Category Archives: Reviews

Kuhnspiracy

Album Review: Kuhn Fu – Kuhnspiracy

Kuhnspiracy resonates on a number of levels. In the most obvious sense, it’s a testament to the skill, imagination, and resourcefulness of guitarist Christian Achim Kühn, an artist who operates with a profound depth of understanding in both formal and creative realms. But it’s also a link to the relationship that Kühn formed with Esat Ekincioglu on double bass, Lav Kovac on drums and Ziv Taubenfeld on clarinet.

Kuhnspiracy shows that a fruitful relationship was formed from that initial connection. With this second album by the group, Kühn gives other instruments the attention they so richly deserve. At different times he coaxes tuneful lines, deep grooves, upbeat notions, and plaintive strains from his guitar, inviting the bass’s woody weight and wisdom to the fore. He taps into a jazz rock with “Barry Lyndon” and “Deus Ex Machina,” brings avant-garde breeziness in “Signore Django Cabolo” and “Mono Industrial Post Depression.

Kühn proves to be a dynamic presence and a masterful arranger throughout, Taubenfend‘s instrument’s sound rings clear and true at every turn, and there’s nary a lull in activity or creativity across these eight tunes. Kuhnspiracy hits all the right marks and holds attention from beginning to end.

Monolithic Elephant

Review: Monolithic Elephant – Monolithic Elephant

Mothership is a ‘70s hard rock-influenced, blues-based, heavy rock band. The band’s self-titled debut release is a 66-minute journey back in time with a focus on the bass, drums and guitar, along with the vocals. Monolithic Elephant is a three-piece outfit, hailing from Milan in Italy. The band is comprised of singer/guitarist Andrea Ravasi, singer/bassist Alessandro Riva, and singer/drummer Santo Carone.

Monolithic Elephant album art

Monolithic Elephant harkens back to when music was pure and heavy, not watered down. The band opens the album with “Moloch,” which intro is over a minute of ambient/atmospheric sounds, followed by a very Sabbath-inspired, heavy and plodding tones. With the following 2-song suite “The Unbaptized and the Virtuous Pagans,” the album inevitably falls under the heading “mostly instrumental” for its extended jam sections, but it’s worth noting that when there are vocals they come on with structure behind. The song continues the heaviness, but the tempo kicks it into another gear, energizing the song. The band often flirts with heavy psychedelic rock, as well as prog, but tunes remain to be rooted within the heavy genre. Monolithic Elephant don’t feel by any means tied to a formula, and drummer Santo Carone has his work cut out for him keeping the jams tied to the ground throughout the album. To his credit, he does, and even at these songs’ farthest out, there’s something for listeners to hold onto. It’s part of the overall balance that Monolithic Elephant seem to have a natural hold of, between stoner rock, jam and psych.

“Drawing Minds” opens with a classically inspired guitar intro that is very surreal and tranquil, showing off some dynamics in the confines of the music. That doesn’t last long before the heavy riffs kick in and hammer you. While the riffs are dark, heavy and ‘70s-inspired sludge, the solos are anything but sludge. Rooted in pentatonic, Ravasş showcases fiery chops that slide into more traditional rock soloing. Being a three-piece, the bass is present in the mix. Alessandro Riva has moments in the spotlight in which his chops are the focal point.

Monolithic Elephant unloads with a debut album that captures the energy of rock in a stripped-down sonic landscape. The riffs are heavy and crushing. As a three piece, Monolithic Elephant fills the room with sound. While the band could be considered a “jam” band, there is a method to the madness, and the trio showcases raw skill and ever-expounding energy.

CAST

Review: Cast – Power and Outcome

Mexican symphonic prog rockers Cast are back with another symphonic adventure of epic songs. A modern symphonic prog-rock album with heavier moments, the music has a lot of quiet and beautiful atmosphere where the melody is carried slowly. The opening “Rules of the Desert” is 11+ epic that is absolutely mind blowing. “Power and Outcome” is an album where the emotions flow perfectly accompanied by the musical lines. Make sure you hunt it down and enjoy it!

Power And Outcome - cover

“Power and Outcome” showcases an impressive combination of creative instrumentation and heartfelt vocal delivery; the band has created a suite of music that coheres in a deeply compassionate and emphatic way. This is a rich and eclectic record with echoes of classical music, the Canterbury progressive rock, jazz and a bit of metal.

“Power and Outcome” is a masterclass example of current progressive music that perfectly fuses vintage and modern sounds with an equally on-point balance of subtlety.

To conclude, this is an incredible album. It’s a lengthy, complex, emotional, and pretty much perfect example of modern progressive rock.

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The Lonely Traveller

Review: Psychic Equalizer – The Lonely Traveller

Psychic Equalizer is a project by Spanish musician, pianist Hugo Selles, crowning a multi-award wining combination that music speaks widely for it’s self. Founded in 2011, PE released three EP’s, amassing a noble reputation holding a high regard of appraisal. The new release is an album entitled “The Lonely Traveller,” which graciously feels like a transport mechanism to the ‘bygone’ smoky-bar-room era of sparkly contemporary brass-string Jazz movements, sporting its style in a crisp, rich manner that effectively classifies itself among the overall album content.

Though the Jazz aspect dominates the scene as its intended expression, it still gets a fine collaboration of etheric and futuristic sounds from guitarist Quico Duret to establish almost a Post-Neo modern take. Duret seems to get the pacified arena worked up with an array of eerie and spacey measure.

Track no. 2 “An Ocean of Change (I-IV)” makes addition of finely sprinkled Post Rock essence in an ‘echoy’ air, allowing the Jazz to hold its form and that crisp clarity. Even Selles’s Prog Jazz signature that comes thru on occasion feels contemporary and intentional. Morten Skott’s take on the Classic Jazz drumming scope is something to behold, with fantastic arrangements to simple mood. This fine instrumental album is by no means a complication of matters generally involved with Prog or a unique collection of sound tools which interprets that unique does not necessarily constitute a complex heavy arrangement that can emerge from inventive or improvisational setups.

Although “The Lonely Traveller” does listen like an arrangement of twelve tales in (large) variation, no track complimenting the previous or the next, the emotions are still warm and committed. Selles’s occasional nuances with the keyboards and synths make the listen personal, like when you have that urge to increase your monitor levels a ‘little’ more to appreciate the fine technicality. All instruments are meticulously (mathematically) played in a variety of styles from classic to contemporary to modern.

Psychic Equalizer makes a bold statement about its intent, but does not attempt to barrage or hammer-home its distinctively classy form. Absorbing the rewarding experience of “The Lonely Traveller” is one different in the way you would expect normally associated with absorbing high value audio, one is left with a quality reminiscing of classic jazz worked with a modernity. I loved this work.

Randomnicity

Review: Konstant Singularity – Randomnicity

Konstant Singularity is a project of Russian multi-instrumentalist, but mainly guitarist, and composer Konstantin Ilin who lives in Dublin, Ireland for a few years. In May 2014, Ilin released his debut album with KS entitled “Music Diversity Party” (available here), and back in December 2016 he returned with its followup — “Randomnicity.” A quick comparison between the two releases reveals that the new record feels far more free-form than its predecessor.

“Randomnicity” is at times a brutally minimalist avant-rock exploration of loathing and at others a nostalgic trip through a bad 1960’s acid trip, 1970’s progressive rock, 1980’s art pop, and 1990’s jazz fusion. “Randomnicity” is driven in equal parts by noise rock’s harsh guitar, and a sense of sonic adventure and true experimentation. Album highlight “Hyacinth Sky” is a stunning masterpiece; Ilin and drummer Alex Vostrikov abandon all pretence of accessibility, and that it is the very core of the album. This doesn’t seem like a record that is easy to digest, what is in the core of the experimental music, but there is definitely a lot of balance and determination in the band’s improvisational approach. This only adds to album’s intrigue though, as it makes us question the ideas of nostalgia and longing so built into the record’s sounds.

Konstant Singularity have released a powerful statement here; this is an album that should definitely be on radar of many prog fans. Get it from Bandcamp.

You can read the interview with Konstantin Ilin here.

Synaptik

Review: SynaptiK – Justify & Reason

Get ready for a gigantic portion of thick, stinking, faux-prog metal cheese of epic stature with this outstandingly campy, exciting, and wholly enjoyable album by SynaptiK!

I have a soft-spot for iconic Heavy Metal, and “Justify & Reason” does everything it needs to to tug on my heartstrings. First, it’s energetic, with genuinelly entertaining songwriting. The opening “The Incredible Machine” sets the majestic tone beautifully, giving way to the big, busy guitar work of Ian Knight and Jack Murton and an ever surging momentum which carries through the entire album. As a whole, the band is very tight, and never burdened by the excessiveness of say… any of Dream Theatre’s recent albums. Songs feature glimmers of symphonic nuance here and there, but largely feel stripped down, simplified, rocking, and very effective.

Justify & Reason cover art

Guitars step in and out of the spotlight tastefully, and solo breaks are fantastic, with lightning dexterity and creative playing. They sometimes come with cool time signature changes as well, making them a real highlight of the album.

Of course, John Knight’s vocals are a big part of this album’s success. He is every metal singer from the 1980s condensed into a perfectly honed, screaming machine — which makes “Justify & Reason” feel very much like a relic of its days…

Prog-metal snobs will probably not be impressed by the occasional concessions the band makes for accessibility and sing-along-ability… but the enthusiasm and talent demonstrated here more than makes up for its sometimes FM-oriented melodies. “Justify & Reason” gets high marks from me because its simply so much fun to listen to! The awesome cover artwork is the icing on the cake.

Pre-order “Justify & Reason” here.

Pregnant Whale Pain

Review: Pregnant Whale Pain – Blank

And so we come to “Blank,” an EP by Pregnant Whale Pain, a Hungarian band that’s been active for a few years now. This release, which was released in January, is definitely one of the best mathcore releases I’ve experienced in a long time. What we’ve got here is sort of a progressive metalcore that dabbles in jazz and schizophrenia. This record should not be overlooked by anyone. Any fan of metal, prog, hardcore or good music in general needs to listen to “Blank.” The technicality and songwriting are both through the roof and there is no shortage of creativity.

Pregnant Whale Pain - Blank

Guitarists Daniek Garamvolgyi and Balasz Lederer play some of the most challenging and jaw dropping guitar parts to be heard here while remaining super creative and not falling into the trap of classic shredding. Krisz Horvath’s vocals are excellent, though would probably be what turns off the most people. These vocals are extremely chaotic, and whenever they stop being as heavy as possible, it is only to build back up again. The fact that the music could be appreciated without the vocals is a testament to the originality. So long as you don’t mind the vocals or can see past them, you will enjoy this.

It is also important to mention that the feeling of this record is never calm. Even when the distortion is gone and it all slows down, there is still a very ominous feeling that the music will jump out from behind a rock and smash you in the head. A prime example of this would be the song “Blank Long Nights Kill Romance Vengefully” which falls back form the intensity but never even approaches soothing. That isn’t to say there is no dynamic because the level of intensity shifts.

When someone tells you that there is no good metal left, point them here. When they say all core stuff sucks, point them here. When they say metal and core are all just shrieking and screaming, point them here. This release is the killer of cliches.

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Anakdota

Review: Anakdota – Overloading

British-isms that fuelled the first golden years of progressive rock are here in tandem with the byzantine instrumentation that would give it lasting appeal.

It’s clear that these folks already have a firm grasp of what they wanted to do and how to do it from the very start. Overloading shows that Anakdota is confident and precise from the first song to last, offering well-thought melodies, interesting vocal arrangements, and passages that connect the dots that are quite enjoyable. Erez Aviram, who is the key person for this project, is a pianist who absolutely shines here. The main instrument on this record is the piano, played masterfully by Aviram. The sound is well-rounded, the passages are melodic. The interplay between piano parts and vocals, courtesy of Ray Livnat and Ayala Fossdeld, is another highlight of Overloading.The term “virtuosity” has been a synonym for progressive rock for a while, but this release is focus on melody over the technicality, but still the latter is present a lot.

Overloadning

The craftsmanship and musicianship are top-notch. Starting from the openers “One More Day” and “Different Views,” as Overloading flows by Anakdota are even more prolific; they are like a flower that opens up slowly.

The album’s centrepiece is the title track, which sees Aviram providing an intricate work on his piano, with Livnat providing his most theatrical performance, and a very imaginative rhythm section.

To conclude, with Overloading Anakdota hints that they have the knowledge and potential to make something good. At least, this record is far from being categorized as a “hobby album,” it surely needs to be listened and is not one of those “skip-over” releases. Give this album a chance and let the music speak to your heart, rather than your brain!

Get a copy of Overloading here.

Resurgence

EP Review: Burnt City – Resurgence

One of the first releases of the year, released on January 1st, is a debut EP by Australian progressive power metal project Burnt City, led by guitarist Aydin Zahedi. Titled Resurgence, it could be said that the EP is an all-star (progressive power) metal affair. Put together by Zahedi, the band also includes bassist Mike Lepond (Symphony X), drummer George Kollias (Nile), keyboardist Bob Katsionis (Firewind, Serious Black), and singer Gus Monsanto. Based on this, I can safely say that this release is off to a good start!

The songs tend to go the route of hard hitting progressive metal, as on the riff heavy “Seven”, title track, or the melodic yet highly intricate “Wild Hunter” and “Armageddon.” Monsanto lends his unquestionable talents throughout the album; he is such a pleasant revelation on this record. “Armageddon” closes out the album in quite thunderous fashion, with sledgehammer riffing, orchestral keys, and locked in tight rhythms. Plenty of stellar lead guitar work to be found throughout the album courtesy of Zahedi, so be prepared for a progressive metal feast from start to finish.

Though we get treated to many of these types of collaborations, most of them feel unnatural. The chemistry between the members here flows smoothly. Along with some very special guests, Zahedi has created a very intriguing and enjoyable record. Looking forward to hear more.

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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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