Tag Archives: Dream Theater

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky – Album Review

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Artist: Prospekt

Album Title: The Illuminated Sky

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Date Of Release: 21 July 2017

I remember reviewing the debut record from UK progressive metal band Prospekt for Powerplay some years ago. But more importantly, I remember being very impressed with the output and so it was a natural step for me to seek this out and give it the full treatment on the Blog Of Much Metal. No word limits here, so I am able to explore the music a little bit more in depth.

Formed in 2008 in Oxfordshire, a county more renowned for its world famous higher learning establishment than for its world class progressive metal, Prospekt remain a relatively young band with a self-titled EP (2011) and debut full length (‘The Colourless Sunrise – 2013) in their locker already. But it has been a long four years leading to ‘The Illuminated Sky’, the band’s sophomore studio release; four years that has seen a few changes to the band’s line-up. Keyboardist Richard Marshall and lead vocalist Matt Winchester have left, to be replaced by Rox Capriotti and Michael Morris respectively.

Now, I always get nervous when a progressive band changes vocalist, particularly when the departing member was a perfectly good fit. However, it is clear that Prospekt have expertly dodged the ‘disappointing vocalist’ bullet that hits a good number of bands within the genre. In Michael Morris, they have found a vocalist who works really well with the music that sits behind him. His range is impressive, able to hit the lower notes, the high notes and, as demonstrated within ‘Beneath Enriya’ by way of just one example, the very high notes. You know the ones that threaten to veer into ‘canine-only’ territory? Yeah, them!

And whilst ever so occasionally, I wish Morris has just a little more bass to his voice, I really can’t fault his ability or his delivery at all. He certainly has the ability to tell a story convincingly which is important in this kind of music, working with the complex compositions rather than battling them. In time, we could be looking at another Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus or Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder perhaps. We shall have to wait and see.

Given that Prospekt’s musical weapon of choice is dextrous and complex symphonic prog metal, the choice of keyboardist is just as important as the vocalist. Again, Rox Capriotti would appear to be ideal. Not only is he clearly adept at creating sweeping atmospheric vistas and layers of bombast with his synths, Capriotti can deliver a flamboyant solo too, as demonstrated within ‘In The Shadows Of The Earth’ for example.

They join the unchanged core of bassist Phil Wicker, guitarist Lee Luland and drummer Blake Richarson who are equally adept and impressive in their chosen fields. The licks, leads, riffs and chops delivered by Luland are wonderful, the flamboyance of Wicker is not lost in a decent mix and as such is reminiscent of Seventh Wonder and Shadow Gallery. And Blake Richardson lays down some excellent rhythms, just the right balance of power, precision and flair.

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Everything so far is pointing in the right direction and the positivity continues as one’s focus then shifts to the compositions themselves. I’m a big sucker for melody and whilst there are just a few occasions where I want the quintet to go bigger and bolder in this area, they generally deliver something rather ear-pleasing to keep me coming back for more. In fact, in true progressive metal style, the more I listen, the more I discover.

Prospekt describe themselves as ‘cinematic technical progressive metal’ which I completely agree with. The content of the ten tracks on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ are truly epic in scope and cover a multitude of different influences, from the neoclassical output of Symphony X, to the more symphonic elements of bands like Dream Theater and the all-out technical flamboyance of Haken. To be honest though, listen carefully enough and you’ll be able to pick out ingredients from just about any of the biggest and best protagonists in the prog metal genre. And yet the music does not sound like a clone of any one band. Nor does it come across as being derivative in the slightest. Instead, it sounds confident, assured and remarkably vibrant.

The dramatic intro ‘Ex Nihilo’ sits somewhere between the aforementioned Haken and Dream Theater in tone, before the title track kicks in. And kick in, it certainly does, with the force and fury of a band that know they have something to offer the metal world. The riffs are excellent, the rhythm section is thunderous and the transitions between sections are slick. The chorus is a real grower and throughout it all, the synths provide that wonderfully dramatic and grandiose feel.

Remarkably, the quintet keep up the momentum as the album develops. ‘Titan’ has a vague Middle-Eastern flavour within its up-tempo structure, as well a striking lead guitar solo from Luland, whilst ‘Beneath Enriya’ offers a beautifully melodic and expansive chorus as well as some spoken-word samples to increase the sense of theatre.

Arguably my favourite track on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ is the nine-minute giant ‘Alien Makers Of Discord’. But it isn’t the amazing guest lead guitar work of Greg Howe that draws me in, it’s the huge melodic hooks within the chorus that floor me, nestled expertly within some impressive musicianship, a staple of the Prospekt sound.

And then, there’s ‘Cosmic Emissary’, which seems to dial everything up a further notch if that’s even possible. The neoclassical lead guitar work that introduces the song is superb but the symphonic elements are possibly the most ear-catching aspect of the song, adding drama and boosting the cinematic flavour even further. And then there’s the thunderous drumming that injects genuine heaviness to expertly counterbalance the well-placed quieter sections within the track.

‘Akaibara’, the closest Prospekt get to a ballad, is also a winner thanks in large part to the brief reduction of complexity and the subtle way that it builds. And what a pay-off when it reaches its climax – the melodies are so powerful and the relative simplicity, topped off by Morris’ emotional performance makes the whole thing more impactful and honest.

And yet there’s still time for one more song. And it’s the biggest of the lot. Weighing in at over 11 minutes, ‘Where Masters Fall’ which features the guest vocal talents of Dragonforce’s Marc Hudson, is the massive conclusion to an already massively impressive album, where just about nothing is off limits. Combining a little bit of everything that has gone before, it is the perfect way to conclude the record, leaving the listener on a real high.

The only conclusion I can reach is that with ‘The Illuminated Sky’, Prospekt have signalled their intent to become a big hitter in the prog scene in the most impressive of ways. Or, to put it another way, if you’re a fan of progressive music, it won’t be long before you’re a fan of Prospekt.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Ayreon – The Source – Album Review

 

ayreon-cover

Artist: Ayreon

Album Title: The Source

Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My relationship with the music of Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a complex one. I would definitely class myself as a fan, but not one without reservation, as the back catalogue contains both the sublime and the slightly less impressive as far as I’m concerned. For example, I love the ‘Space Metal’ and ‘Victims of the Modern Age’ albums under the Star One moniker, whereas I have a hard time with early Ayreon records up to and including ‘Into The Electric Castle’. For many, this latter revelation will be akin to blasphemy, but that’s my opinion and I stand by it.

Nevertheless, latter Ayreon releases have made a much more positive impact with ‘01011001’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ both capturing my imagination to the point where I was really excited to hear Lucassen’s ninth instalment of this particular franchise, ‘The Source’.

It has been a while in the making, some four years since the release of ‘The Theory of Everything’. Mind you, projects as ambitious as ‘The Source’ take some time and organisation to pull off, even for a workaholic like Lucassen. Additionally, the intervening period has also seen him working with Anneke van Giersbergen on the debut The Gentle Storm album, ‘The Diary’.

‘The Source’ is, as you might expect, a full-on science-fiction concept album, set 6 billion years in the past, that seeks to tell the story of an alien race’s attempts to save themselves and their planet from crisis. It is comprised of 17 individual tracks of progressive rock and in keeping with these huge Ayreon rock operas, it features no fewer than twelve guest vocalists, some which are new to the Ayreon family and others that are returning for another stint. As such, you get to hear the talents of James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X).

If that wasn’t enough, Lucassen, the multi-instrumentalist recluse is joined by a select group of musicians including drummer Ed Warby (Gorefest, Elegy), guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion). There’s even room for guest appearances from regulars like cellist Maaike Peterse, flautist Jeroen Goossens and violinist Ben Mathot.

Regardless of your thoughts on the music of Arjen Lucassen, one cannot deny his ambition to pull this project together, however seasoned a pro he might be. And on that note, let’s venture into the music itself. After all, that’s why you’re reading this review isn’t it?

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Cutting swiftly to the chase, it is fair to say that long term fans will be left feeling very happy with the results, wrapped safely in the comforting arms of the familiar. The die has been cast on previous Ayreon albums and by-and-large, there are no major deviations from the norm on ‘The Source’. It is over-the-top, pompous and at times, a little silly. Pick your cheese of choice and you’ll find a morsel or two of it here without question. My toes occasionally curl and I wince at certain points. The Celtic, folky ‘All That Was’ for example, does not fare well in my estimations, neither does the operatic injection within ‘Deathcry of a Race’ which is simply too much and a little ‘nails down a blackboard’ for me. As a result, ‘The Source’ is not the perfect, blemish-free release.

And yet, there is no escaping the fact that ‘The Source’ is a hugely enjoyable album for the most part, with plenty of stand-out moments where my imagination is fully captured and my enthusiasm ignited. And it must be said that much of my enjoyment comes from listening to the various vocalists who guest on this record. There are still those out there who dismiss heavy metal as just noise, overlaid by shouty blokes who can’t sing. Well, if there was ever a record to expose this ignorant view as the huge falsity that it is, it’s this one. The talent from across the gender divide is just off the scale and as absurd as the concept is in places, the vocalists breathe life into it, giving it a genuine credibility in the process.

In fittingly bombastic style, the record begins with a 12-plus minute epic that introduces just about every singer that features on the album. I’m not the biggest James LaBrie fan but even he sounds great, floating through an eerie and post-apocalyptic, dystopian soundscape at the outset. The song twists and turns throughout, never settling, as the groundwork for the concept is laid. Tommy Karevik is the early show-stealer thanks to an incredibly passionate and powerful performance, but the surprisingly heavy chugging riff pushes him close. Lucassen himself refers to this record as more guitar driven and heavier, a point that is underlined here right from the outset.

But the undoubted star of the opening act, surrounded by the likes of Nils K. Rue, Tobi Sammet and Hansi Kursch has to be Mike Mills. It’s a cliché as old as time to say that you could listen to certain vocalists singing the phonebook. But in the case of Mills, he manages to send shivers down my spine by singing something as dull as the binary code atop some moody, futuristic synths. ‘Zero, one, zero’ etc. has never sounded so utterly captivating and emotive, believe me.

I’m not such a fan of the funky, bluesy sequence that follows, although ‘Sir’ Russell Allen lends it a certain undeniable panache and swagger. There’s even time right at the death for Floor Jansen to lend her impressively huge vocal chords to see this opener out in rousing style. Had the entire record remained at this level, we’d have been staring down the barrel of a near-perfect score, it’s that good. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that it is one of Lucassen’s best under any of his various monikers.

Elsewhere, I’m a huge fan of ‘The Dream Dissolves’ with its killer lead guitar solo and the extended keyboard flamboyance. Aside from the aforementioned operatic section within ‘Deathcry of a Race’, it is a brilliant song thanks to its Middle Eastern melodies, heavy riffing and Zorgati’s distinctive vocals. And ‘Into The Ocean’ is a storming up-tempo rocker with overt 70s overtones created by the chosen keyboard sounds.

More heavy riffs and forceful drumming feature within the immediate and insanely catchy ‘Planet Y Is Alive!’ which evolves into something far more soundtrack-like and preposterously fun in the mid-section.

There are plenty more positives within this lengthy endeavour but for the sake of brevity, allow me to conclude with my joint-favourite piece, ‘Star Of Sirrah’. Heavy, melodic, over-the-top, this is Ayreon on top form. The song opens in moody but melodic and dramatic fashion with an acoustic guitar and bold synths before another huge, killer riff sweeps everything aside. It chugs and growls with real intent, complimenting all of the various vocalists who take a turn at delivering this part of the concept. If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d have to say that Nils K Rue offers the most compelling performance, closely followed by Tobi Sammet. It’s not a simple song by any means but it shows how superb Lucassen can be as a songwriter when he dials down the crazy and pens something a little more straightforward and rocking. Because boy does this track rock.

One of the nicest artists I’ve ever crossed path with is also one of the most openly insecure musicians in the business. Self-doubt riddles the psyche of Arjen Lucassen, something with which I can most definitely identify. The guy has an army of fans though and he always manages to attract great musicians to assist him with his music, so he must be doing something right. And there’s ‘The Source’ to further underline this conclusion. It might be a flawed record in places but regardless, ‘The Source’ is a triumph of which Lucassen should be rightly proud.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Album of the Year 2016 – number 22

Welcome to day nine of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. Are you all still with me? I certainly hope so.

If you have just discovered this blog or this particular series, please feel free to check out the previous entries – my picks for 23-30 can be found via the links at the bottom of this post, along with links to the previous years as well. It should keep you busy for a few hours I should think.

So far, this year’s list has contained everything from prog metal to melodeath and from thrash metal, to avant-garde black metal. What can I say? My tastes really do encompass most styles of heavy music and that’s firmly reflected by this list. And now today, you can add ‘melodic metal’ to the list as I give you my choice at number 22…

Number 22

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Universal Mind Project
The Jaguar Priest
Inner Wound Recordings

 

“It is actually quite difficult to describe the musical output of Universal Mind Project succinctly because it features so many different elements. It is progressive, powerful, symphonic and highly melodic, almost veering into mainstream music territory on more than one occasion. There are dual male and female vocals plus a fair few extreme metal growls as well as demonstrably heavier moments that arguably belong more to the more extreme genres of metal than to anything else.

The list of guest musicians…is quite something too and includes Nils K Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Johan Reinholz (Andromeda), Mark Jansen (Epica, Mayan), Charlie Dominici (ex-Dream Theater), Emanuele Casali (DGM) and Diego Valdez (Helker).

Enhanced by a lyrical content that generally avoids genre clichés, striking cover artwork and a hugely impressive production…Universal Mind Project have delivered the full package. Remarkably consistent, hugely engaging and expertly crafted, it has come out of nowhere to blow me away.”

Read the full review here

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

OK, so Universal Mind Project have not quite made it into my top 10 as I suggested it might via my review earlier in the year. At the time, I had no idea just how strong the year was to be overall. Nevertheless, it is still an impressively strong release that deserves a place in this list without a shadow of doubt. It certainly came out of nowhere to make a huge impact, even more so given that this is the debut album under the Universal Mind Project moniker.

Every song delivers something just a little bit different, be it the involvement of a guest artist or an injection of greater prog or cinematic overtones. However, what nearly every song has in common with each other is that the quality is consistently very high and there is always a catchy melody or hook somewhere to grab me and pull me under its spell. In some ways, ‘The Jaguar Priest’ could be referred to as a ‘feel good’ album, an dose of superb, grandiose, over-the-top heavy metal that does one thing: puts a huge smile on my face. Oh, ok, two things: it also makes me bang my head and sing out loud too.

Is there anything else an album like this needs to do?

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 23

Welcome to day eight of my epic ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. And today is one of those posts that get to the heart of what my blog is all about – it’s not about singing the praises of the biggest bands out there, although I will do that too. It’s more about shining the spotlight on the music I love and the bands that deliver it whilst being relatively unknown or ‘successful’ in the conventional sense of the word.

In fact, in the case of today’s choice of album, the artist in question is unsigned and somewhat unbelievably, has less ‘likes’ on facebook than me. Now I know that’s not the sign of success, but how can such a great band have so little love from the metal community? It’s ridiculous.

And, on that note, I give you my choice at number 23:

Number 23

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Odd Logic
Penny For Your Thoughts
Independent Release

 

“…‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ is properly progressive. This isn’t one of those records that toys around the edges of prog thanks to an occasional off-kilter riff or brief foray into anything other than a 4-4 time signature. The music of Odd Logic has a lot going on within it, with different ideas falling over themselves to be heard. And yet, despite what could become an untidy or unruly listening experience remains commendably cohesive. Almost naturally and organically, elements of rock, metal, jazz, classical and pop are fused together to create an enthralling, dramatic and dynamic listening experience.

As you can probably tell, this has been something of a revelation to me. I adore this record because it delivers exactly what I like in my music. It is heavy, melodic, complex, intelligent, surprisingly emotional and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end.”

Read the full review here

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There are precious few relatively unknown bands out there that create really exceptional music. So it is nice to discover one and be able to feature them in my end of year ‘best of’ list. Odd Logic have been one of the biggest revelations for me this year – even during such a fantastically strong year for heavy music, ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ is easily one of the best prog releases of the year and this should speak volumes as to how much I like this record.

It isn’t like ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ flattered to deceive at the beginning either. It hasn’t lost its lustre at all and the magic is still there to hear several months after release. In true prog style, this is a proper concept disc and it’s the story that allows the guys in Odd Logic to go crazy with the styles and sounds that feature on this record.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the penultimate track ‘Lighthouses’ is another contender for the song of the year – it is just the most exquisite blend of prog, AOR and pop that comes together to deliver a song that gets completely lodged in my head and begs for repeated plays. If you’re into progressive metal of any kind, then ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ needs to be high on your list. And then, once you’ve fallen for it, shout the name ‘Odd Logic’ from the rooftops.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Live gig review: Haken, Special Providence, Arkentype – Highbury Garage 26/05/16

**please forgive the quality of the photography that accompanies this live review. Thanks to a very kind and polite security team, I wasn’t able to take my SLR into the venue and my brand new HTC 10 decided that it wasn’t going to play nicely with me, refusing to focus in anything but long range shots. But I hope the words make up for the rubbish imagery.**

Conner Green and I in the bar after the show

Conner Green and I in the bar after the show

There aren’t many bands that I’ve been following since the very beginning, but Haken are one of them. I have their demo CD prior to the release of their debut ‘Aquarius’ in 2010 and I vaguely remember catching a set of theirs at the Underworld I Camden many moons ago. I can’t remember who they were supporting, but I remember liking what I heard even if at that time the output was rather raw and in need of some honing.

As the years have gone by, I’ve taken Haken to my heart and have followed their endeavours as closely as possible; from interviewing them in their van at ProgPower Europe in 2010, to watching them play to just 50-odd people at Fused Festival in a small antiquated town hall.

Fast forward to 2016 and in the space of just a few years, the change has been incredible. No longer are Haken a raw young band. They are the real deal. Of course it helps if you get championed by some big names in your particular musical circle, in this case Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and even the Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess.

However, this championing wouldn’t have happened without the product to back it up. For Haken, it was their third album, ‘The Mountain’ that made people sit up and take notice, a modern progressive rock/metal tour-de-force. And now, the Londoners have just released ‘Affinity’, their fourth album and, without a doubt, it’s their most accomplished, daring and emotional release to date. Want to know more? Here’s my review

Back to the main event and there’s a reason for this long-winded introduction. You see, what I hadn’t quite expected when I rocked up to the Highbury Garage was both the number of people sporting Haken attire and then the thunderous reception the band received throughout their set, even to the point that huge cheers greeted the various members in the changeover as equipment was set up and fiddled with.

But whilst Haken was undoubtedly the main draw for most within the venue, the support acts for the evening were most definitely worth a mention.

Arkentype 1Up first were Archentype, a Norwegian quartet who were every bit as visually interesting and they were sonically. Garbed in hooded white robes, or black in the case of guitarist Simen Handeland, it felt like we were witnessing some kind of ritualistic performance, particularly when the musicians swayed, slumped over their instruments at the beginning of some tracks like zombies. Bassist Kjetil Hallaråker even ventured into the crowd momentarily, adding to a nice sense of theatre, something that’s missing from so many bands these days.

Musically, Arkentype take their cue from the tech metal/djent arena but imbue it with moments of euphoric melodic clarity which are all the more powerful for being surrounded by the menacing, complex and rhythmic down-tuned chug upon which the compositions are built. I enjoyed the performance and was caught by surprise when it ended.

Following Arkentype was Hungarian instrumental prog rock band Special Providence. I‘m not normally a lover of instrumental music but the quartet’s blend of prog and jazz fusion was more entertaining than I had feared. Indeed, it was apparently a sentiment shared by large sections of the audience as the reception grew and grew with each passing song, ending with a rousing and warm cheer.

Special Providence 1Highly technical and brain-frazzling they may be, but Special Providence were able to increase accessibility by injecting moments of fleeting melody and plenty of funky groove into their compositions as well as a sense of fun. Visually, Special Providence weren’t the most exciting but the smiles on the faces of the band were infectious, particularly that of bassist Attila Fehérvári who, thanks to his huge grin throughout, was the star of the show.

And then it was time for Haken to hit the stage. Greeted like conquering heroes to a soundtrack of ‘Affinity’, this was the reception of a home-town crowd, proud of their compatriots and anticipating a great show. And they weren’t to be disappointed either.

Kicking off with ‘Initiate’, Haken looked hungry and ready to deliver the goods. The sound was slightly muddy at the outset but quickly cleared as I found myself wedged in towards the front of the crowd, surrounded by fans that were singing loudly enough to almost drown out vocalist Ross Jennings in the quieter passages.

Giving us no time to catch our breath, Haken then launched into ‘Falling Back To Earth’ from ‘The Mountain’. A personal favourite from that album, the quiet mid-section that builds in intensity came across really well. It almost goes without saying that the sextet played tightly, but in case there was any confusion, they were really tight. Drummer Ray Hearne has really grown into a formidable drummer and new(ish) bassist Conner Green was equally impressive camped towards the back of the stage.

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And then, after the raucous introductions, the clock was turned back over thirty years to ‘1985’. Ray re-emerged from backstage sporting a green and white headband with matching wristbands, whilst Ross, always the cheeky chappie, sang the entire track bedecked in glowing luminous green sunglasses. If that wasn’t enough, keyboardist Diego Tejeida emerged from behind his static instruments with a grin to reveal a retro keytar. You couldn’t help but chuckle, particularly given the wonderfully uplifting and overtly nostalgic music behind the amusing antics.

The mysterious Charles Griffiths!

The mysterious Charles Griffiths!

After a couple of cuts from the aforementioned ‘The Mountain’ which included the quirky crowd favourite ‘Cockroach King’, it was time for some epic material in the form of Haken’s latest monster ‘The Architect’. It’s a fabulous song on record and live, it was just as good if not better. The twin guitarists of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths really shone throughout, especially with the killer solo towards the close. And, during the quieter moments, Conner was afforded the opportunity to take a step forward and take his moment in the limelight.

Just as I was about to bemoan the lack of any material from the first two albums, ‘Aquarius’ and my overall personal favourite, ‘Visions’ (2011), I was made to feel very silly. Diego indulged himself with a keyboard solo before the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I realised that I was going to hear my favourite Haken track of all-time, ‘Deathless’ live for only the second or third time. It’s such a magical track, and the way the bad built it up from its emotional and tender beginnings to its bruising finale was extremely powerful and simply inspired. Whilst I would have liked another nod to the early days, I couldn’t really grumble with the set list, especially when the early curfew was pushed to its limit by an encore consisting of the epic ‘Crystallised’, a very early piece that was recently re-recorded on the ‘Restoration’ EP (review here).

I’m always amazed at how Haken manage to recreate their complex and challenging material in a live setting. More amazing though is the way in which the music is delivered so carefully and thoughtfully whilst maintaining a connection with the audience; Haken never lose sight of the fact that they are here to entertain and so the stops are always pulled out to ensure the punters are offered value for money. There’s no case of musical statues or aloofness here; they might not be as mobile as Iron Maiden for example, but I’ve never witnessed a bad show from Haken where I’ve been left disappointed or bored. And this gig was no different and the roar that greeted them at the end was testament to this. It was a fabulous show and it is great to see Haken doing so well, even if there was a brief pang of jealousy on my part that I now have to share them with so many others!

 

Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts – Album Review

cover

Artist: Odd Logic

Album Title: Penny For Your Thoughts

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 26 March 2016

The first I knew of Odd Logic was as a result of an email to my Facebook page. The band was recommended to me by a reader and so it was only polite to have a listen. I liked what I heard and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have since done my research and identified that Odd Logic are a progressive metal quartet based in Tacoma, Washington in the USA. Comprised of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Sean Thompson, guitarist Steven Pierce, bassist Mike Lee and drummer Pete Hanson, Odd Logic came into being following the disbanding of Thompson’s previous band MINE! just after the millennium. The band must therefore be the world’s best kept secret. They have been in existence for the better part of 13 years and in that time, have released no fewer than five records. And yet, for some reason, they remain unsigned and, it would appear, have yet to make waves of any significant magnitude within the prog community.

Based on all this, you’d be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Odd Logic are just another toiling prog band that are a little bit rubbish, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong. Ok, so I’ve not delved into any of the band’s back catalogue as yet but, on the basis of the music contained within album number six ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’, there seems to be a paucity of justice where Odd Logic are concerned.

This is a superb progressive metal album and I have fallen well and truly under its spell.

The first thing to say is that ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ is properly progressive. This isn’t one of those records that toys around the edges of prog thanks to an occasional off-kilter riff or brief foray into anything other than a 4-4 time signature. The music of Odd Logic has a lot going on within it, with different ideas falling over themselves to be heard. And yet, despite what could become an untidy or unruly listening experience remains commendably cohesive. Almost naturally and organically, elements of rock, metal, jazz, classical and pop are fused together to create an enthralling, dramatic and dynamic listening experience.

Odd Logic, to their immense credit, don’t sound quite like anyone else. That said, to offer some kind of clarity within this review, I’d tentatively suggest that there are echoes of art-rock bands like A.C.T. in the almost theatrical feel that this record has, albeit Odd Logic are significantly heavier. Additionally, the band themselves state that they are inspired and influenced by the likes of King’s X, Sting, Kansas, Opeth, Symphony X and Dream Theater and, to a greater or lesser extent, these influences can be heard from time to time throughout this rich and varied album.

odd logic band

In classic prog style, ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ is built around a concept. It is a convoluted, complex and fascinating story, one that I will let listeners discover for themselves. However, as you might expect, there is an element of far-fetched science-fiction within it as well as an exploration of a myriad of human emotions. It is the perfect set of foundations upon which to flex some prog metal muscles and Odd Logic do this with style and aplomb.

The album kicks off with ‘Penny’, the ubiquitous cinematic and suspense-filled intro that then leads into ‘The First’. It opens with a lush piano and vocal melody before exploding into a heavy, down-tuned riff accented by plenty of keyboards. Almost as swiftly, the riff departs to be replaced my some lush melodies dominated by the bass guitar, keys and the really excellent emotional vocals of Thompson. The voice drops away and is replaced by a subtle lead guitar line before the whole thing explodes into a monumentally bruising djent-esque riff that is again gone in the blink of an eye. The keys and bass take centre stage again as a spoken-word piece leads into a closing vocal melody that’s reminiscent of Seventh Wonder.

‘Life, Lore & Love’ takes over and begins with a powerful and satisfyingly heavy riff and some classic prog tinkling on the keyboards. The voice provides all the melody as the riffs continue to bludgeon before the track segues into something much more melodic and memorable with soaring vocals within a jazz-meets-AOR framework. A more modern and futuristic vibe emerges thanks to some interesting synth sounds atop the robust riffs. And then, out of nowhere, when you think the song is over, it plays around with more subtle vocal and piano melodies and even introduces an operatic-like voice to raise an eyebrow or two.

Such is the manner in which each track flits from idea to idea like an eager toddler, it is impossible to offer detailed thoughts on the remainder of the songs on the album without making this an unreadable mess of a review that lasts longer than ‘War And Peace’.

I have to say that the entire album is consistently excellent, with not a poor or substandard track to be heard. Nevertheless, I have a few particular highlights and these include the absolutely gorgeous ‘Lighthouses’ with its luxurious neo-prog-meets-AOR-meets pop melodies and expressive lead guitar work and ‘Court Of Ancient Rulers’ with its juxtaposition between the deep and sinister extreme metal growls, the hook-laden and emotional melodies and the furious thrash metal moments of all-out attack. The epic ‘The Island’ is superb too with its ‘Ziltoid’-era Devin Townsend accents as well as moments of 70s prog rock and explosive and expansive closing crescendo.

As you can probably tell, this has been something of a revelation to me. I adore this record because it delivers exactly what I like in my music. It is heavy, melodic, complex, intelligent, surprisingly emotional and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. If this album is indicative of the remainder of Odd Logic’s back catalogue, I am at a complete loss to understand why this band are not in the highest echelons of the prog metal elite. Nevertheless, I’m hoping that this review and others are the beginning of rectifying this scandalous situation. So get your ears around ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ immediately and spread the word.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.2

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld