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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gentle Giant - Live at the Bicentennial 1776-1976


It is hard to imagine that Gentle Giant is often overlooked in the Progressive Rock genre. They were one of the bands that took the sounds of; Medieval, Chamber, Classical, Baroque, and Jazz rolled into one and they never disappoint me. I first heard their music back in 2002 when I was entering my Junior year and being blown away of the unexpected time signatures and how they took it into a whole new level of how they would take Progressive Rock into unbelievable results that had my jaw dropped at times hearing their music.

That and their 2-CD set of a live performance at the Calderone Theatre in Hempstead, New York for the Bicentennial celebration in which the band performed on July 3rd, 1976 on the eve of America’s 200th Birthday. The band at the time was on tour promoting their eighth album, Interview and it was recorded that night for a local radio station, WLIR in Long Island. From the moment you put it on, you can close your eyes and imagine that you are at the concert and witnessing an impressive yet mind-blowing performance of Gentle Giant giving a 100% to get the audience blown away out of their seats, enjoying a wonderful night and a moment they’ll never forget.

There are no overdubs, no enhanced sound, this is the real deal. Raw, energetic, thunderous, and powerful, Gentle Giant have scored a knockout at the Calderone and not to mention the four highlights on here. With the audience cheering and Kerry’s swirling and renaissance moog-like fanfare introduction before getting into an eruptive version of Just The Same and into the seguing of Proclamation/Valedictory. 

By the intense drumming of John Weathers, Gary Green’s guitar taking into unbelievable results of riffs and Zappa-like touches, and Ray Shulman’s homage to Yes' Chris Squire on the Bass lends a helping hand along with the hard rock sounds and climatic heights as if something is about to happen as the band go into the track and reprising the piece of the dystopian society of how everything in power has to stay and rearrange.

They also have a lot of improvisations in their solos. And the evidence is shown on the 12-minute take of the soothing yet eruptive take of So Sincere. On the track, after Gary Green's sublime solo and Minnear's clavinet leading the way, they head onto their percussion instruments. And between Weathers, Green, and Minnear, they began to create some dynamics, intensity, and the xylophones to come in that is almost like a lullaby and at times a tribute to Italian Prog maestros Goblin, they get back into the beat and its very much like Taiko and Pow-Pow drumming at times to create the powerful vibes and increasing the level for the climax.

But it’s Timing that is the real kicker. You can imagine Derek soaring through his vocals and also giving his brother Ray a chance to shine through his violin as if he is paying tribute to Jerry Goodman, Jean-Luc Ponty and Darryl Way of Curved Air throughout using the wah-wah pedal to create the fusion vibes as the band go into the sounds of Jazz Rock and they give Ray the spotlight to do some amazing solo's and creative ideas on his instrument as the audience cheers him along to keep going and see where he would go next.

And then he uses the delay/reverb effect as if it’s echoing inside the Theatre and he goes into the sound of the Irish jig by enlarging the beats when he stops and go’s on the solo. Audiences cheer and shout to get the vibes as they clap into the rhythm and Ray goes into the Roud Folk sounds of Three Blind Mice as the effects is filling the halls of the echoing beats and he does a finale in a classical touch before a drum roll on the snare and seguing into a magnetic stunning version of Free Hand.

Unfortunately, after Free Hand, that’s all that’s left because the tape stops right there. According to the notes, they did three encores that included; Peel The Paint, I Lost My Head, and their take of Wilson Pickett’s In The Midnight Hour and singing Happy Birthday to the United States. It would have been great to hear those including their tribute to Pickett, but this is a rare and special treat of finding unearthed treasure of Gentle Giant's music. 

Alongside the performances including Excerpts from Octopus, the Medieval turned difficult signatures of taking turns on vocals from On Reflection, and as Derek says "Bob Marley meets Gentle Giant somewhere across the Atlantic Ocean" on the Reggae-vibes on Give It Back to name a few, are radiant, humor, and moving at the same time. I have listened to Live at the Bicentennial 1776-1976 about nine times now and its like going back in a time machine to witness the band's exhilarating performance and turning the volume knobs up a notch to a sound of wonder you will experience. This is a must have for any fan of Progressive Rock and Gentle Giant.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Top 30 Albums of 2014

There will be some criticism, but I know its a little early, but here it is; The Top 30 Albums of 2014.

1. Knifeworld – The Unravelling [InsideOut Music]
2. MoeTar – Entropy of the Century [Magna Carta Records]
3. Iamthemorning – Belighted [Kscope]
4. Susan Clynes – Life Is… [Moonjune Records]
5. Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom [InsideOut Music]
6. Happy Family – Minimal Gods [Cuneiform Records]
7. Opeth – Pale Communion [Roadrunner Records]
8. Corvus Stone – Corvus Stone II [Melodic Revolution Records]
9. Tim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams [Kscope]
10. Matt Stevens – Lucid [Esoteric Antenna]
11. Moraine – Groundswell [Moonjune Records]
12. Syndone – Odysseas [Synpress44/Fading Records]
13. Proud Peasant – Flight [Basement Avatar Records]
14. Burnt Belief – Etymology [Alchemy Records]
15. Motorpsycho – Behind the Sun [Rune Grammofon]
16. Led Bib – The People In Your Neighborhood [Cuneiform Records]
17. Agusa – Hogtid [Transubstans Records]
18. Machine Mass – Inti [Moonjune Records]
19. Electric Citizen – Sateen [Riding Easy Records]
20. Anglagard - Prog Pa Svenska: Live in Japan [Anglagard Records]
21. Univers Zero – Phosphorescent Dreams [Arcangelo Records]
22. Syd Arthur – Sound Mirror [Harvest Records]
23. The Microscopic Septet - Manhattan Moonrise [Cuneiform Records]
24. Stop Motion Orchestra – Instant Everything [Egg Helmet Records]
25. Three Winters – Chroma [Termo Records]
26. Fire! Orchestra – Enter [Rune Grammofon]
27. Lazuli – Tant Que L’Herbe Est Grasse [L'Abeille Rôde]
28. Tohpati – Tribal Dance [Moonjune Records]
29. The Cellar and Point – Ambit [Cuneiform Records]
30. Hi Fiction Science – Curious Yellow [Esoteric Antenna]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Arcade Messiah - Arcade Messiah



John Bassett is a very busy man when it comes to his work with Kingbathmat and his debut solo album released this year. And now he’s back with a new project called, Arcade Messiah. The album has a darker, ominous, and sinister sounding from his melodic atmosphere on Unearth. There are elements of Post-Rock, Metal, and Doom-Prog at times to go into the nightmarish world on what was once the happiest place turns into a terrifying city of hell with no plans of escaping and Bassett himself has taken it to a mind-blowing level.

On the opening track, Sun Exile, it has this wonderful touch of Bassett’s tribute to Mogwai with a steadfast beat with the eruptive riff and rhythm of the guitar and drums going at 600 miles per hour. Like a speeding train going into that distance, it is like an intense marathon and you don’t know when you are going to stop until the train comes to a relaxing mode for the Bass to come in as it lets the person calm down a bit and then back into the position for that sonic energy blast like a firing weapon rapidly to close it off with a perfect way to start things off.

Your Best Line of Defence is Obscurity in which it almost sounds like a title that George Orwell could have used when he was writing 1984, it has a relaxing vibe that the instruments bring into before the rhythm guitar and drums come in like an explosion waiting to happen at the right moment between the riffs, atmosphere, and the unexpected snare drums going “Bam! Bam!” like a stop-and-go moment between the two instruments. Now on Traumascope, its back into the darker and deeper elements of rock between some minor-like melodies with a chugging section of guitar and bass and its just amazing on the ominous intensity while Aftermath sees Arcade Messiah go into the experimental electronic vibes with an homage to the French duo Air as if they had work together and recorded the score for The Virgin Suicides.

Everybody Eating Everybody Else begins with a spacey ambient/atmospheric vibe with Bassett’s homage to the Frippertronics before the delirium madness comes banging in with the instruments knocking the doors down for the zombies to rein terror into the town. The driven beats between the instruments along with a leading riff really captures the dystopian vibes coming at you as if there is a slight chance of hope to survive, but getting out is the next hardest and difficult decision you have to decide if you are risking to make that choice.

The Most Popular Form of Escape has a touch of the doom metal and space rock sounds of reminiscent of Purson, Black Sabbath, and Hawkwind as if the rocketship is set the jump of light speed to go into another voyage for John Bassett to take controls and set the controls for another planet into another infinite world as the closing track, Roman Resolution gives it a chance for a calmer yet rising semitone beat to enjoy the ride.

It is a lukewarm yet gentle introduction for the first two minutes and fifty-seven seconds of the piece before the machine is revved up for another adventure. And at times, I can imagine Bassett himself writing a score for like this for the Halo franchise and then it goes back into the moody pieces before it heads into the Crimson elements in there and a dosage of the Metal sounds thrown in there for the last 3-minutes of the piece meaning that he is leaving us on a cliffhanger to find out what happens next.

Arcade Messiah is a mind-blowing experience from the beginning right into the middle and in the very end, you have to give John Bassett a huge pat on the back for a job well done on what he has done with the Metal project. I can’t wait to see and hear what he does next with his solo work, Kingbathmat, and Arcade Messiah. It is a terrifying, beautiful, and an amazing adventure into that utopian world gone wrong and its almost the score and movie inside your head.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

White Willow - Ex Tenebris


Termo Records really know their stuff very well and continuing the reissuing catalog of White Willow’s music. I’ve always admired of what the band have done and with the reissue of the band’s debut, Ignis Fatuus, originally released in 1995 from the Laser’s Edge, in which I’ve played about 12 times, they never disappoint me. The continuation of the band’s work moves on with their follow up, Ex Tenebris released in 1998.

After the disbandment of the Ignis Fatuus line-up, the album was originally going to be a solo album, but Jacob Holm-Lupo decided to go more into the Progressive direction than he was expecting at the time they were making the album. And bringing Jan Tariq Rahman on keyboards and Anglagard drummer Mattias Olsson, who recorded a 2-day session for the follow up, it shows that you can have some friends to lend a helping hand.

Ex Tenebris showed a murky and darker sound from their previous debut. They departed their melodic sounds into that area and at times it feels as if they had done a score for a Gothic film in the ‘80s and brings it up a notch to frighten the audience with the arranging and composition. From the booming and thunderous percussion, vocals, dooming synths, and church organ sounds with an homage to the 1984 cult classic sci-fi film, The Terminator and touches of Jacula’s Tardo Pede in Magiam Versus-era on A Strange Procession to the 8-minute epic psychedelic folk turned early reminiscent of Camel meets King Crimson with Leaving the House of Thanatos featuring swirling mellotron chords, drums, bass lines, and Jacob Holm-Lupo and Sylvia Erichsen’s vocals, it almost made me cry at times because it is a perfect way to start the album off and he can sing very well.

There is a moody midsection between Mattias Olsson, Frode Lia, and Rahman’s spooky organ sounds and the mellotron chorals in, sets the tempo in the atmosphere. They also have a touch of the Acid Folk inspirations in which they haven’t lost in their roots on The Book of Love and struggling with how long their loved one has been gone for Thirteen Days while the emotional piano featuring the classical guitar along with the gothic organ sound, it’s almost as if there is someone mourning for a loss loved one with Soteriology as Sylvia leads in the service of her angelic vocals and it just hits you of her singing because you can imagine inside the church not a dry eye in the house and being touched with her vocals.

The ascending lyrical beauty on Helen and Simon Magus, shows their Symphonic and harder edgier rock sound thanks to Lupo’s homage to David Gilmour and Tony Iommi along with Rahman giving the elements of early Floyd that is almost like something straight out of the sessions of Atom Heart Mother. And then back into the gentle turned melancholy piano and spoken-word speech on dealing with the frightening side of their personal lives with sympathy and departing from their loved ones.

The synths come in for a closing and lingering finale that has this ‘80s score for the ending credits for a Horror film with Jacob shows his touch of a Fripp-sque beat for the two minutes and twenty-one seconds as it turns into a pleasant climbing beat on A Dance of Shadows that shows them back into the symphonic rock sound that gives the curtains a chance to close and not to mention the Mellotron going into a dystopian carousel and back into the darker sounds that makes it a spooky outro.

The four bonus tracks are worth exploring as the demos were recorded in Jacob’s living room after the second album was released. You could see the seeds of their next album, Sacrament that would be the next incarnation of the band’s work. Their take of Nick Drake’s Clothes of Sand feels like it was left off the sessions of Genesis’ Trespass while the ambient percussion and synths with Sylvia’s vocals on the folk melody, Coniunctio is gentle and the earlier take of The Last Rose of Summer feels it was recorded in the early ‘70s and while it was a work-in-progress it shows how much preparation before they bring it into the studio. 

But the live version recorded in 2001 of Leaving the House of Thanatos will send shivers down your spine for Sylvia to shine through her vocals from the middle-eastern sounds and into the song that will remind you of Christina Booth of Magenta. White Willow reissues are soon going to become on everyone’s Christmas and Hanukkah’s wish list. And even though there are some mixed opinions on their second album, I happen to enjoy it after listening about three times and it’s an album that may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, but it shows that it can be tough going through a departure of their previous work and see what they can do into that area.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Crimson Blue - The Angelic Performance


With a dosage of Gothic Metal and ‘70s Art/Progressive Rock thrown into the inspiration, along with a keytar and a soprano female vocalist, you can quite see some very special is about to happen from a quintet that will give you a dosage of the sounds of the two genres getting to erupt like a volcano that is ready to come burst. And that is Moscow’s own Crimson Blue. The band launched back in 2008 with darker areas and performed in different clubs and having a demo released in 2010, a debut album in 2011 called Innocence, and their new album released this year called, The Angelic Performance.

Combining the sounds of Lacuna Coil, Pain of Salvation, and Opeth to name a few, Crimson Blue are just one of the most surprising bands I’ve ever listened to and they can really take it up a notch here. With some line-up changes, the band considers; Dani Hellstrom on Lead Vocals and Keyboards, Andrew Nova on Guitar, Lex Romano on Guitar, Alex Verge on Bass, and Billy Nekhaev on Drums. The band are now on a European tour with Nightwish’s Tarja Turunen which they started on Halloween and throughout November this year and supporting the new album and finally getting some recognition to breakout into high gear.

Songs like Locust starts the album off with radio tuning, thunderstorm, and alarms blaring before the up tempo bass rumbling, eruptive riffs, drums, and Dani’s vocals come kicking in with her vocals and then it becomes a middle-eastern touch that makes you feel that you are in a lost world without going home, but this track is an excellent and powerful introduction to get the engines rolling. They also bring in some of the atmosphere of the future and dealing with the struggling to survive is a risk for a choice to sacrificing themselves.

Take for example Dolores. It sounds like a revolutionary metallic touch, but they get into the alternative rock direction with the bass lines by Verge, haunting ominous guitar leads from both Nova and Romano, and Nekhaev’s drums getting into the mid-tempo beats as Dani’s voice just soars through to give the band an electrical juice to pump them up to see where they would go to next while Sacrifiction has a darker, melodic, and ominous approach that shows Dani’s voice resembling at times Sharon Den Adel of Within Temptation as she soars throughout his vocals to reach that high note.

Dani’s voice gives the band a chance to relax and calm down for a good while as she sings with a beautiful tone and the orchestral vibes sets an emotional tone with her and playing the piano and creating epic touches as if you can imagine trying to not being alone with the Road to Oblivion. And it gives Crimson Blue a chance to show their softer side along with flying to the heavens on Dark Heart of Mine. But they also have a side of doing two epics on here with the 9-minute piece, Lab ll Yggdrasil and the 11-minute closer, Black Wings.

Here, the band go into some textures of heavier and ascending melodies with extreme power thanks to Romano, Nova, Verge, and Nekhaev creating those structures to see where the time is right on the signature sounds for the powder keg to go off with a frightening beat. And go into the melodramatic sounds through the ominous piano as if you are walking into a dark and haunting forest looking and searching for help before the roaring instruments come in like a driven engine running and then the usage of the keyboard strings and Dani singing the melody and then back into the darker tunnel while go into the chance for light at the end of the tunnel as she is helping the person for comfort and let them know that everything is going to be okay with a climatic finale.

While this is my introduction to the band’s music, Crimson Blue’s The Angelic Performance is a touching and an evocative album this year. And they really have a lot of energy inside their hearts and minds of playing the sounds of the influences in their music. And it’s rolled into one. And yet, it is an album that a band have really shown a lot of vitality and details of what they have accomplished in them.

In Tormentata Quiete - Cromagia


Given the sounds of Black Metal with a dosage between Folk-Prog Rock and Avant-Garde atmosphere, it’s quite an interesting take of creating those three genres and making it combined into one. And one of the bands that have been around called In Tormentata Quiete. Formed in 1998, the band’s concept is to create a score of the spiritual journey of how a Man has to deal with their own emotions and they have released three albums so far on the concept and now released this year from My Kingdom Music is Cromagia.

It’s an album that goes through the passion of humanity and creates the dynamics of the storyline in different vibes with exquisite themes and intense yet insane structures on what they would come up with next. Beginning with an ambient guitar-like alarming introduction that has elements of Tangerine Dream’s score to Sorcerer on the opener, Blu, it makes you go inside the human mind of the man’s idea and see what he would do next as it segues into il Profumo del Blu.

There are some of the beauty and the beast vocals in there with the shrieking thrown in and took me by surprise with the electronic vibes thrown in there along with at times operatic vocals between Simone Lanzoni and Marco Vitale as Irene Petitto handles the middle-eastern vocalizations as the instruments come right in knocking the door down. It goes through a melodic touch for the first 2 minutes and 55 seconds as the violin done by Elena Mirandola and the rhythm and lead guitars along with the growling/insanity vocals, makes you realize that someone is going is trying to break loose in the mental institution before getting into the folk-like sound and into the uplifting touches as Irene comes in and the band goes back into the intense section from the instruments.

Rosso starts off with a droning Indian sitar introduction with some amazing improvisation through a soft turned swift beauty done by Leo Vertunni, as it tells the tale of the passion of living while il Sapore del Rosso goes back into the moving melody and then back into the darker elements. Not to mention the piano, vocals, and guitar solo coming in done by Lorenzo Rinaldi and Maurizo D’Apote on the bass creating the vibes growing and Paparella’s drumming goes into sooth and fast-driven at times, giving it all the power they got to kick it in.

Lorenzo Rinaldi really shines through his guitar playing as he puts his electric down for a while and goes into the classical side acoustically with two beautiful gems with Verde featuring Lanzoni’s vocals and the homage to Ottmar Liebert at times with for the first two minutes and into the metallic side in the styles of early Metallica on Giallo. On Nero, it goes into an ominous yet atmospheric surrounding with quiet growling and whispering insanity vocals with the keyboards setting the tone on the conflict on the inner self as the two tracks, La Carezza del Giallo and La Visione del Nero gets back into the nightmarish sounds for the person to conflict the demons inside them.

The closing track, InVento, is a soaring orchestral piece. The band gives Irene a chance to shine through her calming vocals. It is an emotional yet touching composition and Irene does an incredible job while the band gives it a ray of light to find hope as the encouraging harmonies, gratifies the warmth and fulfilling beats. In Tormentata Quiete’s Cromagia is not an easy album to listen to, but it is a powerful, dark, folk, classical, and extreme album combined into one and they have brought the concept for the listener knowing that it might hit home for them and finding out who they are and have a second chance in life to start a new chapter for them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gentle Giant - Octopus



Gentle Giant really got the ball rolling with the release of their fourth album, Octopus, released in 1972 on the Vertigo label in the UK and on Columbia Records in the States and reissued in 2011 from the Alucard label, this was where the time of the group to go into a harder approach, but staying true to the difficult time signatures to follow as well in their music from their first three albums. But it was also the last album to feature older brother Phil Shulman as he grew tired of being on the road and missing his family and tension between Derek and Ray, was growing and then after the tour was completed, he would soon leave and the band would later be a quintet throughout the rest of their career.

But with the arrival of drummer John Weathers, who was a part of bands/artists like Eyes of Blue (Bluebell Wood), Pete Brown & Piblokto, and the late great yet overlooked keyboardist, Graham Bond, everything started to come into place right here. The opening track, The Advent of Panurge is a perfect way to kick the album off with a bang as Kerry’s keyboards and Gary’s guitar along with John’s drumming sets the tempo as they set the different time changes going before Derek’s voice comes right in and it’s a powerful improvisation between the character and his friend, Pantagruel.

Then the band switch the harder edge sound into a Medieval-Renaissance vibe and a little nod to Elgar’s classical compositions in the piece, makes it an astounding touch for them to pay tribute to the composer while A Cry for Everyone, goes back into the hard rock sounds comes right back in with the story about Albert Camus, who was a philosopher, wrote an essay called The Rebel in 1951 in which it dealt with the opposing view of nihilism. Elsewhere, the musical jigsaw of acapella vocals combined with chamber rock at times with the avant-garde twist is surreal, but mind-boggling touch for them to have a blast on their tribute to psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s view of psychosis on Knots.

The Boys in the Band begins with engineer Martin Rushent's laughter and the coin spinning to the floor before the intensity improvisation comes kicking in like a cannonball going off as the complex movement goes in as Kerry Minnear shines through his keyboards and Phil Shulman’s horns, Gary Green’s Guitar, Ray’s Bass, and Weather’s drumming fill in to have the touch of Jazz Fusion. Minnear is going through in the midsection in the styles of Herbie Hancock and David Sancious for a couple of seconds before closing into the climax ending.

Gentle Giant show their softer side with the ballad on the moody composition on the love that the people have is gone, but their memories is sorrow and showing no sign of tomorrow with an emotional vibe and Minnear just sings so beautifully with the soothing Think of Me with Kindness. They also go back into the Medieval side as well as a tribute to their roadies who have been on the road with the band with an acoustic folk touch as Phil takes on the vocals that he is singing and its almost like an homage to Gryphon on Dog’s Life.

The closer, River, is the band creating different boundaries mixing with Ray’s Electric Violin and Gary Green’s Guitar playing the melody in the moments the band would stop and go. And adding the electronic noises of the spooky vibe with Ray and Derek sharing vocals in that midsection, and the thunderous Weathers just nailing on the solo on the drums and Green’s bluesy solo, it goes to show how much they can take it as a whole to close it off with elements of the Jazz sound.

The bonus track and the 6-page booklet, which is on their 2011 reissue from the Alucard label, is their live performance of Excerpts of songs from Octopus they performed at the Calderone Theater on July 3rd, 1976 in Hempstead, New York in which they were promoting their eight album, Interview. Listening to the live performance during the Bicentennial celebration, you could imagine and feel that you are at the concert being blown away of the band and just rooting and cheering for them to imagine what they would do next unexpected time movements and get the audience’s stamp of approval.

The booklet features pictures of the band and talking about making the album and promo material at the time it was being released. Fans consider it at their peak and one of their finest albums to date. It is an integrated yet a mind-blowing album from start to finish for any fan of the Prog genre to really sink into their works. And if anyone who is a starter of Gentle Giant's music, this is a highly recommendation to get you started because it has everything inside the album; Chamber, Classical, Jazz, Folk, Hard Rock, and the Blues rolled into one.