BLIND EGO – PREACHING TO THE CHOIR – GENTLE ART OF MUSIC

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 – KRÁSNÁ HORA – INDEPENDENT

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

DARK BEAUTY – FALL FROM GRACE – INDEPENDENT

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

DAVID CROSS & PETER BANKS – CROSSOVER – RIGHT HONOURABLE RECORDING CO.

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

DIFFERENT LIGHT – BINARY SUNS (PART 1, OPERANT CONDITION) -PROGRESSIVE GEARS

This is the fourth album from Different Light, who were originally from Malta. They released their debut back in 1996, but it was only after moving to Prague that singer/keyboard player Trevor Tabone decided to create a different  version of the band in 2009 and release a new album. Only guitarist/singer Petr Lux has survived from those days, and on this release the line-up is completed by Jirka Matousek (bass) and David Filak (drums). Listening to this takes me back roughly to the time of the debut, but not to Malta but instead to America. Back then there were a few progressive bands making new strides and pushing boundaries, yet there were also quite a few who were mixing American melodic rock with commercial progressive rock to create something which was very different indeed to most of the prog coming out of Europe. Indeed, when I saw a review of this album saying it sounded almost as if REO Speedwagon and Mystery had come together to form a single unit, I had to smile as I had been thinking a very similar thing myself.

Some of this may well indeed be down to Trevor Tabone, who is similar in many ways to Kevin Cronin, and one wouldn’t think he wasn’t American from his performance. The piano is very important to the overall sound, much more than the rest of the keyboards, and this combines with multi-layered guitars and loads of hooks to create something which is melodic, poppy, AOR and crossover prog all at the same time. It has been four years since the last album, but one can only hope that given the title the next album will be out sometime soon, as although this style of music was briefly popular some twenty odd years ago it is quite unusual indeed these days, and I found I really enjoyed this. A very easy album indeed to get into on the very first listen, it only gets better with repeated plays. For those who enjoy the American melodic rock style with a tinge of prog, along with great vocals and songs.
8/10 Kev Rowland

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