Sunday, May 28, 2006

REVIEW: Gryphon - Red Queen to Gryphon Three

Let me start by saying that although Gryphon made good albums before and after, none would be as flawless and of the same quality as this one. There is not a moment between Opening Move and the end of Checkmate that you could call padded or forced. As you may have estimated the theme of this album is the game or to others the sport of chess (if I have deeply offended you because Chess is neither a sport nor a game then you will have to deal with this.) It is not the organization of the pieces but the music that tells the story from the movement of the first pawn to the ending by checkmate. This is not any game of Chess as it is a mythological match and one that does not have to conform to our current reality, therefore Gryphons are welcomed.

Gryphon did not originate as a progressive rock band as their first album was a folk album nothing more, nothing less. However it was clear from their 1973 album Midnight Mushrumps they had changed musical directions and were now a glorious Prog-folk band. Their sound was evolving particularly under the influence of another prog rock great Yes. Some say Gryphon were guilty of transforming their own sound into something that was not them. I believe the increase of complexity in their sound was due to personal growth as musicians and not just because they wanted to be like Yes. At any rate if you heard their first album the symphonic prog influence is noticeable on the following albums.

The Bassoon does not ultimately make Gryphon a revolutionary band but it does help establish Gryphon’s unique sound that is truly of another time and place. The bassoon is used frequently and adds a middle age folk sound to what is really a pure prog album. Listening to the album one feels like they are on a mystic spiritual journey for which no paid guide is necessary (possibly 20 bucks at the local record shop.) The current lineup of Harvey, Gulland, Taylor, Oberle and Nestor is in my opinion the bands best lineup and they handle their instruments with unbelievable authority. Note that Brian Gulland (bassoon) and Graeme Taylor (Guitar) are the only band members with writing credits on all tracks.

One criticism of RQ2G3 (and there are not many) involves the musical diversity from one song to another. At first listen the album may leave the feeling that you have heard four slightly different songs. If you are experiencing this problem I recommend that one treats this album as a one song album (like Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play or Thick as a Brick another Prog folk band that we all know well) with different themes that occur throughout its duration (i.e. one being Checkmate and another being Lament.) If find if you treat the album in this manner the similarities between each song become irrelevant and you can spend your time enjoy two side longs instead of lamenting which song you are listening to at that point in time.

It was fitting that North America discovered Gryphon on their tour with their idols Yes that occurred just after the release of RQ2G3 during the Relayer Tour. I’ll have a second spasm with gates of delirium any day! The only legitimate criticism of the album in my mind of this album is that musically the entire album is too similar. This lack of diversity in my mind does not warrant harsh criticism as musical integrity is not compromised. If you love the genre you love the album a must have for any prog rock junky, there is no other way of putting it!

My Rating: 9/10
My favorite lyrical moment: N/A

Friday, May 26, 2006

ESSAY: Why We Love Prog

What the hell is this crap? I’ve been listening to this song for three minutes already and they haven’t started singing yet? How could you listen to a twenty-minute song? Would you get bored out of your mind? This sounds like happy little elf music.

OK stop right there! Don’t even bother to continue. I know what you’re going to say and quite frankly I’ve heard enough. It’s not an easy life being a fan of such a ridiculed genre of music. Besides a brief moment in the early to mid-seventies the very name “Progressive Rock” has been a curse word in the music industry. Why do we like Prog? Are we just simply trying to be different? Are we just all really insane? There’s got to be more to it. There will always be a place in the world for Prog Rock. I’m going to tell you why.

Nothing was cooler then Prog in the early 70s. If you owned a copy of Yessongs you really knew you were listening to the best music ever made. That’s just how things were. Then why did critics hate it so much? Any avid fan of the genre will tell you that when it comes to music, less isn’t always more. It all goes down to what you expect from music. To understand why we like this music and why the rest of the world hates it you really just have to break it down to expectation.

The average person listens to music on a very simple level. They are listening for either a repetitive rhythm that they can dance to, or they want a repetitive melody that isn’t too difficult to recall. They might not know it, but all the pop music they hear on the radio uses traditional tonality and keys that have been used in the western world for countless centuries already. It fallows a very strict format and never strays from it. To them, music sounds ‘good’ if it falls into this style. If they don’t hear a scale that is familiar to them, they immediately state that the music sounds ‘bad’ or ‘out of key’ (not knowing technically what out of key means). If you played a modern piece of pop to somebody who’s played nothing but traditional Japanese music their entire life they’ll probably call Brittany Spears nothing but atonal random crap.

The average Prog fan has a wider spectrum of allowed sounds they find listenable. Song structures can change, the tone colour can be different and the whole thing might be played without a strict tonal centre, still they find it enjoyable.

Yes’ keyboardist Rick Wakeman always says that to be able to properly break the rules you have to master the rules first. It’s true that the average Prog musician may be more trained in the rulse of music, but their knowledge allows them to really explore a creative universe that is not open in popular music. A Prog band uses longer song lengths and complex song structure to bring more emotional possibilities to the music.

A critic might say that Prog Rock is void of any emotion. If you know anything about Prog, you’ll know that it’s really the most emotional music ever. A song like Close to the Edge may be hard to listen to at first, but any one of the song’s many fans will tell you that it brings them to tears every time. Prog Rock creates a possibility of making powerful music by breaking the rules.

I’m not sure if this was a well written piece, but I hope that my argument has at least struck a chord with you. You listen to this genre because you expect more from music. You want music to effect you and change you. Prog is so many things, it’s fun and emotional. It’s just as often catchy and melodic as it is jarring and atonal. It’s Rock music without the rules. It’s diverse and has no boundaries. For all these reasons, Prog has survived all these years of criticism and hatred to be a true global genre. It definitely is underground, but it’s underground everywhere.

Don’t give up on the music you love because everyone else hates it. Just know that you listen to some of the most wonderful music ever made, and it’s all yours.

Long live Progressive Rock, may it live forever.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

REVIEW: Mago De Oz - Finisterra

We all know Prog Rock is a melting pot of music ideas and genres. Any possibility under the sun has been mashed into another in an often violent and sometimes unpleasant way. This album falls as the perfect example of genre mashing. (I’d like my steak with a side of mashed genre please!) This is the only album by this band that I own, and the only one I plan on getting by them for at least a while. They are mainly a Celtic influenced band. They are mainly a Heavy Metal band. Um... which one? Both! And if the strange merger of music from the northern British Isles being combined with the crunch of Dream Theater wasn't a hard enough image to put between your legs without getting cramps, then you better get comfy and adjust your boxers before reading the next paragraph.

These fine Celtic Metal lads are Spanish. Yup! You read that quite correctly. Spanish Celtic Folk Metal. I’ll give you a second to regain consciousness. (…….) Fell better? Good. Let’s continue.

This two-disc album (!) follows a pretty strict formula. Either the song will start off with a pretty folksy section and then explode into a barrage of crunchy metal goodness, or the other way around. (Picture Mostly Autumn had an unwanted child with Metallica. Gory image indeed!) The melodies sound to me like they are lifted right from the pages of Ireland's folk-lore, but it all rocks as hard as Symphony X.

The problem is it all sounds very similar. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy this album. Who wouldn’t love head banging in a green field with sheep and green beer and whatever other imagery you associate with such places? It just ain’t a horribly dynamic listen. It all plods along at a very even pace. Even though I've listened to the entire thing 4-5 times already I still can't pick out which tracks are better then the next. That’s this album’s biggest flaw for sure.

The one track that may be the most striking is the 15 minute long title track at the end of the second disc. It starts off with a powerful Carl Orff-ish choir chanting, then moves through the different hard rocking and softer violin lead movements with skilled charm. It even reprises some of the better moments from earlier in the album, so you don’t have to waste your time listening to all 19 tracks that came before. It's a really good track, highly recommended.

What can I say? It’s good! It’s good for maybe 40 minutes at most. I can’t take an hour and fifty minutes of this regardless of how much Guinness I’ve been drinking. Listen to the sample track on Prog Archives and decide if you really must have the rest of the album. I’m happy I have, and recommend it to you if you’re as amused by such silly things as I am, but don’t bother if you’re terrified of gothic-looking men with dark long black hair wearing kilts. (I don’t know for a fact that’s what these guys look like, but I wouldn’t be surprised…) It’s not dark scary metal either. It’s all very happy and bouncy. It’s a fun album. Nothing life changing, just fun. Thus my mediocre rating below.


Monday, May 15, 2006

REVIEW: Harmonium - Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison

This being a music recommendation site I would be committing a great horrible sin by not recommending this album. That being said I will be the first to admit that this is not the most uncommon of albums. That being said I will say what needs to be said. It’s outstanding. Note for note, cut for cut. Not a second of this album goes by without me being in the happiest of inner places. Now I know what you’re saying. “Hey, Paul, that’s great! Really! It’s rather sweet that you get emotionally aroused by this album. I really feel for ya. But I’ve never heard of this Harmonium before. Would you care to shed some light on them?” I will reply by ending the current paragraph I’m typing and start a new one which will give you a bit of back information about the band in question.

Ah! Welcome to the second paragraph. Let me tell you about this adorable little French trio. First of all, they’re Canadian. French Canadian to be specific. They began their life in 1974 with a quite charming debut folk album. Well, Folk with major Prog tendencies. When they went into recording studio for their second album, they decided to take the beauty of pastoral folk of the first album and add even more Prog flavour to the mix. This was Quebec in the mid-70s after all! Vive la poutine libre! The result is one of the most beautiful albums I have ever had the pleasure of listening to in my life.

Acoustic guitars. Like them? You’ll love this. Like your acoustic guitars with just the right amout of added woodwinds (flutes etc…) and soaring majestic mellotron? You will be in heaven! It’s charming! It’s beautiful! It’s relaxing! It’s catchy! It’s melodic! It’s emotional! AH! Exclamation marks everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE this album.

You know you’re in a good place when you hear opening flutes of the first track Vert. It adds just the right symphonic tone to be joined in perfect harmony (HARMONIUM) with the acoustic guitars that shall join in late. When you hear the vocal harmonies enter you’ll know exactly what this band is all about. Did I mention they sing in French? Beautiful. The second track is the black sheep of the album. Dixie is a sort of beautiful folky ragtime-ish dancing number. It’s still as charming and beautiful and catchy as anything on the album, it just kind of stands out compared to the rest. The clarinet solo is a nice touch and also adds to the unique feel of the song.

Depuis L’Automne
stands out as my personal favourite track. It has two main parts divided by an ambient midsection. The moods and melodies created during the 10 minute length of the song will have you in tears. The final motive in the song, the part that goes "Si c't'un rêve réveille-moi donc/Ça va être notre tout ça sera pas long/Reste par icitte parce que ça s'en vient" WOW! Powerful! It builds and builds and repeats this wonderful melody until it explodes in an orgasmic mellotron blast! Can it get any better?

That was a rhetorical question…some how… Either way, YES it can get better. The Epic Histoires Sans Paroles, clocking in at just over 17 minutes, is so good I’m not going to even bother explaining it here. Go out and buy this album already and hear for yourself. Vive L’Harmonium! Vive forever man! This album is perfection.


REVIEW: Ian Carr's Nucleus - In Flagranti Delicto

For my first review I undertook the challenge of reviewing an album and band (Nucleus) that some would say does not belong in the Progressive rock genre at all. Prior to reviewing the music I think it is important to clear the air on the classification of Nucleus and other bands on the periphery of Progressive rock. To me they are just that the periphery of Progressive rock. If Nucleus is just a Jazz band with Prog rock tendencies, I believe our musical taste can transcend the hazy classifications that we have impose to simplify the vast world of music. Worst comes to worst I have recommended or discredited music of another genre (G-D forbid), after all to this day Gentle Giant dislikes the fact that they are classified as a Progressive rock band while most of us consider them the Nucleus of Prog.

The cover design of this album provides us with the type of effort that only rivals “Close to the Edge”. So I would like to go out of my way to commend Heinz Bahr on such a profound design that leaves you lamenting that bit of white in the far-north of the record and what type of criteria the band used to come across such exquisite work. (Please feel free to leave comments on what you think Mr. Bahr is trying to relate)

Now that the confusion has been dealt with lets take a look at Nucleus’ In Flagranti Delicto. This is one of those live recordings where the crowd is respectful to the musicians by being completely non-existent other then a golf clap after the completion of each song and solo that helps remind you that this is indeed a live record. Despite being a live album, do not expect the classics to be featured, these are brand new songs with the exception of Heyday from the Snakehips Etcetera album.

One thing you will notice is that Ian Carr and his band are flawless in execution and are obviously on the same page. The first track titled Gestalt gives you the understanding to why this is now Ian Carr’s Nucleus as his Miles Davis esque trumpet solos is much appreciated in this 11 minute jam. These beautiful solos are a reoccurring theme throughout. Another element that immediately affects the listener is the superb meanderings of the aptly named Werimu Aata Teransiamoa Karataiana’s bass guitar.

Mysteries is really a classic Jazz Fusion jam where certain members of the team takes a solo and then returns to the main tune. If you are expecting solos for the sake of soloing you have come to the wrong place these men solo as if it might be their last. W.A.T.K’s bass solo on this track is awe inspiring from start to finish you will not be disappointed (one of my favorite parts of the album.)

The second half of the record is considerably different from the first half. Gone is the classic Jazz and a welcome to more fusion. It commences with Heyday the most rock oriented, none the less quite enjoyable. It represents the black sheep as it’s a nice break from hardcore jazz and features Geoff Castle who gets a chance to display his skills on the mini moog. For most of the album Castle’s duties are laying a phenomenal under-layer of electric piano in support of those who happen to be soloing. On the second half he is much more in the fore front of the operation.
The title track, In Fligranti Delicto, if you are in the grey this saying is synonymous with “being caught in the act” usually a sexual one (in this case the act of playing music). For example: Paul DiMeglio was In Flagranti Delicto while robbing a record store (in this case not sexual and quite fictional.) This track is both the most interesting listen and the best on the album. It has almost has a Gong feeling straight from the Radio Gnome Trilogy with Smyth and Allen no where to be found.

The music speaks for its self; it is self-evident that this album has both quality and quantity as the musicianship is awesome. This is in no way one of Nucleus’ revolutionary or life changing cuts but it does demonstrate true cohesiveness outside the studio and receives a B or B+ in my book. If you are a fan of Mahavishnu Orchestra or any Jazz oriented progressive rock scheme I would get your hands on this one. Enjoy yourselves.

My Rating 7/10

Sunday, May 14, 2006

REVIEW: The Flower Kings - Paradox Hotel

There has been so much already written about The Flower Kings. They have set the standard for the proficient contemporary Progressive Rock band, and continue to record music at a breathtaking pace. How the hell do these guys do it? The band’s critics would most likely suggest that they merely release track after track of void hook-less jamming and that every single song sounds exactly the same. With the most recent release, however, I think they have proved that they are in fact song writing masters.

When I first got the new album in my hands I was a bit surprised. The album art is a radical change from any of their previous releases. I was wondering if this meant that they were signalling a new musical direction. I was slightly disappointed when I played the first disc and was struck by the ‘at-first-listen’ dull sounding stereotypical epic opening track (not including the silly sound effect ‘track 1’). My first reaction was this: “Oh, now they’ve done it. This is horrible!!! Boring! No Dynamics! I hate you Roine Stolt!!! BLAAAaaaaa”. It was tragic. Maybe all those critics were right about the Flower Kings all along? I didn’t touch the album again for a week. Then I remembered that this is how every Flower King album sounded to me on first listen! Hope!

Putting on a brave face I placed disc one back into the CD tray for my second attempt at the album. Wow! What a FANTASTIC album! I’m going to state officially right now that this is my favourite FK album. Even more so then my previous favourite Space Revolver. How can my feelings about this album change so quickly? Here’s how.

The 21 minute epic makes for a horrible first listen, and perhaps it wasn’t such a great way to start the album. If you give it two or three spins, however, you’ll notice that it’s full of some of the best melodies in Flower King’s history. You’d think that after as writing as much music as Roine Stolt has in his long career that he’d begin to run out of ideas. No way man! This is great stuff. The third track, Jealousy, shows that he’s also becoming a better singer with age. The way he sings lyrics like ‘your pain brings me joy’ with such a sweet ironic tone will surely amuse you greatly. In tracks like Hit Me With a Hit Stolt spells out he has no interest in commercial success with one of the albums most catchy melodies. Great stuff.

The rest of disc one is all excellent stuff. From the soaring instrumental Pioneers of Aviation, where the feeling of flight is achieved through melody, to dark Beatles-like Lucy Had a Dream. Self-Consuming Fire reminds me of a slower tune from Wetton era King Crimson. Powerful and beautiful. The last track on the first disc does exactly what it says it does, and End On A High Note. It’s inspired by Yes’ And You And I and does a great job bringing back that feeling.

Minor Giant Steps and Man Of The World are both so good that they may be my two favourite tracks. Mr. Hans Froberg has really taken his singing to new levels. On the last album he might have been outdone by Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlow, but here his voice is soaring. He also got to write a song on this one. Life Will Kill You is a great rocker that shows of Froberg’s excellent vocal abilities. In fact him and Gildenlow may be the best modern Prog vocalists currently active. The Unorthodox Dancinglesson might as well be right of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, and I mean that in a good way.

I’ve had the hardest time keeping the length of this review down. I could have written so much more! It’s really that good. Is it the best Flower King album? Probably not. Is it my favorite Flower King album? Heck yes! I don’t know if that makes sense, but if you’re a fan of well written melodic Progressive Rock you can’t help but love this album. The first few listens are going to bore you to death, but if you stick to it you won’t be able to get enough of it. I can promise that. The only thing missing from making this album is originality, which the Flower Kings never really attempt in any of their releases. Regardless, this album is about excellent song writing. If that’s what you’re interested in I would not hesitate in getting this album. Way to go Mr. Stolt, this is truly a remarkable album.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Preamble for our Constitution of Progressive Rock

If you are here, chances are you’re a fan of the often neglected genre of music known as Progressive Rock. To those of you who don’t enjoy Prog Rock, you may tend to think of any music that falls into this category as overblown, overcomplicated and totally inaccessible. Those of us who love the genre, know that the genre is home to some of the most emotional, creative and exciting music ever created.

The lack of commercial popularity that has been associated with Prog Rock since the early 1970s has pushed the bands and fans of the genre underground. Much to the disappointment of Prog’s many critics the Progressive Rock movement is still as alive as ever. The past five years alone have seen a gigantic surge in bands who are willing to wear the seemingly unmarketable tag of Prog Rock to be able to create music that is pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, while at the same time creating music that is simply unforgettable. In fact, the recent popularity of bands such as Tool and The Mars Volta, may be a sign of the general public wanting a change in what the corporate industry of modern Rock Radio has been producing as of late and have had enough with the status quo.

As the production rate of Progressive Rock climbs, so does the catalogue of music a fan must sort through in order to discover new music. This is where we come in. There are already many sites dedicated to providing large catalogues and deep introductions to the genre. If you are looking for that service we suggest you visit the links provided on this site.

The best way to think about this site is as a sort of Prog Rock Blog. What we plan on offering here is a sort of music recommendation service. We are not planning on writing reviews of the standard ‘classics’ of the genre such as Close to the Edge, or Selling England by the Pound. Instead we are going to dig deep into the genre and pull out the forgotten gems, both old and new (contemporary). We plan to analyse (or perhaps dissect) the albums and tell you why we believe that particular piece is right for you. In addition to reviews, we’ll also be writing short essays on various topics concerning Prog Rock. We hope this will help you better understand us and our music tastes so you can figure out where you stand in relation.

We don’t plan on doing reviews on request, and reviewing your favourite album would be ignoring the point of this site. The idea is to get you into new music. As a fan, you already know that Progressive Rock is a vast and diverse genre, spanning countless subgenres and styles. Naturally, this means that not everything reviewed here will exactly fit your taste. We will try to link reviewed albums to ones that you already know and enjoy. For example, this way if you happen to be a big King Crimson fan we’ll tell you that the album we’re reviewing may sound similar in tone to “In The Court of the Crimson King” (opposed to Beat?)

We welcome you to send in your comments to any post on this site. However, we must screen each comment before hand. Blogs on blogspot tend to get spammed, so we hope to curve such activity here.

We hope that you can use this service to help broaden your music collection and your music mind.
Keep the Prog alive!

Paul Di Meglio & David Cooper