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Friday, August 31, 2012

Heart of Cygnus - The Voyage of Jonas

It’s been a while since the new kings of the Power Metal and Prog scenes, Heart of Cygnus have put out another concept album since 2009’s Tales from Outer Space! The reason they were busy because they’ve been putting together another concept album based on the Voyages of Jonas. The music has changed a bit from the time they started out as a duo and researching from science-fiction/fantasy, comic books from the DC and Marvel Universe, and Ayn Rand.

With the sounds of Queen, Iron Maiden, Kansas, early Styx, and Rush in their sound would have finally given Dream Theater a gigantic run of their own money, and from the time of my support in their sound of the Progressive Metal community on how they have finally come in full circle, it is a huge credential they have in their marks. More of the merrier, the music is amazing including the artwork which plays it like a movie from beginning, middle, and end for epic proportions.

With its narration and feel of the rock opera format, The Voyage of Jonas starts off with the epic scoring metal driven introduction of The King is Dead as it segues into Jonas by proving what Heart of Cygnus does best. It’s a hard driven metallic exercise featuring melodic piano work, synths and Brian May-like guitar style, makes it a perfect fitness workout session. At the Portside Inn is a soft turned monumental fantasy rocking tune.

The early Queen sounds are mind-blowing from hearing Jeff’s guitar work as he goes from soft to hard-edged as if he was listening to the first five albums for inspiration to fit the Heart of Cygnus sound and not make it too retro, but in the hearts and minds of the Power/Prog universe as it fits the atmosphere of the album. A sailing adventure of sing-along proportions, Sailing North has a catchy background vocalization, powerful drum patterns, keyboards, and killer vocal lines.

At the Fjords is stepped into the dramatic film score sound between keyboards and guitar with a bit of the militant metal sounds that is pumping and dramatic while To the Abyss of the Dragon is stepped into the shadows of the AOR (Album Orientated Rock) sounds of the late ‘70s with a touch of Boston meets Black Sabbath’s Paranoid sessions. The sound here has a touch of Doom Metal guitar lines in the realms of Lifeson and Iommi on rhythm and lead guitar lines as Jeff brings an explosive work on the guitar with a wonderful touch on the lyrics.

Getting into the Dungeons and Dragons lyrical storytelling, When Wargs Attack, could have been a part of the second Queen album and it is as epic as giving Tolkien a warm handshake. Drummer Jim Nahikian really has a lot of spirit when it comes to metal drum players in the history of Power and Progressive Metal. He not there to be center of attention, he’s there to let the members know that he’s battery charger and it goes up to 100 volts.

Fading and Siren Song are more of a melodic gentle acoustic ballads as The White Witch with its tribute to the Mellotron that Jeff does on the keyboard with its dramatic sound along with the guitar lines, has a lot of energy and strength of mystic and volcanic explosions to go along with it to make it powerful and momentum at the same time. The Mage delivers some wonderful guitar virtuosity as Into the Storm goes into the styles of Rush and ELP’s keyboard work that could be a fan favorite in their live concerts.

The Isles of Ice and Procession of the Damned provides more of the Fairy-Tale-Fantasy-Rock sounds that Heart of Cygnus would write an operatic song for an Evil Queen and bowing down to her with the lyrical details on how she rules with a mighty fist in the coldest part in the ocean and reading people’s mind and making them have a nervous breakdown as the music sets the tension and anger from the power she gives to terrorize the heroes while Now To Your Ships is the aftermath in this haunting and moving waltz ballad with a psychedelic slide guitar sound that is a direct tribute to the Beatles.

It’s the last track, Moonrunner that is hypnotic and very powerful that is soon going to be a live favorite from the band themselves. This is Power Metal to the core and it shows how Heart of Cygnus present their music not just in the Hard Rock sound, but really going for the goal and presenting it in a sing-along rhythm that makes it awesome and unraveling mysterious beauty until the very end. The Voyage of Jonas is one of the most eruptive albums I’ve heard and it keeps on growing every listen that makes it a spiritual journey.

Should it be album of the year for 2012? I don’t know, but it’s something that most of the Prog and Metal community must take notice of and deserve a huge light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

District 97 - Trouble With Machines

From their hometown in Chicago, District 97 has come a long way since their debut album back in 2010 with Hybrid Child that received word of mouth in the prog community and from supporters including Roine Stolt and Bill Bruford from The Flower Kings and Yes/King Crimson, and while Leslie Hunt who in the 2007 season of American Idol (I know, don’t mention the A.I. word), shows that she can really groove out with her vocals and not follow in the same vein where some of the others have gone into the MTV and VH1 mainstream. And since Leslie Hunt’s voice has blown me away, this isn’t her being the center of attention, but the band themselves has come into the circle and create something that is magical and beyond the stars.

That and their second album,
Trouble With Machines, showed that since they are on the road to independent success in the Prog circuit. While District 97 has been getting a little bit of a cult status and with some of the dramatic time changes in both of the Progressive, Jazz, and Hard Rock genre, the songs and the structures in the arranging and composition proves to be something of a wonderful magical experience to encounter and embark on.

Starting off with the ‘80s Rush-like introduction on Back and Forth between guitar and synth creating this moody tension as they combine as one before Hunt’s haunting vocals come kicking in with a spooky atmosphere as it goes into high gear. The vicious thumping notes between the guitar and drums doing a militant roar and the stop-n-go musical touch as it becomes a jazzy swing metal movement on Open Your Eyes while the lullaby turned nightmarish structures between guitar and harp on the keyboards as it becomes a funky bass line and sinister synths, takes inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking Glass on the fantasy beauty, The Actual Color.

Now, once you add John Wetton, bassist and vocalist from King Crimson, U.K., and Asia, you know that you are about to embark on a wonderful weekend. With the 13-minute glorious epic, The Perfect Young Man, which you could tell they were writing a rock opera on The Silence of the Lambs and writing a piece for Hannibal Lecter as he was singing about Clarice’s look in a disturbing way, makes it weird, fun, and breathtaking at the same time as if they are paying tribute to the Scenes from a Memory-era of Dream Theater.

Suddenly it becomes an alternative vibe about the situations and complications to control and how we get sick and tired of it on Who Cares? As for Read Your Mind, which starts off as a classical Israeli violin solo that could have been done during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, turns into a moody yet metallic drama setting the tone with some wonderful movements as the 13-minute finale, The Thief, which closes the album off, is very adventurous.

Between guitar doing a lead section, keyboards, mandolin, and bass lines filling the scenery, makes it a heavy and symphonic rocking sound that comes out of the cavernous cave and a touch of a tribute to Jan Hammer’s solo in the midsection and Hackett’s virtuosity, proves that it could be made to a soundtrack to a sci-fi TV series set to wonderful music. With the band now in full gear, District 97’s second album will definitely be the next trip to the Starship enterprise for 2012.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Flying Colors - Flying Colors

The road to reconciliation can be both a spiritual journey to find out the real you, and a rough ride as well. And for drummer Mike Portnoy, who left Dream Theater back in 2010 to pursue other projects including Avenged Sevenfold and another project, Adrenaline Mob, has teamed up with one of the most up-and-coming supergroup’s to come out this year with a wonderful debut album from the collaborations between members from; Dixie Dregs, Spock’s Beard, and Transatlantic to name a few, it proves to be a wonderful match made in heaven, and the name of the band is Flying Colors.

In the band, it considers Steve Morse on Guitar, Neal Morse (not related) on keyboards, Casey McPherson on lead vocals, Mike Portnoy on drums, and Dave LaRue on Bass Guitar. The sound of their music is combination of Hard Rock, Progressive Pop and Rock, Fusion, and Psychedelia sounds that resembles of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that makes you feel that you are right there with the band and seeing where they are going into with different genres of the Prog universe from beginning, middle, and end.

From the opening chattering between both members on how they were going to start the opening composition, they go into a thrilling yet wonderful adventurous alternative rockin’ ride on
Blue Ocean as LaRue and Steve create some beautiful lines on the bass and guitar while Casey lets it out on his vocals as you can imagine the surfers headed towards the beach and surfing through the crest of the wave. Shoulda Coulda Woulda has this raw and fierce energetic heavy metal attitude that almost could have been used for an opening theme song for one of the action animated series from Japan that would hit the charts with a bang!

Elsewhere, Everything Changes, Kayla and The Storm moves well like a romantic ballad as Casey goes through his moving voice as the band helps him out with a helping hand while Dave LaRue lays some funky bass lines as Steve Morse goes into a storming rhythm and heavy riff though his guitar on Fusion Metallic touches on Forever in a Daze with an eruptive beat. Love is What I’m Waiting For meanwhile, has this ‘60s Baroque and Beatlesque sound that feels like that was left off during the Sgt. Pepper sessions as they pay tribute to the fab four as the moving Better Than Walk Away which features some wonderful background vocals and a touching keyboard and guitar work done Neal and Steve Morse, sounds like a sequel to Gentle Giant’s Think of Me With Kindness.

Then everything becomes a charging thumping voltage electrical thunderstorm on All Falls Down has this ball out arena rock attitude with a dosage of Queen’s first two albums and Medieval story-telling momentum that should be a fan favorite while the warm sunset sounds of the Beach Boys movement that is warm and bluesy at the same time on Fool in my Heart. Then it all comes down the final 12-minute epic, Infinite Fire.

From the moment you hear this composition, it shows that they can take the Prog genre up a level with the touches of Symphonic, Atmospheric, and Spaced Out stories that both the quartet can close the album out with a lot of heart and shooting for the stars to see where Flying Colors would go next. Now is it a great album? No, but it’s a start and seeing where they would take the Yellow Brick Road to.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Piñata

Swedish group, The Diablo Swing Orchestra, is one of the most daring and strangest groups to come out of their hometown with such a musical background. Filled with the sounds of Progressive Metal, 1940s Swing, Avant-Garde Classical music, Mariachi, and daring time changes is something worth the wait to really sink your teeth into. Since their formation back in 2003, their music is challenging and out of this world that make them wish they had done the score for all of the early Black and White cartoons of the Max Fleischer-era of the Betty Boop cartoons in the 1930s.

And while they are an eight piece band and have two albums in their sleeves, their new album,
Pandora’s Piñata, you get the feeling that it’s a huge combination of Benny Goodman meets Frank Zappa meets Metallica meets the Larks' Tongues in Aspic-era of King Crimson that is filled with a horn section, orchestral beauty, strings, rumbling guitar sounds, gun firing drum patterns, melodic and operatic vocals, and synths that make it a thrilling disturbing yet fun adventure that you are about to embark on.

And so far, it is the most roller-coaster driven adventure rides that you will embark on a dark journey from beginning, middle, and end. Voodoo Mon Amour, starts the album off with an eruptive metal and swing shuffle that fits the nightclub scene with a bang along with doing the Charleston and the Lindy Hop that would have the crowd hit the dance floor out of nowhere and doing those crazy dances in that era.

That and the impressive Latin Jazz Groove tempo of Guerilla Laments and the Gypsy Metal flavors on Kevlar Sweethearts with a haunting ‘50s waltz sound between a walking bass line, violin, acoustic and electric guitar makes everything spooky and take you to the next level. Meanwhile, How to Organize a Lynch Mob, starts off with a mourning violin solo as it segues into Black Box Messiah, a futuristic post-swing punk attitude with its screeching vocals turned calm-like attitude that is somewhat of a mini operatic touch that is perfect for Halloween.

Then, they go into this conceptual orchestral-swing-rock opera feel which really fits the vibe of the Diablo Swing on the 6-minute sci-fi epic, Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball as Daniel Hakansson has this emotional turned deadly value like a Jekyll and Hyde persona as the lyrics deal with someone who thought the love of their lives would fit this couple, but then chaos and destruction tore them apart and now they want to erase and replace them forever.

Aurora has this avant-operetta feel that singer Annlouice Loegdlund does is so beautiful and touching, it almost feels like it was a part of the sessions for Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels while Mass Rapture has this Egyptian Metallic feel with the flamenco style in the realms of Pete Townshend’s guitar playing almost could have been used in one of Disney’s Silly Symphony shorts in the late 1930s and ‘40s and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Elsewhere, Honey Trap Aftermath has this funky jazz fusion which really took me by surprise, is a killing track between a wah-wah bass line, the horn section, Hakansson and Loegdlund’s voices, and a string quartet, makes it a perfect catchy and makes it a tribute to the sounds of New Orleans.

And then everything becomes evil with Of Kali Ma Calibre is such a busy and sinister track with a touch of Symphonic Metal and Richard Wagner teaming up with the Moving Pictures-era of Rush making it a weird but dangerous track with a touch of Dooming Psychedelic beauty. The calm after the storm fits perfectly with to close the curtain on the 6-minute acid gothic folk tale of Justice for Saint Mary. Hakansson’s voice again is so wonderful and touching, that you almost couldn’t play because it is haunting and beautiful. Pandora’s Piñata is not an easy album to listen to, but the touches of Prog, Symphonic, Swing, and Jazz is such a weird combination, that makes it a perfect mad album of 2012.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Eye - Center of the Sun

From the State of Ohio in the City of Columbus, comes a Space Doom Prog Metal quartet who would have been into the Milky Way and travel into different planets with their music and their debut album,
Center of the Sun, which is 45-minutes of a tripped out adventure that is terrifying and scary at the same time for me listening to this from beginning to end. Eye is one of the most unbelievable up-and-coming bands that are taking Metal and Space music to boldly go where no listener has gone before.

The 19-minute opening title track is easily one of the most eruptive and volcanic introductions to kick the album off with an explosion. Filling with the mellotron and synths to make it sound atmospheric while rumbling bass and guitar lines that resembles early Floyd and an homage to the Doctor Who theme along with lyrics that could have been inspired by Michael Moorcock and Philip K. Dick’s work, makes the music very evil that it was recorded inside a gothic cathedral where the Stoner Metal heads would come in and be blown away from what they are expecting to hear for a freak-out session.

Usurpers which is roman for “To Seize for Use”, has a crazy experimental hard rock reminiscent of ‘70s bands; Amon Duul II, Ash Ra Tempel, and Black Sabbath’s
Sabotage-era with vicious venom rhythm and lead guitar lines, hypnotic vocal lines, jazz fusion drum work and African tribe percussions that are for your enjoyment. Restorers blasts through the door with a crazy bass line and jumpy rhythm guitar chugging beat along that has that weird time signature that goes through various changes that goes from fast into a melodic evil punch. You have to give Eye a lot of credit for doing their homework of listening to these bands of the ‘70s that were known and some were obscure to set the tones on what is beyond the beyond.

The closer,
Rik Rite, which could have been a character in the Doctor Who universe, has this combination of the Islands-era King Crimson meets Yes meets Rush with an Egyptian Metal flavor and it has some wonderful soothing keyboard sounds, beautiful fuzz tone bass work, psychedelia thumping guitar work, sounds of the spaceship going for liftoff, and mellowing drum work that makes it a perfect way to end the album off with a bang. There are a lot of up-and-coming bands in the Prog, Doom, and Symphonic Metal universe that are staying true to the ’70s sounds of the genre, and Eye has almost come in full circle with their music. And while they have a long way to go, it’s one small step for man, one giant leap for a band to set the voyages of the music from a galaxy far, far, away.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Starcastle - Fountains of Light

While they had their Yes influences in their system as I was taken by surprise by two of their albums including the sole self-titled debut album and their third album, Citadel as if they had taken them under their wings and making the music more futuristic and give Styx a huge run for their money. Interestingly, their second album, Fountains of Light was released at the beginning of 1977 at the time Punk was trying to hit the Prog and Pomp Rock genre with a mighty bulldozer and getting back into the 2-minute rock and roll influences of the ‘50s, tried and failed as their 5-minutes of fame was dwindling down.

As the cover looks very sci-fi as a robotic female looks down to earth and controlling to make sure everything’s okay, the music itself is breathtaking and touches of the symphonic rock sounds still influences Starcastle’s music by making it into a wonderful soundtrack. The album kicks off with the 10-minute opener, Fountains and it makes you feel that you are embarking on a wonderful journey that is beyond the Milky Way into the solar system of our planets.

Terry Luttrell’s vocals shines as Herb Schildt’s homage to Rick Wakeman on the Synthesizer and the late Gary Strater’s tribute to Geddy Lee and Chris Squire’s bass playing are crisp and touching as Hagler and Stewart do a collaboration of Steve Howe’s virtuosity on rhythm and lead that makes you know that they are not ripping off Yes. Fountains of Light, is one of the most rarest and underrated prog albums to come out of the late ‘70s, and while it is a majestic and hidden classic album, that they could have written the this as a score to the original Star Wars.

The light and upbeat melodic tempo tones on Dawning of the Day, has a powerful and very lukewarm hooks that are jaw dropping and out of the blue moments that would make you take notes in your piece of paper while Silver Winds starts out as an 8-bit videogame synth introduction that reminded me of a pre-Super Mario Bros. that Herb does at the beginning, they go into the Prog-pop meets Hard Rock territory with a punch of powder kegs thanks to bassist Gary Strater and drummer Stephen Tassler’s balladry in the midsection as they let Terry go into the infinite.

True to the Light is very story-telling and soaring at the same time it is filled with an orchestral rock vibe and Arena Rock like no other with a lot of structures to go through your comics in the Marvel universe while listening to this. Portraits is a gentle lukewarm acoustic moody space crisp beauty that is a calm after the first four tracks, the acoustics and the moog combine together like a flower releasing all of its glory and waking the sun to get up to reveal what he has done.

The closer,
Diamond Song (Deep is the Light), which was released as a single, but failed to chart, reminded me as sessions from the Fragile and Close to the Edge-era. Featuring those beautiful vocal harmonies, thunderous bass work, drums, and a beautiful organ work, makes it a perfect composition to close the album off, to head back home to Earth as you are wanting more. All in all, this is a wonderful album and why Starcastle were way ahead of their time and deserve the recognition they need.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Arzachel - Arzachel

Arzachel’s only sole self-titled debut album released at the end of the ‘60s in 1969, is one of the most rarest and obscure progressive rock albums to come out of that time period and yet it is one of the most haunting and doomiest albums I’ve ever heard from a quartet. Before there was Egg and guitarist Steve Hillage who would leave the band to form the short-lived band Khan and join up with Daevid Allen with Gong, he along with Mont Campbell, Dave Stewart, and Clive Brooks, were completely ahead of their time and could have made something special with this band.

While this is their first album, it would have been amazing to see what Arzachel would have done if they would have continued as a four piece and could have recorded scores for the Hammer Films and the Italian Horror genre of the ‘70s. At times of hearing this from start to finish, it’s very Space Rock and Sinister at the same time almost as if it was recorded as the soundtrack to Ray Bradbury’s 1962 classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The album kicks off with the organ roaring introduction Garden of Earthly Delights, that has a pastoral edge to it that the song pays tribute to the painting done by Dutch artists Hieronymus Bosch while the dystopian yet gothic-like sound of Azathoth sends shivers down your spine between Mont’s operatic voice and Steve vocalization of the Cthulhu stories from H.P. Lovecraft followed by Stewart’s vicious Organ sounds filling the atmosphere. It’s very sci-fi and very moving and terrifying at the same time to sing about a disturbing creature from Outer Space.

Meanwhile, Queen St. Gang has a mellowing jazzy groove as Dave lays down the beats on the Organ to do a beautiful solo while Clive Brooks calms the beat on the bass drum and the snare to give it a beautiful jam session. Leg and the 10-minute Clean Innocent Fun, both have a very interesting kind of arrangement. They go into Blues Rock town in the sounds of the late Yardbirds and Cream period in a rumbling volcanic eruptive format as Steve sings his heart and plays his guitar out in this medieval hard rocking proto-metal-freak out session format.

All comes down to the 16-minute Metempsychosis, which in definition means the passing of the soul at death into another body, is an Avant-Garde Space Rock adventure into uncharted mass territory of a score that could have been used for the last 23-minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Starting out with the elements of Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets instrumental and The Nice’s music, they go into a psychedelic sessions that is far beyond the galaxy as Steve Hillage and Dave Stewart, who does his homage to Keith Emerson with feedbacks and crashing the organ with a bang as if it had arosen from the dead, do a duel between Guitar and Organ as they go beyond the infinite.

All in all, it is one of the adventurous pieces in Progressive history that is not for the faint of heart. But if it was done for an alternate soundtrack to 1974's Zardoz starring Sean Connery, you would be completely blown away by the time you hear this from start to finish.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Syd Arthur - On an On

When you think of the Canterbury circuit during the late ‘60s and its golden period in the 1970s, you think of; The Soft Machine, Caravan, Camel, Arzachel, and Egg to name a few that had a huge influential sound in the history of Progressive Music and Jazz. However, one of the most up-and-coming bands to come out of that circuit is a promising group called Syd Arthur. With influences raging from Radiohead, Gentle Giant and the Soft Machine in their veins, this band really have got something up their sleeves and their debut album, On an On released this year, proves that not only they are going to hit the prog scene, but have a sound and vision in their mark of the Indie Rock scene of the 21st century.

It has more of a laid-back groove if you want to get into a soft-warm dance for a wonderful adventure you are about to experience. The sound of guitar, violin, drums, and bass coming together as one, is like something that you’ve never expected to hear from a quartet. Sometimes its indie mixed into some psychedelic Canterbury material along with a touch of the Jazz sounds of the late ‘60s that could have easily been recorded as an animated soundtrack.

First Difference opens the album off with a touch of a lukewarm folk rock sound that is brought to the table with a beautiful introduction to start it off combining with rhythm guitar, drums, vocals, and violin to make you feel that you are right at home, having a nice cup of tea and enjoying from what you are hearing from them. Meanwhile, the screeching turned haunting melodic structures on Edge of the Earth done by Raven Bush (nephew of Kate Bush) does this Darryl Way sort of introduction on the violin as Liam Magill’s voice comes in to calm the listener down with his vocals.

Ode to the Summer has some vibe sounds of the psychedelic Italian group, Jennifer Gentle while Dorothy is a soothing jazz waltz done in the ¾ time signature that is very chilled out momentum that is perfect for Jazz clubs to get a kick out of. Truth Seeker goes through some various time changes in this fuzz tone feedback rocking out to the galaxy that is far beyond anyone’s imagination. In the track, there are parts that are garage, prog, and warmth and they know their musical taste very well that would remind listeners of Gentle Giant’s Experience.

Night Shaped Light, an instrumental jazz fusion waltz mixed in with some funky chugging on the mandolin really captures some atmospheric vibes to groove into wonderful tempos as Black Wave goes into the Gothic Acid Folk territory. Moving World, meanwhile has some Bluesy Space Rock turned Bebop Jazz routine that makes perfect sense, not to mention the Alternative Rock sounds that has an uplifting tempo on Promise Me.

The closer which clocks in at eight minutes and twenty-two seconds, Paradise Lost, which the band were inspired by John Milton’s poetry, allows you to step out the doors and into the solar system. Filled with more of the gothic and haunting sinister sounds of the band coming together as one and take point for what is going on throughout the track mixed in with some Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra's Inner Mounting Flame-era that makes it a perfect finale to close the album off.

I have listened to
On an On about seven times already and to be honest, I am blown away from what I’ve heard and this is one of the most upcoming bands that are soon going to take notice one day.
On an On is not just a progressive rock album, but more of a spiritual journey that is done by a four piece who know the score very well.