Soul Spell, Labyrinth Of Truths, 2010

soul spell - labyrinth of truthsThis is Act 2 of the Soul Spell (or Soulspell) metal opera from Heleno Vale. Guesting are people like Edu Falashi, Jon Oliva, Zak Stevens, and a lot of fellow Brazilian musicians. Heleno Vale not only wrote it, but also plays the drums.

With metal operas you expect some things. Like various singers, variety in songs, metal and melody, excellent musicianship and a production that does justice to all that.

Well, Soul Spell have achieved just that! And while in some cases it appears as would the complexity be a goal in itself, here that is not the case. Not that the playing is not of a high quality, and some instrumental parts are definitely stunning, but I would go as far as to say some melodies and vocal lines here are very memorable and simply breathtaking. So this gives us an album we can easily relate to on an emotional level. Part of this is because it is not a metal record as a whole. Some tracks border more into symphonic rock territory, thus breathing a lot of fresh air into the feel of the album. I like that a lot! This album will appeal to a lot of people because of this. Metalheads, proggies, sympho lovers, unite and support this great project. Contender for a top 10 rate. And makes me want to pick up part 1, as well as wonder how many Acts will follow… Buy it!

No personal play tips, just fire it up and hit repeat.

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Day Shift, Of Whispers, 2006

day shift - of whispersEverything about this band is intriguing me. The artwork, the name, the album title and most of all, the music. Let me explain.

The obvious roots for this band are in progressive rock. Yet they have managed to add flavours from what can only be described as more new wave based. This gives the arrangements a more contemporary and often alternative feel.

And this has not caused the band a problem. The songs are still very catchy, very rocking, very varied, yet flowing seamlessly. So you get the intriguing part by now.
Sound effects and synthesisers play a big part in the mood shifts on the album. Yet they manage to hold my attention easily. In fact I am still wondering how they are doing it. So no dull moments here!
All in all it makes it easy for me to just plain love this album. Whether wonderful soft moods, or more hard rocking moments, the conviction at display here is just spell binding. Too bad it is hard to pick their titles up. Even the website is off the radar now, though the presence at MySpace is still there. Check this out!

Personal play tips: The Queen Of Whispers, Evil People In Cars, Shift.

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Tim Morse, Transformation, 2005

tim morse - transformationSome people write difficult music and just sound too clever for their own good. And some experiment and combine ideas, styles and various arrangements and challenge the listener but will eventually succeed in achieving bonding to the music.

In my humble opinion, Tim Morse is of the second kind. This is the effort of 3 guys and a cast of guests and produced an intriguing album to say the least. References are Worldtrade, Trent Gardner (Magellan) the Rabin period of Yes and other greats of progressive rock.

So you will have to understand that this is not an easy album to get into. It has an overflow of ideas which are all expertly executed. But somehow you don´t get lost. You just need time to find your way. So for anyone not shying away of investing time to listen to an album, this is definitely something to pick up. A lot of light and dark, nice melodies, great playing and a crispy clear production.

A wonderful discovery, so heartily recommended to any prog lover. No play tips, this is best enjoyed as a whole. Only bad news, the website hasn´t been updated since 2005, so I have no clue what is going on in the Tim Morse camp.

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Vonassi, The Battle Of Ego, 2010

vonassi - the battle of egoAnyone remember progressive rock / metal band Event? Their name popped up while listening to this CD by Vonassi. And while Event maybe were a little more experimental in approach and arrangement, Vonassi have created that same level of musicianship that reaches out and grabs your attention.

The beauty is, Vonassi are a three piece with 2 members (Jeff Vaughn – drums and Vince Buonassi – bass) also performing all other instruments except for the lead guitars who are handled by singer Chase Carter.  This could result in a fragmented piece of work, but that isn´t the case here. Despite all the ideas and moods, the songs are very cohesive and make you keep hitting the repeat button.

The Battle Of Ego contains that kind of progressive music that is hard to label. At times rock, sometimes metal, a lot of depth and variation. Expert musicians, great clear sound. All is kept together by the excellent vocals and melodies of Chase. I feel they transcend this album beyond it´s initial complexity and enslave the innocent and unaware listener. So I´d better warn you, heavy addiction risk here!

Personal play tips: this is best enjoyed as a whole.

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Johnny Engstrom Band, From Birth To Chaos, 2009

johnny engstrom band - from birth to chaosAt times you´ve got to take your chances. Like the family on the front cover of the album, every journey begins with the first step. And we never know where we end, so we might as well enjoy the ride… All this with just one purpose, to introduce you to this likely unknown subject, the Johnny Engstrom Band and their 2009 release From Birth To Chaos.

I reckon a lot of people will suspect a progressive rock band (though you should never judge a book by the cover), and in this case they are right. The trio of Johnny (guitars and vocals), Niklas Högberg (Bass) and Galle Johansson (drums) please the progressive rock lovers with this release. Music references are Rush, Syrinx (a lost Dutch band) and other more neo prog bands.

I found this very worthwhile, though a grower. Which you can obviously expect. Well produced with an open sound. An instrumental track like Supernova is Rush without sounding like a rip off.  And more ideas and songs pay homage to that other trio. Only the voice of singer Engstrom is nowhere near that of Geddy Lee. In fact, would I have been forced to name a downside, it would be those lead vocals. It´s not that they are bad or out of key, it is mainly they sometimes are somewhat anonymous. Happily they are well produced so there is a lot going on (harmony, counterparts, etc.) to colour and enhance the vocal delivery.

I recommend this album to anybody with a serious interest in progressive music. And before you misunderstand me, these guys are not ripping Rush off. To these ears they have created an album chock full of nice progressive rock tunes of a lighter nature and with a lot of adventure. All of which just happen to regularly remind me in a good way of one of my favourite bands of all time… Not a bad reference or?

Personal play tips: Future Tales, Between you And Me, Dreamland.

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Classic: Peter Gabriel, 3, 1980

peter gabriel - 3Peter Gabriel achieved something that many strive for, but little succeed to. While once the singer of successful symphonic rock band Genesis, he managed to launch a solo career that has turned out even more successful. And the best thing is, he did it on his own terms! He has not released a gigantic back catalogue, choosing quality over quantity, but all his records are a worthwhile addition to any collection. And don´t be put off by the progressive tag, many pop lovers will dig this stuff as well as it is very accessible in many ways.

For me, his third outing is a pivotal record. The prog roots are still there, but there is more pop popping up, as are the more ethnic sounds he would later be associated with. Yet he manages to maintain artistic integrity and choose an often synthesised sound on many instruments. This lead to an unique experience where his music transcended beyond his magical voice alone. No mean feat!

The opening bunch of songs like Intruder, No Self Control and I Don´t Remember set the mood with that spellbinding spheres and catchy melodies. Next is one of the most intense tracks I know of, Family Snapshot. Goose bumps every time I hear it. A fantastic lyric that will fool many. But the delivery, both vocally as musically is unsurpassed on an emotional level. The only way to follow such a masterpiece is with a rocking work out, in this case And Through The Wire, with it´s odd time signatures the perfect lightning rod to the second part of the album. Games Without Frontiers features a young Kate Bush (her French lyric of the title is often misinterpreted as she´s so funky yeah) and is another instant hit. Not One Of Us is vintage Gabriel with heavy sound processing. Lead A Normal Life, is beautiful with its extensive use of marimba´s and a simple but effective piano.
Album closer Biko has since become the international anthem against racism and rightly so. The use of original African vocals and stuff has since been copied by many, but no one comes close to the impact of the chorus on this thing. Timeless.

Classic: Marillion, Fugazi, 1984

Marillion - FugaziThis years last post on a classic album is actually the first CD that made it into my collection in the eighties. So from that point of view alone, the classic tag is deserved. Also the artwork of Mark Wilkinson, inspired by the lyrics, adds to the picture.

But of course that would not be enough to deserve the “classic” tag.  This second album with original singer Fish, and the first with drummer Ian Mosley, saw the boys recording in full digital mode. I believe they were one of the first bands to do that. And despite this resulting in a somewhat clinical sounding record, the songs have stood the test of time remarkably well.

Opener Assassin is a full blown progressive rock tune that tells us the band means business. A mystical opening, evolving into an up beat song that presents the perfect stage for the lyrical content Fish unleashes at the listener. As often, his words are open to various interpretation, but I prefer to mention the great guitar solo´s Steve Rothery fires at us here.  A thing gone sadly missing in later years. And lets not forget the inventive keyboard arrangements by Mark Kelly.
Next track Punch And Judy is a prime example of how this type of music can translate into catchy tunes that everyone should want to hear. Jigsaw has a peaceful opening with keyboards and vocals. Pete Trewavas supports the melodies with some excellent bass lines. After a few minutes into the song, the band again show their craftsmanship in turning the track into another prog workout with an extensive guitar solo.
The opening drums and riffs of Emerald Lies are classic, and Pete´s bass lines bring Yes to mind. The track has many mood shifts but holds the attention with ease.

And so I could go on. So believe me when I say this album never tires. Timeless!

December People, Sounds Like Christmas, 2001

december people - sounds like christmasI just couldn´t resist paying attention, or homage if you will, to this wonderful 2001 release. For the time of the year, this is a companion that keeps finding it´s way to my CD-player and  never tires.

For this release Robert Berry and a lot of friends have recorded traditional Christmas songs, but cleverly disguised them to sound like classic artists like Kansas, Queen, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, and the like. Speaking of Kansas, Steve Walsh apparently was so impressed he wrote and recorded an original song with his band.

And while I don´t care all that much for popular music (hey, I don´t even own a radio), this is a piece of art that entertains me greatly. And now I use it to indoctrinate the family, ho ho ho. So if you like me are not into seasonal standards, but do like quality progressive tinged music, this will be of your liking. Fantastic moods and play, and a really nice guessing game of who influenced what. Super!

I read there is a new album out that, besides some of these tunes, also holds a couple of new ones. It is called Rattle and Humbug I believe, and I will make sure to pick that up.

And to seize the occasion, thanks for reading my posts and wishing you all the best. Keep safe and healthy!

Classic: Pendragon, The Jewel, 1985

pendragon - the jewelRiding on the waves of the so called neo prog movement (don´t ask) Pendragon is a band that alas never reached the heights of the likes of Marillion or Pallas.
Yet I always had a soft spot for the band, and their first album in particular. In recent years I again picked up on them, and was surprised to find how good they still are.

This album started the career of Pendragon. First tracks Higher Circles and The Pleasure Of Hope succeed into merging pop sensibilities with prog arrangements. Thus creating songs that are instant. No mean feat.
Next tracks to me are the real core of the album. Singer Nick Barrett is no Peter Gabriel but delivers his songs with the panache a front man needs. His guitar playing is very worthwhile though, as he so aptly demonstrates in tracks like Leviathan, Alaska or Circus.

Alaska is a true masterpiece with awesome fret-less bass, long instrumental parts with beautiful keyboard arrangements and a thought provoking lyric. Circus has a great tension and a very varied structure and build. This track is impossible to resist to any serious prog lover. Next Track Oh Divineo opens with a stunningly beautiful guitar solo over a soft keyboard sound. When the band picks up, the soloing continues and the song gets a spellbinding hook and minutes pass without you looking at the clock… The feel than evolves into soft as is the playing. But as you´d expect, moods swing back and forth, without losing momentum. The original album is closed with the epic The Black Knight, almost 10 minutes of pure symphonic bliss. Again Barrett tortures his six string to much excitement.

This 1990 edition features 2 bonus tracks and was issued by Toff Records, the bands own label. I recommend this album and band to any prog lover, they deserve far more credit than they get.

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Steve Walsh, Shadowman, 2005

steve walsh - shadowmanSteve Walsh will forever hold a place in my heart for his contributions to both Kansas and Streets (and a few other spots). Alas he is lesser known for his solo releases, this being his third if I am not mistaken.

As with previous solo effort Glossolalia this is a challenging listen. Of course the mighty voice is there, as are the melodies that carry the songs. The arrangements however are very thought through and hold many a variation within them. At times heavy on guitars, at times orchestral. Some tracks start as a rock song and develop into a symphonic work out. Others have so many faces one might get lost describing the beast.

One has to admire the creativity at work here. With thanks in the booklet to guys like Trent Gardner and Jack Foster III it is no real mystery where all of this came from. Avoiding the obvious is standard here, as is the challenging of the innocent listener. But that voice! Steve holds everything together with ease. His delivery is spot on as always and does not reveal the 30 plus years in the business. And over repeated plays everything really gels together. It may not be instant, but it is beautiful.

Over time it´s secrets are revealed. So again we are rewarded with an album that withstands continuous play with ease. Brilliant stuff.

Personal play tips: buy it and play it!

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