Posts Tagged ‘ Prog ’

Album of the Week 25-2016: Steve Hackett – Spectral Mornings


Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is to me one of those people who should consistently be mentioned in any list of guitar heroes, but somehow hardly ever is. Maybe it’s because he focuses on tasteful, melodically oriented leads rather than constant speedy runs, although the is perfectly capable of writing the latter. Another reason why he deserves all the praise he can get is the fact that his records are infinitely more listenable than those of any neoclassical shredder. Hackett is an excellent composer and though his consistent embrace of technology makes some of his efforts sound a bit dated, his third album ‘Spectral Mornings’ was his first masterpiece. Definitely worth a listen.

Like the vast majority of his solo records, ‘Spectral Mornings’ is a bit of a hodgepodge, which can make it sound a little uneven at times. It’s not completely fair to judge it by that, because he tackles every style on the album with an elegance and an expertise that makes it nearly impossible not to admire Hackett for it. Even the humorous, vaguely Carribean sounding ‘The Ballad Of A Decomposing Man’, which does stand out like a sore thumb in a way, because the rest of the record is such stately, progressive music.

The most important reason for me to love this record is opening track ‘Every Day’. It starts out reasonably poppy with a prominent role for Nick Magnus’ synthesizers and the excellent vocal harmonies Hackett shares with bassist Dik Cadbury and lead singer Pete Hicks, but it’s the second half that turns the whole song into gold. Lead by a myriad of fantastic melodies, these are quite likely the most beautiful three minutes of guitar music ever laid down on tape. Hackett’s playing is highly expressive, but the melodies are also extremely well-written. The backing by his band, Magnus especially, is subtle, but just right for the part.

So ‘Every Day’ starts the record off in a mindblowing fashion, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else to be enjoyed here. The closing title track is more proof that Hackett is an excellent guitarist who refuses to let his playing get in the way of the composition. ‘Clocks – The Angel Of Mons’ is another great instrumental built upon a strong recurring theme and features an overwhelming drum solo by John Shearer, which I suspect is double tracked. But even outside of his pastoral Progrock sound, Hackett and his band excel: ‘Last Time In Cordoba’ is a vehicle for the guitarist’s considerable skills on the classical guitar, while ‘The Virgin And The Gypsy’ highlights his Folk origins beautifully.

Anyone who doesn’t consider Steve Hackett a guitar hero obviously hasn’t heard him play. Maybe part of the “problem” is that the calm, sympathetic Brit has never had the ego to impose himself onto the audience as the next facemelting shredder, but his best records feature some of the most tasteful, pleasant guitar music ever made. And he’s still going strong. His three most recent studio records are every bit as good as this one, but if you’re looking for a way to get into the man’s impressive skills, look no further than the last three minutes of ‘Every Day’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Every Day’, ‘Spectral Mornings’, ‘Last Time In Cordoba’

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Best of 2014: The Albums

Yes, it’s that time of year again. And let me start out by saying that 2014 was a slight disappointment in terms of new releases. Sure, one of the best Dutch Rock albums in ages was released (look for it at number one) and that wasn’t the only impressive release this year, but in all honesty, most of the releases I anticipated were live documents and reissues. Some surprisingly strong comebacks and a few new bands that blew me away did compensate for the initial disappointment though.

Make no mistake though: each and every one of these albums is worthy of your time and attention. This year’s number one is one of the albums I played most throughout the year and restored my faith in the fact that the Rock scene hadn’t drowned in its own self-importance or hit song obsession.

1. Navarone – Vim And Vigor

Oh, how I love this record! Navarone already was one of Holland’s most promising bands, but with ‘Vim And Vigor’, they made one of my favorite records in recent years. While the song durations may hint at a more compact direction, the album is surprisingly adventurous. It shows Navarone exploring all the corners of their versatile Rock sound. There are loads of seventies Hardrock riffs, but also a few songs consisting of a more rhythmical contemporary approach, Southern Rock-style ballads and psychedelic passages, all tied together by concise songwriting, massive choruses and Merijn van Haren’s fantastic, powerful voice. ‘Vim And Vigor’ is obligatory for every Rock fan of any kind. And good luck trying to play it more than I have.

Recommended tracks: ‘Time’, ‘Wander’, ‘Indigo Blue’

2. D’Angelo – Black Messiah

Now where did that album suddenly come from? D’Angelo had been working on ‘Black Messiah’ for over fourteen years and we have been told it was nearly done since 2011. It was worth the wait though; ‘Black Messiah’ is almost as good as ‘Voodoo’. But where ‘Voodoo’ was seductive, ‘Black Messiah’ is militant. Or at least socially conscious. It’s a grower for sure, in the sense that the album slowly reveals its secrets over repeated spins, in all of their grooving, riotous and at times psychedelic glory. This is ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ for the 21st century. Very much so, in fact. Even though D’Angelo sticks to his story that he rushed through the final phase of the album – once again: I chuckled – it’s obvious he worked hard at once again creating a unique work of art. He succeeded.

Recommended tracks: ‘Betray My Heart’, ‘The Charade’, ‘1000 Deaths’

3. Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died

With Nevermore, a band I loved intensely, gone – or, if you will, on hiatus – this reunion of Warrel Dane’s and Jim Sheppard’s former band is the second best thing I can wish for. Then again, because of the modern production and Dane’s current vocal range, it does sound a lot like Nevermore. While the song patterns don’t vary greatly throughout the record, the riffs call for headbanging, the choruses are catchy and recognizable and the soaring guitar leads are just fantastic. This may not be the falsetto screams and old style Power Metal riff festival that ‘Refuge Denied’ was, but this is a clever contemporary Metal record with all the elements that make Heavy Metal so amazing in the first place firmly in tact.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Year The Sun Died’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Question Existence Fading’

4. OverKill – White Devil Armory

It’s not unusual for me to anticipate an OverKill album. They’ve been my favorite band – alongside Led Zeppelin – for ages. But it doesn’t happen very often that my blood gets boiling as quickly as it did upon first listening to ‘White Devil Armory’. This is OverKill’s East Coast Thrash Metal in all its aggressive, violent and full speed glory. It’s interesting that Dave Linsk’s lead guitar work infuses some of the songs with an almost triumphant old school Heavy Metal feel, most particularly in the amazing closing track ‘In The Name’, one of OverKill’s carreer highlights. ‘White Devil Armory’ should send all these young Retro Thrashing kids back to rehearsal in shame. And they’re only allowed when they come back when they have at least half the energy that Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth has today. Incredible.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Name’, ‘Pig’, ‘Where There’s Smoke…’

5. King Of The World – KOTW

Almost exactly a year after their brilliant first album, there was a brilliant second album. As if it takes them no effort whatsoever. ‘KOTW’ confirms King Of The World’s status as the best Blues band in the Netherlands. Possibly in Europe. While the first album was one of the most versatile Blues records I had heard in a while, this one shows the band branching out even outside the borders of what is traditionally considered Blues by combining it with flourishes of Soul, Funk grooves and even some Rock riffs. And all of it with similar conviction and audible enthusiasm. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, let me tell you that King Of The World is one of the very few Blues bands that can translate their live excitement to their records. ‘KOTW’ is proof.

Recommended tracks: ‘Beating Like A Drum’, ‘Living With The Ghost Of The Past’, ‘Hurricane’

6. No Sinner – Boo Hoo Hoo

Not only was No Sinner’s press day one of the most fun I have ever had – singer Colleen Rennison is awesome and their entire entourage is incredibly friendly – but the debut album of the Vancouver based band was one of the first albums I’ve loved this year. Rennison seems to love sixties Rock ‘n’ Soul as much as I do, possibly even more, and as a result, ‘Boo Hoo Hoo’ is a fantastic record that brings back memories of the best Janis Joplin, Big Mama Thornton and Ike & Tina Turner recordings. Eric Campbell’s guitar work does keep the songs firmly within the realms of Rock music though. It does sound like I have to see them in a smokey bar – are there still any of those left anyway? – for the full experience, but this album is as good as it gets if you need your fill on rootsy Rock music.

Recommended tracks: ‘September Moon’, ‘That’d Be The Day’, ‘Love Is A Madness’

7. Dir En Grey – Arche

It’s good to hear Dir En Grey try their hand at something more melodic after the more brutal approach of the last few records. The contemporary progressive leanings are retained though, resulting in – once again – a truly unique record. For me, the fact that Kyo equips his clean vocals more often is one of the album’s redeeming factors, but the songwriting is top notch once again. Where some passages of ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ were a bit of an aural blur, the songs on ‘Arche’ all have a face of their own and those faces may not be pretty (except for maybe ‘Kuukoku No Kyouon’), but they definitely all are worth interacting with. Because of the album’s layered nature, some of the album’s shining moments won’t immediately be at the surface. One of them, though – Shinya’s best drumming so far – is right where you can hear it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Un Deux’, Chain Repulsion’, ‘Kuukoku No Kyouon’

8. Joanne Shaw Taylor – The Dirty Truth

Okay, so I’ve never made a secret of my love for what Joanne Shaw Taylor does, but then again: her huge guitar work, her raw and heartfelt voice and her versatile songwriting leave very little to be desired anyway. After the wildly eclectic ‘Almost Always Never’, ‘The Dirty Truth’ is a more concise set of American Roots music. All the more impressive, given that Taylor is British. The Soul influences were always at the surface, but it seems like Taylor increasingly embraces funky grooves. And she’s got Memphis legend Steve Potts on drums here, so why not? The simple fact is that ‘The Dirty Truth’ is full of amazing Blues, Soul, Rock and Americana tunes played passionately by one of the biggest talents in the contemporary Blues scene.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wicked Soul’, ‘Wrecking Ball’, ‘The Dirty Truth’

9. Robert Plant – Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar

Robert Plant could easily just sit back and enjoy the benefits of once being the legendary frontman of the world’s ultimate Rock band, but his hunger to discover Folk music from all over the world is seemingly endless. That much is clear when you put on ‘Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar’; he moves from Americana to the Middle East and even has a Gambian griot in his backing band. Speaking of which: the Sensational Space Shifters brings back several members of Plant’s best backing band the Strange Sensation and even though the music isn’t quite as exuberant as on ‘Mighty Rearranger’ – the lullaby drowns out the ceaseless roar – the influence from African Rock and Blues is more than obvious. The results are often hypnotizing and haunting. It’s not an easy album to get into, but then again: regardless of your taste, Plant hasn’t ever released anything less than impressive.

Recommended tracks: ‘Embrace Another Fall’, ‘Arbaden (Maggie’s Babby)’, ‘A Stolen Kiss’

10. Triggerfinger – By Absence Of The Sun

For a minute, the mainstream Pop success of their cover of ‘I Follow Rivers’ – a decent cover of a terrible song – made me afraid of Triggerfinger’s future. I know I shouldn’t have; the Belgian trio has always done what they wanted and nothing else. As a result, ‘By Absence Of The Sun’ is yet another manifestatation of what makes Triggerfinger so good in the first place. It’s a record of very little subtlety. It’s raw, it’s powerful, it’s primal and has a few warts that make it all the more attractive. Also, it seems like someone finally succeeded in translating the sweaty energy of the band’s intense live performances to a studio record. Predecessor ‘All This Dancin’ Around’ was a collection of good songs, but ‘By Absence Of The Sun’ has been put just that little extra effort into to make it the hard working band’s ultimate mission statement.

Recommended tracks: ‘Halfway There’, ‘There Isn’t Time’, ‘And There She Was Lying In Wait’

11. The Tea Party – The Ocean At The End

Where the live documents from 2012 proved that The Tea Party was perfectly able to capture the spirit of their classic material, ‘The Ocean At The End’ is the proof that they’re still coming up with material that can easily stand the comparison with it. In fact, the band sounds more free and relieved than ever, giving ‘The Ocean At The End’ sort of a jam feel instead of the tightly composed productions that were ‘Transmission’ and ‘Triptych’. The Canadian power trio is obviously not afraid to experiment and although sometimes the Led Zeppelin influences are slightly too obvious – opening track ‘The L.O.C.’ sounds a ridiculous amount like ‘The Song Remains The Same’ at some points – the results are stunning. The title track is Jeff Martin’s crowning achievement as a guitarist; that guitar solo cuts right through your soul.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Ocean At The End’, ‘Cypher’, ‘The Black Sea’

12. The Backcorner Boogie Band – Faico Faico

Hailing from a part of the Netherlands that is litterally translated to “The Backcorner”, this is definitely the most aptly named band in this year’s list. Also, their music is just amazing. The lineup of the band is massive, but they’re all devoted to comibining Blues, Rock, Soul and even hints of Americana and Gospel into an irresistable cocktail. The results sound a little similar to The Black Crowes and The Rolling Stones and fans of those bands should know that this band can absolutely compare itself favorably to them. There’s a swinging rhythm section, a bunch of amazing singers, bombastic horns, killer guitar work and a rumbling Hammond organ and no one is trying to upstage or outshine anyone. This makes ‘Faico Faico’ the ultimate jam record released in the Benelux this past year and should be heard by anyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Angels’, ‘When The Day Is Done’, ‘Lost My Job To A Chinaman’

13. Anthem – Absolute World

Because of bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata’s illness, Anthem was shortly on hold. When they returned, it wasn’t Eizo Sakamoto, but Yukio Morikawa who fronted the band. And while he hasn’t stood the test of time as good as his two-time predecessor, his spirit and passion are part of what make ‘Absolute World’ such a good Heavy Metal record. The songs courtesy of Shibata and guitarist Akio Shimizu are important as well; ‘Absolute World’ is Anthem’s most riff-driven album in a while and Shimizu seasons the album with a number of mindblowing guitar solos. This is quite obviously a band that is very heartfelt about old school Heavy and Power Metal and they succeed at getting that across even three and a half decades into their carreer. Well worth the import price that may be steep.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Chaos’, ‘Sailing’, ‘Destroy The Boredom’

14. De Dijk – Allemansplein

Predecessor ‘Scherp De Zeis’ already saw De Dijk moving away from the French chanson influences that characterized part of their recent output and ‘Allemansplein’ is once again an almost fully Blues and Soul infused record. Because make no mistake: for a band whose lyrics are entirely in Dutch, De Dijk sounds remarkably American musically. The title track is one of the most sparse tracks in the history of the band and has this wonderful tension hanging in the air, making it reminiscent of their masterpiece ‘Recht In De Ogen’ in terms of atmosphere. As for the rest, there are the swinging riffs and horns that make every De Dijk album good, there’s just more emphasis on them than before. Another work that proves that De Dijk is much better than some Dutch people may think.

Recommended tracks: ‘Allemansplein (Wat Het Nooit Was)’, ‘Steen’, ‘Zelfs De Regen’

15. Umphrey’s McGee – Similar Skin

This one almost went by unnoticed in the stream of new releases I got to review. Am I glad I gave this one a chance anyway, because ‘Similar Skin’ is a sensational record. It’s hard to describe Umphrey’s McGee; they came from the nineties jam band scene, but they have more in common with Progrock in terms of style, despite several recognizable songs, guitar passages reminiscent of The Police’s later work, Funk grooves, Metal riffs and Jazzy instrumental prowess. There aren’t many bands that have a distinct sound and albums on which every song sounds different, but Umphrey’s McGee succeeds there. The only thing that could make the band better is a powerful lead singer; though all four singers in the band do quite well, none of them are lead singers. Don’t let that keep you from enjoying this highly surprising and versatile record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hourglass’, ‘Bridgeless’, ‘Cut The Cable’

16. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

Thomas Gabriel Fischer wanted to build upon the pitch black sound of ‘Monotheist’ some more after the demise of Celtic Frost and I’m happy he did; that record was a masterpiece and so was Triptykon’s debut ‘Eparistera Daimones’. And ‘Melana Chasmata’. Enormous monoliths of pitch black riffs and dirge-like tempos paint a bleak atmosphere that is impossible to escape as a humble, helpless listener. While this melancholic sound still rings through most of ‘Melana Chasmata’, it also contains some of the band’s most aggressive and defiant material so far. It’s remarkable how easily the band makes this transition from dreary Doom Metal to angry, Death Metal-like Thrash passages, but one thing is for sure: nobody does it like they do!

Recommended tracks: ‘Breathing’, ‘Tree Of Suffocating Souls’, ‘Waiting’

17. While Heaven Wept – Suspended At Aphelion

Those who still consider While Heaven Wept as a Doom Metal band will probably be disappointed upon hearing ‘Suspended At Aphelion’. This is definitely not Doom Metal anymore; this is huge, epic Power Metal driven by massive riffs, fantastic vocals courtesy of Rain Irving and a desolate, overwhelming atsmosphere. There are piano interludes and purely classical pieces, ballad segments, instrumental Progmetal violence and epic Metal chapters in a 40 minute journey that is designed to listen to in one go. For me, that was easy, because the album is so expertly written and well performed. Mainman Tom Phillips already deserved all the praise he can get for his ambition and the sheer scope of the record, but the quality of ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ more than justifies it. Interesting sidenote: the session musicians are remarkably significant for some of the pieces here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Indifference Turned Paralysis’, ‘Souls In Permafrost’, ‘Introspectus’

18. VandenBerg’s MoonKings – MoonKings

A couple of years ago, no one would have expected Adrian VandenBerg ever releasing a new album again; he had a wrist injury and spent his entire professional life painting. However, he apparently feels good enough to record another album and tour again. And the album is good! With a strong, young rhythm section, Vandenberg and singer Jan Hoving – who tries to sound like David Coverdale a little too hard at some points, but does fit the music really well – recorded a collection of energetic, Bluesy Rock ‘n’ Roll songs that just scream for the live environment. This isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia; the songs sound fresh and I applaud Vandenberg for not taking the road of least resistance by gathering a bunch of big names here. Let’s just hope that this is the first chapter in the new book of Vandenberg’s musical carreer.

Recommended tracks: ‘Line Of Fire’, ‘Close To You’, ‘Leave This Town’

19. Prince & 3rdEyeGirl – PlectrumElectrum

Since he stubbornly refuses to do anything the way anyone else does – and that’s his strongest feat – Prince released two albums simultaneously. ‘Art Official Age’ was a bit too modern and digital for me, but ‘PlectrumElectrum’ has Prince and his all-female backing band 3rdEyeGirl exploring the two things he’s best at anyway: guitars and grooves. The ladies – in particular bassist Ida Nielsen: holy shit! – do a fantastic job backing Prince on his most consistent set of songs since ‘Musicology’. Of course, the Funk and Soul influences are right there, but the songs rock surprisingly hard at some points as well. Maybe the purple one should consider releasing a live album with these ladies… And this material of course!

Recommended tracks: ‘AnotherLove’, ‘FixUrLifeUp’, ‘PlectrumElectrum’

20. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun

While the psychedelic masterpiece of ‘Crack The Skye’ will be hard to equal for Mastodon, they will always find new ways to challenge themselves and expand upon their existing sound and that alone would be a reason why each album of the Atlanta-based band is enjoyable at the very least. ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’ is a more melodic record than ‘The Hunter’, though the basic sound is similar. As a result, most of the songs have a triumphant and – despite the band’s inaccessible nature – almost catchy vibe to them. If those are words that scare you as a Mastodon fan; don’t worry. Opposite material like the amazingly memorable ‘The Motherload’, there’s still stuff like the dark monster that is closing track ‘Diamond In The Witch House’. All worth your time!

Recommended tracks: ‘The Motherload’, ‘Tread Lightly’, ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’