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symphonic rock

Arc Angel, Harlequins Of Light, 2013

Arc Angel - Harlequins Of LightJeff Cannata is back with another Arc Angel album! If life was fair, that would have been enough to let millions of people run to their favourite record store and pick this one up… Alas, many people still are not aware of the genius that is Cannata. So I, along with many others I am sure, still revel in his majesty and enjoy his latest release.

Amongst his fans Cannata is loved for his ear for melody, his skills in combining melodic rock structures with more symphonic style elements, his outstanding productional skills and his songs. He always strives for the best record possible (he seems a bit like Tom Scholz in that respect), so we get another run of of his classic track Fortune Teller on this one, as if he´s still looking for the definitive version. But fortunately there are 11 other songs on offer, and all are the way we want them. Maybe a bit more guitars here and there, but his somewhat hoarse voice still carries these tunes. As are his multi instrumental contributions. All songs are still catchy, they are still rich in textures and variation, and they still are as addictive as honey for the bees.

So again an album that oozes class from the first to the last second, from an artist I would have loved to have 20 or so albums from. Still, I cherish everyone I have, and keep hoping for more. Magical as always, what can I say: BUY!

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The White Kites, Missing, 2014

the white kites - missingTo the list of Polish progressive bands on their way to an international crowd, we can now add The White Kites. Claiming to be inspired by British rock from the 60´s and 70´s (Pink Floyd, the Zombies, Genesis) they set out to create a world of epic stories, humorous sketches and humble ballads. Filled with distorted guitars, rumbling organs, flutes and the mesmerising mellotron.

And yet, the two names first popping up in my mind were Jethro Tull and Camel. This because of the flutes and because of the mostly mellow nature on the material. I do recognize the inspiration of the sixties and seventies, as it is clearly rearing it´s head throughout the album. In that sense The Beatles might also be a reference here. And it is the overall sound of the album that makes this reference a valid one. No over compressed heavy guitars, not all levels to the max. Instead a CD full of breathing room, dynamic and paying tribute to the days of old. Where it all was about songs and stories, about melodies and about writing an album, instead of delivering a couple of greats, and fill the rest up with, well fillers. Some parts might be looked upon as more theatre than actual songs, but in the whole of the album, that works just fine for me.
I liked listening to it, its fragility here, or pop sensibility there, just is okay with me. And if that is all right with you too, go check these guys out!

Website

Classic: Genesis, Trespass, 1970

genesis - trespassBeing one of modern history´s most successful bands, it is of course neigh impossible to choose the one album that says it all about Genesis. So instead of that route, I choose this, their second album.

Why you ask? Well first because this already shows the charisma Peter Gabriel has. His voice cuts through the music like a knife through butter. His delivery already as capturing as the stage theatrics the band was developing.
Second because the nexus of Tony Banks (keyboards) and Mike Rutherford (guitars and bass) are already in place and developing their skills. On this album Ant Phillips played guitar and John Mayhew handled drums. After this release they were replaced by Steve Hackett and Phil Collins and the rest, as they say, is history.

Third: in the 6 lengthy songs much of the band´s sound is already rearing it´s head. Mellotron, acoustic guitar, flute, various time signatures, dynamic arrangements, you name it. So from here the band went to create some timeless classics and sold a whole bunch of records. With the follow ups of songs like Looking For Someone, Visions Of Angels or The Knife, that is more than fair.  Maybe not their best, and probably not their most successful. Yet a testament of things to come. And things were often stunning…

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Classic: Fish, Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors, 1990

fish - vigil in a wilderness of mirrorsFor those of you who are not familiar with Fish, he is the guy that sang Kayleigh with the band Marillion. After leaving them, he started a solo career, and this was his first, and to some best effort. Luckily for him he got off on a good start as the song A Gentleman´s Excuse Me was a bit of a hit here and there. And rightly so as it is a beautiful ballad like song with a great lyric. Which is common to Fish, as he takes big pride in writing those.

Another track on here that was heavily rotated on MTV at the time (when it was still a rock channel, where are those days) is Big Wedge. Uptempo, upbeat and overall a cool symphonic rock track showcasing the man´s talent. But there is more on here worthy of your undivided attention. Opener Vigil starts atmospheric and then develops in a sound akin´his former band. It´s chorus is catchy as autumn flu! State Of Mind is a slow brooding song with fabulous bass courtesy of once Simple Mind John Giblin. On drums we find Big Country´s Mark Brzezicki, on keys Micky Simmonds and the guitars are handled by Frank Usher and Hal Lindes. Other guests are Janick Gers, Tessa Niles and Kick Horns.

The track The Company would later be the name giver to Fish´s fanclub. Tracks like The Voyeur, View From The Hill and Cliché are other examples of a Fish at his symphonic and rocking best. Family Business is another slow song with a lot of feel, and as chilling as Gentleman’s Excuse. An album to own and a great joy to revisit every once in a while…

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XII Alfonso, Charles Darwin, 2012

XII Alfonso - Charles DarwinIn case you were wondering about new updates, this CD is the reason. Actually, we are speaking of 3 CD´s here.

XII Alfsonso were an unknown force to me, yet this turns out to be their seventh release already. And still this French quartet sought after a topic to sink their teeth real deep into. Coming in a lavish digibook, with a 76 pages book the bar is raised high. In total 52 songs of which 30 are instrumental and a list of guest far beyond anything you have seen before. Some names: Iain Bairnson, Tim Renwick, Maggy Reilly, John Helliwell, Francis Dunnery, Mickey Simmonds and David Paton are among them. So with people involved that have ties to bands like Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Mike Oldfield, Alan Parssons Project and Genesis, you get a little grasp of what is to be expected.

It is of course impossible to talk you through this lengthy work. It could never do this justice. I have a deep admiration for the band to even set out to do this. 3 years of recording 3 hours of music. All over the world. It must have been a logistic nightmare. And to keep your eye on your goal during all that time of writing and recording must have been daunting to say the least. Add to that the booklet. All lyrics, credits, and photo´s of everybody. And also a detailed insight in the story used. To top things off, all the instruments that were used, from bass, to acoustic guitars, to strange phenomenons like a dolphinophone, dan bao, or shekere, to a collection of recorders, mandolin and flutes. It is all there. If this stuns you, we have not yet talked music…

But that I will keep fairly short this time. Like I said, words could never do this justice. Believe me when I say this is a mind-blowing adventure that anyone into sophisticated pop, symphonic rock, world, and or folk should delve into. This is something you have to undergo yourself. Never matter what anyone says, just track it down and start exploring. It will not leave you untouched!

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D´AccorD, Self Titled, 2009

d´accord - sameThe Norwegians of D´AccorD were so kind as to send me their 2 albums they released so far. Their first one, only bearing the band´s name, was released in 2009 and contains 5 songs that together give us almost 45 minutes of seventies symphonic rock.
That means some long songs, mellotron, hammond, flute, vintage guitars and that warm analogue sound. First impression is they must be into bands like Jethro Tull, Queen, Genesis and cohorts, because that is what it reminded me of at first play.

First song is Play By The Hall Rules and manages to capture the listeners attention the whole 12 + minutes. Not bad! Lots of dynamics of course, with Mellotron playing centre stage with haunting sounds. Next up is This Is The One that has a lot of early Jethro Tull references. Of course any band with a flute will hear that. But I don´t think they copy. It is more of an inspiration I think. So the song still stand on it´s own and does not resemble anything by Tull. Next is Bin, a slow song at first that builds into another Tull reference, with flute breathing and all. Still many good ideas, with fun instrumental parts where sometimes a little freaky guitar is unleashed. Time To Play opens with a Fender Rhodes like sound before the band kicks in. Many sides to this again, and another one that proves they know how to keep their audience interested.   Last one is called Capitale Venditio and with over 13 minutes is the longest track on offer.

A band that carries their influences on their sleeves, but still write good original songs that provide a good listening experience. For anyone who still loves the seventies to death, a safe buy! I am looking forward to their recent release Helike, which you can expect the coming weeks.

Website

Fish On Friday, Shoot The Moon, 2010

Fish On Friday - Shoot The MoonOut of the blue came Fish On Friday on my radar. Big thanks to Progstreaming! The band members are William Beckers on Keyboards and Frank van Bogaert on keyboards and vocals. For the album they got plenty of guests, but those names also did not ring a bell. But consisting of unknown names does not mean we get an album that is limited quality wise. In fact, I think the band delivered big time with this album!

A very pleasant discovery whose style I would like to describe as a tad of New Wave with Progressive Rock. Sounds strange maybe, but it just tastes good! But there are more sides to them. Opener 9,1 Surround and Listen are best described with what I said before. A track like Don’t Go Knocking Me Off My Feet shows pop sensibilities in a progressive environment. But the melancholic feel stays apparent. And lyrics with a tongue in cheek as well.

It all sounds good, with many details in the keyboards (reminding me a bit of Pure Reason  Revolution). Lead vocals are very versatile, despite being more wave and less rock oriented overall. Almost as if there are more lead vocalists. Vocal harmonies are very worth listening to. Recommended CD to hunt down and really beautifully packaged as well!

Website

Classic: The Violet Hour, The Fire Sermon, 1991

the violet hour - the fire sermonThe wonderful Doris Brendel album I posted about earlier, reminded me to pick up this album. Quite logical really, as she is the singer for this band. As well as plays flute (flageolet) and guitar. By the way that flute gives the music a folkish vibe at time. Like it does for Jethro Tull for instance. And like with Tull sometimes, it is quite an undertaking to label this album. That is why I choose the symphonic rock tag.

First song Dream Of Me is a beautiful gentle piece with flute and violin (keyboard probably as no player is mentioned). and of course the soaring vocals of Doris hit home also. Very tasty melodies, both instrumentally as vocally. Piano is another instrument often heard. The Spell starts with it and the song slowly builds. The use of brass here is also a nice feature. Again a track with great use of dynamics. By A River gives us some more rocking guitar, whilst still being a calm piece. Could Have Been is another showcase of the instrumentation put to effective use. I must mention the fabulous bass playing as well. In all the tracks by the way. And again the melodies strike the right chord.
Next is Offertory Song, which follows the same route as before. Yet develops in more rocking moments again. Though the constant switching of light and dark continues. Falling has more tempo to it, and impresses with it´s clever arrangement again. The finale is appealing and reminded me of Kansas. More upbeat tracks are Ill Wind Blowing and Better Be Good, but also other tracks have some quicker moments.

So an inspiring album with stunning melodies and rich in colours. Hunt it down!

Echoes, Nature | Existence, 2010

echoes - nature existanceIf my memory serves me right, this is the first Venezuelan band to make it into my record collection. And what an entry it is. This is easily the surprise of the week!
Strictly speaking I don´t believe this is a 100% Venezuelan effort, as almost all vocalists are guesting. And if  Kamelot ever need to replace Roy Khan, they should lay their hand on Tobias Jansson, who sings the formidable Unfair. And there are some others that blow you away.

Echoes, with 3 guitar players (sometimes on nylon stringed guitars, great) and a keyboardist who also plays slide guitar, have managed to record an impressive album. While most of the moods are symphonic or progressive, sometimes there is so much guitar it borders into metal. But I have nothing against that at all, it actually gives the album some extra spirit. Not that the symphonic parts are bland, no not at all.
This album is filled to the brim with excellent songs and musicianship, so anyone into progressive music with a bite and some very good vocalists, should add this to their collection. You won´t be disappointed!

Personal play tips: just hit play…

Website

Classic: Yes, Fragile, 1972

yes - fragileIt is a little step from the previously discussed classical guitar work to this, the Fragile album album by Yes. After all, it is about the same instrument opening this wonderful album. I have a remastered edition, which does full justice to the musicianship and the timeless sound of this classic.

That first song, Roundabout, is of course one of the more known tracks from Yes and this album in particular. It can also serve of a perfect example what Yes is about. After all we hear trademarks like classical guitar and electric guitar solo´s (Steve Howe) lightning fast keyboard wizardry (Rick Wakeman), angelic vocals (Jon Anderson) and also heavenly vocal harmonies. And let´s not forget the masterful bass playing and drumming, courtesy of Chris Squire and Bill Bruford.
The various members of the band all get their moment to shine. Tracks like Cans And Brahms, We Have Heaven, Five Per Cent For Nothing and The Fish were purposely recorded for that very reason. But we also get prime symphonic tracks like South Side Of The Sky and Heart Of The Sunrise. Or that brooding track Long Distance Runaround.

Yes knew how to keep things fresh and tie in the fans. So they not only excelled at their instrument of choice, but also managed to write and record numerous classic albums. This being one of them…