Saturday, April 28, 2012

Astra - The Black Chord

San Diego’s own Astra has been pretty busy for three years lately. The last time we heard back from them, was in 2009 when they released their explosive debut album, The Weirding, and it received word of mouth and glowing reviews from MOJO, Record Collector, and Classic Rock Presents Prog and received warm receptions at Prog Festivals and small venues in the States and in Europe and they have finally are taking the Progressive Music genre up a notch.

Now in the year of our lord 2012, it seems that Astra have now come in full circle with the follow up album, The Black Chord it still shows the band have brought a lot of production, time, and effort to come up with the most mind-boggling and volcanic beauty like you’ve never heard it before. And while the cover of the album looks like something that was from 1973, the music itself is sinister, haunting, terrifying, and yet overwhelming that would have been done as a score for a Ken Russell film.

The music from beginning, middle, and end sends you, the listener on a roller-coaster ride of terror like you’ve never witnessed before. Example of it is the blistering opening 8-minute epic instrumental, Cocoon that starts the album off as a dynamite going out in the middle of nowhere as shrieking guitar feedbacks, Mellotron swooshing, ARP Odyssey’s going “Screech!”, and then it becomes a free-for-all as Brian Ellis, David Hurley, Conor Riley, and Richard Vaughan duke it out as the tension and drama fill up the atmosphere to make you get ready for an adventure that you’ve never seen before.

Then it’s a spiritual journey with the 14-minute title track that becomes a dazzling jam session nightmare filled with the void of early Premiata Forneria Marconi and the Lizard-era of King Crimson. The title goes through a mourning atmosphere as the Mellotron goes through sounds of the Organ, Brass, and the String quartet as it goes through a melodic gentle crisp sunny day as they clash through a lot of the thunderstorm clashes of both instruments as the last 3 minutes of the piece go into a haywire mode that is jaw dropping.

Astra has now shown proof that they never made a bad album and even though the Prog genre in the 21st century has shown a lot of the revival, the sound that they do makes you feel that they have done their homework and know their Prog sound very well! While there’s mixed opinions about them, they have stayed grounded to make sure the arranging and compositions have a lot of air and staying true to the ‘70s roots.

Drift shows the emotional sound to a T. With a touch of the Trilogy-era of ELP and Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the band goes through an acid folk moogfest with the mellotron filling the way to follow your dreams according to the song. It is a wonderful flowing calm after the storm, Astra makes sure they don’t miss a beat and making sure the grandfathers of Prog have finally given them 100% credit on their final exam.

The finale, Barefoot in the Head, has the Space Rock sound that sets the tone to close the curtain. I could tell they were watching Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyseey and the Tom Baker-era of Doctor Who and wrote this Sci-Fi mini rock opera that takes the tension between keyboard, drums, and guitar to a different level on the rhythm section. While the sounds of ‘70s Italian Prog, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and early Genesis are in there, Astra have now taken the Prog torch up to the Olympics to light it and watch the flame go in and burn in the night-like sky.

The Black Chord is a wonderful and dangerous album to listen to. It is wonderful and secret to make you want to play it over and over again. Astra show no sign of stopping, and even though they have a long way to go, this follow up is hard to describe and the sound and music is obscure, vicious, and impressively Doom Prog like no other.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga

It’s been a while since there has been a documentary on the genre of Progressive Rock. There had been some sort of a mini documentary that the BBC did including the top ten Prog Rock bands recorded back in 2001 hosted by comedian and Prog fan, Bill Bailey. And another one back in 2009 where the Britannia scene of the Prog genre raging from bands like; ELP, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Soft Machine, and Caravan to name a few. When you hear the phrase, “Documentaries”, you think of people like The Maysles Brothers, D.A. Pennebaker, or Murray Lerner to name a few. However, one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve seen is a movie called, Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga.

Directed by Adele Schmidt and Jose Zegarra Holder, who’ve filmed in the East Coast area of the States back in 2009 shows the cities of; Gettysburg, Bethlehem, Chapel Hill, and Baltimore, four of the cities in which they do Prog Festivals from ProgDay, RoSFest, and the festival of all festivals, NearFest, in which it is in its series finale to close the year off in 2012. Ignored by the so-called rock critics and today’s music industry, the Prog genre could never die. With the help of the internet, YouTube, and online stores including the Laser’s Edge, Wayside Music, and Syn-Phonic Music to name a few, have shown that the Prog sound isn’t dead, it just keeps growing, and these up-and-coming bands to follow in the footsteps of the bands in the ‘70s, shows that they not just love the music, but they have shown the passion and the enjoyment that these bands to create their own technique.

Bands and artists featured in the documentary are; Deluge Grander, Cabezas De Cera, Phideaux Xavier, D.F.A, Cheer-Accident, and La Maschera Di Cera to name a few, captures some of the performances that they did in the festivals that are Close to the Edge. Cabezas De Cera, from Mexico, has this middle-eastern atmospheric rock sound in World Music, will take your breath away while Italian band, D.F.A, show their love of Canterbury Jazz Scene of the late ‘60s and the golden era of the 1970s, however it is the dynamic Pronk Avant-Garde roar of Cheer-Accident’s performance at Orion Studios, will remind listeners of King Crimson’s Red period.

I have watched this documentary about 17 times already on DVD and I’m completely blown away by how not only the Schmidt and Holder have done their homework well, but showing how Prog can take the old and young generation of people to understand this is a genre that keeps on truckin and there is not a single stop sign anywhere for them. Not to mention some interviews from fans and musicians including Phideaux Xavier, Gary Green from Gentle Giant (featuring amazing rare footage of the band performing in Germany), Roine Stolt, Paul Sears, and the master of Orion Sound Studios, Mike Potter, sharing their view on the present and the future of Progressive Music.

And now Schmidt and Holder are in working mode to finish up the follow up in which they cover the Rock in Opposition scene in Europe. Let’s see what they have up their sleeve for this year in 2012 to have their full and honor support of Prog and RIO.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Brother the Wind - I Wash My Soul In The Stream of Infinity

Formed in 2009, My Brother the Wind features Nicklas Barker, Mathias Danielsson, and Ronny Eriksson and his brother Tomas, decided to create this mythical yet strange musical atmospheric landscape that some of the prog and experimental bands were doing then back in the 1970s, and in the 21st century, are following in the footsteps and passing the torch to them. The band pay homage to the Space Rock sounds of early Floyd and Krautrocker’s Ash Ra Tempel and early Tangerine Dream as they would take the sounds by making their own soundtrack of the future.

The sound of My Brother the Wind is more of a mystical yet touch of 70s prog rock as they went back and listen to some of the music for research before making a touch of soothing yet dramatic work that would send a shiver down your spine. Even though the band have put two albums in the can, they could take the Prog-Rock structures with an eruption so big, you would definitely have a psychedelic freak out session that could almost make it as a double album and last throughout from dusk till dawn.

Like the Space Rock/Atmospheric Experimental twist that would give goosebumps to the listener, they could almost could have wrote the entire album as a film score to one of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings back in 1978 and would have made it a cult classic with the wonderful sound and psychedelic sessions that would have made the film and music lovers jaw dropped. Starting off with the dooming session of the utopian world gone wrong on the 13-minute Fire! Fire!! Begins with the guitars and drums going haywire in a crescendo including a wall of feedback, it goes into the futuristic adventure through time and space with both of the guitar players paying tribute to Manuel Gottsching and Dave Brock also features a mellotron to set the roller-coaster ride off with a bang.

Meanwhile, Pagan Moonbeam has this melodic yet haunting raga-rock sound featuring the sitar and Ronny Eriksson’s spooky organ sound, makes it sound like 1968 all over again. You have to give credit for Nicklas Barker, because he’s not doing this for the money, he’s doing this because he wants to do other things like film scores and working with other artists alongside Anekdoten.

The delivery on The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart which features Nick, Tomas, and Ronny doing a terrifying composition that almost could have been a part of the El Ultimo sessions. Featuring a wah-wah bass solo, dooming mellotron work, Fripp-sque guitar work, and Tomas’s drumming is jazzy and almost sounding like a machine gun, makes you begin to realize that these men have done their homework very well.

The 10-minute pieces of Torbjorn Abelli (who was a bassist for this band called International Harvester back in the late ‘60s, passed away back in 2010) is a mourning egyptian rock beauty as Under Crimson Skies, makes some very good moves of ‘70s guitar groove jam sounds between Nicklas and Mathias Danielsson taking their tribute to King Crimson a step further into the voyages in the milky way. Meanwhile, the closing title track, is one of the most laid-back sounds that has this guitar layered and keyboard scenery that reminisces of the Phaedra period that makes you feel you are home back on earth and relaxing at home.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

IO Earth - Moments

Since they launched into the prog scene back in 2009 and considered by Classic Rock Presents Prog as “Best New / Unsigned Band” in 2010, IO Earth have finally come in full swing since the launch of their sole self-titled debut album, it became clear that their next album would be something different beyond the musical structures of the IO Earth sound. Their second album, Moments, released this year, sees the band going into more of the symphonic, atmospheric and ambient sounds that they brought to the table from their previous one.

Mixing with '70s influential sounds of the progressive scene and the middle-eastern crossover of ambient classical music, Moments has some of the boundaries as what the bands were doing during that time period. Most of the pieces go through a passageway to open the door and seeing what the light will lead us to as the band will take us to another dimension that we have never seen for the rest of our lives.

The power between Dave Cureton and Adam Gough, who’ve been around since their school days, shows that they’re not ripping off the bands, but showing how they would take it up a notch and taking the levels of speed and motion throughout their instruments between the guitar and the keyboard. The sounds of the instruments don’t go into a thrashing mode, but a lush-like beauty that is filled with emotional touches and epic boundaries that they would do to have listeners jaws dropping, thinking, “How in the hell did they do that?”

Pieces like the two-part suite of Live Your Life goes through various modes of ballads, electronic mourning, and a reminiscent of the guitar riff of Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell that becomes a shining achievement in the ‘80s rocking sound as it goes into a melancholic finale that would send a chill down your spine through a spoken-word about the loss of a loved one and find true love. However, on the haunting and moving Drifting, starts with a Middle-Eastern vocalization before pushing through a strict rhythm section and then the sax solo which would remind listeners of the King Crimson’s Lizard-era to set the eerie post-apocalyptic background setting this dark and haunting scenery before the male and female vocals kick in the ending for a piano swansong.

Then, everything goes through a metallic run through a classical guitar melody into a symphonic explosion on Cinta Indah while the bossa-nova drum beat kicks into a smooth jazz tempo on Come Find Love that a psychedelic swing to it that includes part of the middle-eastern hip-hop sound that almost seems out of place for IO Earth to do. It took me a while to accept it and even though I’m not crazy about it, it’s not good, but it’s okay.

And now, we come to the 11-minute epic finale, Turn Away. It blends with a sinister piano work and dark vocals as it becomes an electronic fantasy exploration with synth computers, classical string quartet done on the keyboard, and then turning into bright starlight, clearing the clouds away with a thunderstorm. Even though the band has a long way to go, this album is hard to tell, but the sound and vision is all there.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Asgard - In The Realm of Asgard

Originally released on the Moody Blues label, Threshold back in 1972 and restored by Esoteric Recordings, Asgard’s only debut album, In The Realm of Asgard is one of the most underrated albums in the history of Progressive Rock and almost one of those lost treasures that never got any recognition after Threshold decided to focus on the Moody Blues music in ’73. The concept inspiration came from the brainchild of Rodney Harrison who wrote the lyrics and was heavily influenced by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as it shows here that he was no show off, but really pulling it off.

The sound of Asgard’s music has a combination of Folk, Hard Rock, Celtic, and Experimental with a nice eerie violin sound as if they could have been listening to High Tide’s Sea Shanties and Barclay James Harvest’s Once Again to come up with the sound and the direction they were going in. The band was brought to attention by Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder who brought them to Threshold and got them to a deal to record an album, but with help from the late Tony Clarke, it would be a perfect combination.

The band considered Rodney Harrison on Guitar and Lead Vocals, Dave Cook on Bass, Ian Snow on drums, James Smith and Ted Bartlett on Vocals, and Peter Orgill on violin who could have been the answer to Simon House and David Cross. The band used a lot of the story complex songs that had been evidential on the swarming title track, the upbeat Town Crier, and the rise and fall of a Victorian leader on Austin Osman Spare that adds some dramatic structures between Rodney’s lead guitar sound and Orgill’s haunting violin work setting the scenery of the late 1890s in England.

It’s hard to believe that Asgard released their only album. When the album was released in that same year, it didn’t do well because The Moody Blues were focusing on trying to deal with other bands and artists who were signed to Threshold to get them promoted and see the light at the end of tunnel. The album itself was completely ahead of its time and the structures and many years later, prog fans have finally considered this an obscure classic and should have gotten a lot of attention it deserve.

Even though they were signed to Threshold, The Moody Blues themselves found out that having their own record label was difficult and hard to be in. One of the most psyched out twist that is on here is the psyched turned Irish jig rock dance along piece is Time through Rodney’s lines and Orgill just coming up with some country dance swing on the violin to get into the groove as the closing track, Starquest, has an acoustic space folk rock adventure that could have been straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story with vicious guitar licks, swooshing moog for the beginning, acoustic jingle dueling with electric is a sci-fi rock opera like no other.