Crippled Black Phoenix – “Ellengæst”

Justin Greaves must be either unlucky or a pain in the ass to work with. The leader of Crippled Black Phoenix has lost the majority of the band twice now. The first time was back in 2014 when members tried to take control of CBP before leaving en-masse to form Vly.

Now in 2020, Daniel Änghede, Jonas Stålhammar, Daisy Chapman and Mark Furnevall have left to form their own band Venus Principle. Each time Greaves stated that it was great to have a new start without all the negativity. And yet the common thread is him. Regardless of whatever drama follows him and CBP, the music cannot be denied. The question is can CBP rise again from the ashes.

And now we have a new album “Ellengæst” which means “mischievous demon.” Autobiographical? Kidding. Musically, it sounds like the more lumbering side of CBP rather than the atmospheric Floydian side. “House Of Fools” and “Lost” both hit hard and show that CBP is back once again and perhaps with more aggression. Since the band have always had male vocals and female vocals (Änghede was the male vocalist), guest vocalists were used on the album. Vincent Cavanagh (Anathema) applies his talents to the opener “House of Fools” and I wish he had been on the whole album.

Belinda Kordic is still very much a member of CBP (of course) and her vocals on “Lost” stand up well to the thundering percussion that Greaves deals out. There are few times that samples work but CBP are a band that use them well especially on the start of “In the Night.” Unfortunately the problem on this track is the spoken guest vocals by Gaahls Wyrd that are basically a hush. It just doesn’t work for me and Änghede is definitely missed. The song soldiers on and it does get bigger as it goes, with a fantastic solo.

“Cry of Love” has guest vocals by Suzie Stapleton and Ryan Patterson. Yes more guests. Musically the song is a galloping romp and kicks ass. Once again, the vocals hold this one back. Patterson just doesn’t have any color to his voice and Stapleton is lost in the mix. It’s a shame. With a strong vocalist, both of these last two tracks would be stellar. On the moody “Everything I Say,” Kordic reminds me a bit of the late Natasha Shneider of Eleven. It’s an imperfect perfect vocal that fits the song well especially when the chorus kicks in.

The epic “The Invisible Past” has (yep you guess it) another guest vocalist, Jonathan Hulten of Tribulation. His voice and style really fit CBP and I’d love to have heard him on more tracks. You know, like those ones in the middle of the album. Musically, the track reminds me of those Floydian type tracks the band are good at, though this song is perhaps even more cinematic sounding.  Plus it’s a study in how to use dynamics, as half way in CBP get lift off. Excellent track and the best on the album.

I think “The Invisible Past” would have made a better closing track then the Bauhaus cover “She’s in Parties.” If you like that classic gothic band, you are all set. They’ve never done anything for me and this version of the song doesn’t change that. This cover would fit well on CBP’s “Horrific Honorifics” which was aptly named. What a mess that was. So the album ends on a sour note for me.

The bottom line is that Crippled Black Phoenix just don’t feel like the band they were. Rightly so, since the band has turned over twice now. The first time worked out okay, though I always preferred the band that was on the pre-Season of Mist albums. Unfortunately, without a strong vocalist and what seems like no real direction, “Ellengæst” is decent at best but really a let down. Moreover it seems like Greaves is leading what he calls the strongest incarnation of Crippled Black Phoenix (not even close) to date into what sounds like a third and final act.

Rating: 7/10

  1. House Of Fools
  2. Lost
  3. In The Night
  4. Cry Of Love
  5. Everything I Say
  6. (-)
  7. The Invisible Past
  8. She’s In Parties

Label: Season of Mist

Release Date: 9 October 2020

 

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Gargoyl – “Gargoyl”

The self titled debut album by Gargoyl can be summed up as Alice in Chains meets Voivod at an Opeth concert. I could just stop there because I think that’s gotta interest a lot of people. And it should! This album was a surprise for me. Taking some obvious yet very different influences and making them work is fascinating. The band was founded by guitarist David Davidson of Revocation and Luke Roberts (Ayahuasca) on vocals and guitar. Each provide the cornerstones for the band’s sound.

The album opens with an a capella song “Truth of a Tyrant ” which is like the Alice in Chains barbershop quartet. Ok maybe not that extreme but you do get an idea of Roberts’ vocal abilities and how easily he would fit into AIC. “Plastic Nothing” kicks in with a climbing riff and chords that the late Piggy of Voivod would love. Once Roberts starts singing, you’ll get my opening description.

It’s definitely worth noting the other members of the band. Drummer James Knoerl is amazing and can basically play anything. Brett Leier has a rumble to his bass tone that does remind me of Blacky. Another favorite track is “Electrical Sickness” which has some fucking insane chords on it that sit atop Leier’s killer bass line.  The mellow “Wraith” is where the Opeth comparison comes in. Opeth has covered AIC. This sounds like AIC covering Opeth.

“Ophidian” has Roberts harmonizing with guest vocalist Jocelyn Barth which just makes for an even odder than usual vibe. Yes I love that. Then there’s “Waltz Dystopia” which starts off like a lost Vulture Industries track before blasting into a frantic Voivodian groove. Amazing. “Acid Crown” is yet another great song that adds some sax to Gargoyl’s sound. The sound eventually gets quite Floydian the process. However, it’s more like Voivod doing another Floyd cover (which they are known for).

To be clear, none of what Gargoyl does sounds like a rip off of any of these bands. They manage to take these clear influences and mix them together to make something new and very interesting. Just when I find myself getting bored with new bands, Gargoyl comes along and twists my brain. Are they grunge? Are they metal? Are they prog? Yes they are all of that and more. By the way, there is no E on the end of the name. This was not a typo but this IS an album you need to check out.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. Truth of a Tyrant (2:30)
2. Plastic Nothing (5:55)
3. Cursed Generation (4:20)
4. Electrical Sickness (6:10)
5. Wraith (5:01)
6. Ophidian (4:42)
7. Nightmare Conspiracy (5:17)
8. Waltz Dystopia (6:18)
9. Ambivalent I (3:58)
10. Acid Crown (5:09)
11. Asphyxia (5:07)

Label: Season of Mist
Release Date: 9 October 2020

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Enslaved – “Utgard”

For me, Enslaved can do no wrong. But still, many artists have come to disappoint me (you know who they are). Fortunately with “Utgard,” Enslaved continue to be one of the great bands of our time. The band seems to evolve just a little bit on each album while maintaining the core of their sound.

With their latest album “Utgard,” Enslaved incorporate the progressive expansion of “E” with the stripped down approach of “Vertebrae.” It’s like taking pieces of each album and creating their next step. The result is a 45 minute masterpiece of progressive metal. They trimmed away some of the fat and leave the listener with the perfect combination of complex yet almost direct music that Enslaved have ever made.

One highlight of the album is the clean vocals of new drummer Iver Sandøy, who also is been the co-producer.  Sandøy has a grit and rasp to his voice that the band hasn’t had before. His performance just adds another layer to a rich album. Keyboardist Håkon Vinje had been the only clean vocalist and still adds some as well. Of course his keyboard work is stellar as is was on “E.” The clean vocals really shine on both vocals and keys on two of my favorite tracks, “Sequence” and “Distant Seasons.”

Speaking of drums, let’s not forget the band had to replace long time drummer Cato Bekkevold who was a cornerstone of the band’s sound. Sandøy understands Enslaved’s music well, so the band never miss a beat (sorry about the pun). The band still maintain their black metal roots thanks to bassist Grutle Kjellson and his dry choked out harsh vocals. There are many harsh vocalists that I just can’t take anymore but Grutle is not one of those. He can shift from a violent growl to a sinister grumble without losing power. Plus his vocals just make the clean vocals even more powerful.

The album kicks off with “Fires in the Dark” which starts with chants, an acoustic guitar and eventually a guitar line that sounds exactly like Robert Fripp. Yep, Enslaved. The song has the feel on a march that Grutle is preaching over. The song takes off and you are swept away. It’s a killer opener in the great Enslaved tradition.

The band has so far released 3 tracks prior to release: “Jettegryta,” “Homebound,” and “Urjotun.” “Jettegryta” is a snarling beast of a track which lets everyone know that Enslaved still have their edge. “Homebound” is the prog/groove metal track which ramps up to hyperspeed from time to time. It made an excellent first single. This is one of the songs that shows the raspy vocal approach that Sandøy adds. So much more emotion and power! The song also has a killer guitar solo. “”Urjotun” starts out with some new age synths and a rattling bass line from Grutle. This is a track that I could hear on “Vertebrae.”

In the middle of the album is the short, spoken piece “Utgardr.” I’m not a huge fan of that sort of thing but this piece is eerie and powerful. It’s a nice bridge between the first half of the album and the second half. “Flight Of Thought And Memory’ is an all out blitz on the verses while being lush and grand on the chorus. It’s classic Enslaved. And I love “Storms Of Utgard” which has a Maiden style gallop mixed with a ton of atmosphere. Enslaved are the kings of dynamics and this track underscores that.

I am always thinking that Enslaved will somehow run out of amazing ideas and music, yet they never do. “Utgard” is easily one of their best albums and that’s saying something because Enslaved have so many masterpieces to their credit. The lineup may have changed but the band never stop putting out incredible extreme prog metal. This is a candidate for album of the year.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

1. Fires In The Dark
2. Jettegryta
3. Sequence
4. Homebound
5. Utgardr
6. Urjotun
7. Flight Of Thought And Memory
8. Storms Of Utgard
9. Distant Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Bandcamp: https://enslaved.bandcamp.com/album/utgard

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Jakko M. Jakszyk – “Secrets & Lies”

2020 has been a terrible year. Fortunately the music of 2020 has been amazing. InsideOut has released a lot of great albums this year and here’s a look at one of the latest. Current King Crimson frontman Jakko Jakszyk took avantage of the lack of Crimson touring to record another solo album, “Secrets & Lies.” Jakszyk is a talent in his own right so it’s great for him to get the spotlight.

Jakszyk has an amazing voice which is all about the rich tone and his ability to emote. Of course he is one of the guitarists in Crimson so yes he is an amazing player as well. The music on “Secrets & Lies” is very much about the song versus some great virtuosity. Sure there’s amazing playing. You have Robert Fripp, Gavin Harrison, Tony Levin, and Mel Collins of King Crimson plus Mark King (Level 42) and Peter Hammill (VDGG), so there’s all kinds of musicality.

But there’s memorable hooks and great melodies as well. “Before I Met You” is a menacing opener and a great tune with Levin on bass. “The Trouble With Angels” could have been on the “A Scarcity Of Miracles” album which he recorded as part of Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins. That project led to Crimson’s reformation. “Fools Mandate” has a Peter Gabriel vibe while “The Rotters Club Is Closing Down” is just a great ballad. The latter has some very tasty guitar lines…and isn’t that Fripp in the background?

“Uncertain Times” actually reminds me of something off of the Sylvian / Fripp album “The First Day.” Harrison’s drumming on the whole album is amazing but he adds something very Crimson to this song. There isn’t a way to escape the amount of Crimson DNA that’s all over and through “Secrets & Lies.” This especially comes from Jakszyk. It goes even beyond that he has been a member. The influence is a part of him which is why he has been a great fit for the band. Another highlight of the album is the chorus of “It Would All Make Sense” which would not sound out of place on a John Wetton album. The guitar solos on that song are also stunning.

“Secrets, Lies & Stolen Memories” has some stellar orchestration by Nigel Hopkins which provides a bed for Jakszyk’s guitar to lift off and soar from. It’s a well placed instrumental and points out that he could have a soundtrack career. “Under Lock & Key” is very Gabriel-esque rhythmically, and has another great vocal too. It was written with Fripp and has his fingerprints all over it.

The mostly a capella “The Borders We Traded” has layers and layers of backing vocals which shows yet another side of Jakszyk’s talent. This leads to “Trading Borders,” a song written by his daughter, Amber, who also plays piano on the song. It’s a lovely instrumental with a Celtic slant to it. The album closes with the Fripp / Jakszyk song “Separation.” It sounds like King Crimson because it was written for the band. Add in the band plays on it…you have a Crimson song in all but name. A definite highlight.

It goes without saying that if you love King Crimson, you really need to check out “Secrets & Lies.” But this also makes an excellent way for prog fans who have never checked out that band to get a safe entrance. “Secrets & Lies” is the not a King Crimson album but like any member of that band, the music has a flow and vibe that is unmistakable. We may not have a new King Crimson studio album but this will definitely do.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Before I Met You (05:41)
2. The Trouble With Angels (05:30)
3. Fools Mandate (04:13)
4. The Rotters Club Is Closing Down (04:06)
5. Uncertain Times (05:00)
6. It Would All Make Sense (05:25)
7. Secrets, Lies & Stolen Memories (02:45)
8. Under Lock & Key (04:06)
9. The Borders We Traded (03:05)
10. Trading Borders (02:32)
11. Separation (06:43)

Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: October 23rd, 2020


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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 22

Albums that you should consider checking out. First is the latest from the German collective Panzerballett called Planet Z. The main difference on this album versus past albums is the use of guest drummers. The list of drummers is quite impressive too: Marco Minnemann, Virgil Donati (Planet X), Grammy Award winner Morgan Ågren (Zappa), Gergo Borlai (Tribal Tech) and Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Blotted Science). You might think that shifts like this would cause the album to not flow well. Consider that this is Panzerballett so crazy changes are common.

Leader/guitarist Jan Zehrfeld ensures that the signature jazz prog metal sound is always present. He also chooses great songs for each drummer. And each drummer is able to put his own stamp on the song as well. Personal favorites are the opening track Prime Time with Donati and Open Your Mind with Ågren. But my two top favorites are the ones with Borlai, “No One is Flying the Plane” (incredible track) and the closer “SOS.” Perhaps he just FITS Panzerballett the best? The bottom line is that “Planet Z” is essential if you love instrumental prog with amazing playing. And if you are sick of bedroom guitarists with their computerized drums.

Next up is a one man project by the multi-talented John Bassett (of Kingbathmat fame) called Arcade Messiah. Arcade Messiah started out as an instrumental band but has evolved into something more akin to his main gig by adding vocals to it. “The Host” is the first album not to be named with a number. Musically, it doesn’t differ to much from the previous albums.

Bassett can write a good riff and this album does have quite a few of those. While I did enjoy when Arcade Messiah was all instrumental, Bassett has a great voice so it’s nice to hear it on “The Host.” My only complaint is that the drumming is not as over the top as the guitar work and tends to lag a bit behind. Sorry. But overall, this is a fine addition to the Arcade Messiah catalog.

Finally, while they aren’t “prog” I am LOVING the new album by Doves called “The Universal Want.” The band remind me of a cross between Elbow and Thrice. Since I love both of those bands, Doves are a new love. They mix alt rock with art rock and a bit of post prog as well. The songs on “The Universal Want” are all top notch: great hooks, great melodies and  a ton of atmosphere! This album will definitely be one of my favorites of 2020.

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Ihsahn – “Pharos” EP

Ihsahn decided on releasing two EPs versus one album. He split the tracks into two buckets: heavier and more melodic. The first EP was “Telemark” which was released earlier in the year. That was the heavy one. Now we have “Pharos” which is the more melodic one. Now this doesn’t mean each EP doesn’t have elements of both sides on each. Ihsahn isn’t that one dimensional. Rather, I would say “Telemark” sounds overall like he tends to sound, while “Pharos” is more of a leap.

And because of that leap, I think “Pharos” is one of the best things that Ihsahn has done. For those who just can’t handle harsh vocals or any sort of black metal, this EP is a great way to understand why Ihsahn is so great. All three original tracks are great SONGS. “Losing Altitude” starts off mellow before finding a cool groove midway through. And yes it also has a really cool, weird ass riff to keep things interesting.

“Spectre at the Feast” is ridiculously catchy, but still very much an Ihsahn song. I think his clean vocals are often passed over because of his great harsh vocals. This guy can fucking sing. This song proves it. The title track veers from ballad to…well it has this sway to it, and then it gets really gothic. There’s a lot to unpack on this song which is one of the things Ihsahn is good at. He can take you so many places and never lose you.

Just like “Telemark,” “Pharos” closes with two covers. The first cover is the Potishead track “Roads.” The cover is very true to the original which means it pushes Ihsahn into his upper register vocally. And he nails it! It’s a beautiful cover of a beautiful song. The other cover is even more interesting, a-ha’s “Manhattan Skyline.” For this one, Ihsahn taps out on vocals and brings in his good friend Einar Solberg of Leprous. Ihsahn is a massive a-ha fan as it turns out and he does a faithful version which songs incredible. It also closes out a perfect EP.

Those of you who prefer Ihsahn stick to his black metal roots might want to just revisit “Telemark.” But if you are like me, you enjoy when Ihsahn pushes the envelope. An EP like this might not seem edgy for the average prog musician to release but “Pharos” is a showcase of the creativity and genius of Ihsahn!

Rating: 10/10
Label: Candlelight/Spinefarm
Release Date: 11 September 2020

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The Pineapple Thief – “Versions of the Truth”

Let’s get this out of the way. Having been a fan of Bruce Soord and the Pineapple Thief since 2002 or prior, I’ve yet to not love every album released. The new album “Versions of the Truth” is no exception. TPT is so reliable as a band that I can pre-order an album such as this one without having heard a note and know I will enjoy it. The question is just how much will I enjoy it.

Where does “Versions of the Truth” stack with the other albums, especially the last 2 that have had Gavin Harrison on them? I really like “Your Wilderness” but I LOVE “Dissolution.” It was a bit more varied and wasn’t afraid to get in your face as needed. “Versions of the Truth” is somewhere between those albums for me. In fact, it feels like a combination of them.

“Your Wilderness” had a mellowness, a subtlety to it…sometimes to a fault. “Versions of the Truth” does bring that back more into the sound. The title track is a prime example. It glides and doesn’t pound. Harrison is able to add more to a highhat than any drummer I know of. Ok there aren’t those massive fills but he finds a way to inject life into a song.

The songs on “Versions of the Truth” remind me a bit of classic TPT as well. Many are more direct and to the point with only “Our Mire” being somewhat “sprawling” at 7 and 1/2 minutes. So this album is definitely about the songs, and the topics of the lyrics. I won’t go into too much detail about the lyrics since I think listeners should have a chance to interpret as they wish. However, the title track addresses when opinions are more important than actual facts. People prefer a point of view they agree with to any sort of facts that don’t support said view. So is there one truth? “It’s not how I remember it.”

On “Break it All,” Soord asks “What version of yourself have you been listening to?” I love the riff on this track, it has some pop to it which underscores the venom in the subject matter. “Demons” was the first of the 4 singles released from the album thus far. Musically, it’s a bit funky and has an awesome groove. It’s songs like this that show the depth that this band (and Bruce Soord) have always possessed. “Driving Like Maniacs” would fit in well on “Your Wilderness.” This is the more mellow side of the band.

“Leave Me Be” is an acoustic based track which, though a mellow, does have some moments of power and the guitar solo is very cool. I mentioned “Our Mire” because it was the longest track and since this is a “prog” site, I figure people are curious about that sort of thing. The song isn’t about noodling since that’s not what TPT does. Rather this song has great playing and awesome dynamics. This is definitely my favorite track on the album and ranks with anything the band has done.

Yes, the album does have more space in it. Meaning, there aren’t too many instruments or layers to clutter things up. Stripped back a bit maybe? “Stop Making Sense” is a good example. You can hear each instrument and how they interact with each other. Plus I love vibes. Who doesn’t? I do wish the band would have cut loose a bit more but again, TPT don’t follow a pattern. This is not the same as their last album yet it “Versions of Truth” has plenty of the band’s DNA all over each track that you know who it is. That’s what I love about bands that I find to be special. YOU KNOW WHO IT IS! This is the Pineapple Thief and “Versions of Truth” is a great album by them.

Rating: 9.5/10
Labe: Kscope
Release Date: 4 September 2020
Buy here: https://burningshed.com/store/thepineapplethief




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Simon Collins – “Becoming Human”

“Becoming Human” is the fourth solo album by Simon Collins, also known as Phil’s son. It comes after the 2013 release of a stellar album by Sound of Contact “Dimensionaut” on which Simon was the lead vocalist and drummer. Former SoC colleague Kelly Avril Nordstrom joins Simon on “Becoming Human.” While there’s a hint of SoC here and there, this album is not a follow up to “Dimensionaut.” Instead, it embraces electronica way way way too much. Robbie Bronnimann is listed as keys, programming, and sound design. Two things that I do not need: a lot of programming and sound that needs to be “designed.”

While Simon sounds great vocally, his drums often don’t sound like he is playing them. Yes in some cases it’s clearly programming but in other spots the drums sound incredibly flat. I don’t expect the gated drum sound of his dad but this is really dull. Songs like “The Universe Inside Of Me” are so over run with technology they are more annoying than listenable. And while “This is the Time” does survive the overuse of programming, it makes me wonder just how great the song would be in Bronnimann had never shown up for the sessions. “I Will Be Waiting” reminds me a bit of “In the Air Tonight” but again, there are so many beeps and blips that the song is really wrecked. The drums sound good at the 4 minute mark at least. Oh well.

The 9 plus minute closer “Dead Ends” start off with excellent use of synths to give atmosphere. The start of the song is great! Well, until the shitty electronica shows up once again to rip the heart out of what could have been an awesome song. “Becoming Human” is a rather ironic title since the album is dominated by computers and tech. Simon Collins – “Becoming Synthetic” would be more appropriate. The songs underneath all of this clutter are pretty good but when you have to deal with headache inducing technology, it prevents any real enjoyment from happening. Again this is NOT Sound of Contact…unfortunately. That ship has sailed whilst this ship sank under it’s own weight.

Rating: 3/10

Label: Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 4 September 2020

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Exist – “Egoiista”

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Other than the music itself, I suggest making the purchase this week as the release date was 8/28/2020 and first week sales do make a difference therefore please support the East Coast progressive metal of Exist!

Are you looking for a sign that you should purchase the new Exist recording entitled Egoiista?  This is that sign.  This is progressive metal that reminds me why I tracked down used Cynic, Watchtower and Fates Warning CDs pre-Amazon in the mid-90s.  Wine takes too long to age for this metaphor; I’ve listened to these songs for a month and these songs are finally starting to come into focus.

Guitarist/vocalist Max Phelps, bassist Alex Weber, and new drummer Brody Taylor-Smith will satisfy your need for old-school Cynic as well as present what progressive metal sounds like in 2020.  

(background of Max Phelps and his association with Cynic and Death tribute Death To All omitted because you probably already know that)

I appreciate the multiple vocal deliveries with obvious influences from Cynic & Death.  One aspect I want to hammer on is how the songs have a focus on the slower-side of the tempo range (not necessarily doom or sludge) versus frenetic speeds which some prog-metal veers toward.  Four of nine songs are around 9 minutes or above but that doesn’t mean there are 78 concepts in a 10-minute song.  

It’s hard to put into words… if Exist intended to write long-ish songs that don’t feel long, have strong melodic hooks and rhythmic qualities that grow over time and fall into place like Tetris, mission accomplished.  For me there is something satisfying about listening to a song for the 5th or 6th or 16th time and “understanding” something about it that is new this time around.  How I hear a melody from a vocal line played on guitar in a not-obvious place in the song; Easter eggs the kids today might say.

Hat tip to Anup Sastry (Devin Townsend, ex-Intervals) and Mike Semesky (Ordinance, Raunchy, ex-Intervals/The HAARP Machine) for drum and vocal production respectively and Adam Bently for the excellent mix.

There are chill-quiet-melodic sections, deliberate techy riffs, jazz metal solo breaks, layered vocal harmonies, sporadic (read: tasteful) blast beats, really everything I know you require from your music.  

Rating: 8.75/10

Bandcamp: exist.bandcamp.com/album/egoiista

Label: Prosthetic Records

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Traveling back to 1997!

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Over the course of the last…how many years have I been doing my internet radio show…let’s say 5 years, 6 years, I have done shows that focus on specific years. I’ve done all of the 70s individually. I did a show on the 80s as a whole in an effort to prove that prog survived that decade. I have done various shows from the 90s to present day. One year that I haven’t focused on is 1997.

When I decide to do a year, I immediately think that there won’t be enough music to cover 2 hours. Somehow I always have enough and it turns out that there’s a ton of great music from 1997. No I am not going to tell you what I am playing. You need to tune into www.metalworldradio.com on Sunday August 30th at 10am EDT, 3pm UK for the LIVE show! If you can’t make it, the show gets rebroadcast on www.deliciousagony.com on Tuesday September 1st at 8pm EDT. PLUS, I post all of the shows to mixcloud.com/progressivemusicplanet so there’s no excuse to miss this!

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