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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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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The Aaron Clift Experiment, If All Goes Wrong, 2018

the aaron clift experiment - if all goes wrongIt has been a few years since the previous ACE album was released, so it is nice to see them return. And it seems there have been changes. Of course Aaron is still singing and providing keyboards. Bassist Devin North is also playing guitar now and co-wrote most of the songs. And on drums we now find Tim Smith. Several guests are joining for additional guitar, mellotron, piano or violin, cello or viola.

The result is an album that gave me the feeling this was less brain and more heart when compared to Outer Light Inner Darkness . Meaning it feels more organic and more song based. The 8 minute track Absent Lovers still hints at Kansas because of the violins in various parts, but the metal has made room for rock. Somehow it seems this makes it more easy for Aaron to deliver his vocals. Or he just kept growing as a musician, but he definitely sounds more up for the task.
I quite liked former guitar player Gutierrez’, but while the playing on this album might be less technical, it sure is served with passion and a keen sense of what lifts a song. Often based upon quality lead melodies.
The Queen similarities in Better Off Before are a treat for me. Mind you, it’s not a rip off of one of their songs, more some style ingredients serving as a tribute. Castle In The Sky brings back  some of the more technical side of ACE, but because of the more vintage sound it sits nicely besides a track like Savage In A Fancy Suit. Here the hammond makes you think Deep Purple hired Clift to do their bidding. And returned to their more progressive earlier days.

All in all it is a different album which appeal is the more vintage sound and the quality of the songs and the delivery. So my advice remains: check them if you are into progressive rock!

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Fred Mika, Withdrawal Symptoms, 2018

Fred Mika - Withdrawal SymptomsOver here in Europe the name Fred Mika will not ring a bell with all too many people I suspect. However, in South America, and more specifically Brazil, Mika is widely known as the drummer for Sunroad. This band has toured with many great names from the rock scene and released 7 albums so far! And now the time has come to do a solo album. Well solo, playing guitars, bass and keyboards, as well as singing 2 tracks, is Sunroad singer André Adonis. Who proves to be one hell of a musician. Together they wrote the songs, with the exception of Nazareth cover Miss Misery.
Having lots of names in your address book comes in handy when you need singers for your project, so Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch), Michael Voss (a.o. Mad Max), Haig Berberian, Rod Marenna, Daniel Vargas (Adellaide), Tito Falashi, Steph Honde (Hollywood Monsters) and Mario Pastore were found willing to contribute.

The result is more prove that Brazil is host to musicians of high calibre, even outside the more extreme metal scene. Wired In, with Dixon, is a top notch mid tempo song with a damn catchy chorus. Artwork Nightmare features Voss, who feels at home with this rocking song and even seems to push his normal delivery. Sly Side Effect is one of my favourites, with a pulsating riff, a great vocal from Berberian and shining guitar work. Another fave is Dawning Of Aquarius where Honde rules and the song takes on an almost proggy disguise and just rocks from start to finish. Check it for yourself and pick your personal favourite!

This is an ode to the quality rock of the seventies and eighties and delivers on all accounts.

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Frequency Drift, Letters To Maro, 2018

frequency drift - letters to maroGerman cinematic rock band Frequency Drift return with Letters To Maro. The band around nucleus Nerissa Schwarz and Andreas Heck deliver 11 songs and 1 hour of music that showcase their many talents and broad musical influences.

However, first song Dear Maro, at least in my humble opinion, might throw some listeners off. While I understand the seduction of dramatising the word “Falling”, after many plays I am still not sure it works for me. Luckily the rest of the song makes up for that, especially the middle section with the cello. Overall, the band cut down the heavy guitars, leaving much more space to vibrant sound designs and intriguing arrangements that spark the imagination of the listener.
Take for instance next song Underground. The instrumental middle section of the song is testament to the resourceful approach. But many more songs bring together the wonderful singing and melodies and the clever use of studio techniques, keyboards and more traditional instruments.

The result is inspiring. Even with the depth of the material on offer, many songs will catch your ear with their melodies. Personal favourites are Electricity, Neon (one of the songs where the guitars come back a bit) or the stunning Nine.

An album that let’s you discover new things after repeated play, but still attracts on the first time you hear it, must be doing it right. Highly recommended!

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Phi, Cycles, 2018

Phi - CyclesJust to show you that there is always something new to learn, I present you the album Cycles from Phi. In my case, that lead me thinking this was a debut album. But as it turns out, this is already the 6th album for this Austrian band lead by Markus Bratusa. And what a surprise it has turned out to be!

When you name a band Phi, it raises the expectation that it is a thinking man’s band. So we are talking progressive rock right? Right! The album holds 6 songs and has a total playing time of almost 48 minutes. But these 6 songs had me holding my breath quite often. Not because of technical wizardry, even when the band is more than capable of pulling of exciting breaks, flashy solos and other genre specifics.
No, this album impressed me with songs that are fresh, diverse and just plain great. Melodic where they should be, rocking where they can. The press sheet says it is progressive metal, but that is only the case if you consider Porcupine Tree or Pain Of Salvation metal. For me this is prog rock, even when the guitars regularly take centre stage.

Every song on this album packs a punch. The use of dynamics shows the maturity of a band in balance. I love this album from start to finish, outstanding and certainly one of this year’s highlights in this genre!

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Overwind, I Can Do It Again, 2018

overwind - I can do it againNot sure there are many bands consisting of Russian musicians and a Spanish singer, but this is one. And to me Diego Teksuo seems a find too, as I quite like his voice and melodies. And he needs to be, because he is accompanied by a band that likes to throw a mix of progressive metal, power metal and sometimes even some extreme vocals at him.

To me the result is an album that is mature and professional and can compete easily with anything within the genre that is more known in our western world. All 11 songs clock around 4 minutes so come across as focused and energetic. Considering they are varied too, there is never a dull moment. And despite the sometimes frantic passages, all songs have memorable melodies than makes them easy to listen to. To such extent that even the harsh vocals do not bother me. The band is very tight, with Anton Emelyanov’s guitar providing tasty licks and solos over the foundation laid down by Misha Gigava (bass) and Sergey Krasnozhen (drums). There are also some additional keyboards and guest vocals, to add extra dimensions to the arrangements.

A very pleasant surprise, all songs are good and some are excellent, with my personal favourites being Sleepwalker, Dancing Spirits and Get Over Crisis.

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Widetrack, III, 2018

widetrack -3The story behind this band is quite interesting. And maybe even holds a lesson or two. After he lost his father at the young age of 57 in 2006, Ron Tippin (vocals, guitars and drums) decided to skip all excuses and do something with all the songs he had been writing. The result being a first Widetrack album in 2007, and a second in 2009. After more turmoil, the recently released third album is the next milestone. One which now also includes his young son Zach on bass. Completing the current line up is Brian Burleson on lead guitar.

The music of this trio is said to be a mix of the progressive tones of Pink Floyd, Tool and Porcupine Tree on one hand, and the more grungy sounds of Soundgarden and Queens Of The Stone Age on the other. Well, the excellent singing mostly reminded me of UK prog metallers Awake By Design, with the music indeed baring a more melancholic signature, just like mr. Wilson likes to put into his songs.
The result is an album that listens away with a remarkable ease. Nowhere the band are trying to impress with technical ecstasy. But they impress with bringing songs that hold your attention from start to finish. From opener Burn the Sun to closer Still Here, the 12 tracks show maturity in delivery and a clear focus of what the band wants to be.

Call it alterna-prog, call it what you want. The culmination of said influences  is an album that excites. Bravo gents!

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Sunrise Auranaut, Inserter, 2018

sunrise auranaut - inserterAlbum number 5 already for Russian multi-instrumentalist Vitaly Kiselev. Again with help from Alexander Malakhov on synthesisers. Besides writing and playing and producing, Kiselev is also responsible for the beautiful artwork on the release.

If you already are familiar with the music from Sunrise Auranaut, then expect 10 more songs in the same instrumental progressive rock vein. Influenced by classical composers like Grieg and Tchaikovsky and the prog of the Seventies. So this is once again music meant for people wanting complexity and who are willing to invest time to get to really know the album.
Yet in my ears this album sounds more powerful and focused than ever before. A track like Keeper Of The Forest Castle even has some hooks one can identify easily with! And this happens more often, making this one more attractive for a larger audience. But there is also a track like Fog, built around airy sounds which is breathing a bit of King Crimson styled ambience. Still there is a lot happening of course, like I said, this is complex music. But above all it is well written, and executed with passion and precision. Check for instance how synthesisers and guitars interweave in the opening segments of Identification Man.
Another thing worth mentioning is the tribute to the Black Star himself, David Bowie, in closing track Hello Star Man!  You can check that in the video below.

In my humble opinion Kiselev keeps improving and growing, hats off!

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Sule, Hold On, 2018

sule - hold onTo be honest I cannot remember how I got this, and since there was no additional info included, I know next to nothing of the artist in question, except that he goes by the name of Sule. And probably is from Canada.

What I do know is that this album contains 16 tracks (and not 15 as it says on the art). The first 11 form the actual album, and the remaining 5 are bonus tracks. Often regular tracks in a different form, or sung in French. What I also know is that Sule is not set on a specific genre. Most of the album (at least in my ears) falls in the pop category, although a bit of rock elements are added here and there. But you will also find traces of country, rap, and R&B in the mix.
So what does that leave us with? Well actually, since it is sunny here, this will lighten up your BBQ with ease. It is feel good, melodic and nothing complex. It radiates the positive energy to really get the party going.
His singing shows traces of Seal, so it is warm and soulful. Combine that with songs that still feel authentic, despite probably not winning any originality contest, and the result is something that I would rather hear instead of 95% that gets played on mainstream radio. Not bad at all!

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