Posts Tagged ‘ Progressive Rock ’

Album of the Week 06-2018: Onmyo-za – Chimimoryo


Out of all Onmyo-za albums, ‘Chimimoryo’ is proabably the one with the broadest appeal. That does not mean it isn’t metal. Quite the contrary. The riff work on the album is still as rooted in traditional heavy metal as it always has been, but the polish of the production and the melodic sensibilities really opens the door for J-rock fans, while the dynamic and subtly adventurous nature of the record invites progressive rockers to have a listen. No matter what side of Onmyo-za you like best, it is represented on ‘Chimimoryo’, which – as a result – is one of the band’s best.

What really makes ‘Chimimoryo’ as near perfect as it gets is the fact that it has a very pleasant flow. It would not surprise me if multiple track orders were tested before release in order to find the one that is just right. This is not the type of album where you’d get tired of too many songs of the same tempo or style after each other, neither does it boggle your mind with illogical genre-hopping. The powerful voice of bassist and band leader Matatabi and the expressive (mezzo-)soprano of Kuroneko are very much in balance here as well.

As great as ‘Chimimoryo’ is all the way through, the more epic tracks really raise the album’s status. And that already starts when you put on the album, as ‘Shutendoji’ is a monumental midtempo hardrock track of late Zeppelin proportions, only with some brilliant guitar harmonies and a metallic rhythm section more reminiscent of Iron Maiden. Later on, ‘Dojoji Kuchinawa No Goku’ takes you through multiple climaxes during its eleven and a half minutes. Huge, doomy riffs, balladesque sections and one of the more awesome speed metal riffs in the band’s discography, it’s all there and each section is even better than the last.

These songs alone don’t make a good album though. The hypermelodic single ‘Kureha’ is reminiscent of ‘Yoka Ninpocho’ in how the clean and distorted guitars interact, the strong melodic metal stomper ‘Araragi’ feels like a sequel to ‘Shutendoji’ with its powerful lead guitar themes and broad chords and if it’s fast riffs you want, ‘Hiderigami’ and ‘Oni Hitokuchi’ will serve you all the energetic speed metal you need. Kuroneko’s composition ‘Tamashizume no Uta’ is the lone ballad on the album, but her amazing voice and the rather atypical marching rhythms and percussion really turn it into something unique.

Unless you are a wool-dyed old-schooler, ‘Chimimoryo’ would be the perfect album to get acquainted with Onmyo-za’s unique sound. Matatabi’s compositions evidence that the guitars of Maneki and Karukan do not have to play power chords the whole time in order to sound metallic and the vocals prove that there are more options than the overused beauty and the beast tactic for male-female vocal duos. Onmyo-za would later top ‘Chimimoryo’ with ‘Kishibojin’, but only barely. This is one of the very few albums that is of consistently high quality from start to finish and deserves to be heard because of that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shutendoji’, ‘Dojoji Kuchinawa No Goku’, ‘Araragi’, ‘Oni Hitokuchi’

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Album of the Week 03-2018: Kayak – Seventeen


Kayak is one of the few bands who can keep changing musicians and still sound like Kayak. ‘Seventeen’ is the ultimate proof. Only founding keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel remains from the last album, yet it is the most inspired set of songs Kayak has released in at least ten years, possibly even as much as three and a half decades. In a time when progressive rock fans have to count on affectionate retro bands, Scherpenzeel is one of the originators of the genre still laying down some amazing, symphonically tinged progrock compositions with a passion that is nothing less than admirable.

Despite being the sole composer of these songs, Scherpenzeel is not the only one who deserves credit for how good ‘Seventeen’ is. The eighties inspired guitar heroics of Marcel Singor – along his gorgeous tone – really make this material come to life and give it the rock edge that some of the band’s most popular songs lack. The difference on the vocal front is notable too; Kayak no longer has a male-female vocal duo. Instead, Bart Schwertmann has a passionate, almost theatrical vibe that fits Scherpenzeel’s compositions really well. Some may miss Edward Reekers’ warm delivery, but as far as prog rock singers go, this is excellent.

With ‘Seventeen’ being a progressive rock album, there are some long songs that move through several moods and atmospheres without sounding incoherent. ‘Walk Through Fire’ is one of those moments, which starts out almost intimate before entering a highly memorable section with fairly obvious Celtic influences and builds from a dark middle section to a bombastic finale. Another one of the epic suites, ‘La Peregrina’, has an almost classical elegance, while the shortest of the three, ‘Cracks’ feels like a more traditional progressive rock song with some amazing fretless bass work courtesy of Kristoffer Gildenlöw (ex-Pain Of Salvation).

If Kayak has proven anything through the years, however, it’s that their shorter, more concise song are no less interesting than the longer ones. And that doesn’t just concern the short instrumentals, like ‘Ripples On The Water’, which features some beautiful lead guitar work by Camel’s Andy Latimer. Opening track ‘Somebody’ has a Queen-like feel to it and some really strong melodies, while ‘Feathers And Tar’ has a great chorus an some of the most propulsive rhythms on the album. ‘All That I Want’ is a flawless pop song and the appropriately titled ‘To An End’ is a beautiful, heartfelt ballad like only Kayak can do them.

Though Kayak’s compositions are never less than good, I tend to prefer the material on which the guitars and the keyboards are in perfect balance. In addition, the fact that ‘Seventeen’ was conceived with the idea that a band should play it rather than being a studio project, the material just sounds a little more “alive” than usual. Everyone involved obviously plays their heart out and it is that simple fact that makes these compositions, which were already good to begin with, just a little bit better. Highly recommended for progressive rock fans, both traditional and contemporary.

Recommended tracks: ‘Feathers And Tar’, ‘Somebody’, ‘La Peregrina’

Album of the Week 50-2017: Adagio – Life


Adagio has always been a band I should love, but didn’t. Kevin Codfert’s orchestrations are amazing, Stéphan Forté is one of the few highly skilled guitarists that found a middle ground between virtuosity and melodicism and none of their past singers was worse than good. Yet, something was missing for me. Initially, this was the case with their new album ‘Life’ – their first in no less than eight years – as well. Forté’s djenty rhythm guitar that occasionally pops up was a bit of a turn-off for me. And yet, ‘Life’ has slowly grown to be one of my favorite albums of the year.

Part of the reason for my returning interest was the presence of singer Kelly Sundown Carpenter, whose huge, raw-edged range never ceases to amaze me. Still, this may just be his best performance yet. His voice is extremely spirited and he frequently reminds me of late Gotthard frontman Steve Lee in his best days. Even a great vocal performance would not be relevant if the songs aren’t any good though and luckily, the French band succeeded at writing a highly dynamic and pleasantly polished record, on which Forté’s violent riffs and Codfert’s orchestral grandeur are constantly in perfect balance.

One of the most notable differences with the band’s past is that the tempo of the songs on ‘Life’ is considerably lower. And while an album full of mid-tempo songs may sound discouraging to the power metal audience: don’t let it. The subdued tempo of the songs allows Carpenter’s vocals and the ethnic, often Middle-Eastern flavor of the orchestrations to flourish, resulting in bombastic masterpieces, such as the cinematic ‘Subrahmanya’, more traditionally progressive moments such as ‘The Grand Spirit Voyage’ and ‘The Ladder’ and the massive, epic grandiosity of the lengthy opener that carries the same title as the album.

Remarkably, Adagio chose to place the more accessible material on the latter half of the album. That was probably beneficial to the album, as it has a very pleasant flow. Songs like the dramatic ‘I’ll Possess You’ and ‘Secluded Within Myself’ and the almost uptempo, yet equally dark closer ‘Torn’ are no less good than the songs opening the album though. The only near-miss is the ballad ‘Trippin’ Away’. The first half of the song and the performances by both Forté and Carpenter are too good to completely dismiss it, but while I don’t doubt Forté’s sincerity, the lyrics of this love song are too mawkish and awkward to enjoy.

The rest of the album is really good at worst and downright incredible at best. On ‘Life’, Adagio shows that it is perfectly possible to have everyone playing on top of their game without actually getting in the way of the music and that in itself already makes the album a great success. For me, this is the first time Adagio really profits from all the qualities within the band. And that has resulted in quite a unique sound; I have never heard these elements combined in a way even remotely close to how ‘Life’ sounds. A must for fans of progressive or orchestral metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Subrahmanya’, ‘Torn’, ‘Life’

Album of the Week 49-2017: Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight

Initially, Fates Warning’s twelfth studio album ‘Theories Of Flight’ failed to excite me the way its predecessor ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ did. I dismissed it as the prog metal giants trying to repeat the same formula. Then suddenly, it clicked. And I realized that ‘Theories Of Flight’ is one of Fates Warning’s best albums thus far. Yes, it roughly follows a similar formula as ‘Darkness…’ did, but Fates Warning succeeds at blending their traditional progressive metal roots with contemporary prog rock elements in the vein of Porcupine Tree and Tool and more catchy moments better than ever here.

The guitar work of sole remaining original member Jim Matheos are an important part of the aforementioned formula. It is incredibly varied. Within the same song, it often flows from traditional heavy metal riffs to typical prog chops and atmospheric clean strums in a very fluent and pleasant manner. It would be unreasonable to ignore the contributions of Bobby Jarzombek though. While his predecessor Mark Zonder was an incredible drummer in his own right, Jarzombek plays with a comparable level of technicality, just with a style that feels somewhat looser and more driving than Zonder’s. A very solid foundation for compositions that often feel fluid.

Progressive metal has a bit of a bad rap for lacking a focus on songwriting. Enter Fates Warning. Even in their early days, they combined hooks and recognizable melodies with all the odd meters and unpredictable compositions you could wish for. Virtuosity does take a back seat on most of their albums and ‘Theories Of Flight’ is no exception. Sure, there are some great leads to be found here – remarkably, the majority recorded by former guitarist Frank Aresti and live guitarist Mike Abdow – but Matheos mainly seems interested in using his guitar for dependable melodic work.

Fortunately, this approach works very well. At time incredibly so. ‘SOS’, for instance, is a highly dynamic track with lots of fantastic twists, but its incredible chorus – performed expertly by Ray Alder – is the highlight of the song. Opening track ‘From The Rooftops’ feels like a bit of a mini-suite and as such, it is the most traditionally progressive song on the album, while ‘White Flag’ is so metallic that it would not have sounded out of place on one of the band’s late eighties records. The 10 minute songs ‘The Light And Shade Of Things’ and ‘The Ghosts Of Home’ are not crammed full of ideas, but instead given room to slowly develop into multi-faceted, atmospheric masterpieces with multiple mood changes. Very impressive.

And as if the fact that ‘Theories Of Flight’ does not have a single weak moment wasn’t yet enough, Jens Bogren’s fantastic production makes the listening experience even more pleasant. Sonically, the album is as far away from the overly compressed standard for contemporary prog metal releases as it gets. ‘Theories Of Flight’ sounds organic and lively, even giving the extremely effective bass work of Joey Vera the space it deserves without becoming intrusive. This album is what happens if you put a group of incredible musicians who only care about having the music sound as good as it possibly can in one studio. Absolutely essential for fans of progressive music.

Recommended tracks: ‘SOS’, ‘White Flag’, ‘The Ghosts Of Home’

Album of the Week 48-2017: Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory


Dream Theater is often accused of favoring a display of musical virtuosity over songwriting and lacking in the quality control department. All true, but when they are good, they are really good, which is what makes them one of the flagships of progressive metal. Despite experimenting with conceptual pieces since their debut album, it took them until the late nineties to come up with a full-blown concept album. And whether it is a result of its conceptual nature or not, it would take them close to another decade before they released another album as consistently good as ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory’.

‘Scenes From A Memory’ is such an enjoyable listen, because it avoids most of the pitfalls that many modern progressive bands imitating Dream Theater – and sometimes the Americans themselves – suffer from. Especially the overly compressed production with the genre is nowhere to be found. Both sonically and in the songwriting department, the album is dynamic and organic, making listening through the entire album a particularly pleasant experience. There are never any solos that get in the way of the songs. If anything, John Petrucci’s solo is what saves the particularly sappy ballad ‘The Spirit Carries On’.

When I first heard the album in my early teens, I did not get it. It was too complex for me and I thought some songs needed too much time to get to the point. In those days, ‘Beyond This Life’ was the only song that made some impact on me through its deceptively simple, crushing main riff in 5/4 and its general dark atmosphere. While I still love that song to this day, the brooding, almost doomy ‘Home’ is easily the most moving song on ‘Scenes From A Memory’. The dark, downtempo riffs have a vaguely Middle-Eastern flair that really enhances the tension in this part of the story.

Instrumental track ‘The Dance Of Eternity’ is a fan favorite and it is not difficult to hear why, as it really puts the musical skills of Petrucci, drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist John Myung and then new keyboard player Jordan Rudess to the fore, not unlike ‘Overture 1928’. Personally, I am quite fond of ‘One Last Time’, which it morphs into. It is easily the best of the album’s more introspective moments, because it has a distinct early Genesis vibe; the inspiration of ‘Broadway Melody of 1974’ is quite obvious. ‘Strange Deja Vu’ and ‘Fatal Tragedy’ are nice, dynamic tracks that interestingly feature equal measures of progressive rock and metal.

The ballads are a matter of taste. Whether or not you will like them depends largely on how much you like James LaBrie’s dramatic delivery, though it is worth noting that ‘Finally Free’ surpasses ‘Through Her Eyes’ and ‘The Spirit Carries On’ in sheer dynamism and atmosphere. As a whole, ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory’ is an album that has a really pleasant flow, which is never outshone by the musicianship. Concept albums can certainly be a bit of a slippery slope, but Dream Theater’s progressive music seems to be tailor-made for the situation and it has resulted in one of their more consistent outings thus far.

Recommended tracks: ‘Home’, ‘Beyond This Life’, ‘One Last Time’

Album of the Week 47-2017: Steve Hackett – The Night Siren


After spending a lot of time touring with new interpretations of old  Genesis material, Steve Hackett finally found the time to release a new album of all original material again earlier this year. And that is great, because his last couple of albums were all really good. ‘The Night Siren’ is no different. In fact, it may be even better than the already impressive ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’. Here, Hackett tries to create a world fusion/progressive rock hybrid that works a lot better than earlier attempts at such a blend. Not just by Hackett himself, but by rock musicians in general.

What makes ‘The Night Siren’ work so well is that it is not the work of a western rock musician trying to show off how exotic he can be; Hackett really creates his own style with all these foreign influences, no doubt helped by the great arrangements and gorgeous, often Arabic sounding orchestrations of his keyboard player and co-producer Roger King. While exploring all corners of the world, Hackett and King keep the bottom end firm and relatively heavy, creating a record that is much more consistent than albums with such a journeyman mentality genereally tend to be.

Most of the songs on here could have been on any one of Hackett’s records and because of that, the songs do not sound like huge departures from what he usually does. Tracks like the amazing opener ‘Behind The Smoke’ and the lengthy guitar exercise ‘Fify Miles From The North Pole’ sound memorable and muscular, while the orchestrations give them a ‘Kashmir’-like atmosphere. Hackett’s work on the classical guitar makes ‘Other Side Of The Wall’ feel like a familiar, trusted song, while the folk morphing into prog approach of ‘Inca Terra’ would not have sounded out of place on Genesis’ ‘Wind & Wuthering’.

That does not mean that ‘The Night Siren’ is without surprises. ‘Martian Sea’ starts out sounding like one of the sixties pop inspired tracks that Hackett is known to be fond of, but turns into a somewhat psychedelic song with distinct Indian influences halfway through and the celtic folk-inspired first half of ‘In Another Life’ sounds unlike anything Hackett has ever done before. It also illustrates best how much Hackett’s vocals have improved recently: he sounds powerful and confident here. ‘Anything But Love’ slowly builds from a latin and flamenco inspired track to an inspired uptempo, but not too heavy rocker and ‘The Gift’ is almost cinematic in scope.

Honestly, 21st century progressive rock does not get much better than this. There is a spontaneity to ‘The Night Siren’ that is very rare in the meticulously composed genre. Of course, Hackett’s tasteful and not too flashy lead guitar work would make any album sound better, but compositorically, he has been in the shape of a lifetime for the last decade. ‘The Night Siren’ is a new highlight in the guitarist’s already impressive body of work. It is also one of the brightest gems of 2017 music. Highly recommended to everyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Smoke’, ‘El Niño’, ‘Fifty Miles From The North Pole’

Album of the Week 45-2017: Genesis – Wind & Wuthering


A popular opinion is that Genesis lost its progressive edge after the departure of original singer Peter Gabriel. Stating that they did after guitarist Steve Hackett left the band would be closer to the truth. His frustration about the diminshing role of his guitar is justified, but still there are notable guitar moments on his final record with the band. As a whole, ‘Wind & Wuthering’ is very much an early Genesis album, on which progressive song structures, lush keyboards and folky passages blend into one atmospheric whole. It might lack a ‘The Musical Box’-like highlight, but it is one of their most consistent records.

‘Wind & Wuthering’ is also more adventurous than its direct predecessor ‘A Trick Of The Tail’. Phil Collins has obviously grown into his new role as the lead singer and as a result, he is allowed to stretch out a little. It is not just Collins who sounds more comfortable on this record though. Keyboard player Tony Banks is quite obviously the main contributor here, but everyone – including Hackett – truly gives their best here, never getting in the way of the composition as most progressive rock bands tend to do.

The album contains Genesis’ first stab at a full-on pop song and though ‘Your Own Special Way’ is expertly written and arranged, it is by far the weakest song on the record. Fortunately, it is offset against instrumental tracks like ‘Wot Gorilla?’ – on which Collins’ drumwork is truly out of this world – and the highly atmospheric diptych of ‘Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers…’ and ‘…In That Quiet Earth’. The 10-minute ‘One For The Vine’ sort of switches back and forth between those two extremes and despite a somewhat confused middle section, it turns out to be another strong progressive track in the tradition of songs like ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’.

Hackett’s finest moment on ‘Wind & Wuthering’ surprisingly isn’t defined by his electric guitar, but by his skills on the classical guitar. ‘Blood On The Rooftops’ is an excellent, atmospheric track with fantastic performances by both Hackett and Collins. Opening track ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’ is another highlight. It is a light, but still substantial progressive rock song with strong melodies, multiple climaxes and some catchy sections carried by Collins’ excellent vocals. Closer ‘Afterglow’ was the live staple of this record and though it is good, it sort of feels like a reprise of the non-instrumental sections of ‘Firth Of Fifth’.

Despite sort of being the end of an era, ‘Wind & Wuthering’ does not feel like Genesis was running out of inspiration. In fact, it is easily their most inspired record since ‘Selling England By The Pound’ and has moments that exceed the seventies Genesis average by quite a margin. The instrumental tracks are all mindblowing and both “vocal” Hackett compositions are simply excellent. In addition, the album has a very pleasant flow that every other Genesis record seems to lack. As a fan of Hackett, I used to approach the album with caution, but I should not have. This is essential listening for fans of British progressive rock.

Recommended Tracks: ‘…In That Quiet Earth’, ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’, ‘Blood On The Rooftops’

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