MARCO RAGNI – LAND OF BLUE ECHOES – MELODIC REVOLUTION

Having enjoyed Marco’s 2018 album, ‘The Wandering Caravan’, I have now gone back to the previous release, 2016’s ‘Land of Blue Echoes’. He again provides multiple instruments himself, and has brought together a stellar cast of musicians, including the wonderful Peter Matuchniak on acoustic and electric guitars. Colin Tench also provides guitar on the opening number, “Between Moon and Earth”, which made me stop when I realised as it is nearly the anniversary of his sad passing. We had been swapping emails on Christmas Day in our normal jokey manner, and just two days later he was gone. Both Poms, both living away from the land of our birth, at opposite ends of the planet, he signed his off “Colin of the North”.

But, this isn’t one of Colin’s great albums, but again another masterpiece by Marco. He not only provides vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, Greek bouzouki and bass, but also  keyboards and piano. His ability to play multiple instruments enables to get the best out of those he is working with, with masterful arrangements. Drummer Jacopo Ghirardini  is a monster behind the kit, driving complex rhythms (or sitting there having a rest), while Peter demonstrates yet again that he can turn his guitar style to anything at hand. He can be delicate and restrained, Gilmour or Latimer-like, or he can turn on the overdrive and become far more powerful.

It is the multiple styles that makes this such an interesting album to listen to, with elements of Pink Floyd and (especially) Tangerine Dream giving way to some driving hard rock, all controlled and making perfect sense throughout. There are a couple of epics on the album, which comes in at more than 70 minutes long, and although there are long instrumental passages there are also some wonderfully delicate and powerful vocals from baritone Durga McBroom, which add to the feel of class which is prevalent throughout this release. Strong bass counter rhythms and melodies, Spanish guitar, it all combines to produce yet another compelling album from Marco which is well worth investigating. 8/10

MAGIC MOMENTS AT TWILIGHT TIME – FLASHBAX ULTIMATE – KLAPPSTUHL

I probably first came across Mick Magic some 25 years or so ago when he was not only running an underground cassette label Music & Elsewhere, which released nearly 600 albums between 1987 and 2003, but also had a band called Magic Moments at Twilight Time. It is safe to say that they were incredibly prolific themselves, releasing material not only through the M&E label but on others. There were ten volumes of a series called ‘Flashbax’, and German label Klappstuhl Records has released a “best of” that set, based on a fan poll conducted in 1992, specifically for a proposed ‘best of’ called ‘In Search Of Albert’, which never saw the light of day. Mick then added an additional disc of songs specially chosen by him, which assists in telling the story of the band, in their own quirky little style, all the way from their time travelling adventures that made our early existence so confusing, right up to the final track of the cassette era, “Freedom Overflow”, used for some years as the theme tune of the renowned pirate radio station. 

I really wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I revisited this for the first time, as I remembered MMATT were quite an acquired taste, but I put on the headphones and decided to immerse myself in music that in some places goes back thirty years. It took a little while, but I soon realised I was smiling while I was playing this. It is nothing like what I normally listen to, as not only are the keyboards and sequencers horribly dated, but they must have sounded that way when the music was first made available. It is independent underground alternative rock pop which has elements of space rock contained within it, is jagged, simplistic, yet thoroughly enjoyable all at the same time. When the album finished, 18 songs and more than two hours later, I was really disappointed that it was over and had to delve back into it again. This is not music that takes itself seriously, but rather is all about having loads of cheap synths and sequencers with female vocals, and then having the nerve to make the music incredibly catchy and fun. Listening to it again and bloody hell I’m still smiling! Available for just €5 from 

https://klappstuhl.bandcamp.com/album/flashbax-ultimate 8/10

LANDMVRKS – FANTASY – ARISING EMPIRE RECORDS

Apparently this metalcore quartet started off life as Coldsight in 2014, only changing the name when founding guitarist Florent Salfati switched to lead vocals. They self-released their debut, ‘Hollow’, in 2016 and have now signed to Arising Empire Records for their second. I have never made secret my general dislike of the metalcore genre, and here I find myself rather more frustrated than normal, as what we have here are a bloody good metal band who are mixing in other bits and pieces which I find distracting. They are much heavier than many in the genre, with heavily distorted bass, and very strong guitars indeed. For me they lose it on the vocals, and some of the more “emotional” moments should be removed and the band just keep powering it out. But they are bombastic and powerful, and I am sure those who enjoy the genre far more than me will get a great deal from this highly polished and energetic band.  6/10

LIGHT DAMAGE – NUMBERS – PROGRESSIVE PROMOTION

Three years on from the debut, and Luxembourg-based Light Damage are back with an album that builds on the first album and expands on that platform. Another change of drummer with Christophe Szczryk now on board, but there is also the use of guests which have allowed the band to bring in cello, double bass, violin, flute and most notably two female singers. One of these, Marilyn Placek, is involved with the one truly epic song, “From Minor to Sailor” which nearly break the twenty-minute barrier.

On the first album I said they reminded me of Guy Manning, and although that is still very much the case, they have hardened the sound as well as broadened it, so although we can be treated to some flowing piano and delicate bass, this can give way to some driving riffing guitars. I am also very impressed with Szczryk who really understands his place in the band, so much so that he can be driving the band with incredibly strong drumming (along with some great rolls around the kit), or just sits back and takes a breather and contributes to the overall sound by playing absolutely nothing.  There is also a superb use of different sounds from cymbals, which provides a superb backdrop for the rest of the band. Guitarist Stéphane Lecocq has also really matured with this album, and his powerful interplay with keyboard player Sébastien Pérignon really drives the band on.

Strong neo-prog with large elements of both symphonic and hard rock, this is a wonderful follow-up. It will be interesting indeed to see how this band progresses over the next few years, as two albums in they are already very impressive indeed.   8/10

LIGHT DAMAGE – LIGHT DAMAGE – PROGRESSIVE PROMOTION

This 2015 album was the debut release from Luxembourg-based neo progressive band Light Damage. That isn’t a country I have ever thought of as a hotbed of the scene, but these guys all know what they are doing, having previously performed as a Pink Floyd tribute called Brain Damage before moving onto their own material. They actually started back in 2005 when  Seb (drums) and Stephane (guitars) met at a festival, and then started putting the band together soon afterwards. Seb left after the release of their first demo, ‘Acronym’, and the line-up settled down to  Frédérik Hardy (bass, bass pedals, backing vocals), Nicholas-John (lead vocals, guitars, e-bow), Sébastien Pérignon (keyboards, percussion and tubular bells), Stéphane Lecocq (lead guitars) and Thibaut Grappin (drums, percussion). They took a year off from gigs to work on new material and re-arranging old songs and self-released this album before it was picked up by PPR. 

Musically they have been paying close attention to Guy Manning, and have then taken this with more neo influences to create something which feels very rooted in the Nineties, and to someone like me who was very involved with the scene back then, it is a very welcome sound indeed. It is a very British sound, and they play with a broad palette, and ‘Meddle’-era Floyd touches here and there. One of the delights is there are many layers, so there is more to discover with each unpeeling of the onion as the listener gets more inside the music and what the band are trying to achieve. The album tells the story of a person who loses a loved one, while the cover itself is a representation of the story as it is an old piece of fabric which has been torn apart by years and damaged by different manipulations it ugly and belongs in the garbage, or is it beautiful?

Powerful and gripping, this is a superb debut album which any fans of the sub-genre would do well to investigate.   8/10

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