ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jun 15 2020 09:03PM

Even though much of the world has been in lockdown to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, many musicians have been working away on new material and over the last few weeks ProgBlog has been inundated with requests for reviewing/featuring a wide range of prog-related singles and EPs, from pop-prog to protest song to symphonic metal to punk-progressive metal, all submitted for viewing with a video. It’s a testament to the unifying power of music that groups have been able to write, record and distribute material through such turbulent times – Manchester’s New Luna managed to play a session in New York before catching one of the last flights back to the UK before global passenger air travel ground to a halt. Here are the singles I’ve been listening to and watching:



Fughu (Argentina) Right from the Bone (from the album Lost Connection)



Fughu play aggressive metal tempered with prog flourishes and a punk attitude. Their story began when guitarist Ariel Bellizio met drummer Alejandro Lopez at school in Buenos Aires in 1999, before recruiting Marcelo Malmerica (keyboards), Juan Manuel Lopez (bass) and opera singer Santiago Burgi. Armed with influences as varied as Megadeath, Deep Purple, Kiss, ELP, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and tango composer Astor Piazzolla, the group took on the name Fughu. In March 2008, Fughu were selected by Mike Portnoy to be Dream Theater’s opening act at the 9000 capacity Luna Park Stadium. The following year they self-produced their well-received first album Absence, and followed that with the simultaneous release of conceptual pieces Human – The Tales and Human – The Facts in May 2013. Both works received glowing reviews and opened the door to overseas tours, including European dates in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Austria during 2015.

Santiago Burgi left the band and returned to opera in 2016, replaced by Renzo Favaro. The new-look formation began touring Argentina in 2018 when they were honoured to be the opening act for Premiata Forneria Marconi in their home city, fine tuning what they regard as their most defiant work, 2019’s Lost Connection


https://youtu.be/XpEEY0Ne9Ew



Silver Nightmares (Italy) The Wandering Angel (from the EP The Wandering Angel)


Silver Nightmares was formed in Palermo in 2018 by bassist Gabriele Esposito, drummer Alessio Maddaloni and keyboardist Gabriele Taormina, going through several configurations until arriving at its current line-up with Mimmo Garofalo (guitars) before setting about writing and orchestrating the musical material that would make up their debut EP The Wandering Angel (2020). For recording, the quartet was augmented by Simone Bonomo and Michele Vitrano (vocals), Giulio Maddaloni (flute), Tody Nuzzo (guitars) and Davide Severino (trumpet). Their pool of influences ranges through progressive rock, AOR, heavy metal and classical music with acts such as Asia, Genesis, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Styx, Kansas, Toto, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Dream Theater, Opeth, Ghost, Marillion, Anathema, Katatonia and Judas Priest.

The five-track EP is a concept piece concerning the loss of human spirituality. A wandering angel, from the distant star of life, falls from heaven and gradually becomes ever more contaminated by the corruption on earth. The story is illustrated by the fate of the natural world, heroes of the past and shrewd present day characters


https://youtu.be/omV0T8kaBoo



New Luna (UK) Prunus



Affirming their reputation with a series of intense sold-out shows across Manchester last year, New Luna spent their final days before lockdown in New York for The New Colossus Festival and performed a head-turning Paste Magazine live session just hours before catching one of the final flights out of New York. Their sound has been described as ‘dream-pop reimagined for the Mancunian drizzle’ (Clash Magazine), a unique blend of post-punk and dream-pop that has earned them nods from the likes of Piccadilly Records and BBC Introducing. Tipped by Paste as one of the need-to-know Manchester artists, the band have performed at multiple major festivals and opened for softcore psyche band Childcare and alt-rockers Happyness, Kagoule, and October Drift.

Though it’s really not the sort of thing normally considered to be in the ProgBlog remit, it does blend a number of styles and I found myself quite enjoying it. Post-punk vies with guitar-driven dream-pop as the most dominant sound but mixed in with all this is a dose of psychedelia and the whole thing is held together with solid rhythm and intelligent, imaginative drumming – the interview at Paste suggests there are hip-hop references and Stewart Copeland is cited as an inspiration. The twin guitars work well together whichever style dominates, and there’s an admirable degree of variation


https://youtu.be/teRLVPZ93Y0



Moon Letters (USA) The Red Knight and On the Shoreline (from the album Until They Feel the Sun)



More about Moon Letters can be found on the ProgBlog DISCovery page http://progblog.co.uk/discovery-17-moon-letters/4594741702


youtu.be/ysohUexhhPo

youtu.be/I8iZMCFaSSI



Konarucchi (New Zealand) They Follow (from the forthcoming EP Stuck in Daydreams)



They Follow is a track inspired by alternative / progressive rock, influenced by bands such as Muse, Porcupine Tree, and The Pineapple Thief. The song is about someone reaching out for help because their bad thoughts and feelings are getting overwhelming, and they don't know what's wrong or how they can fix it. It's the second single off the debut EP Stuck in Daydreams, released at the end of May.

Konarucchi, who mostly performs solo acoustic or with his alt pop-rock band Pale Lady, is a multi-genre solo artist from the small town of Wainuiomata in New Zealand. He likes to experiment with many different styles of music, without focusing on how they will fit together, because he believes that cohesion in music comes from the artist rather than the genre. This idea has a clear influence in the music he creates, and is strongly apparent in Stuck in Daydreams. The EP has many different influences, ranging from jazz to rock to alternative to electronic to metal, which work harmoniously together to create an amalgamation of this raw emotional silliness (his words) he calls an EP. The material is a step-up from his normal work, employing a backing band of honed musicians in order to play the full versions of the songs from this EP


https://youtu.be/YxlPeqqDxH0



Kitten Pyramid (UK) Doughnuts



Experimental UK pop-proggers and The Guardian newspaper darlings Kitten Pyramid have just released a new song Doughnuts, the first track to be taken from upcoming album Koozy!, due out next year.

Seven years on from their acclaimed self-released debut Uh-Oh! and five since the ambitious High Five Scuba Dive EP, Burton-on-Trent singer-songwriter Scott Milligan, aka Kitten Pyramid, presents the new track Doughnuts, a reflective hymn to the importance of real people, ordinary lives and the march of time, carefully coordinated to coincide with National Doughnut Day. Milligan describes Doughnuts as embracing the beauty in repetition and of the mundane, saying 'it’s about the chirpy train of death rhythmically chuffing and clunking away behind us, getting louder as we get older.' Employing a Milligan family-and-friends choir, it begins with soft chanting before the introduction of a simple piano melody, subtle steam-engine percussion and A Day In The Life drums, building to a brass and strings-laden climax as Milligan details items of routine and domestic humdrum.

Superficially lightweight but really rather deep, Doughnuts and its accompanying video (filmed during the current lockdown) is subtle prog dressed in readily-digestible pop clothes


https://youtu.be/6gcsbUE7qgw



The Dowling Poole (UK) Deep Breath



The Deep Breath single doesn’t appear on The Dowling Poole's recently released third album See You See Me but was produced during lockdown and sums up the upheavals we are all enduring. Willie Dowling and Jon Poole have no qualms about penning political songs, and though they write catchy pop tunes the subject matter is treated with prog-seriousness.

Dowling suggests it tends to be those to the right of centre who advocate the hypothesis that music and politics is an unholy mix, in an attempt to protect the status quo. Explaining that almost everything that touches our lives is political by definition, he says any serious songwriter will be saying something in their songs about the recent immense events and the way that they touch their lives: 'Music is a powerful way of connecting people, and since the 1960s, established power worldwide [has been] aware of this and is keen to ignore, mock or condemn any critique of power made in song form.'

It’s pleasing that The Dowling Poole is free to speak up about what they believe in and highlight the injustices that surround them. In keeping with these ideals, the video for Deep Breath features footage contributed by fans of the band from around the world who have documented their recent experiences of protest and lockdown


https://youtu.be/ommwIdGKm20



Quantum (Sweden) The Next Breath of Air (EP)



Quantum is Anton Ericsson, Oscar Lundin, Marcus Lundberg and Samuel Walfridssona, a progressive rock band from Stockholm influenced by music ranging from classic-era prog like Genesis or King Crimson, to extreme metal bands like Mastodon and jazz fusion in the vein of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Quantum’s music is packed with aggressive dynamic shifts and memorable melodies; music that can shimmer one moment only to explode the next. The material dips into jazz ballad and bursts of metal; it combines with expanded forms from European art music, exhibits flashes of math rock and blends intricate harmonies, all the while maintaining a focus on groove and melody, creating a sound that is quite something else


https://youtu.be/7FADB8XKhHI



The Tragic Company (Spain) Rotten


The Tragic Company hail from southern Spain and recently released a seven-minute long prog-single in the style of Tool, Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater called Rotten, which is to be featured on their forthcoming studio album Paradox (Wild Punk Records.) Guitarist/vocalist and band leader Juanma Medina has shaped their style into a mixture of the best alternative, post-grunge and stoner rock with a prog touch, citing Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Porcupine Tree as influencing their sound. The other band members are Mariano Alcobendas (lead guitar and backing vocals); Alan Voreaux (bass and backing vocals); and Jose Luis Fernández (drums). They have gigged hard to build a solid reputation on the Spanish underground scene over the past few years, with well-crafted songs in English, and put out two studio albums and a live unplugged album


https://youtu.be/0c3jW64hbRs



Seth Angerer (Austria) Not Here to F*ck Spiders



Seth Angerer explains that the title of his latest single Not Here to F*ck Spiders is an Australian phrase which means ‘not here to fuck around’. He regards it as his best produced piece, an anthem decrying hypocrisy, which like his other material is self-written, recorded and produced.

His early EPs were in a prog metal/djent style, influenced by bands like Meshuggah and Haken, but his first long-form opus was 2018’s symphonic album Shinka (Japanese: evolution) in four movements; expansive, dramatic and cinematic music that could have acted as the soundtrack for the creation of the solar system. Not Here to F*ck Spiders is a move away from the symphonic, back firmly into prog metal territory where in addition to his own voice, guest vocalist Pipi Gogerl (Ancient Fragments/Question of Eternity) lends a hand


https://youtu.be/LekQuPQyyT4












By ProgBlog, Sep 12 2017 08:35AM

In an uncertain world, it’s very easy to surround yourself with the familiar, anchored to comforts which, for whatever reason, confer a sense of safety and reassurance. I’d like to think that I look upon on life as something of an adventure, searching for slightly unusual or enriching experiences. One of these was eight years ago, when my wife, son and I took advantage of close family living in New Zealand and embarked upon a two-week long tour of the country spanning the southern hemisphere transition of winter into spring, August to September. On my fiftieth birthday, a couple of days before we were due to return to the UK, Daryl and I jumped from the Auckland Sky Tower (and got the lift back up to do it again.)

This base-jump by wire is completely safe but when you’re weighed beforehand to calculate the forces required for deceleration and your harness is checked by a second individual, your mind does tend to stray towards irrationality: You’re falling from 192m and reach speeds of 85km/h. It’s an incredible thrill and it’s all over in around 10 seconds; on the second go we were encouraged to begin by falling off backwards!


Auckland's Sky Tower
Auckland's Sky Tower

Rationalising and calculating risk, as well as knowing your own physical limits are essential if you’re attempting something which appears dangerous. A long time ago I used to rock climb, nothing spectacular but involving both risk from the activity itself and also from the relative isolation should something untoward happen, this being long before the advent of mobile phones. A walking accident in the winter of 1976, slipping on snow while descending an improvised route from Great Gable in the Lake District as the weather deteriorated to such an extent that it was genuinely unsafe to continue, battered my confidence. I slipped, tumbled and fell about 120m down a scree slop where the pitch was such that there were plenty of rocks sticking up out of the snow cover. It’s remarkable that I didn’t break any bones but I did spend a couple of nights in hospital for observation because I’d lost consciousness at some stage during my ungainly descent. The A&E personnel thought I’d been involved on a motorcycle crash; it was common for local youths to buy motorbikes with their first pay check and almost as common for them to be involved in a serious incident within the following week. I suspect it’s the isolation that concerns me because it didn’t cause me to be afraid of heights; it does make South Side of the Sky resonate it little bit more. I’m just a bit more careful when I approach something potentially hazardous and more critical of the risks and benefits.


South Side of the Sky
South Side of the Sky

Endorphins, named so because they’re natural, morphine-like molecules (endo- means ‘from within’), are produced in the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. Their main function is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals but they also have a positive, euphoric effect; they are released in large quantities during pleasurable moments such as during extreme sports, during sex (especially during orgasm), eating chocolate, and when we listen to good music.

When it comes to prog, I tend to play safe and listen to albums from the ‘golden era’, preferring symphonic prog, keyboard-layered with its roots in classical music and jazz. The modern stuff that I like, possibly best exemplified by the current crop of Italian bands like Il Tempio delle Clessidre, Panther & C., Cellar Noise and Melting Clock, and also ESP from the UK, play music which has a grounding in classic progressive rock of the 70s. Along with jazz rock (last week’s playlist includes Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia (1978) and Deep End (1976) by Isotope on original vinyl), jazz and some classical music, this is basically my comfort zone. I do own some Magma releases, the classics Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (1973) and Köhntarkösz (1974) on CD plus what I thought might be the most accessible LP Attahk (1978), which I bought first sometime in the early 80s; I still find all three hard going. My older brother Tony also tries to keep me on my toes. Though our tastes overlap to a considerable extent he likes some rather uncompromising modern jazz and bought me Louis Sclavis’ L'imparfait des langues (2007) for my birthday 10 years ago. The music, originally commissioned for a performance in Monaco in 2005 cancelled at short notice due to the death of Prince Rainier III, was a deliberate attempt to challenge Sclavis’ compositional habits, using players from different backgrounds with whom he’d not worked before. The album was recorded in one day.


Magma collection
Magma collection

More recently I’ve been extending the boundaries of what I’ll listen to. I’m not particularly a fan of Hawkwind but I did like some of Robert Calvert’s ideas (I was really disappointed that his stage adaptation of Hype was cancelled within a week of opening – as I stood outside the theatre’s closed doors) and I finally got hold of a copy of Quark Strangeness and Charm (1977) on vinyl, even though it’s outside my normal listening habits. I’ve previously been dismissive of Roger Waters’ solo efforts having seen his The Wall and The Final Cut follow-up The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking in concert and owned a bootleg recording of the LP on C-90 which I wasn’t over-enamoured with. I thought the music descended from the widescreen of mid-period Floyd to narrow-focus, basic rock built around a riff that sounded as though it came direct from The Wall. However, I bought a copy of Is this the life we really want? because of the sentiment, knowing that Waters is a master of concepts and believes in superlative production values, left in the extremely capable hands of Nigel Godrich on this latest release. I also procured the quirky folk-prog-world music re-release of Syd Arthur’s On An On (2012) which is beautifully written and played, but not what might have been expected of me!



Having recently become semi-retired again seems to have loosened some of my listening inhibitions and whereas I’d look at an album in my youth, without hearing it in its entirety and rating it highly, I’d never own it. I’m now more open to recommendation and even experimentation, buying albums which I probably should have owned many years ago without listening to them beforehand. Sometimes I’m disappointed. So what? Yet there’s still one genre that I’ve not fully embraced, prog metal, though I’m coming round to see the blurring of distinction between the prog and the metal, even accepting an invitation to review the latest release by Texan heavy prog/prog metal outfit Process of Illumination (see my album review of Radiant Memory here.) I was lent a copy of Opeth’s Heritage (2011) by friend and Steven Wilson fan Neil Jellis because it forms part of what Wilson, who engineered the album, described as a trilogy, the other components being the collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt resulting in Storm Corrosion (2012) and Wilson’s second solo album Grace for Drowning (2011). Heritage contains some decent music, the first full departure from the band’s metal roots and fortunately dispenses with Åkerfeldt’s trademark death metal growl. His singing voice isn’t a million miles away from Ian Anderson’s during the classic Tull period and the compositions steer clear of the frantic, technical playing and heavy distortion I associate with metal. The title-track opener is a pleasant acoustic piano exercise and The Devil’s Orchard, like much of the rest of the album references the sounds of 70s prog – the organ work is quite rewarding, there’s plenty of electric piano and there are some tricky guitar riffs. The introduction to I feel the Dark could almost be Jethro Tull then roughly half way through the track it switches with the introduction of slow, crunchy power chords which in turn give way to some Mellotron. It never goes overtly ambient but I think I detect the Steven Wilson influence. Slither is probably the least interesting track as it’s like a race, with little development until an acoustic guitar passage which lasts until the fade. Nepenthe and Häxprocess display the players' sensitivity with good use of electric piano and some adventurous rhythmic patterns. Famine has flute, effects, gentle piano chords (c.f. Heritage) and gives way to fast guitar and Hammond. So what’s not to like? I think it’s an admirable effort with decent pitch, tempo and instrumental variation and you can’t fault the playing or the production; it just doesn’t grab me. Similarly I was recommended some Il Bacio della Medusa and bought the Black Widow records re-release of the eponymous debut (BWR, 2006) and bought a number of CDs by Peruvian prog band Flor de Loto when I was in Lima, only to be disappointed by the heavy edge – it wasn’t what I was expecting from either band. I’ve also got a download of The Gift of Anxiety (2013) by Sylvium and the Sky Architect CD A Dying Man’s Hymn (2011) neither of which are awful, start to finish metal by any stretch of the imagination but equally, neither is particularly inspiring.


Perhaps the greatest insult of all to my former listening habits was my recent acquisition of Kansas' Point of Know Return (1977) which I'm almost reluctant to admit I quite like. It's hardly up there with the greats but it's a decent effort, bought second-hand on spec. My comfort zone may be expanding but the more metal you get with your prog metal, the more reluctant I am to push those boundaries further. I’ll stick to the proto-prog metal of Red, thank you.


Point of Know Return (1977) by Kansas
Point of Know Return (1977) by Kansas






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