After The Fall – Knowledge (2005)

AfterFall_Knowledge4 out of 5 Stars!

After The Fall was a talented quartet from Connecticut that released five studio albums between 1988 and 2006, with Knowledge being the band’s final offering.

The album includes one short track—the gentle ballad “Between Images, Flesh and Shadows”—as well as two medium-length tunes—the atmospheric and acoustic-guitar-based “The Call,” plus the rambunctious and curiously named tongue-twister “Precariously Poised on the Precipice of Pandemonium,” performed partly in a 6/8 time signature and including some Gentle Giant-ish vocal harmonies.

And then, for the delight of Prog-Rock fans everywhere, the album also features three gigantic epics, each just above or below the twenty-minute mark and crammed with numerous time signatures and intricate solos, along with a smorgasbord of keyboard sounds, guitar tones, and varied moods.

For instance, on the ambitious album opener “Came the Healer,” the band displays a seemingly endless conglomeration of influences, some from more popular Prog-Rock bands such as Saga, Yes, Spock’s Beard, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, while at other points within the intricate composition I’m occasionally reminded of lesser-known acts such as Salem Hill, Glass Hammer, Cairo, Galahad, and Abel Ganz, to name but a few.

The same can be said for “Motherland,” another industrious affair similar to the depth and breadth of the aforementioned epic when it comes to the influences on display as well as the elaborate orchestration. Here, also, the keyboardist adds some all-too-sparse Mellotron accompaniment to back up his wild “Emerson-esque” synth and Hammond leads, adding even more dimensions to the band’s occasionally bombastic sound.

The final tune, however, is my favorite. “Ode to Man,” contains one of the album’s most beautiful vocal melodies and chord patterns in its opening acoustic-driven section, then the rest of the band sweeps in with syncopated rhythms and accents accompanying complex instrumentation that brings to mind the group Kansas with more hints of Gentle Giant. I’m also reminded of Starcastle, thanks to the highly melodic bass riffs. Throughout the remainder of the epic, additional moods abound, with numerous passages being reminiscent of countless other acts, depending mostly on the endless array of synth and keyboard sounds or guitar tones. And finally, the song closes with a reprise of the dreamy opening passage, the perfect ending to my favorite tune.

In short, After The Fall was an enterprising lot, the musicians seemingly determined to toy with diverse instrumentation and scoring, often shooting for the moon and, for the most part, hitting their intended bull’s-eyes. I’m unsure what became of this talented group, what caused the band to break apart or what became of its various members, but it’s a shame the group didn’t continue for many more years in order to release more entertaining albums such as this.

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Andromeda – The Immunity Zone (2008)

Andromeda_ImmunityZone4.5 out of 5 Stars!

A few years after the turn of the century, while investigating new Progressive bands on the Scandinavian music scene, I happily stumbled upon two terrific groups that had a similar style. The first was Ark, an act out of Norway that included the exceptional vocalist Jorn Lande. And the other was Andromeda, a band hailing from neighboring Sweden that had just re-released its first album after having replaced all the original “demo” vocals with fresh ones performed by its newest singer, David Fremberg. Not only did I fall in love with both vocalists, but also both bands, seeing as how all the musicians were awesomely adept at their craft and had produced albums of such high quality. Therefore, whether fairly or not, Ark and Andromeda are forever linked in my head, not only because I discovered them on the very same day, within minutes of each other, but because their styles were so similar, and their material shared that “amazing factor” often lacking in the Progressive Metal genre.

Unfortunately, after releasing only two albums between 2000 and 2001, Ark had already disbanded by the time of my discovery. But thankfully, Andromeda had not, and since 2001 has released a total of five albums, with The Immunity Zone (the band’s fourth release) being my favorite among them…although the other releases aren’t too far behind.

Here, on compositions such as “Another Step,” “Slaves of the Plethoria Season,” “Shadow of Lucent Moon,” “Worst Enemy,” and “Recognizing Fate,” the band delivers wonderfully complex arrangements, each instrumentally impressive, thanks to stellar soloing and riffing by guitarist Johan Reinholdz and keyboardist Martin Hedin, plus the ultra-dynamic rhythm team of bassist Fabian Gustavsson and percussionist Tomas Lejon (also a member of A.C.T, another of my favorite Prog-Rock bands). Moreover, the presence of Fremberg as lead vocalist ensures each track is highly melodic and the band is instantly recognizable.

It is, however, the inclusion of the final track, the seventeen-minute “Veil of Illumination,” where the band shows creativity far superior than most every other band in the genre. On a 5-Star rating scale, this track alone would earn at least a 10, simply since the musicianship is wholly breathtaking. On this epic tune, each band member fully showcases his individual skills, and during the song’s instrumental middle section, with the insanely monstrous guitar and keyboard solos and the magnificent rhythmic play that would likely make musical geniuses like Frank Zappa and members of the legendary Gentle Giant plotz in wonderment, Andromeda provides an impeccable example of what the Progressive genre is all about. Any musician who dares to dabble in the Prog-Rock universe needs to experience this track at least once in their lifetimes, and when lacking inspiration in their own work, experience it again and again. Simply stunning!

Therefore, with such an accomplished singer and the presence of slamming musicians who seriously know their business, Andromeda is undoubtedly one of the best bands in the genre. Each album is an enjoyable foray into Prog-Metal territory, with The Immunity Zone (thanks to “Veil of Illumination”) being a full-out journey into melodic, rhythmic, and scoring inventiveness!

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A.C.T – Circus Pandemonium (2014)

ACT_CircusPandemonium4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Sweden’s A.C.T is such a difficult act (pun intended) to describe. In many ways, the group brings to mind ’70s/’80s Pomp Rock/Art Rock bands such as Aviary, City Boy, and Sparks, and you can almost imagine the best ingredients of those bands being somehow tossed into a blender and poured out into the new century with modern-day production techniques bordering on perfection.

The group has a quirky uniqueness and often-brilliant song arrangements, vocal harmonies, performances, and songwriting, the type of band where no matter how many times you listen to its albums, you will always notice something bizarre you hadn’t noticed the previous times, something hidden in the shadows of each track that has eerily and magically appeared to enhance the experience.

Circus Pandemonium, the group’s fifth release after a lengthy break, is another top-notch offering. As the album title indicates, this is a circus-themed concept album, a dramatic and majestic collection of linked tunes with endless and catchy Pop melodies floating atop dynamic Symphonic-Prog arrangements, not too dissimilar from what one might hear on albums from groups such as the aforementioned City Boy, or It Bites and Spock’s Beard, with a touch of 10cc and Queen merged in, and often as theatrical as a rock opera or a cross between the genres of Broadway musical, cabaret, and vaudeville. In fact, fans of Saga’s grand concept album Generation 13 will probably find this album of great interest since it often has a similar sound and atmosphere.

And like any daring and industrious concept album worth its weight in ambition, throughout Circus Pandemonium, various voices and circus sounds pop up to either bridge several tracks or enhance the ambience of others and further the storyline. The lyrics here are generally dark, despite the rather upbeat rhythms and bright chord patterns on many of the tracks, yet a creepy vibe nevertheless infiltrates several tunes as the story’s main character comes to grips with his fate as being held captive as an exhibit in a freakshow by its sinister circus manager. As I said, creepy, and altogether intriguing.

Yet regardless of the dark theme, Herman Saming’s vocals are as peculiar and delightful as ever, as are the grand and layered background vocals, while Ola Andersson’s lead guitar insertions and Jerry Sahlin’s numerous keyboards, synths, and orchestrations prove melodically and bombastically riveting, like always. Simultaneously, the rhythm section of bassist Peter Asp and drummer Thomas Lejon keep the proceedings tight, yet often surprising with periodic tempo shifts or unexpected breaks and fills. And as displayed on A.C.T’s previous albums, the group’s collective technical skills are outstanding, far superior than most groups of the Prog-Rock genre.

Yes, A.C.T is indeed one group difficult to pigeonhole, with each of its albums providing high levels of creativity, and Circus Pandemonium proves that in spades. In the world of Progressive Rock, this group is not even close to being the “same old, same old,” and fans of the genre craving something different should investigate the band forthwith. I, for one, pray that A.C.T never stops delivering more and more of its truly eccentric and invigorating material, which always equals fresh blasts of aural greatness to my often-jaded ears.


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Adramelch – Broken History (2005)

Adramelch_BrokenHistory4 out of 5 Stars!

Italy seems to produce a ton of better-than-average bands (both past and present), especially in the genres of Progressive Metal (or Prog-Rock in general), so there must be some magic in the drinking water since the country definitely has its lion’s share of creativity. And after listening to this album, I’ve concluded that the members of Adramelch have imbibed plenty of whatever mystical brew the country has to offer.

Although I find nothing in particular on Broken History that will likely set fans of the genre into a tailspin of insanity or controversy, I nevertheless savor every moment of what the band has produced. On heavy-hitting tracks such as “Beloved Jerusalem,” “Ten Wiles (Much More Than Begged Mercy),” “Different Times, Different Places,” “I’ll Save the World,” “Darts of Wind,” and the lighter “Heap of Bones,” the performances by all involved are more than commendable. I appreciate the way the musicians and vocalist constructed and orchestrated the various tracks and melodies, maintaining both combustible heat and moodiness to the occasionally epic atmospheres, lending intricacy and variety to the arrangements, and adding unexpected rhythmic shifts throughout, while all the while keeping each song tuneful and spicy.

Therefore, on Broken History, talent obviously abounds, occasionally bringing to mind the classic sounds of groups such as Queensrÿche, Balance of Power, Time Machine, and Iron Maiden. Therefore, to Adramelch, bravo!

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Armageddon – Armageddon (1975)

Armageddon_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Armageddon was a short-lived “supergroup” (its members being from Captain Beyond, Iron Butterfly, Steamhammer, Yardbirds, and Renaissance) that produced only a single album. And sadly, just after the album was released, the group broke up due to record company problems, drug addiction, and illness, but this sole album left a deep and indelible impression on many budding musicians, including myself.

For me, this one album (with its mixture of Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Heavy Metal, and Progressive Rock) seemed a cross between groups such as Captain Beyond, Budgie, and Led Zeppelin, with the music being generally creative, atmospheric, and so outstanding on numerous levels that it left me (and scores of fans) ravenous for more.

The frantic opening track, “Buzzard,” for example, is an outstanding slice of Psych-Rock and Metal with extraordinary performances by all, while the next track “Silver Tightrope” has a majestically spacey atmosphere that adds a Prog-Rock touch to the band’s Heavy Psych sound. “Paths and Planes and Future Games” is mostly straightforward Hard Rock, but the psychedelic elements once again pop up. And the final two tracks, the rather bouncy and funky “Last Stand Before” and the Prog-tinged eleven-minute epic “Basking in the White of the Midnight Sun,” with its dastardly riffs and multiple sections, really show off the skills of each band member, especially guitarist Martin Pugh’s imaginative riffs and solos. Meanwhile, bassist Louis Cennamo and drummer Bobby Caldewell display their chops with creative fills and tight interplay, and Keith Relf’s periodic harmonica solos blare through the dense musical soundscapes like a warning siren on a foggy night.

Generally speaking, I can’t help thinking that had any of these tracks appeared on a Captain Beyond album, they likely would have seemed right at home. Indeed, the Captain Beyond comparisons are probably the most appropriate when it comes to all the former groups of Armageddon’s members, and had Captain Beyond’s Rod Evans been the lead vocalist of Armageddon, things may have gone differently for the group. Don’t get me wrong…certainly, Keith Relf did a “passable” job on these five tracks, but his vocals are not the most consistent, recognizable, or beefy overall—perfectly fitting for Yardbirds, perhaps, but not as perfect for this type of heavier, more experimental material.

Therefore, had Armageddon had a more accurate and commanding vocalist such as those typically hired by Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple/Rainbow), for instance, this album may have received a more enthusiastic reception with the often-fleeting and commercially swayed “average listener” back in ’75.

But then again, none of the five tracks offered here are in the least bit “commercial,” with this album being instantly assigned to the fledgling FM radio stations of the era with their more limited audience.

Regardless, Armageddon deserved worldwide fame, especially within the Heavy Metal/Heavy Psych community, and the band’s lone album easily falls into the “must have if stranded on a deserted island” category.

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Ache – Green Man (1971)

Ache_GreenMan4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, this long-forgotten band from Denmark sounds like what might have happened had Uriah Heep released its debut album, only instead of including Dave Byron, Jim Morrison from The Doors was the lead singer.

Green Man, Ache’s second album, is a collection of Heavy Prog tunes with a wealth of Psychedelic Rock, Classical, and Jazz Rock overtones, not only bringing the aforementioned Uriah Heep to mind on occasion, but also other Hammond-rich groups such as Beggars Opera, Procol Harum, Black Widow, and early Deep Purple, although with a darker, almost Gothic atmosphere.

On this release, the band includes a splendid reworking of The Beatles “We Can Work It Out,” which alone was worth the album price.

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Ampledeed – BYOB (2016)

Ampledeed_BYOB4 out of 5 Stars!

Ampledeed is a newer Prog-Rock band from California, and on 2016’s BYOB—the band’s second album—the group created eclectic and engaging music with some strong Canterbury Prog and Jazz-Rock influences, among others, often bringing to mind legendary groups such as Caravan, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, only with a mixture of both classic and modern keyboard and guitar sounds/tones.

The instrumental passages are often elaborate, with dazzling musicianship on display, while the vocal tracks occasionally contain stacked harmonies of both male and female voices and tricky lead melody lines. Interestingly enough, I find that repeated hearings of BYOB always seem to magically reveal new elements, new sounds, new twists and turns in the instrumentation, that I somehow missed during previous plays.

Overall, this is fun and impressive material, highly imaginative and worthy of inspection for fans of the genre. By the way, a tip of the hat to Aaron Goldich, Luis Flores, Max Taylor, and the rest of the studio musicians for sharing their talents with the world. If the band continues to produce albums of this lofty caliber, Ampledeed is bound to make a reputable name for itself in the Prog-Rock community.

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Also Eden – It’s Kind of You to Ask (2008)

AlsoEden_KindOfYou4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This is one of my most recent favorite bands from the U.K. I discovered Also Eden only a few years ago and have come to enjoy the band’s releases quite a bit, and for those who love the style of IQ, Pallas, early Marillion, Genesis, and similar fare, this is likely a band you’ll also appreciate.

Indeed, Huw Lloyd-Jones, the vocalist on this release (and his final release with the band), has a similar tone and delivery style as Paul Menel (formerly of IQ) and Steve Hogarth (Marillion), so expect music within the same majestic Neo-Prog realm.

Overall, Also Eden’s second studio album, It’s Kind of You to Ask—like all releases from this band, actually—has consistently high quality production values and musicianship, with dynamic arrangements and melodic songwriting.

The eleven-minute opener “Star” instantly dispelled any concerns I had originally fostered about whether the band would be able to match the excellence of the debut, and the track delivered what I had hoped, intriguing melodies and lush instrumentation that had so enamored me on the first album. Another of my favorites here is “Skimming Stones,” where Lloyd-Jones’s vocal melody line is simply magnificent, while the lengthier “Outside In” contains creative keyboard orchestrations as well as a complex rhythm pattern in one section. “A Widow’s Eye,” the album’s longest composition at nearly thirteen minutes, is nothing short of a mini-masterpiece, offering additional Prog-Rock majesty with it comes to the splendiferous melody lines, the intricate song arrangement, sumptuous instrumentation and solos, and a dramatic atmosphere.

So to me, It’s Kind of You to Ask, like all of the band’s releases, hovers somewhere within that enviable territory between 4 and 4.5 Stars, with moments of 5-Star splendor often creeping in, hence my overall rating.

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Advent – Cantus Firmus (2006)

Advent_CantusFirmus4 out of 5 Stars!

OMG! Gentle Giant lives…err, well, not exactly, but Advent comes darned close in recreating that unique sound and style, albeit an updated version.

Indeed, New Jersey’s Advent is probably one of the finest Gentle Giant imitators to have ever existed—just listen to the opening track “GK Contramundum” on the band’s Cantus Firmus album and you may think you’ve discovered a missing track off GG’s Octopus or Free Hand albums. The a cappella vocal arrangements are breathtakingly similar to GG’s, both in complexity and sound, and the guitars and keyboards throughout the rest of the album have GG tones as well, yet with modernized synths and grander production qualities adding extra flavor, such as on the complex instrumental “Awaiting the Call.”

Moreover, on the ethereal “Parenting Parents,” the lead singer even does a stunning impression of GG’s Kerry Minnear’s mellow voice, while some of those intricate background vocals again pop up, along with a few minstrel-esque instrumental bits GG was so fond of using, but again, all wrapped up in modern-day synth washes.

The remaining tracks on Cantus Firmus include mostly similar fare, but with the occasional mandolins, recorders, violins, etc. also making brief appearances. And “Ramblin’ Sailor,” the album’s pièce de résistance, is more than eighteen full minutes of complex, Giant-like madness and often breathtakingly beautiful.

A few years ago, just when I thought it was too bad that Advent seemed to have disappeared since releasing Cantus Firmus, the band’s second album, in 2006, Advent suddenly popped up again in 2015 with a brand new album called Silent Sentinel. For nearly a decade I’d desperately hoped for more material from Advent, so miracles do indeed happen!

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Armored Saint – Delirious Nomad (1985)

ArmoredSaint_DeliriousNomad4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’ve always held a particular fondness for Armored Saint. After taking a chance on the band (along with Ratt, Motley Crue, and numerous other acts, thanks to an article about the “L.A. music scene” in Kerrang! Magazine), I purchased the debut album and instantly appreciated the fact the group wasn’t like the others mentioned in the article (no “glam band” here), but rather a no-holds-barred Heavy Metal band with a terrific singer (John Bush), a shredding guitar team (Phil Sandoval and Dave Prichard), and a thundering rhythm section (bassist Joey Vera and drummer Gonzo Sandoval).

Since those days, I followed the band through thick and thin, and although I’ve loved everything Armored Saint has released, the second album, Delirious Nomad, still remains one of my favorites.

The production (by Max Norman) is full and rich, simply superb, while the music—with stellar tracks such as “Long Before I Die,” “The Laugh,” “Released,” “Conqueror,” “Aftermath,” and my favorite, “You’re Never Alone”—is rock-solid and often brutal, with the band performing on all cylinders, like a well-oiled engine streaking and shrieking across the Heavy Metal, head-bangin’ heavens!

Delirious Nomad should be retitled “Deliriously Wonderful.”

(RIP Dave Prichard)

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