Category Archives: Reviews

Ornithos – La Trasfigurazione

Ornithos-La-Trasfigurazione

Hailing from the beautiful central Italian region of Umbria, Ornithos (Greek for “bird”) features three members of Il Bacio della Medusa, one of the most interesting Italian progressive rock bands of  the past few years. However, Ornithos predates Il Bacio della Medusa by a few years, and was originally created by multi-instrumentalist Diego Petrini and bassist Federico Caprai in 1999. The two musicians were joined by Eva Morelli in 2007, and subsequently by the three remaining members, vocalist Maria Giulia Carnevalini and guitarists Antonello De Cesare and Simone Morelli La Trasfigurazione, their debut album, was completed in 2011 but released in the early months of 2012. The cover artwork by Federico Caprai features the band’s symbol, the ibis, which is a reference not only to their name, but also to Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, music and time.

For a debut album, La Trasfigurazione is a very ambitious endeavour, bearing witness to the many years of work and dedication behind it. With 13 relatively short tracks arranged in three chapters, it is a concept that hinges on a man’s spiritual journey through the past, the present and the future. True to the Italian progressive tradition, it is also boasts dramatic flair, gorgeous yet occasionally intense melodies, and plenty of variety to keep the listener on their toes. However, unlike many albums that share similar features, the concept is mainly conveyed through music rather than singing. Indeed, the majority of the tracks are instrumental, showcasing the amazing technical skill of the individual members, as well as very tight band dynamics and a remarkable ability in developing a narration without the use of too many words.

Eclecticism is the name of the game on La Trasfigurazione, an album that honours the golden age of Italian prog while at the same time searching for new avenues of expression. The lush  symphonic apparatus of mellotron and other keyboards is beefed up by a twin-guitar approach more typical of classic rock than prog, and the prominent role of Eva Morelli’s saxes lends a sleek, jazzy allure to the sound. While the synergy between flute and guitar, hovering between gentleness and aggression, inevitably evokes Jethro Tull (a big influence on many RPI bands, both old and new), Ornithos’ sound rests on a tightly woven web that relies on the contribution of each instrument, finely detailed yet part of a whole. The vocals, on the other hand, almost take a back seat, although the contrast between Diego Petrini’s low-pitched, almost gloomy delivery (sharply different from the quasi-operatic style favoured by many Italian prog singers) and Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soaring, blues-tinged tones deserves to be further exploited in the band’s future outings.

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The sounds of tolling bells and a ticking clock lead into “L’Orologio”, whose brisk, dance-like pace introduces the album, illustrating the band’s modus operandi. The strong hard rock component of Ornithos’ sound emerges at the end, with a driving guitar solo propelled by high-energy drumming and supported by sax and organ. Petrini’s distinctive vocals make their entrance in the low-key “La Persistenza della Memoria”, and lend a somewhat ominous flavour to the first half of “Somatizzando l’Altare di Fuoco”, a cinematic number that blends echoes of Morricone’s iconic spaghetti-western soundtracks with a vintage hard-rock vibe and an unexpected, laid-back jazzy ending. The nostalgic tango of “L’Ipostasi” wraps up the first chapter.

Introduced by the upbeat “Al Torneo”, the second chapter develops in eclectic fashion with the blaring sax – almost in free-jazz mode – of “L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga”; then it takes a more mellow turn in the Canterbury-tinged “Nuvole e Luce”, which introduces Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soulful voice paralleled by melodic flute – before plunging deep into hard rock territory with the raging Hammond organ of “Ritorno al… (Reprise)”. “Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza”, probably the album’s climactic point, begins in subdued, almost mournful fashion, then soon unfolds into a dramatic, riff-laden jazz-meets-hard-rock workout that brings to mind the likes of Colosseum, Banco and even The Doors. The third chapter opens with the blues-rock suggestions of “Nel Crepuscolo”, while “La Notte” ’s slow-paced, riff-laden heaviness conjures echoes of Black Sabbath, compounded by a wild, distorted guitar solo and aggressive, almost harsh flute. Then the serene textures of “L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno”, with a lovely sax solo that made me think of the airy, jazz-tinged elegance of Delirium’s magnificent comeback album Il Nome del Vento, bring the main body of the album to a close. In fact, while the jazzy “This Is What We Got: The Flute Song” is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of music – showcasing Antonello De Cesare’s guitar skills in a great solo backed by organ and sax – it feels like an afterthought of sorts, especially on account of the English-language lyrics, which detract from the uniquely Italian character of the rest of the album.

As is the case with most Italian progressive rock, La Trasfigurazione can be somewhat of an acquired taste, and definitely not for those who favour a minimalistic approach. Musically speaking, even if the album might command the controversial “retro” tag, there is also a sense of modernity in the band’s omnivorous approach which pushes Ornithos’sound into the 21st century. True, the album occasionally comes across as a tad overambitious when it wants to cram too many ideas into a limited running time of 56 minutes. However, this is a band that possesses talent in spades, and La Trasfigurazione will make a strong impression on lovers of everything RPI – as well as providing a fine complement to Il Bacio della Medusa’s newly released third album, Deus Lo Vult.

Tracklist:

Il Trittico del Tempo Che Fu:
1. L’Orologio (5:43)
2. La Persistenza della Memoria (3:11)
3. Somatizzando l’Altare Di Fuoco (7:46)
4. L’Ipostasi (3:19)
Presa di Coscienza del Presente:
5. Al Torneo (3:32)
6. L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga (4:34)
7. Nuvole e Luce (2:23)
8. Ritorno al… (Reprise) (1:47)
9. Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza (7:40)
Quiete e Redenzione del Domani:
10. Nel Crepuscolo (3:49)
11. La Notte (4:05)
12. L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno (6:01)
13. This Is What We Got: The Flute Song (7:31)

Line-up:

* Diego Petrini – drums, organ, piano, mellotron, percussion, vocals
* Eva Morelli – flute, alto, soprano and tenor sax
* Federico Caprai – bass guitar, vocals
* Antonello De Cesare – lead guitar, backing vocals
* Simone Morelli – rhythm guitar
* Maria Giulia Carnevalini – lead and backing vocals

Links:

http://www.ornithos.it/

http://www.myspace.com/ornithos

https://www.facebook.com/ornithosfreeformusic

Dialeto – The Last Tribe

Dialeto - The Last Tribe

In the past few years, Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records has become a go-to resource for fans of guitarists that eschew the tired antics of traditional “guitar heroes” to focus on creative, envelope-pushing playing put at the service of the  music. In the past few years, outstanding players from far-flung locales such as Indonesia have become part of  the Moonjune roster – with noteworthy releases such as Tohpati Bertiga’s Riot, Ligro’s Dictionary 2 andDewa Budjana’s Dawai in Paradise. Brazilian power trio Dialeto  are the latest addition to the New York label, getting their first international release with their third album, The Last Tribe.

In the two years following the release of Chromatic Freedom, the São Paulo outfit, founded in the late Eighties and led by guitarist and composer Nelson Coelho, have replaced original bassist Andrei Ivanovic with touch guitarist Jorge Pescara – a change that has influenced their sound in a rather interesting way. While Chromatic Freedom featured a few songs with vocals, on The Last TribeDialeto have taken a completely instrumental direction, concentrating on compositions that blend King Crimson-style angular, asymmetrical patterns with heady Latin suggestions and fiery blues licks, occasionally with a keen metal-like edge. Though some reviewers have labeled them as jazz-fusion, the latter genre is only one of the ingredients of Dialeto’s heady brew. While technical virtuosity is definitely emphasized,  Dialeto’s musical offer exudes a surprising warmth and a pronounced sense of melody – which is not always the case with all-instrumental albums.

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The introduction of touch guitars is the key to the subtle yet noticeable change in Dialeto’s sound on The Last Tribe, adding a sense of fullness and softening the rougher edges displayed on Chromatic Freedom. The versatility of the instrument – capable of producing dry, low-down bass lines as well as reverberating, keyboard-like sound waves – complements Coelho’s scintillating guitar exertions and Miguel Angel’s all-over-the-place drumming. Though not as heavy on the ambient component as Herd of Instinct (a band with a similar configuration and approach), Dialeto’s 2013 incarnation benefits from the synergy of touch and traditional guitar, which lends an intriguingly mysterious quality to its sound.

As already noticed on Chromatic Freedom, Coelho’s compositional style hinges on subtle yet recognizable variations on a theme, repeated with an almost hypnotic effect, creating a strong cohesion between The Last Tribe’s 10 tracks.  Running times are kept relatively short, packing a lot of content in those few minutes without putting too much strain on the listener’s attention span. The album as a whole runs at a very restrained 47 minutes, proving once again that, in the progressive rock realm, quality does not depend on quantity.

Opener “The Windmaster”sets the tone, with its clear-voiced guitar touched with a hint of Brazilian saudade; melody remains at the forefront even when the guitar turns a bit harsher and the  intensity increases. Similar in conception, “Dorian Grey” also introduces a haunting atmospheric note. The album hovers between low-key, mid-paced pieces such as the ballad-like “Lydia in the Playground” and the laid-back, Spanish-tinged “Tarde Demais”, spiced up by sudden flares of electricity in the shape of dense riffing and assertive drumming, and spiky, energy-laden ones )mostly concentrated in the album’s second half), descending directly from King Crimson circa Thrak and The Power to Believe.

The almost 8-minute, Brazilian-flavoured “Unimpossible”, which best illustrates the band’s modus operandi of building variations on a theme, and the exhilarating “Vintitreis” blend the soft and the hard side of Dialeto’s sound, Coelho’s guitar tone shifting from bright and sunny to razor-sharp, supported by Miguel Angel’s drum acrobatics; while “Whereisit”, “Sand Horses” and especially closing track “Chromaterius” kick the mood into high gear, with plenty of riffs and forceful drumming, the three main instruments interacting seamlessly in angular patterns only occasionally relieved by quieter moments. Finally, the steady drumbeat and brisk, dance-like pace of the short title-track convey the “tribal” element in the title.

Accompanied by amusingly weird cover artwork, The Last Tribe (mixed and mastered by fellow paulista Fabio Golfetti of Violeta de Outono, who has recently joined Gong) will not fail to appeal to lovers of instrumental progressive rock, especially those who set a great store by technically proficient yet soulful guitar playing rather than lightning-fast shredding. The album, which finally sees Nelson Coelho take his rightful place among other distinguished six-stringers on the Moonjune roster, such as Barry Cleveland, Dennis Rea and Michel Delville, is also warmly recommended to fans of King Crimson and its “trio” offshoots.

Tracklist:

1. Windmaster (6:26)
2. Dorian Grey (4:27)
3. The Last Tribe (1:56)
4. Lydia in the Playground (5:20)
5. Unimpossible (7:47)
6. Tarde Demais (3:40)
7. Vintitreis (4:19)
8. Whereisit (5:11)
9. Sand Horses (4:07)
10. Chromaterius (3:42)

Line-up:

* Nelson Coelho – guitar
* Jorge Pescara – touch guitars
* Miguel Angel – drums

Links:

http://www.dialeto.org

http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/catalog_mjr/054_DIALETO_The-Last-Tribe_MJR054/

Corvus Stone Album Cover

Corvus Stone – Corvus Stone

Corvus Stone Album Cover

Corvus Stone are another band made possible by the convenience and networking of the internet. It’s a story most of us can appreciate really; Finland’s Pasi Koivu got in touch with Bunchakeze guitarist Colin Tench in hopes of a collaboration, and within no time at all, the online jam had grown to include a host of likeminded musicians. Although the strings remain ultimately pulled by Koivu, Corvus Stone may be seen as a meeting place and dialogue for some of progressive rock’s underground heroes. In a sense, it’s refreshing to hear an album that’s come together with such enthusiasm and sincerity. Indeed, the talent of those involved makes Corvus Stone’s self-titled debut an enjoyable piece of composition- oriented instrumental rock, although the fluid, as-it-comes way the album came together keeps the album’s pieces from coming together as a fully satisfying whole.

Although Colin Tench is the musician I am most properly familiar with (for his work in the symph prog act Bunchakeze), some of these musicians I have been at least aware of. For one, Pasi Koivu has a longrunning association with the classic band Black Widow as their archivist, and I have more recently heard the work of guest vocalist Blake Carpenter, with his solo project The Minstrel’s Ghost. Last, but surely not least, the charmingly ubiquitous Sonia Mota lends her talent with visual art to the project, giving the record an appropriately diverse and dense album cover. Although I have not been introduced to the others (through their music or otherwise), it’s clear that Corvus Stone consists of a remarkably consistent and skilled ensemble of musicians so involved because they enjoy what they do. It’s as if the intention of Corvus Stone is to take in all of the best things from these artists, and forge something exciting out of it. Fortunately, this open dialogue results in some great musicianship across the board. With so many ideas inbound however, “Corvus Stone” often feels unfocused and even aimless.

At twenty one tracks and almost eighty minutes long, it’s clear that Corvus Stone are not worried about being succinct in their music. Their largely instrumental work is divided either into bite-sized idea sketches, or drawn out jams that recall Pink Floyd. Although a handful of songs are able to escape the clutches of either fault, there’s very little balance here. Pasi Koivu is evidently a strong composer as some of the album’s better tracks attest; the record’s shooting star “Ice King” is effective, concise and haunting. “October Sad Song” is a little more jam-oriented, but never forgets to throw in a firm hook or two. Unfortunately, too many of these songs seem to end before they begin. Most of Pasi’s compositional ideas hold their weight on their own, but they are never explored to their potential. An intriguing idea that could have been fleshed out into a full song is often left as a two minute sketch, giving “Corvus Stone” the feeling of a compilation album, or a work in progress. On the other hand, the eight minute title track and eleven minute “Cinema” feel too longwinded. Colin’s omnipresent lead guitar is soulful and a joy to the ear, but there’s the nagging feeling that the ideas and musicianship would have been much better served with a more consistent approach to the compositions.

Considering the album has (presumably) come together via the transference of files between countries and personal computers, the production here is remarkably solid and consistent. Colin Tench’s Floydian guitar style remains the album’s highlight, although the presence Blake Carpenter’s warm vocal style usually tends to indicate the album’s best tunes. There is some great talent at work in Corvus Stone, and many of the musical concepts therein are promising. For all of its enthusiasm and skill however, the album’s messy flow and utter lack of structure keeps Corvus from achieving their potential this time around.

This debut has me thinking of a child’s playroom. There is colour, joy, and vitality here, but the the floor is dirty and things are scattered everywhere. Of course, as children grow up, they tend to adopt a greater focus. If Corvus Stone are able to realize the potential that’s plainly evident here, there could be a very impressive album in their midst. Until then, I’m left feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Tracklist:

1. The Curtain Rises (1:32)
2. October Sad Song (4:58)
3. Highway to Emptiness (2:28)
4. Ice King (3:11)
5. I’ll Leave It All Behind (3:36)
6. Corvus Stone (8:20)
7. Moron Season (3:27)
8. Horizon (1:51)
9. Intermission (0:41)
10. Moustaches in Massachusetts (4:17)
11. Pilgrims (5:17)
12. JussiPussi (2:45)
13. Iron Pillows (5:17)
14. After Solstice (4:05)
15. The Rusty Wolff Attack (2:34)
16. Lost and Found (2:15)
17. Scary Movie (4:22)
18. Cinema (10:50)
19. You’re So Wrong (3:52)
20. Ice King (3:10)
21. Ten Inch Lisa (0:31)

Line-up:

* Pasi Koivu – keyboards
* Colin Tench – guitars
* Petri Lemmy Lindström – bass, various instruments

With:
* Robert Wolff – drums
* Blake Carpenter – vocals
* Stef Flaming – guitars, vocals
* John Culley – guitars
* Victor Tassone – drums

Links:

https://www.facebook.com/CorvusStone

Methexis - The Fall of Bliss

Methexis – The Fall of Bliss

Methexis - The Fall of Bliss

I am always tremendously impressed by albums which are by and large the work of a single person. It is often unfathomable to me that one person can be talented enough to not only write a complete progressive rock album but also perform the entire thing.

Well, add Nikitas Kissonas the list of those who have pulled it off, and maybe make a new list for those who have pulled it off with such flying colors. The Fall of Bliss is an absolute stunner of an album, finding common ground with many other progressive rock bands while simultaneously finding its own niche and excelling there.

I think that, in an alternate universe, Storm Corrosion could have come out sounding a lot like this album, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. From the very first twanging notes of “Eradicated Will,” I can hear a lot of both Steven Wilson and Mikael Akerfeldt’s softer moments in this music, and, quite frankly, you can’t do much better than to be compared to those two.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that this is anything other than extremely fresh, original music, though. The Fall of Bliss is one of those albums that seems at the same time familiar and completely unique, and it’s never content to sit for too long in the same place. Even within the first track the music goes from lilting, off-kilter vocal harmonies to epic guitar solos to climactically heavy motifs and back again, and never once does it feel forced or disjointed.

With such a satisfying opener there might be some worry that the album is bound to go downhill, but fortunately it doesn’t. “Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes” makes perfect use of gorgeous vocal harmonies to create music that is simultaneously epic and extremely relaxing. “Those Howling Wolves” drops into a darker, more sinister vein, and yet, like magic, it still manages to keep the album’s chilled-out, atmospheric, almost breezy feel going. It’s simply stunning.

“Lines on a Bust” comes next, and I think it would have fit very well on Pain of Salvation’s Be. Gorgeous piano and high vocals create an incredibly emotional atmosphere that bring the listener into a very relaxed place before metaphorically smacking them over the head with the relative heaviness of “Track the Saviours.” “The Aftermath” reminds me very strongly of Opeth’s quieter moments circa Watershed, with beautifully, slightly atonal guitars and a very effective symphonic interlude, complete with simulated vinyl cracks and pops.

And then, of course, we have the wonderful four-part title track to close out the album. From the delicately beautiful intro, replete with sampled birdsong to the noisy, crashing conclusion, the track(s) is (are?) a trip for the duration of their combined run time of more than 20 minutes. A multitude of atmospheric sonic textures and wonderful instrumental interplay take the track from the relaxing motifs that have dominated the album to more intense and climactic themes, the latter figuring especially prominently in Part 2. The Interlude, too, I feel deserves special praise, featuring some of the most beautiful music on the album and of course transitioning very well between the more relaxed Part 1 and the more intense Part 2.

Overall, The Fall of Bliss is one of the most impressive albums I’ve heard this year, especially considering that it essentially a solo project. Fans of Storm Corrosion should find a whole lot to like hear, as will anyone who’s ever listened to a progressive metal album and thought that the softer, more atmospheric bits were the best parts. A killer album overall and one that has one of the most impressive ambiences I’ve heard in a long while.

Tracklist:

1. Eradicated Will (8:57)
2. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes (4:52)
3. Those Howling Wolves (8:07)
4. Lines on a Bust (3:42)
5. Track the Saviours (4:14)
6. The Aftermath (4:13)
7. The Fall Of Bliss (Intro) (1:41)
8. The Fall Of Bliss (Part I) (8:20)
9. The Fall Of Bliss (Interlude) (4:22)
10. The Fall Of Bliss (Part II) (6:38)

Line-up:

* Nikitas Kissonas – vocals, guitars, bass, mandolin, keys, programming
* Nikos Miras – drums
* Jargon – piano (4)

Links:

http://methexis.bandcamp.com/

GekkoProjekt_ElectricForest_FrontCover_1500

Gekko Projekt – Electric Forest

GekkoProjekt_ElectricForest_FrontCover_1500

Long before the time Gekko Projeckt and their debut “Electric Forest” rolled around, each of the musicians that comprise this quartet were experienced performers, and this maturity translates well into their poppy melange of prog rock. At forty minutes and ten tracks, they have created an album that even the most delicate rock listener could appreciate. Their talent is evident throughout, although this relatively unambitious take on prog leaves me in want for excitement.

The sounds of King Crimson, Rush, and Camel all find a place in Gekko Projekt. Above all, “Electric Forest” may be seen as an instrumental rock guitar album with a smattering of ‘vocal’ songs. Instrumentally, Gekko Projeckt find a familiar nook for themselves, drawing in the exploratory nature of fusion jazz with the classic style of symphonic prog. “Electric Forest” is then filtered through a sheath of poppy melodies and accessible song structures. For the most part, this works pretty well, thanks in large part to guitarist Peter Matuchniak’s elaborate performance. With particular regards to the beautiful instrumental “Cognitive Dissonance”, Peter is skilled with melodic lead playing as much as he is with finding the perfect guitar tone for the mood.

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Though fairly few in number, Gekko Projekt throw some vocals our way. Of these, “Black Hole” is the most memorable, a warm and catchy track with some vocals I might expect to find in a folk rock album. The voices- performed on the album by Vance Gloster and Alan Smith- are not excellent from a technical perspective, but warmth and feeling is there. Instrumentally, the music is rarely complex, and, with the exception of Peter’s guitar work, the musicianship does not really stand out, although I have a feeling that this is more a result of the fairly straightforward song structures rather than the talent of the musicians themselves.

In short, “Electric Forest” is a pretty enjoyable album to listen to; a fine piece of music to put on while relaxing. It delivers the warmth and sound of prog, however exchanging the genre’s typically challenging song structures for accessible compositionship. Fans of Camel will enjoy what Gekko Projekt have to offer.

Tracklist:

1. Particle Dance (3:42)
2. Black Hole (4:54)
3. Cognitive Dissonance (4:44)
4. London Vibe (2:21)
5. Avatar Jones (6:03)
6. Erdinger (5:00)
7. Martian Sunrise (5:25)
8. State of Siege (2:32)
9. October Skies (5:48)
10. Particle Coda (1:12)

Line-up:

* Peter Matuchniak – guitars
* Vance Gloster – keyboards, vocals
* Rick Meadows – bass
* Alan Smith – drums, vocals