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Friday, March 23, 2012

Banco - As in a Last Supper

When Banco’s sole self-title debut English album was launched back in 1975 from the Manticore label, it didn’t too well, but they received word-of-mouth in Europe and in the States, however they never got a chance to tour in America while the competitors, PFM received appreciation with Photos of Ghosts. But it wasn’t until after they had done the soundtrack to Garofano Rosso with As in a Last Supper (Come In Un’Ultima Cena) released in 1976 at the time Punk was starting to come out of the sewers.

While the cover is disturbing, controversial, and paying homage to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the music itself is challenging and complex structures like the other Italian Prog Rock bands were doing in the 1970s and Banco’s music is definitely one of them. The story of the album is about Jesus last days before he is crucified and has the last supper with his Apostles and he would predict his betrayal against him including Peter.

In the gatefold cover which is a design of Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper features the band members as if they were at the Supper to say farewell to Christ, even though the gatefold cover looks brilliant, the songs and arrangements from start to finish, is completely a breathtaking underrated experience. While the album didn’t do well like their previous debut English album, the people at Esoteric Recordings, who acquired the rights to ELP’s label and have done a superb job featuring liner notes done by the late Ernesto De Pascale and the CD looks like the vinyl design of the Manticore label, and after 36 years, it is finally given the respect it deserves.

While people have drawn lines in the sand including myself have issues of Italian bands singing in English like Le Orme’s Felona and Sorona, As in a Last Supper is a treat for prog listeners to give it another shot. With its odd time signatures, classical complex music, haunting lyrics, and Francesco’s operatic vocal arrangements, the band carry a huge luggage of influences of Gentle Giant, ELP, Genesis, and The Nice to go along with it, I figured that they have finally have gotten the warm hand shake they have gotten.

Songs like the flourishing dramatic haywire beauty of Voila Midae and The Spider that keyboardists of brothers, Vittorio and Gianni Nocenzi do together, is so powerful and the tension is out of this world as they would play a note and go to town whether its Jazz and Classical, they know what they’re doing. While the ballad of John Has a Good Heart and the dooming bass line introduction of hell done by Renato D’Angelo on Slogan is a vicious powder keg waiting to explode, it’s the beautiful acid folk of The Night is Full and the jazz fusion waltz of the finale, Towards My Door to close the album out with keyboards attacking throughout the night.

It was sad that Manticore said bye-bye in 1977, but it was almost the little engine that could and As in a Last Supper is a way that a band that were ahead of their time and never gotten the recognition they deserve. Still 40 years later, they are still performing in Prog Festivals to surprise fans to see what they would come to the table.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arven - Music of Light

When you think of Power Metal, you think of Helloween, Blind Guardian, Nightwish, and Edenbridge to name a few, and the scenes in Europe in which festivals like Wacken Open Air in Germany have a huge following of the genre. But when you have a new band coming out of Frankfurt named Arven, they’re probably one of the most newcomers in the Melodic and Power Metal genre to bring the sound to push forward and seeing where the road they’re in will take them into. But there is a bit of Symphonic in their music and their debut album, Music of Light shows they have a huge love of the three genres and while they are Melodic, they really go into the realms of Medieval Tales of the 15th century and inspirations from Books of Fantasies and Lord of the Rings combined as one.

This 6-piece band in which five them are female fronted musicians and one male drummer to put in there, you have a sound of heavy guitar riffs, storming keyboard melodies, militant machine gun-like sounds of the drums, and a touch of classical operatic vocals that proves that this band have got a lot going on. I first heard about this band when I saw a video of their songs on YouTube and after hearing it about three times, I loved it and while I have a love of symphonic metal, this band really knocked me out and I can hear influences of Iron Maiden, Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel, and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force.

Even though the band have gotten a huge road ahead of them, the album is like an explosive dynamite going through five highlights of the album that metal and prog fans need to take notice of. The opening title track goes through a vicious violin solo done by Stefan Gulfer, classical, and sing-along battle cry by fighting to the death as the metallic riffs and melodic piano combine like a shining star as vocalist Carina Hanselmann and guitarists Ines Thome and Anastasia Schmidt sing the vocals and play the guitar between rhythm and lead as if they are Glenn Tipton and Ritchie Blackmore.

Raise Your Cups is a medieval folk-metal/enjoying dance and song that this fast drilling beast sound between flute, guitars, and drums sounding almost like a machine gun going off nowhere that could those different types of the metal genre and give it a huge crunch and make it almost sound like a runaway train going about 600 miles per hour. Elsewhere, the ‘70s sound of Queen II and a metallic version of Blood Ceremony on Dark Red Desire almost has this haunting doom melody with a vicious guitar sound at the moment that these two guitarists show their love of the ‘70s hard rock sound with an attitude.

Then, everything becomes melodic and melancholy with the 7-minute epic, My Dear Friend, which has this grand piano and orchestral sound with the string quartet and ballad-like from the instruments as it deals with the loss of a friend who had their ups and downs and never got the chance to say goodbye and the final highlight is climatic climax closer, A Stranger’s Story. With more of the dueling guitars and Portnoy-like drum keg popping and story-telling complex coming together with a fast paced sound, Arven has proven that they aren’t show-offs, but show a huge contribution to the Melodic Metal sound.

For fans of Nightwish and Amberian Dawn, this is a band that I highly recommend and give it a huge listen. With the touches of Melodic, Symph, and Prog together, Arven are going to be the big thing in the Power and Symphonic Metal community and come out with a bang.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Norman Haines Band - Den of Iniquity

Perhaps one of the rarest progressive rock albums that has been online auctions like eBay alongside Arzachel, il Balletto Di Bronzo, Tudor Lodge, and Blonde on Blonde to name a few, is considered a collector’s item and a cult classic as the original LP released back in 1971 by the Parlophone label, has been finally given the reissue treatment for its 40th anniversary done by the good people at Esoteric Recordings. After Locomotive split up as former members of the band formed The Dog That Bit People, founder Norman Haines, who wanted to stay true to the orchestral brass rock sounds on We Are Everything You See, decided to go into the Hard Rock treatment for his Organ along with different styles of Soul, Jazz, and Folk music.

My guess is when the album was released in the same time period that when Genesis Nursery Cryme, Barclay James Harvest’s Once Again, and Pink Floyd’s Meddle were released at the same time period, this album couldn’t even make it into the big leagues and never got a lot of recognition because Norman decided to call it a day and ended his music career due to debt issues and worked for the GPO (General Post Office). The album and Norman himself were way ahead of their time period and now with the internet and clips of the album on YouTube, it is suddenly been given a huge wake-up call and people want to talk to Norman about his work in Locomotive and Den of Iniquity.

Starting with the fierce driven organ proto-metallic introduction of the title track and the Badfinger Pop elements of Finding My Way Home, are perfect starters of the album to make you understand who Norman Haines really is. Then, it is the hard edge rock revamp take of Locomotive’s Everything You See (Mr. Armageddon), gives a lot of a guitar work which makes the melody sound like the Brass section and while the original version had a jazz-psych classical sound, this version is so harder that it makes you wonder if this piece could have been an FM hit on the radio and a part of the top 10 singles UK chart in 1971 to knock off David Cassidy off the list and make it number one.

Meanwhile, When I Come Down has this keyboard soul groove in the realms of Second Hand’s Death Became Your Santa Claus-era as the acoustic finger-picking haunted Acid Folk elements comes in with Bourgeois before getting ready for the 13-minute epic, Rabbits. Blues Rock Fuzztone-Organ driven style like no other, Norman plays it and knows the score well as it goes into the Psychedelic Rockin’ Jam session for the rest of the piece as Guitar and Bass go into a dueling mode to see who can come up with the best lines in the piece.

The closing 7-minute dooming finale Life is So Unkind is Norman’s homage to the classical composers to create this moody and disturbing view of the dystopian world gone wrong as he plays Rhodes and Organ in the wah-wah section to set the tone of the views and seeing what the Future used to be beautiful before becoming a nightmarish hell as he goes through soft, beauty, and Gracious-like sounds to close the album off. The Esoteric edition features the singles as a bonus track including a single version of Rabbits as it comes with liner notes done by Crimson expert Sid Smith interviewing Norman Haines about the making of the album.

This is a must have album that you need to have in your collection and makes you start looking for clues to find more obscure progressive albums that never saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Touchstone - The City Sleeps

It has been two years since Touchstone had released a studio album since the first two albums (Discordant Dreams and Wintercoast) had been received critical acclaim in the prog community and performing live in the States and in Europe. And it looks like they have finally conquered the rock orientated scene again with their new album, The City Sleeps. While I have supported the five-piece band, I knew that this was a band that would take Prog to another level after hearing the first two albums and damn it, this is one of the most adventurous and yet rock out album that is completely stupendous.

The band have shown no sign of stopping with their love of AOR, Hard Rock, Pomp Rock, and the Prog sounds combined together to make it wonderful, emotional, metallic, and raw. The power of Rob Cottingham and Kim Seviour’s partnership are still the comrades and marines in Touchstone’s music and making the album sound like it’s the late ‘70s, early ‘80s all over again and taking again the Arena Rock format to another level and showing that the genre isn’t dead, but its growing for Touchstone to take that format and seeing where the direction will take them into.

And it proves that they have finally taken the yellow brick road into the right direction at the right level. The opening of Corridors with its heavy keyboard sounds, bass lines, and guitar licks, comes in with a perfect punch while the 10-minute epic When Shadows Fall shows true passion of Touchstone’s new sound. With its atmospheric first two minutes of synthesizers going into the Solar System before paying tribute to Rush for a moment with piano and guitar taking turns, which is quite surprising as it reminded me of Cygnus X-1: Book II Hemispheres as it goes through passages of mourning, hard, and operatic at times.

As they carry the Progressive sound, but with a metal crunch in them on the attacker These Walls and the time changing pace of Good Boy Psycho which has a powering riff and a structured symphonic element that is completely jaw dropping to take it to a whole new level to go for a huge dynamic roar out of the woods. Meanwhile, they head back into the ballad storytelling mode on the touching Horizons, the acoustic crisp on a warm Sunday afternoon with Half Moon Meadow before going back into the epic mode with the 11-minute track featuring a spoken-word finale done by Anna-Marie Wayne, the daughter of Jeff Wayne.

Featuring a film-score like introduction, swooshing guitar sounds filling the rhythm and lead section, and the keyboards including the synth flying down and giving this kick out composition to give us a huge surprising twist. Touchstone have finally come in full swing and they have finally got the torch lit up as they take the next level going for them and The City Sleeps is a must listen to album that is growing out of its flower to reveal all of its glory.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A New Dawn - Seven Faces of Truth

The Netherlands has been home for most of the Symphonic Metal bands raging from; Within Temptation, Epica, and After Forever to name a few, which have a huge cult following, there is one band that’s been around for six years and that’s A New Dawn. Since they launched 14 years ago, A New Dawn have brought the sounds of the Beauty and the Beast concept with angelic vocals and a death grunt like vocals which has been around in the beginning of the 1990s in the Gothic Metal genre, but this seven piece band really have almost put a new foot in the lake to keep the Symphonic and Gothic Metal genre flowing and have shown no sign of turning back.

That and their new album, Seven Faces of Truth, which was released last year, shows the clever and ability to bring death, symph, and prog combined together as one. Some of the time when listening to Seven Faces of Truth is a bit sinister, lullaby gone wrong, torture, and a bit, of a dystopian world gone wrong in the 15th century which is shown on the blooming turned nightmarish Composition of Life, which deals with forgiveness and the feelings of pain and the nonsense that is going in the world today and feeling that doom is coming.

While the drums sound like a machine gun going off that includes the double bass drums and the guitars sounding like K.K. Downing and Dave Murray, it really sends a chill down your spine and makes you wonder how a band deals with lyrics on depending doom. The high-speeding roar of lightning on Contradiction which is a segue from the opener of a female patient dealing with schizophrenia short spoken word speech on My Name is Dawn, goes off like a flaming bush that explodes into the darkness while Desire has the chops of Opeth and Nightwish, it still pounds a few explosive energies to come at you.

Meanwhile, the 7-minute epic Theatre of Fears, is a mini-symphonic death metal opera and is a combination of; ballads, vicious metallic thumps, annihilation, isolation, and feeling alone to fight and defend for yourself. And I bet they were listening to some of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Iron Maiden and Venom and playing Dungeons and Dragons to take the listener to a huge level of amazingly guitar structures that becomes almost a live fan favorite.

Now while I’m not crazy of the Beauty and the Beast arrangement, I do respect the work that some of the bands are using have some of the scenes in Europe in the Metal genre use that in the Symphonic sound to get the crowd and fans wanting more of this. Seven Faces of Truth is not an easy album to listen to, but getting around to it about three times, is a kick-ass record and they need attention for other bands to be a part of the Symphonic Death Metal scene.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trillum - Alloy

Amanda Somerville, has been around the Symphonic Metal scene as a lyricist and a vocal coach by working with bands like; After Forever, Epica, Kamelot, and working with Tobias Sammet on the metal opera, Avantasia. This time, Amanda has got something up her sleeve with a new project called Trillium and the debut album, Alloy. The influential background of the album rages through Dream Theater, the Damnation-era of Opeth, and Within Temptation.

Going through the debut album from start to finish, it’s quite something and probably most the verifying sounds of Prog and Symphonic sounds that Amanda would bring to the table. She doesn’t pull any excuses and within these twelve tracks, she doesn’t just sings the lyrics like a big rock star, she sings it as a conductor and as a composer by going through the notes from the lyrics that she writes as if she is telling a story in front of an audience that is wanting more.

Having guitars, keyboards, and drums and guest vocalist Jorn Lande of Masterplan whose voice reminded me of the late great Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson on the Metallica-like rumble on Scream It, the members and the orchestrations here are completely on their mark. They definitely show no sign of a dull note, and it is unbelievably like a thunderstorm waiting for the rain to come in with a mighty push and explosion that is waiting to bring electricity to the roars and lighting that comes with it.

Like most Female Symphonic Metal bands in which they have a beauty and the beast vocals, meaning an angelic and evil grunting vocals like After Forever and Epica to name a few, but here on Trillium, there is no sign of the death grunts as they take the compositions into war. Songs like the thunderous opener Machine Gun, which deals with warfare and feeling that your private life has now been surrounded by what has been going on in the news of the union and starting a war with as the sinister punches of Coward and the melancholic Utter Decension are impressive.

As the vicious lyricism dealing with domestic abuse towards women and seeking revenge on Bow to the Ego will be kind of a surprise for Amanda dealing with a huge issue on the cruel punishment of women being used as slaves, she knows how to deal with these issues that is disturbing and challenging to talk about a subject that is going on in the world in the past, present, and now in the future. And while the goose bumps of the electronic music structures on Pain of Least Resistance and the innovative space retro classical advanced structures of Into the Dissonance, the closing epic of the bonus track, Love is an Illusion, deals with the question “Are we still stuck in the lies of illusion? Is the story of our lives going to keep going and will it ever have a happy ending or not?”

If you really admire the sounds of Symphonic Metal or Progressive Metal, then Trillium’s Alloy is one of those albums that you need to get and deserves a lot of attention to hopefully see a bright long and winding road ahead for Trillium.

17 Pygmies - Even Celestina Gets the Blues

With the structures of Krautrock and Space Rock combining as one, it could be a rough ride, but telling the story of a tragic comedy with science-fiction music, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. After their follow up to Second Son, 17 Pygmies new album, Even Celestina Gets the Blues, is the final and third installment of the story of Celestina as they pull off a huge finale to close the album off on a beautiful note. Like the soundtrack set to a sci-fi TV series like Star Trek, Firefly, or Battlestar Galactica, Even Celestina Gets the Blues is a moody, haunting, and structured album that is out of this world and beyond what you are about to experience.

With the sounds of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Tangerine Dream in their music, you could imagine 17 Pygmies really admired the three bands and created this influential album that sound very dark, evil, soaring, uplifting, and mind-boggling at the same time to make this strange yet atmospheric music that could have been recorded at a dark gothic church. There are no title-tracks, but each of the chapters going through 23 and 33, makes three the magical number and the sounds that they were using here is an experimental and neo-classical taste but with an epic kick to it.

Interestingly, they used a lot of voice effects, keyboards, little bits of guitar, and electronic drums setting the scenery as if it was the 25th century to make it a huge telegraph of what the future will come to them and seeing what it will be like. They extended the experimentations a lot throughout the entire album and maybe when they do another concept album, they’ll make it more futuristic and take the sci-fi genre a step further for one small step, one giant leap for mankind.

Some people will have a hard time listening to Even Celestina Gets the Blues, which is okay, because its not an easy album to listen to from beginning to end as for fans of Prog lovers will try to decide whether or not they would accept it or not. However, it is an okay album as their sound is very spacey and seemingly real. It’s a trip worth going on and taking all the time to get through the music if you really worth going for.

Even Celestina Gets the Blues is one of the albums that deserve some attention to embark on the Starship enterprise to boldly go where no prog fan has gone before and needs a lot warm handshakes it deserves. And the album may be the epic film soundtrack to look beyond the infinite and seeing where the notes will take us on an adventure that we will never forget.