Polar Fever, Soothing Plastic, 2018

polar fever - soothing plasticPolar Fever was formed by Vasia Bratchuk and Robert Szulc, who met in 2011 at a Muse gig in Nijmegen (NL). Both were involved in several bands along the way and were living and studying in Eindhoven. Together with bandmates from all over the place they recorded this and released it independently.

According to them they are an art rock band. Yet in my ears there is a lot of more mainstream sound involved. Not that is necessarily a bad thing, in fact, I think a song like She Comes And She Goes could be well received on British radio, since it resembles the days of Blur and Oasis. Yet I think I understand their need to classify beyond that of popular music. Just listen to Overture, with its classical approach and gentle albeit rich mood. And when Muse is a shared influence, combining pop melodies with more elaborate arrangements seems like a logical thing to do.
Yellow Regret is a fine example of that. Again as if the Gallagher brothers decided they want to bring in some of the traditional prog elements into their music. Excellent piano playing by the way. And somehow I cannot stop thinking of that combo. Must be the timbre of the lead singer…

But that takes nothing away from the fact that this album is quite enjoyable. Never too technical or heavy. Just good melodies and hooks. And still never too predictable. You could do much worse. So worth checking if this combination intrigues you!

Website

Josh Smith, Burn To Grow, 2018

Josh-Smith-Burn-To-GrowRegular readers of the blog will know that I am not a big fan of pure blues. This because of the often slow tempos and limited lyrical and musical vocabulary.
And now arrives the latest album from guitar player and singer Josh Smith, accompanied by a load of musicians from various backgrounds. Without selling all those names short, most important is Monét Owens who sings lead on one track and does a lot of harmonies.

And while I was prepared to not like the album, I must say that there are some things happening that made me a bit of a happy camper; the horn section ads loads of soul, we get riffs awesome solos, hammond organ and some tracks incorporate elements from pop, rock, and even a bit of Steely Dan typed fusion.
So a track like Through The Night reminds me a bit of Warren Haynes and is damn tasty. Watching You Go would make Joe Bonamassa proud. And Your Love, with Monét on lead vocals could be mistaken for a classic Motown remake. And the variation goes on; Look No Further has a great groove and a lightness about it that is very attractive.

So there you have it, another album that proves me wrong. Smith is a fantastic guitar player with loads of feel. And his voice is also above average. Couple that with the varied song material, and there should be hordes of people falling for this. And rightly so.

Website

The Fierce And The Dead, The Euphoric, 2018

the fierce and the dead - the euphoricFinally the time has come to discuss the new The Fierce And The Dead (TFATD) album The Euphoric with you. In their ranks Matt Stevens (guitar) who has released a bunch of solo albums that you might want to check out too.

To my knowledge TFATD are a quartet consisting of drums, bass and 2 guitars. Those guitars often enhance their sound with (synthesised) effects, thus giving a nod to King Crimson. Overall I guess their sound combines rock, prog and a tad of post hard-core. But where the soundscapes from KC sometimes tend to linger on a bit, TFATD make sure they keep pumping loads of energy into their songs. And they combine that energy with hooks  and melodies and musicians able to infuse dark and light into their compositions.

The result is, quite frankly, anything but your typical instrumental album. I never once miss the vocals on this album because of the way the songs are arranged. Very detailed, very varied and with room for everyone to shine. Thus making sure you never lose your connection with it.  You keep wondering where they will go next, but because of themes returning, they give you enough anchor points to not loose your way.

Yup, easy one of the most exciting albums in the genre this year. If you haven’t already, make sure you give it a couple of spins.

Website

Tomorrow’s Eve, Project Ikaros, 2018

tomorrow's eve - mirror of creation 3With Project Ikaros, German based progressive metal outfit Tomorrow’s Eve release part 3 of their Mirror Of Creation saga. Which are built around the works of Edgar Allen Poe. In total this is album #5, although I don’t think earlier work has been presented here (even when at least part 2 is somewhere in the collection).

Anyway, what the band present here is certainly worth your time and money. Not only because people like Mike Lepond (Symphony X – bass) or John Macaluso (Labyrinth, Ark – drums) are joining long term singer Martin LeMar and founders Rainer Grund (guitar) and Oliver Schwickert (keyboards). But also because the band have managed to deliver an album that not only ticks all the proper genre boxes yet still has its eyes firmly on melodies.
So the 11 songs and 68 minutes of music are diverse, go from powerful to intimate and from aggressive to epic. And with the strategically placed catchy choruses they still manage to keep you attracted throughout.
Of course all musicians involved are top notch. But I would like to give special props to singer LeMar, whose range and ability to adapt to the various moods really lift the band to the top of the game. Fans of Savatage, Circle II Circle, or the names mentioned above, better pay attention!

Yep, Tomorrow’s Eve are back with a vengeance and ready to take any stage by storm. Should be entertaining!

Website

D’Ercole, Made To Burn, 2018

d'ercole - made to burnAnd the hardest working man in the music business is back. This time with the band D’Ercole which features  Damian D’Ercole on guitars. B.F. D’Ercole on drums and the mighty Phil Vincent on vocals and bass, and additional drums and guitars.

If you are familiar with Phil and his work, you know you can expect driving rockers, heavenly melodies with tons of harmony vocals, lots of guitars and shredding solos. So opener Time To Walk Away delivers his brand of rockers. And Out Of Time is another one of his beautiful melodic pieces, where Paul Sabu guests on the guitar solo.  Another guest is trusted pal Vince O’Regan (his former Legion partner) who shreds away in 6 tracks.
Also on the album, the last recordings of guitarist David Zycheck (RIP), on the tracks Feel The Burn, Get Undone and Tragedy In Motion. And these tracks show a different side of both men’s combined talent. More groovy, some downtuned guitars, yet still melodic and energetic.

These additions to the familiar sound add some extra sizzle to the plate. And while the overall picture is familiar, this, and other little details in the mix, show that Phil is still pushing forward and trying to expand. With a back catalogue of over 30 albums and contributing to numerous others, a sign that the man is still hungry to learn and grow.

That alone is so cool. As is the record.

Website

Adult Cinema, Teaser Trailer, 2016

adult cinema - teaser trailerAnother one of those albums that slipped between the cracks for a long time. But now surfaced again to claim it’s spot. Besides the off-kilter name, you should know that AC is in essence Mike Weston, a multi-instrumentalist from the UK. Okay, he gets help on several of the tracks from various people (including his dad and uncle Bob) but what we get to hear is his vision.

I guess in many ways this is to be labelled as a progressive record. But bear in mind it is more like (an early) Supertramp kind of progressive. By which I mean that it would not surprise me if a whole bunch of people would like this album a lot, should they get to know about it and actually have a listen. So hopefully this helps a bit…

Because this is just a very pleasant album in every sense. It has great melodies that hook you in with ease. It has extended arrangements that show Mike is not afraid to think outside of the standard pop formulas (hence the prog tag) so you can enjoy instrumental bits, hooks, riffs and so on. It is never too much of anything yet has enough going on to keep you interested. And above all it has songs that are varied, have roots in various styles, and together make for an album that is a joy to hear. Especially for fans of Seventies music.

So go ahead, get in touch with him and have a listen!

Website

Ben Granfelt, My Soul To You, 2018

ben granfelt - my soul to youRegular readers of the blog will know that I am not that big on blues. Infuse that with rock, and it gets another story. Especially when the guitar player loves Jimi Hendrix and has a great tone in his finger to show it. And reading through the press sheet, I understand why; as it turns out, mister Granfelt is one busy dude and has already released 15 solo albums before this, played with Wishbone Ash and Leningrad Cowboys to name a few, and thus has been making his living from music for over 30 years!

And now onto the songs. There are 10 on the album, clocking in at a good 40 minutes. First song Weight Of The World already shows that strat tone that reminds me of Hendrix. And somehow it also reminds a bit of Toto’s Steve Lukather. Very good moody soloing too. On This Is Love (PJ Harvey) his wife Jasmine takes over on lead vocals and does that very adequate. They share vocals on Fuel To Burn, and that works great as well. The title track is blessed with more great playing and melodies that lift the song up. A Better Place is another gem with great riffs and an upbeat energy that is hard to resist. And on My Heroine the lead vocals are handled by Bryn Jones, whose smokey tones add nicely to the mood.

So even when some tracks are deep into the blues, the overall sound and energy and especially the great playing makes me enjoy this very much. A damn fine album in the genre!

Website

Sick N Beautiful, Element Of Sex, 2018

sick n beautiful - element of sexApparently what we are dealing with here is the biggest rock band on this side of Alpha Centauri… But loaded with creatures that enjoy listening to the likes of Rob Zombie, Halestorm and Alice Cooper, to give you some references. After their emergency landing in Rome in 2013, the quintet formed this band and now unleash their next instalment of groove metal to the innocent inhabitants of our little place in the universe.

Well, crazy talk and staged pictures in full costumes aren’t what this blog is about, it is the music that counts here. And I must admit, the album sounds powerful, with singer Herma delivering all sorts of vocals and pulling them all off too. The band is more melodic than you might think, yet infuse large doses of energy into their songs. So Megalomaniacal features some additional low gravelly voices, where All Wanna Go To Heaven is an upbeat party which even features harmony vocals. Because of the use of sequencers, songs like Hellawake or Hexxx have a very modern industrial metal feel and again, the band convince with a very tight performance.

While I do not care much for strong imagery or the use of (the element of) sex to sell an album, the band do deliver a strong set of songs, and that is what counts. So how ever you want to look at it, if this type of music is your thing, you could do much much worse.

Website

Ewian, Of Those Who Drown To Live, 2018

ewian - of those who drown to liveAlready album 4 for Ewian!  You can also find their 2014 and 2017 release here. The intriguing front cover was made by Polish painter Tomasz Alen Kopera. Another thing I got from the mail exchange with singer Ewian Christensen was that there will be a video for every one of the 12 tracks on the album. Find those via his website below.

And now the music. Think it is safe to say that Ewian have not lost their alternative touches.  Yet when I compare this to their previous effort, for me the total balance is better. Judging from the titles (Drown To Live, Beautiful Lie, The Final Breath, See You In Heaven, etc.) the lyrical subjects are more on the dark side. And indeed, the music is often dark in tone, moody and melancholic.

But that is not a bad thing when the performances create an atmosphere that fully justifies the already mentioned cover. This is an intriguing album, with mood swings and emotional singing by Ewian. The regularly sparse arrangements serve to highlight those vocals. And of course sometimes the songs just plain rock, like on Paradise Lost. Where most of the songs feature guitar, from Box Of Pandora the keyboards take over, creating an almost Eighties New Wave sound.
The album closes with 3 longer songs. On Inception the keyboards continue to take centre stage in the 3+ minute intro. Then the guitars are tuned back in, and the slow brooding tempo keeps you on your toes, anxiously waiting for things to develop. And then the keyboards return, slowly guiding you to Life Uncut. The piano and strings here give it an almost classical feel. Closer See You In Heaven reminded me a bit of Coldplay. But more musical and with more depth.

All in all my favourite album by Ewian so far. More diverse and very intense.

Website

Hekz, Invicta, 2018

hekz - invictaOh yes! Took a while but with help from Matt (vocals and bass), the latest offering from UK prog metal band Hekz has landed. And the guys even signed it for me, cheers!

Well should you not be familiar with the band, think of them as a cross between the less technical side of Dream Theater with the melodic senses of Threshold, and add to that bits of Rush and Iron Maiden. Yet when I say less technical it does not mean that these guys are not up to par on their instruments. Au contraire, but to me it just feels they use technique as a means, rather than as a goal.  So every song will have exciting playing, but more important, hooks and melodies that attract you to invest time in it. And of course, in my book that is a good thing!

So from opener Quetzlcoatl to closer Victorious, we are taken on an exciting 65 minute journey by a band that seems to go from strength to strength. For a fairly young looking bunch they are well aware of their influences, and now, with a couple of EP’s and 3 full lengths under their belt, seem ready to conquer the world. And when you can bring songs like For Our Lives, The Light Fantastic, the epic The Devil’s Coin or the already mentioned Victorious to the table, that world had better be ready! Talking of Victorious, if ever a prog song seems tailor made to get picked up by a premier league team, this is the anthem that will get the blood pumping.

A clear winner, better check it if you are into progressive metal!

Website