XSyntax, Watermusic, 2017

xsyntax - watermusicXSyntax is the alter ego of fellow Dutchman and synth enthusiast Richard Aardenburg. Richard claims to be influenced by Rick Wakeman, Jean Michael Jarre and Tomita and describes his music as a mix of EDM, ambient, downtempo and urban. And this is his first release.

Alas I am not an expert in these genres. All I can say is that since most of the songs have beats in them, EDM seems closest, with a bit of ambient here and there. But maybe that’s just me.

For him, music is like water, so it can come in different modes and shapes. So where I was expecting songs around a theme of water, this is not the case here. Instead we get songs like the calm Dream On, the uptempo Technix V where sequencers and beats dominate, or the mid tempo Caravans In The Desert.
There are 11 songs and a bonus track on the album, and most of the songs are around 3 minutes.

I think the ideas are there, but XSyntax needs to work a bit more on finding a good balance in the mix. In some tracks certain parts are so much louder, they drown out the rest. What is good is that he keeps trying to find new sounds to use. Also he always works with melodies, but could sometimes do with a bit more arrangement. A drum computer and a melody does not always give enough body to the songs. But again, that is just my opinion.

If you are into the genres mentioned, check for yourself!

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Darryl Way, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock, 2018

darryl way - vivaldi's 4 seasonsSometimes life as a reviewer is easy. And in this case it is. For those of you who do not know Darryl Way, he is one of the founding members of Curved Air where he delivers the violins. Curved Air recorded a track called Vivaldi some 50 odd years ago and this CD is essentially giving a bit of a rock treatment to the whole of the Four Seasons from the classical composer.

Now a bit of a heads up; when I say rock, in this case that means that bass, drums, rhythm guitars and layers of synthesisers have been added to the movements. The original melodies are still played on violin with only some embellishment in the slower parts.

So what does this re-interpretation leave us with? Well, Way knows how to play and does the music justice. Is it very different? No. Does is rock hard? Again, no, don’t think that was the intention.

This is a well done version, with a bit of extra spice here and there. Nothing more and nothing less. If you like rock and enjoy classical music, this will work since you will be familiar with most of the melodies. If you hate either, avoid. I like this version for what it is.

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Fernando Perdomo, Out To Sea, 2018

fernando perdomo - out to seaNow here is a guy that has been making quite a name for himself in recent years. Touring and recording with Dave Kerzner, or playing with some of the biggest names in the biz is surely not a bad thing. Also the fact that Fernando played most of the instruments on this album himself, is only more testament of his talent.

So what do we have here? Out to Sea is a man showing his skills. But instead of showing off, he is translating that into songs. Songs with a capital S, where melodies galore, where the vocals are never missed. With light and dark, so they take you places.
Even when I feel a bit equivocal about his tributes to for instance Peter Banks in The Architect, to Focus in De Boerderij or to Roye Albrighton in The Future According To Roye. This because these songs are so damn close to those artists, it’s almost hard to believe they are original. Yet in a way I guess that is a big compliment in itself!
Still, for me, focussing on his own inspirations gives us more than enough tasteful songs. Prime examples being The Dream or the 16 plus minute epic Dreaming In Stereo Suite.

All in all a wonderful instrumental prog album that is firmly rooted in the Seventies, from a man blessed with a great sense of melody and the capability to shine on just about every instrument he touches. Go check it!

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Souls Of Deaf, Fortune Favors The Bold, 2018

Souls Of Deaf - Fortune Favors The BoldWell, since the stats on my blog tell me that this is review 1000 (98 classics and 902 regular), it makes me very happy that fate has it that this concerns the debut album from Souls Of Deaf! Do I hear you think Souls Of Deaf? Yes SoD are a new band from the (South of) the Netherlands, so chances are you have not yet met them.

Which is a shame because for me this is easy one of the highlights in the year so far. And not because founder Sander Stappers is a close friend. That would be cheap. No, I love this album because he managed to write 10 songs that offer a fresh take on hard rock and metal from the heydays, modernised it, and stayed far away from standard formulaic songs. And still the tracks have power, sound logical and show a diversity that is remarkable for a new band.
The latter may be due to the fact that all the guys involved are no new kids on the heavy block but seasoned musicians, often active in several bands.

I am not gonna talk you through the album, this is one to discover for yourself. And mind you, I said diverse, so don’t go judging it on 1 or 2 songs or some quick sampling. No, this is an album to dig into, listen from start to finish and hit repeat. Only after a couple of spins you will understand the magic at work. The clear and heavy sound of the CD (thanks to Erwin Hermsen from Toneshed) will make enjoying it even more easy.

An amalgam of Guns ‘n Roses, to Rush to Dream Theater to Motörhead to Ozzy, this delivers a kick in the face that will leave you wanting more!

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Yuka & Chronoship, Ship, 2018

yuka & chronoship - shipAnother new name for me, but a band that was formed in 2009 and consists of Yuka Funakoshi (keyboards and vocal) with experienced session musicians Shuna Taguchi (bass), Takashi Miyazawa (guitars) and Ikko Tanaka (drums). This is album 4 for them.

The first 7 songs deal with the Greek mythology of Argo and special guest Sonja Kristina stars on the opening Tears Of The Figurehead. Which turns out to be a short and fairly mellow introduction. Because the next track The Ship Argos really sets loose a vibrant progressive work-out. Vocals are mainly used as instrument here, and there is some stellar guitar playing to admire along with some catchy hooks. Talking of catchy, what this band does really good, is writing themes that attract your ear. So even when much of the album is without actual singing words (8 of the 11 songs are instrumental), I never missed a singer there. Be it keyboards (hammond!) or guitar, they will find a way to send a convincing melody your way. So the story of Argo is told with a bunch of tracks that sit really well together and offer an exciting view of the qualities the band have to offer.
The remaining 4 tracks are of the same high calibre. And 2 of those have some lyrics to enjoy (like I mentioned, the voice is used as an instrument in other parts). Even when Visible Light is in Japanese, (you get a nice English translation in the booklet) the performance just fits the music.

As an added bonus I would like to compliment the open and transparent, yet powerful sound of the album. Very good release that every prog rock fan must listen to!

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Hillsphere, Florescence, 2018

Hillsphere - FlorescenceLots of prog releases and debuts have been arriving here at YMB HQ, and this one doubles as both qualities apply. Hillsphere are a new Dutch prog rock / metal band and Florescence is their way of saying hello to the world. The band are a 5 piece in a familiar prog band setting. Who have decided they’d like to start with a concept album. Bold move!

The album opens with the beautiful and melancholic title track on keyboards whose only problem is that I would have loved to hear more of it… Next track The Breeding Of Us gives us more insight in what we can expect. Modern synths, heavy guitars, dynamics, riffing and soloing. And a band that cares about melodies, even in instrumental pieces. Next up is Home, which is again instrumental, but like Florescence, it is short even when this time mainly based on ambient synths. On track 4, Our Physical Way Of Speaking, we hear vocals for the first time. And they are a combination of clean melodic singing and in part aggressive screaming. For me they could have been more prominent in the mix, but hey, that is a matter of personal taste. The song itself is again very dynamic, something the band proves to be very good at. Which is of course always a bonus as that opens up every album.

The album has 4 more tracks, with a special mention for closer Clairvoyance which I love to bits. The 8 tracks  and almost 50 minutes of music have proven to be a pleasant listen. Lots of emotions, great playing, melody in abundance, job very well done! Congrats to the Layered Reality label.

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Mile Marker Zero, The Fifth Row, 2018

mile marker zero - the fifth rowHere the first album from Mile Marker Zero, at least the first one I have listened to, as this marks the album that made me aware of them. But as it turns out, they have been around since 2005 and already have released a couple of EP’s and a full length in 2009.

And maybe that bit of history explains why the band sounds so mature. Everything on the album has a thought behind it it seems, and the result is, simply put, quite mindblowing.
Yes I can honestly say that the modern prog on offer is having a very positive effect on how I feel when I listen to it. Even when I am bad with comparisons, I regard it a mix of, say, Coheed & Cambria, 30 Seconds To  Mars, a bit of Rush and Spocks Beard, and with the late Chris Squire playing bass. But the best thing is, they have managed to avoid sounding like any of them, and created their own identity.
And the energy pouring from a track like The Architect is just awesome. The riffs and the melodies hook you in and refuse to let go. And then to end it with a bit of violin playing over a kind of film soundtrack, just great.

I could go on and on about how I love this CD, but my advice to you is: if you consider yourself to be serious about modern exponents of prog, then you MUST hear this album. Killer.

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Weend’O, Time Of Awakening, 2018

weend'o - time of awakeningAh, a French band. And with a female vocalist, should be interesting. Especially when the press sheet talks about a subtle (!) mix of rock, atmospheric prog and metal. Think Pink Floyd mixed with Tool with Anneke van Giersbergen singing.

Well I am not so sure about the name dropping, but what I am sure about is that the band did manage to pull off an interesting album that is indeed succeeding in mixing atmosphere and rock. With a message calling out to keep faith and hope in a world in conflict, as an added bonus.

In true progressive style, the album holds 3 parts of Time Of Awakening, a seperate track in Angel Dust and then 2 parts of Elea.. Together the 3 part title track clocks in at 20 minutes and is a showcase of the styles and talent present in the band. I am not sure about the history of the band, but it all sounds very mature. Lots of dynamics. And they can rock too, with the transparent voice of Laetitia Chaudemanche (who also wrote the lyrics and played keyboards) able to shine over anything the band throws at her. Talking of the band, Terence Nguyen Van has a crisp guitar sound and plays in service to the song, even when it becomes clear he is a gifted player. Bass is provided by Maxime Rami and Nathanaël Buis drummed and created the beautiful artwork. Together they lay down a solid foundation.

All in all a very pleasant surprise, a very moody and melodic album. Will be interesting to see how they develop!

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Hadal Sherpa, Self Titled, 2017

hadal sherpaFrom Finland comes this 5 man instrumental progressive rock band. And while we have discussed instrumental prog here before, Hadal Sherpa manage to add a new dimension to the sounds previously under scrutiny. The album came self released in June 2017 and landed on my desk earlier this year.

So what sets these guys apart from for instance Sunrise Auranaut or Murder And Parliament? Well, one of their main melody instruments is the flute. I think that this not only gives a sometimes folky feel to the melodies, but because of the nature of the instrument, also creates leads that are easy to follow and very melodic. Some of their work has a wonderful Eastern flavour to it. Check for instance Chafa Azeno.
And now on to the guitar. It is of course obvious to use the guitar as a solo instrument. But these guys treat their rhythm guitars a bit more different than usual. It’s often more about the groove and feel of the songs, than it is about power. One could consider it more funk than rock, but in this case it works just fine.

I think the best thing about an album like this is that you never miss the vocals. All songs grab you, with good melodies, from whatever instrument they chose to put central stage.  So the 8 tracks and over 68 minutes entertain me with ease.

Great job, beautiful artwork too by the way, and an album that crosses borders so should also be of interest to people outside the prog community.

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Tonochrome, A Map In Fragments, 2018

tonochrome - a map in fragmentsBeen listening to this album on and off the last couple of weeks. Released on Bad Elephant Music, this is not your typical prog album. And of course that is a good thing in my book.

Singer and main songwriter Andres Razzini is aware the music does not fit in a neat little box, so when the press sheet talks about a mix of jazz, pop, rock and grunge, you’d better believe it.
And while mixing things up is truly progressive (at least in my humble opinion), in this case it does not result in a disjointed affair at all. The music is moody and often melancholic. It also caries an embedded emotion which, combined with the lush arrangements, makes it a pleasant listening. It never is heavy or overly technical, yet the interested ear will notice the deceivingly simple sounding stuff that is testament of the quality on offer. A couple of interludes add extra dimensions to the songs, and serve as a way to give them even more depth.

For me personally the wealth of styles and the quality of the songs creates an impact. Especially when played back to back, the 41 plus minutes of music fly by and leaves you wanting more.

So not fragmented at all, just a beautiful album that deserves your attention. It should also interest people that are more into mainstream music.

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