Dave Kerzner – Static (2017)

DaveKerzner_Static4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The name of Florida-based keyboardist and vocalist Dave Kerzner first came to my attention back in 2015 when investigating a band called Sound of Contact, a Prog-Rock act that also included drummer Simon Collins (son of Phil Collins, of Genesis fame). The group’s sole album in 2013, Dimensionaut, proved fairly impressive, especially when it came to Kerzner’s grand and symphonic keyboard arrangements. So in 2016, when I saw Kerzner’s name in association with yet another new band, this one called Mantra Vega (also including vocalist Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn), I snatched it up without question. And once again, the keyboard-rich material on that debut, The Illusion’s Reckoning, made a terrific first impression. So Kerzner was “two for two” in my book, and I started delving into the man’s background, seeing what else I might have missed.

Well, one of the tidbits I unearthed was that the keyboardist had also delivered a solo album in 2014, New World, which became another “no-brainer” for me when it came to the decision of purchasing it. And, no great shock, the album ended up being another first-class winner. This time, however, Kerzner provided the lead vocals (along with keyboards, some guitars, bass, and drums, and the proverbial kitchen sink, I’m sure) as well as composed and produced lush and breathtaking soundscapes, his performances enhanced with the aid of various Prog-Rock cohorts, such as drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Simon Phillips, guitarists Steve Hackett and Francis Dunnery, and even the magnificent Keith Emerson himself (RIP), to name but a few. Okay, I decided, so the guy not only knows some top-notch people in “the biz,” but has talent—considerable and enviable talent at that!

So, with his name indelibly emblazoned in my mind, I certainly did not miss the announcement of Kerzner’s latest album, Static, which he dropped on the Prog-Rock community in late 2017. And guess what? Yes, it’s another gem, this time with Kerzner repeating his songwriting, performing, and production duties as skillfully, enjoyably, and as powerfully as he did on his first solo effort. And like before, a wealth of “guests” (most notably Hackett and D’Virgilio again) pop up on several tracks, but despite the presence of these musicians injecting their own talents on various tunes, it also becomes crystal clear that, like the previous album, Static is easily Kerzner’s beautifully and lovingly nurtured baby. Indeed, with both New World and Static in his arsenal, creating a one-two punch of musical muscle, Kerzer can now claim his own distinctive sound/style, much in the same way as other solo musicians (Neil Morse instantly springs to mind) has his own identifiable brand stamped on each new collection of tracks he releases under his own moniker.

Sure, amidst the varied tunes, both brief and lengthy compositions, I can sometimes hear, as examples, a bit of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, and Transatlantic influences, but Kerzner never attempts to clone any other artist. He doesn’t need to, actually, since his creativity seems to know no bounds.

Aside from the brief “Prelude,” the album opens with a mighty and sardonic bang in the form of the upbeat, glorious, and occasionally eclectic “Hypocrites,” a track that includes everything from numerous and diverse passages, tempo shifts, ballsy guitar rhythms and leads, keyboards galore (including Mellotron and synth solos), and creepy digital ambience tossed in for good measure. The vocals, done in luscious multi-part harmony for the most part, do seem to have a “David Gilmour/Pink Floyd” flavor when it comes to Kerzner’s range, timbre, and execution, but heck, the man can’t help it if his voice possesses a few homogeneous traits of another singer, right? He does, however, do much to avoid direct comparisons, delivering the lyrics with layered harmonies and electronic enhancements. And in the end, this track is a real corker, and one of my favorites—”we’re all hypocrites”—indeed!

The title track, on the other hand, is—music-wise—pretty much in direct opposition to the previous tune, with a dreamy, keyboard-grounded background over a lazy rhythm, luxuriant in its spacier atmosphere and laid-back vocal delivery. In other words, more along the lines of groups such as Pink Floyd or Airbag. Whereas on the quirkier and bopping “Reckless,” the poppish vocal melody, varied and highly creative instrumentation, and overall eccentric character of the song arrangement suddenly brings to mind the wonderfully produced material released by the late Kevin Gilbert on his The Shaming of the True release. And no shock that Kerzner might have adopted some of the same “sound/style” qualities as Gilbert, considering the two had worked together in and around the group Giraffe and the latter’s solo material.

From this point forward, the album moves at a brisk clip, with several shorter, more direct tunes such as “Chain Reaction” and “Millennium Man” (which remind me of the catchier, straightforward side of artists such as World Trade or Trevor Rabin, only with multifarious studio enhancements and Prog-Rock embellishments), “Trust,” “State of Innocence,” and “Right Back to the Start” (delightfully mellow ballads that I can easily envision Art Rock artists such as Roxy Music or 10cc would have killed to release decades ago if given the studio capabilities of the modern age), and “Quiet Storm” and “Statistic” (electronically enriched tracks that add avant-garde strangeness to the overall collection).

And then, the album closes with “The Carnival of Modern Life,” the nearly seventeen-minute magnum-opus, which deserves (no, it demands) its own paragraph. Talk about varied and strange, this wickedly creative track has it all when it comes to Prog-Rock magic…heck, just look at the eerie cover art (thanks to equally brilliant artist Ed Unitsky) and that should give you an idea as to the song’s off-the-wall qualities when it comes to numerous melodies, rhythms, and sound effects. Yet, the organs and synths, the guitar and bass runs, and the vocals performed in the same multi-layered resplendence as the aforementioned “Hypocrites” all work to perfection. In fact, the track’s mischievously assorted instrumentation and sundry mood shifts reflect the often-insane reality of modern society’s ever-alternating viewpoints and occasional mass-hysteria moments. How long it took Kerzner to piece together and mix this mammoth masterpiece is beyond me, but my guess would be months, since the level of detail with the shifting song arrangements, the various sound effects and voice-overs that add atmospheric tinsel, would seem a mighty daunting task. But damn it, the whole track works, therefore, bravo to the mastermind behind this daring and audacious composition.

So in total, Kerzner has once again delivered an album of exceptional quality, and now, after reveling in his work for several years, I can clearly and undoubtedly declare that the man has a laser-focused brain and boundless imagination for creating engaging music in the Prog-Rock variety. And I’m so damned covetous!

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Khymera – Khymera (2003)

Khymera_14 out of 5 Stars!

Through the years, when not lending his enormous talents to Progressive rockers Kansas, vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh has been involved in several projects. Probably the least known is his appearance as lead vocalist for Italian band Khymera on the group’s debut album.

In many ways, Khymera’s style is comparable to Streets, the band Walsh formed in the ’80s, only with more than a touch of Pomp Rock added to the Hard Rock/AOR sound, and a mixture of both upbeat and mid-paced tempos as well as a few “stadium rock” ballads. Tunes such as “Strike Like Lightning,” “Living With a Memory,” “Shadows,” “Tears on the Pages,” and “Written in the Wind” present catchy melodies and vigorous instrumentation with a full and rich studio production, reminding me of groups such as Shy, Asia, Drive She Said, Last Autumn’s Dream, Takara, and Journey.

And, as always, Walsh’s instantly recognizable voice and powerful, emotional performances are nothing short of awesome. Also present on this album is keyboardist Daniele Liverani and drummer Dario Ciccioni (both from the technically proficient bands Empty Tremor and Twinspirits), so what we have here are creative and skillful musicians highly accomplished in the Prog-Rock world attempting more commercial material with, I believe, a fairly high degree of success.

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Kestrel – Kestrel (1975)

Kestrel_14 out of 5 Stars!

The debut release—and lone album, unfortunately—from an obscure U.K. band named Kestrel features some rather commercial-sounding Progressive Rock with Hard Rock and AOR touches.

Indeed, the music on this album reminds me of numerous acts from the late ’60s and early ’70s—bands as diverse as Sugarloaf, The Guess Who, Argent, etc.—during the era when musicians really started experimenting with more complicated arrangements and instrumentation in a bid to add much-needed tinsel to their otherwise straightforward Pop songs.

So what you’ll find here is fairly decent, occasionally “singalong” material, with some creative instrumental fiddling, grand vocal harmonies, Mellotron excursions, and periodic rhythm shifts on many of the tracks, which adds flavor, texture, and unexpected treats.

Too bad the group didn’t release additional material; it would’ve been interesting to see the directions the band might have gone had Kestrel been given the opportunity for further experimentation and development.

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Kerry Livgren – Seeds of Change (1980)

KerryLivgren_SeedsChange4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Seeds of Change, the debut solo album from guitarist and keyboardist Kerry Livgren, will always remain special to me for three reasons.

First, it showcases Livgren’s enormous skills as a musician outside the realm of his various groups—Kansas, AD, and Proto-Kaw—with music in various styles, including (primarily) Prog-Rock, but also AOR and a touch of Blues Rock.

Second, it features Livgren’s Kansas cohort Steve Walsh singing on the track “How Can You Live.”

And third, it also includes two exceptional tracks—”Mask of the Great Deceiver” and “To Live for the King”—sung by the legendary Ronnie James Dio, which makes Seeds of Change a “must-have” album for all fans of the ex-Rainbow/Dio/Black Sabbath vocalist.

Therefore, with the aforesaid tracks, as well as the Kansas-like Prog-Rock forays “Ground Zero,” “Just One Way,” “Down to the Core,” and the slide guitar- and harmonica-laced blues rock of “Whiskey Seed,” this is an above-average, commendable collection of tracks that Livgren, sadly, could never duplicate with the same level of success on his subsequent solo efforts.

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Krokus – Headhunter (1983)

Krokus_Headhunter4 out of 5 Stars!

Although I was never a huge fan of Switzerland’s Krokus, feeling the band’s albums to be horribly inconsistent with silly lyrics, hackneyed riffs, and often tame production, with the group usually coming across like a second-rate version of AC/DC, 1983’s Headhunter certainly packed a mighty wallop and finally had me sitting up to take notice.

Here, with Krokus expanding its AC/DC-influenced sound and writing truly exemplary head-banging material with more mature lyrics—thundering and catchy tracks such as “Night Wolf,” “Russian Winter,” “Eat the Rich,” “Ready to Burn,” “Stayed Awake All Night,” and the single “Screaming in the Night”—plus adding a take-no-prisoners energy, a more sinister atmosphere, and a richer full-bodied sound (thanks, no doubt, to producer Tom Allom), the upgraded heaviness-factor nearly rivaled that of Germany’s Accept. Hell, the album’s furious and fiery opening track, “Headhunter,” blasts out of the speakers to create pure metal mayhem, instantly becoming a classic of the genre.

Therefore, not only was this my favorite Krokus album by far, but it was also the band’s most commercially successful. To me, considering Krokus’s previous less-than-spectacular platters, Headhunter displayed the group’s amazing transformation from having only a “second-string opening act” ranking to achieving full-blown “potential headliner” status, obviously a giant leap forward in the band’s development.

But unfortunately, Krokus never again matched Headhunter‘s sheer power, and by the time of the next album a year later, the band had already sold out to its newfound commercial success and once again delivered watered-down, inconsistent, and fairly lame material. Needless to say, my interest in the band quickly faded.

And what a shame, since Headhunter—showing the band’s full potential with the right producer at the controls—simply slaughters!

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Kenziner – The Last Horizon (2014)

Kenziner_LastHorizon4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Founded by talented Finnish “guitar god” Jarno Keskinen, Kenziner released two enjoyable albums of blazing Heavy Metal in the ’90s, then sadly disappeared.

But in 2012, Keskinen decided to resurrect the group with a new lineup, this one including members of Status Minor and Thunderstone.

Despite the new personnel, however, the band’s overall sound and style changed very little. As on Kenziner’s previous albums, the musicians deliver a consistently hard-hitting collection of tracks on The Last Horizon, including standouts such as “Devour the World,” “I Am Eternal,” “Run For Your Life,” “No Turning Back,” “Heroes Ride,” and “Keep the Flame Alive.”

On all tracks, Jarno Keskinen’s furious guitar riffs and fiery solos, perfectly accented by Jukka Karinen’s lush keyboards in a Neoclassical Metal vein with periodic Progressive overtones, are utterly astounding. Meanwhile, bassist J.J. Hjelt and drummer Make Lievonen create a succinct and thundering rhythm section, and along with Markku Kuikka’s husky vocal performances, the music on The Last Horizon often reminds me of a cross between sundry groups such as Time Requiem, Yngwie Malmsteen, Firewind, Impellitteri, Evil Masquerade, Royal Hunt, and the like.

The Last Horizon is impressive as all hell, and I’m praying the album’s title doesn’t mean this is the last the world will hear from this exceptional act.

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Khallice – The Journey (2003)

Khallice_Journey4 out of 5 Stars!

Khallice, a talented band from Brazil, released only a single album in 2003 before sadly vanishing.

The Journey is a collection of spirited and highly complex Prog-Metal, with blazing guitar riffs, manic keyboard solos, thundering rhythms, and the band’s vocalist, with his wide range, belting out the lyrics like a champ.

While listening to various tracks on The Journey, I couldn’t help thinking that fans of groups such as Superior, Circus Maximus, Andromeda, Dream Theater, and Spheric Universe Experience would certainly enjoy much of the music on offer here.

Indeed, the band’s potential for greatness is apparent in spades on diverse and intense tunes such as “Turn the Page,” “Thunderstorm,” “Stuck,” “Spiritual Jewel,” “Loneliness,” and “Vampire,” so it’s unfortunate Khallice issued no additional material. Yet at least this single album is a clue to what might have been, so is worthy of investigation for lovers of the genre.

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Khan – Space Shanty (1972)

Khan_SpaceShanty4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Space Shanty is a terrific one-off album from Khan, a short-lived “supergroup” from the U.K. that included lauded and legendary guitarist Steve Hillage (Gong/Arzachel), bassist Nick Greenwood (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown), and keyboardist David L. Stewart (Egg/National Health/Hatfield and the North).

The album is nothing less than a giant caldron bubbling with Canterbury-Prog magic, with only six tracks in total, including “Mixed Up Man of the Mountains,” “Hollow Stone (inc. Escape of the Space Pilots),” “Driving to Amsterdam,” and the wonderful opening title track, officially known as “Space Shanty (inc. The Cobalt Sequence and the March of the Sine Squadrons).” But each tune is crammed with megatons of creativity, haunting melodies, both heavy and lighter passages, some Space Rock atmospheres, and inspired instrumentation. For those who may be unfamiliar with the often-jazzy and occasionally quirky “Canterbury Scene” Progressive Rock sub-genre, then Space Shanty is an album that will more than likely get you hooked.

I can’t help but wonder what Khan might have achieved had it stayed together longer, but thankfully, it left behind at least one enduring masterpiece.

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Kraan – Let It Out (1975)

Kraan_LetItOut3.5 out of 5 Stars!

This rather inventive German group popped onto the scene back in 1972, and for a decade, released a series of seven above-average albums that incorporated highly rhythmic, even funky, Jazz-inspired Prog-Rock with the experimental Krautrock sounds of the era, making for some generally high-energy material.

Take Let It Out (the band’s fourth album) for example. Here, the title track, plus tunes such as “Bandits in the Woods,” “Picnic International,” “Luftpost,” “Prima Kilma,” and the truly strange “Die Maschine,” seem a quasi-merging between groups such as Passport, Return To Forever, Amon Düül II, Frank Zappa, and Hatfield and the North.

Although the band returned in the ’90s after an eight-year absence and released several additional albums, then again released even more material in the new century, Kraan’s early work, such as the more adventurous musical escapades found on Let It Out—even though this is probably not even Kraan’s best album during the first half of the ’70s—still remains special simply since, in those days, few bands played this type of material. Fun stuff!

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Katmandü – Katmandü (1991)

Katmandu_14 out of 5 Stars!

After leaving Fastway, singer Dave King formed Katmandü with guitarist Mandy Meyer (Asia/Krokus), issuing a single album of blues-based Hard Rock.

Some of the tracks remind me of Fastway (no surprise, considering King’s history), with Led Zeppelin, Kingdom Come, Nazareth, and Aerosmith also being chief inspirations. Quite melodic and driving, the album boasts a bevy of catchy riffs, with splendid production and solid performances overall.

It’s a shame Dave King never got the recognition he deserved and this talented band fizzled after the release of this lone album.

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