It is some five years since Deafening Opera released their second album, but finally, they are back with their third. Even before putting it in the player I was impressed with the effort that had been put into the presentation, with all lyrics contained in the booklet. This is a concept album, but interestingly there is no explanation of that in the booklet, or in the press release, or on their website as there is an expectation that the listener will work the story out for themselves. I don’t know why it has taken so long for a follow-up, but it is good to see that the six-man line-up are the same as last time, and there is a continuity and tightness that only comes from a band that knows each other well.
They have moved firmly into hard prog territory this time, keeping it tight but never really pushing into prog metal, although they do have their moments. Adrian Daleore has a good clean voice, and by often staying more baritone than many, it definitely provides a distinctive front sound to the band. They state that the sounds they are using are more modern now, and in many ways that is true, although I did feel that they probably have more in common with many of the 90’s neo-prog acts than many of the others that around today, although Riverside continues to be an obvious influence. They are playing some gigs in the near future, and they need to get out and capitalize on this, as they have been taking too long between albums to build a real momentum. The lack of reviews for this album on the web also shows how much they need to build their profile, which is a real shame as yet again they have produced a strong album, with some interesting ideas that have been well produced. It may not be essential, but it is certainly well worth investigating. www.deafening-opera.de
by Kev Rowland
The latest album from Welsh proggers Godsticks showed some changes in the band, as for the first time it sees them as a four-piece with drummer Tom Price, who replaces Steve Roberts (who had been in the band since 2010) and additional guitarist Gavin Bushell, which allows the band to be more aggressive and punchy than previously. They join Darran Charles (who also performed on The Pineapple Thief’s 2016 hit album ‘Your Wilderness’ and is part of their live touring band) who provides vocals and guitar along with bassist Dan Nelson. Lyrically, ‘Faced With Rage’ explores the theme of people dealing with emotional conflict in different scenarios, and who have a powerful desire to change their behavior or situation.
These guys are very much in the modern field of progressive rock, taking influences from Tool, Porcupine Tree, System of a Down, Radiohead and the aforementioned The Pineapple Thief and Bruce Soord. Actually, unless they’re careful they might even find themselves becoming beloved of the mainstream media as they are far more angular and indie rocky than one would normally think of with a prog act. With their approach and layering wall of sound there are also times when they come across as a more vibrant and energized Muse, and when listening to this I often find myself having closed my eyes and am just moving to the beat, not something one would normally expect from prog! I know I am late to the piece, as the album has already been out six months, but I am incredibly glad that I have finally heard it, as it is well worth investigating by anyone who has ever bemoaned that too many prog acts sound like Genesis.
by Kev Rowland
One of the highlight reissues for me last year was ‘The Gardening Club’ by Martin Springett. It had been released in 1983, but last year was picked up and reissued by Gonzo Media, and I was fortunate enough to get a copy. I reviewed it at the beginning of 2018 and really thought that would be the end of it, as I knew that Martin had become a well-known and sought-after artist. What I didn’t realize was that in the intervening years he had kept recording and writing songs, and he read my review on one site and tracked me down through another and got in touch. The result is I am now listening to the new album, which is now by a band named after the original release. Martin Springett still provides all vocals plus acoustic guitar, and he is joined by Sean Drabbit, Wayne Kozak, James MacPherson and Norm MacPherson.
As one would expect, the CD itself is visually very appealing with wonderful artwork throughout the booklet, tray card and even the CD itself. It fits perfectly with the music as well, which still has strong elements of ‘Breathless’ era Camel and Anthony Phillips (as did the earlier release), but here there are also strong elements of Roy Harper (particularly), Rog Patterson and the Strawbs. Nothing is rushed, and there is no feeling of constraint as the guys go where the music takes them, which is sometimes acoustic and sometimes electric, sometimes pastoral and at others more electric or driving. The result is yet another album that is full of melody and stylings that is more progressive in attitude than it is in sound. Although the version I have has been self-released, I am convinced that this will soon be picked up by a label which can provide the support it needs, as this needs to be heard by those who enjoy good music. There is a naivety within it that hearkens back to the Seventies, a fretless bass that provides warmth with the dexterity, acoustic stringed instruments that all strive to be heard while over the top are Harper-esque vocals that are so perfectly in keeping with it all. These are songs, real songs, not extended workouts and the album is a total delight throughout. The Gardening Club is already recording new songs for their next release, yet this has only just come out. Martin is certainly making up for lost time.
by Kev Rowland
As I started listening to this album I was instantly reminded of Iona, and their classic Celtic stylings, but for some reason, I also kept thinking of elements of Nightwish, which didn’t make any sense to me at all. It was only when I finally read the press release that I realized what was going on, as what we have is in many ways a collaboration between the two. Troy Donockley has long been seen as the “go to “ person when pipes are required: I first came across him when he was in Iona, and since then he had made his name featuring with many great bands before becoming a member of Nightwish. Of course, Tuomas Holopainen is the musical mind behind that band, and he and Troy are great friends, seeing each other socially as well as when Nightwish are working. They are also both friends with Johanna Kurkela, and back in 2011 the three of them recorded a demo of Troy’s, “Aphrodite Rising” (the finished version of which appears on the album), which led them to believe that they should undertake some further work together. But, Nightwish was in ascendance and incredibly busy so there was just no time, although in 2017 when the decision was taken to have a break, it meant that they could get back together, write some more material, and Auri was born.
The trio of Johanna Kurkela (vocals, viola), Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards, backing vocals) and Troy Donockley (guitars, bouzouki, uilleann pipes) are joined by various unnamed musicians, and they have created a mostly acoustic album that can truly only be described as “beautiful”. Iona, Clannad, Enya and early Nightwish have all had their part to play. Tuomas plays far more piano than keyboards, while Troy has a deft approach to anything he touches, and Johanna’s vocals are simply stunning. No effects, just a little reverb, and she is always front and center – no need for autotune here. The music at times is incredibly simple, almost naked in its naivety and clarity, yet there are also layers of complexity and the arrangements are perfect in the way they combine melody and dynamics yet never detract from Johanna. I am a huge fan of Nightwish, and have pretty much all their albums, yet would be happy for that band to be on hiatus for just a little longer if that means that we can get another album from Auri as I could listen to this all day.
by Kev Rowland
Pell released his first album back in 1989, and here he is back with his seventeenth studio album, showing no sign at all of slowing down yet. Centre stage is Johnny Gioeli (Hardline, Crush 40), as he has been for the last twenty years, while at the back is Bobby Rondinelli (loads of bands, but for me he will always be Rainbow) while bassist Volker Krawczak has been there since the very beginning, and keyboard player Ferdy Doernberg has also been there for more than twenty years. So with only the drummer not having been in the band for the last couple of decades, it perhaps isn’t surprising that they know what they are doing. The band have built a reputation for power ballads and released various compilations of these, but what we have here is a rock album first and foremost, based solidly on classic Rainbow.
True, there is a ballad, but for the most part, this is five guys out there having fun and kicking some serious ass. Pell has built a career around his style of melodic hard rock, and he isn’t going to change now, and when he kicks into the riffs of songs like “Slaves On The Run” all the listener can do is bounce the noggin and smile. I haven’t heard that many albums by the guys, but of the ones I have I can honestly say that this is the best I have come across. It hits the charts in many countries when it was released, including Top Ten in Germany – richly deserved. If you enjoy Rainbow-style hard rock, then this is essential.
by Kev Rowland
Arena, a band that in many ways was brought together by a running joke in an underground fanzine, which led directly to Mick Pointer realizing that there was quite a vibrant prog scene. In turn, he was introduced to Clive Nolan, and the rest, as they say, is history. The debut ‘Songs From The Lion’s Cage’ was released in 1995, and the jokes soon started about never being at far left or far right on a band photo as you would be the next to leave, but the guys have been stable now for quite sometimes, with the same line-up since 2011’s ‘The Seventh Degree of Separation’. That was the last album I heard, as for some reason I missed 2015’s ‘The Unquiet Sky’, although I have been listening to quite a lot of Clive’s other works, as well as releases featuring guitarist John Mitchell (the line-up being completed by singer Paul Manzi and bassist Kylan Amos).
Having played Clive’s ‘Alchemy’ so much that it is almost worn out (according to LastFM it is my second most played album since I joined that site in 2007, behind only Camel’s ‘The Snow Goose), plus having known him for more than quarter of a century (I feel old) and having most of his projects, I was really looking forward to this album, and I wasn’t disappointed. While Arena is first and foremost a progressive rock band, what I found fascinating with this album is the amount of theatricality within it. Paul Manzi surely has one of the most expressive and emotive voices around, and his relationship with Clive is long-standing in this and other projects, and they have an innate understanding of what is needed to take a song to the next level. There are times when I am clearly reminded of his performance on the aforementioned ‘Alchemy’, such is the power of his storytelling.
But, this is very much a band album, although it obviously has been heavily influenced by Clive who wrote or co-wrote every song and provided all the lyrics, but Mick is playing better than ever, Kylan has a great sliding style that really suits the music. Then on top of it all, there is the incomparable John Mitchell. He may not have been the original guitarist (who was Keith More, ex-Asia, for the first two albums) but he has been there for twenty years now, during which time he has built a considerable reputation as one of the finest guitarists in the scene, and I don’t think anyone was really surprised when he joined It Bites. He knows when to riff and drive the music along when to provide solos, when to use restraint and when to just let the music rock.
Here we are in 2018 and both Galahad and Arena have this year released possibly the finest albums of their careers, only time will fully be able to judge that, showing that although they were in the underground scene in the Nineties, playing all the dives that entailed due to no publicity (or internet!), they are ready and able to reap the rewards of keeping going when others have given up. This is a stunning album, one that all progheads need to discover at once if not sooner. I loved it the very first time I played it, and it has only got better the more I listen to it.
By Kev Rowland