A Day In Venice — IV
The suitably named A Day In Venice is the solo work of Italian painter, poet, songwriter and music producer Andrej Kralj. Since 2013, Kralj has been releasing music under this moniker. Beginning with the 2014 self-tiled release, and continuing through single, EPs and now, 10 years after beginning, a new full length album.
As it opens, we are treated to a steady gothic/art rock piece, similar to some of Nick Cave's work. A steady number complete with brooding vocals, it builds a foundation for a dark, yet engaging album. The lamentions continue through Reins Of Freedom, where a minimalist structure lays the stones for the full music to climb on. A combination of the gothic style of before, with a hint of doom provides the chorus. Musically the rolling sounds of art/post rock carries on as Angelos Kyprianos's deep set, almost Pete Steele (Type O Negative) vocals wash over the top as the music continues to grow.
Flames Of Gold showcases the ballad creating talents of Kralj, and combines his superlative songwriting with the combined vocals of Angelos, and guest vocalist Amanda Onicee to create an almost heartbreaking piece to bring forth emotions. The reserved side of Kralj comes across in the dark and slow Ophidian Queen which comes next. Slow tempos and an atmosphere of disquiet is put forth by this one, with its discordant background and quiet setting.
The closing few tracks bring in some doom styling with the electric guitars and bleaker tones until Aghori arrives to close the album off. At 11 and a half minutes, it is the longest track on the album. Encompassing the definition of languishing and apprehensive, the track pulls every style from before plus some oboe and saxophone work from Luis Marquez and Maurice Soque respectively - we are left with what Porcupine Tree could have sounded like if Steven Wilson could let go of his formula.
Fans of the art rock style and the previously mentioned groups would like this one I suspect. If you're into post-rock or even post-metal like Mogwai or Sólstafir and Kontinuum as well, I'd suggest having a listen. It is the kind of style that, even if not your kind of thing, I am confident you will enjoy it.
Hemina — Romancing The Ether
In my attempts to keep up with the ever-growing flow of prog releases, I try to read all of DPRP's submitted press releases and the many reviews written by my fellow prog-scribes. Not only to get a fair idea as to "what's cooking" in our beloved genre, but also to see whether there are bands whose music normally fits me like a glove but due to the unsurmountable stream of releases somehow never reached me.
It's result? A wealth of discoveries and hours of pleasurable music and entertainment. This is now most convincingly expanded with 35 minutes of masterful magic by Hemina.
I vaguely remember Hemina's name from when they released their 2019 effort Night Echoes and only knew they were following a prog-metal direction. The accompanying letter stated that Romancing The Ether represents the epic conclusion of Hemina's conceptual story started in 2012 with Synthethic and successfully developed upon with Nubulae, Venus and Night Echoes. A lot to catch up with if this is to my liking.
The next line of information: "Romancing The Ether is a genre-bending experience that draws influences from neo-soul, world music, ambient, and psytrance". That caught me off guard, now I had doubts. But a few minutes into the album it became clear Hemina's latest offering is a musical marriage made in heaven that ticks a lot of my boxes. And then some, for Romancing The Ether radiates a stunning melodic prog-metal attraction similar to Dream Theater, Teramaze and Dreamscape at their peak, to name but a few. Through fantastic interplay, catchy melodies, amazing vocals, and a lush symphonic richness in sound, this captivates from start to finish.
Hemina comprises Douglas Skene (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Mitch Coull (guitar, vocals), Jessica Martin (bass, vocals), and Nathan McMahon (drums, vocals).
The album opens with powerful pompous bombast and excellent howling guitar work, followed by intimate piano melodies elevated into emotive stratospheres by Skene's impressive vocal range. His vocals show a strong resemblance to James LaBrie or That Joe Payne when the Queen-like piano passages convey the intricate melodies. The combination of djent riffs and Skene's sublime vocals creates images of Soul Secret, closely followed by memories of Circus Maximum. The latter is emphasized by the brilliantly arranged complex, yet easy approachable, whirlpool of ever-changing atmospheres and vibrant metal.
When harmonies come into play, which they often do, it resembles Queen as well, although I tend think of less polished AOR Valencia likeness here myself. And the one vision resonating in Strike Four's captivating opening, in which vocals reign supreme, is the excellent magnitude like Trent Gardner's project The Explorers Club (Age Of Impact), and to lesser extent Magellan. A style of prog-metal always welcomed in my book.
Embraced by symphonic elements and multi-layered choirs, this part segues into Embraced By Clouds. This makes it title proud from the start, when Martin's alluring vocals warms the ambient music into thermosphere heights. Dissolution is a joyful segment. It opens with oriental vocals over spacey guitars before it blasts into a hypnotic rave, flashing with a phenomenal guitar extravaganza, inspired by Brian May. The launch into a spectacular festival of energising techno-beats follows with Rammstein riffs and Voyager fireworks.
This joyous part annihilates my last shred of doubt and almost sees me dance, and I can imagine Kyros fans doing just that!
Revelations then recaptures the infectious prog metal realms, with sincere feelings of uplift recalls glorious enticement of Seventh Wonder. To be concluded by Integration that waves a last goodbye when under guidance of Skene's palliative vocal melodies fading away into an ambience of blissful enlightenment. Story-wise, an ascension into all-ness.
These final stages provide a glamorous finale to a brilliantly crafted piece of twisting and turning music that, despite its relatively short length, provides endless hours of listening pleasure. Or viewing enjoyment if one takes its visual equivalent into account (see the video).
Bandcamp expands the running time with bonuses in form of various single versions which provides the opportunity to revisit one's favourite movement, but offering essentially nothing new. They feel somewhat superfluous and in the end go against my belief that this magnificent masterpiece should be enjoyed as one uninterrupted melody from start to finish and not as individual parts.
To fully comprehend the scope of Hemina's narrative, a further examination of their legacy is in order, which after the outstanding results of Romancing The Ether is an effort I'm most willing to take. Frankly, I urge prog metal enthusiasts with a sense for the adventurous to do exactly the same, because like my colleagues before me said: get this, it is awesome essential listening!
Poor Genetic Material — Elsewhere
The world is a small place, especially in the rather tiny cosmos of progressive rock. As a student at the University of Mannheim in the 1990s, attending a seminar on important Shakespeare plays (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and King Lear), could I have guessed that the lecturer, Dr. Stefan Glomb, would later appear as the guitarist in a progressive rock band? That Philip Griffiths, a then fellow student at the Department of English, would become their singer? Phil was just beginning to take his first steps with his band Alias Eye towards the end of my studies, and their debut CD Field Of Names was finally released in 2001. That same year he (and Alias Eye drummer Ludwig Benedek) joined Glomb and Philipp Jaehne, who as Poor Genetic Material had already released two ambient/soundscapes-style albums since 1999. The electronic elements remained on Summerland (at first), but the music became much more song-orientated and clearly tended towards progressive and art rock.
The band grew in personnel over the years, so since 2011 (Island Noises) the flute of Pia Darmstaedter can be heard and as a second singer Phil's father Martin Griffiths is regularly on board. Martin Griffiths? That's right, the Englishman, original singer of the Scottish prog band Beggars Opera, moved to Germany in 1974. Poor Genetic Material's regular line-up today also includes Dennis Sturm on bass and Dominik Steinbacher, who replaced Ludwig Benedek on drums in 2006 (Spring Tidings). With this line-up Poor Genetic Material has recently released great albums like Absence (2016) and Here Now (2020), furthermore the 15th anniversary edition of Spring Tidings (originally released in 2006), remixed, remastered and partially re-recorded, has been released in 2021. "Spring Tidings now has the sound the album deserves," the band says about it, and you won't disagree with them, if you have heard it.
On Elsewhere, the current album, however, there is only a trio with Stefan Glomb (electric and acoustic guitars, bass), Philipp Jaehne (piano, organ, synthesizers, mellotron, programming) and Philip Griffiths (vocals). Jaehne recently explained in an interview that since they are constantly writing new pieces anyway, this will shorten the waiting time until the next new album Possibilities, by the complete seven-piece line-up is finally mixed – which is supposed to happen in 2024. The trio as a kind of "Poor Genetic Material light"? Yes and no. Much of it sounds, especially at the first hearing, a little simpler and more accessible, of course, the flute is missing, and you can hear that the drums aren't played by a real person.
At the same time, however, the typical trademarks of the band are present: the distinctive, voluminous voice of Phil Griffiths anyway, Jaehne's keyboards, often dominating the sound, the gentle guitar of Glomb, which rarely pushes itself into the foreground – but you should still listen carefully, because it provides some guitar solos worth listening to. The album is characterized by a quiet, melancholic basic impression, but in between there are also some more lively, rocky moments. Especially in the fifteen-minute title track there is also a lot of space for instrumental passages, atmospheric and complex, in which the music invites its audience to listen relaxed, but always attentive.
With The Colour Of Happiness the trio succeeds in a calm, unexcited prelude. A nice guitar solo stands out, if a comparison is necessary, The Pineapple Thief come to mind. However, as a listener you don't have to stiffen on that, because Poor Genetic Material are Poor Genetic Material, there is no doubt about that even in the small line-up. Elsewhere is the long track of the album, which also begins rather quietly with keyboard sounds, which are joined by a gently plucked guitar, before the initially very restrained vocals come in. After about three and a half minutes the piece picks up speed, Phil's voice gets more dominant, becomes more demanding. Tempo and mood changes run through the entire song, which is a good example for the music of Poor Genetic Material and should for the prog fan already be the highlight of the album. Then The Star is an example that the band also masters catchier melodies, at first sounding calm and only a bit pathetic, at least for the first minute, then there is even more pathos involved, which suits the voice of Phil Griffiths, who keeps his occasionally somewhat opera-like vocals a bit more minimalist on this album.
This applies both musically and vocally to the following pieces Take-off, Comfort And Pain, Pages Turning and Stargazer – this is progressive or art rock of the upper category, rather quiet and a little melancholic, which should not be surprising touching topics such as loss and loneliness, but always with surprising moments and exciting to listen to. Yes, you sometimes catch yourself thinking how one or the other passage would have sounded with the full band. But you should not let this spoil the fun of the album. Poor Genetic Material can also as a trio be counted on and the next disc in full line-up is already announced.
Side note: On the band's Bandcamp page you can find the mini-album Anywhere, which was released in April 2023 and contains three tracks with a total length of just over 35 minutes. These are purely instrumental pieces and the band itself comments as follows: "A collection of instrumentals from a band that is primarily known for its two world-class lead singers may seem a little surprising. But not only did we once start as a purely instrumental outfit, those long atmospheric passages have remained an integral part of our music. So, while working with the 7-piece-band on full scale productions and with the trio-line-up on somewhat stripped-down recordings ... here is a third outlet for what we do." Prog fans should listen to Anywhere, too. And they can be curious about what can be expected from this versatile band in the future. It would be nice to see a live performance.
The Samurai Of Prog featuring Oliviero Lacagnina — The Man In The Iron Mask
The consensus seems to be that books are always better than movies. Depending on the person asked there will be exceptions to this "rule", but in a nutshell, books and novels contain much more descriptive details, story-sidelines and character developments, and will keep you entertained a lot longer than an average 2-hour length film. Another important reason is that books fully allow a reader to visualise its narrative, which makes it a much more personal imaginative experience than the one envisioned by a team of actors, screenwriters and directors of the industry.
How this agreement works out in relation to books and music is less clear, but recent adaptations by The Samurai of Prog (TSoP) and Marco Bernard & Kimmo Pörsti sure give books a fair run for their money. As does Marco Bernard's The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.
In that regard The Man In The Iron Mask's musical re-enactment of the historically true story of a mysterious imprisoned masked man, believed to be King Louis XIV's twin brother, according to French philosopher Voltaire and writer Alexander Dumas, speaks volumes and most brilliantly transcends this last "equation" for me.
Like Anthem To The Phoenix Star all songs emanate from the pen of one songwriter, this time Latte e Miele's Oliviero Lacagnina. This Italian arranger and conductor, known also for his work in films and television, amongst others. He composed TSoP's delightful epic beauty The White Snake which gracefully slithers through an abundance of exciting musical landscapes and ranks high on my list of TSoP favourites.
This exquisite composition actually provides a perfect indication as to what lies in store on The Man In The Iron Mask. Although this time around, with lyrics provided by Sonia Vatteroni, Aldo Cirri and Steve Unruh, Lacagnina limits himself to a collection of short, adventurously structured compositions, that surpass all expectations. As a whole, this yields an ingeniously constructed complex suite, that twists and turns with an infinite amount of musical references to the storyline's time period. Words regularly fall short to describe its full enchantment.
The same applies for the guest performances and those of Lacagnina, Marco Bernard (Shuker bass), Kimmo Pörsti (drums) and the freshly returned Steve Unruh (violin, flute, vocals), who all brilliantly succeed in their quest to convey this adventurous and cinematic blockbuster narrative to the listener. Unitsky's marvellous artwork, which includes wonderful complementary drawings and short story synopses, fully aids in creating an era-specific mindset. But even without this gorgeous booklet, one gets securely transfixed to a time when Kings and Queens ruled the land and intrigue, betrayal, loyalty, conspiracies and bravery were the order of the day.
A fine illustration of this are the first three chapters. The instrumental The Iron Mask Ouverture, for instance, most convincingly stages the scene with stately horn sounds, as guitars by Marcel Singor (Kayak) reign. A touch of Kansas in a round dance of folk successfully transports the musical atmosphere into a time of the Renaissance and the Baroque. A glow of Mandalaband and picturesque exhibitions of E.L.P make this come alive even more.
Celebration For The Birth Of The King follows with endlessly swirling, uplifting melodies. Captivating guitar and lush violins, flutes and recorders (Rafael Pacha) perfectly portray emotions of anticipating tension.
The trinity of The Secret Twin, The Temple Of The Rosicurians and The Conspiracy Of The Rosicurians impresses. With elements of jazz and romantic harpsichord, these songs compel beyond belief. Palais Royal does so as well, with its exceptionally attractive guitar work.
Dance At The Court has folk melodies reminiscent of The Guildmaster. A Ghost From The Past pauses the musical spectacle in an imaginary Broadway theatre, with Thomas Berglund taking charge on guitar alongside breathtaking harmony performances between Unruh and Lauren Trew. And Mazzarino's Plan offers classic Italian orientated prog with rich arrangements.
The Fortress then looms up, echoing with classical jazz and a gentle approach of melancholic guitar. Mesmerising, with chilling feelings of imprisonment and hopeless isolation, strengthened with sadness and defeat in I Am No More, which evokes Genesis and IQ.
From here on, Juhani Nisula joins on guitars for the remainder of the songs, and TSoP make the impossible come true by concluding Lacagnina's interpretation with an overwhelming story of sublime virtuous musicality, that reminds me of Outer Limits, King Crimson (The Ambush And The Clash) and ELP (Father And Daughter), leaving me comfortably numb and speechless. Dynamic interplay and Unruh's captivating vocal performance (The New King) battle their dazzling way towards a concluding victorious rerun of melodies in the festive Epilogue. These four parts are a feast for all those who enjoy TSoP's most adventurous moments, although in essence, this applies to the whole experience of The Man In The Iron Mask.
As a must for their fans and need-to-hear for those into brilliantly executed and beautifully arranged 70s-style symphonic prog rock, The Man In The Iron Mask marks a truly exceptional work of art. I have a slight preference towards TSoP's previous effort, hence the rating difference, but ask me again in a few months and this might well be the other way around. One thing's for sure though: this Oscar-worthy album defies every single criteria-reason I started out with, and the sole conclusion, therefore is that The Man In The Iron Mask is the best prog-buster film you'll get to hear this year!