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2011

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Machiavel, Eleven, 2011

machiavel  - elevenTo many people Machiavel will be mostly associated with their early period and albums like Mechanical Moonbeams (1978) or New Lines (1980). Nothing wrong with that, as those are great albums which every serious lover of things progressive ought to own. But what probably not enough people are aware of, is that the band are still releasing new material every now and then. And in my ears, these albums all are up to par with their back catalogue. So let´s try to raise awareness for this great Belgian outfit and talk a bit about their 2011 release eleven.

Opening with Here Comes The Crash, I am reminded of Billy Sherwood area Yes, especially in the fantastic chorus. Vocal harmonies are plain beautiful. Which can be heard throughout the album as there are several accomplished singers in the band. Feel The Sun is mid paced and the e-bow guitar gives it a bit of a U2 atmosphere. Again a song that is easy on the ears and will appeal to a large audience. Machiavel excel in writing short songs with great melodies. In that sense one could say that they take a pop approach and the pure symphonic rock of their early days seems far gone. Yet here and there their roots are still audible. And of course their songs go way beyond the formulaic approach of modern music as these are real musicians that play real instruments. For me there is little point in discussing all the songs on offer. Trust me when I say this is another highly recommended release!

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Devin Townsend Project, Ghost, 2011

devin townsend - ghostDevin Townsend. The guy that screamed his way through the Sex & Religion album from Steve Vai? Who released several seriously heavy metal albums with Strapping Young Lad? Who put out a string of solo albums with a wall of sound? That Devin Townsend, yes. Guess that kinda makes us expect something pretty heavy now don´t it? Well if that is the case and also what you need, do not read any further.

Because dear readers, Ghost is anything but heavy. Instead we hear acoustic guitars, flutes, keyboards, some drumming, ethereal vocal harmonies and serene vocals. Very dreamy songs, ambient like. This is a big surprise. Not because I don´t know he is capable of doing this. He has done this type of music before, but always a part here, or a track there. Never a full 72 + minute album. Very relaxed and moody, but what a wonderful album, I keep hitting the play button. This is such an intense experience, it almost hurts. Beautiful is not covering it at all… Buy at sight!

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Symphony X, Iconoclast, 2011

Symphony X - IconoclastBeing the usual late me, I still thought it was worthwhile spending some words on this band and release. After all, in my humble opinion progressive metal hardly gets better than made by this outfit. Why you ask? Well, then you probably don´t know the band, it´s members or it´s music.  So let me explain:

Singer Russel Allen is so good, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen refers to him as Sir Russel Allen. Whether it is raw, low, high, ferocious or emotional, this guy pulls it off in a style and class that is way beyond reach for most of us mere mortals. Then we have Michael Romeo. There is shredding and there is shredding, and I don´t know how many hours he put into mastering the six strings, but he is one mean dude on the guitar. And still knows when to kick things back and just open up with a simple melody. Michael Pinella on keyboards is a match to the virtuosity of the others, and has no problem soloing either. Michael Lepond on bass and Jason Rullo on drums form the perfect tandem to steer this band into the right direction without ever losing track. Both are excellent at their game as well. Well as we all know there are many excelling players out there, but what makes this band special to me, are the songs, and especially the way they incorporate the backing vocals. Between all that technical stuff, all songs are carried by great melodies and harmonies! Also they have a keen ear for arrangements and avoid firing on all six all of the time. Add to that the often majestic orchestrations and the winning formula is in display.
So yes, sometimes a lot is happening, but rest assured that these songs are out to get you. And they will…

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Yes, Fly From Here, 2011

Yes - Fly From HereWhat do you call a band, that exchanges band members like other people change underwear, and still manage to sound like nothing ever changed at all? Well, the obvious answer of course is Yes. Here joined by the great Benoit David (Mystery, check them out!) on vocals and Geoff Downes (Asia) on keyboards. And wait, Trevor Horne is producing…. So we have part of the Drama line up back (an underrated album if you ask me). Or is this an upgraded version of The Buggles? Madman At The Screens sounds like an amalgam of those two. So is it a question of ” the more things change, the more they stay the same” ?

Well the easy part is saying yes (pun intended). After all, it is rather uncanny how much this sounds like the band, no matter what incarnation of it. Yet, I cannot say this is not viable. The only man to be part of all things Yes, Chris Squire, is still a part of it (duh!). And Alan White on drums and Steve Howe on guitar are of course no strangers to the band and the sound either.
Most important, I really like listening to this. I like that it is comfortable, without becoming predictable. They are just so damn good at what they do. It never feels like a cash in, it is much to playful for that. Yes are known for their musicianship, so no exceptions here. Their sound is bigger than who is on board I guess, so if you liked them in the past, you will dig this surely as well. For me, I like this any day of the week!

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X-Panda, Flight Of Fancy, 2011

x-panda - flight of fancyMany bands claim to make progressive music, but the way I see it, X-Panda from Estonia (and not Latvia as I said in the first version) are one of the few that deserve to make that claim. I think it is pretty rare that an album that is in essence filled with complex rhythmic structures, jazz-fusion chord progressions and heavy guitar riffs is able to make a connection on the first spin. Must be due to the melodies! Because if these boys understand one thing, then it is how to combine all their influences into songs that you can sing along to…

So no matter how much they experiment with triplets on odd time signatures, go soloing their way over lengthy epics, or stun you with their technical abilities, they bring something special. Is it the choir they use? (think Carl Orff or Therion), is it the real life orchestra instruments they added here and there? Or because the quartet (!) infused a lot of emotion into their craft? Don´t know…

But what I do know is that this album made a big impression! It may be largely instrumental (although bass player Tamar Nugis has a wonderful voice he puts to good use in 3 of the 11 tracks), I never once did miss that. Stunning work, and an essential purchase for any serious lover of progressive music!

Website

Black Country Communion, 2, 2011

Black Country Communion - 2With a title like this, it takes little imagination to figure out that this concerns album number two from the rock super group that is Black Country Communion. After all Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham all are respected musicians with an extensive career. And let us not forget producer Kevin Shirley, whose contribution we should not underestimate.

When reviewing the first album, I already said I wanted more. And more we got, as that third album is also already available. But this one delivers the goods for anyone who is into Led Zeppelin vibes, coupled with heavy blues infused rock. The Bonham grooves are at it again and they are powerful. The lead vocals are traded between Joe and Glenn and despite their obviously very different styles, they match. There are vintage moments, intimate parts, extended soloing, just about everything we need.
A track like Save Me would have made Page and Plant proud, and it still does not sound like a rip off. The moods presented are just great, and that orchestral riff is awesome.

It is tempting to repeat myself so I will make this short. This is another great collection of songs by a great band. Mandatory listen!

Website

Magic Pie, The Suffering Joy, 2011

magic pie - the suffering joyWhen I started this blog, now a little over 3 years ago, Magic Pie was among the first bands to get a feature here. So I am really happy to write about them again, as I believe this band is criminally underrated. But maybe that is just my misconception, and all you guys and girls already own this album?

Anyway, just in case some lines about why I like this band so much. Should you not be aware: this is a progressive rock band, and they frequently use the hammond organ (yummie!). Their songs will tick all the right boxes for any conservative member of the prog rock community and I still think they are a modern band and enrich their music with a lot of contemporary ideas. So you still have the epics, (A Life´s Work with 24 minutes and Tired with 15 minutes) the instrumental parts, solos, dynamics, and whatever we think necessary. But also fantastic vocal melodies, awesome harmonies, intricate arrangements and more exotic instruments like the flute. And all played with style and an awesome level of energy. And more musical ideas in one song than many can put in a whole album. And still without me ever getting a lost feeling.

So you bet I like this band and fully recommend them to all of you that are still reading. I mean, all the others already own this, or?

Website

Minutian, Repercussions, 2011

minutian - repercussionsRepercussions is the debut album for Finnish progressive metal band Minutian. The biography I got describes this as “a diverse serving of music, showcasing the band´s characteristic style of audaciously mixing unconventional rhythm patterns and arrangements with familiar, time-tested elements. Sonic landscapes alter between placid motions and menacing walls of distortion, ushered by various time signatures.” … In other words, it is a progressive metal record with some lighter moods and complex song structures.

And complex is a key word here. I found it hard to connect to parts of the album. Only after repeated play familiar melodies and themes present themselves. Although I must admit that especially the more lighter parts and songs are really good. There the song becomes more important than the technical abilities of the various band members. On the other hand, within this genre many fans delight themselves with as many notes and time signatures they can handle.
For me, that is a road less travelled. I always look for identity, feel and just plain good songs. Don´t mind some complexity and love originality, but a catchy melody never hurt anyone either. So the ideas and abilities are there, but to me the only way higher up in the food chain will be to focus on the things they do best and leave some of the muscle play behind. That will make them a serious contender in this genre. Still it is a first album, so very promising at all levels! Fans of the genre, head on over to their website and start listening!

Hurtsmile, Self Titled, 2011

hurtsmileSinger Gary Cherone is probably best known for his work with the band Extreme. But besides a sadly very misunderstood album with Van Halen (III) he has been involved in many more things, a lot of which have found a home in my collection. Hurtsmile is one where his brother Mark is handling the guitars in. Yet in all honesty, many times during playback I was reminded of his times with Extreme. Especially the criminally underrated Waiting For The Punchline album and the Three Sides To Every Story record.

In my ears, this shares the groove with that big brother. And Mark turns out to be about as versatile as Nuno Bettencourt. Somewhat less of a shredder, but still a talented player. And Gary is, well just Gary. His voice is very familiar, as are his melodies. Also song wise I hear similarities.
And is that a bad thing? Well not for me actually, as I am quite allright with this type of rock. Maybe the references to the work of Extreme makes it more easy for me to get into this. It will not win them an originality contest, but for fans of Extreme or their brand of funked up rock with many clever arrangements, this is a pleasant find. Oh, and the Dylan impersonation in The Murder Of Daniel Faulkner is hilarious…

Website

Telergy, The Exodus, 2011

telergy - the exodusAnd now on to something different! Brainchild of producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Robert McClung, Telergy has set out to translate the bible book The Exodus unto music. And instead of shrinking it down to song lyrics, he did it with instrumental songs! In between you can hear a grandmother tell parts of the story to her grandson, but a lot of the tale is left to the music and your imagination.

Of course which such a grandiose project you need help. Se we get people on cello and violin, flute, didgeridoo, choir, and Hebrew vocals. McClung uses quite the range of instruments himself: guitar, bass, ukulele, lap steel, balalaika, keyboard, etc. So as you will understand the album utilizes a range of styles and moods. From sparse violin in Pleading, orchestral in Plagues, progmetal in Enslavement and Escape (with Orff like Choir) to more world music in Pharao´s Revenge, acoustic in Avadim Hayinu or Wandering. And that is not all…
I read some comments saying that it would have been better to separate the songs from the storytelling, but personally I think it works just fine this way. Still Robert let me know in the future he will edit them into separate indexes.

So all music lovers with an open mind, a lot of beautiful melodies here, both in the more heavy parts as in the intimate pieces. Great work!

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