After hearing and really enjoying the recent second album from This Winter Machine, ‘A Tower of Clocks’, I have worked backwards and am now playing their debut from 2017, ‘The Man Who Never Was’. This does have a slightly different line-up from the next album, as here they were a five-piece which later expanded to have a second guitarist, but Al Winter (vocals), Mark Numan (keyboards, backing vocals) and Peter Priestly (bass) are still in the band , while this album also featured Gary Jevon (guitars) and Marcus Murray (drums). Much has been made of fact that the band only got together the year before, and then managed to produce an album like this, and rightly so as it is a delight.
What we have here is a very songs-based neo prog album which could have come out some 25 years earlier. The guitar is used rather sparingly, with somewhat Hackett-like tendencies and nuances, only providing riffs and power chords when the time is right, while the piano/keyboards often provides the melodic lead and the bass provides a different melody altogether. Then on top of it all here are the delicate and delicious vocals of Al Winter, bringing the listener in. While Final Conflict, Pallas and earlier Galahad are obvious reference points, there are also some Genesis and Camel influences as well and the result is an extremely well-crafted and enjoyable album which only gets better with repeated playing. Both this and the follow-up are incredibly immediate, and anyone with a fondness for the Nineties progressive rock scene being brought up to date needs to seek out both albums immediately, if not sooner.
For a band who are on their fourth album, releasing their debut ‘Mirror’ as long ago as 2007, it seems a little mean to point out that this is actually a side project of RPWL guitarist Kalle Wallner, but given he will always be associated with them, it has to be done. However, unlike RPWL, and indeed unlike the band which preceded that one, Violet District (whose only album ‘Terminal Breath’ came out in 1992 – I remember reviewing it at the time, god I’m old) this is not a band heavily influenced by Pink Floyd. To be honest, based on this album alone I wouldn’t even call them a progressive rock band – I haven’t heard the last two so don’t know how they compare – but here we have a melodic hard rock outfit with, at best, some neo prog influences.
So, although some RPWL fans may search this out due to the connections with that band, they may well turn away in some dismay as here we have an album where the guitarist allows himself full rein to hit power chords and simply rock in a way which he restrains himself from doing in RPWL. When asked about the album title, Wallner says “It’s about blind understanding. When you get the right people on board, there is no need for lengthy explanations. You just hit the recording button. And when you then give the right musicians the right music … that’s when they help you take it to the next level. No need to convince anybody, no discussions. And no compromises are necessary. You just pump it out.” This is certainly an album which has been pumped out, with a superb melodic hard rock performance with great songs and licks, and a special mention must be made of singer Scott Balaban who strides across proceedings like a colossus. This may be his first studio album with the band, but he has been involved for a while, and indeed was the singer on the 2017 live album ‘Liquid Live’ and he is the perfect foil to Wallner. He also provided most of the lyrics, and the result is something which is powerful and instinctive.
This is a really enjoyable album from beginning to end, just put out of your mind that here is the guy from RPWL, as finally this feels very much like a band as opposed to a side project and it is going to be fascinating to see where they take it from here as they move solidly into melodic hard rock. 8/10 Kev Rowland
Blank Manuskript are yet another of those bands who have been happily going around releasing albums and somehow never making it into my orbit until now. Formed in Austria in 2007, this is their third album, and I really am not sure what to say about it, apart from I really like it! The quintet are Jakob Aistleitner (saxophone, flute, electric guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, vocals), Peter Baxrainer (electric and acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals), Jakob Sigl (drums, percussion, viola, tape, vocals), Dominik Wallner (piano, electric piano, organ, synthesizer, vocals) and Alfons Wohlmuth (electric bass, flute, bottles, vocals). It was Alfons who contacted me, and I am both pleased and dismayed he did , as while I have really enjoyed it, I have no idea how to truly describe it and get across in words what it is like to listen to.
Lyrically it deals with the concept of loneliness versus the concept of community and works around that theme using various scenarios from birth to death and musically it can be very delicate, at others almost overpowering: there were times when I found myself checking the player to see if I was still on the same album or if it has moved onto the next one on my list. It is incredibly diverse, and there is the impression that these guys like to use a studio almost as a laboratory, adding and refining what they are doing. They are like a mini orchestra, but while some may think this means they are being symphonic (and they can be) this is way more experimental, with certain instruments taking key roles in certain songs and not being used at all in others. It is incredibly diverse as they move from RIO to experimental and avant garde though art rock and multiple other styles. They are very removed indeed to what I normally think of as European progressive rock, and if someone had asked me to guess the country of origin I would have definitely said the band was Russian as it has far more in common with the music I hear from there, which is far removed from the normal Western progressive influences.
It is timeless music which is very much of the present, but also invokes the days when the British progressive scene was exploding and the idea was for each band to push boundaries in their own way as opposed to all becoming clones of each other. It is refreshing, joyous and progressive in its’ very truest sense. This is not for those who want their progressive rock to fit in certain constraints and styles but is one for those who remember when the term was a truism as opposed to a name to describe a genre. Definitely one which progheads need to discover. 8/10 Kev Rowland
Most of my Facebook feed is connected with music in one way or another, and one day I came across some posts featuring Liz Tapia talking about her band Dark Beauty, and I quickly became intrigued by what I was reading so got in touch. This is the first of a planned concept trilogy telling the story of the character of The Dark Angel, her fall from grace and hopeful redemption, portrayed by Liz. She is a classically trained mezzo soprano, and the rest of the band on this album was Bryan Zeigler (lead guitar), Warren Helms (piano, keyboards), Gary Perkinson (bass) and Dan Granda (drums). They recently played with Potter’s Daughter and Stratopheerius, and that must have been one heck of a musical experience with Liz and Dyanne both being incredible singers, yet their musical approach is quite different. Although they both come from classical backgrounds, and indeed both do bring that into their music, Dark Beauty are more symphonic and metallic in their approach, although there is also room for prog, world music (especially with the percussion, and is that a sitar I hear?), gothic styles and so much more.
There is the impression that this band has been built as a vehicle for Liz to display her wares, but this is far more than just a singer and a backing group, as the melodies and accompaniments swell . The band I keep finding myself thinking of, although they don’t sound at all similar, are Legend and what they were doing 30 years ago. There Legend were taking the styles of Steeleye Span and moving into a symphonic progressive environment with huge dynamics behind a classically trained singer, and while they never gained the kudos they deserved, they influenced a great many bands (including supposedly Nightwish). Here we have a band providing whatever musical support is required to allow the songs to move in multiple directions, with one never knowing where it is going to go, so if Liz wants to sing in a classical Indian style why not? Yet behind the tablas and sitars there is a menacing electric guitar to show they are not going to go too far in that direction.
This is a band certainly worthy of further investigation by any proghead who is also into symphonic metal which is truly trying to do something different. 8/10 Kev Rowland
Although Peter Banks sadly died in 2013, this new studio album features some of his work which has never been released until now. On 10th August 2010 he and David Cross got together for an afternoon of improvisation and all guitar and violin parts are from that time. Banks had expressed his desire for this music to one day be made available, so over the last few years Cross asked some friends to become involved and help in making this album a reality. Included here are some musicians who had worked with Peter during his lengthy musical career, as well as other notable names, Pat Mastelotto, Tony Kaye, Billy Sherwood, Randy Raine-Reusch, Andy Jackson, Oliver Wakeman, Jay Schellen, Jeremy Stacey and Geoff Downes. David Cross says “The response from the guest musicians was truly wonderful in the way that they gave their time and talent to this project and I would like to thank them on behalf of Pete and myself. They were asked to ‘interpret the music as freely and creatively as you wish’ and they have turned in incredibly skilled and inspiring performances which were not easy given the improvised nature of the starting material and the spontaneity of the structures.”
Due to the nature of the album, in being that it was improvised to begin with, and then other musicians have added other parts later, it is somewhat surprising in that it feels as cohesive as it does. Although it does have that improvised feel, it doesn’t sound as if it was recorded by musicians who weren’t at least in the same room as each other, even if they had no idea where the music was going to take them. However, apart from Cross and Banks everyone else did have the luxury of playing the music multiple times to work out where they could fit in their parts, and I expect some judicious editing has also taken place. That being said it is an enjoyable album, with plenty of light, with fluidity from both Banks and Cross, exactly as one would expect. One gets the impression this has been a labour of love for Cross to get this finished to a standard where he felt happy releasing this to the public. It is worthy of investigation for progheads who enjoy their music to be somewhat relaxing yet always moving in new directions. I’ll leave the final words to David, ““When I recall the original recording session with Pete I remember his fresh almost naïve approach, his positive energy and his constant and restless search for something new. It was a joy to know Pete Banks and an honour and a privilege to play with him: I think he would be pleased with the way our album turned out.” 7/10 Kev Rowland
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