wrote it this way and the next one is the inner world meets outer world! Abstract Symphony are all blind improvisations based on musicians perception of common world concepts. I only put pieces together and played some drums and eventually bass to bind the images together.

Progman Rob: “Information Field” sounds like information overload.

Hamlet: I asked the guys to describe the internet.

Progman Rob: A lot of things pushing at you.

Hamlet: Note that here musicians had no idea what the others play, neither did I edit the tempos or the tonality – just put it together. Stefan Boeykens – acoustic guitar, Marco Ragni – keyboards, Darren Brush – chapman stick, Peter Matuchniak – frippian soundscapes, Elvya – dulcimer, Me – bass/drums. That’s the line up we used for this experiment. Also, Stef Flaming of Murky Red played on two tracks.

Progman Rob: An acoustic guitar trying to smooth it over before giving up. The internet is basically the human mind on overload anyway.

Hamlet: Indeed. That’s why its called “Information Field.” I don’t know if you heard of the theory of Neosphere?

Progman Rob: I haven’t.

Hamlet: That the human minds create a sort of “new dimension” of the atmosphere, totally made of thoughts and ideas?I think despite that it is obviously not quite a scientific theory, it does in one or another way exist.

Progman Rob: It does make sense on a very common sense level. “Saturate” is the next track.

Hamlet: I asked them to describe the strongest emotion.

Progman Rob: Blasts of guitars and powerful keys!

Hamlet: Marco Ragni decided that organ is the great way of describing BIG emotion, and I sort of abused it as the main frame of this song.

Progman Rob: It works on that level. Spoken word as well…

Hamlet: was Rachel’s idea. After the first playback she said it lacks the binding element.

Progman Rob: Many improvs do though.

Hamlet: So she uttered random words from one of the poems. It is not many, it is totally improved. As other Abstract Symphony pieces, it is blind.

Progman Rob: I love that last guitar riff and then it ends!!

Hamlet: Accepting the compliment but it does belong to Peter Matuchniak who did that!

Progman Rob: Damn him!

Hamlet: Ok, bass and drums were mine, so I take a bit of it too. I’m not much of a drummer, but knowing context sometimes serves better than being technically impeccable.

Progman Rob: “September” breaks from the “Abstract Symphony.” Why did you break from it?

Hamlet: I didn’t want it to be a classic prog 5 pieces epic.

Progman Rob: Yes because your twisted avant-garde will remind people of “Supper’s Ready.”

Hamlet: Also, because the themes evolve according to a classic panic attack dynamics, and the next Abstract Symphony is about pleasure that will later turn into a guilt.

Progman Rob: This is a very nice track.

Hamlet: I wrote it when I was 15. I love revamping old songs, because they often come before the time they should have.

Progman Rob: Wow so why go back and use it now?

Hamlet: Because often songs get born before they should have. The ideas are eternal, and sometimes they seem to mistake who to and when to come. Of course, it sounds richer now – i have years of experience and a fantastic line up!

Progman Rob: The vocal has a Devin Townsend quality so I like that. Also, I like the guitar solo as well.

Hamlet: Stefan Boeykens and his unique style. I’ve worked with him since 2008, he never lets me down! He’s not your typical guitar player, he tries to play like he is, not like anyone else. It’s very pure and it suits Transport Aerian entirely.

Progman Rob: I think you and your 15 year old self have a winner with this track.

Hamlet: Hahaha, I might have!

Progman Rob: A well written and arranged track.

Hamlet: And light. I mean, not as grave heavy as I normally do.

Progman Rob: That’s very true. I think you need to show your other sides.
And now, “Lovemeat.”

Hamlet: Abstract Symphony! Asked to describe a whore. Also asked Stef Flaming of Murky Red to play some guitar above the improvisation. The interesting point here is: the more abstract the concept I ask to describe the more “together’ the blind improv go. the more particular or subjective the concept – the more disjointed and wider the variation. In this case it was half: to check the variation field on a very subjective matter and the other half to make a song representing a desire that will drown the lyrical subject into the depths of guilt.

Progman Rob: A whore that’s nice?! Hmm, this isn’t what I would have expected…but then I am just starting and now it’s changing a bit. This track is definitely more “together.”

Hamlet: It was the biggest struggle to put this one up. Everyone had different idea! It’s a very subjective concept.

Progman Rob: It actually sounds like a written track and not improv at all, which is a complement. It has a Floydian vibe.

Hamlet: Stef and his guitar.

Progman Rob: Quite nice!!

Hamlet: I think it won’t be much of a secret that his soloing is very Floydian.

Progman Rob: The end is quite interesting but also works well.

Hamlet: The end is Peter Matuchniak’s acoustic guitar.

Progman Rob: It’s interesting that that piece is a bit of an island from the rest of the “suite.”

Hamlet: If I remember correctly he was telling me that playing the acoustic guitar like that feels “naked”. And I think his dynamics there add a lot of unexpected emotions.

Progman Rob: An unexpected ending to a nice piece.

Hamlet: I’m must be honest, I’m surprised you liked it! It was such a tough birth process I barely enjoy this track myself, although I admire the musician’s effort of representing this concept.

Progman Rob: Usually when other people don’t like something, I do. Artists included!

Hamlet: But Rob, that’s also related to me, and you know what dividing by zero often gives!

Progman Rob: hahaha! And “Eternal Guilt” is next…

Hamlet: Yes, a reason why the Symphony is spread. After pleasure comes guilt. In this case – primordial guilt that will never find the cure. All the song – only me and Darren Brush on Chapman’s stick so all the instruments that are not stick I played. And nope, drums aren’t fake, played on hybrid acoustic/electronic drumkit. (as in all the other songs, by the way)

Progman Rob: Rhis is what I think of when I think of you. A complex vocal. The venom is dripping.

Hamlet: I think vocally its the most “technical” piece, but I think my voice has a lot of different edges, and the anger one is probably the strongest.

Progman Rob: And kudos on your drumming “prowess.”

Hamlet: It’s super simple 4/4 beat but with a lot of creativity with sounds.

Progman Rob: It works for the song. This one is about the vocal and guitar line. Nothing should get in the way or else.

Hamlet: Yes, guilt can be devastating and to explain it, I chose the only suitable method.

Progman Rob: Guilt is something we all live with. The hard thing is not everyone admits it.

Hamlet: Yes, again. It’s an album about very personal demons, but they reside in anyone, which is what I was trying to show by combining the conventional and very personal songs with Abstract Symphony where the “outer” world was described. “Therianthrope” – is everyone.

Progman Rob: I think it does work to weave between those worlds on this album.

Hamlet: Yes, another answer to the question why not one 5 parts epic.

Progman Rob: It all becomes obvious eventually. “Poor Things Need (A Common Interest)” is part IV of the Symphony…

Hamlet: A mix between an Abstract Symphony and the song. It started as a blind imrpov, but it was so song-like so I made a lyric and vocal line (also some primitive drum beat and a bass line).

Progman Rob: Yeah there’s a direction to the music that lends itself to lyrics.

Hamlet: I asked the guys to describe pop music but I meant more than that.

Progman Rob: Pop music is more vapid than this!

Hamlet: It’s another sarcasm piece, also a bit on racism, on ignorance. “The human zoos and sunburned necks”… Did you know that there was a picture from something that almost turned into a human zoo from 68? It’s not even a half century ago.

Progman Rob: I didn’t know that but it’s not a surprise.

Hamlet: This song is for everybody who still want that back. And there are many. I saw the faces of people on these photographs. They enjoy it. They see nothing wrong with it. It’s only the modern laws that prevent them from doing it all again, not morals. Poor things. Need a common interest. And so do we.

Progman Rob: “Lions” is the next track.

Hamlet: The song is about alcoholism. I also wrote this one many years ago, and only now recorded properly.

Progman Rob: Guilt leads to alcoholism of course.

Hamlet: In fact, I allowed Marco, Peter, Stefan Boeykens, Darren and Stef to do whatever they want with a skeleton and they came up with a huge space arrangement. So I only credit the concept, vocals and percussion here as not much of the initial song left. But I think it works. And lyrics explain the rest.

Progman Rob: Yeah the music is very improv for one of the “song” pieces. A lot of tension on this one. We drink to quiet these demons and the music is a lot like those demons

Hamlet: Spot on.

Progman Rob: It helps that I used to drink I suppose.

Hamlet: I think I’m hitting all the buttons of the same issues. Either they’re universal, or you are hit by brothers of my demons or both, but I enjoy that you understand every concept with your skin.

Progman Rob: When you spend as much time in your own head as I do, there’s not much choice but to try to sort it out. And this end sounds like an attempt to sort it all out. Attempt, because it doesnt quite sound “sorted out” but a nice solo section.

Hamlet: Stef and his Floydian feeling again. The first part is soloed by Peter, much more aggressive. I must say, its unusual for me, but I enjoyed staying back and not playing guitar. These guys know how to pull the right strings.

Progman Rob: each solo works well in that section, edgy leading to more relaxed. They did a nice job there. And now “Immortals” which is Part V.

Hamlet: Yes. Can you guess what I asked to describe?

Progman Rob: Afterlife?

Hamlet: God.

Progman Rob: OK close.

Hamlet: And everyone played in the same scale and in the same tonality. Darren said ‘but I’m an atheist!’. I said ‘describe the universe then.’ In fact, I wanted a piece about love. Just read/listen to the spoken word lyrics, and there are all that you need to know about this song.

Progman Rob: I guess the spoken word is needed since there’s a lot of space. But I am not a fan of spoken word in anything.

Hamlet: its more of a conceptual piece than musical. First of all, the fact of blind unity in description of such a cross-cultural concept is astonishing.

Progman Rob: It does make sense as a way to explain the song.

Hamlet: Second of all, its the idea of the only salvation, but very vulnerable one. Immortality of the moment of love, followed by and preceded by death, fear, pain. Love, that is. Everyone who experienced it, know what I try to describe, but fail. As many many artists before me. That’s why God. And that’s why immortals.

Progman Rob: Love is the one thing that SHOULD unite everyone but fear will always prevent that.

Hamlet: I think more of love between two people, rather than between all people. I don’t think unity of humanity is possible. I think momentary salvation in loving someone is possible. But then it brings the fear of loss.

Progman Rob: I agree with that.

Hamlet: And that’s how this album ends.

Progman Rob: With “Last Years of Peace.”

Hamlet: Yes. There is a Russian movie, which I quoted in lyrics. In this movie, an immortal wizard has a mortal wife. And at one point she goes to sleep and he stays at his books and whispers to himself “I’m immortal, I’m destined to outlive you… Praise the heroes, the brave who dare to love even with knowledge that it all will end.” And this is the main idea of this song. Last years of peace for you and for me – not for the world as there is no peace – war is everlasting. It’s about the moments of peace between two that is destined, doomed to be over.

Progman Rob: There’s a hopelessness once you realize that it must end. Everything has an expiration date including that kind of love. I love the instrumentation on this one.

Hamlet: Hopelessness and love come together, even in happy couples. For we are not immortals forever – just for the moments and yes, Stefan Boeykens on acoustic guitar, me on the rest and again Paul Sax and his violin, this time dueting with Elvya’s dulcimer in the ending section. I think they did astonishing job here.

Progman Rob: The dulcimer sounds perfect and the violin weaves around it.

Hamlet: She’s absolutely fantastic musician. Her solo album is probably the best independent album I’ve heard at all, so after hearing this I really wanted to work with her. Well, 3 years later it happened! And Paul just has it. His feeling of music is spiritual. He knows exactly what to play and when. I wish we could do some shows together one day, really.

Progman Rob: A very nice ending to the track. Peaceful but tense ending to the album too.

Hamlet: I don’t know if it’s peaceful. I think there’s a lot of pain in it, not even mine – Paul and Elvya finished for me what I started.

Progman Rob: That’s the tension I was hearing I guess. I think there’s a good flow to the album. I do agree with splitting up the more improvisational pieces. Also there are plenty of emotions that are well represented as well.

Hamlet: I think if you managed to understand the themes without me explaining much, then I succeeded with what I intended. Which is why this sit and talk format works for this one – its more of a statement than an album.

Progman Rob: I think so. And I like this approach as well. So when is “Therianthrope” out?

Hamlet: 17 November! Besides normal world wide digital release, we prepared a very special limited edition package. It’s hand-made, it has a separate artwork card for every song, and there are very few copies will be available. The best way to get one will be on Melodic revolution records store, mrrmusic.com (or to drop by one of the live shows, as I plan a set of some special, chamber and intimate ones to play this live).

Progman Rob: That should make for an interesting interpretation live!

Hamlet: I plan a three-piece line up, with a lot of ambience, acoustic instruments and probably violin or flute added. No drums, no rock-format shows; Only intimate poetic evenings.

Progman Rob: Hamlet, thanks for sharing the album with me. Thanks for thinking of me to be a part of this.

Hamlet: well big thanks for your time and for very in-depths conversation. I really enjoyed talking with you – nothing had to be explained at all.

Website: transport-aerian.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/transportaerianproject

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Posted in ambient, art rock, avant garde, experimental rock | Tagged | 1 Comment

Von Hertzen Brothers – “War Is Over”

War is OverLet me just start by saying that I love the Von Hertzen Brothers. I’ve loved every album and really they can do no wrong in my eyes (and ears). Having said that, I was not prepared for just how amazing their new album “War is Over” turned out to be. If VHB needed a “definitive” album, they certainly have made one with “War is Over.” The album showcases ALL of the sides of the brothers: prog, pop, rock, their great sense of melody and powerful lyrics.

The album starts with the epic title track which is now my favorite VHB song ever. It’s bigger than ever, bolder than anything they’ve done and for me, their most purely progressive song ever. It has sections, transitions and a truly memorable chorus. It’s one of the best songs of 2017. It also COULD have been what I call a “black hole” song. A “black hole” song is one that’s so great that it sucks the rest of the album into it and you forget the other songs exist.

The good news is that the rest of this album is so strong that the title track does not make them wilt and die. Part of the magic of this album is that the brothers went off and wrote songs separately. When they reconvened, each one produced the songs that they wrote. Rather than having a disjointed album, it allowed each track to be unique from the other songs. You remember EACH song in the process. Mikko wrote and produced “To The End of the World,” “The Arsonist,” “Frozen Butterflies” and “Beyond Horizon.” Kie wrote and produced the epic title track, “Who Are You?,” “Long Lost Sailor,” “Wanderlust” and “Jerusalem.” While Jonne wrote and produced “Blindsight.”

Another bit of good news was the return of drummer Sami Kuoppamäki, who was on VHB’s first album “Approach.” He immediately makes his presence felt on that title track. The drumming on that song alone is absolutely insane. OK so about the other songs. “The Arsonist” is that catchy prog pop that VHB do so well. It’s probably one of the few tracks that would not have sounded out of place on their last album, the arena rock album “New Day Rising.” But the track is perhaps more complex while still having an awesome hook.

Other songs I love range from the insistent rocking of “Frozen Butterflies” to the near gallop of “Long Lost Sailor.” “Who Are You?” is another favorite because of how long it just simmers. You know things are going to boil over but it’s that tension that keeps it you on the edge. When it does kick in, it actually punches you a couple of time before really going on. Amazing arrangement of an awesome song. Jonne’s “Blindsight” has an awesome bass line (of course) but also a bit of a Middle Eastern “slinkiness” to it. Of course, it has a killer chorus too!

The album closes with the equally epic “Beyond the Storm” which bookends perfectly with the title track. It just doesn’t get better than this. “War is Over” is a true masterpiece and a defining moment for the Von Hertzen Brothers. By breaking down their sound, they’ve combined all of the things they’ve learned over the years into one cohesive musical statement. This is one of 2017’s best albums and a candidate for my album of the year.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:
1. War Is Over
2. To The End Of The World
3 .The Arsonist
4. Jerusalem
5. Frozen Butterflies
6. Who Are You?
7. Blindsight
8. Long Lost Sailor
9. Wanderlust
10. Beyond The Storm

Label: Mascot Label Group
Website: www.vonhertzenbrothers.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/vonhertzenbrothersofficial
Release Date: 3 November, 2017

Posted in modern prog, progressive rock | Tagged | 1 Comment