Collapse Under The Empire — Recurring
Collapse Under The Empire (CUTE) is an instrumental post-rock band consisting of Martin Grimm and Chris Burda who hail from Hamburg, Germany. Active since 2008, they have released a vast series of EPs and singles, some of which have been in aid of the environment/animals or used in documentaries/Hollywood trailers. They now present their ninth album Recurring.
Supported by Nando Schäfer (drums) and Norman Gatzke (bass on Absolution and Apocalypse), and provided with truly exceptional artwork that reflects the musical soundscapes to a tee, Recurring thematically addresses our eternally-repeated life cycle of destruction and death into purification, peace and redemption.
Steeped in the post-rock tradition, and taking inspiration from ambient, trip-hop, synth-pop, EM and shoe-gaze, this gives birth to soundscapes that each tell an individual story, and overall yield an impressive musical narrative.
Having perfected their concise compositions right down to the last detail, all of these songs effortlessly capture the imagination.
In Genesis, it gives birth to uplifting, energetic beats and a sense of mystery, driven onwards by walls of appealing guitar sounds that progress into Vangelis-like electronics.
Revelation travels on through orchestrated, ambient surroundings that intensify into shoe-gaze environments before it segues into Mercy. This drifts into emotive oceans of lucidity with vast, electronic, synth-wave sounds and romantic, classical influences.
My personal highlight, Absolution, then brings epic brightness and majestic orchestrations, pulsating with U2-like bass lines. It features truly exceptional drumming. This percussive element proves to be a brilliant asset throughout. After Requiem's peaceful, ethereal soundscape, it makes another triumphant return in the darkly-shaded Forgiveness and in the dreamy, futuristic electronics of Salvation.
Drifting onwards through a wealth of melancholic melodies, complemented by orchestration rich in fidelity and sound, the imposing Apocalypse and the hypnotic blessings of Creation finally take CUTE's concept full circle. It leaves behind the satisfying conclusion that Recurring is a convincing and highly recommendable album for those who enjoy the post-rock genre.
Those fans may also want to check out the upcoming and strictly limited 11 (!) album vinyl box Works 08-2023, which includes all albums, EPs, B-sides and rarities released between 2008 and 2023. The purchase price might be not so cute for some, but based on my experience with Recurring, the musical reward most likely is!
Dissona — Dreadfully Distinct
Dissona is a progressive metal band from the suburbs of Chicago. Formed in 2006, they first came to my attention in 2017 with their impressive Paleopneumatic album, a unique and complex collection that left me with a different reaction each time I played it.
I presumed they had disbanded, but this three-track EP signals a welcome sign of life. Dreadfully Distinct takes a look at three Blade Runner characters. The first single, The Prodigal Son, focuses on the inception and development of Roy Batty, the so-called antagonist from the original Blade Runner film.
The band remarks that only creating three songs for this mini concept felt right. They had several conversations about which stories/characters in the Blade Runner universe felt compelling enough to have their own song, and that was that. Fair enough.
What I love about this band's sound is the way in which the rolling riffs are mixed with some highly technical playing, but without becoming complex for the sake of complexity alone. David Dubenic has a very dramatic way of singing, utilising different 'voices'. That usually puts me off, and can sound rather fake and overtly theatrical. But David has the ability to deliver it very convincingly.
The band's third full-length album has been in production for quite some time. The band has confirmed that the entire album is recorded, with news of a release expected early next year. In the meantime, this has more than piqued my interest.
Dobbeltgjenger — The Twins
Do you feel like you need to stop listening to progressive rock music from time to time? If not, please stop reading. However, if you enjoy discovering new music of any kind please pay attention to the eclectic and catchy alt-rock band under the weird name of Dobbeltgjenjer and their latest album called The Twins.
The press release I received says this album is their fourth, although I can only see two more on their Bandcamp site, which I also recommend. The band is a five-piece combo from Norway. It seems that main songwriter Vegard Wiknes is the main man behind this album, since the lyrics reflect a chaotic time in his life.
He is also a trained music therapist, so he has used this album to somehow eject from himself and watch from the outside. So we have a concept behind The Twins, but don't get nervous, since the prog side of music won't appear this time. In contrast, Dobbeltgjenger plays an eclectic and dynamic rock, with a total love for groovy rhythms and some nice touches of funk.
There's even more, such as the electronic beats in Like A Crocodile. I won't focus on any particular song though because all of them emerge like fresh air and with big doses of punch. Catchy songs but with many layers to discover, and a sense of innovation that will surprise you. Get up from your progressive rock couch and put your rocket shoes on, because you will want to dance with this one.
Exchanger — Mismatch
Exchanger is a one-mand band from Amsterdam, Netherlands. The one man is named Nicolas Martin. Mismatch is his fourth album, but his discography contains some singles and EPs as well.
I've expressed my problems with one-man bands, before and I am afraid the same things pop up in this case. One person can simply not do everything very well. In this particular case the composition, production, guitar playing and melodies are very good. Keyboards could be programmed or played but are good.
The drum sounds very programmed and a bit flat. Vocals? Sorry. Nicolas has an average voice, which could suffice. However, he's going out of his range several times, making it sound strained. He's simply out of tune a couple of times. On Fictions, he does a much better job in the higher registers, only to destroy it when trying to sing mysteriously or angry. Some lyrics are clever, some lines are forced rhymes. Fortunately there are not a lot of lyrics. Oh, I do like the artwork a lot!
So about the music then. Nicolas likes his prog-metal, that is clear. He does have other influences from classic prog to djent, although it never gets that technical (fortunately). He himself mentions Andromeda, Aeon Zen, Headspace, Tetrafusion and SunCaged.
There are hardly any short songs on here (the two shortest are ambiant intermissions), but the song structures never get tedious. He does know how to write.
The best sections are when he can let the guitar rip-out fast lines of melodies or riff-like modern prog-metal. This is mostly done over a nice wall of sound, where the keyboards add some epicness and the drum sound disappoints. I miss a bit of bass in the mix.
I really hope Nicolas will try and find some people to work with. He's clearly talented when it comes to composing and playing guitar, and it's a bit of a waste of that talent to fill an album with inferior playing or sounds. The songs regularly remind me of TDW / Dreamwalkers Inc.. I hope Nicolas can learn from them.
Opher Goodwin — Bob Dylan 1962 to 1970
Another in the Sonicbond's On Track series; this time looking at Bob Dylan's work from his beginnings as a Woodie Guthrie acolyte, through the media-driven frenzy of the "Voice of a Generation" (an epithet that annoyed him enormously), onto the drug-fuelled, electric "Judas period". We finish in the rehab of the reclusive family man and his temporary re-invention as a country singer.
Opher Goodwin, author of 2022's On Track: Captain Beefheart book, has now tackled the thornier topic of Bob Dylan 1962 to 1970. He goes album-by-album through the eleven studio releases in that period, as well as covering additional tracks associated with those albums. He also has a chapter on the welter of bootlegs (official and unofficial) that has followed Dylan through his career.
Goodwin starts with an excellent, short introduction. Fleshing out the origins of the Dylan persona. A persona that is slippery and hard to pin-down fully. He is a character that evolved through a lot of self-mythologising. Goodwin tries hard with the unenviable task of trying 'to unravel the man from the myth' but it is near impossible to find a complete solution to this conundrum.
There is little connection between Dylan's music and progressive rock, as his focus was and is on blues, r&b, folk, 1950s rock'n'roll and the American song book. However, arguably, there is a link between his masterful lyrical wordplay, and in his opening-out frol the three-minute straight-jacket of popular music.
From the release of Like A Rolling Stone, a 6 minute 11 second single, the world of popular music rapidly began to blossom and become more complex. Witness the change in The Beatles, who, influenced by Dylan, moved from their rock'n'roll and pop to (four years or so later) releasing Strawberry Fields Forever and more.
Dylan's lyrics may have had an influence on prog-rock in that I can't imagine the flights of wordsmithery of Jon Anderson in Yes, nor the prose poems of Peter Hammill's solo and with Van Der Graaf Generator, without the freedom afforded by the general changes in popular music, helped in no small way by Dylan.
Goodwin gives a readable and concise take on Dylan's music, not hiding his fandom, nor so blinkered that he can't criticise the poor albums Dylan released in the last years of the 1960s. If you want to dip into Dylan, but don't know where to start, then Opher Goodwin's On Track...Bob Dylan 1962 to 1970 is a great roadmap to the commencement and growth of the Dylan enigma.
Jay Graboski — Authentic Fake
American composer and multi-instrumentalist Jay Graboski enjoys some fame as a founding member of OHO, a Baltimore-based progressive rock band. As one of America's best-kept underground secrets they, since their 1970 founding, have so far released nine albums (if I did my research correctly). Ahora from 2022 was their most recent effort. Next to this, Graboski has been active in a host of obscure bands (Little Hans, Grok, Darkside, Unyflow), playing mostly a mixture of psychedelic rock, prog, new-wave and folk-rock. He now presents his first solo album, Authentic Fake.
Assisted by numerous guests and recorded over a period of eight years the album includes The Dagger Chandelier EP as an added bonus. The origins of this EP are unknown to me, but I'm actually a complete stranger towards Graboski's efforts in whatever form. Which makes the eclectic collection captured on Authentic Fake all the more interesting.
Next to originals, the collection of well-arranged songs contains various reworked OHO-songs (I presume based on Dot On Your Door and Cosmos Of The Soul). Each in their own unique way demonstrate Graboski has a knack for concise, multi-styled songwriting. Most of these songs are blues-based and tend to lean towards the psychedelic, folk and classic rock, spiced with occasional outings of prog.
Opener In Dotage for instance brings a healthy dose of shimmering psychedelic rock melodies in likeness of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd to which delightful howling raw guitar work brings images of Spirit while glimpses of Wishbone Ash shine through in the melodic guitar parts.
The sensitive melancholics of Hidden Agenda, a tender singer/songwriter composition with fine harmonies, adds a smooth Country touch, much like Frog Legs which hops vividly through Kentucky Country as violin brings flavours somewhat reminding of Pavlov's Dog. Amidst this the rock orientated Out On A Limb gets to spice things up with bar-room piano work and rhythmic pace changing oddness, while The Hours, originally an Oho composition, mines into jazz-inspired melodies elegantly shaped by horns and sophisticated piano play; as if played by a small big band ensemble. Percussion in the final stage of the song manages to give it an additional stylish worldly appeal as well, and digging deeper into these songs one would enjoy hours of dissecting fun.
The same goes for songs like The Witness Watchers, a rocking proto-pomp composition with excellent distorted guitar work and a surprisingly curious Comedy Of Errors-like feel.
Songs shimmering with darkness like The Doomed Princess and St. Judas ring similar, albeit more contemporary, bells, as does the piano melodies in Die Before You Die and the various horn sections within Cosmos Of The Soul.
I realise this won't apply to everyone, but for those up to the challenge and on the look-out for something outside their usual prog box, Authentic Fake's surprising pleasantries may well be worth your while. They certainly were, and still are, to me.
Life On Mars — Shadows In A Jar
Life On Mars is the name under which songwriter Earl Kayoos and multi-instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo operate, and Shadows In A Jar is their sixth album together. (The release date is November 18, so you will not see the album on Bandcamp at the time this review is published.)
For this new effort they have some guests, among which is a name that may ring a bell: Billy Sherwood. He sings, plays bass and drums on the song After All. But honestly, with all respect to Mr. Sherwood, the song does not really stand out. Not listed as a guest is Ruti Celli, who sings in the next song called Technology. Not spectacular, but the female vocals do add something different. The other guest in the credits is drummer Denny Selwell, who I discovered used to play with Paul McCartney and Wings. Again no better news for the song, She's Already Gone, in which he participates.
Having some recognisable names on an album might have a bigger impact. I don't know if that was the goal, but in this case the bigger names aren't necessarily anything special to the music of Life On Mars. Maybe it was not because of the names, maybe they are good friends with the band — also possible.
Leaving the facts and moving on to the subjective side of highlighting the good and bad points, I'm afraid I am having a hard time. This album has left me as I was at the beginning. It has been a rather neutral experience. I do hate having to write this conclusion but this is what I have felt listen after listen.
Shadows In A Jar has thirteen songs in which the main style you will find is rock, classic rock in fact, and soft classic rock in the slower tracks. No real progressive arrangements or complex structures. Some Bowie vibes in Nancy´s Finger and some Roger Waters touches here and then, as in the song Rabbits. I have also found some vocal similarities with Mr. Waters in Earl's singing.
So sadly Shadows In A Jar is not album for me. But I encourage our thousands of readers to listen to the album and judge it for themselves. I'm pretty sure some of you will enjoy it.
Robert Schroeder — Into The Light
EM pioneer Robert Schroeder, prolifically active since 1979, is one of those artists who seem to be blessed with infinite inspiration. Following on from his fine efforts Pyroclast, Spaces Of A Dream and Floating Music's re-release, he is now on his 45th solo album, taking his audience on a new spiritual journey towards enlightenment.
Opening slightly-psychedelic, as if waking up from a disturbing dream, Into The Light instantly creates a divine awareness of flight towards the first stage, as enchanting Pink Floyd-ian synth waves replenish the senses with warmth, while echoes of space evoke feelings of perfect floatation in higher New Age inspired spheres. The song's meditative lyrics ('Feel the Sun, Ease your body') emphasise this and have the effect of transporting me into ultimate Zen. Subsequent percussive tribal elements and dreamy Berliner Schüle-styled EM, successfully convey me back to reality, and the calming romantics of Transition To Freedom.
Relaxing synth patterns shine bright with ambient luminosity, albeit less radiant and memorable than Into The Light. Traffic Beach announces the next evolutionary step by comfortably landing ashore on an imaginary holiday destination, complemented by environmental sounds, returning nightmarish seagull squeaks, and sequenced beats. A breeze of Jean Michel Jarre and the vastness of gothic Mellotron cools this phase into a peaceful experiences. Then a splashing of oceanic waves opens into harmonic melodies with echoes of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream in Out Of The Dark.
Rhythmic textural visions of Enigma in The Sense Of Dreaming and a delicately-arranged emotional embrace in Enlightment then keep the natural flow of the Schroeder's concept going. Finally, Solar Flares completes Schroeder's ascension with a gently-spinning centrifuge of hypnotic melodies. Elements of Alan Parsons provide tranquility. It is a satisfying finalé to an entertaining musical vision.
Overall, Schroeder's soothingly relaxing soundscapes show his creative flame still shines bright and fans of his work, as well as EM enthusiasts in general, can add Into The Light to their collection with complete peace of mind.
The Spectre Beneath — The Ashen Child
The Spectre Beneath hail from Runcorn, England, and is a new name to me. After two previous albums, the band hit a crossroads when their singer had to quit due to medical problems. However, new singer, known as just "Stevie", came forward with the ability to bring a collection of new songs alive, and the result is The Ashen Child, released independently.
The foundation of the band is provided by founding members Pete Worrall (guitar/bass/piano) and Consta Taylor on drums. Katy Lennon adds backing vocals.
The first thing to talk about is the singer. Wow! Just one word is enough. Wow! Stevie's voice has the power for metal but with a bluesy/soul touch that is a little unusual. Probably because most female singers with this style go for pop/soul or maybe pop-rock. But it really fits the music here too.
This six-track mini album is an effective slice of modern prog-power metal. Standout track is the belting Refuse of the Past. Try out the official video. It is based on and contains voice samples from the 1971 film The Omega Man. It's a pretty direct, high energy song that reminds me of many of the bands that were around when prog-power metal was at its peak in the early 00s.
The more atmospheric Time Dilation shows another side of the band (see video below). Most of the tracks stretch past the six-minute mark which allows the trio to explore some different dynamics and their more proggy side. A band to keep an eye on.
Starer — Wind, Breeze, Or Breath
Josh Hines, better known under the moniker Starer, has been producing a blend of symphonic black metal for the last three years. After thoroughly enjoying Remorse Defines Me, I was keen to hear what the next offering is like; and so we come to Wind, Breeze, or Breath.
My first thought is that the black-gaze elements are gone, replaced with ferocious drumming and a solid fortress of guitars and synths, to create a heavy and bleak wall. The music is contained in seven perfectly crafted movements. Blast beats and tremolos are everywhere, in some of Hines's best writing to date.
Having built upon the sound of the previous releases, Hines has managed to combine the best elements to release an album that shows the strength of Starer's sound, of his talent as a musician and mixer, and of a maturation of the style. Onslaughts of black metal meld with the black'n'roll moments when the groove comes in, such as during the later half of Crossing.
In a genre that is be-set on all sides by musicians riding on being "edgy" or "dangerous" and trying too hard to look and sound "evil" or aligning with far right ideologies, it is a breath of fresh air to have a chunk of unpretentious and good quality underground black metal. The synths and symphonic elements are in balance with the rest of the music. They add depth and textures, but never becomr over-bearing like some contemporary groups have allowed. Witnessing is a perfect example of this, where the synths take a more leading role, but still stay in check.
Groove, gaze and atmospherics are all present here, with each style coming into its own when coupled with the overlying black metal.
Fans of Enslaved, Panopticon and Dawn Ray'd should have a listen to this.
Stigma — First Call
This is the second EP / mini album by German hard-rock band First Call. It offers five well-produced and played compositions that will appeal to fans of melodic hard rock like VandenBerg. It's slightly heavier than the classic hard rock of the 80s. The dual guitars add a nice extra melodic layer, bordering on heavy metal during some instrumental sections. This elevates this from being a tribute band and gives the music a modern touch. The songwriting is also adding enough variation, bringing in influences from Magnum.
It's not the type of music you would expect very clever lyrics telling long stories, but some choruses could use a little bit more variation or less cheesy rhyming. The vocals are quite high in the mix, so this becomes pretty clear. You could say it does fit the musical style, as does the production, which is clear and very good. I guess it can be kind of a party, attending Stigma live.
If besides your dose of prog you listen to VandenBerg, Magnum or even AC/DC and Bon Jovi, this might be right up your alley.
Wegferend — En Autremonde - Chapitre Second
After a 25-minute EP telling the first chapter back in 2019, this is the second part of En Autremonde (An Other World) by French group Wegferend. And a curious group it is, comprised of Alexia Cazaméa, Manon Cazaméa, and Thomas Boissier, on vocals, recorders, and a combination of acoustic string and percussion instruments. Jeff Grimal on guitar and Pierre Burette on cello are on tracks 4 and 7 respectively.
So, what is this doing here on DPRP?
Their own description is "neo-folk, trad, metal, prog". I find it hard to apply any of those labels. Medieval sounds on possibly medieval instruments, and a gothic atmosphere (or am I mixing up eras here?). A tendency towards a darker or mysterious atmosphere, is perhaps an influence from metal, and it provides an element that I prefer in music.
Well, there is neo-folk. I hear a link to Loreena McKennit, who has been covered here on DPRP.net in the past. Folk is present in several bands loved by prog audiences — think of Forever Autumn or Renaissance. Fans of Iamthemorning should also have a listen.
The album is full of beautiful melodies and well-built compositions that are well-performed with heart and soul. The production is super-clear, and with a limited number of instruments, the overall sound is still quite full. The cello in the final track is a marvellous addition to the sound.