Out of the ashes from Belgian symphonic rock band Isopoda now rises Fossil Evolution. And where Isopoda was often referred to as the Belgian Genesis, FE is based on seventies prog and the neo prog of more recent decades. Besides that, the band is a real family affair as it is centred around Isopoda’s Arnold De Schepper (bass and vocals) and his 3 sons Arne (drums), Maarten (guitar, keyboards and vocals) and Wouter (guitars), with Pieter de Groeve on keyboards.
While listening to this it was obvious to me that the previous Genesis reference is still audible. Mainly in the arrangements of the keyboards, just start the disk with Beautiful Colours and you will know what I mean. The title track that follows has a good melody and a slightly more modern approach. All songs have a lot of moods and time signature changes. But with 6 songs clocking in at almost 50 minutes, that is pretty obvious in this genre. In Next Time the guitars are more heavy, albeit without things getting aggressive. Which brings me to my main concern, in my ears it all sounds rather safe. It is well played and produced, but could have benefited from a bit more risk and energy at times.
Yet I am sure genre aficionados will get exactly what they are after.
In Thirteen, singer Audrey Lahaije and keyboard player Jeroen van der Wiel (Odyssice) have joined forces. According to the press sheet the main influences are Nightwish, Within Temptation, Evanescence, Pink Floyd, Muse and Marillion. So a cross between old school prog, neo prog, gothic and pop rock with progressive overtones? Well, for sure childhood idol Madonna did not leave a mark on this album. 🙂
In my ears the outcome is a somewhat heavier version of what most will call neo prog. In that aspect they are more close to Arena. The bombastic metal typical for the Gothic genre probably needs a more massive production to show itself. Yet, the keyboard arrangements sometimes have a modern flavour, with sequenced parts that move across the speakers. The music is well arranged and executed, with lots of variation, some great guitar solos, beautiful piano parts, good and solid rhythmic support, and so on. In the more peaceful moments like the opening of Just Leave or Arabian Nights, Audrey convinces with an emotional delivery. In the more heavy parts I sometimes felt she sounded somewhat insecure as her voice seemed less solid.
Well I hope that over time the experience and confidence will grow, as she shows a lot of talent.
So another promising debut from this new Dutch contender and surely one worth checking out.
Dutch label Freia Music are at it again. This time with a re-release of the 1995 album Cold Steel from Dutch neo prog band Cliffhanger. Well re-release is not quite right, this is also an expanded feature with a total of 13 unreleased tracks being added on a separate disk. Originally released on the now defunct SI-music label and thus long unavailable. All tracks have been carefully restored by founder and keyboardist Dick Heijboer. History of the band shows some turbulence. Ever since their start in 1993 there have been a couple of breaks and restarts. In total 4 albums were released before the split was definite at the end of the nineties. Several members are or were still active though.
There is probably still a demand for this type of music although in all honesty it does not rank among my favourites. It has its fine moments but for me the music is a bit far fetched sometimes, with too many ideas glued together. Also the singing is typical for the genre, fairly high pitched and a bit thin. Coming from a hard rock background myself, I prefer the more full bodied throats. 😉
Yet there are many people out there who love this stuff. And be assured, all trademarks are there: mellotron and hammond, guitar and keyboard solo´s, busy bass lines on probably a rickenbacker and odd time signatures. If you reckon yourself a fan of the genre, and do not already own this, or even if you do, with 2 disks and over 20 tracks this is a bargain! I would also like to add that Freia Music is a non-profit label that donates 25% of its proceeds to the Children with A Challenge Foundation!
From the recent string of Progressive Promotion Records releases, this is for now the last one. And from those releases, it is also the one with the most neo prog flavour. So think Marillion and Pendragon, with a dose of Arena and some Spock´s Beard for good measure. Now, I have got some press info to tell me words like that, but I am quite sure that anyone who starts listening to this will figure that out soon as well. With 7 songs clocking in at 70 minutes, you will not be surprised we get the “mandatory” epic as well. In this case that would be Memoirs Of A Mayfly, running about 22 minutes. And Suspicion, with it´s 13 minutes, is not an ideal single candidate either. 😉
But all fun aside, what matters most of course is the music and the songs. Well so far all releases have proven to be convincing and I like this one as well. Maybe a little more played safe, but nevertheless very solid. Why use the word safe? Well within the genre this ticks all the boxes but never really goes beyond that. Now I find that a lot of genre addicts are very strict about what they like (thus actually stopping the genre from progressing in my humble opinion), so that might be a reason. But please do not let that make you think this is a so so album. It is not. A lot of work went into creating the moods and arrangements of the album, and all players deliver the goods with panache. So if you like the bands mentioned, this is something to pick up.
Our dear Belgium friends from M!ndgames were featured on these pages not so long ago, and now their latest release MMX gets some words. And the best way to start is that they have progressed (no pun intended) in about every aspect of the game! I liked Actors In A Play, but this one is just better.
Their previous album sounded good, this one is just that tad bit more confident and, well, just better. The vocals of Bart Schram sound less like your average British neo prog band now, and have more depth and identy of their own. Nice.
The guitars by Rudy Vander Veken are a little bit more present, without being heavy. But it adds just that little bit more bite and makes me enjoy this music even more. And his playing was already worth your while. Drums and bass do what they need to do, and I love that the Hammond also became a little more important.
And while I think this is again a concept album (alas no info on that and as you know I am too lazy to look it up), this is more about songs. Melodies come more to the fore as well.
So you get why I think the guys have upped their game and really deserve the attention of anyone into neo prog. In fact, that term sells them short. So let’s aim for all progressive rock lovers instead ;-). Let’s see what they come up with next time, looking forward to that…
Again through Progstreaming I got in contact with Mindgames. Another Belgium band (after Fish On Friday, whose Frank van Bogaert acts as producer, engineer, mixer and master-er), but this time in a more symphonic, or neo prog kind of style. Like early Marillion, IQ or Pendragon.
Actors In A Play is their second album and was released in 2006. Their more recent output MMX will be discussed soon by the way.
Like many neo prog bands, Mindgames go for the epic styled songs. So they wrote 6 songs that together bring us 66 minutes of music. And like many of their predecessors, they write lengthy lyrics and have a story to tell. This always puts me in a delicate situation, as I tend to feel that sometimes getting the message across, becomes more important than writing songs that seduce you. But as I have not been listening to this style lately, it might be I am just a little out of touch here.
Nevertheless, I do think the boys can compete with the prime players in the genre. All are competent musicians, they do put some great ideas into the songs and the sound is nicely balanced as well. Maybe a little clean overall, but that´s probably just me as this is common in neo prog. So if you like any of the bands mentioned, this one will prove to be right up your alley. I am already looking forward to their new(er) disk…
A little confession is at order here… I often hesitate to buy albums from neo prog bands because of my fear of how the lead vocals will sound. I love vocalists with a strong and varied sound (for instance Dio, Jorn Lande, Russel Allen) and alas, in this style you hardly find them.
So the first question to answer is, how does this band fare in that aspect? Well, singer Jos Harteveld may certainly not fall into my favourite category, and at times may even miss a few notes trying, I do think he is capable of a listen-able experience. This is partly due to the clever arrangements from the band. There is a lot going on, but how strange is that with 2 keyboard players in the band. That said, that may also be a turn down for some people. All 6 musicians seem to feel a need to be present at all times. So the sound does get a little crowded and takes time to digest. Little open space here!
Nevertheless, in it´s genre I feel this band is a welcome addition. The craftsmanship is high, the band write recognisable tunes with a lot of melody, especially in the (guitar) soloing and instrumental phrasing. And with all 7 songs lasting between six and a half and nine and a half minutes, that instrumental showcasing gets a lot of room. And oh yes, Hammond organs present! To counterpart all that, the band have come up with some funny lyrics. Little Green Men anyone?
Personal play tips: Secret Gardener, Shop Window Dummies, Eyes Wide Open.
After playing it a few times I must admit I am a little disappointed by the album. And it is not that it is no good, I just think it is a little pale. The sound puts a lot of emphasis on the melodic phrasings of the lead guitar. Trouble is it has a constant sound throughout the album. Also the other instruments are placed a little soft in the mix. And as there are no keyboards, what you hear is that guitar courtesy of Mirek Gil, the voice of singer Karol Wroblewski, and some bass and drums. In the distance there are some backing guitar parts. The only track where the rhythm guitar plays a role of some importance is, you guessed it, the track that got me to buy the album. And it is an instrumental track, and a beautiful one at that.
So what about the songs? I think this is labelled as neo prog. It is melodic and surely has it´s moments. But I think a more balanced sound would let the material shine more. If you are into this kind of music, give it a chance anyway. The language doesn´t help to understand the topics at hand, but does not distract either. The delivery is still convincing.
Personal play tips: Skellig, Otwieram Drzwi, Czas I Ja.