Posts Tagged ‘Prog’

Christopher Nosnibor

Six whole years in the making In Her Eyes Lies the Golden Dawn is the third release from Austin TX’s Black Earth. Before we get to the album, take a moment to reflect on that. Six years. Can you even remember how the world was six years ago? It as another world. We were all different people. I’m going to assume the members of Black Earth have been busy wit life. Life has a habit of devouring time. Yu get sidetracked by dayjob and family, and suddenly, six years have passed. No sarcasm: this is how it happens. I expect some people will have been on tenterhooks for this.

‘She is the Void’ brings an ‘Unplugged in New York’ kind of vibe by ay of an opener, only without vocals, it’s lot less angsty, and it practically bleeds into the title track, which starts out Mark Lanegan before bursting into a chorus that’s more a grunged-up Zeppelin and wraps with a big rock climax around the mid-point. Being over eight-and-a-half minutes, it’s a bit of a beast. I may not be entirely sold on the ‘eyes / thighs’ rhyme but hey, when it comes to good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, there’s currency still to be found in booze and birds type relationship stuff.

‘I never meant to hurt you / but you gave me no choice’ goes the opening of ‘Pushing Back My Hand’, and I find myself wondering just how comfortable I am with it, before I remind myself that it’s a mistake to align artist with art, and there’s nothing here that in any way condones any kind of misogyny. In fact, what we have is a pretty straight-ahead blues-grunge album, and a solid one at that.

They pack the riffs, and that’s a fact. ‘Left Behind’ is particularly ball-busting, coming on with enough weight as to sound like Melvins covering some vintage cock rock. ‘She’s a Do or Die’ brings more dirty heft, the guitars thick and overdriven, and there comes a point where skirting sabbath touchstones becomes impossible, although the swaggering space-rock midsection is more Hawkwind and finds the band going all out on going all out, and it kicks ass. And as for the colossal closer, ‘She is the Universe’… woah. It brings the riffs, the repetition, and locks into a dense psychedelic groove, which breaks around the seven-minute mark to return to Mark Lanegan territory, before piling into a massive guitar finish.

It’s so easy to dismiss blues / rock albums – even those that incorporate grunge and psych – as being a bit standard, and being much of a muchness. But that’s a genre thing: let’s face it, within any genre there will always be tropes that form a level of format. This is where it comes down to quality of material and execution, and on In Her Eyes Lies the Golden Dawn, Black Earth have both.

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Blacl Earth

Bubblewrap Collective – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s 2019, but Right Hand Left Hand’s third album leaps us back to 2004. But let’s be clear: this is not a criticism. ‘Zone Rouge’ follows on from their self-titled, Welsh Music Prize-nominated second album, and, according to the press release, ‘tells the story of humanity’s contempt for the earth beneath us, the air above us and the people around us.’ The titles of the album’s 11 tracks each refer to ‘a location on Earth where something bad has happened: An act of corruption against the planet, an act of evil against fellow humans and occasionally both.’ Obviously, there’s scope for this to have been an album of infinite duration with a new track added every three seconds for all eternity, but there have to be limits.

Instead, what we have is a concise and urgent post-rock statement on the state of the planet. Being largely instrumental, the sentiment and intention isn’t immediately apparent or openly conveyed without some kind of preface, ‘Zone Rouge’ doesn’t scream ‘environmental crisis reaction!’ or ‘mass killing’ or ‘war’. A lot of this is pretty smooth, expansive, cinematic, with well-placed but ultimately controlled crescendos. The production is sensitive to the mood and the from, but ultimately, it’s clean, dynamic, textured.

There are departures: ‘Prora’ is a kind of choppy, post-punk funk effort with vocals, and it feels rather incongruous in the scheme of the hefty back-and-forth riffery and heavy atmospherics that pervade. ‘Chacabuco’, featuring Taliesyn Kallstrom of Cardiff’s ESTRONS feels particularly anomalous, being some kind of trippy indie / alt metal hybrid. For what it’s worth, it’s a belting tune and single-worthy in its own right, but stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the album.

At times, it feels like the Right Hand Left Hand doesn’t know exactly what the Right Hand Left Hand is doing, but for the most part, Zone Rouge is a solid post-rock album, pushing into an array of stylistic territories with rare aplomb.

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Right Hand Left Hand

AdderStone Records – 4th October 2019

James Wells

Originally released in November 2018, Jo Quail’s Exsolve has been re-released, remastered, as a double vinyl effort on her own, newly-founded, AdderStone Records. It’s been expanded to include a new fourth track, ‘Reya Pavan’.

If a mere eleven months feels like an uncommonly short span of time, consider the fact that the original release wasn’t available on vinyl, and also the year Jo has had. With support slots with Mono and Emma Ruth Rundle, her profile has very much been on the up, and her performances have been consistently spellbinding.

Quail’s appeal was always likely to be subject to slow diffusion. While we’ve become accustomed to post-rock and experimental music, a solo cellist who conjures sound like a full rock band is essentially unique. Moreover, she’s more a purveyor of prog than neoclassical, and this really doesn’t sit readily with contemporary trends, however accommodating and broad-minded and receptive audiences are.

Christopher Nosnibor frothed effusively about the album on this very site a year ago and all of that still stands: this is a stunning album, and the depth and range of the sound is incredible. It has grace, it has power, it has impact, and it has blistering solos that sound like guitars. I’d challenge anyone to sit and listen to this without any forewarning and consider for a second this is the work of one person, or a solo cello album.

The new, additional composition, ‘Reya Pavan’ is the most overtly orchestral track on the album, and it oozes sadness rom the heart, while underpinned by a sonorous rhythmic throb that adds a very different dimension.

It’s not really a re-valuation as such, or a reissue, but a timely reboot, and Jo Quail is a singular and innovative artist who deserves the attention.

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Jo Quail - Exsolve reissue

Southern Lord – 23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Maybe I’m not nearly as musically ware as I thought. Or maybe some bands are simply so way off radar, it takes a poke from a PR to get things moving. And so it is that my introduction to Circle comes after they’ve already got over 30 albums to their credit. Before I even start listening, I find myself thinking ‘shit, I hope it’s not so awesome that I feel compelled to explore their entire back catalogue’. I’m still working on The Melvins after all, and have kinda parted ways with The Fall in recent years, not because I haven’t enjoyed any of their more recent release, but because I simply can’t keep up, and there’s so much music out there. Something’s got to give.

Terminal contains six tracks, all bar one of which extend beyond the five-minute mark, and opening with the thirteen-minute ‘Rakkautta Al Dente’. It’s got the lot woven into its epic, dense fabric, building on a mystical desert rock vibe that spins out for mile after mile, before a ravaged vocal, by turns demonic and magickal, leads through a preposterously theatrical rock opera of sorts, riding through a succession of crescendos and surges, with changes of style galore, ranging from medieval riffery to cinematic prog. And… well. It’s effectively an entire album in a single song. Over the top? Way over… but if you’re going to go over, there’s no point in just scraping the bar.

The title tracks kicks in with a punchy riff that leans heavily on ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ by The Stooges – or, from another perspective, that classic chord sequence that informs a near infinite number of songs – before flying off into motoric space rock territory. With ‘Saxo’ mining a manic post-punk seam and ‘Kill City’ coming on somewhere between Iron Maiden and GWAR before ‘Sick Child’ plays out with a thumping psychedelic trudge, Terminal is as eclectic as a heavy, guitar-based album is as likely to come.

Small wonder the Finnish act are almost unanimously hailed as the very definition of genre-defying. At its heart, you may say there’s a hard rock / heavy metal album lurking amidst the coalition of disparate elements which form Terminal. This would certainly sit with the narrative of an album released on Southern Lord. But the way in which everything is drawn together – sometimes seamlessly, sometimes audaciously and unexpectedly – means that this framing of the album doesn’t really work. All of this leaves more questions than answers in terms of how to frame, and therefore how to accommodate Terminal. But regardless of how one assimilates, or otherwise fails to assimilate it, Terminal is a wild ride, and while in places perplexing and vastly excessive, it’s never for a moment dull or predictable.

Circle - Terminal

We’re elated to bring you a video premiere in the form of ‘The Brightest Stars Leave The Blackest Holes’ by Leeds three-piece purveyors of contempoary prog, Zeitgeist.

The new single is taken from the Vacuums EP, released today.

Zeitgeist’s keyboardist, Aleks Podraza comments on the track’s inspirations: “The tune in itself is about planetary death, and how nothing is permanent, no matter how big. The title can also be considered an allegory for human death, and how we miss the ‘brightest stars’ amongst us.

I spent a lot of time during my wrestle with my own existence and its meaning looking up the different theories surrounding the big bang. One theory I came across was that the big bang was a result of a past universe being swallowed up by a huge black hole, but so dense was the mass that the black hole became that it itself collapse and a huge explosion of matter happened. And here we are. So expiration and death, in accord to this theory, are just part of our universe’s cyclic existence, which I found a comforting and inspiring thought.”

Zeitgeist’s keyboardist, Aleks Podraza comments on the track’s inspirations: “The tune in itself is about planetary death, and how nothing is permanent, no matter how big. The title can also be considered an allegory for human death, and how we miss the ‘brightest stars’ amongst us.

I spent a lot of time during my wrestle with my own existence and its meaning looking up the different theories surrounding the big bang. One theory I came across was that the big bang was a result of a past universe being swallowed up by a huge black hole, but so dense was the mass that the black hole became that it itself collapse and a huge explosion of matter happened. And here we are. So expiration and death, in accord to this theory, are just part of our universe’s cyclic existence, which I found a comforting and inspiring thought.”

Watch the video here:

Norwegian prog outfit Seven Impale have announced that they will release their new album ‘Contrapasso’ on 16th September via Karisma Records.

The band have also shared a brand new track, ‘Languor’. It’s epic and bombastic, and you can listen to it here:

 

 

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Graphite Records – 17th June 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

They may be Your Favourite Enemies, but I have to confess I hadn’t heard of them until the promo for this plopped into my inbox. There shouldn’t be too much shame in that: they’re hardly a household name, and while I’m pretty good at spreading my musical feelers far and wide, I can’t possibly have heard, or heard of, ever band ever. But then, as Wikipedia helpfully reports, on its Canadian release in 2014, fourth album Between Illness and Migration peaked at #2 in the iTunes chart on the day of its release, between Coldplay and The Black Keys. Ok, so they may not be a household name in the UK, but they’ve evidently got quite a fanbase in their native Canada.

The blurb that accompanies the album is an intriguing as the references: a band collectively drawing influence from take influence from artists such as Sonic Youth, Fugazi, My Bloody Valentine and Mars Volta, and who view themselves as ‘a communion of high level noise, post-punk, psych, shoegaze and prog rock,’, Your Favourite Enemies are described as ‘six chaotic individuals who collectively let go of their own self-depraved illusionary make-believes to surrender to the inner noises of moments they communally turned into songs, thus giving birth to a musical journey defined by an assumed incarnation of epiphanic catastrophes, raging contemplation and transfiguring uplift.’

The album’s subtitle originates from the fact that the band performed the album in full n Tokyo, and subsequently felt compelled to return the studio to rework the material with a view to capturing the intensity of that intimate show.

The album’s first track, ‘Satsuki Yami – My Heartbeat’ is representative of the sound and style: atmospheric, dynamic, spoken word verses are accompanied by meandering, chorus, echo-soaked guitar, building to an evocative, motive chorus. ‘Empire of Sorrows’ not only sustains but builds the tension, transitioning from a strange hybrid of post-rock and neo-prog, but with a choppy edge . Alex Foster’s spoken vocal delivery reminds me of King Missile’s Ed Hall, without the overt quirkiness or smart-arsery.

Elements of contemporary prog inform the segmented compositions, the vast depth of the sound and the expansive running times, with the majority of the album’s track’s running comfortably past the five-minute mark. But equally, they display a keen ear for melody, and a number of the songs slot in comfortably with the contemporary rock sound. ‘1-2-3 One Step Away’ is a cracking pop song, with a surging chorus, instant hook, nagging guitars and energy, all without sacrificing texture or detail.

‘A View From Within’ was an obvious single choice, showcasing a more commercial rock sound, with a distinct chorus, and a slick production. In contrast, ‘Underneath a Blooming Skyline’ crashes in with scorching guitars atop a thunderous bassline and tumultuous drumming: Miss Isabel’s blank, monotone vocals create a sense of dislocation and discomfort.

The guitars on ‘Just Want You to Know’ are pure Bug era Dinosaur Jr, but the vocals are more straight ahead alt-rock, melodic, tinged with angst, and if ‘Anyone’ gets a bit 30 Seconds to Mars in its stadium emoting, it’s got enough guts to give it a credibility, and besides, ‘Obsession is a Gun’ whips up a magnificent maelstrom of bursting tension. As a whole, Between Illness and Migration balances accessibility and melody with a focused viscerality and grand sense of scale.

The bonus tracks which make up the ‘deluxe’ edition are the radio versions to ‘I Just Want You To Know’, ‘Where Did We Lose Each Oher’, ‘1-2-3 Step Away’ and ‘A View From Within’. They don’t make the album, but if you’re a completest you won’t be too disappointed, or if you haven’t purchased it previously, you can’t go too far wrong here. They’re certainly my favourite enemies now, too.

 

 

Your Favourite Enemies - Tokyo

Christopher Nosnibor

Having only recently found TesseracT on my radar through their latest album, Polaris, which is vast in its ambition and the scope of its realisation, I arrived with no real knowledge of their back catalogue, or what to expect from a live show. I realise, on arriving well after doors to find a queue halfway down the Brudenell’s car park on a soggy Sunday night, I’d also no real idea of their popularity.

The crowd are unexpectedly hip; lots of dudes with beards and plaid shirt, but then, also multitudinous hoodies and gothy / metal chicks. I’m 40 and very much in the older minority – along with the guy in the Europe T-shirt, who must have at least 10 years and 5 stone on me. I say unexpectedly, because the meaning of the band’s name perhaps gives a fair indication of what the Milton Keynes quintet are about, and their progressive / mathematical inclinations: ‘In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analog of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. Just as the surface of the cube consists of six square faces, the hypersurface of the tesseract consists of eight cubical cells. The tesseract is one of the six convex regular 4-polytopes.’

Is prog cool now? The one thing to be clear on here is that progressive rock has, in fact, progressed. The new breed – the neo-prog brigade, if you will – are a world away from the indulgence of the likes of Yes, ELP, early Genesis. Tonight’s lineup places the emphasis very strongly on the rock element, and it’s perhaps too not difficult to unravel the appeal of music that’s cerebral and articulate, but packs a real punch at the same time.

I only catch a fleeting glimpse of Nordic Giants, but it’s enough to remind me of what a spellbinding live act they are. Resonant bass and rolling piano fill the room while the feathered duo play before a backdrop of dramatic visuals which accentuate the cinematic qualities of their expansive progressive / post-rock instrumentals.

I usually do a spot of research into the support acts prior to turning up to review bands, but The Contortionist are a completely unknown quantity to me – and I’m clearly in the minority. But then, the fact a band from Indianapolis of some considerable standing are supporting a UK band around Europe is in itself quite a deal. And they’re certainly not slack as a live act.

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The Contortionist

While they’re very much a technical band, with intricate guitar parts defining their sound, they’re paired with a thunderous bass sound that’s pure metal – and corresponds with the preponderance of beards and leather jackets on display. When they go for the heavy, The Contortionist do heavy, and there are many epic chug sections propelled by some powerful double-stroke kick drumming during the course of their 45-minute set. As impressive as the music is, I’m also impressed by vocalist Mike Lessard’s vascular arms. At times, it does feel a shade pompous and that there’s a lack of engagement between band and audience, but I don’t see any of those pressed into the front rows complaining.

Some may argue that TesseracT aren’t so much a prog act as exponents of djent, or at least exemplars of the bands who emerged from the microgenre which itself grew out of progressive metal in the wake of bands like Meshuggah and Sikth. The point is, it’s heavily technical, and yes, a bit muso – the stage is cluttered with eight-string guitars and five and six-string basses, which are used to create some of the most bewilderingly complex music, both in terms of notation and time signatures, not to mention the tempo changes and dynamic leaps between the multiple sections of each song. But they sure as hell know how to let rip in the riffage stakes, too.

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TesseracT

Benefiting from a big lighting rig to illuminate their vast arena sound, they perform like an arena band, and pull out all the stops. Daniel Tompkins’ return to the fold has clearly had an impact on both the sound and the style of the performance: he spends the set at the front, leaning over the crowd and projecting, while switching effortlessly between thick, throaty vocals and a clean, melodic range. They manage to lift a fair chunk of their debut album, while also fairly representing both Altered State and Polaris – as you might expect from a set that runs for around an hour and a half, and much to the delight of the packed-out audience.

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TesseracT

Again, there are times when I feel the rock posturing actually builds a significant separation between band and audience, who standm rapt, as Tompkins postures and powers his way through the songs. But then, I see just how happy everyone is. It may be a 450-capacity venue, but it feels like an arena show. TesseracT play like they’re rock deities, and the audience respond in kind. And that’s cool. Certain bands require a degree of inaccessibility, of otherness to really work, and that’s very much the case with TesseracT. They’re a band with big ideas, a big sound, a big lighting rig and some big tunes, and they pull the whole deal off with aplomb.