Magenta – The Twenty Seven Club (2013)

Magenta_27Club5 out of 5 Stars!

First thing anyone needs to know is that this album has a weird (some might say “morbid”) concept, with every track being dedicated to a talented musician who (eerily) died at the ripe “oh-so-young” age of twenty-seven. And there are more people who fall into that category than I originally thought. Again, eerie. But oddly enough, the album (though fraught with some emotional lyrics at times) is neither dreary nor depressing, but hopeful and (most often) upbeat when it comes to the overall melodies and musical arrangements.

Regardless, Magenta picked up the concept and ran with it, dedicating each of the six tracks on this album to one of those tragic individuals. Granted, because each track is dedicated to one musician (all with different “sounds” associated with them) that doesn’t mean the song sounds like it was created by that individual or that it even sounds in the least like something that individual would have produced had they lived past their twenty-seventh birthday. Nope. What it does mean is that Magenta, when writing the lyrics to the tracks, when creating melodies and adding instrumentation, did so with that individual in mind. So please know, the music itself is PURE Magenta! All the grandeur, all the same Yes, Genesis, etc. influences remain intact, all the catchy melodies and instrumentation and vocal excellence (when it comes to both lead and background) that fans have come to expect from this wonderful band are on full (and magnificent) display. The concept proved a complete and utter success, driving the band forward in various and often-exciting directions.

So what do we have on offer here?

The first track, the twelve-minute “The Lizard King,” begins with a wickedly wild intro in the vein of Yes (with female vocals, of course) meeting a Prog-Metal band. Truth be told, this intro initially rocked me off my seat and I had to momentarily wonder if I hadn’t been given something other than a Magenta track, since the opening section was a bit more “metal” than the band usually delivers. But it was indeed Magenta, with the ultra-rich “Chris Squire-like” Rickenbacker bass lines thumping along my spine, and the resulting track is nothing but spectacular, adding a whole new dimension to the Magenta sound-picture. The track is dedicated to Jim Morrison (no shock when it comes to the title), and it’s a masterpiece of (again) a merging of Prog-Rock and Prog-Metal. The softer verses are so melodic and well-orchestrated (a Magenta strong point) and the choruses, middle and ending sections are absolutely riveting and grandiose. Basically, during the middle of the track, the song breaks into a different section (a second song, a Part 2, truthfully), which is basically the “edited single version” of the track. But for those of you who have not experienced the opening section, I encourage you to listen to the track in its entirety. Majestic instrumentation, outrageously grand arrangements and orchestrations, riveting lyrics, and Christina’s spot-perfect and spine-tingling vocals reign supreme. Damn, I defy any fan of the genre not to deem this one of the most terrific pieces of Prog-Rock in recent history.

“Ladyland Blues” (dedicated to Jimi Hendrix) is, frankly, a ten-minute Yes-like extravaganza. All musicians are doing their best to imitate Yes at their most creative, exciting peak in their history (with a touch of Genesis for good measure). And, damn it, the band pulls it off…in spades. Terrific.

To be frank, the track “Pearl” (which is, no shock, dedicated to Janis Joplin) brings tears to my eyes every single time I hear it. The often-sedate track has such an absorbing melody and instrumentation, it’s hard not to get emotional. And the lyrics are wonderful, especially the passages that begin with the words…

“I gave my all, the end will bring me down,
All alone, starting again the search for love.
I gave you my voice, I gave you my soul,
Tried to fit in, ’til I get old…”

The lyrics, sung over a sparse, heart-wrenching piano/keyboard landscape?…well, I get chills down my spine each time I hear the section of this track. Christina Booth’s delivery of these lines, of what Janis herself might have actually thought regarding what drove her career and her reflections on her tough upbringing and tragic life in general, is both gut-wrenching and shockingly truthful. Needless to say, this eight-minute track is my favorite off this album, and probably one of my favorites within the entire Magenta catalogue. Utter perfection, a song crammed with angst and passion and perfectly executed! Bravo, Magenta.

On “Stoned” (dedicated to Brian Jones), Magenta delivers eleven minutes of (again) some Yes-inspired riffing throughout, along with delightfully catchy melody lines, outstanding background harmonies, and solos galore.

“The Gift” (dedicated to Kurt Cobain and, at seven minutes, is the shortest track) begins with orchestral strings driving another heartfelt and memorable melody from Christina. Symphonic Prog at its most effective regarding emotional impact. Soon, the song delves into a hard-driving escapade of Prog-Rock splendor, with pianos, guitars, and rhythm section delivering some rich accompaniment to Christina’s dramatic vocals, bringing to mind the most emotionally intense tracks by the band Renaissance. An abrupt, shocking ending of instruments leaves only a dreamy piano passage before the song fades into twilight.

Finally, “The Devil at the Crossroads” (dedicated to Robert Johnson, guitar legend in blues circles, and the longest track at nearly fifteen minutes), is yet another Yes-like driven piece of intense Prog-Rock, with Christina again delivering an emotionally charged performance of “what might have beens” among some Steve Howe-inspired guitar solos, numerous time changes, some acoustic (quite sad, blues-inspired) guitar pieces, and elegant mood shifts that will leave Prog fans feeling utterly, breathlessly fulfilled and reeling, demanding more and more from this fantastic band.

To sum up, this is one MONSTER of an album. Magenta has always been a favorite of mine, with me rating just about all of their releases (both albums and singles) a full 5 Stars at various music-review websites. But when it comes to this particular release, were I to somehow be able to “cheat” on different rating scales, I would rate it a perfect 10! Yep, that’s how much I love this album. Since I purchased it nearly two years ago, I have not gone more than several weeks without listening to it…indeed, it has been on both my I-Phone and I-Pad (not to mention my main computer) since the day I purchased it, and I will not even dream to replace it for anything else, damn the “lack of memory” I-Phone warnings I occasionally receive. Jaw-dropping!

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Theatre – No More Rhymes But Mr. Brainstorm (1993)

Theatre_NoMoreRhymes4.5 out of 5 Stars!

For fans of Marillion, Genesis, and (especially) Twelfth Night, this is one album you may want to investigate. To me, the singer of this Italian band sounds so eerily reminiscent (when it comes to style, tone, and dramatics) of Geoff Mann from Twelfth Night, enough so that I had to do some digging into album credits to make certain it wasn’t actually Geoff doing the singing. Regardless, the vocals, and the overall “feel” of the band is firmly entrenched in the “Twelfth Night realm” of Prog-Rock (and by that, I also mean the same realm as early Marillion, early Genesis, et al).

The album’s opener, “The Lie (A Typical Situation),” clearly shows the bands influences in numerous ways. The bouncy main passages are pure Genesis, whereas the moody midsection is reminiscent of Marillion. The keyboard runs are straight out of the Tony Banks (Genesis) or Mark Kelly (Marillion) playbook, and the guitar leads are laden with Steve Rothery (again, Marillion) tones. And several short spoken parts, with singer Ricky Tonko doing his best “Harold The Barrel” (Genesis) or “We Are Sane” (Twelfth Night) type of voices, only add to the fun and further display the band’s influences.

“Treacherous Money” continues in the same vein, and the addition of Mellotron and odd rhythm patterns in the song’s latter half once again firmly entrench the band in the Twelfth Night, etc. universe.

The mellower “Shades” is one of my favorite tracks, with the keyboard sounds and vocal melody exuding more of a Pallas vibe before another Steve Rothery type of guitar solo graces the song’s midsection. More spoken vocal lines end the song, again bringing to mind Geoff Mann and Fish.

The oddly named “Diddle Riddle (Mr. Brainstorm in the Middle)” is not only the longest track (at thirteen minutes) but is probably the high point of the album, crammed with all the usual influences. The slow-building atmospheric opening finally brings the band into a driving verse backed by off-time rhythms and featuring more Geoff Mann type vocal passages. Afterward, the organ section somehow reminds me of “The Knife” (Genesis) before the bridge section might have comfortably found a home on the Fact and Fiction album (Twelfth Night). Some additional mood changes, along with flute (or flute-sounding synths) in another passage brings us temporarily back to Genesis before the band kicks into a reprise of the opening verse section. The interesting track finally mellows again in the ending section with some more Steve Rothery “dreamy” guitar leads.

“Grannies” starts with nearly a perfect replica of “The Cinema Show” (Genesis) guitar pattern before another pretty vocal melody pops in with the same feel. More Tony Banks styled synth runs lead into a second verse until the entire band kicks in, along with some Steve Rutherford/Steve Hackett (Genesis) guitar sounds until the Genesis-type closing.

At more than eleven minutes, the second lengthy track, “Little Princess,” is also another favorite, with a spoken vocal intro that leads into more Genesis/Marillion/Twelfth Night-inspired passages throughout. A grand treat.

I won’t bother describing the additional tracks since they are certainly in the same vein. Regardless, this album is a complete thrill for a Prog-Rock lover like myself, one who continually yearns for the sound and style of early Genesis. Man, I really liked Theatre. Too bad they had only a single album since I would have loved more from them.

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Seven Steps to the Green Door – Fetish! (2015)

SevenSteps_Fetish5 out of 5 Stars!

Despite their silly name, this is one fantastic band from Germany with a perfect blending of Progressive Rock and Progressive Metal. They have both a male and female vocalist, both excellent, with some terrific background vocalists as well, so expect to hear amazing vocal arrangements, many along the lines of Gentle Giant when it comes to complexity. Indeed, some of the instrumental bits also bring Gentle Giant to mind, although with a more modern/updated sound like some of Spock’s Beard’s earliest work. Some of the other usual influences are included, along with everything from Yes and The Flower Kings, and newer bands such as Unitopia, United Progressive Fraternity, and Barock Project. And in many ways, Seven Steps (for short) also reminds me of the bands Introitus and Izz when it comes to the overall merged influences and styles as well as the inclusion of those striking female vocals.

Also note, that apart from the album’s short first track “Possible Delayed” (an a capella opening of both male and female voices, a beautiful introduction to the band’s vocal perfection), all of the following eight tracks are more than seven minutes long, with one even hitting the sixteen minute mark. This gives the band a chance to expand their wings and truly soar! And man, do they ever.

“Possible Delayed” leads into the track called “PORN!” that starts with a Gentle Giant-like riff on electric piano with counterpoint guitar strokes. Right then, I sensed I was in for something truly special. Sure enough, when the male and female vocal parts kicked in with this Gentle Giant-like riff behind them, I turned up the speakers to revel in the track. Time changes abound in different melodic sections of the song, before a sax comes in to liven things up even more. More time changes occur soon afterward, only to have the song end with an instrumental riff that slowly accelerates in speed before the final fade-out. Some fascinating Prog in the span of nearly nine minutes. Wonderful.

The next track, “Still Searching,” opens with more outrageously perfect vocal performances by both male and female. The harmonies are truly spectacular. A beautiful track ensues, softer than the opening track (but only at first) until we are treated once again to numerous rhythm shifts and key changes. Just before the song starts to heat up, the addition of Mellotron was a welcome surprise. And by the time the song gets really cooking, some heavier bits (both on guitar and Hammond) give the band another dimension. And, as if that wasn’t enough goodness already, the midpoint of the song kicks into more a capella vocals, pure Gentle Giant in the fashion of “On Reflection” from the Free Hand album, jaw-droppingly intricate and magnificent. Next up comes a luscious grand piano passage that introduces another bouncy section of the song, and then more vocals are added and more delightful sections keep the song building and building into something truly grand. And then it ends with more a capella grandeur. Good God, by this time (only three songs into the album) I was already in deep, deep love with this fantastic band with the silly name.

I won’t go into the details of every single track—there is so much going on, so many “keeping me on the edge of my seat” moments happening throughout the album—or I would find myself writing for days on end in order to cram everything I enjoyed into a single review. Let’s just say that the remainder of the album continues offering up one great track after another, and what seems like endless surprises galore, way too numerous to count.

The musicians and vocalists are all so damned talented and the band’s songwriting and arrangement skills are beyond commendable. I feel blessed to have heard this release and I look forward to delving into the band’s previous three albums to see what else they’ve created for my listening pleasure.

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Night Sun – Mournin’ (1972)

NightSun_Mournin4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1972, this German band released its one and only album.

Because of the thick Hammond organ and Psych guitar, Night Sun reminded me (primarily) of other German acts such as Birth Control or Lucifer’s Friend (its debut album), only heavier. Much heavier, actually. Just listen to the two slamming opening tracks—”Plastic Shotgun” and “Crazy Woman”—and hear what sounds like Birth Control meets Deep Purple in a marriage of fuzz guitar and Hammond, with phased drums and thumping bass in the background along with a vocalist not afraid to belt out the lyrics like his very life depended on it.

One of my favorite tracks, “Got a Bone of My Own,” starts with eerie instrumentation preceding a killer riff, both immediately bringing to mind the debut Black Sabbath album, the album where Ozzy and company clearly displayed Blues inspirations. Is this what Deep Purple may have sounded like had the group had Tony Iommi on guitar delivering his “evil” riffing? One can only guess.

“Slush Pan Man” shows even more of Night Sun’s own Blues-based influences when it comes to the sound, but again, wrapping them up in a catchy, memorable Deep Purple-like riff that would have fit right at home on the In Rock album.

Side B opens with another monster track named “Living With the Dying,” which somehow reminds me of Led Zeppelin, only with more of a Deep Purple feel, due mainly to the organ. And once again, those phased drums pop up in the middle of the song, playing a rather extended solo bit before the guitar and Hammond trade their own heated solos prior to the final verse.

“Come Down” opens with a moody organ background before the singer lays a pretty melody over the top of it, momentarily adding a welcome break from the frantic madness of the previous track. Before long, however, this ballad turns into a mid-paced rocker in the best tradition of early Lucifer’s Friend or Birth Control. This is another of my favorites.

Some additional organ and guitar solos pop up on “Blind,” another blues-based song that conjures up the same style as Deep Purple’s “Lazy.” While “Nightmare” is a fast-paced slammer (similar to Deep Purple’s “Speed King” in pace and style). Here the Hammond organ is given a chance to truly shine and the singer even produces some screams in an attempt to replicate Ian Gillan’s unique vocal delivery.

The album closes with another rocker called “Don’t Start Flying,” which surprisingly brings in a sax, adding yet another dimension to the band’s overall sound. Can you picture a song by Deep Purple with an in-your-face sax wailing throughout? Hard to imagine, I’m sure, but this is probably what it may have sounded like had Deep Purple attempted it.

Anyway, since some of the songs here have a touch of Progressive Rock included, I can’t help wondering what Night Sun might have produced had the band stayed together for at least another few albums. Would the group have gone more Prog-Rock or continued on with the Blues-based Heavy Metal sound, or would Night Sun have continued to perfect an equal blending of the two genres? Who knows. The band had great potential.


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Makkiwhipdies – His Name Is NNNNNN (1996)

Makkiwhipdies_MyName4 out of 5 Stars!

This is a truly bizarre band with an equally bizarre name that I ran across nearly 20 years ago. Strange, strange, strange stuff, which often reminds me of Frank Zappa’s more eclectic releases…shades of the Mothers Of Invention’s Uncle Meat era. Truly odd and adventurous songs on their debut album (and, sadly, their only album), with snippets of disjointed weirdness seamlessly linked together within the songs (pure Zappa), but not too freaky that it can’t be enjoyed, but rather admired for its overall strangeness and creativity.

The longer tracks are broken up by shorter ones (several being under the two-minute mark), which serve as breaks or lead-ins to the longer pieces.

The title track, “His Name Is NNNNNN,” is twenty minutes of “pure freak,” as explained above in the opening paragraph when it comes to the disjointed Zappa-like weirdness and snippets.

Whereas “Always Merry And Bright,” a light and bouncy instrumental, could have easily appeared on a Jethro Tull album such as Heavy Horses.

“His Name Is Clone” at first continues on with additional Jethro Tull influences, then pops into more Zappa-inspired weirdness, with various breaks of unconnected madness and sections of insanity, including one where, I swear, it sounds like someone is playing (quite well, actually) one of those multi-colored kiddy xylophones.

The next track, “Vicious Cruiser,” is a short proggy instrumental, which leads into the track “NNNNNN Hibachi Salesman, Basketball Star.” The crazy name says it all…more Zappa-esque vocals before the track ends with another short prog excursion.

“Bobby-O-Bobby” includes some reprises from the title track, along with sections of pure prog mixed with more of the Mothers Of Invention type of avant-prog bits (voices, sound effects, radio station insertions, you name it) tossed in at unexpected times.

And near the end of the album, there’s the track named “Kazoo,” a romp into keyboard-driven jazz-rock territory, that actually features—yep, you guessed it—someone playing an actual kazoo as an occasional lead instrument. Again, some of the title track’s main themes are given another reprise here, only arranged to feature the keyboards. Sounds like a cross between bands such as UK and Return To Forever and Utopia (with perhaps Zappa acting as producer).

Do I really need to continue describing each track? Doubtful, since I’m sure by now you get the overall picture of what’s happening here. Despite the fact there are actually twelve named tracks on offer, together they truly make up one long epic, one vast journey into goofy-town, that somehow, magically, seems to work. Or at least it will likely work for listeners who enjoy the type of Zappa-styled, eclectic brand of silliness that is far outside the “norm.”

Too bad Makkiwhipdies released only this single album, as I felt they had great potential. They certainly showed some outrageous creativity and likely could have carved out a place for themselves in the world of Prog.

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Fireballet – Night on Bald Mountain (1975)

Fireballet_NightMountain4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I really liked this band from the mid-’70s that, sadly, released only two albums before disappearing. Although Fireballet was an American band from the East Coast, the music was quite British, often reminiscent of other bands from the same era…Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, etc. with shades of Uriah Heep when it came to the full and layered background vocals. The Night On Bald Mountain album is still one of my favorites after all these many decades. Expect a lot of terrific organ and synth work, thanks to the two keyboardists featured in the band, along with some sax and flute (played by guest musician and producer Ian McDonald from King Crimson) that adds a nice extra dimension to the sound.

The album consists of only five tracks, each of them adding something special to the overall package.

At first, “Les Cathédrales,” this ten-minute opener, begins with soft keyboards and acoustic guitar and sounds like a cross between Genesis, Flash, or early Yes, until both a sax solo and electric guitar pop up, which gives the track almost a Van Der Graaf Generator vibe. Countless time shifts, keyboard and guitar runs, and mood alterations abound, creating further drama, while some spoken “story parts” in the song’s midsection lend a storybook feel.

Although the next track, “Centurion (Tales of Fireball Kids),” is less than half the length of the opener, it’s still equally as complex and grand. Here the band takes on an almost “electrified ELP” sound, with terrific fuzz guitar leads playing counterpoint to Keith Emerson-like “pomp” keyboards.

“The Fireballet” sounds like a cross between Yes, Flash, Nektar, and some weird version of Gentle Giant, replete with (again) various time changes, counterpart keys and guitar riffs, and even some odd sound effects in the middle.

To bring things down to a mellower mood, “Atmospheres” is basically an acoustic guitar song, with pastoral-sounding piano and keys supporting a soft vocal melody, reminding me of something that may have appeared on the Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot albums by Genesis. On any other album by any other band, this could possibly have been considered nothing more than an outtake or filler track, but to me it’s not only the perfect opening to the album’s “B” side, but a song that leads smoothly into the monster title track extravaganza.

“Night on Bald Mountain (Suite),” a nearly nineteen-minute epic consisting of five parts, is nothing if not elegantly grand and wonderfully ambitious. It’s also a Prog-Rock lover’s dream come true, with the many twists and variations on different themes creating a spirited roller coaster ride through Prog territory. Each musician shines in different sections, and not only are we treated to numerous Yes, ELP, and Genesis influences again, but also Uriah Heep when it comes to the “layered background vocals over Hammond organ” section, reminding me of something off either the Demons and Wizards or The Musician’s Birthday albums. I suppose the Hungarian band Omega also springs to mind, considering that group was also heavily Heep-influenced. Regardless, sax makes another short but welcome appearance on this track as well, so even a touch of Van Der Graaf Generator pops up. As I’m unfamiliar with the actual work of Petrovich Mussorgsky (the composer of this classical track) I cannot make a judgment whether Fireballet gave the song, with all its twists and turns and mood shifts and intricate arrangements, any justice or made mincemeat of it. All I know is that the track, to me, is a rollicking good romp through Prog Heaven, and unlike a handful of reviewers who downgraded this album at various music sites because of their take on this particular rendition, I frankly don’t give a damn whether Mussorgsky is smiling proudly over Fireballet’s version or turning over in his grave.

Anyway, this debut album from Fireballet is one interesting and enjoyable collection of tracks, and I highly recommend it for all Prog-Rock lovers like myself.

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D’AccorD – An Overview

DAccordAlbums In My Collection

– D’AccorD
– Helike

An Overview

Upon first listen, one might think this current Norwegian band existed about 40 years ago, since their style is eerily reminiscent of a time in music when the sound of Genesis or Yes using a Mellotron, for example, inspired so many music lovers to jump on the Prog-Rock bandwagon. Along with the mighty Mellotron, the band also incorporates other vintage keyboard sounds (Hammond, electric piano, etc.), flute and sax, and heavy guitar reverb that tips a hat toward Pink Floyd atmospherics. Indeed, D’AccorD’s production brings to mind the olden days of analog recording equipment, and even the cover art on their albums looks retro.

The band is also not afraid of stretching its musical muscles when inspiration strikes, mixing some “normal” shorter tracks with a few extended pieces. Indeed, their second release, Helike, is comprised of only two tracks—”Helike, Part 1″ and “Helike, Part 2,” each surpassing the twenty-minute mark—which, combined, become one mega epic. But whether the songs are short or extended, no one can accuse the band of not being daring and even adventurous, as each track shows their capabilities throughout various styles and atmospheres, some powerful, some mellow, and all of them well-performed, ambitious, and full of musical depth.

The band has developed a sound that reminds me of a Prog-Rock act such as Birth Control, Jethro Tull, or Genesis melding together with a Hard Rock troop such as Deep Purple, Bloodrock, or Uriah Heep. In many ways, D’AccorD is similar to other “retro-sounding-bands” like Siena Root, Presto Ballet, Black Bonzo, or Hypnos 69, successfully incorporating the classic sounds and production techniques of bands from the 60s & 70s, adding a touch of Stoner Rock, a bit of Psychedelic Rock, some Jazz-Rock, a whole lot of Heavy Prog, and whisking music lovers back to the time when Prog-Rock began.

Hell, when listening to any of the band’s releases, you can almost smell the weed burning in the background…

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E.L.P. – An Overview

ELPAlbums In My Collection

– Black Moon
– Brain Salad Surgery
– Emerson, Lake & Palmer
– Emerson, Lake & Powell
– In The Hot Seat
– Pictures At An Exhibition
– The Return Of The Manticore
– Tarkus
– Trilogy
– Welcome Back My Friends…
– Works, Vol. 1
– Works, Vol. 2

An Overview

What can one say about E.L.P.?

With Keith Emerson’s extraordinary and unique style of playing and keyboard tones, along with Greg Lake’s instantly recognizable voice, and Carl Palmer’s sometimes insane percussion, the trio quickly developed a style all its own. (Granted, the sole album attributed to Emerson, Lake & Powell—with Cozy Powell stepping in for the missing Palmer—was the only actual clone of the original act.)

Their early days saw the band achieving almost instant success, and for good reason—not only did each of the three possess talent in spades, but they had a unique line-up, and their creativity stood almost unparalleled when it came to their contemporaries. “Karn Evil 9, Impressions 1, 2, & 3” anyone? Ah, the memories…

But unfortunately, like most of their contemporaries on the Prog-Rock scene (Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, etc.), when the popularity of the genre started to decline in the late 70s in favor of Punk and (groan) Disco (for hell’s sake!!!), the band attempted to reinvent itself, to alter their style to fit the times, and, for the most part, failed to stop their rapid descent. They finally called it quits after the less-than-stellar Love Beach in 1978 (where they even attempted to alter their image, looking like “hip pop studs”—or even disco studs—on the lame album cover itself).

Their brief reformation/comeback in the early 1990s with the albums Black Moon and In The Hot Seat was only a marginal success. I actually saw them several times on tour during those years, and although their lives shows were still terrific, the new albums were not. It was clear to most everyone that the old magic was generally gone. Those last two albums contained some pleasant, albeit lackluster and uninspired material. The days of the band releasing another side-long Prog-Rock epic such as “Tarkus” or “Karn Evil 9” had completely disappeared, with the band concentrating on  shorter songs in the AOR vein with only several tracks featuring any sort of nod to the glory days.

Nevertheless, the music of E.L.P. (whichever version—Palmer or Powell) inspired countless bands in the years to come (not to mention a score of future keyboardists and drummers especially). And more importantly, they left behind some of the most exciting material to have emerged from the early 1970s (the golden era of Prog-Rock), including the mighty, breathtaking, and perhaps all-around best album in their catalogue (and perhaps in all of Prog-Rock), Brain Salad Surgery.

Now, when it comes to the brief Emerson, Lake & Powell period of the band…

Although most people tend to write off this version of E.L.P. (or don’t even know about it, thanks to almost zero publicity when this sole album appeared in the mid-1980s), I find it quite enjoyable, especially after the Love Beach disaster.

Cozy Powell added some kick-ass spark to most of the tracks, and in my opinion, rejuvenated the creativity of Emerson and Lake. This sole album (especially on “The Score” and “The Miracle,” the two longer vocal tracks) showed that the guys still had something to provide the world of Prog-Rock and offered up a hopeful sign that the genre was not exactly as dead as all the American pop-loving idiot DJs and music critics claimed, despite the emergence of new music being offered by bands in the UK such as Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Twelfth Night, etc.

I, for one, embraced this brief comeback and was saddened the band (for whatever the reason) was unable to release more material. Regardless, their reappearance on the scene just after the New Wave Of Progressive Rock movement began was an added blessing to the scene and, somehow, made the NWOPR movement even more legitimate.

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Rite of Passage – Angels & Demons (2014)

RitePassage_Angels4 out of 5 Stars!

Oh no… A new band in a genre I love always comes with momentary feelings of unease, sometimes even pure dread.

Will a debut album prove a positive experience, further solidifying my faith in the genre as a whole, or will it disappoint me like so many others have in the past, thus turning me ever more cynical?

That’s exactly what was going through my mind when I stumbled upon the Angels & Demons album by Rite Of Passage last month. I took a deep breath, mentally braced myself, and prayed for the best as I hit the PLAY button.

Thankfully, I ended up exhaling a sigh of relief. This turned out to be an above-average debut album, bettering some albums by bands with much longer histories and extensive releases in their back catalogues. All but one track on this release spans 6-10 minutes, giving the band plentiful opportunities to experiment with intriguing atmospheres and complex arrangements.

There is much to like there…

For instance, the opening track “Breaking Through The Walls” has a rather dark ambiance during the verses with low, often eerie organ notes and other keyboards lending a lush background. The full and chunky guitars from Kurt Spranger and slamming percussion by the team of Jon Martin (bass guitar) and Robert Barton (drums) swept me along until the grand finish.

“Before Midnight” proved equally intriguing, with a terrific opening replete with the creepy sounds of a cuckoo clock and tolling bells before the song’s killer riff slams through the speakers and kicks everything into high gear.

“Change And Transition” features a beautiful piano intro (thanks to keyboardist Justin Valente), which soon ushers in a mellow, melodic vocal passage by Bill Quigley. Afterward, a wicked rhythm brings the song into a new phase, and the track ends with thunderstorm sound effects and keyboard passages interpreting violins and cellos.

Meanwhile, “Angels & Demons” opens with voice-over excerpts from the Bible atop another edgy backdrop, this time with some extra percussion and guitar effects that would be right at home in the Raga Rock genre. The track eventually kicks into traditional Prog-Metal before returning to finish with a reprise of the song’s intro passage.

“Saying Goodbye” offered a nice surprise with a guest female vocalist, which gives an added dimension to the band’s overall sound.

And “Flash Of Clarity,” the album’s longest track, is one of my favorites, thanks to the various mood and rhythm shifts, the mixture of both heavy and light passages, and as always, some dark atmospheres.

So summing up, the band presents professional musicianship, high creativity when it comes to their arrangements, and often-tense soundscapes—quite gothic in feeling. Some unanticipated time shifts, rhythm fills, and the occasional strange keyboard textures or guitar patterns provide additional surprises along the way. Certainly I hear the “normal” influences for a band playing in this genre—perhaps a few nods to acts such as Dream Theater, Age Of Nemesis, Vanden Plas, Derdian, Dali’s Dilemma, and Fates Warning, although Rite Of Passage seems generally “darker/edgier” when it comes to the overall sound and mood of their music.

I must say, however, that the production quality is a tad lacking, with some of the instruments (particularly the high octave keyboard runs) being either a bit too bright at times or often buried, and singer Bill Quigley’s vocals could definitely be louder in the overall mix.

Nevertheless, despite my criticism, I believe that given a little time and a more polished production stamp, this band has the potential for some great things. They certainly showed they have the talent and creativity to prove me right.

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Anton Roolaart – The Plight of Lady Oona (2014)

AntonRoolaart_PlightOona4 out of 5 Stars!

When I first listened to this album back in October 2015, I instantly knew I had stumbled upon a collection of tracks that would put a smile on my face. What made this even more surprising for me is that I’m not normally a huge fan of single-artist releases (the albums where only one individual writes all the material, plays all the instruments, produces all the tracks, etc.) since, in a lot of cases, something is usually (and often dreadfully) amiss. In those cases, the sole individual may be able to write catchy material, but can’t play several of the instruments equally as well. Or perhaps they don’t have an ear for writing a melody, but their instrumentation is perfect. Or sometimes their production technique sucks which destroys everything that might otherwise be golden. Plus, I often feel that without some occasional tension between musicians, without some give and take between those creative and driving forces, there’s usually a good chance for blandness.

But in this case, it soon became obvious that Anton Roolaart had no trouble in any department. Indeed, he actually made this collection of songs sound like a full-blown band project. Thankfully, the man is equally adept at playing each of the instruments included on this release, is also a fine songwriter, and apparently he wasn’t the least bit shabby at producing the damned thing either. Three for three! A rarity indeed.

So what can one expect to hear on this release? For me, the highlights include…

“Gravity” – Here we have a mellow intro with guitar and pleasant male vocals, until spacey keys and gentle rhythms eventually kick in to create a beautiful ballad. To me, there’s a Neo-Prog feel to the song in the spirit of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. It’s delightfully moody and strategically orchestrated to the point where the listener might actually envision themselves reclining on a cloud and lazily descending back to earth.

“Stars Fall Down” – This is another gentle and emotional piece of symphonic Prog-Rock—again in the realm of Pink Floyd’s moodier work, along with perhaps a touch of the band Moonrise—where each note played by every guitar or synth seems destined (calculated) to tear at one’s heart-strings.

“The Plight of Lady Oona” – This is probably my favorite track on the album, not only because of its extended length (nearly fourteen minutes), but its complex orchestrations, which gives the song an overall epic feel. And if that wasn’t enough, this song also includes the guest appearance of Annie Haslam (Renaissance) and her instantly recognizable and extraordinary pitch-perfect vocal leads coming to the fore during the song’s midpoint. The inclusion of acoustic guitar (not unlike Steve Howe’s best performances) and some pipe organ (in the best Rick Wakeman tradition) also make for some titillating Yes comparisons (and, obviously, Renaissance comparisons) during this dreamy, atmospheric, and occasionally majestic track. Truth be told, the album is worth purchasing for this track alone—a firm nod to the Prog-Rock feel of yore.

“The Revealing Light” – The album’s closing track has an acoustic intro with pastoral sound effects before turning into a mid-tempo Neo-Prog song in the style of perhaps early Genesis. This feel continues even when an electric guitar kicks in and Mellotron makes a welcome (and surprising) appearance, adding some welcome texture and variety to the song’s general “mellowness.”

As you can likely tell from my comments, I enjoyed this album quite a bit, and I applaud Anton Roolaart for his fine performances. My only minor complaint is the lack of diversity when it comes to the general mood of the overall collection of tracks. Don’t get me wrong—what is included here are songs of unadulterated beauty, a group of tracks that offer a thorough “mellowing of one’s senses,” but perhaps a few more heavier passages or maybe even several brief “frantic, driving paces” would create periodic tension (as in the all-too-brief mid-section of “The Revealing Light”) so that the generally commanding mellow excursions are even more stark and welcome by contrast.

Be that as it may, Mr. Roolaart is one talented chap. He has quite an ear for melodies, hypnotic ones at that, his arrangements and orchestrations are near perfect, and this well-produced album is a pleasant journey, one on which I will happily embark again and again. Fans of lighter Neo-Prog or Symphonic Rock will most assuredly embrace the fine collection of songs as much as I did. Bravo!

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