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progressive rock

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Mavara, Consciousness, 2017

Mavara - ConsciousnessIntriguing album artwork or? Well, then imagine the first track opening with windy noises and the voice of a storyteller. After over 2 minutes a sequence kicks in and a cow starts to moo. In a disturbing manner. Well it sure kept me on my toes! And then the track really comes to live in a typical prog rock manner with drums, bass, keys and guitar riffing. The first vocals come in after 5 minutes in. No wonder the song (Invasion (636 Gregorian Calendar)) clocks in at over 11 minutes.

Talking of vocals, I noticed that the first couple of tracks somehow sound less convincing that the rest of the CD. Might be me, but it distracted me a little. Maybe because part of the delivery sounds a bit theatrical. This might be because of their Far Eastern roots, but that would be a guess on my part. Anyway, my advice is to keep listening, because there are some tasty things on offer here.
For me, the album really comes alive from track 4, Living The Fast Life. More urgency in all departments it seems. Because make no mistake, even when I had never heard of them before, they have been active since 2001 and have won several prizes in their home country Iran. Since relocating to the US, more people can have the opportunity to get to know the band, and that is a good thing. On offer are 10 tracks and a running time of 67 minutes.

All in all this is an entertaining album with class music and a bit of a special flavour. Check them out and start with track 6, Mandatory Hero.

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Medea, Northern Light, 2017

medea - northern lightAh, yes, the third instalment of Henry Meeuws (songs, keyboards), also known as Medea. And since a lot of people I know are involved, it gives me a lot of pleasure to listen and write about the album. Just dropping some names here: Igor Koopman – drums, Frank de Groot – bass, and on vocals Ernst le Cocq d’Armandville, Joss Mennen, Rob Laarhoven, Sandra Peeters and John “JayCee” Cuijpers. So some rock, some metal, some alternative and some prog coming together.

And ofcourse prog is what is on offer here. From opener Aurora Overture, with a hint of Kansas in the violin, to closer Northern Light. A total of 12 songs and a playing time just short of 70 minutes. The first thing I noticed was the sound of the album. The Rock Inc studio managed to elevate the album into the premier league. It is transparent, with awesome sounding orchestrations, and still enough punch in the guitars to let it rip. And all the vocalists are prominent in the mix.
On to the music then. As you will expect the range of influences is broad. As I mentioned before, the orchestral parts sound very convincing, and they add a lot of sizzle to the songs. Throughout the CD melodies come and go, and whether flute, violin, cello, keyboards or guitar, all are effectively used to add colour.

I am sure no one expects the album to be instant. This needs to be played a couple of times to sink in. And then you have an album that shines. Lush arrangements keep giving you new discoveries. Very well done!

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Lifesigns, Cardington, 2017

lifesigns - cardingtonI was fairly late to the party after the first Lifesigns album was released in 2013, but after hearing a lot of their songs on the radio, I loved it. (Yes I said radio, my favourite station One World Music plays rock and prog every Friday!) Anyway, when I heard about the new album, I decided to step in and make sure I got this one early. Alas mister postman refused to cooperate, my first copy was broken so John Young (keyboards and vocals) had to send in another one.

But boy, since it arrived safe and sound, it has been making many rounds! And to put it simple; this is another fantastic progressive rock album. I probably like it so much because it not only gives a big nod to all the great music of the past, but still sounds up to date and contemporary. Don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but that is how I feel about it.
So it has the long epic tracks as well as shorter ones, but they all feel authentic and logical. No throwing together a bunch of ideas and see what comes out. This is coherent and given enough thought. And man, the way instrumental parts in for instance Voice In My Head lift the song to an even higher level, amazing.

In my humble opinion anyone serious about progressive rock should own this one, jaw dropping good!

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Lonely Robot, The Big Dream, 2017

lonely-robot - the big dreamI guess John Mitchell (Arena, It Bites, Kino, The Urbane, *Frost, etc.) likes to keep busy. And frankly I do not mind at all. Not only is he a gifted guitar player, but as a singer he also manages to convince. And over time his production skills have been in demand as well. Yet without the proper songs all that is of little use.

And so we now have the second Lonely Robot album to digest. As before, less metal than Threshold, yet of the same progressive and melodic blood. A bit of a concept running through, it seems the man has strange dreams… Or is it just the packaging? Nah, just kidding. On offer on my version are 14 songs of which the first 11 form the actual disc. The extra songs are 2 acoustic versions and a song with Kim Seviour (ex-Touchstone) guesting.
And the album serves songs like the powerful Awakenings, the highly melodic impact of Sigma, the drama of In Floral Green or more powerful riffing in Everglow. We get the groove and feel of False Lights and the … You get it, there will always be something that gets you going. You can be sure there is enough happening to whet your appetite and quench your thirst for melodic prog rock. There is a reason Mitchell is so in demand, he is damn good at what he does!

For me it’s simple, it walks the walk and talks the talk. Go check this!

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Gentle Knife, Clock Unwound, 2017

gentle knife - clock unwoundThe last couple of weeks has seen, or rather heard, me playing this album a lot. And not because it is such a complex album. Well it is actually. But that was not the point. The point is, that this is a very intriguing mix. A bit like the bastard child of early King Crimson and well ehhh, some more modern prog bands with guitars, organ, saxophone, flutes and brass and stuff. See? I even have a hard time describing this.

But that is all really. I am finding this a very pleasant album to listen to. Yes it may move from whisper quiet to loud and back. Yes, large portions are instrumental with some unusual instruments taking the lead, or using a talking voice like you are watching a movie with a voice over.
And now you think this is a disjointed affair? No it is not. It is diverse indeed, and it really calls for you to pay attention. But I just love what is served. There is always a certain tension flowing, and that keeps attracting me. Even after numerous spins I still wonder what will come next. Yet, the melodies are present and worthwhile.

So what more can I say about it? For me an irresistible mix and an album that grows and grows. Consider me impressed!

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Cirkus, The Blue Star, 2017

cirkus - the blue starHoliday season is over, so back to writing! And in this case, I do not mind at all. Quite a history behind this band who started in the Seventies apparently, but alas so far were unknown to me. Which might partly be due to this being only their fourth release. The real sad part being that main songwriter Stu “Blue” McDade passed away in 2016, so this album is dedicated to him.

And I am pretty sure this would get his thumbs up. Opener Crossing The Rubicon is a nice mix of old school prog with some more modern guitar riffing and serves as a good introduction to the album. Next Song I’ll Never Know also has great hooks and takes several turns left and right but maintains its attraction with ease. Might be one of the best on offer actually. The album continues with the title track and with lines like “till we meet again” or “now you are a blue star” they obviously pay homage to their mate. The guitar solo is played with a lot of feel and you sense their loss. Next song 19 is quite a surprise with a modern beat and use of synths it almost sounds like an Eighties wave track. Follow up Requiem sits a bit between that and earlier songs, but again has a strong chorus.

With 8 songs clocking in at almost 45 minutes we are served a diverse album, from a band that love what they do and do it well. Sure one to check for fans of melodic prog.

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Ghostly Beard, Infinite, 2017

ghostly beard - infiniteSometimes it is hard to fathom why some releases are independent. Except when it is by choice of course. Anyway, after some 15 years away from music, the entity that is Ghostly Beard (the handle one man band Patrick Talbot chose to release his music under) is treating us with this EP, called Infinity.

I have been listening to this quite a lot over the past week or so and I must say I am totally impressed with what is on offer. The 5 songs in almost 25 minutes of music span a wide array of rock, but every song has multiple reasons to fall in love with them. Opener Close Your Eyes will surely appeal to people who are very fond of Pink Floyd. Including a blistering guitar solo. But also because the feel and mood of the song is just very enchanting. Frozen In Time is carried by some stunning bass playing (sounds fretless) as well as more exquisite and moody guitar work. Let alone the synths and flageolet like sounds throughout it. And good melodies of course. No Return is another moody piece that grabs you and refuses to let go. No need to discuss the last 2 songs, they are equal to the others.

Ghostly Beard proves that there are no limits when it comes to quality in music. Every song hits home, and hits home hard. Essential stuff if you ask me!

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Katre, Encounters, 2017

Katre-Encounters-2017I love the internet! It makes the world so small and easy for people to find one another. Like in this case, where guitarist Hasan Koç contacted me about this release. When I saw the band name and it’s 4 members, I presumed the name was a wordplay on the French word for 4 (quattre), which phonetically sounds the same. But as it says in their biography, it is in fact an old Arabic word meaning drop. And it refers to the 4 members contributing to the ocean of life. Nice. Another aspect is that the members live in 4 different cities in 3 different countries. So they work and communicate online.

This album focuses on the concept of existence. The 8 songs are divided in 2 chapters (Existence and Existing) and are carried by applying the ebow to the electric and fretless guitars, thus sustaining the sound. And you really have to hear that sustain to believe it. It gives their sound (coming from guitars, along with bass and drums) an almost synthetic dimension, like keyboards do. Of course, throughout the songs you still hear the guitars and for those familiar with the ebow, that is also easy to recognise.
The result is a wonderful, sometimes dreamy album of so called post rock, with progressive elements. Instrumental, but I did not miss vocals for one second. A lot of thought has gone into the creation of these songs. The info sheet they sent me explains every one of them to great detail and makes for an interesting read. Still for me the most important part is the music and that I enjoyed very much. So much feel and passion. And their Eastern origins pop up here and there, adding even more colour.

A tasty and diverse album that sucks you in, awesome!

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Schooltree, Heterotopia, 2017

schooltree - heterotopiaNow here is an ambitious work for you! Schooltree is built around the songs of singer, pianist and synth player Lainey Schooltree. Her band consists of Brendan Burns on guitar, Derek van Wormer on bass, Tom (Tod or Tad) Collins on drums, Peter Danilchuk on organ and synths and Peter Moore on nylon guitar, vocals, strings and programming. I think there are 2 versions of this album, but I laid my hands on the double disc edition.

With a sound that could be described as the evil child of Kate Bush and Queen, mixed with a lot of vintage prog elements, this is not an album filled with elevator music. Not that the songs do not have hooks and catchy melodies, no there is just a lot happening throughout the album. But I guess that for people like me, that makes for a really interesting listen. And one that has to be repeated to be able to fully appreciate the work that has gone into this.
And I cannot help but be impressed by the music. It is versatile, full of twists and turns and in fact a bold testament of just creating that album that you think it should be. In this case it is also an example of listening from start to finish and immersing yourself in it.

The result is a release that impresses on all accounts. Songs, performances, arrangements. Rich in ideas and textures, an album that reveals more every time you listen to it. One for eternity I think, so fans of prog: BUY!

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Brother Ape, Karma, 2017

brother ape - karmaFor me personally, this is a giant treat, a new Brother Ape album. Finally! The last couple of years the only releases becoming available were EP’s in digital format, alas. As you might know, I prefer CD’s, so I am very happy to present their new album here. I also was so lucky to be able to buy one of the Deluxe Editions. Those 3 EP’s I mentioned are all present on the bonus disc, including 2 extra songs, making that bonus disc a 14 track miracle of listening pleasure.

The regular album on this release holds 8 songs with a playing time of just over 40 minutes. Now I don’t mind because of my extra disc (even when 6 of those 8 originate from those EP’s), but for modern standards that is… well modest. But hey, you do get totally awesome songs as opener Oblivion, the instant Sixteen and the hauntingly exciting Hina Surawa. As well as 5 other killer songs of course, no fillers here.
Because in my humble opinion, every Brother Ape album is a testament of beautiful crafted songs with emotional depth, coupled with instrumental prowess, hooks and melodies. It is sometimes hard to believe how the trio of Damicolas, Maxen and Bergman keep coming up with brilliant idea after wonderful arrangement.

Every lover of melodic rock music infused with prog elements will absolutely love their music. No doubt in my mind.

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