THE LAST DETAIL – AT LAST… THE TALE AND OTHER STORIES – FREIA

The Last Detail were a band I had heard of, but never come across before this. Some of the members of the band had been in Ywis, whose album was later reissued in the Nineties, and then after this some of them formed Timelock before Ywis became active again following the success of the reissue. I can pretty much guarantee that isn’t exactly how it happened, but as I only have the download and not the album itself, which is a limited edition which contains  a 16-page, full-colour booklet with bio, info, etc, I can only apologise. Between 1987 and 1991 they released two cassette albums (both on the bonus disc) and one full length CD and various tracks on a couple of compilation albums. To commemorate 35 years ‘FREIA’, the label has decided to remaster all the band’s official recordings and re-release the music on one double album in a limited edition of 300 copies. The result is a double disc set with 41 songs, more than 2 ½ hours of music.

It must be said the first time I played this mammoth offering I wasn’t that impressed. Some of the songs are duplicated, and it all felt quite amateurish in some ways. But, I persevered and the more I listened to it the more I was taken back in time to the early days of neo-prog. With a singer who sounded somewhat like Michael Sadler, and a strong use of keyboards it is obvious to Saga they were looking for influences, but they also had much in common with early Galahad, but lacking the finesse and substance of other bands of the time such as IQ and Pendragon. I am somewhat surprised the fledgling Simm Info didn’t get involved with the band, seeing as they were attempting capture many of the top Dutch and British acts back then, but all power to Freia for finally making this available again. True, for someone like me who hadn’t heard them at the time then this is more interesting from a historical aspect than a musical one, but for those who enjoyed the band at the time then this is absolutely essential. It will be interesting to see if Freia continue releasing a magazine called True Music Guide, where each issue focuses on just a single release. There are plenty more gems to be unearthed from this time. For fans of early neo-prog.
7/10 Kev Rowland

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POÇOS & NUVENS – ANO VELOZ OUTONO ADENTRO – PROGSHINE

Originally released in 1998, this Brazilian album has just been made available for download by Progshine Records. Featuring Gérson Werlang (lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic and classical guitar, mandolin, percussion), Edgar Sleifer (lead vocals, flute, cromorne, electric guitar, brazilian 12 string viola, piano), Irvin Faller (bass), Sávio Werlang (keyboards) and Rafael Bisogno (drums, percussion), this is a light progressive album which has quite a lot in common with the Italian style of prog, although not quite as heavy on the keyboards. The band are certainly layering on the harmonies, bringing together some Brazilian folk influences as well as elements of bands such as Jethro Tull, along with plenty of early Seventies symphonic styles.

Although it is quite an interesting listen, there are a couple of places where this album falls down for me. The first is the vocals, as I have never been a fan of Gérson Werlang, as although this is the first time I have come across this album I have previously reviewed some of his later solo works. His falsetto and high vocals don’t ever really sound true, as if they are either slightly off-key are about to be, and that always causes major issues for that. Secondly, for some reason for most of the album, the bass is way too low in the mix which gives quite a one-sided overall sound which is simply unbalanced. It isn’t an album which has traveled well in terms of time as it would have sounded dated back in 1998, and now that is even more so. All power to Progshine Records for making it available, as I know this band did gain a lot of support outside their native Brazil and now it is once again easy to find, but it’s just not for me.
6/10 Kev Rowland

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RAFAEL ST CRUZ – SYNCHRONICITY – PROGSHINE RECORDS

Apparently Brazilian guitarist Rafael St Cruz grew up listening to Wishbone Ash and Beatles, before going on to discover Rush and Iron Maiden. He started releasing EP’s in 2012, acting as a multi-instrumentalist with a guitar basis to most of his work, bringing in a few guests when he felt it was right, and this his first album is a compilation taken from those EP’s and was released at the end of 2018. All the songs are fairly lengthy, with even the shortest “True Conspiracy” clocking in at nearly six minutes, while the longest of the six songs is “The Humanity Path” at 12:31. The end result is an album which is okay, but never really much more than that. There are hints at times of things moving into interesting directions, most notably on “Beyond The Horizon”, but they never really come to fruition.Possibly he needs to consider working with a band where ideas can be bounced off each other, as opposed to working in a home studio. The production and sound are reasonable, but it is the lack of real ideas and musicality which means I cannot imagine myself ever playing it again.
5/10 Kev Rowland

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SHUMAUN – ONE DAY CLOSER TO YESTERDAY – INDEPENDENT

Shumaun initially started as a solo project by Farhad Hossain (vocals, guitars, keyboards). After recording a few demos, he decided to recruit a few friends to help build the project into a full-fledged collaborative band.They have had one or two line-up challenges, even during the recording of the 2015 debut album, which has now settled with Farhad being joined by Jose Mora (bass), Tyler Kim (guitars) and Tanvir Tomal (drums) and they are back with their second. This album has an underlying concept of love gone wrong. The album begins with two souls in a state of pre-existence bonded by love and continues after they are both assigned bodies on Earth. All attempts at a blissful reunion are complicated, as only one of them can recall their state together prior to birth… and yet their connection is undeniable. The album touches on the many real struggles, conflicts, and experiences that romantic relationships might go through… the good, bad, spiritual, and terrestrial.

Musically here we have a band who have been heavily influenced by Porcupine Tree, then bringing the ‘Signify’ era into a more prog metal state, with the drums especially being incredibly effective. But although there are a great many riffs, loads of technical changes, strong vocals and hooks, for me there is something missing which negates a lot of the good work. It’s not that the band are working to a formula, but for some reason I just can’t get into this at all, which is quite different to most of the reviews I have seen who are raving over this album as if it is one of the best things they have ever come across. It is clinical, it is clever, but it feels as if there is no soul within it which is incredibly strange given the subject matter. There are some fairly dramatic changes, such as on “Central Station” with acoustic guitar and emotional vocals, but it just doesn’t work for me. Not a bad album, but to my ears certainly not essential. This is one I highly suggest you listen to before purchase.
7/10 Kev Rowland

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WITHIN TEMPTATION – RESIST – SPINEFARM RECORDS

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

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

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ATARAXIA – SYNCHRONICITY EMBRACED – SLEASZY RIDER RECORDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10 Kev Rowland

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