To the Moon

Review: Cloudspeak – To the Moon

Over the last few years, instrumental releases within the progressive rock/metal genre have been on the rise, and like with everything else, the quality of the releases vary from hit-and-miss to some absolutely amazing gems. Cloudspeak, based in Chicago, is a project of Johnny Wright IV. To the Moon is an EP debut by Cloudspeak released on January 13.

Well composed, arranged and wonderfully performed, To the Moon is an ambitious piece of largely instrumental prog metal, with more than enough epic ideas to keep a listener engaged and attentive. Suffice to say, there is more than enough of a variety to keep the music from sounding stale or rehashed. Although Johnny’s true calling lies in melody-driven progressive metal guitar, the stylistic curveballs here are fully-realized and sound great. The EP opens with a short intro “Set Sail,” which connects with “The Great Sea.” This is an excellent example of Wright’s skill as a multi-faceted composer. And this skill just keeps on improving throughout the six-track release. Song structures seem arranged to cater to a string of individually satisfying moments, as opposed to the ideas all contributing to the overall whole of a composition. Even in the most ambitious progressive rock/metal moments, I tend to look for some of the same qualities found in conventionally good songwriting.

Obviously, much of the spotlight here is placed on Wright’s prodigious grasp of the electric guitar. Although the album’s djenty side doesn’t stand any bit above what we’ve already heard from that corner of prog metal, Wright makes himself out to be an absolutely brilliant fusion guitarist, possibly one of the most talented I’ve heard in recent years. “Storm Clouds” might be my favourite track on the EP for this very reason; Wright’s marriage of keen instrumental wandering and tight melodic passages is gorgeous.

To the Moon is a record packed with instrumental inventiveness and technical proficiency. Cloudspeak excels here both as a composer and musician.

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Second Horizon

Review: Second Horizon – Albdruck

Second Horizon, a four piece from Cologne in Germany, have quite a challenge as with any new band playing this stylistically demanding music. They either need to add something exciting and original to the genre, or be so bloody good at delivering captivating instrumental rock (that visits quite a few genres) in its conventional form that they stand head and shoulders above the oceans of ordinariness that surround them. While they will not win any awards for innovation, the debut release Albdruck does in fact rise most convincingly from the latter category, and has enough variation in its six tracks to keep interest levels high.

Albdruck

Beginning with the short intro “Zucht,” Second Horizon expertly marry the sludgy histrionics of Panopticon era Isis to the noise rock sensibilities of Melvins. The band doesn’t fuck about with long intros, and like to get on with the business at hand, with only two tracks passing the 6-minute mark. This makes for a more urgent and also provides a much more organic feel to the band’s playing.

In addition to Isis and Melvins you can undoubtedly hear the massive influence of Cult of Luna, Mono, Mastodon, all the major names, but Second Horizon somehow manage to put a unique stamp on this rather derivative framework.

Second Horizon have risen far above the sum of their influences, and delivered a very fine instrumental rock album. Check it out!

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Memories Have No Name

Review: Althea – Memories Have No Name

What the second album by Althea presents the listener with is an up-and-coming Italian progressive metal band still discovering and honing their sound; a style that’s adequately complex with dark influences, is melodic, and puts the emotion-packed vocals of Alessio Accardo at the forefront. The album commences with a short instrumental Regression From Regrets, that is followed up with Paralyzed which for 3:20 minutes carries the listener through a barrage of riffs, drum fills, and high soaring vocals all on top of a grandiose atmosphere. Frankly, the song slays, and simultaneously gives the listener a taste of the orchestrated clamor that is to follow. Revenge epitomizes all that is great about metal, and I would go as far as saying the song still may be the band’s crowning achievement.

A key attribute of Althea is their ability to engage the listener with a multitude of topics, and in every sense of the word, diversity. Halfway Through is a slower thematic piece about extra terrestrial life, complete with spoken-like singing throughout the song. An echoing guitar note completes the eerie feeling the song is intended to achieve. Dream Theater fans will dig this one.

Further adding to the depth of the album is Last Overwhelming Velvet Emotion (L.O.V.E.), a well-constructed, well-executed ballad featuring touching guitar solos and grandiose singing. Accardo, now in typical fashion, wears his heart on his sleeve.

In sum, Memories Have No Name is an outstanding release worth your time and hard-earned money whether you’re a fan of melodic progressive metal or not. There are highs; there are lows; there is pain; and most of all there is passion. I’ve listened to this album a solid ten times, and I’ve yet to find anything that qualifies as true filler, although the album is full of short interludes that connect pieces together. If there is one single word to describe Memories Have No Name, it would be “genuine.” Not only are Althea outside of the one-album-wonder galaxy…. they’re in a completely different universe.

Get a copy of the album here.

Konstant Singularity

Interview with KONSTANT SINGULARITY

Konstantin Ilyin aka Konstant Singularity recently put out his sophomore studio album which is called “Randomnicity,” and presents a great collection of instrumental guitar-driven fusion. “Randomnicity” is quite an enjoyable experience, and definitely one of the albums from 2016 that anyone who like this style of music should check out. I talked with Konstantin about this record, inspiration, and some more.  

Alright, first thing is first. Before we dive into all the music stuff, how’s life?

Life is great! I’ve moved to Ireland not so long ago. I’m exploring new territories, meeting new people. It is a beautiful country, everybody is polite and nice. I enjoy it. This sets me in a creative mood. Just forget about all problems and write music – that is what I need to be happy.

Speaking of new music, you have an album. What can people expect from “Randomnicity”?

Honest emotions and intimate feelings. It is an instrumental music. There is no particular message in each song. So everybody can hear whatever is important for them. I hope music will resonate with listener’s feelings and will make a day a bit brighter. It is a very emotional record and I trust it will not leave you indifferent.

Randomnicity

What was it like working on the album?

Easy. I mean, of course, I’ve put a lot of effort in this record, but I enjoy it so much that it feels very easy to do day after day. This time I’ve let my emotions drive the creative process. I didn’t try to force it. Write whenever you want and whatever you want – that was my motto (laughing). I forgot about genres, target audience, radio formats and so on, and just created what I like personally. In order to make it sound more alive, I invited my good friend Alex Vostrikov to record live drums on this album. It was a very important decision, cause he made a huge impact on the sound – brought some bits of jazz with very rich drum parts. It made each track more interesting and added another level of musicality.

Are there any touring plans in support to “Randomnicity”?

I didn’t plan to tour with this record. It is a solo project, which means I’m basically alone. Making a live show would be a complicated thing. But if there are people who would help me to organise the tour, I would definitely do that. At least I have a drummer (smiling). If the opportunity comes up, I will.

While we are on the subject of touring, what countries would you love to tour?

All over the world! But realistically – Europe and United States. Ireland is a very good spot for that. Very easy to get to any European country and also quite easy to get to States.

Who and what inspires you the most?

Usually, people around me and my feelings about these people. Every composition has a special meaning to me. Related to some event and personal experience. Sometimes a good movie can inspire to write a song. Also, I’m very influenced by other musicians. When I listen to my favourite bands I immediately want to grab an instrument and compose.

konstant_singularity_003

What other genres of music do you listen to? Have any of the other genres you listen to had any impact on your playing?

Oh, I listen to different music. I don’t limit myself with genres. If I like the song I don’t really care what style it is. From jazz to death metal – I listen to anything. On this record, you can hear influences of contemporary jazz like Esbjorn Svensson, dark jazz – Bohren & der club of Gore. As well as electronic music like Trifonic and Massive Attack. I could mention Opeth as well. This death metal band is very progressive and I’ve been listening to it for many years.

I really appreciate you giving us your time today. Is there anything else you would like to tell us and the fans before we wrap things up?

I would like to thank everybody who listens to my music. I hope it will support you in happiness and sadness. If I manage to make somebody’s day a bit brighter – then my music serves a good purpose.

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althea

Interview with ALTHEA

Althea is a progressive metal quintet from Milan in Italy. The band defines their mission as “developing a free-of-schemes progressive metal rock,” and fans of the genre will have an opportunity to hear that on their upcoming release titled “Memories Have No Name.” I talked with the band about the album and more, and here is what they had to say.

Alright, first thing is first. Before we dive into all the music stuff, how’s life?

Great… we getting closer to another year end and closer and closer to the release of MHNN. We are really excited about it!

Speaking of new music, you have an album coming out in January. What can people expect from “Memories Have No Name”?

A journey into the inner self, an entertainment experience. MHNN is an album made of 1 song divided in 16 chapters, with a lot of introspective sections and a lot of different sounds.

From the musical perspective, it is of course a progressive rock/metal with dark atmosphere, tons of sonic layers but still with a lot of melody.

What was it like working on the album?

It was awesome! We had amazing times and a lot of fun. It was also a lot stressful. For this album we followed a new approach to our music and we recorded the album by ourselves in our home studio. We then moved to MoonHouse studios in Milan with Danilo Di Lorenzo for mixing and mastering phases. Given this, we had a lot of additional work to be done on our own but the result is very satisfying.

memories-have-no-name_cover

Are there any touring plans in support to “Memories Have No Name”?

We are in the middle of the organization of the promotional activities, including trying to book as many live shows as possible. You know, the album is quite complex from a sonic point of view and it’s not the easiest album to bring live – we are working on it and we would like also to bring some visual accompanying to the music. Let’s see you far we can go!

While we are on the subject of touring, what countries would you love to tour?

We would really like to bring our music as far as possible, without geographical limits. We would probably be very curious to see the reaction of fans in countries like India, China, etc, where it’s not very common to see progressive acts. But we really love playing everywhere!

Who and what inspires you the most?

Our inspiration comes from a huge variety of sources and in the past years we’ve been listening to a lot of different stuff. Currently we are exploring more experimental and industrial sounds. To say a name, we can easily go for Nine Inch Nails now, or some solo work from Richard Barbieri as well.

What other genres of music do you listen to? Have any of the other genres you listen to had any impact on your playing?

Yes, of course. As said before we’ve grown up with different influences and with different favorite artists. Each one of us have different musical taste from avant-garde metal to alternative/indie rock passing through more extreme metal acts and traditional prog rock and all of our musical background in some way influences our songwriting and style. A very big common point in all our listening is for sure melody, and you can easily hear how this is reflected in our work as well.

I really appreciate you giving us your time today. Is there anything else you would like to tell us and the fans before we wrap things up?

Thank you for you time, it’s always a pleasure. We would like to take to opportunity to invite the fans to listen to MHNN as a single song, all in a raw. It’s something we really care of, and we would like the listener to have a journey experience, rather than skipping from one song to the other. Also, please always buy original music and support emerging acts!

We hope to see you soon!

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merkaba_graphic

Interview with MERKABA

Louis Goodwin is a young songwriter behind the instrumental progressive project Merkaba. In November he released an EP titled “Merkaba,” and I talked with him about his work.

What made you go for the name Merkaba?

Back around when I was beginning to develop this project and first putting together the EP, I became very interested in the teachings of this Hindu/Buddhist, L-Ron-Hubbard type spiritualist dude, and whilst not the strongest believer, I found it all rather intriguing. In his teachings, he talked of this magical, ‘love powered’, dimension-jumping, time-travelling, force-field called a “Merkaba”. The idea of a musical project that transcends dimensions sounded pretty Djent, so the name stuck.

How do you usually describe your music?

Depending on who I’m describing it too, usually “Really Angry Music”. Too other metal-enthusiasts, however, I mostly describe Merkaba as a cross between aggressive Progressive Metal (doing my best to avoid that trigger word; Djent), a few elements of Metalcore, a splash of Jazzy Electronic stuff, and as much ambience as possible.

What is your writing process like?

A mess. It usually starts off as a singular riff recorded in Reaper, a long with the simplest of drum tracks. this is quickly followed by about 9 different variations of that riff, 4 different chorus ideas, 6 verses, 3 bridges, a middle 8, and a solo bongo drum section in 33/8 time. Eventually I will boil all the various riffage down into a song, but the journey is long and this usually is happening alongside 3 or 4 other song ideas.

Who or what is your inspiration, if you have any?

Inspiration is quite a broad term, am inspired by a huge number of people. I would mostly accredit my musical interests to people like my Dad and Grandmother, who still haven’t given up on me. Musically, however, bands such as Monuments, Periphery and Tesseract are the greatest inspiration for the music I write, and guitarists such as Tosin Abasi, Misha Mansoor, Plini and John Browne are the biggest inspiration on my guitar playing.

merkaba-ep-cover

What is your favourite piece on the “Merkaba” EP?

Probably Refraction/Reflection, I was rather pleased with how those two songs tied together, rather inspired by Reflections “The Color Clear”. I really enjoy writing songs with recurring themes and a possible concept album is something I envision for the future.

What makes “Merkaba” different?

I’d like to say the use of electronic and Jazz elements, but that’s something that’s been done a thousand times before. I guess it would be the large mix of ideas and influences, there’s no set genre or subgenre for Merkaba, I love the really heavy Meshuggah style stuff, super jazzy Animals as Leaders, really light and proggy Plini and later Intervals stuff and so on. I’ve never thought “I want Merkaba to just be ridiculously heavy” or “This is all just going to be atmospheric prog stuff”, I’m too bad at making decisions.

What should music lovers expect from “Merkaba”?

I suppose creativity, being as little “up-my-own-behind” as possible. I try to use as little generic riffage as I can, except the odd riff or too (looking at you, “Reflection”), so for music lovers this may be a taste of something new or exotic.

What kind of emotions would you like your audience to feel when they listen to your music?

As many as they wish, I feel it’s up to them. As with all music, your perception of what you feel when you listen to music differs from everyone else, including the artists. We all have completely different memories, different ways of expressing emotion and different perspectives on life. My audience are going to feel completely different when they listen to my music than when I do, hopefully they won’t feel too bored though.

Pick your three favourite albums that you would take on a desert island with you.

Probably David Maxim Micic’s “Eco”, because no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to get sick of that album. Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” is another must have, never have I loved any album more and it evokes some precious memories. Lastly, it’s a toss up between either Monuments’ “The Amanuensis”, or Periphery’s “PII: This Time it’s Personal” because I adore both albums, the complexities of “PII” are amazing, and I don’t think I could live without the “Somewhere in Time” Trilogy (Muramasa, Ragnarok and Masamume), “The Amanuensis” just flows incredibly, and the combination of Chris Barretto’s vocals and John Browne’s amazing riffs are to die for.

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As A Conceit

Review: As A Conceit – Frown Upon Us

There are many ways of creating music. Following the rules, being bound of genre limitations, or letting your wheels go off road to wherever you want your sound to reach out. This change in the direction only brings rich melodies, “new” tunes, tasty sound.

As a Conceit, a hardcore band from Italy, is one of those off-roadsters. They don’t follow the rules but create their own way. Their album “Frown Upon Us” is a great example which walks around melodic death metal, with additions of nice progressive clean vocals. There is a mystic side of the album in the way of narrative and female vocals.

frown-upon-us

“Frown Upon Us” may remind you of some In Flames works, some Korn, Slipknot and most prominently Architects. From the first moment until the last, the record is full of tasty, energetic melodies. “Frown Upon Us” stays true to hardcore with great passages through melodic death metal.

“Frown Upon Us” is one of those great records from 2016 that might be overlooked. With its rich sound it will make your ears satisfied no matter what kind of genre takes your attention.

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elarcos

Interview with ELARCOS

Elarcos is an Uruguayan progressive / fusion rock band who in October this year released their debut album “Tecnocracia.” I was very impressed with the musicianship showcased on the release; these guys are really talented. The band’s drummer, Diego Caetano, was very kind to answer my questions about the band’s work.

Alright, first thing is first. Before we dive into all the music stuff, how’s life?

Hello!!! Thanks for asking! Well, personally I’m very focused in our next live show, trying to get every song played perfectly, given that it’s the official live presentation of the album. This will be the second time we play the songs, but now the people has the album, so there is an expectation to be fulfilled.

Also I’m very happy with the awesome comments we are having from a lot of places, feedback is the most satisfactory part of making art for me, it is what keeps me going and it helps me project new stuff. It also helps taking the band to new places! So, exciting is the word to resume my life atm.

Speaking of new music, you have an album. What can people expect from “Tecnocracia”?

Yes! Our first one, we are very satisfied with the fact that it’s done. For us, Uruguayan musicians it’s very important to have this achievement, given that here there is no industry for this music, even for rock music it’s very very difficult to endure.
But besides that, we are very proud of our songs and the way that they came up. Personally I’m so proud of this wonderful musicians that surround me in this project, they have great minds for music and being near them just makes you get your pants on and improve your game.

The album comes with epic heavy prog metal, our primarily influences are Symphony X, Haken and Dream Theater and our main distinctive sound comes from our frontman who sings and plays the sax. We all enjoy every minute of the songs, given that it’s almost half instrumental and half sung.

Tecnocracia comes with seven songs, all of different lengths but all part of the same concept, wich is reinforced with the lecture of the printed booklet, which includes a prologue and a conductive narrative.

In a matter of sound, people can find themselves hearing defying lines in every instrument and also complexity in composition, time signatures and harmonies. Our main goal at the time of composing was making it friendly to the ear, so it won’t be a snobby trip, you can also nod your head and headbang to most of the album, with also nipple hardening ballads and dick hardening solos!

tecnocracia

What was it like working on the album?

Well, it had so many confusing phases. When I got in the band, it had another name and another songs. We had 2 live performances and then we instantly encouraged ourselves to go into the studio, so we recorded our first demo (the 12 minute piece “Microapología”), wich actually is the album’s final song.

After that, we received good feedback and people started to ask about the album… so we got into it. The guys had been working on the 27 minute epic “Tecnocracia”, which was previously named “Terminator” (because of the inspiration on the classic movie), so we worked on that one and then new songs came up from Gustavo, Ale, Mario and myself. Then in August 2014 I entered the studio for playing the drums in a 3-day marathon and then the guys started to lay their instruments over that.

The process of recording was indeed very stressfull and long, because there were a lot of things in which we failed repeatedly due to the lack of experience in recording, so we had a lot of phases of re-recording and an extensive drum editing, given that the result from the studio wasn’t the one we expected. We preferred to take the time to refine the sounds and arrangements, than rushing and having a lower level thing.

Are there any touring plans in support to “Tecnocracia”?

Yes and No at the same time. We are at the moment, independent and trying to partner with people who could give us the chance to make it, it’s our biggest dream! Our anxiety is there, our impulse is there, we just need the hook to make the jump

While we are on the subject of touring, what countries would you love to tour?

We want to tour in Europe and United States, given the amount of festivals and consumers of this type of music. Also there is the dream of having the chance to meet our musical inspirations from around the world, who are also constantly touring.

In South America it’s likely to play in Argentina, Chile and Colombia, but it’s hard to penetrate on those markets as Uruguayans. This continent has an audience that tends to accept preferently the northern bands than the locals, but we want to take the necessary shots to get in there, that’s why our message is in a clear local variation of Spanish.

Who and what inspires you the most?

Actually my drumming inspirations are Sebastian Lanser, Anika Nilles, Mike Portnoy and Bobby Jarzombek, but the ones who made me decide to go for the drums as a kid were John Dolmayan, David Silvera and John Otto.

As a composer and guitar player, Bumblefoot, Steven Wilson and Muse.

What other genres of music do you listen to? Have any of the other genres you listen to had any impact on your playing?

I grew in an enviroment of local folk and pop music, but the things changed when cable Tv arrived to the neighbourhood, bringing MTV (when they played music) in the 90’s, so the main attractions from metal were Metallica, System Of A Down, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Korn, Marilyn Manson and Slipknot. I spent my whole childhood and teenage around those kind of bands, until Internet came and the gate was fully open to new things such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Dream Theater and every related artist and bands from there.

Nowadays I am more influenced with relaxed music as Steven Wilson, Bent Knee, Chon, Eruca Sativa, Mike Love, Ghost, Snarky Puppy. I prefer to feed my musical influences with new things that doesn’t sound all the same, it gives you more tools to work on your compositions.

I really appreciate you giving us your time today. Is there anything else you would like to tell us and the fans before we wrap things up?

Thanks to you, really. It feels really awesome to have this first chance to show the world what we do!

If there is any fan out there, we would love you to spread the word and get in touch with us, we did this as an expression and the final part is to have the feedback! We have a gigantic hunger of knowing the world trough music, adventure and having real conversations that are not trough electric impulses of a screen! 

Thank you so much for this opportunity, again, it means a lot to us!

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juodvarnis

Review: Juodvarnis – Mirusio Zmougas Kelione

In some ways many metal listeners have divided opinions when the topic is “black metal.” Most of them find it raw or pretentious, but there are some that adore every melody that could come out of a black metal song. Juodvarnis, a lithuanian Epic/Pagan Black Metal band is just like a problem solver at this point. This band’s versatility lies in combining epicness of the pagan take on the black metal genre and folk, heavy, doom, and stoner metal elements, wrapped with a touch of progpower.

The band from Vilnius released two albums so far. “Mirusio Žmogaus Kelionė”, their second album carries every single element that is specific to the mentioned genres. Very epic, at times softened by great high pitched clean vocals, you can also find a fair dose of doom metal. Lyrically the album has its own dark side either. The songs are written in Lithuanian, a language that sounds as a perfect fit for the music Juodvarnis creates.

There is astonishing black metal drumwork in the songs, there are great heavy metal guitar solos, accompanied with tasty folksy elements. But besides that what takes the attention at the most is high-pitched clean vocal that is combined with screams. A rare singing style, which also makes the album unique itself.

There is a similarity between with the known doom bands such as Candlemass, While Heaven Wept, maybe a little of Solitude Aeternus and there is a smell of Void of Silence in the vocals. In some parts you find similarity with Moonspell and a little bit of early Amorphis. As all these bands are far from black metal, and that is what makes Juodvarnis different. A must-listen album of the year right here.

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Dusks Embrace

Review: Dusks Embrace – ReAwakening

10 years is quite a long time for a band – definitely enough time to mature a very special blend of sound and refine a creative vision into something very special and unique. Originally conceived by Josh Brewer, the band set out to release their first album with a new consolidated line-up earlier in 2016.

ReAwakening is therefore, a perfect title for this release, because it does not only represents the band’s evolution and newfound balance, but also the eclectic nature of these songs. The band now consists of singer Aldo Arevalo, guitarist and backing vocalist Josh Brewer, as well as drummer Liam Manley and bassist Myke Daniel.

ReAwakening by Dusks Embrace (album art)

The songs on this particular album blur the lines between genres, with a great progressive attitude. Opening number, “Harbinger”, has some really great electronic / industrial influences, while the second track, “With Cleansing Flames”, has some truly beautiful melodies that make me think of early Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree.  One of my favorite track son the album is probably “Reflections”, which strikes from some of the best guitar parts on the entire album, in my opinion. I love how the guitar blurs the lines between jazz and rock so seamlessly – showcasing great artistry and compositional talent.

Listen at:

https://dusksembrace.bandcamp.com/album/reawakening

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