WITHIN TEMPTATION – RESIST – SPINEFARM RECORDS

I have been a fan of this Dutch outfit for some fifteen years, since the release of their third album ‘The Silent Force’, so when I realised they were back with their seventh (it has been way too long since ‘Hydra’) I was incredibly excited as I have always loved the vocals of Sharon den Adel and their symphonic almost gothic approach to metal. Then I listened to it. According to Sharon, “After ‘Hydra’ we didn’t feel inspired anymore, up to a point where for the very first time we could see the end of the band coming near. After so many years of making music, only creative inspiration and innovation can motivate you to make a new record. And a very long break, no hasty decisions plus refilling your battery with new experiences. Like I did with recording my solo record ‘My Indigo.’ It eventually turned the tide. Our hunger to create and innovate awoke again. With this record, we’ve taken inspiration from modern music and gave it a face – a very dark one. Sometimes it feels that today’s pop music lacks a rebellious edge. Our main goal was to collect pieces from sounds we did like and roughen it up as much as we could. ‘Resist’ is our take on metal in a new way: to give modern music its rebellious edge.” 

Which is all well and good, and I always want bands to change and move, but this just feels too artificial, where production and manipulation of sound has become more important than the end result. I am sure, I hope, that when these songs transfer to the live environment then they will be quite different, but as they stand at the present, they lack emotion and direction. The keyboards sound as if they have come straight from the electronic realm as opposed to the symphonic, the music feels ragged with sharp edges, and although Sharon’s vocals are as strong as ever, here they don’t have the impact they used to. I am sure there are plenty who will be pleased with the new direction of the band, but it just doesn’t work for me at all, and will watch with interest what happens with the next album. But given it has taken five years for this one to be released, I’m not sure when/if that will happen.
5/10 Kev Rowland

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ATARAXIA – SYNCHRONICITY EMBRACED – SLEASZY RIDER RECORDS

‘Synchronicity Embraced’ is the 26thalbum by the Italian band, and their second for Sleazsy Rider following on from 2016’s “Deep Blue Firmament’. The band themselves are the same quartet who have now been together since drummer Riccardo Spaggiari joined in 2003, but singer Francesca Nicoli formed the band in 1985, and was soon joined by Vittorio Vandelli (classical, acoustic and electric  guitars, bass guitar, backing vocals) while Giovanni Pagliari (keyboards, piano, backing vocals) has been in the band since 1990. It is certainly interesting to play this back to back with an album from only a few years earlier, as while they are both instantly recognisable as Ataraxia, the two are very different indeed.

In many ways this album feels far more modern in a musical sense, with just Francesca’s vocals taking it further back in time. Harmonies abound, and it feels a softer and gentler album, more controlled and in many ways even more sacred. Francesca sent me some incredible words to describe the band, their journey, and this album, and I was going to dig out a quote, but the more I read it the more I felt it so totally captured what I was hearing, and it needs to be read in its totality. If you feel inspired by her words, then I can only say that the album itself is majestic, all consuming, beautiful and transcendent:

“True changes need practice and music is such a heavenly practice. We feel like channels able to pick up and transform into music the energies surrounding us or coming from above. 

If our life is meant to be a spiritual growing and not just a materialistic experience, all the domains where spirituality is expressed can become a source of enlightenment. Behind all those ways of believing (a specific faith rather than paganism), there is our naked soul alone in “her” voyage. For this reason, in our tunes liturgical chants are sometimes mixed with tribal rhythms and pagan rituals. The important thing was/is to preserve our spiritual freedom from any kind of supremacy, searching and diffusing a spiritual knowledge that’s not linked to a dominating specific religion but to the harmony of the cosmic forces. The aim is to reach again the primeval plenitude, calmness and inner light, being a part of the whole. We feel the magic power of the word, the practice of the enchantment. We started from the ancient Greek “mysteries” and the role of women in ancient pagan cults. Enchantment means “singing inside”. Magic words have not a practical purpose, it’s an act of creation gaining a power and I’m conscious that this creation is a revelation, a process of deeper knowledge and self-knowledge. The magic word resounds before being pronounced. Knowledge and experience happen at the same time and all of this is a sacred announcement, a message that doesn’t need rationality to be caught. It is a sort of spiritual call coming from the depths. Memory and singing are linked, they enable a deeper subtle “sight”.

Greek mysticism was based on “mysteries” often embodied by a sybil or a priestess who, through her vocals and gestures, let the elemental spirits flow and express. We spent a lot of times on Greek islands and we were deeply affected by their atmosphere and the cults that were practised over there centuries ago. Our music is born to speak the pure and noble language of nature. The ancient rituals celebrated the art of the essence. They were able to concentrate into mantras, dances, sequences of sounds and rhythms the energy that, passing through human beings, kept them spiritually alive. People “felt” without the need of rationally thinking. It was just like breathing, inspiring and expiring are phases of our living, they create a balance. The ancient rituals were based on the celebration of nature, during those rituals the soul of the man was emptying progressively in order to get in touch and be filled by the harmony of creation and cosmos as “what it is above it’s also down here and within us”. Thanks to those rituals, the initiated managed to get rid of the coded language that became chant, sound. The ancient wisdom was based on letting go, forgetting ourselves, our ego and masks in order to feel and live “the moment”. Water and stone… Our music is often made of the substance of the water and the power of the stone, dark and coloured, lunar and marine at once. The sea is often present in our albums. We feel that the rhythmical sound of the waves is made of the same substance of music.

We also approached the theme of self-healing and what illness means nowadays, the way it is taken into charge by the official medicine. In old times, it was clear that illness was often linked to a pain of the soul, a part of us that was missing, a wrong direction taken by our life, so our body suggested, in a striking and precise way, that we had to re-consider our life. Shamans were spiritual guides who concretely helped people to find again their soul in order to find their good path. There was a deep and very interesting exchange between the healer and the soul who was in front of him. Shamans offered their life to take care of other people’s spiritual, psychological and physical needs and improvement. Music maybe has the same aim, it opens the doors of conscience leading the listener to make a voyage inside himself after having put away, for a while, the mask of ego – who many of us wear to survive nowadays -, in order to take a path of self-conscience and confidence. Music is a natural healing opening the gates of Grace and Beauty. For a while, we can silence rationality and enter into a dimension made of a different substance, the one of dreams, of perceptions, of a bright inner sighting, of intensity and pleasure. There are many self-healing songs.

At the end, making music is a sacred act, a sort of modern ritual to celebrate the elemental forces, we simply are ready and accept to be filled by Grace. In this way we can transmit energy to the others and start this mutual exchange, especially on stage. Year after year, our music started becoming subtler and people started telling us that we were able to open gates of far-off dimensions, to make they travel in places that probably belonged to their origins. We go back to our origins in order to start perceiving again in a way that is nearly forgotten. When we play in places that still own the power and the purifying energy of time (ancient cathedrals, gardens, old squares, archaeological sites, woods, etc) our music becomes ‘circular’ and enables both us and our listeners to perceive and live again forgotten memories and sensations, it doesn’t matter which is the country. Music comes from silence and becomes silence again, just like a ritual starting from silence and ending into silence. Listeners can choose their own path to be followed and explored. Along unique paths, everyone finds his/her lost memories, hidden fears and deep desires. For this reason, a concert is such an important thing, it enables everybody (both the musicians and the listeners) to know better his/her own unveiled essence. 

Of course, folk music means a main use of acoustic instruments rather than machines or computers and a special taste for traditional airs or themes but, in our opinion, all of this has to be transformed into something new. A completely new chant born from the immutable heart of Time. And sincerely, sometimes it is quite hard to define what our music is, being the mirror of different personalities within the band. Since our first albums, we have rarely been interested in creating single tunes. We have always enjoyed telling stories like modern minstrels, trying to filter what mythology, traditions and legends have handed down to us. We have always chosen to release concept albums. We are quite different the ones from the others, but we share a common inspiration. Our concept albums are always born on the basis of a collective inspiration on a specific theme. For this reason, we need each other to compose an album and we think that the band’s force is its unity and the different creative processes driven by each of its members. A song usually comes to life as a powerful river running along our imagination till it finds a way to go out and start living among people.

Music, for us, is also hope and hope is not a passive act as it engages all our power and will. Music is the miracle of coming into being and letting go. We just need to cultivate our own availability to the GRACE OF THE EVENT. Mystery is transparent, sometimes you need no words.”

8/10 Kev Rowland

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CARLA CAMPOPIANO TRIO – CHICAGO/BUENOS AIRES CONNECTION

The Argentinian-born Carla Campopiano has been an important part of the Chicago tango scene since 2015. The flutist has also been exposed to jazz and blues, resulting in her leaving her tango performances open to the improvising and chance taking spirit of jazz. On this album she has been joined by acoustic guitarist Angel Collacilli and percussionist Gustavo Cortiñas Fouilloux, and they take the listener on a wondrous ride through multiple musical areas, yet all with a South American lilt. With just one song containing bass, the whole album feels different from the offset, as it is just the flute, acoustic guitar and drums interacting and responding to the melodies being delivered by Carla. There are times when Angel takes the fore, but for the most part he is there with Gustavo to provide the perfect support.

I have long been a fan of the flute, in all forms of music, and even tried to play it for a while in my youth, and to hear it in the hands of a master of the instrument is an absolute delight. With jazz, blues, tango and so much more being wrapped into a glorious collage of sound, this album is a summery delight which should be in the collection of all good music lovers.

7/10 Kev Rowland

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GREENSLADE – BEDSIDE MANNERS ARE EXTRA – ESOTERIC

I am not sure when I first came across this album, but it wasn’t when it was first released in 1973 but some time in the Eighties. I was immediately blown away by the concept of having two keyboard players, and no guitar, and while some likened them to ELP I never really saw (or heard) the link. Yes, there are long instrumentals, but singer (and second keyboard player) Dave Lawson had a very different voice to Greg Lake. I know he is often castigated for his vocals, but I personally never felt there was an issue and actually enjoy his singing, especially on the opening title cut. 

This was the second album by Greenslade, who were formed by Dave Greenslade after the break-up of Colosseum. He brought on board fellow Colosseum founder member bassist Tony Reeves, who had left after contributing to just one song on ‘Daughter of Time’, along with Lawson (Samurai, and had also been a member of The Alan Bown Set and Web) along with drummer Andrew McCulloch (King Crimson, Fields). Many fans say the debut Greenslade album is the best, while the third ‘Spyglass Guest’ was the commercially most successful, but this is always the album to which I turn. It captures a time when anything was possible, and the band certainly felt they weren’t restricted on what they were doing. At this point within the British music scene there was the feeling that boundaries were there to be broken and pushed aside, and while Greenslade never really managed to capture the fan base of their contemporaries, to my ears it was never due to lack of songs or ability. Listening to this album on headphones, some 35 years on from its original release, still fills me with a great deal of pleasure and I know that many progheads who have overlooked this in the past will also feel the same way.

But wait, there’s more! I have been fortunate enough to have in front of me the reissue on Esoteric, and as always, they never feel just making an album available again is enough. So, firstly we have three additional songs which were recorded for the Radio One ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ series, from October 1973. Then there is a second disc, a DVD featuring five numbers. The first three are a live in the studio promotional film, while the other two are from the wonderful OGWT. It has been a hard choice for me as to what to play most, and in terms of pure listening it is the CD, but the films are also well worth watching. This is a superb set, which has been making its way repeatedly back to my player, and deservedly so.

10/10 Kev Rowland

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ATME – STATE OF NECESSITY – INDEPENDENT

This 2017 album is the debut from ATME, a Wrocław based rock band who could probably be accurately described as progressive in its truest sense as opposed to regressing back into what has come before. The band itself have a standard quartet line-up of Łukasz „Luke” Pawełoszek (vocals), Piotr Guliński (guitars), Adrian Nejman (bass, vocals) and  Paweł Zborowski (drums), but it gets rather more interesting when looking at what the guests bring to bear, which includes female vocals, saxophone, gongs, Tibetan bowls, koshi, didgeridoo and even concha. I kept being reminded of Muse crossed with Porcupine Tree with plenty of jazz influences and some world, but even that isn’t right. When the guys decide to just let rip then it is modern metal with a real groove, but it never stays that way for too long. The music continually shifts and moves, all tied together with great vocals (in English), and space is used as an additional instrument with a very strong part to play, keeping the layers separate and providing additional intensity.

The production is superb, stand up Marek Dziedzic of Uniq Sound Studio, and captures a band both full of confidence and on top of the game. This certainly doesn’t come across as a debut, and definitely doesn’t feel like an independent release either. The digipak CD comes with a full booklet containing all the lyrics, and it is hard to understand why this hasn’t been picked up by a major label for at least distribution if not a full release. Their Facebook page is active, so I can only hope that we will soon get another album from these guys, as this is experimental and daring while also being part of the mainstream and truly needs to be discovered. Listen to “Passing Through The Horizon” and I can ensure you will be enthralled: Progressive rock in the truest sense of the term.
7/10 Kev Rowand

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ALCATRAZZ – PAROLE DENIED – FRONTIERS MUSIC

To many, Graham Bonnet will always be associated primarily with Rainbow and then with MSG, but it must also be remembered he had his first hit single with The Marbles in 1968. In 1983, he co-founded Alcatrazz, with Gary Shea (bass), and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards) of the band New England, former Alice Cooper drummer Jan Uvena, and Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen.

Just a quick side note, New England’s debut album is still one of my very favorite of the melodic AOR genre, and if you have never heard it then you need to seek it out. Needless to say, there were line-up changes, bitterness and fights over the years, and at one point there were even two versions of the band in existence, and long periods when everyone was moving in different directions, but Graham, Jimmy and Gary Shea, reunited after 33 years for a unique series of shows in Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo, Japan on March 2017. For the special occasion, the band was rounded out by Mark Benquechea (drums) and Conrado Pesinato (guitars), both from the Graham Bonnet Band. In addition to this recording and filming the event, Alcatrazz raided the archives and added some unreleased bonus tracks taken from the original sessions recorded in 1985, including one song, “Emotion” with a young Steve Vai on guitar. The first thing one notices is that Bonnet has lost absolutely none of his power or range, and this from a singer who was in his 70thyear when this recorded. Just listen to the way he hits and holds the notes on “God Blessed Video”. I must confess, hearing this inspired me to go back and look at the original video of this from 1985 and it still makes me smile – Steve Vai showing exactly what he was capable of – and all credit to Conrado Pesinato who doesn’t do a bad job at all. If this wasn’t enough for the fans, the 11 “live” numbers have been boosted by another seven studio demos and rehearsals. This is a real blast from the past, and if you enjoy Eighties melodic rock then this is essential.

7/10 Kev Rowland

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