Album Reviews

Issue 2020-069

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

Aenemica — Secret Lines

Aenemica - Secret Lines
Distant Light (5:40), Hollow (4:49), Back to Life (6:01), Stay (4:32), Just a Few Lines (4:19), Reverie (7:33)
Eric Perry

Forging ahead into 2020 with their second independent release, Aenemica are a German outfit with a hard edged, alternative rock direction. It's been six years since their initial EP release, 2014's Empty Inside and the wait has resulted in a six-song, 33-minute affair, self characterised as melodic rock with progressive elements.

For the most part Secret Lines is evenly paced, drop-tuned precision metal with mathematically-crisp, rhythmic beats. With lineage that can be traced to the likes of Meshuggah and Linkin Park, the chug of guitar is blended with clean, mournful vocals which largely complement the tone and intensity of the overall sound.

The pattern of songs such as Distant Light, Just a Few Lines, Stay and Reverie are structurally similar, with a stripped-back opening segment allowing for singer Daniel Stendera to offer some melancholic feeling before a thunderous, twitchy heaviness takes over, dominating the outcome of the remainder of the piece. It's mid-paced action that doesn't deviate much in tempo.

There's no doubting the virtuosity of the four members of Aenemica and their tightly woven, intricate performance but there is largely an absence of soul and flourish in the compositions which yield slim rewards over repeated plays.

Reverie is the standout gem, which shows the real potential of the band with a solid, catchy chorus and atmospherics, over its seven-plus minutes, closing with an intriguing and effective ethereal ending. If the album had longer legs it would be interesting to see how this could have developed further.

The production is a highlight, with a clear mix ensuring that in the midst of the most intense moments, the sound is well defined and showcases everything from the brutal pulses to the soft vocal layers.

Aenemica have been able to capture some compelling ideas over their short return, and further forays into lengthier material do offer some potential for the future. The progressive leanings could be given greater prominence, and certainly the pieces are in place to make this happen. There's just not enough here to make this a compelling ride and some of the material is largely forgettable.

Art Against Agony — Solanacaea

Art Against Agony - Solanacaea
Physalis Peruviana (7:16), Atropa Belladonna (5:24), Capsicum Frutescens (5:42), Datura Stramonium (6:23), Mandragora Officinarum (7:45), Solanum Melongena (7:25)
Andy Read

Art Against Agony is (was) a masked instrumental progressive jazz/metal band, founded 2012 in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2014 AAA released its debut album Three Short Stories that was labelled as 'prog-jazz-experimental-brainfuck-metal'.

Having built a growing fanbase with two other albums and two EPs so far, this new album bares witness to one of the most catastrophic genre-jumps ever attempted.

The 'real' AAA offers highly-inventive, multi-cultural and genre-bending compositions, with musicianship of the highest level. Check out our reviews for the EP Russian Tales and their most recent album Shiva Appreciation Society.

This new release is an electronic music concept album based on the botanical plant family 'Solanaceae', more commony known as Nightshades. Each track takes the Latin name, which in running order represents the Cape Gooseberry, Deadly Nightshade, Chili Pepper, Devil's Snare, Mandrake and the eggplant/aubergine.

This is the most boring collection of musical twaddle I have had to review for many a year. The compositions never rise to the level of amateurish. Neither does the playing. I've done this as a mini review, as I could not bring myself to even give this a score of 1 out of 10. Fans of electronic music may wish to reach a different conclusion. Fans of AAA's previous efforts should move swiftly along.

Worryingly, the Solanaceae family consists of about 98 genera and some 2,700 species, so there is plenty of room for a follow-up!

Assignment — Reflections

Assignment - Reflections
Trilogia Balkanica (3:38), Mercyful Angel (4:42), Obsession (6:00), Corporate Men (5:56), Reflections (5:01), Submission (5:31), Timeline (5:29), Endlessly (6:36), Unknown Hero (7:13), Silent Nation (8:20)
Andy Read

This German-based band traces its roots back to the last century, where two early demos led to their debut album Progressive Changes in 2003. Three more albums have sporadically followed. Initially they were in a more thrash/speed metal direction, until the arrival of Argentinian singer Diego Valdez (on 2016's Closing The Circle) saw them shift to a prog-power metal style. That probably explains why album number five, Reflections, is the first time they have been covered by this site.

Despite ambitiously boasting a credo of "metal without boundaries", this is a pretty straight-forward and formulaic prog-power metal album, dominated by Valdez's in-yer-face vocals and the well-delivered, technical guitar playing of the sole remaining founder member Goran Panić, whose style and sound reminds me of Communic in many places. Some extended instrumental sections and solos stretch a couple of the tracks, most notably on the closing Silent Nation, which is the most proggy song to be found here.

More interesting are the lyrical themes that mix anger and frustration at the state of politics and our planet, with personal reflections. Trilogia Balkanica and Mercyful Angel belong together and are dedicated to the remembrance and 20th anniversary of the NATO bombings in Serbia. Musically this is my favourite track.

Elsewhere, the title track, takes a deeper look at the life of people like Panić's father, who were forced to leave their homes due to poverty and move to a different country to earn some money. Initially they aimed to stay for a couple of years, to save some money in order to live a better life in their home countries. Many are now old, still living in a country that does not feel like home while carrying their "real homes" in their hearts.

Whether this is a prog-power album that works for you will probably depend on whether you want a whole album with Valdez's style of singing. He can sing for sure; channelling classic Dio, Russel Allen and Jorn Lande, to squeeze every ounce of emotion, out of every syllable. However, as with his other bands (Dream Child, Iron Fist and for a short time Lords of Black) his repetitive phrasing and constant ferocity may be too over-bearing for almost an hour's listening.

inFictions — Alphasand

inFictions - Alphasand
Custodian (4:48), The Underneath (4:05), Incubation (3:49)
Andy Read

Sheffield alt art-rockers inFictions have scored two big hits with me so far with their albums Maps Of Revenge And Forgiveness and Vanity Project. They've been quiet for a couple of years, so news of a fresh EP piqued my interest.

Sadly this is little more than a quickly-digested-breakfast's worth of sustained piano and string effects, with too-far-back-in-the-mix vocalising on one track and and a spoken word section on another. I'm all for a bit of Talk Talk-style minimisation but this sounds like a series of studio outtakes, cut and pasted together. Very disappointing.

IZZ — Half Life

IZZ - Half Life
The Soul of Music (4:49), Into the Sun (4:02), Half Life (4:27), The Wait of It All (6:30)
Martin Burns

“Glad music for his gloomy times. Glad music for his darkest times.” Words by New York proggers IZZ on the opening track of their new EP. And their music couldn't be more welcome at this time of uncertainty. Every track is full of joyful melody and exquisite musical touches.

This four track EP follows on from last year's superb Don't Panic LP. The EP has three new tracks and one live recording. All the songs here are superb, putting pop-style melodies through a progressive ringer to add complexity, density and pomp, with an overall uplifting feel.

There is a tightly-layered pomp to the keyboards and guitars of The Soul of Music, underpinned by forceful bass in the Chris Squire mould. The Mellotron and guitars give way to a terrific passage of duelling synth and organ on Into the Sun. The title track wrong-foots you by initially going down the 80s synth power-ballad route but it soon takes a left turn into far more interesting atmospheric guitars and electric piano. The twin vocal lines counterpoint each other in the song's exploration of re-inventing one's self.

The live track The Wait of It All (live at CalProg) was originally released on an Ampersand Volume 1 in 2004, and here it shows what a great live act IZZ are. The singing is especially noteworthy, as usually it is the variability of live singing that I find stops me listening to live albums that often. But here it's no issue. Makes me want to see these guys live.

If you have any interest in classic-era influenced, but non-retro progressive, song-based prog, then IZZ's Half Life is not to be missed. Still think Spock's Beard is the best US prog band? I think it's time to think again.

Kong — Phlegmatism

Kong - Phlegmatism
Horse L (5:44), M.O.N. (6:00), ? (F.D. Part 17.239) (4:33), Stockhouse (4:48)
Jan Buddenberg

KONG, active since the late 80s, recently released an EP entitled Phlegmatism, consisting of four re-recorded tracks from their 1992 album Phlegm. An album held in high regard amongst fans, where their eclectic mix of industrial progressive metal, energetic rock and synth techno reached new heights, showcasing a band not afraid of experimentation. Altogether a unique massive sound, usually performed through quadraphonic, socially distanced live-performances.

Today's line-up sees Tijs Keverkamp (guitars), Oscar Alblas (drums, percussion), David Kox (guitars, electronics) alongside founding member Mark Drillich on bass and electronics. The same formation who performed an energetic set on Progpower Europe in 2019, although at the time sound issues stood in my way of fully appreciating their music.

This time around, the overwhelming wall of sound, captured in a robustly-explosive production, leaves nothing to be desired. Provided one likes powerful instrumental prog metal, complex structures, hard-hitting riffs, psychedelics, luscious beats and intense (bombastic) soundscapes, all injected with electronics.

From a referencing point of view, KONG are hard to pinpoint, exhibiting a distinct, unique sound. One name that stands out to me is the superb Rush-like feel which is apparent in every track, yet elegantly different each time. It gives Horse L a fierce backbone that's driven forward by an awesome groove, supported by a super-tight rhythm section. The powerful production pushes the vibrant bass upfront, which tastily paves the way for technically exciting guitar solos adding slight psychedelics. The initial intense trashing rhythms of M.O.N. follow suit, transforming gradually into electronic spice with bass taking a superb lead. It even features some influences of dance, surrounded by meticulous percussion.

Similarly the groovy ? (F.D. Part 17.239) successfully creates a splendid trip through electronica, rhythmic beats and precise experimentation that constantly shifts gear, wishing the other 17.238 parts were available as well. While some folk influences shimmer through, I also receive mild associations towards a feisty Porcupine Tree. Finally the fierce Stockhouse ups the anti, revealing a complex symbioses of metal riffs, synth techno and additional quirky weirdness. This results in an intoxicating sound-wall, driven by a great guitar extravaganza and excellent drum parts.

A captivating ending to a muscular EP that boldly shows there's still plenty of life and musicality left within today's KONG, who apparently have refuelled for a new album. Thanks to the immaculate production and versatile performances these newly recorded versions may even outshine the originals, which makes this a most rewarding EP.

Ville Lätheenmäki Utopia — Russian Body Language

Ville Lätheenmäki Utopia - Russian Body Language
Jakki (8:28), Blossom (6:46), Empennage (8:41), Lupa (1:05), The Last Dance (9:35), Tupla (11:27)
Jerry van Kooten

Ooh, jazz ... it's been a while! And straight away I remember the reason why. Jakki starts with two minutes of the type of jazz that gets on my nerves. Completely improvised and atonal clarinet sounds that remind me of Ferris Bueller in his Day Off, with some percussion that also does not seem to follow any of the musical structures I can handle. After that it becomes a little more structured, but it's the sound of the clarinet that my taste still has a hard time digesting.

But then it happens. When halfway the guitar gets a spot, I get goosebumps! Yes, I love this guitar sound. The crazy parts in The Last Dance are done on guitar too and appeal a lot more to me. Definitely the best song.

It's not all jazzy freak-outs, fortunately. Jakki returns to a slower, moody section which is enjoyable. The first, slow part of The Last Dance is too. In several sections, like the first part of Blossom or Empennage, I hear stuff I like in the music of Gershwin or Brubeck. And the vibraphone is a surprisingly lovely addition to the sound.

When the clarinet has a go, I am checking out. It's the sound of the instrument I have a problem with, but also the way it's played. It's too much for me. And Tupla is one long surrealistic landscape that is hard to go through if you have not completely studied the map of jazz. The last half is, well, I guess I just don't get it.

This album is a weird combination; for me at least. Both goosebumps and horror (eh, also goosebumps but the wrong kind!). I'd say beware, but if you like the sound of the clarinet and like (or at least can stand crazy jazz), you should definitely have a go.

Lotus — Emergence

Lotus - Emergence
Vision (3:10), Castles (4:36), Wither (4:49), Intact (3:24)
Jerry van Kooten

It was hard to get some info on this band! The email contained a link to their Bandcamp site and to their own website. The website had links to their Facebook page and YouTube channel. Their Facebook page had a link to their Soundcloud page. Bandcamp told me they are from Pune, India. And the 'About' section on their Facebook finally gave me the names of the musicians: Abhishek Mujumdar (drums), Bob Alex (guitar), Adhiraj Singh (bass, but also credited with production), Siddharth Amarnath (guitar).

Singh was an engineer for Asweekeepsearching, a band with Robert (Bob) Alex on guitars, whose album Zia we reviewed a few years ago. Adhiraj Singh also plays with Robert Alex in prog metal band Noiseware, who also have Aniket Patni (credited for the artwork here) on guitar. I am not sure what Lotus means for the future of the other bands. Music-wise there's quite an overlap, so it must make sense somehow.

But now the music. It's just 16 minutes, so there is not a lot to say other than "Ambient / post-metal" as they describe it themselves. I prefer the non-ambient form, but their list of influences contained names in the post-rock scene and of the new progressive style. Opeth, Tool, Karnivool, Animals As Leaders, Katatonia, God is an Astronaut. So no worries!

Not a very homogenous list, and neither is their music. The soundscape sections are short. Progressive post-rock riffing takes over quickly. Complex rhythms and riffing, with post-rock for contrasts and harmonies, and with progressive rock for changes and melodies. A little ambient, but mostly progressive post-rock. Not as dark as some of their influences, though.

Beautiful band logo and cover, very good production, four songs that show wonderful potential for a varied album that will provide hours of listening pleasure. I hope the band will take this as a starting point to write a full-length album.

Eddie Mulder — Beyond The Eye

Eddie Mulder - Beyond The Eye
Fever Dream (3:13), Gentle (3:15), Differences (2:20), Sardegna (4:15), Blossoming (2:27), A Short, Sad Story (2:00), Beneath The Fire (3:09), Medieval Drama (3:28), Rounddance (3:25), Easy Feeling (3:22), Whizzkids (2:19), Hope (3:03), Over-excited (2:09), Compassion (3:38), Circles (3:15), Chapter Finished (1:31), Untitled (4:31)
Mark Hughes

A year after Victory comes Dutch guitarist Eddie Mulder's sixth solo album Beyond The Eye. This time it is just Eddie and his McIlroy A-55 guitar performing 17 delightful pieces. If you are a fan on Ant Phillips' acoustic guitar albums then this will be right up your street.

Wonderfully melodic, all of the compositions are excellent with, as expected, superb playing throughout. The nature of the tunes can be garnered from the more obvious titles such as A Short, Sad Story, Gentle and the more up-beat Over-excited, although Medieval Drama is not as medieval as it could have been.

There is little more that can be said about the album except that it is brilliant for what it is and, once again, showcases the supreme talent both as a composer and as a guitarist of Eddie Mulder.

Silas And Saski — Power Of Three

Silas And Saski - Power Of Three
Magic of Words (5:10), In Reverse (8:03), Power of Three (6:19)
Eric Perry

Power Of Three is, as the title suggests, an EP featuring a trio of songs from Silas And Saski, designed as a precursor to a full debut album expected later in 2020.

Silas Neptune combines his trademark cosmic synths with an ethereal, folky gorgeousness from vocalist Saskia Maxwell. Traversing a number of musical styles, this opening salvo is a clever, sophisticated assembly of trippy-trance, which could appeal equally to the Ozric Tentacles fan, as much as fans of Jon Anderson.

The EP as a whole is an intriguing collection of complex layering and incense-heavy atmospherics, all grounded by some occasionally-squawky, sometimes-discordant lead guitar breaks designed to pull you from the edge.

Maxwell is a revelation in her haunting and hypnotic sound, tinged with a little Dolores O'Riordan at times. Her delicate sweetness manages to sit well against the fusion backdrop, often melting away into space, yet at other times capable of bringing some much needed solidity.

This short collection is both immediate and also flowers with repeated plays, allowing further examination. From a middle-eastern folk vibe on Magic of Words, mixed with the jazzy and reggae/dub tones of the standout track, In Reverse, to the edgy, metallic pulse of Power of Three (which also combines world music flavours), there is a lot on the table.

Their forthcoming album, Entertaining Possibilities seems aptly-titled and judging by this taster EP it will be ambitiously varied in its scope and capability. On the basis of these three tracks, there does feels like a potential banana skin ahead where the space trance, EMS synth backbone blends the project together into a repetitively-paced soundscape. As delightfully transcendental as this threesome of songs is, it needs some bite a little more often.

Roman Spektor — Functionality

Roman Spektor - Functionality
Checkbox (3:04), Thank You Father (6:27), Look For... (3:08), Binary (3:01), Functionality (5:03), Tiny Virtual Mouths (3:33), Passivity (5:03), Selling Doors (3:31), Docks (3:43), Cut the Cool Air (4:00)
Martin Burns

Roman Spektor is a Tel-Aviv multi-instrumentalist and on his debut album, Functionality, he is singer, songwriter, producer and mixer. Functionality sees him experimenting with styles and influences over ten, mainly, short tracks. Roman describes himself as producing progressive rock and experimental pop, but I see it more as progressive art-rock with flirtations with indie rock, trip-hop, electronica and even gothic undercurrents.

The trip-hop influences come across in the skittering, programmed drums and electronic percussion used in inventive ways throughout the album. The opening track Checkbox is the only straight ahead indie-rock, prog-metal-lite song on the album and is fairly straightforward. Roman has a strong, if sometimes one-style, voice that mixes Avi Geffen (Blackfield) with Tim Bowness. He could do with upping the passion in his singing to make the song's lyrics really fly. And he is upstaged by guest vocalist Didi S.B. on Look For....

However, the music on the album has plenty of passion. Thank You Father moves from glitchy electronica and beatboxing, through to an intensive, proggy art-rock conclusion. The title track has electric piano and guitar soundscapes that echo early Porcupine Tree, and Binary is quietly funky with lovely acoustic guitar.

The best tracks explore varied styles. The proggy Passivity has Mellotron-style keys, heavy riffing and great electric viola soloing. Selling Doors has guest sax from Gali Spektor that adds an organic warmth to its David Bowie's Blackstar-style percussive striving and dark electronica. There is a Radiohead art-rock vibe to the acoustic guitar and slinky bass of the closing track Cut the Cool Air.

Roman Spektor's Functionality is an interesting calling card, showing his skills and his mix of styles that employ complex rhythms to unsettle and fascinate by turns. Roman Spektor shows great potential and it will be fascinating to see if he settles on any particular path in the future.

Varus — A New Dawn

Varus - A New Dawn
The Awakening (9:09), Tränk dein Herz (2:47), A New Dawn (5:26), Ascheregen (5:01), Ein Lebewohl (9:00), Wandel der Zeit (5:39), The Minstrels Chant (5:25), Die letzte Schenke (4:00)
Calum Gibson

Germany is a country that has long been a powerhouse of producing fantasy and epic metal with a progressive edge. From supergroups such as Avantasia, to veterans Blind Guardian or Helloween, there has been a great number of bands to emerge from those lands. Varus was formed back in 2010 as Banjaxed before changing their name in 2012. A New Dawn is their second album.

My initial thoughts were conflicted. Opener The Awakening begins with a fairly typical power metal sound with the often-used orchestral layers and synths over power chords. However, what came next, with the blast beats and harsh vocals surprised me. It brought in a sound similar to the likes of Rhapsody, mixed with the death elements of groups such as Finntroll

This playful mix of happy-go-lucky folk metal, mixed with the harsh and almost venomous vocals, adds an interesting feel. At times, the keys add a bouncy nature to it, akin to some of Alestorm's earlier works, at other times adding a darker and heavier atmosphere.

A lot of the tracks have a structure, feel and progression similar classic groups such as Iron Maiden, only heavier. Other areas showcase the melodic and atmospheric death metal influences, such as on Ascheregen. Then the proggier side comes in, with a mellow break halfway through Ein Lebewohl that adds a nice touch and helps slow things down a bit, before it builds to a crescendo and epic outro.

This sums the album up: crescendos, epic sounds, and interesting movements. It still has an unfortunately typical folk metal sound in several places, but I would say this is a minor setback as this is well written, and enjoyable for my tastes. It reminded me of the good old days of Battle Metal IV from an old edition of “Metal Hammer” magazine.

Album Reviews