Flying Colors is a pop-heavy progressive rock album that successfully makes use of the supergroup format. Contemporary prog rock giants have formed to create a fantastic album of accessible rock tunes that are expertly composed and unforgettable. Executive producer Bill Evans dreamed of creating another powerful supergroup, drawing up a list that included Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic), Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple), Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic), Dave LaRue (Steve Morse Band), soon-to-be well-known Casey McPherson, and lead by producer Peter Collins.
The result is an album that is truly collaborative, and it shows. All the members’ muscles are flexing at the opportune moments, never adding a wrong note. The album is filled with a heart and groove that lasts from “Blue Ocean” all the way to “Infinite Fire”. The album may actually be the best representation of the Kevin Gilbert style, at least its the closest thing since his unfortunate death. The songs are poppy and rocking, positive and introspective. Not one instrument stands out among the others, everything is at the right level, contributing to the band and the song.
Despite the relatively large personnel engaged in this album, each song, and the album as a whole, never leans on any one particular talent. Instead, the group as a whole have executed a balanced work that is both catchy and diverse. From poppy love serenades to aggressive rants, Flying Colors is a gem for 2012.
“Kayla,” “Love is What I’m Waiting For,” and “Everything Changes” are stand out tracks, but every song on the album is worthy and will remain stuck in your head, whether you like it or not. There is a air of both fun and maturity on this album. Relatable themes of love, worldliness, and aggravation are all present. The album’s cover alone, which is clever and artful, shows a human figure’s patch work of colors and textures peeling off its body in a tremendous wind. The diversity of the colors and textures represents the variety of the styles in the album’s songs, making it an apt depiction of the album’s contents.
With the unknown Casey McPherson taking the lead vocal role, his inclusion into the band is as perfect as can be. Never over-the-top, McPherson provides the passion and delivery necessary for each song, and his vocals are the perfect pairing for the diversity found in Flying Colors. As a supergroup, Flying Colors is a lovely collaboration between friends old and new.
Although project was conceptualized and completed rather quickly, there is a unique passion and a near perfection to the album that is rarely heard today. The progressive attitude is clearly heard and the yearning to produce accessible music that cuts across a variety of demographics seems unintentional but sincere. If any member has an obvious stamp left on the album it would be Neal Morse, but once again, Flying Colors has a collaborative nature that makes both the band and the album unique and welcomed.
Redemption had an excellent three album streak that placed the band in a cozy place among progressive metal fans. Their music was heavy and grandiose with introspective lyrics. The Redemption sound the brainchild of Nick van Dyk, who happens to be a central figure in the 1990s boom in independent film distribution, but today he is a Senior Executive for Disney. Prior to the band’s Snowfall on Judgement Day, van Dyk had announced to that he had fallen ill to a rare case of blood cancer with a negative prognosis. Two years later, van Dyk is still a Disney executive and Redemption has released This Mortal Coil, and aptly named album that thematically chronicles the struggles of van Dyk’s illness.
Redemption build a sound and brand that relied on progressive metal elements and put them in an accessible package. The band could do no wrong until Snowfall showed no signs of growth and was essentially more of the same; heavy riffs, pitch-perfect guitar and keyboard solos, rapid-fire snare rolls. The album became pastiche of the Redemption style. This Mortal Coil suffers from much of the similar issues that Snowfall had. Too much of the same has placed the album into a repetitious nature that seems to coil into itself. The songs no longer standout individually, instead they feel as if the band has fallen into a formula of producing songs that sound too homogenized.
Leading track “Path to the Whirlwind” is the perfect example with only one verse, chorus, short guitar solo, chorus, extended guitar solo and instrumental, and finally finishing with the chorus. The same formula is found roughly in “A Blink of an Eye”. As the album progresses, additional verses are added, but the insincere attempt at producing sincere music toward the progressive crowd has lost its luster.
A ‘mortal coil’ is a literary term that relates to a person’s struggles in life and perhaps the world. It is the perfect title for the band’s fifth album, as van Dyk certainly has something to say fighting and seemingly winning the battle against a rare blood cancer. This is a struggle that I wish to never have to battle, and I look up to van Dyk with adoring eyes. However, the titles and lyrics are insincere, cliche, and borderline camp.
As progressive musicians moved further into their careers, their influences are heard in their music more than their earlier work. Dream Theater is a specific example. By the time Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence arrived, it was rife with influences ranging from Peter Gabriel to Tool. This Mortal Coil features at least one egregious moment where works from other artists or musicians are too similar to ignorhttp://www.progsnobs.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=568&action=edite. “Stronger Than Death” starts with a melody that is nearly an accurate version of Faith No More’s “A Small Victory” off Angel Dust. Rather than accuse the band for stealing we can easily proclaim that this snippet acts as a leitmotif of the rest of the song and uses intertextuality to bring the song to new heights. That is, if you think the song does indeed go to new heights.
The influences do not stop there. The Special Edition of This Mortal Coil includes several covers from 1980s hair metal bands such as UFO, Toto, Journey, etc. It is “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” (Elton John) and “Precious Little” (Tori Amos) that are the spectacular covers. This additional material shows exactly where the band’s mindset was when writing and recording the album.
There was a time that Redemption was one of the leading progressive metal bands that had fused much of what had been missing in pure progressive metal in the oughts. Where bands like Pain of Salvation have been crucified for their attempts to find a grittier tone to reflect the political and socio-economic themes, Redemption seems to have found themselves stuck producing the same music over and over. They have found the formula that made them successful and instead of building off of that Redemption has coiled into their corner that they—and they alone—have seemed to dominate.http://www.progsnobs.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=568&action=edit
Ben Sommer’s new self-produced album Super Brain features a more polished release than america’d, but offers much of the same DIY sentiment and angst towards politics and consumerism. The album lacks a central focus, but I see this as sign that Sommer is growing as a musician, but this release only has the seedlings for what could be something to watch out for.
Although “Young Turks” features the signatory style of Sommer, it fails to lead off as a strong opening track as it feels as if it was somewhat unfinished. “Consumerism” begins a trilogy of ‘isms’ including “Militarism” and “Cadaverism”, all farces that target the constant hustle of shopping during the holiday seasons, shit-kicker slogans such as “Don’t Mess with Texas”, and what I’m guessing is a parody of electronic heavy metal.
Super Brain has an increased amount of Zappa influence, more so that his previous effort. It is nice to hear such an influence at the forefront of Sommer’s work. But after a certain point, the influence loses its luster and becomes an unflattering pastiche. “De Profundis” is another egregious example, although it also contains a heavy Rush presence. There is hope with Sommer’s more original fare such as “Fist” which seems to have Sommer keeping it simple and easy while finding a decent pocket to flex his muscle. The instrumental “Dark Grey Matter” will test your speaker’s higher frequencies but the track seems to be a lone wolf when compared to the rest of the album’s offerings.
It helps that—for a self-release—the mix is superb and all instruments are heard efficiently. Sommer does in fact compose songs that have epic tendencies lasting only a few manageable minutes, although some still run rather long. Sommer has done an ample job mixing and producing the album. What would really be a treat is if Sommer could get his brand of progressive rock out into the open and on stage.
Sommer maybe on to something with Super Brain, and he has certainly shown some musical and lyrical growth from his last release. The content of the album is everywhere giving Sommer a chance to comment openly about issues beyond politics, but the mental and physical shape of America. Despite this variety, Sommer becomes lost in his own revelations. His music is meant to be funny or at least offer some sort of comic relief. Even the most educated have to back away from most biting satires and say “sad, but its so true.” At this point, it is no longer funny. That is exactly what Sommer has done here, he has shown that we can make biting comments in song form about serious subjects for so long before the seriousness comes to the forefront. In that case, Sommer is on to something.
Sommer has marked his second full-length effort with a cover of Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” found in his self-produced music video:
For their tenth album Opeth has taken a different approach by summoning Mikael Åkerfeldt’s 1970s progressive rock influences. Heritage is an ode and celebration of a time in rock history where technical prowess and grandiose concepts reigned. This overt homage has the signature brand of progressive fusion Opeth had always had, but this time its the forefront style.
“Heritage” lays the groundwork for the eerie mood with a soft piano ballad, but merely a calm before the storm. “The Devil’s Orchard” is the first example of Opeth’s new venture and is an immediate standout track. The song takes no prisoners with its nostalgic melody that leads up to the iconic beckoning in the chorus: “God is Dead”. Other standout tracks include “The Lines in My Hand” which as a killer bass-line that shows the band’s musical dexterity in this experimental phase in their history.
Nearly all the songs showcase the prog rock/death metal fusion that Opeth had always had a clever grasp on, a beloved talent that took them to the top of the death metal scene. “Häxprocess” and “Famine” reaffirm the album and the band’s commitment to both poles of sound they have created over the years. “Folklore” rounds out the album with an epic song that truly captures everything that Opeth is about; epic stories and themes that match the dark and eerie moods. “Marrow of the Earth” takes the album back around to an acoustic and electric guitar ballad that returns to many of the album’s themes and sums up the album with aplomb. The contrasting nature between the piano-driven opening and predominately guitar-driven closing explains that the beginning is not too much different than the end, but that was indeed a metamorphosis in the story, and perhaps for the listener too.
For those who disappointed in the release, what I assume to be primarily traditional Opeth fans, this direction was inevitable if you are acquainted with their long career. Mikael Åkerfeldt has been contrasting the clean with the dirty for over fifteen years. Yet, the even for the classic Opeth fan, there is still the style and tendencies that makes Opeth standout among many metal and prog fans. For Heritage, Åkerfeldt has mixed the two poles of the band’s sound for something right down the middle.
The album features the return of the post-production services of Steven Wilson who also produced their acoustic outing Damnation. Wilson has become the go to man for progressive and cinematic mixing; his stint with re-mixing both stereo and surround sound releases of King Crimson albums should be enough evidence that he has the chops to touch this vulnerable Opeth material. A team up between Åkerfeldt and Wilson (formerly with Mike Portnoy) had been fueling for some time, but in the meantime, Heritage will do. It is cinematic and moody like a Porcupine Tree album, but stoic and heavy like a classic Opeth release.
This album has thoughtfully composed grooves that are indeed rocking but evoke moods and feelings not unlike any Opeth album before it. Opeth is not oblivious to their own heritage. This mashup between their signature sound and their nostalgic walk down rock and metal memory lane. Their tenth album will certainly mark the band’s evolution. Instead of plateauing after critical and commercially successful releases such as Ghost Reveries and Watershed, Åkerfeldt took a deep look inside and chose to give a look back to the music that influenced the Opeth sound. They have toned down the speed and death metal tropes for a straight up metal album where the heaviness found a sweet space between nostalgia and experimentation. Heritage is an album that has shaken a few feathers, but is an epic release that will provide a slew of songs that will surely come alive during the subsequent tour.
Haken broke on to the progressive metal scene in 2009 with an exceptional debut release and critical hit, Aquarius. Haken returns after only two years to present their second album, Visions. This sophomore effort retains and progresses the fresh and motivated style that will surely give them momentum for the future.
The appropriately named “Premonition” begins like any epic album would, an instrumental overture that builds off the momentum that Haken’s debut Aquarius had build up. Furthermore, it gives us insights to some of the band’s more experimental riffs heard later in the album, like an overture, and especially like a premonition. “Nocturnal Conspiracy” introduces us to the album’s story and does so with a killer, fat melody and composition that changes gears often and with prestige. The song also introduces the listener to the album’s concept; a man has tracked down and killed someone based on visions or dreams they had before.
But the story takes a drastic turn with “Insomnia”, which begins with a straight-forward melody that takes a more complex route after the first chorus. Here, our main character suffers from insomnia and possibly hallucinations while awaiting what appears to be the death sentence. “The Mind’s Eye” has a gracefulness that Haken seems to be able to pull off naturally and transitions into the progressive and technical instrumental “Portals”, which musically expresses the main character’s struggle becoming more oppressive.
“Shapeshifter” is a stellar track with a powerful hook for a chorus with some similarities, when it comes to the composition and song structure, to “Drowning In The Flood”, one of the more disappointing tracks off Aquarius. However, “Shapeshifter”, with its hair-raising chorus, it is one of the standout tracks, second only to the epic album closer. The main character in “Deathless” is beginning to envision his eventual death. This contemplation and ode, matched by the hybrid-ballad form and the instrumental section led by an intriguing bass line.
“Visions” brings the album back around to sum up all the imagery that the previous songs has built up to. The concept of dreams, dreams within dreams, and déjà vu are as prevalent as ever. The song is of epic length, coming in at twenty-two minutes and taking no prisoners. The song explores, in progressive fashion, a plethora of musical genres and styles to reflect the untrustable visions and dreams that the main character has. The song is one of the grandest, heaviest, and most satisfying epics of this length. Haken has re-written the rules of epic progressive metal songs, I doubt anyone will ever catch up.
The album sounds terrific. The instruments are richly layers, and they have to: Visions has a concept that depends on narrative layers and disguises. The music bombastic and grand when it needs to be. The songs are constructed without being overbearing or abusing the talents these musicians have for each other. No instrument stands out over the other, instead, they conspire to deliver an album and narrative that will certainly become beloved over time.
Haken’s sophomore release solidifies the band’s grandiose brand of progressive metal with downbeat social or magical realist tales. Their style evokes an expressionism that is rarely seen in the genre these days, and they do it with an innate nonchalance. Few bands have been able to pull off what they have done in their first two albums. The defined themselves without closing the gate, pushed the boundaries further in a shorter amount of time, much shorter than the giants of progressive music did so. What takes other bands years and several releases to reach, Haken did it in two albums in two years. They produce music that celebrates how modern progressive metal can tell fantastic narratives and explore complex, romantic concepts without being cliché or overbearing. Visions lands in what seems to be a massive year for progressive rock and metal releases. Yet, Haken almost immediately takes back the spotlight and shows incredible promise for the future.
Known for bringing in top notch music and many independent bands on the rise, Bardot has become one of the more popular music venues in Miami. I had the pleasure of coming out to see The Dropa Stone perform at Bardot Miami on Thursday September 22nd. Bardot’s long room decor with unique artwork, stylish couches and a great sound system was a great environment to see the band.
One can best describe The Dropa Stone as having a a solid experimental rock foundation, while sprinkling in progressive grooves with seeds of blues, reggae and funk. I was immediately struck with the strong musicianship and passion the band performs with. The band rolled through strong originals and even performed a funky version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” which got the crowd dancing. The vocal and guitar interplay between Jon Meyers (vocals & guitar) and Justin Henry (guitar) was a breath of fresh air to watch, while the rhythm section Will Richey (bass) and Joe Lederman (drums) held it together with some really tight grooves. The set showcased their original music with some spirited jams. The crowd loved every minute of it and there is anticipation for their next Miami show.
The band has a new album coming soon and fans can check out some new music at their web site: www.TheDropaStone.com.
John Arch’s contribution to Fates Warning and to early American Progressive Metal is unquestionable. A Twist of Fate was a two track EP that reunited Arch with Fates Warning and OSI powerhouse Jim Matheos in 2003. The EP was a wonderful release at the time, merging Matheos’ growth and maturity in guitar work and songwriting with Arch’s high falsetto with introspective and personal lyrics. This year, Matheos had majority of the next Fates Warning album ready to go, but with Ray Alder unable to commit (possibly due to Redemption’s forthcoming release, This Mortal Coil), Matheos turned to Arch and the current Fates Warning lineup, renamed the project Arch/Matheos, and recorded and released the material found on Sympathetic Resonance.
“Neurotically Wired” takes no time to present the sound that Arch/Matheos attempts to project. It is the Fates Warning sound that we’ve come to love with a freshness to the composition that gives even the most casual fan a chance to explore the the new material with an open mind. The aptly titled “Midnight Serenade” is a lovely song that harkens back to X, but also has the most similarities to an OSI song. Both the lyrics and the music match the title, having a serenade-like construction. It is also the catchiest tune on the album.
“Stained Glass Sky” begins with a bombastic three minute instrumental that could have easily stood on its own. Instead, the section is attached to this epic song, clocking in at close to fourteen minutes. The album retains much of the classic Matheos signature guitar style that developed in contemporary Fates Warning and OSI releases. Yet, there are moments on the album where there are slight returns of the early Fates Warning sound. Even better, when the two collide, as they do in “On The Fence”, it takes the concept and entity of Arch/Matheos to a whole new level.
“Any Given Sunday (Strangers Life Me)” has a pounding rhythm that is constant for much of the song until a softer interlude, again, returns to early Fates Warning roots, and finally coming back around with a melody that layers the electric melody over an acoustic rhythm. “Incense and Myrrh” concludes the album on a softer note, acting more like a ballad straight out of a post-No Exit Fates Warning album. Like the other songs, it winks at the past while exploring the possibilities of the current line up.
As with most Progressive music, the singing may be the most difficult part to absorb. For those familiar to Arch’s high, stylized falsetto will find that he has been able to keep his unique and distinguished voice after four decades. Furthermore, why did Arch never find his way into another band, other than his early 1990 audition for Dream Theater? Regardless, Arch’s talents reach beyond his vocal skills. Arch’s lyrics return to some of the fantastical and mythological themes and symbols used in early Fates Warning albums. Here, Arch brings his wisdeom that comes with age, and incorporates it with his signature thematic style.
Lest we forget, the amicable contributions from bassist Joey Vera and drummer Bobby Jarzombek which round out and support the signature style that makes places Sympathetic Resonance as an off-shoot of the Fates Warning enterprise.
Similar to how Black Sabbath and Dio’s contemporary outings were dubbed Heaven & Hell to distinguish between the two Black Sabbath vocalist led eras has similarity to this reuniting of Arch and the current Fates Warning lineup. As much as I would have rather had a new Fates Warning album (X was released six years ago), this is a welcomed release and collaboration between two central progressive metal figures. Sympathetic Resonance may be the album progressive metal fans have been waiting for for nearly twenty-five years. The title matches the contextual condition of this release and production, or as Wikipedia defines it: “a harmonic phenomenon wherein a formerly passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness.”
I have chosen to stay quiet regarding the divorcement between Dream Theater and Mike Portnoy since last Autumn. I am still befuddled by the event as I have been fan for almost 15 years now and it was a difficult moment for me, and I’m sure, many others. At the same time, for several releases now, I’ve been indifferent to the direction the band has gone in. While still my favorite band, I’ve lost the romanticism I used to have.
I did listen to “On the Backs of Angels” once when it was first released, but refrained from additional listens, as well as the other snippets that were revealed in the past few months. I have chosen to give A Dramatic Turn of Events its own unstained listen on a pristine vinyl edition. The past several Dream Theater albums have taken months of repeat spins for me to make a determination on where the album fits for me. A Dramatic Turn of Events is the first Dream Theater album in many years that has only required a handful of repeat spins to come to a positive conclusion. The first listen left me intrigued, repeat listens have shown that this is indeed a welcoming direction for the band.
Note: This review includes the songs in order as they appear on the vinyl edition.
“On the Backs of Angels” returns to the Gothic tendencies that Rudess has been experimenting with in the past several releases. The keyboards and guitar are excellent and the song exhibits some of the youthfulness that the band has lost over the years. The song takes its time to let the music and lyrics speak for themselves, and the guitar solo is soulful and filled with Petrucci’s signature sound. The song stands on its own and is a refreshing opening track. “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” is the typical Dream Theater song on the album designed for radio play; easy to edit, easy to consume. Each verse begins with electronic/nu-metal tendencies, which feels a little bit like a cop-out. The song is overly produced, and the weakest of the album. It is merely Dream Theater’s signature chance to make a simple song that relates to a mainstream audience.
“Lost Not Forgotten” features a heavy opening that is classic Dream Theater. A chaotic opening instrumental allows the members to flex their muscle, even if it is a tad egregious. The lyrics are mediocre, they simple do not entirely fit the excellent riff in the verse. The song certainly redeems itself in the second verse and the solo, making for one of the more clever epics in the band’s catalog. “This is the Life” examines the personality differences. It is certainly a song that attempts to have an epic wall-of-sound production value that ignites some urgency towards the end.
“Bridges in the Sky” is one of the best Dream Theater songs in many albums. A full, rich bass line, exact and precise lyrics, and a wonderful journey make up this epic. An unconventional opening for a Dream Theater song that is reminiscent of the creatures from The Dark Crystal, beckoning the the spirit to place the listener into the necessary trance the song evokes. It is eerie, and I’m scared shitless. It immediately shifts to a heavy musical introduction that is just a fuck-ton of awesome. Excellent verses and chorus with a classic Dream Theater instrumental that has Rudess providing one of his best solos in some time. What is fantastic about the instrumental is how easily it transitions right back to the chorus. This is the Dream Theater that I can be proud of, one of the best Dream Theater songs in many, many years.
The members of Dream Theater are not strangers to political songs, and “Outcry” returns to their stance of being objective observers of major events and issues. The song easily provokes images of the Arab Spring, where multiple Islamic-based nations are or have under gone revolutions. Such images can easily match the control that Portnoy had over the band (of which Portnoy does not disagree). Another tradition among Dream Theater albums is the ballad, and “Far From Heaven” has the common piano and strings ballad structure that efficiently builds to a peak that denies a lift off point, and instead returns to the sorrowful melody that began the song.
“Breaking All Illusions” returns to a progressive groove and becomes an eerie verse, not like any Dream Theater song I’ve heard before. Finally, some progression. The longest song on the release, it has potential right from the beginning, and the band certainly makes use of the momentum from start to finish. The song, while having moments of uncanny Dream Theater moments, had an enjoyable air of “Trial of Tears”. While “Far From Heaven” offered the conventional Dream Theater ballad, “Beneath The Surface” returns to some of their roots in power ballads. For a closing song, it is perfect as it harkens back to the downbeat nature of “Space Dye Vest” off Awake. So many Dream Theater albums in the past have ended with mind-blowing epics, it is nice to have a succinct ballad end a Dream Theater album after all these years. It completes the album, but offers a lyrical and thematic direction for the next album to take.
Some press materials have John Petrucci proclaiming that the lyrics in the songs do not reflect the departure of Mike Portnoy, I do not agree. I will note that I have taken a readerly position and say that much of the lyrics, and of course the title, all point to Portnoy’s departure and the events that took place afterwards. We cannot forget the title itself A Dramatic Turn of Events is a not only a wink at the situation, it harkens back to some of the album titles for Genesis such as …And Then There Were Three…, giving the album a sense of self-awareness.
The instrumental breaks in this album have been some of the best compared to past years, even if they are surrounded by variations of a formulaic verse-chours-verse. But Dream Theater still suffers from the instinct to have a commonality between the songs on other albums. There is always the ballad, a song designed for mainstream attention, the objective political song, and of course the epics. This may be a new direction for the band, a promising one in fact. But the predictability of the songs is testing my patience.
The stand out tracks for this release “Bridges in the Sky” and “Breaking All Illusions” feature the specific Dream Theater tendencies that have made them who they are, yet point towards the progression that has been lost in previous albums. A Dramatic Turn of Events is a clear indicator that Dream Theater has embraced a new spirit while clutching to the tropes that have appeared on previous albums. This new release is not at all a totally renewed path for the band, but a step in the right direction.
September 2011 has been a busy month for progressive rock after more than a year of rare and sporadic releases—most of which have tanked. It is refreshing to see a collaboration between the giants of the industry, masters of their instruments. We are so used to contemporary progressive artists teaming up and presenting excellent releases, sometimes better than those released by their full-time bands. Rarely do veterans of progressive rock unite, but in the case of Levin Torn White, they have, and they make no mistakes about such a collaboration. It is easy to say offensive words like “old men,” but in fact, there is a youthfulness to the music that Levin Torn White have created.
The album is split among expressive, experimental instrumentals that function as a chance for these masters of trade to flex their muscles. Yet, they are far from masturbatory. Indeed, they seem to be conceptualizing a new experimental progressive rock form that only giants could conceive. On the other hand, songs like “The Hood Fall” are so wonderfully melodic, it’s a shame that Andrian Belew could not get his hands on it and lay down clever, urgent lyrics. Levin’s Stick work, Torn’s textures, and White’s on-the-money beats fuse together so well, it is my hope this is one of many collaborations between this trio of giants.
What makes this album truly stand out, is its mastering. Songs like “Convergence” features an exuberant spatial unity of instruments unlimited by dynamic range. Levin Torn White have accurately presented atmosphere and mood with their talents. Without compressing together too many ideas or too many instruments at once, their work can be enjoyed for their execution.
While Tony Levin is no stranger to supergroups, in fact, he is very used to entering studios as he has been tapped as one of the most prolific session musicians in the past four decades. He has worked and contributed to the most pivotal rock groups, ever. Ever. I’m not familiar with David Torn, but his oeuvre speaks for itself: Jeff Beck, David Bowie, and John Legend. Alan White, a staple of Yes, along with his many other collaborations and is far more removed from his common gigs.
Levin Torn White has something to offer nearly all progressive rock fans. It almost feels as if this is some King Crimson album from another dimension (no LTE pun intended), or even one of those fanciful ProjeKcts. Unlike these musicians’ past progressive work, the songs all clock in at less than 6 minutes, making them easy to consume and isolate the better moments to muse over. It is actually fun to listen to these giants of industry flesh out ideas, even if but a few fail miserably.
Levin Torn White is one of the most impressive releases of 2011, and the most unexpected. I had not heard the project until it was dropped in my lap. But it is a welcomed inclusion to the trend of supergroups of the past several years. Move over modern progressive rock and metal, the veterans of prog will show you how it is done.
Devin Townsend is one of few who can, by himself, truly create sonically perfect heavy metal albums that are unlike anything else. Not to take away from his early collaborations, but his genius seems to be so much more when he does it on his own. After briefly leaving behind the music industry, Townsend announced his four-part The Devin Townsend Project. 2009 saw both Ki and Addicted appear with a fresh update on Townsend’s signature style. Now, two years later, Townsend has completed his series with Deconstruction and Ghost.
There is no doubt that Townsend’s signature style rises to the surface quickly and efficiently. “Praised the Lowered” places us into the album and gives us just a taste of what is to come. “Stand” contains some of the common Townsend rhythms we have come to love, but the chunk of the album offers songs such as “Planet of the Apes,” which is certainly interesting as it explores the fanatical religious nature in some that contrasts with the evolutionary nature in all. Songs like “Sumeria” is the pinnacle of solo Devin Townsend material. Heavy, relentless, whimsical, and gorgeous.
As the album continues, the themes become more solid and diverse. “The Mighty Masturbator” and “Deconstruction” feel as if they contain the most important aspects of the album. Where the concept finally arrives, and where Townsend fucks it silly. The title track, “Deconstruction” expresses Townsend’s once destructive nature along with the character’s need to deconstruct reality and study its history and source to arrive on the other side with a solid interpretation and understanding. This harkens back to the term Deconstruction which is used to study literature and art. Townsend has touched upon dozens of concepts in Deconstruction, from our supposed natural selves to the beginnings and late attempts at experiencing civilization. Deconstruction is never truly able to find a meaning. Deconstruction exemplifies this by not presenting meaning of reality, but exploring the structures that make up our reality. The attempt overtime becomes pointless and convoluted. However, with Deconstruction, Townsend has essentially found a transcended absurdism found in much of his work and has reached a pinnacle, or even nirvana within himself and his art. Even if that in itself is pointless.
Throughout the album, the lyrics point the ideas of being “ready” and “changing the world”. At first these themes appear to be serious. Of course, that does not continue. Not ever on a Townsend album. As the album’s concept unfolds, the lyrics go from serious to zany to absurd. Since the album is about the journey to reality, seriousness and absurdism are complements of each other. When you consider the extremely heavy nature of the music and take into the account the themes of reality, overcoming fears, materialism as masturbation, and absurdism; we are left with an album that is rarely released in this day in age, and far less appreciated and understood.
Some musicians attempt such lyrical and musical themes with mediocre or laughable results. While certain aspects of Deconstruction are certainly laughable, that is actually the point. Townsend has given us one of the most impressive and important releases of 2011, and it punches you in the face. Its philosophical nature is the product of a man who has exemplified the character in the album’s story; he has seen and experienced the worst, turned himself around, and laughed in the face of the Devil.
Townsend was not alone in the production of the album. Deconstruction includes cameos from musicians of some of the heaviest bands in the metal. These include Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork, Scarve), Paul Kuhr (November’s Doom), Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth), Ihsahn (ex-Emperor), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Joe Duplantier (Gojira), Paul Masvidal (ex-Death, Cynic, Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Floor Jansen (ex-After Forever, ReVamp), Oderus Urungus (Gwar), Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah). This collection of musicians has assisted in Townsend creating one of his heaviest albums—and a good one at that.
Deconstruction is a valuable release that continues the experiments that Townsend began with in Ki and Addicted and even transcends them. Furthermore, it is an album that will certainly take time to truly wrap your head around. Townsend has, whether he is aware of it or not, has grasped the idea of post-modernism, how the globalization and simulacra has made nearly everything pointless and meaningless. The concepts, themes, and philosophy found in this album are a culmination of a lifetime of experiences, possibly a mid-life crisis—and Devin Townsend has come out alive and a better musician, artist, and man than when he began his journey.
Let it be known that Beardfish may indeed become the leading progressive rock band coming into the 2010s. I consider that be a bold statement because the band composes interesting songs that seem so effortless, yet consistently awesome. I jumped aboard the Beardfish bandwagon in 2009 when they were announced to be a part of the Progressive Nation Tour 2009, alongside Pain of Salvation. After giving both Sleeping in Traffic Parts 1 & 2 dozens upon dozens of listens, I knew that Beardfish was something special in the current progressive scene. Both bands would be victims of the economic downturn. Unable to find financial support to get both bands to North America, they had to pull out of the tour. Beardfish turned around with a stellar release, Destined Solitude which equaled the greatness of Sleeping in Traffic.
For 2011, Mammoth is another fantastic release by the band, building upon their quirky progressive style that is both fun and smart. There is no hesitation with the new release as “The Platform” opens the album with all the Beardfish tropes that we have come to love. “And The Stone Said If I Could Speak” is the album’s sole major epic piece that instantly launches into a clever guitar-driven melody that, of course, goes nowhere one would suspect. Furthermore, somehow, the band is again able to prove that they can fit their whimsical lyrics into nearly any groove. Despite the length “And The Stone…” goes by in a breeze primarily because it offers so many wonderful events, such as a saxophone accompaniment towards the end.
“Tightrope” is a lovely little love song that exemplifies the bittersweet lyrics that the band excels in. “I’ll tell you I love you, even if you don’t.” I sympathize! “Green Waves” cancels out everything that came before it with a hard-driving groove and a call of war: “Sailors! Of the Seven Seas!” “Outside Inside” and “Akakabotu” are both instrumentals that put the record at a wholly different place just prior to the album’s fitting end, “Without Saying Anything.”
Mammoth is an exceptional album that feels like the band may have worked for several years on. The post-Progressive Nation Beardfish has not slowed down, and in fact, appears to have only become stronger. The album’s production is stellar and balanced, but not the vinyl edition, which has the spacial dynamics that the medium can evoke. Regardless, the album is a celebration of Beardfish’s intense, original sound and style.
So there you have it. Another fantastic Beardish release that should keep fans fed for quite some time. What Mammoth proves is that Beardfish continually writes albums better than the last, all the while remaining true and consistent to their style—which is still rather difficult to define entirely. In five years the band has released four albums of exceptional quality, and at this pace the band may never seem to slow down. Why should it? Beardfish fulfills a niche market that nods to the past and at the same time looks to the future. Whether Beardfish knows it or not, the band matches this generation’s sentimentality of nostalgia and progressing towards the unknown. They have expanded their difficult-to-define style in a small pocket where only they seem to exist. That’s fine with me. Beardfish forever.
Project D’s 2011 release, Big Face has an compositional quality that never feels like one has truly traveled through the album or have been challenged enough to warrant additional listens. D Project constantly switches gears to only to please themselves, leaving the album’s contents feeling disconnected. The album does have moments that suggest the musicians are talented, but overall, Big Face fails to truly be a work worthy of your collection.
“They” starts off with a great groove before the song finds its rightful melody before it becomes an unpredictable journey towards the end. “So Low” and “Kids Will Never Know” are uninspired, straight-ahead rock tunes that keep the album unbalanced. “Big Face” is a dated wall of sound that reaches too high and ultimately never delivers. “Anger Parts 1 & 2″ and “Anger Part 3″ beat the message across the head eventually becoming kitschy towards the end.
“Macondo” picks things back up again with a catchy chorus and is one of the better songs on the album. “Conspiracy” is the album’s sole instrumental, and easily the the best song on the album. It has a Spock’s Beard meets The Flower Kings aspect to it, something the band reaches for throughout the album, but can only seem to conjure up something like this is on the their sole instrumental. The final track “Poussiere de lumiere” is in French and is quite beautiful. It is one of the standout tracks of the album. Too bad I don’t know French.
I have this feeling that D Project is a better live band. Majority of the songs on the album are decent compositions that need more time to be properly fleshed out. The mix itself is rather adequate. The album was certainly mixed with universal quality in mind. Instruments are well heard and have a dynamic texture. The album is certainly not over-mixed allowing the instruments to retain a warmer sound that favors this symphonic progressive rock band’s sound.
I’ve given the album many listens now and I still find myself unable to truly felt a central experience from this album. The album does contain some interesting content but the soul of the band and the album never feels like it can be totally grasped. I do not feel that the musicians truly gave me a D Project experiences and the songs remain voiceless.
Soul Killing Female’s Landlines is a self-produced work by Michael Lewis that certainly has its influences on its sleeve and attempts to create an atmospheric experience with these influences in mind. The convolution of so many influences and the lack of collaboration leaves this album flat.
The album lacks any replay value since each song has a similar build-up and never provides a lasting impression. Instead of an album filled with songs from a particular musician or group’s signature sound, Landmines is a rehashing of the artist’s need to find that perfect build-up that leads to a chaotic conclusion. The pattern becomes old on this album.
The weakest area is certainly the vocals, especially “Enter the Bloodstream” which is a half-decent song. The vocals are both repetitive and are basically Lewis just yelling a montage of phrases into the microphone.
With so many influences clearly heard, it is disappointing to find that Lewis’ compositions never finds a voice of his own. Production-wise, the album is adequate since Lewis only needs to fight with himself when it comes to mastering. Landmines offers nothing new or interesting to the progressive rock climate. Lewis has talent in playing the instruments, but the compositions need work.
If it is long songs that attract musicians to progressive rock, then we are fueling a generation of musicians to think that long songs are necessary. Landmines is a great offender as the shortest song is less than six minutes long and its greatest reaching thirteen plus. Yet, none of the songs have the substance and content to really make these long timestamps worth the journey. Even for sludge metal, I would not recommend this album to sit on the collection shelf.
If you haven’t noticed, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a review but now I’m back. Graduate school doesn’t offer enough time to write quality progressive rock and metal reviews alongside my popular website CinemaFunk where I write movie reviews.
Despite my lack of updates, the site has grown in visits and pageviews and I might as well take advantage of that. I’m roughly 12 or so albums behind and that is after rejecting new album submissions so start to expect new reviews in the next several weeks.