Archive for April, 2011

Gutbucket – Flock

April 27, 2011


It is an arena where the sounds of chaos do battle. Ancient bands battle to the death on these bloody grounds, their music transformed to physical violence by the house band. Is it The Electric Castle? Oh, no. This arena makes The Electric Castle look like a playground. This is The Gutbucket, the RIO incarnation of The Electric Castle. You are invited. The stage is set. The topless sheep are kitting neckties from their own flesh. The crowd is assembled … the giant “play” button is illuminated in the center of the arena. Prepare to be assaulted by sound, and despair!

Wormholes spin open at opposite ends of the arena and the contestants slide into place. In this corner … The Residents, humanoid eyeballs in tuxedos and top hats. And in the opposite corner, Frank Zappa and the We’re Only In It For The Money line-up of The Mothers Of Invention, all dressed in drag. The referees are here … the house band, known to all as the Gutbucket band. Barbarian axe players, crazed sax player and ninja drummer using the drumsticks as nunchuku. Don’t mess with these guys. They will transform the eldritch chaos of the combatants into audio waves to be captured. The contestants approach one another, eying each other warily. One of the now-naked sheep jumps from its cloud, does an acrobatic spin and lands on the “play” button. The crowd goes wild! “Bleat, bleat, baaaaah!” Let the orgy of sound begin!

The audio chaos is impossible to describe; it causes pain and anguish, yet also great pleasure as it assaults the ears and other vital organs. Saxophones squeal in agony while being mercilessly battered by the ninja drummer and barbarian bassist. The audience of naked sheep are beginning to look more like ominous, hairless neanderthal versions of the traditionally innocuous creature. They grunt and squeal with pleasure at the gore and bloodshed below. No, wait, that’s the sound of the guitar player. Anger. Confusion. Chaos. Spastic note flurries coalesce into structures that mimic the rough outlines of melodies, only to be destroyed in the next measure. Pleasure. Pain. Ecstasy!

And then, it is done. The contestants are shredded blobs of throbbing meat at the center of the arena. Nobody wins in The Gutbucket. The crowd disperses. The house band mops the sweat and gore from their brows and begins to break down their instruments. A lonely figure enters the arena, walking to the center where the giant “play” button has been replaced by a single silver disc. He picks it up and moves by the band toward the exit, nodding in solemn salute. “Even better than A Modest Proposal“, Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records says to the band. “Got a name for it yet?”.

Steve couldn’t quite hear the answer, and wasn’t sure he wanted to. So he just called it Flock instead. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Gutbucket‘s web site
Click here for Gutbucket‘s MySpace page
Click here to order A Modest Proposal or Flock from Cuneiform Records

Sanhedrin – Ever After

April 26, 2011

Definitely not to be confused with the UK black metal band of the same name, who also has a new debut album out, this Sanhedrin is an Israeli symphonic prog band. I’ve been bitching a lot recently that “new prog” is all falling into either the angry prog metal genre or else the depressing “alt-rock” or “post-rock” categories. Then along comes Sanhedrin‘s debut, Ever After, and it feels like stepping from Hell (or Dallas in the summer, same thing …) into a beautiful garden with cool breezes blowing the scent of a nearby stream across your senses. How completely refreshing!

Sanhedrin‘s debut reminds me a lot of Camel‘s Snow Goose due to its mostly “clean” guitar work (as opposed to distorted), flute and lack of vocals. That’s no accident … Sanhedrin started life as a Camel cover band. But they quickly moved on from here to start writing their own material, which also sounds influenced by Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, with some medieval influences (Gryphon?) and italian prog-like organ work (particularly Le Orme). Their CD, several years in the making, was finally released early in 2011 on AltrOck Records‘ new Fading Records imprint.

This is AltrOck‘s second release on the Fading Records imprint, dedicated to symphonic prog rather than the more RIO-styled music on the rest of the AltrOck Records label. The first was Ciccada, another excellent band, but bearing very little resemblance to Sanhedrin. But with these two albums as the first releases on the imprint, I’m very impressed at AltrOck‘s ability to find truly exceptional bands for their label. Their reach is far and wide … I mean, Greece and Israel? Not my first thought when I wonder, “where does great prog originate?” (yes, yes, I know about Vangelis and Trespass, but you have to admit they’re rare). Perhaps it’s time for some fresh new entries, and Sanhedrin surely qualifies.

Ever After is one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard, and is highly recommended for fans of the above-mentioned bands, or just if you’re tired of the excess adrenaline and ear strain caused by too many chugging, distorted guitars. Have a rest! — Fred Trafton

Click here for Sanhedrin‘s MySpace page
Click here for Sanhedrin‘s Reverb Nation page
Click here for AltrOck Records‘ web site

Declan Burke – Destroy All Monsters

April 22, 2011

Declan “Dec” Burke is a guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was one of the leaders of the English neoprog band Darwin’s Radio before becoming a part of prog “supergroup” Frost*. Darwin’s Radio dissolved with the individual members going on to do their own things, and Dec Burke‘s “own thing” was to begin a solo career with the release of his debut Destroy All Monsters.

Even Burke‘s web site calls Destroy All Monsters “a more pop take on the prog genre”, so I suppose he won’t be offended if I agree. To be more specific, this is an album of heavily orchestrated rock anthems and metal ballads calibrated to make your head bob and … well, I suppose people don’t wave lighters in the air any more, but you get the idea. The sound is thick, sizzling with high-end EQ, massively overdubbed and heavily compressed to gargantuan fatness. It sounds cool for a while, but my ears start to weary of the sameness of the production after the first couple of songs. And, after multiple listenings, I find there’s not much I didn’t get on the first listen. Not that it’s a bad album for all that, but it also doesn’t really stand out in my mind, at least not for my tastes. A qualified “thumbs up” if you like your prog on the “easy” side.

On the other hand, if you like this sort of thing (and I know many people do), Burke is just putting the finishing touches on a follow-up album, Paradigms & Storylines, slated for release sometime this summer (2011). Keep on the lookout. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Dec Burke‘s web site
Click here to order Destroy All Monsters from ProgRock Records

Update on Yes

April 18, 2011

Yes in 2011 – Alan White (drums), Steve Howe (guitar), Trevor Horn (producer), Chris Squire (bass), Geoff Downes (keyboards) and Benoît David (vocals)

My poor beleaguered favorite ’70’s band. Lots has happened since my last update, so I guess I should give a brief update to their GEPR entry. When I left off in my last band update, I had mentioned the 35th Anniversary tour, including the fourth return of Rick Wakeman. When this concluded, they once again went on hiatus. Jon Anderson publicly wondered if Yes had any future, partially because of the disappointing sales of Magnification, and partially because of health concerns on his own part.

In the following years, there were many partial Yes reunions of several ex-members working together on their own projects. These are too numerous to mention here in an entry about Yes. But by 2008, Yes began planning a 40th anniversary tour to be titled “Close to the Edge and Back”. This tour was to have featured Rick Wakeman‘s son Oliver Wakeman on keys. The rumors were that they had been working together on four new “lengthy, multi-movement compositions” for the tour. However, Jon Anderson was admitted to the hospital in May 2008 suffering from a severe asthma attack. Anderson was advised to stop working for at least six months, and so this tour was canceled in June.

By November, Yes had assembled a new touring band without Jon Anderson. The tour was re-titled as “In The Present”, and the band wasn’t clear on the question of whether this was Yes or a new band. In some places it was billed as “Steve Howe, Chris Squire, and Alan White of Yes“, featuring these three along with Oliver Wakeman and singer Benoît David of Mystery and Yes tribute band Close to the Edge. Anderson, for his part, stated on his web site that he felt “disappointed” and “disrespected” (words that were later removed), despite Squire‘s statement that the tour had Anderson‘s “blessing”. However, this tour, too was cut short due to a medical problem … this time it was a problem with Squire‘s leg, which required emergency surgery and a month of recuperation time. In February 2009, the remaining shows, mostly in the western US, were canceled.

In the summer of 2009, the “In the Present” line-up continued their tour, this time unambiguously calling themselves Yes. By October, Squire officially confirmed in a radio interview that Oliver Wakeman and Benoît David were now officially members of the band. He also mentioned that this line-up was working on a new album. Howe later confirmed that Anderson would not be involved in this recording for the first time since Drama. The new album, called Fly From Here is scheduled for a July 12, 2011 release.

The last bit of news is very recent as of this writing … Oliver Wakeman is out of the band and former keyboardist Geoff Downes is back in. It has been observed that, with Trevor Horn producing, co-writing, and performing some backing vocals, Yes is now back to the Drama line-up, with the addition of Benoît David. The photo at the top of this entry is the new line-up. However, I’m not entirely sure whether it’s Downes or Oliver Wakeman or some mixture playing keyboards on the new album. We’ll find out soon. — Fred Trafton

[In the interest of full disclosure, the above information is condensed from information found in the Yes Wikipedia article]

Update later in the day: The following quote was found on Oliver Wakeman’s web site dated April 9, 2011: “The decision to leave YES did not originate with Oliver and, as of this moment in time, we do not know which of Oliver’s many contributions to the recording will exist on the new YES record. Oliver did write and perform on a number of the new YES recordings. As to whether his parts, or the songs, will remain is unknown at the moment. However, we imagine that with this lineup change, fans should expect to hear Geoff on the album, not Oliver.”

Click here for the Yes entry in the GEPR
Click here for “Notes from the Edge”, the Yes web site

Glass – Spectrum Principle

April 14, 2011

Previously, I mentioned that “prolific” was not the first word that comes to mind when describing Glass. This update to their GEPR entry will both confirm and refute that statement, as you’ll see below. It turns out I was prophetic in predicting their next album release would be in 2010. No mysterious foreknowledge there, just a lucky (and slightly snarky) guess. Their new album Spectrum Principle was five years in the making after their previous studio release, Illuminations. This seems to confirm the “not prolific” hypothesis. But wait …

I have to admit, Spectrum Principle didn’t really grab me on first listen. Lots of good prog is like that … which is why I always listen to an album at least three times before I decide whether I really like it or not. Right on schedule, “third time is a charm” for this one — for me, at least. There’s nothing about Spectrum Principle that inspires head-banging, nor are there jaw-dropping speed solos or bombastic orchestration. These are simply good instrumental songs, in the five-to-seven-minute range with a few even shorter cuts. Shortish for a prog album, but with each song stating what is has to say in a simple, unpretentious way. My first impression was, “this is a little thin-sounding, isn’t it?” Well, yes, it is. But on the other hand, you can hear every instrument in its place, a refreshing change from some of the over-produced wall-of-sound albums I’ve been reviewing of late. You have to be in the right mood for this sort of thing, but when the adrenaline junkie in you is ready for a break, try out Spectrum Principle for some jazzy yet slightly off-kilter progressive goodness. Mellow without being sleep-inducing. Mature. And a nice addition to Glass‘s discography.

So now’s when we put the lie to the “not prolific” theory. I just received a note from Jeff Sherman saying that their new (as yet unnamed) album has finished recording. This should be a looser, more improvisational album than their last couple of studio albums. The whole thing was recorded in only four days, mostly direct-to-2-track tape with some sections allowing one overdub pass. But mostly it’s “live-to-tape”. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know when it’s released. The current target is spring of 2012, but — well — sometimes things change. I’ll let you know. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Glass‘ home page on the Relentless Pursuit web site

Ian Anderson duet with Astronaut Cady Coleman

April 13, 2011

How much fun is this?

On April 12, 2011, Jethro Tull‘s Ian Anderson performed a duet with U.S. astronaut Catherine Coleman. Anderson was in Perm, Russia, while Coleman was orbiting 250 miles above Earth in the International Space Station. The song they performed was “Bouree,” Jethro Tull‘s reworking of the Johann Sebastian Bach composition “Bouree in E Minor,” which originally appeared on Stand Up. The duet was performed at a concert honoring the 50th anniversary of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin‘s first manned space flight in 1961. Of course, you can see it on YouTube. Here it is:

Fibonacci Sequence – Numerology

April 11, 2011

Fibonacci Sequence – Numerology

No, not Fibonaccis, this is Fibonacci Sequence from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, releasing their debut album Numerology. They play instrumental music in a style that is sometimes called “heavy prog”, with flavorings of prog-metal, fusion and even some “nice” passages of AOR stylings. So, there’s a little bit of Pat Metheny mixed with the Liquid Tension Experiment and There are even excursions into real prog-metal (particularly in “Catlord” — great song title!), though it never goes all the way into Dream Theater or Fates Warning territory (though these bands are also claimed as influences).

It would be fair to call this a “guitar-oriented” album, meaning that Michael J. Butzen‘s guitars are front and center on every cut, though there are some nice keyboards including piano and synths in a supporting role, and some killer bass work as well. The drumming is certainly competent, but not so flashy as to take center stage.

Nice compositions, nicely orchestrated and recorded. Especially for a debut album, this is a topnotch effort. For those who appreciate what some call “extreme fusion” (but not too extreme), it doesn’t get any better than this. Recommended. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Fibonacci Sequence‘s web site
Click here for Fibonacci Sequence‘s MySpace page
Click here to download or order Numerology from CD Baby

IQ shakes up their lineup – again!

April 8, 2011

This may be sorta old news, but I just found out about it, and so I’m passing it along. There’s been another major shake-up in the IQ line-up. On October 7, 2010, the IQ web site announced that new keyboardist Mark Westworth had decided to leave after three years in the band. He gave as a reason: “I’ve made a decision to follow my head rather than my heart and will be leaving the band at the end of the year. Having to juggle family life, a full time job and finding time to play all this prog nonsense has been more than a handful of late.” On January 1, 2011, IQ announced that Neil Durant (Sphere3) would be his replacement.

No sooner was this resolved than the band got a double-whammy. On January 7, 2011, bassist John Jowitt also announced his plan to leave IQ, saying only: “I’ve had a great time, met lots of wonderful people, travelled the world, but it’s time to move on. I’d like to confirm that this is my decision, and also that it has no relationship to me playing with any other band”. Within days (Jan. 14), the band announced the return of original bassist Tim Esau to the fold. The announcement ends with the band’s reassuring words: “Rest assured we have no plans for further line-up changes in the near future! We look forward to seeing you all on this year’s exciting IQ30 tour”.

For those keeping count, this leaves only Mike Holmes and Peter Nicholls leftover from the Frequency line-up, but it does make 4 out of 5 of the original members back together again. So it’s either a massive shake-up or a return to form, depending on how you look at it. Since I really liked Frequency, I’m a bit concerned about this, but of course I’ll reserve judgement until after I’ve had a chance to hear the new (… er … old?) line-up in action. — Fred Trafton

Click here for the IQ web site
Click here for IQ‘s MySpace page

Factory of Dreams – Two Albums

April 7, 2011

Portugal’s Factory of Dreams is just two people … vocalist Jessica Lehto (also in the metal bands Beto Vázquez Infinity and Once There Was) and Hugo Flores (also the leader of Project Creation and Sonic Pulsar), who plays guitar, bass, keyboards, and everything else. Drums are handled, incredibly, by drum machines (or computerized drum sample players or whatever), but it’s hard to tell this except that no human being could probably actually play these drums.

Just two people … but with the sound of … how can I describe it? An army of heavily-armored robot samurai warriors playing heavy metal axes with a choir of curvaceous silver female robots from Heavy Metal Magazine on vocals? Sounds like a group from a Guitar Hero game? Right! Very heavy prog-metal with slowish chugging chord progressions, massive overdubs (particularly in Lehto‘s vocals, but also on everything else), skittering note guitar solos, “drumming” that sounds like Mike Portnoy played back at double-speed and enough compression to make Todd Rundgren blush. The sound is as thick and dense as the atmosphere of Jupiter. How’s that for a nerdy simile? But not as nerdy as the lyrics of the albums themselves. But wait, we’ll get there soon …

I’ve heard their first and (as of this writing) latest albums, Poles and Melotronical. Both albums are concept albums in the fantasy story realm. The notes for Poles introduce the story in the following way:

The Place: A land with two sides, Positiveness and Negativeness, Dark and Light called POLES.
The World: Ruled by a Generator of Illusions, the Factory of Dreams.
The Fuel: Human minds.
The Blood: A river of emotions.
The Ignition: Your CD player.

What does it mean? Hell if I know. But who cares? The crushing guitar work and thunderous “drumming” with Lehto‘s airy, operatic vocals (in English!) overdubbed to monsterous female choirs will take you away to wherever this place is and pummel you with its strange mixture of pleasure and pain until you’re screaming, “YES! YES! I LOVE IT! PLEASE SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER?”.

Ahem. Sorry about that. This stuff does pump up my adrenaline and testosterone levels just a bit, despite the female vocals. Or maybe they contribute, I’m not sure. Ignore the the carnivorous unicorns and just enjoy it. Really.

So how can Melotronical top this? Well, it manages to. If anything, it’s even thicker and more heavily overdubbed than Poles. The speed-metal aspects have been amped up, and the “double-bass” drum style sounds like a gattling gun that never lets up its barrage. Lehto‘s operatic vocals are joined on this album by Flores‘ growling style, both as lead and as part of the supporting “choir”. The concept for Melotronical is no more grounded in reality than Poles. Again, quoting from the advertising blurb: “A conceptual CD, revolving around the evolution of an electronic Molecule into a living breathing Entity. This entity, experiences several stages of life … the finale starts with ‘Dimension Crusher’, when all hope is lost and a new Universe is idealized through ‘Reprogramming’.”

Again, whatever. The music is brilliant, and the lyrics sound epic and important as long as you don’t examine them too closely. It is a Factory of Dreams, after all, and you can’t expect dreams to necessarily make a lot of sense, though they may still be full of emotions and symbolism. Melotronical fills the bill. Oh, and one more thing … don’t expect any Mellotrons in Melotronical. This title is a combination of “melody” and “electronic”, not “mellow” and “electronic”. There’s nothing “mellow” about this album.

I’ll just admit (again) that prog-metal isn’t my favorite genre of prog, but these albums really satisfy, and without sounding even a little bit like the usual paragon of prog-metal, Dream Theater. I have heard Factory of Dreams compared to Nightwish, however, though I’m not qualified to comment on that. If it’s true, maybe I need to check out Nightwish as well. I can compare them to Epica, however. Because of the strong female vocals juxtaposed against the heavy metal guitars. But for now, Poles and Melotronical will fulfill this particular area of my musical cravings. I’m certain there’s a lot more to discover here on future listenings. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Factory of DreamsMelotronical web site

Black Country Communion – same

April 6, 2011

Black Country Communion – Glenn Hughes (bass, vocals), Joe Bonamassa (guitar), Derek Sherinian (keyboards) and Jason Bonham (drums)

Black Country Communion? Isn’t that a rock band? What the heck are they doing in the GEPR? Honestly, I got interested because of the participation of one of my favorite keyboardists, Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X). But this all-star list of names from Classic Rock (even if not “Prog Rock” as such) has to catch the attention of anyone who was around in the ’70’s. Glenn Hughes was bassist and vocalist for Deep Purple, Trapeze and had a brief stint in Black Sabbath. Jason Bonham is the son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and is a well-respected drummer in his own right, even subbing for his father in some recent Led Zep reunions. “Black country” is the nickname for the industrial area in Britain where Hughes and Bonham grew up. Joe Bonamassa is a well-known American guitarist, influenced heavily by British and Irish blues bands, and also prog rock (he frequently plays Yes‘s “Heart of the Sunrise” and the “Würm” section of “Starship Trooper” in his live performances). So, I thought I should hear these guys.

Well, this just goes to show that fantastic, energetic and emotional rock doesn’t need to be in the “Prog” category. But it sure doesn’t bear much resemblance to what they call “rock” nowadays. In the ’70’s, they would have been monsters. And even today, their debut album hit the charts, topping #18 on the US Rock charts and #6 on the US Indie charts. Definitely a guitar and vocal oriented band, though the drumming and bass work is also spot-on perfect, and Sherinian‘s keyboards (mostly organ) are restrained and understated, fitting perfectly with the ’70’s retro-rock feel of the album. No Planet X-style heavy fusion insanity to be heard here, move along, move along. This is more the Billy Idol/Alice Cooper side of Sherinian‘s multi-faceted talent.

If you need high complexity, classical music influences or avant-garde difficulty in your music, then Black Country Communion is probably not the band for you. But if you wish you could have attended Woodstock because you would have enjoyed it (or if you did attend Woodstock and enjoyed it), then you’re gonna love this album. To be honest, I’ve been getting burned out on some of the pompous, over-produced mental gymnastics I get from my daily diet of prog. Black Country Communion has proven to be a hard-rockin’ antidote. Great stuff! AND, a new album in the can, to be released in June 2011, only about 9 months after their debut. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Black Country Communion‘s web site