Archive for the ‘New Band’ Category

The HillBenders

August 6, 2015

Album cover for The HillBenders’ Tommy. Yes, it’s an homage to the original cover, and yes, they did get the original artist’s permission to do this.

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a pretty big Who fan, from their early stuff at least through Who’s Next. But especially Tommy. My first Tommy album was The London Symphony Orchestra version … The perfect vehicle for bringing a young classical music fan into the scary long-haired hippie freak world of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (That and the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed … But that’s another story …)

And after falling in love with this album, I find it’s not the original! There’s a rock band version (ahem … did I mention I was inexperienced?).

At first, I chafed. It sounded so different from the real version :/ I was having a tough time of it. But then it started to sound good to me. This taught a symphony orchestra lover into a rock fan (and then the movie version bringing me into multitracked synthetic string ensembles … also another story)

So why am I telling you this? Because I just discovered an album that is threatening to broaden my musical horizons yet again. The album? Tommy. No not any of of the lame new versions Pete Townshend is releasing to try to milk it for a few more years. This version is by a band called the HillBenders. And, yes, it’s a faithful version of the original rock version by The Who.

The Hillbenders are a bluegrass band. Did you see that coming? I sure as hell didn’t. Did I mention the full album name is “Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry”?And this version is bluegrass, complete with strumming, picking and body-slapping guitars and mandolins, twanging (or spacey) dobros and lightning-fingered banjo playing. It’s not just good, it’s right up there with the original in every way. Every bit as exciting, innovative and heart-rending as the original. No drums or synths, though … can I stand it? I find I can. Easily.

The vocals are attributed only to “The HillBenders,” and they’re phenomenal, though watching their videos it looks like mandolinist Nolan Lawrence is their lead vocalist. He’s good. His vocals are as good as Roger Daltrey’s originals without sounding that much like him. These are rock vocals, and they’re what sell this concept (though perhaps if Uncle Ernie was being sung by a yodeling cowboy vocalist … OK, just a thought …). The arrangements manage to be simultaneously faithful and innovative. How can it sound so different yet also the same? How do they do that?

I could say this album is going to be among my top releases of 2015, but feh … Big deal. This album, like the original Tommy, will open up a whole new area of the musical world. Just as the original led me to rock and thence Progressive Rock, the HillBenders will lead me to Progressive Bluegrass. And I didn’t even know it existed. I just know there’s more …

Have I ever told you I have a complete score in my head for a New Wave version of “Supper’s Ready”? It would sound like a mashup of The Cars, Ultravox and Thomas Dolby. Maybe with some Bill Nelson too. No, wait. Don’t go. It would be really cool. Really.

The HillBenders are:
Mark Cassidy – Banjo
Gary Rea – Bass
Jim Rea – Guitar
Nolan Lawrence – Mandolin/Lead Vocals
Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves – Dobro

Down To My Last Dollar (10)
Can You Hear Me? (12)
Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry (15)


Consider the Source – World War Trio (Parts I, II & III)

June 21, 2015

Yeah, it’s been a long time since I posted here. But I just heard a new band that I really want to talk about. Well, they’re not that new, just new to me. They are Consider the Source, and they describe themselves as “sci-fi middle eastern music.” I’ll buy that, but I’d say “sizzling world fusion” would speak to prog fans more. More western than middle eastern, but with a nice flavoring of that and other world sonorities. Guitars, bass and drums. No keyboards, no vocals. But you won’t miss the keyboards … lots of interesting electronic sonorities, I suspect being driven mostly by the guitar, but also sometimes from the drums. Beautifully strange polyrythms and microtonal pitch bending you usually never hear from a guitar interlock with conventional and slap-bass counterpoints and math-rock polyrhythms from the drums. This music’s got everything, unless you want deep philosophical vocals, in which case look elsewhere.

Consider the Source is an American band formed in 2004, and features Gabriel Marin on fretless double-neck guitar, John Ferrara on bass guitar, and Jeff Mann on kit and other percussion. The fretless allows Marin to play otherwise-impossible note flurries which move from western folksy to Indian ragas to middle-eastern to Discipline-era Crimson to prog-metal in an instant. This is virtuosity, from all band members.

I picked up the World War Trio Part I EP and the double-CD World War Trio Parts II & III on the strength of a review and auditioning some cuts on Bandcamp (see link below). I’m very glad I did. It’s not often these days that something new really grabs me and turns me on, and when it does, it’s usually something that harks back to ’70’s prog (i.e. Steve Hackett‘s Genesis Revisited), but this is totally new and totally awesome. It’s hard to say it reminds me of anyone else. And that’s hard to do. You go, guys!

And, as an aside, let me give them kudos for not being afraid to play middle eastern sounding music in our current atmosphere of hostility towards anything that seems even vaguely middle-eastern. As if the music has anything to do with the politics or religion of the region. If CtS has any political or religious agendas, it’s completely non-obvious from their albums, so don’t be concerned about that. Just enjoy some of the hottest music you’re likely to hear for a long time to come. — Fred Trafton

Esperanto (2008)
Are You Watching Closely? (2009)
That’s What’s Up (2010)
F**k It! We’ll Do It Live – Volume 1 (2012, Rec. 12/2011)
F**k It! We’ll Do It Live – Volume 2 (2013, Rec. 5 & 8/2013)
World War Trio (Part I) (2014)
World War Trio (Parts II and III) (2015)

Web Site

Blue Mammoth

January 16, 2012

Blue Mammoth’s debut album full cover art

Blue Mammoth got started in 2009 as a project of bassist/producer Julian Quilodran (Octophera) and keyboardist/composer Andre Mitchell. Originally, this was a studio project with just these two, but the quality of the music began to attract other musicians, and they soon became a band including drummer Thiago Meyer and guitarist Andre Lupac (later succeeded by Cesar Aires when Lupac had to leave due to “personal issues”).

The resulting debut album Blue Mammoth is steeped in ’70’s prog mannerisms, heavy on synthesizers/keyboards and intricate bass lines (no surprise given the origins of the band), but with a bit of King Crimson flavoring as well, and even a Gentle Giant-ish a capella vocal section. Mitchell also handles vocals (in English, with only a little detectable accent). It’s heavily symphonic, with lots of heavy, majestic passages and important-sounding philosophy. And a great album cover (above, pasted together into the full panorama from separate jpg’s found on their old web site … I don’t think they ever published the entire thing, which is a shame. Right-click to open the thing full-size in your browser … it’s amazing) by artist Julio Zartos, see link to his web site below.

I’ll admit, Blue Mammoth was a slow-grower for me. I had to listen to it multiple times before the music and lyrics started to really touch my emotions, so I suggest at least three times through the album before you give it a thumbs-up or -down. Now that I’ve let it sink in, I think this album is near the top of my favorites list for 2011, it’s a wonderful album, leaving me hoping for more from these guys. Definitely one you’ll need to check out if you like ’70’s-style symphonic prog. — Fred Trafton

Click here for the official Blue Mammoth web site
Click here for the web site of artist Julio Zartos


October 3, 2011

Hess and Franzen are a pair of multi-instrumentalists who have released an amazing album that defies easy categories. Hans Hess lives in Bristol, UK while Renan Franzen lives in Puerto Alegre, Brazil. Together, they have achieved what I can only describe as a masterwork in the genre of … uh … Electronic Prog-Metal Crimsonish Space Rock. Ugh. A woefully inadequate description, even if it does hit some of the styles these guys obviously appreciate.

{CLOSEDLOCKEDSEALED} is a high-energy album of instrumental music. The initial release is 300 CD’s mounted on LP-sized boards with the cover art printed on it and the whole thing in a sealed anti-static envelope. The packaging is a work of art in itself, like LP’s used to be in the old days. In fact, due to the size of the package, you’ll probably want to store this with your LP collection. Doubtless what Hess and Franzen had in mind. If this seems like overkill to you, you can also download the album from CD Baby for the paltry sum of $4.99. (In “Genre” on this site, they call it Metal/Punk: Instrumental Metal. Don’t you believe it. This is prog.)

Now to describe what the music is like … the guitars are prog-metal if you consider Lark’s Tongues in Aspic to be prog-metal. The busy bass lines are more along the lines of what you’d expect from, say, John Myung, and the drums are definitely double-bass prog-metal in style. Except that, near as I can tell, there is no drummer … I believe these are sampled drums, and they’re incredible. What gives them away is the incredible stereo imaging of the drums, rolling across the headphones like thunder echoing from nearby hillsides (oh, yes, you’ll want to listen to {CLOSEDLOCKEDSEALED} on a good set of headphones!). That and the fact that I’m not sure any human could actually play these drums. Not even Mike Portnoy.

And yet there are also sampled string sections, lyrical piano interludes, and even one section that sounds as if it’s about to be a female vocalist any second, though she never actually starts singing. Never mind, then … “she” is a very natural-sounding sample. There are also influences of space rock throughout, both the Hawkwindish metal type and the Hidria Spacefolk synth-based type.

But ultimately {CLOSEDLOCKEDSEALED} isn’t prog-metal, space rock or any other genre you could name. Hess and Franzen have come up with an incredible debut for their fresh new style, and I recommend it very highly. If I had to complain about something, it would be it’s LP-ish length … about 47 minutes. I could have easily listened to much more of this … perhaps a bit more on the next album, which I sincerely hope is in the works. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Hess and Franzen‘s web site
Click here to download {CLOSEDLOCKEDSEALED} from CD Baby
Click here to listen to samples on SoundCloud

Ahvak – same

August 22, 2011

Left to Right – Dave Kerman (long hair, drums, percussion), Roy Yarkoni (tall guy, keyboards), Yehuda Kotton (beard, guitars), Ishay Sommer (very long hair, bass), Udi Koomran (black short hair, sound/computer), Udi Susser (French beard, horns, keyboards)

I can’t believe it’s taken *cough* seven years to get around to reviewing this awesome album. I’ve had it since its release, and I’ve listened to it a few times over those years. But though it was obviously a technically brilliant album, it just never spoke to me. It seemed like too much chaos and no structure. It didn’t sink in. But this past week, with my life in utter chaos … my daughter going into labor, taking my precocious (read: hyperactive) three-year-old grandson off her hands so she could concentrate on that, an angry customer screaming at me at my job, and finally my refrigerator conking out … I chanced to put Ahvak on again. Guess what? It’s not chaotic at all! It’s carefully and precisely structured, with every note and percussion hit fulfilling its necessary role, and every noise, sound treatment and special effect meticulously placed for maximum effect. If I ever needed a lesson about how, in music, context is everything, this would be it. I actually found Ahvak to be calming.

Ahvak, I’m told, means “Dust” in Hebrew. Pertinent, since most of these band members are Israeli with the exception of Dave Kerman, who I believe was visiting Israel during this time. Fortunately for all of them, they teamed up with Israeli sound/production icon Udi Koomran (who, you’ll notice, is granted full “band member” status on this album for his contributions) to create what will surely be recognized by those who decide such things as one of the all-time masterworks of the RIO/Avant-Garde genre of prog. If I’ve never before quipped in the GEPR that RIO is simply Avant-Garde with drums, then I’ll do so here. It would be hard to argue that this is really modern classical music played on rock instrumentation, and of course with drums. It has a lot in common with bands like Thinking Plague, Yugen or 5UU’s (and I don’t just mean Dave Kerman), but without vocals. That just makes it even more difficult to carry off without the human element of voices.

Ahvak‘s sole release is an absolute masterpiece, and if you’re a fan of RIO at all, it’s a must-have in your collection. If you’re like me, it may take a few listens before it registers with you, but if you have the right ear for this style, it’s a thrill ride. Superb. — Fred Trafton

Click here for an excellent fan web site review
Click here to order Ahvak from Cuneiform Records

Adrenaline Mob

June 24, 2011

Adrenaline Mob

Jeez. If I met these guys on a regular street, I’d probably soil myself. They definitely look pretty badass. But separated by the Internet Data Superhighway? No problem. This is Adrenaline Mob, and their drummer sounds like that guy from Dream Theater. Oh. Never mind. It is that guy from Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy … or rather the guy who used to be in Dream Theater. Also Symphony X frontman Russell Allen, guitarists Mike Orlando and Rich Ward, and bassist Paul DiLeo. No keyboard player? Perhaps they ate him for lunch. Well, just saying.

Even with all these prog and proggish luminaries, they claim this is an old-school metal band, not prog-metal. Well, I’ve heard a preview of their songs on their Facebook page, and as far as one can tell from a collage of snippets, there’s enough prog content here to make for at least a couple of good listens … as long as you don’t hate prog-metal. They haven’t released an album yet, but look for one soon.

Oh, and this obviously isn’t the Morse-Morse-Portnoy-Larue-McPherson band, which near as I can tell still doesn’t have a name yet. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Adrenaline Mob‘s Facebook page, where you can hear the “collage of snippets” preview by clicking on “Like”.

AKIN – The Way Things End

June 22, 2011

AKIN – (not in photo order) Luc Babut (bass), Matthieu Baker (guitars, backing vocals), Philippe Chaubiré (flute), Julien Chometton (rhythm guitar), Romain Fayet (drums), Adeline Gurtner (lead vocals) and Pierre Lucas (keyboards)

Akin is alleged to be prog-metal. Well, I certainly hope I won’t offend this excellent band if I say, “NO WAY!” Sure, there are heavy guitar parts and even a bit of shredding, but these are relegated so far down in the mix that you actually have to listen for them. How can you call a band prog-metal when they rely this heavily on a real string ensemble, lots of acoustic guitar plucking and strumming, flute, harmonizing vocal overdubs and a non-operatic female lead singer? Personally, I can’t. The poorly-defined Prog Archives designation of “heavy prog” I might buy. But calling this band prog-metal just doesn’t work for me. Not that I have anything against prog-metal you understand. I just think it’s a poor description.

Akin is a French band, though you can barely detect any accent from lead singer Adeline Gurtner as she belts out these tunes in flawless English. Don’t expect any operatic vocals á la Jessica Lehto (Factory of Dreams) or Simone Simons (Epica). If not for the heavy guitar oriented accompaniment, I’d almost call her vocals “folksy”. That’s by no means a bad thing … her vocals fit wonderfully into the music, which is complex, orchestrated with a great deal of variety and mood changes, and with liberal dashes of very Bach string concerto classical-sounding passages.

After a long hiatus (ten years!) since their last full album, Akin returns on the Progrock Records (the USA one) label with a fantastic new album, The Way Things End. If you’re interested in hearing their earlier album (and an EP), click the links above to download them for free from their Bandcamp site. The new album The Way Things End will be released by Progrock in September 2011. — Fred Trafton

Footnote: Actually, ProgRock Records‘ Shawn Gordon says they’re in, so click on over and order your copy now!

Click here to order The Way Things End from ProgRock Records
Click here for Akin‘s Facebook page
Click here for Akin‘s Bandcamp page
Click here for a review of The Way Things End on the Femme Metal Webzine

M. Judge – Architects of Flesh-Density

June 14, 2011

The Nerve Institute (M. Judge) – Architects of Flesh-Density

I must say, I’ve gotten to the point where I yawn (or grimace) at the receipt of a promo pack from some record labels. I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a bad album from anyone, but there’s an awful lot of also-rans out there, and I just have too many albums to be spending a lot of personal energy on them. One label for which this is not the case, however, is the AltrOck label from Italy, which consistently delivers outstanding CD’s from incredible groups and artists. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything from the label that wasn’t really good, and most of them go well beyond that and into “superb”.

In my last AltrOck mailing, I received a CD from a band called The Nerve Institute. I was amazed to see that the first “reference band” they were compared to was The Underground Railroad. Hey, I know and love these guys, they’re from my area (Dallas/Fort Worth), but I’ve never seen them named as a “reference band” before. So I was really interested to give a listen to this CD.

The first thing I’ll say about Architects of Flesh-Density is, “WOW!” This is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. The comparison to Underground Railroad is pretty fair, but Architects of Flesh-Density is more experimental, and goes into more avant-garde/RIO territory than UR. At the risk of sounding glib, I’ll say that, “If Bill Pohl liked Fred Frith as much as he likes Allan Holdsworth, then The Nerve Institute would sound like Underground Railroad.” Helpful if you know all these references, useless if you don’t.

So, if you don’t, I’ll just describe it as symphonic with strange but beautiful harmonies, jagged rhythms, and a high level of virtuosity on all the instruments. The musical parts stray toward dissonance, then resolve into quite beautiful harmonious sections. It’s also punctuated by innovative sound effects and artfully-used noises and studio sound-warping. The sections are tightly integrated and the music is skillfully composed and recorded with utmost attention to detail and clarity. All this is made even more impressive by the fact that it’s all composed, played and recorded by one guy named M. Judge, and the “studio” consists of a laptop where the music is “edited/EQd/compressed in whatever freeware music program I happen to be using.” What’s the “M” for? A careful search of the links will reveal it, but since he always seems to introduce himself as only “M” I’ll just stick with that.

Mr. Judge has stated in an interview that he gets tired of band names, and so has released works under several other monickers, including The Wolf Tickets, Jerusalem and Sinthome. The only other Judge I’ve been able to find available is the second Sinthome album, Ficciones, still available on the ReR label. It’s very different from The Nerve Institute, and from what I’ve read, Judge delights in changing what he does from one album to the next. In fact, he’s said, “My goal with any upcoming album is really to scare the hell out of myself and anyone else who liked the previous one.” He goes on to say, however, that he may record more under The Nerve Institute name. I’m hoping this means more along the same lines, because one CD of this brilliance just isn’t enough. I do hope to hear more. My highest recommendation! — Fred Trafton

Click here for M. Judge‘s MySpace page
Click here to download Ficciones from ReR USA
Click here to order Architects of Flesh-Density from AltrOck Records
Click here for an interview with M. Judge for Prog Archives

Herd of Instinct – same

June 9, 2011

Herd of Instinct – Mark Cook (Warr guitar), Mike Davison (guitar) and Jason Spradlin (drums/percussion)

Following the breakup of 99 Names of God, Mark Cook joined up with Hands for their 2008 album Strangelet. Then he rejoined with 99NoG drummer Jason Spradlin and guitarist Mike Davison (Nervewerks) to create a new band, Herd of Instinct. They’ve been playing in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex for a while, and have slowly been amassing a sufficient quantity of recorded material for their first album. It’s finally happened, and their first self-titled album was just released on Djam Karet‘s Firepool Records label.

Playing live, they’re a three-piece, but for the album, they invited many friends to “run with The Herd” as it were. These guest artists include Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson, XTC), Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Tony Levin), Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree), Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet, Ukab Maerd), Kris Swenson (99 Names of God) and others. The result is a highly varied sound that still features a core that can be carried off in live performances.

Musically, the best point of reference is probably ’90’s Crimson, but there are also influences from the more modern, agressive prog-metal sound like Dream Theater and the “indie” sounds like the alt-metal of Tool, the post-rock of Tortoise and even some brief flirtations with ambient music. But all these comparisons only get you into the ballpark. Herd of Instinct is all instrumental (with the exception of one song, vocalized by former 99 Names of God vocalist Kris Swenson, which may even be a “leftover” from 99NoG recording sessions with some reworking), and has its own unique sound. The album slows down a bit towards the end, but even so the last songs are better than most modern bands best efforts. This album is a gem, and it’s a small wonder that Gayle Ellett chose it to be the first non-Djam Karet-related album on the Firepool label. Seek it out, a definite keeper! — Fred Trafton

Click here for Herd of Instinct‘s web site
Click here for Herd of Instinct‘s MySpace page

Spiral – The Capital in Ruins

May 5, 2011

Spiral – The Capital in Ruins

Spiral is a band from Albuquerque, New Mexico who’ve just released their debut album The Capital in Ruins. It’s just Chris Boat and Aaron Frale, though the album does feature several other guest musicians. It’s an ambitious first outing. More than 72 minutes long, it’s a concept album that’s a sci-fi update of the Rip Van Winkle story, morphed here into the story of a scientist that creates a nano-machine plague that wipes out all of humanity except for himself.

Musically, the album is certainly prog by any definition, but more modern prog than retro. Though the only influence they cite on their web site is Pink Floyd (and I can certainly hear this, particularly in the guitar soloing and some dogs barking that are very reminiscent of Animals), I’d say their sound more closely resembles a cross between Van der Graaf Generator and Porcupine Tree with a dash of Hawkwind and Pure Reason Revolution.

The production is a bit “garage band”-ish, and the vocals aren’t the most trained you’ll ever hear, but not bad, especially when they’re overdubbed to make harmonies. For my tastes, I’d like to hear a bit more in the way of keyboards. The textures are a bit sparse for me. On the other hand, they’re trying to impart the feeling of loneliness felt by the last man on earth, doomed by his own invention to an immortality filled with solitude. All things considered, this is an amazing piece of work. Good enough to get it on the GEPR‘s front page as an “Editor’s Choice” pick. And since, for the time being at least, they’re offering this album for free on their Bandcamp page, it’s pretty hard to beat. Better get over there and check it out (and get your copy!) fast before they change their minds!

Oh, and guys … sorry for being a Spelling Nazi, but … it’s “Capitol”, unless you’re talking about CAPITAL letters or investment capital. Never mind. Maybe Rip can’t spell. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Spiral‘s Bandcamp page, where you can download The Capital in Ruins for free. For now.
Click here for Spiral‘s MySpace page