Album Reviews

Issue 2023-067

Hills Like White Lions — Meander

Hills Like White Lions - Meander
Meander Pt. I Coral (8:10), Meander Pt. II Maelstrom (8:17), Meander Pt. III Acedia (2:18), Meander Pt. IV Black Tide (6:12), Meander Pt. V Cataract (7:25), Meander Pt. VI Nihil (4:38), Meander Pt. VII Mondgrau (8:52)
Jerry van Kooten

I know just a few bands from Austria but here is a new one. Officially HLWL are a three-piece (Florian Wagner on vocals and guitar, Alexander Augustin on bass, and Hannes Lettner with the drums), but their Bandcamp page shows two people in the background, and the sound does imply that it's not just three people. What we have is heavy-rock floating between modern progressive rock and post-metal. Being on the rather dark side of the emotional spectrum, is something that appeals to me a lot.

As you can tell from the titles, Meander is a concept album. Most parts segue into each other, and it feels like a whole unit as well. A well-constructed suite.

The heavy parts combined with the vocals remind me a bit of Swedish heavy prog band Vulkan. Fans of Opeth or Pain Of Salvation (he-he, more Swedish bands) and The Ocean will be pleased as well. I also hear sections that link to Toundra and HLWL's countrymen Monkey3.

While post-metal has a lot of instrumental bands, here we have lyrics (and not just a few lines), which brings more structure to the songs. So you won't find a lot of post-rock style songs here. They are written much more from a progressive rock / metal point of view, with a good dose of progressive breaks and changes (without becoming overly complex).

Wagner has a voice in the lower regions and, fortunately, is singing in clean vocals. He never squeezes his throat (which is good) or tries to break into uncertain frequencies. His voice fits the sound of the rest of the music. I especially love the places where the music goes fast, and he is singing just a few syllables. I love the contrast.

This is a very pleasing combination of styles in, according to my taste, the right atmosphere. Bluesy-melancholy, building-up towards or sometimes simply breaking into powerful outbursts. Heavy as I like it. Time to buy their debut album!

Dusan Jevtovic — City Hustling

Dusan Jevtovic - City Hustling
Carried By The Wind (5:26), 5 Against 2 (4:51), Do Da (2:58), Blues For A (6:42), Searching For New (8:44), I Don´t Know How (6:58), Improve (4:39)
Owen Davies

Consider three primary instruments. Combine them with three musicians and three forms of expression. Blend these elements with a profound sense of understanding and a strong musical connection. Sit back and witness the emergence of a truly harmonious and innovative creative unit. Dusan Jevtovic, Tony Levin and Marko Djordjevic stand illuminated against the backdrop of the studio lights. There is a palpable anticipation and expectation that something extraordinary is about to unfold. And indeed, it does.

City Hustling masterfully captures those magical moments, and the intuitive exchanges of brilliance that occur when exceptionally talented musicians are given the freedom to innovate, experiment and improvise. Throughout the album, the musicians deliver an auditory journey akin to a bustling march through crowded streets, a leisurely stroll in expansive shopping centres, and an exhilarating, neon-lit sensory overload.

The compositions possess great depth, and while tracks like Improve may present a challenge with their inspiring inventiveness, the overall experience of this release is undeniably rewarding. Everything seamlessly fits together. The sound quality is superb, it possesses a fresh, lively quality, and the musicians' performances are woven together by a tangible connection and shared sense of purpose.

Each musician expresses themselves fully. Every instrument and every sound contributes to create a unique auditory experience. The intricate twists and turns create captivating melodies within a tapestry of interconnected ideas. Additionally, the strategic use of silence between the notes adds a brilliant touch. This aspect is exemplified beautifully in the distinctive opening of Blues For A, where powerful, twisted tones and concussive riffs collide, creating an intense and menacing atmosphere.

The rhythm section operates flawlessly, holding everything together and injecting energy with their percussive backdrops, ever-changing rhythms and growling bass lines. Marko Djordjevic's dexterity is evident in the percussive touches that underpin many of the pieces.

Tony Levin's performance throughout the album is nothing short of magnificent. His deep-seated bass lines add an extra layer of dimension to the music. His contributions to tracks such as Searching For New and Do Da are simply masterful.

The trio builds tension, using repeated phrases, rhythms and themes. These constantly keep the listener guessing by unexpectedly changing direction or altering the mood of the piece.

Some tracks pulsate with aggression, unleashing a surge of abrasive dissonance. In their muscular approach, there is no need for delicate subtleties or elegant melodies to get in the way. Changes in tempo and volume serve to whip up a frenzy and unleash waves of sound, offering a powerful and occasionally-disorienting blend of insistent motifs and inventive innovation. Complex, avant-garde sections suggest a willingness to experiment and a desire to explore freedoms of expression.

Dusan Jevtovic's jangly flourishes are expertly laden with a flotsam of discordant and unusual effects. They are guided with great aplomb, as fretted motifs swell with exciting crests, to break upon the shore shaken and stirred.

If you appreciate the raw power of distorted guitar effects, Jevtovic's piercing tones will undoubtedly impress, with their beautifully dissonant and haunting nature. Throughout the release, Jevtovic demonstrates the importance of tone selection, dynamics and volume control. Layers, textures and a wide variety of timbres, are all intricately woven together to create a captivating sonic tapestry.

Levin's enchanting bowed-work in 5 against 2 adds an air of mystery and spaciousness to the piece. In this track, the haunting cry of the bow perfectly complements Jevtovic's abrasive and gritty palette of sounds.

The trio's bravery to embrace originality, combined with their willingness to explore new avenues of expression, sets their music apart. Innovation and improvisation are lofty aspirations, and when they bear fruits, as they do in tracks like I Don't Know How, the results are truly remarkable and unforgettable.

In conclusion, City Hustling is a truly special album. It hits all the right notes with its clever inventiveness, inspiring performances and an infectious air of spontaneity. Dusan Jevtovic, Tony Levin and Marko Djordjevic have crafted something special.

I sincerely hope you find as much joy in experiencing this album as I do.

OHO — Ahora!

OHO - Ahora!
Part I (12:31), Part II (14:09), Part III (9:36)
Ignacio Bernaola

The band claims that OHO is a name that rings bells. Sorry guys but not my bells. This is a totally new band to me that I discovered just a year after this, their most recent release called Ahora! This Spanish word means "now" and it seems to express how the band feels now, or somehow a message to live in the present, carpe diem or something similar (or everything at the same time, who knows?). Anyway, this is a very good album that I'm glad I picked by chance from all the albums we receive monthly.

For those who also don't know this band, you should know that OHO is not a new band. In fact, they've been in the business for more than 45 years! So apparently they have been flying under my radar with little public exposure.

They present themselves as Baltimore's answer to Pink Floyd, but I don't hear many Floydian clichés. They say that, because OHO also started as an underground band playing "music the chroniclers swore was years ahead of its time". Of course, they will remain underground, but I will try to throw some light on them, because their latest album deserves attention from those who love classic progressive rock, albeit with some modern touches here and there.

Ahora! should be consumed as a whole, although it is divided into three sections. It's only 36 minutes long, so I'm sure you will find yourself wanting more when it ends. Each part has a narrative voice at the beginning, and then the beautiful melodies begin to appear.

I have to highlight the acoustic guitar playing as the main sound that permeates the entire album. I love this acoustic feeling across the three parts. Also, the vocals add another perfect layer to the combo. On a first listen, I wasn't sure that I was enjoying this type of vocals but now I really appreciate how well it fits with the overall sound of the album and the atmosphere that the band want to create.

You will also find very nice instrumental interludes that lead to different places of each song, acting like the perfect glue that gives shape to the compositions.

As I always recommend: go check all these personal perceptions, but do yourself a favour and take your time, because this album is full of details that need to be discovered without haste. Highly recommended and a very nice surprise.

Trilogy — The Goldust Tapes

1982 / 2023
Trilogy - The Goldust Tapes
Arctic Life (6:09), The Silent Room (6:13), The Last Voyage (5:52)
Jan Buddenberg

Back in 1984 I was in full grip of the British neo-prog movement. Fresh new discoveries like Pallas, Twelfth Night, IQ and Marillion where the order of the day on my record/cassette player, and once introduced to Sym-Info magazine, a whole new world opened up, including such illustrious names as Airbridge, Haze, Pendragon, Solstice, Tamarisk, and Quasar. The sky seemed the only limit to prog's renewed success. Especially when, in the following year, Marillion scored an overwhelming chart success with Kayleigh.

Spurred on by this, executives at EMI decided to seize the moment and issue the Fire In Harmony compilation. This now sought after album involved several 'established' names from the list above, and four fresh new faces. Two of these have always stood out for me, namely Liaison and especially Trilogy, whose song Hidden Mysteries appealed to my musical soft spot.

Finding more music from Trilogy proved rather complicated. Other than a long-extinct 1983 demo-tape Arctic Life, which probably never crossed England's border in those days, there simply wasn't another recording out there. And sadly Trilogy's momentum came to an abrupt halt shortly after, leaving behind a void the size of Cygnus X-1 and just a handful of fan-secured live/radio-recordings to speak for their short yet promising existence.

Fast-forward 35 years. In 2020 Trilogy make their surprising return to the prog scene. Firstly through the efforts of Mark Bloxsidge, Trilogy's bass player from the year 1983 onwards, who set out to remaster his tapes and released them on Trilogy's YouTube channel.

The result? A renewed interest in the band and secret try-out sessions between Paul Dennis (guitar, bass pedals, synths, vocals), Mark Bloxsidge (bass) and Nik Szymanek (drums). Then the announcement of a reunion gig together with their Brave New World Tour companions Solstice. This took place at the Colchester Arts Centre on the 22nd of July 2023. Finally, we have their first official release: The Goldust Tapes EP.

Restored and mastered by Bloxsidge, this EP features the very first demo by the band, dating back to March 1982 when John Garnett still handled Trilogy's bass duties. These recordings do have their sonic limitations, which is only to be expected with 40 years of sound evolution since then. However, this never gets in the way of enjoying the formidable compositions, which even in their embryonic form (Arctic Life) already show immense potential.

Fans of second-stage 70s Rush and powerful, dynamic progressive-rock will be well catered for. To this day I still wonder as to why they never got their much deserved Big Break!

The EP opens with the aforementioned Arctic Life, an anthemic composition with great dynamic drive and opulent synth melodies that soars through enticing Lifeson-like guitar riffs and a Peart-styled rhythmic propulsion from Szymanek. Dennis' vocals are less polished in comparison to the perfected version that would resurface one year later, but here he shows his fierce, expressive strength and versatile melodic range. A shuffle of Rush-inspired melodies, including Taurus pedals and bass refinement, then leads the song into a smooth passage after which another blast of synth richness and Alex Lifeson-styled riffs settles down to smooth, synth-driven melodies that build momentum for a chilling, thematic finale.

This song is one of the strongest in the band's repertoire and is a tough act to follow. The subsequent The Silent Room still makes a great attempt at this, and almost succeeds. Taking a slight backseat with more restrained, 70s-resounding, opening melodies, still elegantly Rush-flavoured from guitar sound and Taurus pedals, several recurring guitar-led choruses add a delightful change of pace. Eventually the song opens up into a lively passage of bass and drum interaction, before it ends on a high with a final run of returning, energetic melodies.

The Last Voyage finally offers a harbinger of the uniqueness that the band would further develop in the coming years. Powerful and expeditious with excellent shuffling drums, this song offers less atmospheric variation than the first two tracks. This however is fully "compensated" for by a marvellous, bluesy guitar solo that ensures compelling entertainment before the song finally ends with a satisfying Rush-inspired exit.

As stated before, Trilogy would go on to greater things. Evidence of which should arrive later in the year when they will reveal their full album Hidden Mysteries. Meanwhile, the band continues to tour with the likes of Haze, Liaison and Solstice, sometimes under the genuinely applicable "Fire in Harmony" banner. If you have the chance, pay them a visit. Grab a copy of this highly recommendable EP while you are at it and let's promote them from the progressive underground onto the stage they deserve. You won't regret it!

Album Reviews