Darrel Treece Birch is on a red hot roll as far as music is concerned. Last year we presented two reviews to you that this keyboard virtuoso, one was his solo album No More Timeand the one he did as a member of Nth Ascension with In Fine Initium. In 2017 we see Darrel Treece Birch return with his other band Ten with Gothicaand now his new solo album Healing Touch. Darrel Treece Birch has absolutely no lack of substance when it comes to creative license is concerned and it is demonstrated by the quick turn around between releases. Darrel Treece Birch is a flowing fountain and well spring of melodious bliss.
Unlike 2016’s offering No More Time, Darrel Treece Birch decided not to have multiple guest musicians and go it all alone. Another difference with Healing Touch is it is not the conceptual piece that No More Time was. Do not be fooled however, Healing Touchis one serious exotic and melodic safari through the soul of one Darrel Treece Birch. There are 10 new songs that are all instrumentals yet they each have their own individual identity while remaining on point to the main spiritual objective that becomes the common theme throughout Healing Touch. Without any lyrics, Darrel Treece Birch manages to convey subjects of life and faith quite eloquently with just instrumentals. To date Healing Touch is perhaps Darrel Treece Birch’s most diverse album.
God’s Prescription immediately sets a cool smooth mood for the listener of the album. It sets a mood like one is transported into a futuristic world of electronic jazz fusion. This sounds like it may in fact be 25 years ahead of its time. It is certainly a soothing track in that Darrel uses more atmospheric theory to transport the listener into the world he intended them to be. Some of the electronica atmospheres subside to a more traditional jazz fusion rhythm section and soon both of the sum of the parts gel into a perfectly balanced melody. The track even provokes visions of the future which is a testament to Darrel Treece Birch’s forward thinking and sometimes groundbreaking work. There are many elements to this track that also remind me of Kraftwerk meets Alan Parson’s Band. Even more so this track represents a celestial element as well.
From The Mouth in many ways keeps with the subject of faith, hope , healing and love. It opens up with some seriously heavy synth work along with a beautifully deep bass and drum rhythm section that is not always synth manufactured. It gives the most seasoned listener the truth appearance that every instrument was recorded prior the synths and keyboards. Although the futuristic mood is still there, this track takes upon itself some very heavy elements of jazz fusion, especially in the context of the rhythm section. The rhythm section takes on a very 1970’s mood with fuzzy elements serving as a main feature. This lending a heavy Pink Floyd influence about it.
Cast It Out starts out with a wall of synths that hearkens back to the later 1970’s Kraftwerk style meets the earlier 1980’s Buggles. Darrel Treece Birch certainly puts on the first of a few keyboardist music and theory clinics with this one. He is always venturing out into territory that easily keeps him from being pigeonholed into one style and Cast It Out is a perfect example to this. Cast It Out is also a serious departure from what we have been use to hearing in Nth Ascension and Ten, Darrel’s other musical outlets. The track eventually levels out to a more conventional progressive hard rock song that eventually ends with some very beautiful progressive rock atmospheres.
Re-Boot sees Darrel Treece Birch channel heavy elements to the late great Keith Emerson with the production mind of a Alan Parsons. It also leaves a very heavily ELP influence as far as atmospheric soundscape structures. The guitar work is very ‘Floydian’ in nature leaving void or filler for the sake of having a complete song. The rhythm section is very well balanced and subtle leaving the guitar and keyboard stringed section much room to breathe and thrive within the songs own identity and purpose.
The Fruits Of The Spirit opens up with beautifully orchestrated sounds of nature in harmony with radiant wind chimes. This track from the first note already transport the listener in a state of tranquility and peace. This is also a very intricate track where it appears that the keyboard is distributing various chord progressions of the other instrumental interests throughout the duration of the track. This track is a soothing balm perfectly arranged to keep the listeners attention in the album.
The Stand opens up like a whirlwind with a very windy atmospheric effect generated by the synth’s. It is soon followed up by a beautiful rhythm section with some more ‘Floydian’ guitar soundscapes. The pure fusion approach to this track is yet another departure from some of the normal work we are used to hearing from Darrel. His experimental side truly knows no boundaries. This track in particular explores a more avant – garde side to Darrel Treece Birch that I honestly never knew was there.
The Release reminds me a lot of Arjen Luccasen’s Ayreon work , specifically the Actual Fantasy album. This is very heavily rooted in the electronic orchestral chord progression. When the other instruments such as the lead guitar and drums come in they are immediately highlighted and allowed to breathe throughout the composition. It is almost a melodic play on words in that there is a play on various chord progressions and deeply instrumental rhythm sections that would make Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk blush. This track truly lives up to its namesake in that Darrel Treece Birch appears to open up yet another level of musicianship.
The Expanse starts off with the illusion of a music box playing tender little wind chimed melodies. This transports the listener into a melodic fantasy realm. The rhythm section shines through deeply. Both the stringed sections and rhythm sections are in a perfect harmonious persuasion. The track builds layer upon layers as it maintains its uplifting objective. This track has a heavy science fiction aesthetic working through is various passages and intricate chord progressions.
No Fear Here basically continues in the tradition of The Expanse and The Release. It is both heavy on the keyboard atmospheres and the unorthodox rhythm sections tat keep hooking the listener. There are some elements of classic rock keyboards much like Keith Emerson meets Rick Wakeman at the crossroads of modern fusion.
God’s Medicine opens up with a immediate guitar solo. This is yet another unconventional and surprising element of Darrel Treece Birch’s approach on this album. This is also some very beautiful classically rooted atmospheric fusion. In its isolation it brings absolution and proper closure to Healing Touch.
Although this one took me a little longer than expected it was well worth the time invested in it. This is well worth the investment to any progressive rock or instrumentalist fans collection. Healing Touch has many personalities and dimensions to it. Darrel Treece Birch really took many risks and chances with this one. Darrel Treece Birch’s Healing Touch gets 5/5.
When I relocated to Houston Texas from Los Angeles California in 1988 -89 I will admit that the Houston Texas metal, progressive rock scene etc … was a rather eclectic mix much more than Los Angeles. One night you could go see Houston Blues legend Freddy Everret out on the Northwest side off Jones Road, another night you could be a Club 6400 or Numbers watching local bands like ZLotZ and Helstar, the fledgling Galactic Cowboys or St Louis Missouri transplants Kings X. There was even ZRock that was a 100% all Heavy Metal and Hard Rock station.
As the 1980’s gave way to the Alternative 1990’s, Houston found itself in a musical culture that was either forcing the flavour of the month in rock n roll down the throats of its citizens. Soon modern rock formatted stations such as 101.1 KLOL would go from decent modern rock and metal to a full blown Espanol station. Outside Classic Rock radio and KPFT a non commercial station here as well. Then there were the record stores that seemed to be one of the few entities keeping any metal scene together. You had Catcus near the Montrose, Diamondhead Records and Vinyl Edge on the Northwest side. Yes for a while in the later 1990’s and early 2000’s the metal scene seemed to be a little bleak around here.
However something began to happen where the scene. With the rise in the internet and the explosion of small to larger venues, bands in any genre began to reclaim a foothold within the general conscience. The House Of Blues started to welcome local bands, the 19th Hole up in The Woodlands and BFE off Jones Rd, started to book national acts like Savatage, Fates Warning, Seven Witches among local bands like Well Of Souls and the subject of this album review Masqued.
Brief Biography Courtesy Of Masqued Official Website
The band was formed in 2014 by guitarist Eric Halpern (HELSTAR, LEATHERWOLF), bassist Shane Dubose, and keyboardist Adam Rawlings, all formerly with local Houston, TX legends Z-LOT-Z. They recruited drummer Jon Allen (SADUS, TESTAMENT) and second guitarist Drew Creel (MEVYN), with Steffany Johnston providing the missing piece after an extensive vocalist search. The group have just put the finishing touches on their first album which was produced by veteran SF Bay Area studio whiz Juan Urteaga (Testament, Vicious Rumors, Machine Head). Expect an amazing piece of American metal: melodic, progressive, aggressive, unique and modern, with elements from ‘70s rock and jazz, till Bay Area-thrash! Release date will be announced soon.
Eric Halpern on behalf of the band stated the following comments:
”After several years of hard work, MASQUED is very excited to present our debut CD! We are also proud to release it on Sleaszy Rider Records, a well-known and respected label. Metal fans around the globe, with much love and respect, we sincerely hope you enjoy our new music!”
My initial introduction to the band Masqued is a bit blurry. I believe it was a word of mouth thing combined with some social media exposure. I had the privilege of seeing the band live in its infancy at least once. I knew they were going to be a good band but I did not know they would turn out as good as they have. Although the band have only been a unit for 3+ years, in reality they have been preparing for this their entire lives with other prior musical ventures and other bands. With a lifetime of musical and personal experience the band unifies their God given talent that makes for a well crafted album that is The Light In The Dark.Masqued explore subjects of faith, spirituality and provide very uplifting positive in their compositions.
It would be easy and cliche to compare Masqued with other American Progressive Metal bands. If I had to best tell you the reader and potential fan of Masqued, I would say they are a cross between Shadow Gallery meets the Wedding Party. Vocally Steffany Johnston is a female version coming of the late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery. Her pitch perfect range is well balanced throughout the album. On the male vocal side Shane Dubose lends a very strong European flavour to the band reminding me very much of Andrea Ferro of Lacuna Coil. On the instrumental side of the band it is one of the top and stellar lineups in the industry today. This is due to all the time playing live as a band and really honing the craft prior to making a full debut album.
There seems to be hook and riff after hook and riff. I will note the highlights of every track going forward.
A New Beginning is a straight forward instrumental intro to open up the album. Its heavy Arabic scale lends a very unique and beautiful dimension to the album from the first note go. It seamlessly transitions smoothly into the next track The Light In The Dark.
The Light In The Dark explodes with a thunderous rhythm section right out of the starting gate off A New Beginning. This is also the official first single off the album. The chord progressions are very tight like the band have been together for 10+ years. There is no filler whatsoever. Every chord progression and rhythm portion all serve a purpose and do their own intended purpose. Steffany Johnston – Vocals and Shane DuBoise – Bass/Vocals really play tight off one another. Their vocal structure is also in perfect pitch with the melodic composition half of the this track. The vocals do not overwhelm nor appear to have once ounce of weakness with the melody and harmony of the song. Lyrically the band immediately establishes a much more positive and uplifting message that is sometimes lacking in progressive metal.
The Call begins with thunderous rhythm sections with some very beautiful ethereal vocal chants. It soon switches gears towards a more atmospheric progressive track and the beautiful yet uplifting female vocals come in and really play on key with the instrumental section. Lyrically the subject matter revolves around life choices and destiny. This is one of the more aggressive tracks on the album. It is not only a heavy track sonically but vocally it is full of passion and grace. The track contains some very insane chord progressions and time signatures that certainly qualify it as a progressive minded song.
Let Go begins with a very blistering introduction with various chord progressions met with some very intricate time signatures in the rhythm section. It reminds me a lot of Shadow Gallery’s Deeper Than Life off 1995’s Carved In Stone as far as the explosive riffs and emotion within the opening instrumental section. Once again the female vocal narrative is on perfect point and range. Steffany Johnston totally demonstrates full control along with Shane DuBose in the male vocal narrative. It seems that vocal control and orientation is becoming the rule throughout the album more than just some exception and Let Go is yet another perfect example of this.
Hypnotized is a perfect demonstration of the band’s uncanny ability to create something different with every song and a killer brainstorm in the mixing of the track. In perfect harmony between the opening instrumental passage in perfect harmony with the vocal the track is fades in gradually and seamlessly. This track is very heavy on guitar solo’s as the beginning starts as a solo. Both the male and female vocal narratives work much like a melodic dialogue going back and forth in various sections. The instrumentals are very brutal and heavy throughout the song serving as perfect filters for the various solo’s. The outro is a beautiful blend of the brutal rhythm sections with the beautiful ethereal vocals.
Bullet By Bullet starts off with the band’s signature deep thunderous rhythm section in melody with the beautiful piano styles of Adam Rawlings – Keyboards. There are some breaks in the early notes before the song begins to blister the senses. The blistering soon subsides to the beautiful soothing balm of Steffany Johnston’s vocals. The message again is one of very uplifting. Then the male vocal narrative of Shane DuBose switches in and out. This is also followed by brilliant solo’s done by Drew Creel – Guitar , Eric Halpern – Guitar, Adam Rawlings – Keyboards. Much of this track reminds me a lot of Dream Theater’s Awake in 1994 meets Teremaze’s Tears To Dust in 1998.
The Other Side starts out with a spoken word narrative before going into a opening passage that is very Iron Maiden style, especially with Hallowed Be Thy Name. It does level off into a progressive frenzy of various guitars solo’s and atmospheric keyboards within the background. You have this situation that allows both guitarists to display their great rhythm work. The guitars come from out of the stringed section and meet up more with the rhythm section in the song. The vocal harmony even plays off the rhythm section very fluidly. Of course a few intricate guitar solo’s appear but within in the context of the rhythm section more than a stringed section.
Broken can easily be a single much like The Light In The Dark. It has a beautiful verse bridge verse to it. Where it lacks in chorus it certainly makes up for with beautiful vocal work and intricate guitar work. I can see this one gain a foothold within in live sets as the band progresses and plays shows in support of the album.
Rise Up starts out seeing and hearing Jon Allen – Drums put on one of the best drumming clinics on a album I have heard in the last 20 years. He certainly sets the tone for the rest of the band to chime in instrumentally and vocally to give the listener a full all out assault on the senses of the next 6:05. Once again the vocal narrative between Stefanny Johnston and Shane Dubose is spot on perfect in melody to the instrumental. The unsung hero on the song being Jon Allen on drums.
In a year that did see Houston Texas battered by Hurricane Harvey this album was very needed within the Houston metal, progressive and general musical community overall. Masqued The Light In The Dark and the World Series victory of the Houston Astro’s in that order are highlights in what appeared to be a dark bleak 2017. I knew I had moved from Los Angeles to Houston for a reason. This album is among those reasons and blessings. Masqued The Light In The Dark is now on my very short list of Album Of The Year 2017 contenders right up there with Ayreon, Nad Sylvan, Quadrus, Scardust and Perihelion Ship. Masqued The Light In The Dark gets a perfect 5/5 for stellar work.
Scardust choir: Basses: Jonathan Wolf, Ray Livnat, Yarden Gruman, Amit Fortus, Erez Tovi, Guy Moshkovitz, Yanai Avnet. Tenors: Elad Peretz, Baruch (Bam) Gruman, Ben Saada, Ray Livnat, Chen Sharon, Dima Fridrich, Yan Ben Yosef, Adar Elmackias. Altos: Rakefet Ann Ben Shabetai, Shani Gruman, Leah Marcu, Tali Shahar, Hadar Shemesh, Neta Ben Harush, Yael Cohen, Yael Abady. Sopranos: Rinat Gruman, Atalya Emily Shuorki, Zohar Ben Haim, Nitsan Cohen, Shaked Baydatch, Almog Dror, Carmel Cohen, Yael Abady, Hadar Shemesh. Children: Amit Brenner, Dana Maimon, Noam Minster, Gaya Maman, Ori Peretz Conductor: Noa Gruman
Drums recorded at “Bardo” studio by Yonatan Kossov, Carmel Peach Drums edited by Yonatan Kossov
Choir, Strings quartet and grand piano recorded at “Mitzlol” studio by Jonathan Barak Vocals and children choir recorded at “Gruman” studio by Jonathan Barak Guitars, bass and keyboard recorded and edited by Yanai Avnet, Yadin Moyal and Alex Nicola Extra vocals (in “Queen of Insanity”): Yotam ‘Defiler’ Avni Vocals edited by – Noa Gruman
Sands Of Time 1. Act -I Overture 2. Act-II Eyes Of Agony 3. Act-III Dials 4. Act-IV Hourglass 5. Act-V Sands Of Time 6. Arrowhead 7. Out Of Strong Came Sweetness 8. Queen Of Insanity 9. Blades 10. Gift Divine
*Editorial Op-Ed Note* For a while now I have been wanting to highlight quality progressive metal and progressive rock from the great country and state of Israel. There are certainly many bands and talent in Israel that get overlooked on the global progressive rock/metal communities. That hopefully is all about to change. Just as I believe that Israel deserves to exist as a state and nation I also believe its artists and bands from the progressive rock and metal communities deserve to be spotlighted with articles and the upcoming series of album reviews I have coming to Power of Prog.This series is also in celebration of Israel’s Independence in 1948. This series will go all the way through 2018 to mark the 70th Anniversay of Israel becoming a nation. My personal views on Israel or my album review observations do not reflect the other members and staff of Power of Prog.
In a part of the world that that is often rocked with such great turbulent turmoil there often goes a great musical community that can be easily overlooked. Surrounded by enemies from all sides and those that seek to destroy her is the nation of Israel. Centuries old conflicts on the world stage sometimes gather more attention than its very vibrant and thriving art and musical community. Among the vibrant thriving symphonic progressive metal community in Israel is none other than independent upstart’s Scardust with their debut album titled Sands Of Time.
When Noa Gruman – Lead Vocals told me she was sending a physical CD along with a digital press kit I was truly grateful. This has allowed me to follow the lyrical content, instrumental content and the artwork that seems to get pushed aside, however is just as significant as to what you hear on the album. All these factors work wonderfully hand in hand together.
Scardust are just not another Epica, After Forever or even a Delain clone from Israel. Scardust as a band have far more to offer and their own unique sound that to draw a comparison to those bands would be very unfair. I will venture to say Scardust have developed their own sound that many newer bands going forward will be taking something away from them. First of all Noa Gruman – Vocals has a death growl, a semi operatic voice and even a deep powerful power metal vocal about here and that becomes obvious throughout the entire Sands Of Time album. The Sands Of Time album is a partial concept album with the opening multi tracked 27+ minute epicSands Of Time that encompasses the first five tracks of the Sands Of Time album. In terms of any comparison, I would compare Sands Of Time the 27+minute epic to something like Dream Theater did with A Mind Beside Itself – 1. Erotmania, 2. Voices & 3. The Silent Man from 1994’s Awake album. A epic that was multi track to suffice a label yet without abandoning their fan base. Sands Of Time is that epic for Scardust.
Sands Of Time Parts 1-5
1. Act -I Overture
This starts out with a isolated violin and stringed section before a very explosive orchestral instrumental atmosphere in harmony with a equally explosive choir in perfect time and harmony to the instrumental melody. The instrumental contains both metal and symphonic elements within it. It only contains four verses/stanza’s however they prepare the listener a brief over view of what is to come within the Sands Of Time story.
2. Act-II Eyes Of Agony
This seamlessly transitions smoothly from the first act Overture. There is a melody of piano with heavy rhythm sections happening both in the guitar and bass/drum. Soon the beautiful feminine vocal narrative comes into being. The lyrical narrative can be seen from the perspective that a person can not shake the images of war and that those images plague them night and day, awake or in a their sleep. The instrumental does a beautiful job adding to this emotion. Soon it goes from a clean female vocal narrative to a mean and angry melodic death metal narrative done from the angrier perspective provided by the dual vocal personality of Noa Gruman herself.
3. Act-III Dials
Once again this seamlessly and smoothly transitions off of Act-II Eyes Of Agony. The choir continues to bridge the gaps and tie the over all Sands Of Time epic from the very beginning of this track. This is also a pivotal point where the band start to really tighten up their unique cohesive sound and present more as a musical brand. Accompanying the choir is a deep bass/drum rhythm section along with some reprisal portions that maintain the epic atmosphere. There is a very Chris Squire-esque Yes type of bass to keyboard section within this before it gets back into more familiar and modern progressive symphonic metal territory much like a cross between Epica and Dream Theater. Lyrically the track remains rather dark and anger driven properly and on point with the bands main objective of the Sands Of Time epic. This part of the epic ends with a very symphonic induced section that sounds like a mini orchestra with a beautiful soprano conveying the lyrical and melodic narrative.
4. Act-IV Hourglass
This continues the epic through a smooth and seamless transition off of Act-III Dials. It follows with a beautiful guitar and keyboard atmosphere before the female narrative vocally comes in with some isolation and then joined in melody with the instrumental portion of the track. It also seems the band are really tightening up everything into a core unit of sound. There is this perfect balance between progressive metal and symphonic metal really happening here in this portion of Sands Of Time. Some of the vocal narrative is almost cabaret like at times both in the singular narrative or the plural narrative in the choir. This is also the perfect transitional portion of Sands of Time to begin to close it on the final portion Act-V Sands Of Time.
5. Act-V Sands Of Time
This seamlessly transitions perfectly off of Hourglass. It begins with a beautiful piano with the beautiful female vocal. This starts as a beautiful ballad like atmosphere. The choir comes in and out lending further depth and layers into this classically endowed piece. On the lyrical side the song and story begins to come to a close thus completing the entire Sands Of Time epic.
Arrowhead starts the last half of the album. It is ironic that the band incorporate the sound of crickets and give the track the personality of a morning style atmosphere. It is symbolic to the new beginning of the other half of the album. Noa Grunman’s isolated vocal picks the listener up where it left them on the Sands Of Time epic and once again hooks them into another story line lyrically. Instrumentally this track is full of thunderous rhythmic blast beats and a very percussive bass to match the equally tuned down rhythmic stringed sections on the guitars. The other half of this song is very choir and vocal harmony driven.
Out Of Strong Came Sweetness opens up with a sound much in the tradition of Savatage’s Hall Of The Mountain King instrumentally. The levels off into a more orchestral and symphonic track utilizing various choirs and various off vocal harmonies. The instrumental really works very well both melodically and harmoniously especially when the grunts work in tandem with the choral portions. The choirs are a huge attraction to this song.
Queen Of Insanity starts off with a absolute shred fest that morphs into a blistering and thunderous rhythmic frenzy. The guitar riffs remind me very much of Jeff Loomis Nevermore era, meets Mike Romeo SymphonyX. The growls and grunts done by Noa Gruman remind me of classic Mark Jansen Epica ex-After Forever. The female vocals of Noa Gruman ascend to a entirely different level and we discover her immense vocal depth and ability. She is a fine breed of both power metal and progressive metal with symphonic tendencies.
Blades opens up with a beautiful ballad like atmosphere with a beautiful duet between Noa Gruman and Jake E Amaranthe. This is all highlighted by the beautiful progressive/symphonic instrumental that is often at time atmospheric in nature with the soaring guitar solo’s and orchestral portions. This track reminds me a lot of Kamelot’s The Haunting. The guitars are very well balanced between progressive passages and symphonic passages.
Gift Divine opens up with a beautiful atmospheric piano that is soon met by the beautiful atmospheric female vocal narrative. The heavy orchestral portions of both keyboard and bass and a entirely different dimension than what the rest of the album has been. The band really know how to layer various instruments in on perfect time. The layers are very progressive in attitude yet symphonic in nature. The band has a very cunning ability to bring the listener in that is more of a warm invitation without overwhelming them. This song is a excellent example to all the band are capable of doing.
Israel is a country that is very under rated and often overlooked for their progressive rock, progressive metal contributions to the world. In a land that has given the world Orphaned Land, Reign Of The Architect, Quietus, Yossi Sassi Band, Soul Enema, Distorted Harmony, etc … Scardust are certainly a band that can continue to establish Israel as a progressive metal powerhouse on a global scale. Due its unique sound and consistent intensity, I am giving Scardust’s Sands Of Time a 5/5.
When Opeth returned in 2011 with the release of Heritage many believed that the death of true extreme progressive death metal had come to a end due to the lack of growls to balance out the cleaner vocals. Many people did not know where a suitable replacement or a new hero band would come from or if it was going to return at all. Little did people know that one of the answers to this very question would come from Opeths neighbouring country of Sweden, Finland. The band out of Finland would be Perihelion Ship.
Last year I discovered these guys and was totally mindblown by their strong independent debut titled A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring. With haunting Hammond Organ and Mellotron style keyboards over a traditional progressive death metal sound, Perihelion Ship would be one of those very bands that kept the progressive death metal sub genre alive and well. Not only are Perihelion Ship one of the answers to that void left by Opeth, they are very serious contenders to take the throne as the kings of that brand of progressive death metal which Opeth left vacant. This could not be more true with the bands second album and sophomoric effort To Paint A Bird Of Fire.
To Paint A Bird Of Fire sees Perihelion Ship mature quite quickly within under the year since they debuted with A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring. To Paint A Bird Of Fire builds upon the rock solid foundation laid with A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring. In some areas To Paint A Bird Of Fire is quite a bit more abrasive and aggressive than A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring, especially with the guttural growls. The growls are more a blackened death vocal this time around. This will be pointed out and highlighted as this review moves forward. To Paint A Bird Of Fire has 6 very unique tracks yet they all remain in a tightly and sometimes very unpredictable objective. It is book ended by New Sun and New Sun? leaving the listener either the illusion or appearance that this could be a two part epic broke up deliberately to conveying a unspoken point. Now a few highlights from the album with a track by track analysis.
New Sun starts out as a post modern extreme progressive doom style chord progression. This is met with haunting Hammond style organs creating a very dark atmosphere that allows the deep bass chord progression to explode. The song starts to assault the senses of the listener in a beautiful brutal passage. The band always has a very cunning ability to weave in 1970’s pure progressive concepts with the mellotron and Hammond styled organs with the various modern time signatures both in the rhythm section and the guitars. This song quickly demonstrates the bands uncompromising approach to pure progressive rock and to transcribe it through the filter of today’s modern progressive metal elements. The band certainly storms out of the gate with a very tight cohesive vision and execution of sound.
Bird Of Fire begins with a very eerie dark Hammond Organ chord progression that forms a very dark atmosphere. Soon that recedes and a full all out assault of all instruments forms a deep thunderous melodic rhythm section with the clean vocal first. Thereafter the band takes the listener through a roller coaster of various time signatures and chord progressions before the death growls come in and change the complexion of the track.
The Sad Mountain opens up with thunderous blast beats that are soon met with the melancholic atmosphere created by the synths. The rhythm section goes to further and darker areas of melody in harmony with the clean yet somber vocals. The band have a uncanny ability to use the bass both as a melodic and percussive instrument. Jouko Lehtonen – Bass Guitaris gradually establishing himself as one of modern progressive metal’s best bass players. This also sees the growth and maturation of Andreas Hammer – Guitar, Vocals starting to come into his own as a powerhouse progressive metal frontman. He is also a firm reminder of a younger Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth or Jonas Renske of Katatonia. Perihelion Ship definitely remain on point and objective this far into the album.
River’s Three opens up with a beautifully played acoustical guitar that creates a dark and once again yet somber atmosphere. Jani Konttinen’s – Hammond Organ, Mellotron orchestration of simulated wind instruments is a delightful brainstorm that yields a beautiful melody alongside the beautiful acoustic guitar. This track is a great track that it allows the listener to breathe and begin to digest the album.
Wind Of No Echoes continues to demonstrate the bands atmospheric side. Once again semi acoustic guitars alongside the beautiful keyboards give the album a particular sound signature where it is starting to become part and parcel to the brand of the band. That melancholic vibe before a wall of extreme bliss seems to be how the band likes to approach things at times. This is also accompanied with heavy rhythm section provided by the bass and drum. Then without notice the band changes up the atmosphere briefly yet with taste as not to disturb the listening experience. Through all the heavy passages there is a spoken word section that is met with some of the most venomous and sinister blackened death vocals I have heard in quite sometime. The sheer anger in the vocals is perfectly matched with the instrumental half of the track.
New Sun? This track goes well into the world of extreme progressive metal with some equally as heavy psychedelic elements to it. This is also the longest track on the album. It really explodes out of the gate with a heavy progressive and melodic unity within all the instruments. The deep rhythm sections are still in play as well as the intricate guitar chord progressions. The clean vocals are very strong on this one and are articulated quite well. If this is a continuation of the first song New Sun there are not any reprisal areas that lead the listener that way. The death growls certainly kick in perfect harmony with the deep double blast beats of the drums. The psychedelic portion comes with a wicked and sinister laugh that reminds me a lot of Porcupines Tree’s Voyage 34 when the main character Brian goes on that bad LSD trip. The mellotron style keyboards lend a heavy psychedelic vibe to those laughing spots. With this being the final track on the album it finishes very tight, professional and strong.
Last year I went on record and called Perihelion Ship’s A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring the best extreme progressive metal’s strongest debut album of all time. I also remember giving such praise to the pioneering independent spirit to that album. For a band to return just little under a year like Perihelion Ship has now done with To Paint A Bird Of Fire is another lofty feat in of itself. To Paint A Bird Of Fire is yet another full length album and it demonstrates the band’s ability to mature a lot in such little time since their debut A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring. Due to the band’s quick maturity and non inhibition of exploration I am giving Perihelion Ship’s To Pain A Bird Of Fire a strong 5/5. This could possibly be my progressive metal album of the year.
It is always often a gamble to write, record, engineer, produce and master a concept album. First you need to have a tangible plot or story-line that finds an audience or even a niche. Second you need a band or personnel surrounding you that is willing or actually shares the same vision towards the main concept or story. Many bands that fall under the progressive rock banner usually do not make a concept album on their debut. However there are exceptions to this notion.
As a matter of fact, some bands refrain from making concept albums or wait until they are many years into their recording careers with a established audience before they even introduce the world to a concept album. So when I was introduced recently to Norway’s Gentle Knife and learned that their 2015 debut album was a full blown concept album I could not resist myself and proceeded my journey with the band.
A little history into Norwegian Progressive Rock.
The usual discourse of discussion concerning progressive rock bands from Norway usually leans towards Norwegian progressive metal bands like Pagans Mind, Circus Maximus, Leperous, Borkgnar, Enslaved, etc. In reality there is a whole other community within the Norwegian progressive rock scene that is sometimes overlooked due to the greater progressive metal and black metal exports that come out of this beautiful Scandinavian progressive outpost. Bands like Airbag, Magic Pie, White Willow, Wobbler, Pictoral Wand, Gazpacho and the subject of this review Gentle Knife have also solidified Norway’s place on the global stage of progressive rock.
Gentle Knife are made up of 10 very different yet interesting members that make up the beauty of the sound of the band. These are 10 very unique personalities that really have developed a well cohesive unit both as a band and in their vision into the album creation process. The vocal narrative of the band is carried by both a masculine male perspective so articulately done by Håkon Kavli – Vocals & Guitars and the feminine female perspective eloquently done by Melina Oz – Vocals. The entire concept is about a urbanite wanderer that ventures into the vastness of the forest and gets lost.
The sound of Gentle Knife can be described as very traditional symphonic progressive rock that is rooted into the purity of 1970’s progressive rock with influences of Genesis, Van Der Graf Generator, King Crimson, Amon Dull ii and Renaissance with a modern 21st century twist to it with bands like Magenta, Kingfisher Sky , Mostly Autumn and IONA to name a few. The very fact the band has 10 members makes for quite a very interesting orchestral unit in of itself. There are so many possibilities with more members in a band compared to a typically standard four or five members that seems predominant within the progressive rock community.
Gentle Knife even open up vast possibilities due to three dynamics working in union within the band. These three dynamics are a very beautiful stringed section along with a beautiful on time rhythm section with the well balanced blend of woodwind instruments serving as a base for the band. Gentle Knife’s Gentle Knife 2015 has eight uniquely crafted tracks. I will talk about some of the major highlights going on with track by track analysis.
Eventide is a immediate invitation and intimate look into the ability of the band as a core unit. It comes out on a full cylinders with a deep rhythm section matched by the intensity of the woodwind’s and stringed section. The band automatically begins to show both its technical and melodic prowess all in one time. The band firmly establishes both roots in 1970’s progressive rock and displays the evolution of progressive music to modern standards in their own distinctive way. The deep rhythm melodies along with the woodwind sections takes the track into a level of layers upon layers.
The female vocal narrative and male vocal narrative certainly give the song two different dimensions allowing for the listener to warm up to the story lyrically. The 10 person dynamic continues to amaze the listener with layers that are very unpredictable always bringing something new with every spin of the album.
Our Quiet Footsteps opens up with a deep drum to bass rhythm section with a beautifully well executed Hammond Style organ to compliment the rhythm section. Soon layers upon layers of Gentle Knife’s signature woodwind sound enters into it and takes the rhythm and stringed sections to a entirely different dimension. The band really executes these layers in a perfect balance where all instruments are easily digested by the listener. The band clearly have a great insight to create ‘Pure’progressive chord progressions and passages that do in fact open up possibilities between the older progressive purists and even newcomers to the progressive lifestyle. The woodwind portions of this particular track remind me a lot of Camel meets White Willow. Mina Oz’s vocal is both beautiful and angelic that works perfectly in harmony with the male masculine narrative. I like how the band executes certain elements of isolation within the vocal narratives where everybody’s vocals can be heard and felt.
Remnants Of Pride is a more keyboard stringed atmosphere in the early seconds of the song. Soon after the beauty of the male vocal comes in with such storytelling clarity. The melody and harmony are always very balanced. The male vocal is met in spot on harmony with the female vocal where the band performs this with a more symphonic orchestral approach. This is the kind of track the band will be able to attract more attention from the audience in live sets. Another unique thing this track has going for it are its odd time signatures both in the woodwind and vocal harmonies that add to its mystique.
Tear Away The Chords That Bind is a much more heavy prog induced track. The rhythm section is much deeper and heavier. The vocal is done with abstract filters much like it is pumped through a megaphone. The bass serves as a more percussive instrument in various spots to lend to the heavy prog atmosphere the band creates on the album. By the time this track comes into the arrangement the band really tighten up in the rhythm sections allowing for both the stringed and woodwind portions to really breathe and shine through. The woodwind’s serve both as 16th CenturyRenaissance and current jazz fusion style passages.
Beneath The Waning Moon is a another track that serves as full validation of the bands intricate understanding of well written rhythm sections with beautiful wind instruments. There are a lot of elements going on here that make it nearly impossible to compare to other bands or albums. Gentle Knife clearly are establishing their very own distinctive sound by now. A sound that can only be noted as the Gentle Knife sound.
The Gentle Knife truly begins with a heavy stringed section with a beautiful keyboard and deep off step rhythm section that all come together in melody and harmony to anchor the track into a beautiful composition piece. The vocals between the female and male narrative continue to add a layer of elegance and grace to the song. This is one of the few songs where a full guitar and keyboard solo are distinct and can be heard. The absolute interchange between all the instrumental portions is a beautiful testament of the band’s understanding of melody.
Epilogue Locus Amoenus begins with a beautifully orchestrated Hammond style organ with some vintage 1970’s fuzz to it. Even in its vintage sound it is not dated and still stands up to modern progressive rock elements. The guitar comes in as well and has a more center stage appearance about it. This is the most atmospheric track on all levels. At around the 3:45 mark the guitar takes on a flamenco style that is very unexpected but very interesting. This is met with a very smooth and eloquently performed saxophone in harmony to the instrumental. This track continue to explore the depths of where the band can and does go.
Coda Impetus begins with a late 1960’s psychedelic groove laden passage with big bass and drums along with a Hammond style organ and a modern style keyboard. This is a track that builds layer upon layers of various rhythm sections met with equally deep rhythm sections from the guitar’s. In its simplicity this track offers a very complex and intricate look into another layer of the bands instrumental prowess. The saxophone laden jazz sections are a thing of ‘Fusion Genius’.
For a debut album this was one of the most ambitious and thought provoking I have heard in quite sometime. People kept mentioning this band to me all through 2016 and after this I know what the hype was all about because this debut lived up to it. This is a first of two from me concerning Gentle Knife. The next is Gentle Knife II Clock Unwound. I give Gentle Knife Gentle Knife a 5/5.
It is always a very curious anticipation when a band releases a second album. The term ‘Sophomoric Jinx’always enters the conventional discourse. This is so especially true when the band puts out a very ambitious and colossal debut album. This is exactly what Gentle Knife did in 2015 with their debut. The typical cliched comparisons always come into the conversation along with a much higher expectation. The band has safely avoided all these cliches and stereotypes with their second album Gentle Knife – Gentle Knife II – Clock Unwound.
Gentle Knife are now made up of 11 very different yet interesting members that make up the beauty of the sound of the band. Veronika Hørven Jensen – Vocals has replaced Mina Oz for this run of Gentle Knife. However that takes nothing away from the vocal quality within the female narrative. If anything it adds more depth to the band. Although it may have a hint of being a conceptual piece, this album this time around has more of a common theme to it instrumentally. The band also returns with a greater maturity to the songwriting process, the production and growth as individual musicians. The six tracks that make up the album are a true testament of a band growing and maturing. Now for a track by track analysis into this ‘Orchestral Labyrinth’ known as Gentle Knife – Gentle Knife II – Clock Unwound.
Prelude: Incipit (Instrumental) opens up the album with a beautiful piano that works in harmony with the trumpet. This combination brings about almost a very ‘Baroque’style about it displaying influences from Handel, Bach or even Vivaldi style registers within this opening composition. This track also allows the listener to get settled in for the remainder of the album.
The Clock Unwound transitions very seamlessly and smoothly from Prelude: Incipit (Instrumental) with a elegant opening guitar solo. Immediately the saxophone and other woodwinds, along with the a heavy prog guitar, begin to establish a very unique and signature sound for the band. Soon a thunderous drum/bass rhythm section enters in with more a tuned down chord progression. The male vocal comes into the narrative and seems filtered through a megaphone. The keyboards are of a more modern style, however playing perfectly on time with both the stringed section and rhythm sections. The woodwind instruments add total depth and layers to the composition as well. The band certainly knows how to hook a listener and keep their attention for the duration of the track. The female vocal narrative gives the track a very heavy hint of RIO or (Rock In Opposition) / Avant Prog vibe with the way it appears diminished in the composition and structure. The band even plays well with off rhythm section time signature beats on this track as well. Towards the end of the song their is a beautiful eclectic mix of jazz fusion with the alto saxophone and progressive chord patterns.
Fade Away starts off with a semi electric guitar in a atmospheric isolation before the flute comes in and adds a beauty and depth to the song. This opening instrumental works on perfect time to the isolation of both the male and female vocal narrative. The horned woodwind sections remind much of Gentle Knife’s peers Thank You Scientist where there is a huge and beautiful cacophony of various stringed. rhythm and horned sections all in perfect harmony making the track a trek into the spirit of the listener.
Smother comes in with a very up tempo rhythm section that is soon met with a overlaying atmosphere created by both keyboards and other woodwind instruments. The female vocal narrative comes in in perfect time with the drums and the male vocal follows in suit shortly after adding more vocal depth to the song. This song is lyrically about somebody’s best intentions and trying may not be the best for them. From here there is a beautiful jazz style chord progressed passage with the female vocal carrying much of the middle of the song. This is all rounded out with a neo progressive keyboard enabling such a atmosphere.
Plans Askew opens up with a vast pastoral acoustical folk styled guitar that sets the tone for the composition. The vocal sounds both isolated yet in harmony to the instrumental. The woodwind instruments alongside with the rhythm section opens up and sets the heavier more up tempo portions as the song progresses. Throughout the track the bands steadily builds layers upon layers towards a plateau before transitioning onto different chord progressions that would lead to a beautiful duet between the male and female vocals.
Resignation has much of the same instrumental narrative to it. This instrumental narrative starts out with a big rhythm section that increasingly builds as the track moves forward. The track adds layer upon layer with the various instruments that the individual musician brings to the table as a collective. This track also is arranged perfectly as the final song on the album. Although the song seems steeped in melancholy, it still has a smooth instrumental backdrop. It is that backdrop that allows the lyrical content done through spoken word.
For a sophomoric effort this is a masterpiece. Gentle Knife have now firmly set themselves up to be a major progressive rock unit going forward for the next 10 to 15 years. Clock Unwound will be looked at as one of those pivotal albums that will be talked about in the evolution of progressive rock 15 to 20 years from now. Due to the band’s continuous maturity I am giving Gentle Knife II Clock Unwound a 5/5.