Il Bacio della Medusa — Imilla
As a massive fan of just about any style of progressive rock music from Italy, I am rarely disappointed by much of the great sounds that emanate from that corner of the globe. Il Bacio della Medusa are no exception as I have found most of their albums to certainly be worthy of further attention.
This is the band's fifth official studio release and whilst not quite gaining the overall level of excellence found on their 2nd album, it is still filled with many adventurous and engaging songs to whet most appetites. Sadly, the soulful sounds from Daniel Rinchi on flute are gone as is Simone Brozzetti whose excellent guitar work graced the credits list on a few of the band's middle era albums. That leaves us with the main core of the band as Simone Cecchini (vocals), Diego Petrini (drums & percussion, keyboards), Federico Caprai (bass), Andrea Morelli (guitar) and Eva Morelli (flute, saxophones).
The main impact one will discover with this band is the consistent quality of Simone Cecchini's voice. He has a talent for combining the often gruff impact needed for the more aggressive songs while quickly altering course and utilising the more emotional effects of his voice when required. He may sound like Roger Chapman from Family in some sections while quickly adopting a more familiar style as used by bands such as PFM, Banco, Acqua Fragile, Maxophone and others as they tend to utilise a more accessible approach. This is certainly not a detraction from the music as his style fits the band's modus operandi perfectly.
The other pleasing discovery I find with the new album is that most songs sound totally different to the one preceding it. The band fire up on all cylinders and give us a great song that would not be out of place on a King Crimson album as they deliver a 21st Century Schizoid Man style of track. Amburgo 1 Aprile 71 pays direct homage to Robert Fripp and family quite well methinks. Moments later, the band engage in a somewhat reggae styled, 10cc sound on Dentro Monika Qualosa Non Va only to use reflective flute and emotive vocals to give us that classic 70's styled take on progressive rock. This is all nicely underpinned by the regular biting sounds of the guitar with great back up from the rhythm section.
There is much to enjoy here as the band have definitely evolved well over time and keep creating music that just keeps on giving time after time. Apart from the bands mentioned earlier, this latest effort would suit those whose musical tastes tie in with other bands such as Anglagard, Deus Ex Machina, Osanna, La Maschera Di Cera, Germinale, PFM, Cervello, Delirium, Museo Rosenbach, Biglietto per L'inferno, Panna Fredda, Semiramis, Buon Vecchio Charlie, Cherry Five, Il Rovesio della Medaglia, Ibis, Formula 3 or Arti & Mestieri.
This album blends many crucial facets of dark, brooding symphonic rock with some harder-edged and jazzy influences that helped elevate progressive rock throughout the 70s. The band possesses that retro sound in places, yet carves its name deeply into the modern sound of today, and they do it so convincingly. While not quite reaching minor masterpiece status as the 2nd album did this is still a worthy addition to their catalogue and one I am pleased to have acquired. Great work guys!
The Color Of Rain — Oceans Above
"TCOR is a sonic exploration of the cosmos, with compositions that take you far away from the dreadful nothingness that we call existence" is an expressive way to describe an album, but that is exactly how the Netherland's The Color Of Rain are described. After the world's collective despair during the pandemic, Gerhans Meulenbeld was inspired to create this album, and along with Floris Velthuis and Devi Hisgen, here we have the debut album.
Cult Of The Cosmic Flood starts off with, as mentioned, some sonic exploration in the form of blast beats, screamed harsh vocals and blistering tremolos melding together before a clean but still dark and harsh bridge follows. This harsh wall of black metal (almost blackened death) and softer, yet menacing passages continues through Corrosion Of The Flesh. Track 3 lands with the atmospheric post-black track of Oceans Above. With a build similar to that of a Harakiri For The Sky track, this one sticks as a favourite. Raw and heavy, but with a tinge of melancholia. Rounding off side 1 we are left with Guiding Lights To Eden. The longest track here at a second shy of 6 minutes, and it makes full use of them. The ominous intro leads into more post-black riffing with a sense of aggressive despair thrown in.
Translucence kicks side 2 off with more of the "blackgaze on speed" vibe. Rapid drumming and guitar work interlink with the harsh and clean vocals, always flying between aggression and desperation.Speaking of the cosmos, Pillars Of Creation follows. Given the nature and astronomical wonder of the track's namesake, there is a high bar set here. Here we have a more focused black metal track, with a focus on riffs, jagged textures and relentless drums. Second to last, Urban Misanthropy rears it's head. Continuing the harakiri style, more post and prog layers are added over the constant stream of double bass. A true masterpiece that balances the fine act of a sense of loss with furious passion. Finally, Darkness Cloaks The Cradle as we end the album. By this point, the style of the track won't surprise you. It is heavy, despairing, foreboding, and full of anguish and blast beats. Just how I like my music.
For a debut album, I am suitably impressed. The contrast between the intense and frantic metal sections, and the softer more atmospheric areas laden with menace is well crafted. And despite all the tracks having a fairly similar sound and following almost in a continuation of the previous, it never gets boring or repetitive. I look forward to the next one.
Fans of Harakiri For The Sky, Ellende, Fen and angry Alcest fans would likely enjoy this.
Course Of fate — Cognizance
In the long run-up to their excellent 2020 debut album Mindweaver, Course Of Fate released a four track EP Cognizance in 2013. Unavailable for many years, this EP, on its tenth anniversary, is now freshly re-issued with updated artwork. Thankfully, because from the first moment on fans of their debut, of which I am admittedly one are extremely well catered for.
Wasting no time, the EP blasts off with Paralyzed Mind that at first expresses in fierce dynamic Vanden Plas style. It shifts towards a more traditional heavy metal approach that shares a likeness to Iron Maiden meets All My Shadows. Emphasized by delightful twin guitar melodies and blistering executions it then soars past synth fireworks that "awake" a sense of Dream Theater, enters aggressive power prog-metal in likeness of Pagan's Mind, and finally revisits the song's appetising chorus before a final exciting synth run rounds off this ravishing opener.
Played as if their lives depended on it, The Last Day adds contagiously engaging melodic metal to this, dashing delectably onwards with an apocalyptic Shy drive regaled with late 80s Iron Maiden boldness. A short musical journey into AOR-frontiers that amongst others ignites visions of Jester, this equally thrilling composition ends with razor-sharp guitar solos and engraves wonderful memories of Bagheera's EP Silence At Romney Marsh onto me.
This striking imprint also strongly comes into play in Perpetual Entity, when after its Queensrÿche intro, strengthened by Eivind Gunnesen's emotional vocal resemblance to Geoff Tate, metal riffs take hold of the melodies. Building layers with ghoulish synths, the spirited melodies then tower towards an intricate bridge that resonates repeatedly with early progressive Queensrÿche.
As a splendid illustration of COF's promise, these songs demonstrates that various elements perfected on Mindweaver, such as melody, depth of songwriting, and instrumental prowess, are beautifully in place on this EP as well. A view that's strengthened by the astounding grandeur of Premonition. Surpassing all, this brilliant track can be seen as the perfect taster of things to come and comes awfully close to Mindweaver's sublime song material. Beautiful harmonies and choirs it brings epic atmospheres and guitar sounds that distinctively remind of Queensrÿche's masterpieces. It flows naturally from start to finish, and offers playful dynamics twisting and turning through alternating moods, showing impressions of Dream Theater and (again) Bagheera.
In a way, Course Of Fate's analogy with Bagheera doesn't end there. Like them, their EP shows massive potential and promise and both would go on to release masterpieces of their own soon after. Unlike Bagheera, who soon folded after their magnificent Door To Deliverance (reunion anyone?), Course Of Fate however have released a sophomore album Somnium at the same time as this EP re-issue, and their future is bright as day.
All of the above brings me to the conclusion that this highly recommendable EP is an essential purchase for those who cherish and adore Course of Fate's debut, and a must-hear for those in possession of prog metal veins. Especially if these throb with admiration for the progressive side of Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Iron Maiden.
Free Human Zoo — The Mysterious Island
I fell in love with the island, it was imaginary.
The mysterious sunsets, the spectacular waves, the verdant scrub.
The tinkling of the spade on scattered stones; a solitary tear through the smile of an eye.
It was just an illusion, I sit and watch them fade, watch them fade.
Free Human Zoo's latest album takes its primary inspiration from Jules Verne's Mysterious Island and from Friday, or The Other Island (French: Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique), a 1967 novel created by French writer Michel Tournier. It retells Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. However, in Tournier's novel, the book is centred on Crusoe's attempt to control nature and how overtime his interaction with Friday, leads him to see that his outlook on life is not necessarily accurate, or the only one and that Friday has many things to teach him.
Reflecting on this aspect of Tournier's novel helped me consider something my son recently said to me before leaving the UK to hike in Nepal.
There's things to be learned. And things to be taught.
Be kind. Show that kindness can travel a thousand miles.
Be curious. Ask questions and have thoughts.
There's little events that displace things and make them different. Or not the same.
Things change. And there is a poetry in all those differences. And a brightness in all of that.
-- Alun Davies
Indeed, there is a delightful musical poetry at play in The Mysterious Island. An enchanting glowing aura shines through the bands delightful re-sculpting of several gorgeous melodies penned by the renowned Italian composer Gianni Ferrio. Ferrio originally wrote these in 1973 as a soundtrack for the film L'isola misteriosa e il capitano Nemo.
These interpretations occupy six of the albums fourteen pieces; namely the four parts of L'isola Misteriosa, Les mouettes de l'île and La nef des hommes de l'ombre. Beautiful sung passages delicately weave an enchanting melodic web during much of L'isola misteriosa.
However, the bulk of the album is taken up, by what might be considered, to be a continuous piece of music composed by band leader Gilles Le Rest, that is divided into six tracks. This suite begins with L'Essentielle Ascension and ends with Ton nom est personne, although thematic remnants of it carry on into the beginning of Les mouettes de l'île.
The album is bookmarked by spoken word elements in Incipit and Ecipit, where some words from Verne's novel apparently form a part of the narrative. In this way, the album has three distinctive components and these parts certainly have identifiable stylistic traits. Overall, this makes for a fascinating mixture of music that over the course of the album touches many different moods,dynamic shifts, colours, and tempos.
In the section of the release that begins with L'essentielle ascension, resonant bass lines bounce, vibrate, and linger. Outstanding drumming, pop-eyed sax solos, poker-red guitar pyrotechnics and a goose-bump inducing bout of breathy flute, all have a part to play in the relentless repetitive frenzy of the Magma and Zeuhl influenced suite. It is an utterly compelling experience!
During Excipit which is the final track, several Avante touches are given an opportunity to take root. The spoken word elements, and various sound effects, are doubtless, bound to challenge, puzzle, and question a whole range of musical preconceptions.
There are numerous highlights in parts 1 - 4 of L'isola misteriosa. The vocal talents of Marie-Caroline Revranche and Stella Vander act as a perfect platform to carry and extend the reach of the tunes gorgeous melodic core. The lyrics are in French, and no doubt have an important message to convey. However, the tone and way they are delivered, more than makes up for any inability to fully understand and appreciate what was being said.
The four parts of this tune simply drip with emotion and have a timeless appeal that only the fragility and warmth of a human voice can convey. A male voice joins the wonderfully expressed female vocals in part 2. This works well and offers a different set of timbres to this lovely piece of music. Whilst L'isola misteriosa is a delicate and lightly wrapped piece, it is not all about the performance of the singers. Although vocals carry the melody, the four parts contain some finely refined accompaniments from the other members of the band.
Guitarist Alexis Delva's outstanding choice of pure sustained tones in part 1 transports the music to other worldly realms. Similarly, the carefully chosen double bass lines of Béla Bluche provide part 3 with much of its gloriously relaxed sense of space and time. L'isola misteriosa - part 3 is certainly a tune that stays stamped indelibly on the senses long after its subtle tones dissipate.
The section of the album that begins with L'essentielle ascension builds upon the rhythmic pull and energetic style that was such an important component of the bands previous release. However, the lengthy and stunning lip-biting guitar solo that is prominent in the excellent Premiers Craquements offers an extra special ingredient to the bands kaleidoscopic palette of sound. For many listeners, Delva's glorious solo will undoubtedly be the standout passage in this group of tunes.
This suite of music irrefutably develops Free Human Zoo's gratifying combination of the zest of Zeuhl, a smattering of the rawness of rock, and the joyful exuberance of progressive jazz.
One of the trademarks of the bands approach is their willingness to lay down an inviting rhythm with repeated phrases and memorable motifs and then extract every possibility from these over the course of a composition. In this respect, there is a restless relentlessness apparent in the recurring rhythms, and exuberant energy that overflows in several directions during the suites stormy wash of sounds. The influence of Magma can be clearly discerned on several occasions.
Nevertheless, Free Human Zoo, have managed to create their very own and easily recognisable brand of Zeuhl influenced music. The series of tunes that begin with L'essentielle ascension work superbly well and encapsulate all that is fascinating about Free Human Zoo's approach to their art. They are unique, dynamic, utterly compelling, and captivating.
The highlight of the album is undoubtedly Les vasques d'eau turquoise. It has numerous elements that ensure neck hairs stiffen and quiver with delight. The performance by all the band members is simply wonderful. Nevertheless, special mention must be made of the contributions of bassist, Bluche, flautist Jocelyn Mienniel and sax player Matthieu Metzger. At various points, they all have prominent solos. These are superbly constructed and impress in distinctive ways.
Bluche's rich deep bass tone, fills the spaces in an excellent manner and his carefully constructed solo allows a pause for reflection. It skilfully offers change of direction from the boisterous twisting rhythms and recurring phrases that are a feature of the suite.
I have always had a soft spot for aggressive breathy flute and Miennel's contribution is outstanding. It is probably one of my favourite flute parts in any release that I have heard. Its furious, powerful, molten in its intensity and is downright brilliant.
Les vasques d'eau turquoise is dedicated to Cameroonian saxophone player Manu Dibango and certainly as the piece rattles towards its conclusion, supported by some lively piano work, Metzger blows vigorously in a cheek puffing display of reedy virtuosity.
The album has great sonic qualities. Every instrument has a clear and distinct place in the mix. The packaging of the CD is also striking. The artwork is colourful and bold and the sleeve notes written in French in a beautifully illustrated booklet appear to be very comprehensive.
I have grown to appreciate this release even more, over time. It continues to offer new things to discover and enjoy
I have not even mentioned some of the other things that make this album so endearing such as, the offbeat scat vocals of Ton nom est personne and the fine drum passage that concludes the spacious and uplifting Les mouettes de l'île (I gabbiani dell'i'sola).
In case you are in any doubt, I fully recommend this hugely enjoyable album to anybody who wishes to experience something that has its own unique mix of flavours and displays many different characteristics.
By way of conclusion, I guess that all that is left for me to say is this:
I fell in love with Free Human Zoo's The Mysterious Island; it was not imaginary.
The magnificent vocals, the sweeping compositions, the vivid performances.
It was not an illusion, I sit and hear things, that will never fade; never fade!
Sherinian/Phillips — Live
This is a collection of – ahem – lively jazz fusion and prog rock from master sticks-smith Simon Phillips (Toto, Hiromi Trio Project, etc.) and all-round keyboard wizard Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Sons Of Apollo). Sherinian/ Phillips Live was recorded at The Grape in Ventura, California in 2022. Helping the duo out were the jazz bass of Ric Fierabracci (Chick Corea, Billy Cobham), with the insistent, impish double-necked guitar of Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (Guns 'N Roses and solo).
As you would expect from artists with this much experience, Live sounds truly alive, with a great mix and high production values. Each instrumental line is clear, and I suspect this may sound better than the live desk mix at the gig, as they power through a combination of prog rock and jazz fusion on these instrumental tunes. The tracks in the main come from Sherinian's back catalogue, on which Simon Phillips contributed drums, writing and production.
I found as a whole listen that this album was rather relentless, consistently powering on. But when I listened to the tracks individually and allowed some breathing space between them, I enjoyed this a lot more. Listening individually also made me appreciate how melodic the songs are, so much so, that you end up humming them at unexpected moments in the day. It's not all flash bang wallop.
The album gets into gear immediately with the synth heavy, furious fusion boogie of The Vortex. The boogie disappears but the fusion stays for Empyrean Sky, all funky bass and drums, with a crunchy organ solo. Much of the album follows this pattern, and it begins to pull together well on repeated plays.
My favourite tracks are the two longer, proggier ones where some of the fusion is dialled back, especially the hard-edged guitar. Bumblefoot creates a guitar soundscape to introduce Temple Of Helios when the synths, organ and electric piano funk take over. It reminds me of a lost take from the first Todd Rundgren's Utopia album from the mid-seventies. My other favourite is the encore. Aurora Australis opens with neoclassical piano before the full band come in moving through prog and fusion sections that are a joy before it winds back down with a piano coda. It encapsulates everything good on this album, from the stellar drumming, lithe and fluent bass, the multiplicity of keyboards and the often-intense guitar work.
For a first encounter with Sherinian/ Phillips, Live was a bit of a mixed blessing as I found the relentlessness of the live setting a bit overwhelming until I slowed it down by listening to the tracks individually. This probably means that this might not be the best place to start with Sherinian/ Phillips' work, but I'm sure it's a must-have for fans.
Spirergy — Aeon
With this release Aeon, we have yet another example of how nowadays producing and recording possibilities can make the work of a single person sound like the one from a fully-fledged band. Spirergy is the project of multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, and producer Dave Allen. On this release, his first full-length album, he plays keyboards, guitars, bass, drums, and assumes the vocals. Information on the man behind this project himself, though, is scarce. The web mentions that he originally hails from Swansea, and is now based in Hoylake, Wirrel in the UK (not too far from his home country, Wales), where he started work on Aeon last year. However, I was not able to find out what he has done in his previous life, musically and otherwise.
With respect to the lyrical content of this release, the web is more informative. Based on the Dave's preferences for sci-fi novels and futuristic films, Aeon takes the listener on a musical voyage to other worlds in distant space and time: the lyrics of the six tracks deal with the vastness of space in general, primitive creatures living on alien planets being discovered by "our" mankind, robots taking steps into consciousness, travellers discovering a distant iced planet, the reality of travelling vast distances through space altogether, and fundamental questions on consciousness.
Concerning the music, quoting Dave Allen: "The music derives from many different influences including bands and artists from the early 1970s through to the present day. I've taken inspiration from groups with distinctive styles, ambitious compositions, experimentation, concept-driven lyrics, and musical virtuosity." So far for the theory — how does that translate to the music we are offered on this release? Let's scrutinise this a little.
Whilst having a distinct retro feel, there certainly is a strong element of the work of contemporary neo-progressive bands in Spirergy's music as well: the work of current peers such as IQ, Jadis, Marillion, Comedy Of Errors, and Different Light instinctively came to my mind already the first time I listened to Aeon. What I associate with neo-progressive rock, i.e., its distinctive style, can be found on this album: symphonic song structures mostly in mid-tempo, large walls of sound, lush keyboards, melodic soloing, catchy melodies.
Discovering similarities to the early seventies bands was a bit of a harder task to me. Some mid-period Genesis, yes, but less sophisticated. It was the predominantly high pitch of Dave Allen's vocals that brought Jon Anderson to my mind after repeated spins. And indeed, music plus vocals bear some resemblance to Yes, not as the sounded in the early seventies, however, but rather comparable to the rockier phase starting in the early eighties (okay: how they might have sounded if Jon Anderson had sung on the releases of that period). The combination of mellow, high-pitched vocals, lush keyboards and some spacy effects ultimately made me think of the French band (founded by two Vietnamese brothers) Tai Phong, who released three albums in the seventies.
The music is ambitious insofar as it shows variety, changes of mood and tempo (with a certain melancholy coming up here and there), poetic and subtle vocals, a good interplay between and balanced role of keyboards and guitar, strong melodies, and efficient but not excessive soloing. What I liked about this album is that Dave Allen, whilst certainly being a multi-talented musician, avoids any unnecessary complexity, l'art-pour-l'art and gallery playing. That makes his music "simple" in the positive way that it becomes accessible and stays fascinating enough not to get bored if listened to from A to Z.
As far as my listening experience is concerned, I considered this album to be affected in some parts by a fluctuating quality of the mix, which sometimes I thought to be sometimes more and sometimes less balanced and dynamic. Even though it is clear that my hearing may have suffered from 50 years of listening to music often too loudly, in some of the tracks I could barely make out the drums among the instruments. Fortunately, that is not happening throughout the entire album or on each track. To me, it appeared in the louder parts where the wall of sounds of the keyboards kicks in and become dominant, a phenomenon which occurs regularly given the neo-prog character of Spirergy's music. This is a bit of a pity, because it means that the songs, which are melodious and catchy by themselves, sometimes come across less dynamic, varied, and punchy as intended and deserved. Especially, the energetic drumming on Endless Skies would have deserved a more drums-friendly mixing, just like the superb second half of Ice Winds, which nonetheless is my favourite track on the album. In contrast, the equally strong song Transit Of Time benefits (among others) from a clearer presence of the drums.
This mixing issue did not prevent me from liking this album, however. It is melodic, accessible, catchy and symphonic, varied, not unduly complex but ambitious enough to keep the listener focussed from beginning to end. Plus, and that has my full respect, it is the result of a single person's musical and songwriting abilities, and not of the combination of various band members' talents. Recommended to lovers of neo-prog with a retro feel (interesting, that "neo/retro" combination), a preference for layered keyboard sounds and melodic soloing. I look forward to Aeon's successor.