Avante garde : an intelligentsia that develops new or experimental concepts especially in the arts.
– Merriam Webster Dictionary – 2016
I have always looked at avant garde arts, sciences and music as deliberate conceptual ideas that are presented to the desired audience as concepts of purpose. Various elements and portions of avant garde are placed there within the arts, science and music they are intended for. The respective artists within the avant garde community have always applied there ideas to either obtain a desired effect or to innovate a change in the conventional wisdom of what is or is not acceptable.
All the above mentioned narrative applies to Italy’s MindAhead. It has certainly been quite a while since I heard a band so organic with its elements. According to the Official MindAhead Facebook page they explain themselves this way,
“The idea is to merge different aspects, sometimes opposite ones, of the human feeling, gathering them in a variegated personal music proposal, that plunge its roots in musical influences that go from seventies progressive rock to the death metal.”
This is the total truth and nothing but. I would like to think they are a cross between Opeth meets Epica meets Between The Buried And Me meets Delain. The ‘Beauty/Beast Metal’ element of clean sweet ethereal female vocals married to the more abrasive male death metal grunts is probably the most contemporary element to this album. The rest is a organic innovation. The true innovative element is the classical chamber like musical elements laced throughout the album from the first track Reflection to the last track Memories.
The more I have listened to it the better the journey. It is definitely for an acquired audio pallet. This is also not one of those over the top productions that seems compressed nor forced. As I mentioned above every chord progression and passage is there deliberately and has a purpose compared to certain passages and chord progressions other bands use just as a filler which there is many. In MindAhead’s Reflections we also have very vintage progressive elements that hearkened towards the 1970’s with some Pink Floyd to Yes style time signatures.
Now I will proceed to go into depth on MindAhead’s Reflections. This will be a track by track analysis
Reflection is a instrumental track to open the album. It is as if the music is playing in a chamber or open concert hall. It contains elements from both chamber music and early to middle 1970’s Pink Floyd in its atmospheric nature.
Remain Intact picks up with where Reflection left off. Marching to the backbone of double blast beats in the rhythm section and strong male grunts married with a sweet clean female vocal it is more progressive than symphonic. That is something rarely found with the Beauty & Beast elements of metal. Think later more progressive After Forever with more metalcore vocal elements in the grunts. There is a very intricate outro loaded with various time signature progressions.
Mind Control starts off with some dark ambient like atmosphere with a dark piano passage. Soon this track explodes with heavy rhythmic based double blast beats and the female male vocal dynamic. This is a track where the male vocal is not always rest in the grunt or growl narrative but also takes on a cleaner vocal as well. The track drops off at the end and sets up for a seamless transition to On The Dead Snow.
Video Courtesy of ( Revalve Records Official YouTube Channel )
On The Dead Snow fades in with a smooth seamless transition from where Mind Control leaves off. It soon explodes in a full sonic blast. It is a all out audio assault throughout this track. The rhythm section is like a full military assault of blast beats and tuned down bass. The guitar is not always a rhythmic instrument but also a lead stringed instrument. The middle of the track takes on layers and layers of melody and vocal harmony. This is a rare time where the male grunts are very understandable. The middle also serves as a breed ground of various progressive time signatures and off guitar solos. Towards the end the track has some elements of a ballad before the track picks up once again.
Video Courtesy of ( Revalve Records Official YouTube Channel )
Amigdala is the true epic on the album. It opens up with a very Pink Floyd atmospheric passage of great expanse and minimal elements. The bass and drum rhythmic sections kicks in to carry the atmosphere into towards the vocal narrative. This is a true 1970’s inspired progressive track that it continues to build layer upon layer of atmospheres. The vocal work of Kyo Calati has a soulful quality about it. The male grunts are more of a instrumental compliment for the cleaner more ethereal female vocal. The grunts span from death metal, to light grindcore and even have elements of black metal screams. There is such a heavy atmospheric aesthetic that the band allows for the track to breathe and not to lean some much on compression. The guitar solo’s are almost like that of David Gilmore meets Steve Howe of Yes. This track shows the mature depths that MindAhead have as a young band.
Emerald Green Eyes picks up where Amigdala left off with a heavy atmospheric opener before the track takes on a full assault once again with heavy blast beats and male death growls that serve the two fold purpose of a instrument and a harmonic vocal along with the female vocal. This track also takes on light industrial elements with the guitar and bass. At the 3:15 mark the track takes on a very prog rock vibe in the solo.
The Mask Through The Looking Glass (Part 1) starts out with almost a 16th century acoustical element. Soon it is layer with violins and keyboards to form a beautiful instrumental track. The Mask Through The Looking Glass (Part 1) serves as the perfect instrumental intro for The Mask Through The Looking Glass (Part 2).
The Mask Through The Looking Glass (Part 2) opens up with a surprising yet, blistering intro due to how The Mask Through The Looking Glass (Part 1) left off. This track also reminds me a lot of the NWOBHM or New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with the galloping guitar and bass rhythms. The female vocal really lights this one up very well. The entire rhythm section is some of the best I have heard in 10 years on this track. For a track that is only 6:31 this is full of time signatures and insane guitar solos.
Farewell opens up with a very clean and beautiful acoustic guitar intro. It continues to build layers upon layers in the stringed section with the percussive elements of drum and bass subtly coming into the track. The band allows much breathing room for the listener to become immersed in this track. If there had to be a ballad on the album, Farewell would fall into that category. Although it has a heavy ballad element about it, Farewell still maintains the progressive objective and integrity the band has displayed throughout the album.
Three Sides Of A Dangerous Mind opens up with a beautiful acoustic track before taking on a heavy charging assault with brutal double blast beats, the bass serving a two fold purpose of both a stringed and percussive element towards the rhythm section. This track is bound together with a beautiful atmosphere from start to finish. The atmospheric element helps the guitar solos, rhythm section and vocals stand out in a way that every member of the band can be fully heard and understood. This track also bring the album together as a great avant garde metal concept.
Memories is the third instrumental track on the album that closes the album just as cohesive as the opening track Reflection did. It helps the listeners audio senses digest the entire album they just heard as well.
MindAhead are a band of innovation in metal. They are on the vanguard of where avant garde and progressive metal is going into the future. I believe Reflections is opening up another door of true ideas and standards for this kind of experimental metal. They continue Italy’s rich under rated progressive rock and metal tradition. They have a very distinctive and unique sound that will stand out among the current metal landscape. MindAhead’s Reflections is one of the absolute strongest debut albums over the last 25 years. I am giving MindAhead’s Reflections a perfect 5/5.
You do not have to have a lengthy library of albums to be a pivotal influence in the area of music or entertainment in general. As a matter of some of the most influential bands or artists may only have one or two albums out but the influence and legacy they have lives through other bands or artists.
This is the very case with the Texas based progressive metal band Watchtower. Although Watchtower had Energetic Disassembly in 1985 and the pivotal yet influential album Control and Resistance in 1989, the band as a collective would not be heard again in a full collective form of songs until 2016’s EP Concepts of Math : Book One. To be very honest as I write this review I thought this would simply never happen. Well there are times when we are to never say never because the unexpected can and on some occasion’s happens.
Much like Queensryche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory and Savatage Watchtower rank right up their as the class of pioneers of progressive metal. Watchtower took a much more thrash approach to progressive metal however with far more time signatures and chord progressions. As a matter of fact Watchtower’s chord progressions can and are felt and heard today’s progressive metal landscape. Bands like Tesseract, Leperous, Contortionist, Between The Buried And Me, Anciients Dillinger Escape Plan and Zero Hour can all trace those chord progressions Watchtower were doing 30 years prior to their very sound today. Watchtower’s sound was very much pre ‘Djent/Math’metal.
Watchtower’s Concepts Of Math: Book One sees one of Prog Metal’s founding fathers return stronger than ever with such savage ferocity. Although it is only made up of five tracks they still knock the listener right on their audio ass. The fierce rhythm sections and complex time signatures confirm that the bands I mentioned above can trace their melodic heritage and DNA back to Watchtower and Concepts Of Math : Book One solidifies and galvanize’s this. I would like to point out a few highlights from Watchtower’s Concepts Of Math: Book One.
M- Theory Overture opens up with a progressive thrash shred frenzy with the guitar. The frenzy is blistering in its very nature. Soon it drops off then the band go to work with the natural complex and intricate time signatures that formed their unique sound from day one. The time signatures definitely are not for the faint of heart if you are into music that is written in 4/4. The bass takes a complimentary percussive direction along side the drums to make up the distinct sound of Watchtower.
Arguments Against Design begins with a thunderous yet very melodic bass line with the drums and guitar coming in and out with breaks. Soon the towering vocals come in such clarity considering the heavily thrash nature of the rhythmic time signatures and heaviness. The lead guitar gives the illusion their could be more than one guitar at times without it obviously sounding like it was overdubbed. The band sounds as if they wrote this track on the bass to get the desire rhythm effect.
Technology Inaction picks right up where Arguments Against Design off. The thunderous and brutal complex time signatures within the rhythm section continue the beautiful assault of the senses of the listener. The guitar serves both as a shredding lead and thunderous percussive rhythm instrument. With the thrashy speed metal backbone the band also continue the time signatures with intricate progressive interchanges within the passages. The lyrical content keeps with the common theme gracefully throughout the EP. The vocals at times even follow in step with the rhythm sections.
The Size Of Matter is not a original for the EP Concepts Of Math: Book One. This particular track was originally released on its own back in 2010 as a single. I believe the band released it perhaps to overwhelming demand for something new or the fact the band wanted to remind their fans and the people that they were still around. Instead giving a analysis of this track I have embedded the original.
Mathematica Calculis sees the band continue with its own unique time signatures and chord progressions. This is the mini epic of the EP clocking in at 9:25. However the band does more in 9:25 than some progressive bands do in a 15:00 to 20:00 epic. The chord progressions remind me a lot of NWOBHM with galloping progressions. The band totally assault the senses very wonderfully. This track is a melodic roller coaster going in and out of various progressions and passages without it sounding like the band are taking the listener on the same sonic rail or track. There are some wicked backing vocals that run in perfect time with the lead vocal. The rhythm sections are almost as if the band are writing a mathematical equation and transcribing it to instruments.
Watchtower have certainly added more to the foundation of its influential legacy with Concepts Of Math : Book One. My only hope could be a follow up to this and perhaps some live dates. The band have also reminded people who they are. I also see this Concepts Of Math : Book One as a project that the band have made to attract newer fans to its already cult like status. Watchtower’s Concepts Of Math: Book One gets a 5/5 and will be the first EP ever to enter my Top 10 of Albums of the Year for 2016.
Label : Inner Wound Records Release Year : 2016 Country: International Genre: Progressive/Power Metal
Elina Laivera – Vocals Henrik Bath – [Darkwater] – Vocals Michael Alexander – Guitars/Growls Alex Landenburg – [Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, Octane 21] – Drums
Nils K Rue [Pagan’s Mind] – Vocals on “Bargain of Lost Souls” Mark Jansen [Epica, Mayan] – Growls on “Anthem For Freedom”, “Truth” and “Dreamstate” Charlie Dominici [ex. Dream Theater] – Vocals on “The Jaguar Priest” Diego Valdez [Helker] – Vocals on “Awakened By The Light” and “Seven” Alessandro Bissa [Vision Divine] – Drums on “Dreamstate”, “Anthem For Freedom”, “Awakened By The Light”, “Bargain Of Lost Souls” and “Truth” Mike LePond [Symphony X] – Bass on “Truth” and “The Force Of Our Creation” Emanuele Casali [DGM] – Keyboards on all tracks Johan Reinholz [Andromeda]- Guitar solo on “The Force Of Our Creation” 07:08-07:30
01. Anthem For Freedom 02. Truth 03. The Bargain Of Lost Souls 04. Dreamstate 05. Awakened By The Light (Universal Mind) 06. A World That Burns 07. Seven 08. The Jaguar Priest 09. The Force Of Our Creation 10. Xibalba
Ever since I heard about the Universal Mind Project back in 2013 my anticipation has been nothing short than exciting. The anticipation and wait were well worth it. The Universal Mind Project is very well appropriately named. The core of Elina Laivera , Michael Alexander , Henrik Bath and Alex Landberg carefully selected the right talent as guest musicians on Universal Mind Project The Jaguar Priest. Considering the line up of vocalists as Nils K Rue [Pagan’s Mind] – Vocals on “Bargain of Lost Souls” , Mark Jansen [Epica, Mayan] – Growls on “Anthem For Freedom”, “Truth” and “Dreamstate” , Charlie Dominici [ex. Dream Theater] – Vocals on “The Jaguar Priest” , Diego Valdez [Helker] – Vocals on “Awakened By The Light” and “Seven” and on the instrumentalists side, Alessandro Bissa [Vision Divine] – Drums on “Dreamstate”, “Anthem For Freedom”, “Awakened By The Light”, “Bargain Of Lost Souls” and “Truth” , Mike LePond [Symphony X] – Bass on “Truth” and “The Force Of Our Creation” , Emanuele Casali [DGM] – Keyboards on all tracks , Johan Reinholz [Andromeda]- Guitar solo on “The Force Of Our Creation” 07:08-07:30. It makes for the perfect tools for the canvas of such masterpiece.
On Universal Mind Project The Jaguar Priest,Elina Laivera has clearly established herself as a force to be reckoned with as a vocalist, songwriter and lyricist. It is also good to see Elina Laivera find a home and outlet for her genius and talent. Her partner in crime in the songwriting department Michael Alexander has definitely set himself up as well to be a force in progressive metal or metal music in general. What I appreciate the most about the writing team of Laivera/Alexander is their uncanny genius and ability to write towards the strengths of their guest vocalists.
They write towards the strengths of the guest musicians so much that it is as if the guest vocalists and instrumentalists are playing totally on point in their own element as if they are performing with their primary bands or outfits. That was something that really impressed me as I was listening to this. Elina Laivera and Michael Alexander tailored every passage and progression where the guests players could be distinguished. They appear to have a intricate knowledge of talent and just how to display it perfectly on the canvas that is The Jaguar Priest.
In the tracks Anthem For Freedom, Truth and Dreamstate the listener can clearly distinguish Mark Jansen’s legendary growls that he has used in After Forever, Epica and Maya. Even throughout Anthem For Freedom and the rest of the album Emanuele Casali [DGM] – Keyboards’ . The instrumental portion is stellar and matches the talent perfectly. On Bargain Of Lost Souls, Nils. K Rue really turns it loose. I almost feel for a brief second I am listening to Pagans Mind however I am not. That is another testament of the great songwriting that carefully went into consideration on this album.
On the title track The Jaguar Priest I have a appreciation of the writing democracy they band had allowing Charlie Dominci to write the lyrics . Without giving too much away Universal Mind Project The Jaguar Priest is thematic concept. Every song represents a story that all 10 tracks tie into a common story. Universal Mind Project The Jaguar Priest is one of the finest and well written albums of artistic expression since I first heard Ayreon’s Into The Electric Castle in 1998. It has the appeal of a rock/metal opera yet with so much more conviction. This album will be a album talked about for many decades to come. I declined to do a track by track analysis on his album because it needs to have the listener’s entire attention without preconceived scrutiny.
The hooks and melodies and harmonies are world class and some of the very best in the world. I hope they consider a follow up to The Jaguar Priest. I also believe The Jaguar Priest is part of the further posterity and life of progressive metal and metal in general.In a year where we have lost so many Icons of rock already, I believe Universal Mind Project’s The Jaguar Priest and all its participants are poised to carry the torches left by those Icons. This album gets a 5/5 and is potential Album Of The Year 2016material.
In a portion of the world where there is much turmoil and uncertainty comes a melodic beacon of hope and light. This band is known as The Light Year. Coming out of the area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea in the country of Georgia, it is certain that no matter how much turmoil, progressive rock has tentacles in Georgia.
The Light Year Steps Of Life is one of those progressive masterpieces that come from out of nowhere once every 5 to 10 years. The Light Year are a band at the crossroads of Enchant and Transatlantic meets Pain of Salvation and Porcupine Tree. The Light Year combine very modern neo progressive elements with vintage hard rock/heavy metal with a twist of vintage progressive rock elements. The Light Year combine Arabic, Oriental and near Eastern influences with Western power progressive rock/metal elements.
Steps of Life begins with a powerful progressive symphonic instrumental track called Tornado 1 which starts off like the opening of a cinematic production. Tornado 1 has various hooks and instrumental melody. It reminds me a little of Liquid Tension Experiment at times. Tornado 1 charges right ahead in a progressive frenzy setting up track 2 Steps to Life.
Steps of Life starts off as a well articulate Acapella voice composition. At about the 1:16 mark the keyboard comes in with another layer to add to the vocal melody. At the 2:35 mark the track gains a acoustic guitar layer to be joined by the rhythmic section at the 3:35 mark. At about the 4:30 mark the track takes on a Peter Gabriel rhythmic vibe building the track to a up tempo track at this point. About the 5:35 mark it takes on a Spock’s Beard sounding track. At the 7:15 mark the track takes on a neo progressive vibe much like the band Enchant.
Tornado 2 starts off with a thunderous rhythmic section. The keyboards are executed quite well as a percussive rhythmic instrument instead of the status quo stringed sectional style instrumental. Tornado 2 like Tornado 1 is a instrumental in a cinematic style. The album starts taking on a conceptual sound at this time. Tornado 2 has some seriously heavy fusion elements going on with the composition all the through much like Planet X or Gordion Knot At 4:55 mark there appears a choir as more of a chant instrument even more so than a vocal.
Steps Reprise is a very well arranged and well placed track to bridge into the next track Side.
Side opens a lot like Yes with lush vocal layers engineered with a well rounded rhythmic section and the keyboard and acoustic guitar giving the track absolution. At the 2:35 mark the track really takes a very up tempo melody to harmony exchange. Side goes in and out from up tempo one moment to a down tempo the next moment. Side has that later Pink Floyd sound of the 1980’s. This track has some light alternative elements to it as well.
Dark Times starts out with a serious down tuned alternative sound. The vocal takes on a abstract atmosphere through a minimalist filter. Dark Times displays a less in more attitude and with various time signatures and breaks. With every break pause the track adds or subtracts various layers. Towards the end the track is blistering with some very heavy progressions and time signatures.
Damskerland is a mellow acoustic track. Although the vocals are being sung here they also sound a little in the realm of spoken word making it easy for the listener to grasp the story of Damskerland. This has almost a Dust In The Wind style about it.
Love Without Love begins with a sitar oriental sound to start off with this mini epic. About the 2:32mark the track takes on a mellow guitar atmosphere. The warmth of the vocals appear to be filtered through the keyboard although they are not. Love Without Love reminds me of a little longer Kayleigh or Easter from Marillion. It has a great flute at the 6:45 mark and rain stick sound giving it a really heavy near to far Eastern sound. At the 8:44 mark the track takes a symphonic approach almost like a movie soundtrack. This is perhaps the most eclectic track on the album.
Digital Dream opens subtly with a fade in drum percussion passage. Soon they electric guitar and keyboards take on a very heavy jazz prog fusion vibe. This track is like Buddy Guy and Miles Davis and Steely Dan rolled in one. The track soon breaks instrumentally and a spoken word section appears right before the free form prog jazz fusion takes off again. At the 4:30 mark the track takes on a vibe progression like Pain Of Salvation with the vocal arrangement.
My Lord picks up right where Digital Dream left off however, with a more distorted progression. The vocals sound heavily like John Wetton in King Crimson. The band even ventures into areas of funk with their progressions. At times it sounds like the instruments are talking back and forth from one another. There is a lot of twists and turns you do not know where the band is going with the track. About the 5:00 mark this track drops off some for a refined piano and keyboard atmosphere. Soon after sounds of nature like the birds in a forest chirping give the track depth and emotion. The character in this story starts to quietly question life on a lyrical level. About the 8:00 mark there is some heavy psychedelic elements instrumentally supporting the lyrical narrative. The track ends with a nice fluid cinematic ending.
Sky Way starts with a beautiful lush piano intro as if the instrument is isolated. Soon a partial spoken word partially sung vocal comes in. Soon after a calm guitar and languid rhythm section kicks in and the track takes almost a ballad style. This is a track of personal reflection lyrically. Sky Way has potential for the listener audience to sing this back to the band in a live setting.
Tornado 3 is a overall reflection of the album. Little portions of every track before it appear within the span of a 1:15. This is a heavy 1:15 as well.
The Light Year have made a statement on Steps of Life. This band mixes a little bit of the old with the new to form there own unique sound. The even bridge Eastern and Western musical styles into a well craft progressive music brew. I am giving this album a 4/5.
Band Bio Courtesy (Midnight Eternal Official Facebook Page) Midnight Eternal is a symphonic metal band based out of New York City. It was formed in March of 2014 when two members of Operatika (Richard Fischer and Boris Zaks) invited Daniel Prestup (Rivera Bomma, Spider Rockets) and Mike LePond (Symphony X) to join them in recording a two-song demo. During the recording, the band acquired the talents of vocalist Raine Hilai based on her previous work in theater and her solo endeavor. The planned demo quickly evolved into the formation of a full-time band when it became apparent the group had something special on their hands. Shortly thereafter, Greg Manning (of Spider Rockets, Zamora) joined the band as permanent member taking over bass duties.
Shortly after releasing their demo, which featured the songs “When Love and Faith Collide” and “Masquerade of Lies”, the band began to receive numerous offers and booked a number of high caliber shows. In the years 2014 and 2015, Midnight Eternal shared the stage with Kamelot, Dragonforce, Sonata Arctica, Delain, Xandria, Doro, The Agonistand Quiet Riot, among others. Late 2015, the band hit the studio to record their debut album.
There are symphonic metal bands, power metal bands, progressive metal bands, classically influenced and trained metal musicians. Then there are bands that know how to take all those elements and disciplines and perfectly balance them into their own unique sound. This is what New York’s own Midnight Eternal have done on their self titled debut Midnight Eternal. Founded in March of 2014 Midnight Eternal have already had a crash course like multiple year veterans sharing the stage with bands such as Kamelot, Dragonforce, Sonata Arctica, Delain, Xandria, Doro, The Agonist and Quiet Riot.
It was sharing those stages and hours of rehearsals that gave the band that unique quality to forge their own sound that would manifest itself into one of the strongest debut albums I have heard in 15 years. It was if they have taken a concerto orchestra and transcribed it on to heavy guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Not like a opera but like a supporting multi piece instrumental orchestra in the supporting act of a musical.
Although the tracks seem short in length at times, the listener still has a epic listening experience through various time signatures and change progressions. The first track Till The Bitter End there are some various spoken word portions blended within the composition. Then you have a power metal clinic with track 2 Repentance . There is a anthem vibe track 3 Signs Of Fire.
There is always a hook or unpredictable harmony or melody around the corner of every track on the album. The harmonies are executed with clarity and the instrumental melodies compliment those harmonies with grace and poise. The rhythm sections and blast beats are insane and tight in some places especially on the track Shadows Fall. Midnight Eternal Midnight Eternal is definitely a band for fans of Kamelot, Blind Guardian, Delain, Nightwish and Xandria. This album gets a 4.5/5 and could be a heavy contender for Debut Album Of 2016.
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