Nova Collective offer quite a dream meeting of minds in the world of Prog, and have been a hugely anticipated entity since their inception reveal a couple of years ago. Helmed by Between The Buried & Me bassist Dan Briggs and Haken guitarist Richard Henshall, the instrumental project was formed out of Briggs’ admiration for Haken’s then creative apex The Mountain (InsideOut), which (long story short), culminated in the sharing of musical ideas between the two and an eventual collaboration. Continue reading
We have a philosophy at this website that goes something like this” few bands ever have managed to keep the highest level or artistry, yet still have commercial success.” As we have been tracking here at Ghost Cult, appreciation for progressive music is at an all-time high in 2016. Usually this type of thing doesn’t bode well for quality, but this era of bands is a different animal. It is a boon to fans to have so many strong, legendary figures continuing to be great and tremendous younger bands across all the sub-genres with bright futures. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the second leg of the Devin Townsend Project, Between The Buried And Me, and Fallujahtour. Continue reading
In recent years Australia has given a burgeoning and genuinely exciting scene of metal, particularly those of a progressive nature. From the likes of Karnivool to recent genre alchemists Ne Obliviscaris, such bands are not only making waves on the wider radar but are doing so with inventive, compelling and brilliant flavor. Similarly Brisbane originated Caligula’s Horsehave made a mark, with two well received albums, a characterised brand of emotive progressive metal and the eventual signing to prog label titans InsideOut. Not too shabby really.
Latest album Bloom (InsideOut) begins on almost misleading terms, as the title track begins with a lengthy, acoustic passage accompanied by soft vocals before it gradually increases tempo and dynamic, in part reminiscent of Opeth, as it proves to build up towards the comparatively heavier ‘Marigold’. Throughout the album Caligula’s Horse strike that tricky balance between the heavy and lighter elements with aplomb melding the complexity of tech metal and some near djent-like moments with emotional resonance and accessibility. In fact, much like Agent Fresco, there is a great level of pop sensibilities and a weight of influences and styles, but doing so with a style and feel of their own.
At an approximate duration of 45 minutes, Bloom offers a rich diversity and layering but in a run time more manageable for the more novice listener. Catchy, poppier moments and recognisable influences with further draw people in, whilst rich textures and the fluid blend of complexity and aspects of serenity will keep the trained listener engaged for ages. A stunning effort from a band that are quickly proving to be one of the contemporary prog scene’s most promising torch bearers.
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There is a modest earnestness to much of Tim Bowness’ third solo album Stupid Things That Mean The World (InsideOut), as the singer-songwriter continues to explore the direction and timbre of his more recent works. Openly stating that Stupid Things… is a continuation of its’ predecessor, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (InsideOut), Bowness confirms the premise that practice makes (near) perfect, with an eclectic and wistful selection of songs whose charm isn’t just in the pleasant ear candy they first appear to be, but in the reflection and layers that unfurl with repeated listens.
With a warm, friendly production courtesy of The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord, who also adds moments of lilting guitar and acoustic quality much like he did to Katatonia’s Sanctitude (KScope), on the surface Bowness’ solo work is centred around building a song that sounds simple, often flowering out of an acoustic guitar and unpretentious vocal combination, expanding to contain several strata of multiple, and very appropriate, instrumentation, such as the delicate pedal guitar that enhances ‘Know That You Were Loved’, or the swelling strings and keys that dance in and out of several of the tracks.
Bowness conveys honest emotion and reflection in his words throughout, each line delivered with grace and feeling. He doesn’t push the vocals, staying in a comfortable mid-range, but allows the fine touches of the many players (a veritable who’s who of progressive rocks’ illuminati) to add colour to his ideas and push the dynamics of this most excellently and carefully arranged album, with standout song ‘Sing For Me’ the most well-crafted of songs, rising to a fulfilling and emotive conclusion.
While being far from a melancholy album, indeed the overall sense is one that uplifts, most songs display tinges of regret, sorrow and introspective. Yet where Strange Things… is at its best is in the more experimental songs; the burnt caramel to the honeyed touch of the dream pop surroundings. ‘Press Reset’ is dark rock, ‘The Great Teenage Electric Dream’ shows its temper and the title track is slinky pop, all which adds up to show Strange Things That Mean The World is a welcome addition to the canon of a man who is No-Man no more, but stands as a valued solo artist in his own right.
Not many bands can say their début album has been produced by Prog icon Mike Portnoy, nor features a cameo from Neal Morse or a release deal with one of the major record labels in the modern Prog scene, InsideOut, especially when its members ages range from 16-17 years of age. Not so surprising however when one Max Portnoy resides on the drum stool, clearly bring some weight with it. Fortunately they also have a wealth of talent and songwriting prowess way beyond their years, as A Light In The Dark (InsideOut/Radiant) showcases.
The big elephant in the room it has to be said is how strikingly similar their music is to Dream Theater, of course the band where Portnoy senior made his name before the infamous split. Their take on progressive rock influenced metal seems to come from the same line of inspiration as the aforementioned stalwarts, sounding symmetrical in tone and formula with use of unusual samples and keyboard leads. Even vocalist Thomas Cuce sounds eerily like a younger James LaBrie with his soaring and powerful voice – on the ballad, ‘A Lonely Walk’ particularly the resemblance is uncanny – although he does also have harsh growls in his palette, which add an obvious enough distinction.
Where there may be some degree of idol worship at hand here, there is also a resulting level of well thought out and complex song structures, and beneath the surface some clear signs of their youth and their own identity. Album opener ‘The Edge Of Sanity’ uses a range of strange samples during one breakdown for example, including an elephant trumpeting and what sounds like a segment from the original Super Mario games. Elsewhere the likes of ‘Runaway’ offer signs of contemporary prog metal, if seen through the DT lens.
It also has to be acknowledged at just how talented they are individually. Yes the focus point for many may be the presence of Max Portnoy but throughout there are performances that grab your attention, in particularly the Cuce’s sporadic keys in ‘Control’, if his vocals are found wanting at times, both in identity and in strength.
It is a sad state of affairs; the fact that their sound all too closely resembles that of one of the genre’s premier acts, making the family ties with Mike Portnoy all the more too difficult to shake off their back. A Light In The Dark is an album that clearly displays a wealth of talent and surprising maturity, but little of its own recognizable stamp.
Less, apparently, is more. Only when less is less, that is.
If you have been following the fortunes of Norwegian progressive metal band, Leprous, for any length of time then you will already know that this latest exposition of their art, The Congregation (InsideOut) has been about the band refining their essence, honing their craft and delivering a record that should be more purposeful and resonant as a result.
Here’s a bit of irony for you: for a record that is supposed to be cutting out the superfluous and honing things back to its core, it doesn’t half go on a bit. This record is over 66 mins long and, honestly, they could have done with an editor. Cutting out a bit of workman-like flab could have made The Congregation great; leaving it in, it’s still a very good record, sure to win them plenty of new admirers but it isn’t a stone cold masterpiece (of which, more, later).
‘The Price’ kicks off proceedings very agreeably; its djent like feel, allied to Einar Solberg’s dextrous vocals brings us into familiar territory but as an opener it sounds curiously uncertain of itself. It has a plaintive “here we are, with our refined sound, please don’t judge us too harshly” sense to it. It is something of a trepidatious opener. Proceedings warm up somewhat with ‘3rd Law’ and you get the sense that the band are starting to find their feet tonally and sonically. ‘Rewind’s steady build to a latter-stage guttural death howl is much more like it and there is plenty to admire in the Depeche Mode– esque gothic drama of ‘Flood’.
‘Within My Fence’ is perhaps the best example of the band’s much discussed focus – built around a terrific series of syncopated rhythms, you’re immediately struck by its brevity but thrilled by its energy and invention. ‘Triumphant’ well, doesn’t exactly do what it says on the tin and is a bit lukewarm and bland when it should have been brimming with effervescent joy. ‘Slave’, however, more than makes up for that with its repetitive and compelling riffing as well as its final part Cult of Luna style vocals that you aren’t expecting, and therefore welcome ever more warmly when they dive-bomb into your cerebellum.
Whilst there is a lot to like and admire on this latest album, The Congregation is also the tale of an opportunity missed. The opportunity: to cement yourself at the summit of progressive metal is certainly there for the taking; with The Congregation, they haven’t quite been able to deliver that unalloyed masterpiece that their adherents (of which I consider myself one) will have you believe is within their grasp. It IS in their grasp, however, The Congregation feels somewhat a band getting ready to deliver that masterpiece rather than actually delivering it.
The Congregation reveals itself as very good record, one with plenty of ideas but not all of them universally successful. It probably says something about the hopes and high expectations that one has for Leprous that this review is reading like an aching disappointment. Genuinely, it’s not that. The Congregation, then, is the sum of its progressive parts.
Close then, but, for now, that metaphoric cigar remains unlit.
Teen prodigy progressive metallers Next To None will be releasing their debut album A Light in the Dark on July 10, 2015 via InsideOut. Watch their EPK below.
Based in Pennsylvania, Next To None features Max Portnoy on drums, Ryland Holland on guitar, Kris Rank on bass, and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals. The band have been honing their craft for several years, recording a self-released EP and playing various live gigs, including a slot at the Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 cruise. Later that year, the band went into the studio to record their debut album. At the ripe young ages of 15 and 16, they emerged with an album they and producer Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Flying Colors, ex-Dream Theater) are extremely proud of. A Light in the Dark also features guest appearances by Bumblefoot (Guns N Roses) and prog legend Neal Morse.
A Light in the Dark tracklist:
01: The Edge Of Sanity
02: You Are Not Me
04: A Lonely Walk
07: Social Anxiety
09: Blood On My Hands
CD-only bonus tracks:
10: Fortune Cookie
Over the course of their thirteen year history, UK prog rockers The Tangent have undergone several personnel shifts and taken altered musical paths, including their previous 2013 album Le Sacre du Travail (InsideOut) which took a melancholic turn into more orchestral territory; an effort which was as grandiose as it was difficult to delve into for newcomers.
Now after yet another lineup dissolution, founding and sole original member (and leader) Andy Tillison has brought in a few familiar faces in the shape of Jonas Reingold, Theo Travis, Luke Machin and Morgan Agren; and a new album that sees a return to their classic prog rock roots. To give its full title A Spark In The Aether: The Music That Died Alone – Volume Two (InsideOut) represents a nod to their debut, and the influential artists of prog’s golden era.
Where their previous album was a much more sullen affair than usually expected, A Spark…is strikingly upbeat and colourful. Opening track ‘A Spark In The Aether’ is a particularly joyous number, with its immediate and familiar synth tone and buoyant tempo. What’s also prominent is how immediate the album is, even despite its unwavering excess that classic prog is notorious for. Only one track goes past the 20 minute mark; the glorious ‘The Celluloid Road’ which still captivates throughout.
There are signs of a loose concept about prog rock, and in particular its golden era of the 70’s, notably over ‘Codpieces & Capes’ and the following ‘Clearing The Attic’. The former clearly pays homage to the cartoonlike but endearing characteristics of the likes of Jethro Tull, whilst lyrically it follows the loyal prog fan as he wonders whether one’s prog idols care, making reference to both the past and present. It even throws in a cheeky reference to Neal Morse’s relatively new found Christianity. The latter also references the state of prog, even incorporating intricate, seemingly improvised jazz elements.
All throughout A Spark… proves the perfect blend of classic sounding progressive rock, which has the warmth of the classics but does so with its own sense of identity. All the while making clear, uncryptic references to such music sonically and lyrically; both tongue in cheek and celebratory. A magnificent return for one of contemporary prog’s stalwarts.
It has taken John Mitchell several years to see his Lonely Robot project come to fruition, during which time Mr. Mitchell has been involved with a handful of gold-plated prog projects including It Bites, Frost* and Arena. Lonely Robot seems to be a very personal endeavor; one that Mitchell has been able to throw his unique insights and personality into. One gets the impression that when listening to Please Come Home (InsideOut) we are peering through a window into a man’s soul.
The noticeable trait of this album is the classic science fiction tone; it is permeable through each of the benevolently hewn songs. One of the aspects of space that has always intrigued humanity is the endless vacuum, the vast loneliness that engulfs its sparse inhabitants. While Please Come Home has elements of this, the spasmodic positivity ensures that the album isn’t too dense. Mitchell’s now distinct vocals bring a sense of comforting warmth, and are reminiscent of ‘Map of the Past’. Featuring the likes of Craig Blundell (drums) and Nick Beggs (bass) Mitchell and his comrades have the ability to tingle spines and reduce even the hardiest men to tears. ‘Airlock’ is an instrumental track steeped in classic sci-fi, with vintage synths from Frost*’s Jem Godfrey. Possibly the most captivating all the tracks on Please Come Home is the compelling ‘Man vs. God’. It wouldn’t be out of place in a movie soundtrack, inspiring countless thought of rockets, celestial pioneers and something otherworldly altogether.
Please Come Home will no doubt feature on many Top 10’s at the end of 2015, and deservedly so. All music aficionados, no matter their musical leanings should give this a listen. It transcends categorization and showcases John Mitchell at his finest.
Rather like the proverbial Pavlovian dog, the announcement that Anneke van Giersbergen has new material out sends certain quarters of the musical fraternity into paroxysms of delight. The news that she has decided to join forces with Dutch musical workaholic Arjen Lucassen will have doubtless had the already converted salivating uncontrollably.
The resultant new album, the 22 song strong opus that is The Diary (InsideOut) is a fascinating and diverting experience. Set against a narrative background that concerns itself with two 17th century star crossed lovers who, after fate separates them, communicate to each other through written correspondence, regaling the story of her pregnancy; exotic tales of our male protagonist’s travels; the birth of the couple’s son and the initially unknown, tragic illness of our heroine. It is a classic tale of love lost, romantically bittersweet and entirely apposite for setting to this type of progressive music.
The entire project is delivered in two separate styles: Gentle, a full length and full on concept record, orchestral in scope and delivery and Storm, a more progressive rock experience. You get the same story, set to quite different stylistic soundtracks. Gentle: a combination of folk, Prog and neo-classical is the more superior of the two records; the concept execution is more coherent, the musical narrative more subtle and sweeps the listener along in a diverting but never intrusive manner.
The flip side of Gentle: the appositely named Storm, takes us through the tale of our lovers once more and ups the musical ante. For a record that is meant to be more dynamic and immediate than its Gentle cousin, I found Storm to be oddly flat. There’s the almost de rigeur use of a choir here, the heavy, metal inspired guitar flourishes there, and the soaring vocals well, everywhere.
And herein lies the rub. Finding fault with The Diary is difficult. The musicianship is exemplary, the vocals really quite brilliant and the production truly exceptional. The story, as it goes, is fine, if you want a bit of 17th century Dutch tragedy. There is no doubt that The Diary is impressive; however, I can’t help but feel that I admire it more than I actually love it. I’ve spent time enough to reach a judgement and, whilst I can-and-am impressed by the diversity of instruments utilised, I don’t warm to all of the compositions here as much as I hoped I would.
Whilst there is a certain charm to, for example, ‘Heart of Amsterdam’, the entire edifice depends on whether or not you actually care that deeply about this story and, whilst it’s charming enough, it doesn’t grip, vice-like. As a consequence, nothing here really offends but nothing breaks your heart in the way that you hope or, indeed, in the way that you know Van Giersbergen can with her brilliant, evocative voice.
Some of the melodies whilst structurally sound just don’t sound that memorable to me: it’s all very nice, for sure, and very nicely done, but I didn’t get that hairs standing up on the back of my neck feeling that you always get with true greatness. Regrettably, in evoking the sense of time and place of the story admirably, the music is somehow hamstrung by it as this often sounds like a soundtrack to a television costume drama. Not that there’s anything wrong with a television costume drama, you understand, it’s just not exactly what I reach for when looking for my next listening pleasure.
I know that many people are going to fall over themselves for this record and, fair play to them: each to their own. However, where I had been expecting a progressive storm, I’m left feeling, gently, disappointed.