Flor de Loto — Lines Of Nasca
Flor de Loto return in 2023 with their eighth studio album, one that sees them continue their familiar format of progressive-metal meets AOR meets folk-rock. From the opening sections of Empire Made Of Glass, the band kick their innings off with a rollicking song that bounces along nicely and lets the listener know they need to pay attention.
The band features Alonso Herrera (vocals, guitar), Gabriel Iwasaki (keyboards), Alvaro Escobar (drums), Alejandro Jarrin (bass) and Sergio Checho Cuadros (quena - Andean flute).
As if following an obligatory requirement for any band from Peru, the band also call on the sonic beauty of the quena, a chromatic instrument that sounds like your typical panpipes. This is featured on a few songs but initially on Nazca Lines, which also includes some predictable double bass drum-pummelling. I find that inclusion a little overdone unless accompanied by some decent double triplets where appropriate. That ability, when done very well can really make a difference but again, there are many great drummers today who are brilliant exponents of the craft. Gavin Harrison and Mike Portnoy are two examples of modern drummers who excel at that flourish but as a former drummer myself, I always smile when hearing sections like that done really well. Despite that, the band certainly have a great impact in the ethnic musical department where these features are on prominent display. And that is exactly what makes the band's latest album so easy to enjoy.
With extensive use of the flute, you might think that Jethro Tull or Focus would be called upon as an influence. While I have no proof of such fact, I do detect a few occasions where there can be no denying the impact that instrument makes within the songs in which they are featured.
For the most part, the flute sections are amongst the most dynamic I have heard from a band from South America in many years. I also hear some similarities with a Spanish band called Heroes del Silencio who released four excellent studio rock albums between 1988 and 1995 before disbanding a year later. Any of their last three albums, featuring some dynamic guitar work, will have you convinced.
One of the consistent features of this band is their excellent graphic ability with their album covers. They often feature a somewhat hypnotic, trippy style of cover that hearkens back to the psychedelic period of the late 60s, although the music does not follow that route. For this album however, the cover features an alien type of landscape with an overlay of the Lines of Nasca. This admittedly makes for an unexpected departure from what has gone before.
The songwriting is pretty consistent throughout the album's 42-minute duration but with only seven songs on offer, the album finishes before you know it. While an album of this duration is quite normal and perfectly acceptable, I guess when you are enjoying the journey so much, you'd like to keep it going for a little while longer.
The guitar work is also great and is underpinned by the flute which allows those songs to really shine, and brings those essential elements to the fore when they are featured. On the title song, I also hear a vague resemblance to James LaBrie on vocals, but that is short-lived when the song gets fully under way.
While I am not hearing anything outrageously new that I haven't heard from the band before, what I do find enjoyable is the great singing and guitars, with some pretty solid song-smithing a welcome bonus. Nice work guys.
Godsticks — This Is What A Winner Looks Like
Godsticks have always been an interesting proposition, occasionally edging on some prog-metal aesthetics while retaining a personality of their own, not the least thanks to Darran Charles' distinctive, idiosyncratic vocals and unconventional guitar styling.
Their latest release, the wonderfully titled This Is What A Winner Looks Like (apparently like a monkey, judging by the cover), displays their trademark, tight playing and a hard-hitting rhythm section to boot, courtesy of bassist Dan Nelson and drummer Tom Price. Tracks like opener If I Don't Take it All or the intense Throne are good examples of the band's punchiness, while cuts like the closer, Wake Up, feature their equally-defining melancholic, sombre tone.
The songwriting is more concise and streamlined on this release than ever before, but unfortunately it also can feel flat, and dare I say it, monotonous at times. So for those looking for more complex structures or intricate passages, I'd refer you to previous albums such as Emergence (2015) or Faced With Rage (2017). One thing, though that has caught my ear, are the codas that accompany a few of the songs and add an extra beautiful, sometimes-intriguing dimension to them. I'd certainly encourage the band to further explore these guitar and keyboard textures to enrich their sound and perhaps make it more diverse.
As is customary with the KScope roster, Godsticks might not be your average prog-metal band, but they always have interesting things to say. In any case, hopefully this new release will pique your curiosity to discover this very good band, who might be just missing that extra something to play in the major league, but certainly deserve so.
Pinn Dropp — Live In Łódź
Last time that I reviewed a release from Pinn Drop, I risked some crystal-ball gazing of my own and assumed that that EP was just a needed breather before the next full-blown studio release.
Is there something fogging-up my crystal-ball, as my prophecy skills leave much to be desired. We have arrived in 2023 with a new release from Pinn Dropp, and ... it's a live album. The Poles did a show in Łódź in April 2022, during the Marillion weekend, shortly after Calling From Some Far Forgotten Land had been released. So much for my career in foreseeing events to come.
Anyway, back to our heroes. Those prog-heads who are keeping track of this band's development would instantly guess the content by the cover; a much familiar firebird holding a much familiar moth in its beak. Indeed, the set-list is a mixture of the band's debut Perfectly Flawed and the most-recent EP; five and four songs taken from each release respectively. The most noteable change in the line-up is Kuba Mikulski replacing Jake Aubrey on the drum stool.
I am not sure whether it's just my impression, but on Live In Łódź Pinn Dropp sounds less heavy than in the studio, leaning on the neo-prog side rather than on the metallic aspects. As a wholesome entity, the band sounds quite confident, delivering the recognisable romantic sound, which there's no escaping compares much with Riverside and Quidam, but also to bands like Kyros and Anubis. The audio-scene provides enough room for every instrument to be discernible. The simple fact that you can well hear the duo of acoustic and electric guitar should speak for itself.
Vocalist Mateusz Jagiello at times nails the vocal lines impeccably (check the longest and one of the most dynamic tracks Cyclothymia, for instance, from the YouTube link below), and at times sounds a tad out-of-tune. It is generally fine with me, because live singing requires an incredible amount of effort, especially with the complex vocal lines used here.
Live In Łódź may not be the best entry-point for newcomers (Perfectly Flawed still is). However, with the impacts of COVID and the drastic political situation, it brings me nothing but joy to see bands making live albums, especially young bands. For a long time I preferred noting studio works of bands I listen to, but now it looks like concert shows are of no less importance.
To sum it up in a few words, this album has: some modest interaction with audience; rawness of live concert presence; a violin. This album does not have: a headbanger opener; a Marillion cover; new songs.
Resistor — Illuminator
Unbelievably, Resistor have been around for 15 years and celebrate their decade-and-a-half of music-making with their seventh full-length studio album Illuminator. Add to that two live albums and a 40-minute EP, and you have a not inconsiderable level of output from the quartet, unchanged since their formation, of Barry Farrands (drums, backing vocals), Fran Turner (guitars in the left channel), Steve Unruh (vocals, violins, guitars in the right channel) and Rob Winslow (bass). All four also hold down full-time careers and Mr. Unruh is rapidly becoming the master prog-sideman having had major involvement in three other top quality albums released this year by UPF, Unitopia and The Samurai Of Prog.
As regular DPRP readers will know, I am a huge fan of Resistor and the inimitable Mr. Unruh and this latest offering doesn't disappoint at all.
The album starts with Bonfire. Solid, chunky guitar riffs, a verse and a scorching violin solo seem to make up the entire song that wraps up in 200 seconds. But you'd be mistaken, as a moody and atmospheric guitar is gradually joined by bass, drums and voice, ramping up to the return of the main melody culminating in a grandiose dramatic flourish.
The opening of The Illuminator features a perfect, high-pitched note; the purity of which has not been heard since Sad Wings Of Destiny-era Judas Priest. In fact, the vocals are quite reminiscent of Rob Halford throughout the track, while some of the guitar bits bring to mind Led Zeppelin around the time of Presence. The song also features a great chorus, that cleverly adds a second vocal line underneath the main line to great effect; something I don't believe the band has ever done before. And as we have all been good boys and girls Mr. Halford makes a parting appearance to see us on our way.
In case one is concerned that Resistor have gone heavy metal, then Serendipity is rather more restrained. Great vocals and harmonies, and a time signature shift that is as unexpected as it is surprising. The song delivers in spades. Unruh's violin solo is a highlight and blends well with the lead guitar work.
Surprisingly, the album doesn't feature any flute. This is understandable on the heavier tracks but one might have expected the instrument to feature on one of the two instrumental pieces that follow. A flute/violin combination would have worked well on The Great Deep, although that may have been considered a bit overpowering considering the strength of the piece is in the two guitarists contributing different parts into the mix. You should listen on headphones to experience the best of what this track has to offer.
Shelter Pelter is a delightful number that shows how well the four musicians interact. It is a straightforward two guitars, bass and drums romp with each guitarist reeling off solos that shine with individuality.
Halfway through the album and only two tracks remain, which must mean we are into epic territory.
The first third of Kaleidoscopic serves as warm-up, with the band sounding like they are enjoying themselves; getting into a groove. A double-tracked violin solo leads into a veritable smorgasbord of different styles that keeps one guessing as to what might be coming next. Despite the variation, it all seems to make sense and flows along smoothly. I guess it must be a bugger to play live.
Last up is The Illusion Of Understanding. The 'unrelenting metronome' of the lyric is mirrored by the persistent chug of the guitar riff. An exercise in restraint, the piece gradually urges forward with the constant threat of breaking out into fury. The anticipation is almost brutal. When relief from the riffing does come, at about the six-minute mark, it is not with an epic electrified guitar solo but with a sedate section where Unruh really impresses with his vocals and violin playing, not to mention the impressive lyric. When the guitar solo comes, it is also rather restrained and with a lovely tone. In fact the production on the album is top-notch with the drum tone being a particular delight. Not wanting to end quietly, the band rally, only to give way to the end being played out by the guitar metronome.
This is a fine album by a band that don't restrict themselves to a formula, but are free to go where the muse takes them. The areas they reach and explore, are mighty fine indeed.