Melodic Revolution Records Feature Album March 2018 |
Marco Ragni | The Wandering Caravan
Label – Melodic Revolution Records
Release Year – 2018
Country – Italy/International
Genre – Progressive/Psychedelic Rock
Marco Ragni – Vocals/Electric and Acoustic Guitars/Bass/Keyboards/Mellotron/Piano/Mandolin
Dave Newhouse – Sax/Clarinet/Flute/Keyboards and Woodwinds Arrangements
Jeff Mack – Bass
Peter Matchuniak – Lead Guitar
Maurizio Antonini – Drums
Luca Zambini – Hammond Organ
Ian Beabout – Flute
Nadav Yitzhak – Oud
Michael Zentenar – Violin
What We Have Done In The Past We’ll Be In The Future
Waiting On The Threshold
Which Is The Right Path To Take ?
It’s Only Fantasy
What Are We Willing To Lose To Regain Our Freedom ?
Back Home Again
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Sometime in early to mid spring of 2015 I came into a discovery of Melodic Revolution Records. Its founder Nick Katona had friend requested me over on Facebook and soon the discovery unfolded much like the opening of Pandora’s Box for me. The talent on this label is on par with any other label on the planet today. As far as progressive rock, psychedelic rock, etc … Melodic Revolution Records is both untapped as far as its deep roster of talent and a label on the verge of just one release breaking right to become a household name within the progressive, psychedelic rock community. I feel that the subject of this review Marco Ragni will have a lot of say into the future of Melodic Revolution Records as a collective.
Marco Ragni is no stranger to the Power Of Prog community either. Back in 2016 I presented two very different reviews of this Italian Progressive Genius. The first was the very personal introspective double concept album Mother From The Sun and the very intelligent and thought provoking Land Of Blue Echoes. Now in 2018 I return to review the appropriately titled, Marco Ragni’s The Wandering Caravan. This current offering sees Marco Ragni return with some familiar faces and label mates such as Jeff Mack – Bass – (Scarlet Hollow), Peter Matuchniak – Guitar – (Gekko Project, The Steppes Tribute To Early Steve Hackett and Bomber Goggles).
Then there are some newer musicians to the Marco Ragni franchise. Making their debut’s to the franchise on The Wandering Caravan are Italian drummer Maurizio Antonini, Luca Zabbini – Hammond Organ – (Barock Project), Ian Beabout – Flute, Nadav Yitzhak – Oud, Michael Zentiner – Violin – (Zenlandband). Marco Ragni has a uncanny ability to assemble world class musicians on his projects and The Wandering Caravan is certainly no exception. The returning talent is also a testament that Melodic Revolution Records has a very heavy family like atmosphere where its musicians really want to work with one another.
With The Wandering Caravan, Marco Ragni brings a little of his last four releases with him. There are some of the vast atmospheric structures from Mother From The Sun, the technical, yet futuristic and forward thinking progressive rock from Land Of Blue Echoes, there are the more precise to the point radio hits much in the vein of California with songs like It’s Only Fantasy, Back Home Again, Which Is The Right Path To Take and Promised Land, with some of the more experimental psychedelic elements of Rajanty especially with tracks such as What We Have Done In The Past We’ll Be In The Future and Waiting On The Threshold. The Wandering Caravan is basically a progressive rock symphony in 8 movements. Each movement that I will now proceed to elaborate on.
What We Have Done In The Past We’ll Be In The Future begins with a little Latin flair with the acoustic guitar style of Marco Ragni himself. It soon fortifies into a well structured atmospheric track off the flamenco acoustic chord progressions. The acoustical chord progressions allow for the heavier more straight forward lead guitar sections which are done by one of the world’s most criminally under rated guitarists Mr. Peter Matchuniak, (Gekko Project, The Steppes : A Tribute To Early Steve Hackett). Peter Matchuniak is a beautiful well balanced blend of David Gilmour meets Steve Hackett with a sprinkle of ‘The Canterbury Sound’ of Pye Hastings of Caravan.
A cacophony of various woodwind instruments along with a Hammond Organ make for a blast of sheer progressive bliss. They carry elements or progressive rock’s past with modern more contemporary elements for a current listening audience. This is also a a testament of true growth as a songwriter and musician that accompanies further maturity. With the flutes there is a heavy Jethro Tull style within this track. Whether it is deliberate or by influence it is done with the utmost taste and class. This is all enhanced by lyrical content that allows the listener to take the song in so many directions within the screen of the theater of the mind.
Waiting On The Threshold opens up with a fine woven tapestry of various piano, wind and keyboard passages. Marco’s very distinct vocal comes in with semi isolation off the instrumental portion. The relationship between the vocal and instrumental allows for both sides the ability to breathe without one suffocating the other. There is also a beautiful dynamic of lead guitar and acoustic guitar’s in a gentle, warm inviting melody. The underlying flute makes for a very interesting world music element that will have a instant international flavour to the composition. This one is also full of some longer instrumental passages.
This track also contains some heavily induced folk elements. Marco Ragni has some strong elements of Pink Floyd and Cat Steven’s vocal elements blended with the great expanse of the instrumental working perfectly in union with one another. The song closes out with some beautifully arranged jazz elements which are articulated by the saxophone. Some of the closing jazz portions remind me a lot of Weather Report meets Camel with a little twist of Caravan.
Promised Land opens up with a very strong psychedelic folk passage. This is created with the well blended elements of acoustic and semi acoustic guitar’s mixed with elegant flutes to accompany them. Soon the vocal harmonies and more up tempo chord progressions enter in along with the powerful rhythm section. This is the first track on the album that really has a distinct and definite rhythm section compared to the previous two songs. The rhythm section has more atmospheric than heavy laden time signatures. It also transitions smooth and seamlessly into the following track Which Is The Right Path To Take? The seamless transition has some serious overall 1960’s style psychedelic vocal harmony’s and song melodies.
Which Is The Right Path To Take? picks up smoothly where Promised Land left off. It does so with heavy and profound psychedelic elements. The vocal harmonies are very woven off various layers where one vocal track is blended in from another vocal harmony. This layering continues to the point where there are three to four vocals playing off and on each other. The various vocal layers continue until there is a main lead vocal passage anchoring the track. The lead guitar has a heavy influence into the various directions of the song. These heavy stringed influenced sections are a definite staple into the identity of Marco Ragni’s music and this track validates this. Both the lead and backing vocal’s run in spot on perfect time with the open expanse of the stringed section.
It’s Only Fantasy opens up with a deep dark piano passage. The passage gives the listener the appearance that Marco is isolated in a open acoustic friendly room with just him, his heart and voice. This is very heavily laden elements of Avant Garde and RIO, (Rock In Opposition). This is done with a lead piano chord progression that meets up with various woodwind instruments along with some semi conventional keyboard passages that sound very heavy in a regressive state of mind. If you, the listener, enjoy some Avant Garde/RIO cream in your straight blacken normal progressive coffee than this is perfect to start your morning music journey. This song finishes up with more straight away traditional heavy prog chord progressions.
What Are We Willing To Lose To Regain Our Freedom? opens up with a more traditional progressive rock passage. You can hear all the hallmarks that distinguish progressive rock from other genres. There is a beautifully performed Hammond Organ along with a deep bass and drum aesthetic. The deep tones from both the rhythm section and organ synth’s along with the strong atmospheric backdrop satisfy the purists of the genre. Soon the instrumental atmosphere gives way to various effects of innocence as we here children at play. Much like Mother From The Sun, Marco Ragni has a very uncanny method at conveying innocence through his musical compositions. What Are We Willing To Lose To Regain Our Freedom? continues to validate what seems to be a signature staple in Marco Ragni’s musical legacy. Overall What Are We Willing To Lose To Regain Our Freedom? is a very uplifting song that is both a progressive rock opus and a classic rock masterpiece.
Keep Dreaming opens up with a deep profound piano with highly lush tones and dark melodies. The added beauty in darkness is the vocal which perfectly compliments the instrumental section. The first few minutes transport the listener into a symphony hall atmosphere. Soon after a hint of the acoustic guitar is sprinkled in to add melodious flavour to the arrangement. The song goes from dark and somber to one of uplifting enlightenment. The instrumental is uplifting and the lyrical portion is in perfect harmony to the instrumental. Marco Ragni always has a intricate way of taking the listeners minds and moods from dark somber landscapes to horizons of pure enlightenment. Towards the end the track display’s heavy symphonic and progressive folk elements. Keep Dreaming is a classic textbook example to this. It is also a track with many vintage elements from the late 1960’s and 1970’s however with a modern 21st Century accent on it. Keep Dreaming seamlessly transitions into the final song of the album Back Home Again. The transition reminds me a lot of the seamless transition from Any Colour You Like to Brain Damage off Pink Floyd’s Darkside Of The Moon.
Back Home Again transitions beautifully from Keep Dreaming. The track takes a very heavy folk rock chord progression along with vocal harmonies that perfectly compliment the instrumental part. The tone that Back Home Again takes is very simple yet relaxed. This is written in such a way that allows the listener to begin to absorb and appreciate what that have just heard on the album as a collective, which is difficult to do sometimes. The violin eloquently performed by Michael Zentenar is the unsung hero on this one and helps to anchor mood of the song.
In the short few years I have known Marco Ragni through social media and his music, it has completely been bewildering and inspiring all at the same time. He definitely has the ability to transcend many sub genres that now lay under the progressive rock banner. Marco Ragni is definitely one of progressive rock’s new standard bearer’s who is carrying the flag among the contemporary progressive rock community. The Wandering Caravan is another masterpiece that will cement Marco Ragni’s legacy as such. I give Marco Ragni’s The Wandering Caravan a 5/5.
Melodic Revolution Records Feature Album January/February 2018 | Blå Lotus Tube Alloys
Label –Melodic Revolution Records
Release Year – 2018
Country – Sweden
Genre – Heavy Progressive/Psychedelic Rock
Fredrik Andersson – Hammond Organ and Farfisa Organ/Mellotron/Synth’s/Electric Piano/Flute and Vocals
Linus Karlsson – Bass Guitar/Theremin & Random Sound Effects
Wiktor Nydén – Drums/Percussion
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Definition of :
1. An art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill,
2. Skill or dexterity
3. Skill or ability used for bad purposes; cunning; deceit; guile.
4. The members of a trade or profession collectively; a guild
When a band makes a album they frequently use words like write, record, produce, engineer and master. That conventional wisdom is not wrong whatsoever and those words are very appropriate to use to describe the album making process. Now when some people work on a project like a album they use attention to detail in every facet of that process. Attention to said detail can be called craft, crafting or even crafted once the process has reached its completion.
To craft something is to take extra attention to detail by carefully using a special set of skills to get a special set of premium results. This is exactly what Sweden’s Bla Lotus have done with their Melodic Revolution Records debut Tube Alloy’s. When we think of Sweden and progressive rock or metal music we usually think of Opeth or a Pain of Salvation, Flower Kings, Änglagård, Anekdoten, Spiritual Beggars,Nad Sylvan, etc …
Bla Lotus are a serious heavy prog band that carry various old school influences of late 1960’s to early to mid 1970’s stoner fried psychedelic music to a modern age of listener. Bla Lotus are a Hammond Organ lovers paradise combining elements of Rick Wakeman and Jon Lord meets Per Wiberg – Spiritual Beggars to craft a very unique melodic stringed section which is highly due the fact the band has no guitar whatsoever with the various Hammond, Mellotron and other synth’s. The fact they do not have a piece like a guitar does not cheapen the product at all. Even in the description on their official Facebook page says, ” Progressive rock trio. No six-strings allowed”.
For a band that started only two years ago in 2016 they have developed such a tight cohesive sound. On Tube Alloy’s you can certainly notice that Fredrik Andersson – Hammond Organ and Farfisa Organ/Mellotron/Synth’s/Electric Piano/Flute and Vocals , Linus Karlsson – Bass Guitar/Theremin & Random Sound Effects and Wiktor Nydén – Drums/Percussion all mastered the craft at their individual instrumental roles much like musical journeymen. Now a breakdown of Bla Lotus Tube Alloy’s track by track.
Trajectory begins heavily with a very deep bass/drum rhythm section that is soon met in perfection with a Hammond Style organ. From the first hooks the band transports the listener to the 1970’s based chord progressions and passages with a modern relevant sound. Fredrik Andersson definitely display’s his extraordinary finger talent on the synth sections on this one. Trajectory is also a instrumental track that gives the listener the appearance it serves as a smooth seamless transition intro to the next track Omnistellar Firefly.
Omnistellar Firefly picks up quite smoothly from Trajectory. This starts off in a very psychedelic manner much like the psychedelic music coming out of San Francisco California, London England or New York at the time. With very deep rhythm toned chord progressions and vocals that echo like a LSD trip this is any psychedelic purists paradise. You literally do not need a synthetic substance nor drug to feel the full melodious effect the band is portraying here. This also reminds me very much of the late great Jon Lord’s solo material with the orchestra.
Mephistopeles is a much more methodical groove laden piece. The rhythm and stringed sections definitely have a method to their madness and specific purposes in the body of the track or song itself. At 8:09 this is the second longest song on Tube Alloy’s and allows the band much more freedom to display their own skills while building a unified body of work. The echo vocals really accentuate the psychedelic feel to the song. The organs play in perfect time to the bass and drums within the rhythm section much in the vein of Deep Purple’s Space Truckin‘.
Moebius fades in quite subtly. This is most definitely the most experimental Avant Garde psychedelic track on the album. It is also a straight away progressive psychedelic track with standard stringed section and rhythm section until about a quarter or half way mark and then the experimental elements come into play. The experimental section works on all three major channels of the auditory senses, the right channel, the left channel and center channel. The band engineers this quite brilliant into a full surround sound package on the listener.
Recreational Nuke is the shortest track on the album, however do not be deceived it is still as full of progressive twists and turns and time signature changes. It may start a little slowly however do not let that be the focus. There are huge Hammond organ and rhythm sections. This is arranged perfectly within the album allowing a bit slower pace for the listener to begin to absorb the tracks of the album as a collective. It may require a few spins and listens for this to make sense to the listener. The psychedelic vocals are as strong on this as every other song on the album as well.
Indian Money starts out with big pounding and deep drum based rhythm sections. The drums are semi isolated allowing for a more heavier sound before the bass and Hammond and other organs come into play. This track takes all the various elements the band employed within the album as a collective. This one is written much like it was orchestrated or a symphony.
There is certainly a massive ground swell of this style of psychedelic progressive rock. Look at it like a over inflated balloon or a underground caldera waiting to burst through. I believe Bla Lotus will be at the forefront once this style of progressive psychedelic rock really takes off. This style of music will be the next significant genre to take off and bands like Bla Lotus will headline the pioneering spirit and craft of this style of music. Once this style does take off again Bla Lotus Tube Alloy’s will be one of those future essential albums any fan of the genre must have. This is why I give Bla Lotus Tube Alloy’s and 5/5.
Dreadnought | A Wake In Sacred Waves
Label: Sailor Records
Release Year: 2017
Genre: Progressive/Doom/Black Metal/Folk Metal/Post Metal/Avant Garde
Kelly Schilling – Guitar, Flute, Clean and Harsh Vocals
Jordan Clancy – Drums, Alto/Tenor Saxophone
Kevin Handlon – Bass, Mandolin, Lyrics
Lauren Vieira – Keys, Clean Vocals
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Dreadnought are certainly one of those bands you can never judge the book by its proverbial cover or in this case the name of the band. When you peel away the cover and begin to peel the layers back it is a a Melodic Christmas over and over and over again. This band have their own Periodic Table of Elements as far as music is concerned. My goal for this review will to elaborate the multiple elements in a very conclusive way without boring the reader of the review.
When I use to live in Denver, Colorado back in the later 1990’s, I began to notice just how utterly diverse the entire I-25 corridor was as far as music was concerned. One day you could be in Denver at a metal show, the next day be out in Boulder, Colorado at a ‘Jam Band’ style festival and a day after that be in Colorado Springs, Colorado at some ‘Alternative Music’ show. It seems Denver is one of the few areas that allow for such diversity in the music and arts to breathe and flourish without much persecution. It has always seemed that the Denver, Colorado area has been able to really coexist as far as musical genres have been concerned.
Denver natives Dreadnought have certainly embraced this attitude of diversity within their music and art. They have taken many various elements within music to truly form their own unique sound. At first glance or listen many questions come to the surface that could leave some to pigeonhole this band in one particular genre or another. However listener beware this band are totally adamant that they will never be pigeonholed at all whatsoever. So it leads to the pressing questions, who are Dreadnought and what style are they?
Is this band Black Metal? Are they Avant Garde? Are they progressive metal/rock? I would have to say they are all that a a whole lot more. Dreadnought are on the very new vanguard of a all new intelligentsia cropping up among several genres that seem to get closer together as time and music evolves. For a band with only four members they give the listener the appearance that there is a entire symphony orchestra to accompany them. Dreadnought are also coming along at a perfect time where many genres are embracing various elements of one another and allowing the melting pot to cook to perfection.
Dreadnought’s approach to the progressive music side is rooted very heavily within the 1970’s and spans nearly three generations. Dreadnought are also a band that constantly changes the questions when people believe they have all the answers concerning the band. Over the remaining duration of this review I will point out many of the various elements that make up the Dreadnought sound.
Vacant Sea begins with a beautifully isolated female vocal that creates a atmosphere to the listener in attempt to gain their undivided attention. This soon subsides and the beauty of percussion enters in along with a profound rhythm section before the female vocal comes into a harmonic bliss with the instrumental portion. The progressive aspect of this is rooted within the 1970’s in the tradition of Yes, King Crimson and ELP. The jazz style sections are a reminder of bands like Jaco Pastorius era – Weather Report with various elements of Caravan and Camel.
The Black Metal aesthetic runs in the tradition of both old school low fi resolution sounding guitar atmospheres in the tradition of early Mayhem, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. It is also met by some heavily laden Atmospheric Black Metal much like Agalloch and Summoning come to mind along with some elements of both Shoegaze and Blagaze. All of this is much like a marriage of sounds along side with with very intricate time signatures and various chord progressions make for a very unique sound that separates Dreadnought into their own unique and independent sound.
The duel female vocal between Kelly Schilling – Guitar, Flute, Clean and Harsh Vocals and Lauren Vieira – Keys, Clean Vocals is definitely something groundbreaking within all the various musical genres present on the album. They have taken what Cadaveria (ex Opera IX) did to a entire creative level. These two ladies have also brought something to this style of Progressive Extreme Metal and that being a singer/songwriter element to the genre. Vacant Sea immediately dives into all these elements.
This track may be 17+ minutes but rest assured the long instrumental parts have a specific purpose and mean something and lead somewhere. Dreadnought are not the type of band to have insignificant fillers just for the sake of making the length of time rendering the song to appear redundant.
(Dreadnought – Vacant Sea – A Wake In Sacred Waves)
Within Chanting Waters opens up much in the vein of Opeth’s Leper Infinity from Blackwater Park meets Agalloch’s The Mantle with a twist of early King Crimson. The rhythm section of bass and drum really rips from the very first note and chord progression. The band certainly and deliberately are taking their sound to the next level and showing various depths of dimensions with this one. The band certainly displays their progressive prowess here as far as incorporating chord progressions and time signatures that sometimes get drowned out with the more extreme elements. The clean female vocal and the extreme metal vocal allow the track to breathe in such away where both vocals appear to take on a split personality to the central story. In the mind’s imagination it seems like there is a calm and angry side being conveyed in the vocal. Jordan Clancy – Drums, Alto/Tenor Saxophone, has a very keen sense of how hard to hit the drums and when to fall into the general rhythmic background. The band also display the very prowess of engulfing the listener into their various layers of diverse atmospheric elements.
The Luminous Scale immediately opens up into a very diverse progressive atmospheric chord progression. The deep tones of the rhythm section along with the semi – atmospheric guitar certainly hook the listener into a mellow disposition. This is a preparing the listener for the duration of the album. Throughout the album the band’s chord progressions, passages and riffs all have a unique purpose that deliberately lead somewhere. There is absolutely no insignificant filler anywhere on the album. The keyboards really have a distinct presence on here as well. Those are beautifully done by Lauren Vieira – Keys, Clean Vocals. Kelly Schilling – Guitar, Flute, Clean and Harsh Vocals has a very heavily Summoning style vocal on here as well. They both echo and haunt the listener’s very soul and hook it all at once. The rhythm section totally engulfs and assault’s every last sense within in the listening audience. The flute in this track as a very Jethro Tull to Camel vibe stemming from 1970’s progressive rock. Kelly Schilling – Guitar, Flute, Clean and Harsh Vocals, is certainly the Black Metal equivalent of Ian Anderson or various flute players in the history of the band Camel.
A Drifting Reign explodes right out of the gate with deep rhythm sections along with a beautifully played lush piano chord progression. It takes a break and the band sets a deep atmospheric rhythm section between various layers of piano and horned sections that is quite psychedelic in nature. The subtle psychedelic elements are also blended with very lite post metal elements as well. This is the final track on the album. This is also the most eclectic and eccentric track on the album blending many of the bands never ending elements and talent together like a progressive buffet feast on the ears.
By now it is perfectly clear they refuse to be pigeonholed into one genre. It is this approach and attitude that will allow the band to play live on various and very different bills and festivals. Their infrastructure will also allow them the creative space to do what they want and what their fans want instead of a power hungry and a monetary beast with the mainstream side of the industry that is a continual disease to artists and creativity. Dreadnought’s A Wake In Sacred Waves will be a album talked about 20 years from now as a album that both expanded progressive music and exposed further possibilities that display that progressive music will always have many directions to go in. Dreadnought’s A Wake In Sacred Waves get a 5/5 for perfection.
Melodic Revolution Records | Feature Album October/November 2017
Darrel Treece Birch | Healing Touch
Label: Melodic Revolution Records
Release Year: 2017
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Progressive Rock/AOR/Space Rock/Ambient
Darrel – Treece- Birch– Keyboards, Vocals, Bass Guitars, Mandolin, Drums.
From The Mouth
Cast It Out
The Fruits Of The Spirit
No Fear Here
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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 Time and 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 Gothica and 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 Touch is 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.
Masqued | Light In The Dark
Label: Sleaszy Rider Records
Release Year: 2017
Country: Houston/Texas USA
Genre: Progressive Metal
Jon Allen – Drums
Drew Creel – Guitar
Shane Dubose – Bass/Vocals
Eric Halpern – Guitar
Steffany Johnston – Vocals
Adam Rawlings – Keyboards
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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 | Sands Of Time
Israel Metal Series #1
Release Year: 2017
Genre: Progressive Metal/Melodic Death Metal
Noa Gruman – Lead Vocals
Yoav Weinberg – Drums
Yadin Moyal – Guitars
Yanai Avnet – Bass
Alex Nicola – Keyboards
Kobi Farhi (Orphaned Land), Jake E (Amaranthe)
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
Violin I: Rinat Gruman, Violin II: Idith Gruman, Viola: Yaacov Avnet, Cello: Telalit Charsky
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
7. Out Of Strong Came Sweetness
8. Queen Of Insanity
10. Gift Divine
Scardust Official Website
Scardust Official Facebook Page
Scardust Official YouTube Channel
Scardust Official BandCamp Store Profile
*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 epic Sands 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.