All posts by Thaddeus Wert

High school math teacher and fan of all kinds of music, but most of all prog.

Glass Hammer’s At The Gate

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Glass Hammer is set to release the third album in their Skallagrim Trilogy, entitled At The Gate. The first album of the trilogy, 2020’s Dreaming City, heralded a new, much heavier sound for GH, which is continued in At The Gate. The albums chronicle the sword-and-sorcery adventures of a hard-bitten thief named Skallagrim who finds himself locked in a desperate struggle with forces of evil. Through his struggles to find his lost love, he matures and gains much wisdom. In this final installment, Skallagrim has been cursed to live a thousand years seeking his love. When he finally does find her, he ends up sacrificing himself so she can be free.

At The Gate begins with one of Glass Hammer’s finest songs of their long career – the beautiful The Years Roll By. This song is in more of the “classic” prog style long-time GH fans have loved – a keyboards-driven melody with majestic vocals underpinned by Aaron Raulston’s excellent percussion and Steve Babb’s energetic and inventive bass. The inimitable Babb also supplies the pipe organ and keyboards on this one. Vocalist Hannah Pryor really comes into her own on this track, and Fred Schendel is outstanding (as usual!) on guitars.

Savage is up next, and it begins with a spare, unaccompanied guitar riff that soon explodes into a heavy groove. Pryor’s voice is perfect for this crunchy, metallic style, as she can really wail while maintaining a delicate tone.

North of North continues the interesting experiments GH has been doing with their instrumentals in the trilogy. It begins with a propulsive, Tangerine Dream-like synth riff that builds and builds. I hope they continue to explore this style of music!

All Alone begins as another crushing tune reminiscent of King’s X at their heaviest. The style fits the lyrics, as Skallagrim grimly mutters, “The dark is deep and blood runs cold, so cold. Don’t leave her there all alone.” The mood lightens when the melody transforms into a bluesy riff and Pryor sings, “Think how good you’ll feel when the battle’s won, no need to roam, you’ll take her home to stay.” I like the tension between the dark and light moods in this track.

All For Love is the most “proggy” song on the album, with lots of time changes, switching from major to minor keys, and furious guitar work from Reese Boyd. From the beginning, the tempo gallops along, leaving the listener feeling like he or she has run a marathon!

Snowblind Girl keeps the up the fast and furious pace, and Raulston really shines on this track. It also creates tension between the melodic passages sung by Pryor and the dark, chaotic instrumental responses.

Standing At The Gate is the most “difficult” song on the album, with discordant organ chords opening it and the rapid tempos continuing. GH alum Jon Davison has a nice cameo here on vocals.

After four heavy, blistering songs, the last two provide some welcome relief. In The Shadows and It’s Love are combined into a single track, and they contain some of the most beautiful music Glass Hammer has produced. In The Shadows evokes Radiohead at its most gentle and melodic. It’s a terrific song with simple instrumentation that like a balm after the frenetic and dense activity of the previous four. In it, Skallagrim has vowed to sacrifice himself for the sake of his love, and he is at peace with it: “There’s no life without you, there’s no life. If I walk this life alone, if I never find a home, there’s no life without you.”

In The Shadows segues seamlessly into It’s Love with some majestic organ work by Babb and the trebly, melodic bass that he is so good at. The production is open and inviting, as Pryor sings, “What you’re longing for is waiting in Heaven up above. There is no greater act then when one lays down his life, down for love.” It’s a truly beautiful moment, and one of Glass Hammer’s career highlights. The song ends with a coda that recalls the riff from Dreaming City’s A Desperate Man, which is nice way to tie the trilogy together into a unified work.

So, to sum up, At The Gate contains some of Glass Hammer’s most ambitious and challenging music. It is a tribute to their skill and talent that they pull it off so successfully. The album opens and closes with songs that sound like classic Glass Hammer, but with a contemporary feel. Looking back over their career, it is astonishing to me that a group of musicians are able to compose and perform such consistently excellent music over such a long period. Glass Hammer never fails to satisfy discerning prog fans, while exploring new and fascinating styles of music. They never stop evolving – here’s to hoping they continue for another 20 years!

You can order At The Gate here.

Here’s the video for The Years Roll By:

Glass Hammer Set to Release New Album

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Hannah Pryor, Fred Schendel, Steve Babb, and Aaron Raulston

“Wow”, just “Wow”. Check out the video for The Years Roll By, the new song from Glass Hammer’s upcoming album, At The Gate. If you need a lift, this song will do it! It hearkens back to GH’s classic, more “symphonic” sound, while incorporating the heavier edge they’ve had lately. IMHO, it’s one of the best songs they’ve recorded in their long career:

Here’s the official press release with more info:

The Years Roll By is the opening track on Glass Hammer’s At The Gate concept album —set for release on October 7th, 2022.

Bandleader Steve Babb said the following about the new album: “At The Gate completes our sword and sorcery inspired trilogy that began with 2020s Dreaming City. We followed that up with last year’s Skallagrim—Into The Breach.”

For the uninitiated, he went on to explain. “It’s the story of a scarred and battered thief, Skallagrim, who’s had his memory stolen along with the love of his life. He’s got to fight unimaginable horrors and slay hideous creatures and sorcerous villains if he’s ever to reclaim either. Finally, at the end of the last album, his memory is returned, but he finds himself cursed to wait one thousand years for a chance to find his lost love! At The Gate picks up at the end of his tale as he prepares to face the ultimate challenge of his life—to finally rescue his girl and defeat the evil being who has imprisoned her.

“Of course, as with any Glass Hammer concept album, there is more to it than a simple plot. On the surface, it appears to be about magic swords and heroes, but it’s actually a story about confronting evil, how to survive it, and how to face despair and heartache.

And most importantly, it’s about why the pursuit of profound and lasting joy in an often joyless world is worthwhile, even when all available evidence suggests it cannot be found.”  

Babb says he chose to open the album with a ballad. “…something ethereal, something reminiscent of what our fans call classic Glass Hammer. The Years Roll By fits the bill, I think. Of course, there’ll be plenty of metal and prog on the new album. The next music video I plan to release hits really hard!”

Autographed copies of At The Gate are available for pre-order on the Glass Hammer Store website. www.glasshammer.com

Glass Hammer Set to Release New Album

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Here’s the latest news from one of our favorite artists:

At The Gate, the third album of the Skallagrim trilogy, is set for release on October 7th. The new album follows Dreaming City (2020) and Skallagrim – Into The Breach (2021), bringing the story of the ‘thief with the screaming sword’  to its conclusion.

Vocalist Hannah Pyror is back to front the group and is joined by bandleader Steve Babb, keyboardist Fred Schendel, and drummer Aaron Raulston. In addition, vocalists Jon Davison (Yes) and John Beagley (Life In Digital) will contribute as well as guitarist Reese Boyd.   

Babb says to expect another 70’s metal-influenced project but also promises a return to the symphonic-prog sound the band is best known for.

“An album can be both things,” he claims. “Since the inception of the trilogy in 2020, it’s been my intention to tell this sword and sorcery-inspired tale with appropriate music. And to do that, I needed the sound to evolve toward something grand by the end of the third album. Skallagrim’s story is one of lost joy, of grief, and longing, and ultimately of a worn-down swordsman’s coming to grips with what the world can and cannot offer him. It’s probably the most important story we’ve ever told through music, so important to me that it led me to retell it in novels.” Babb’s book, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna,” was released in March of this year.

Babb adds, “So, for those who love our newer, edgier sound, they won’t be disappointed. But I’ve brought back the pipe organ, the choirs, and the sweeping ballads for those who miss the sounds of our earlier albums. I think it works, but the fans will be the ones to decide!”

The Bardic Depths’ “Promises of Hope” Is a Triumph

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The Bardic Depths, a musical project begun by musician Dave Bandana and lyricist Brad Birzer (who also founded this blog!) have just released their second album, Promises of Hope.

Rock artists fear succumbing to the dreaded “sophomore slump”, but Bandana et al. need have no worries on that front. Promises of Hope shows tremendous growth from their eponymous debut album, which was an all-around delight itself. (Reviewed on Spirit of Cecilia here.) There is now a stable core of musicians involved: Bandana on vocals, guitars, keyboards; Gareth Cole on guitars, Peter Jones on vocals, sax, penny whistle, and Tim Gehrt on drums.

Like their debut, Promises of Hope is a concept album, this time relating a tale of divine intervention in an attempted suicide in a fantasy realm. Sounds heavy, I know, but this is some of the most life-affirming music I’ve ever heard. The opening song, And She Appeared, is roaring rocker that is reminiscent of classic ’70s Rush. Cole’s lead guitar trades wonderful solos with Richard Krueger’s galloping organ. It’s an exhilarating way to begin an album. Lyrically, it introduces the main character, a woman who is

“Halo’d wrapped in white
Radiant wrapped in white
Innocence made real
Beauty made manifest”

However, there is something tragic in the offing, because she brings “promises of hope, but never of victory.”

Regal Pride, the next song, features lead vocals by Peter Jones, as well as his excellent saxophone flourishes. Our heroine has been betrayed by a man of mystery, and the melody is suitably somber.

Track three, Consumed, is the best of the album. It features a stunning classical guitar intro by Kevin McCormick, and soon shifts into a beautiful British-folk melody that sounds timeless. Jones’ penny whistle and Donny O”Connell’s spritely violin add Celtic atmosphere while Cole pulls off two more excellent electric guitar solos. The heroine has lost hope, and she is consumed by a fire.

Next up is The Burning Flame, which has a very spacey intro that calls to mind Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. McCormick contributes another excellent guitar solo, this time on electric, while Paolo Limoli provides wonderful piano and Fender Rhodes accompaniment. Jones takes lead vocals here, and they have a definite bluesy edge. This entire track is a gorgeous, slow burn (pun intended!) of song that I wish lasted far longer than six minutes. Fortunately, it segues into the extended instrumental, Colours and Shapes, where Jones’ sax continues the spacey blues mood.

In Why Are You Here? our heroine is confronted in the afterlife:

Why are you here?
Did you not respect?
Did you not cherish it?
Could you not love life?

This is another somewhat slow song, but one that is enlivened by Limoli’s tasteful piano fills and Cole’s terrific guitar solos. 

Things pick up with Returned, where the protagonist’s suicide is rejected by her Creator:

“You must return
You will make good
Rewrite this wrong
You must Love”

These lyrics are accompanied by a triumphant melody that is bursting with energy. The album’s co-producer, Robin Armstrong really shines here, lending his talents on keyboards, vocals, bass, and lead guitar.

With our heroine given a new lease on life, The Essence explodes out of the speakers with an insistent beat and infectious melody that is truly exhilarating. 

“Reconciling hope, reconciling all.
Reconciling everything.
It is the universe made real.”

Bandana’s vocals and synths are outstanding here; they convey the pure joy of the lyrics.

The final track, Imagine, is a coda addressed to all of us and the choices we must make:

“Imagine a world in which we are judged by
Our most insufferable, our sorriest…

A horror beyond time…

Imagine a world in which we are judged by
Our best and our glory, our gift and our love…

There is a word and it needs to be heard.
It is hope. It is what you promised to me.
Rise up and see, it is our victory.”

Krueger’s church organ is appropriately employed here, because this last song is a hymn to hope. As the song unfolds, the tempo increases inexorably, and I’m reminded of the final scene in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia book, The Last Battle, where the protagonists reach paradise. As they realize where they are, they cry out, “Further up and farther in!”

Some final thoughts on this special album:

Dave Bandana has said that Robin Armstrong really pushed him to do his best, and it shows. His vocals and keyboards are terrific throughout. Peter Jones is the secret weapon of The Bardic Depths – his singing and sax work are some of the best elements in the mix. Gareth Cole’s lead guitar is AMAZING!

Promises of Hope is an outstanding album with an inspiring concept. The melodies complement the lyrics perfectly. As good as their debut was, this is even better. The core group of Bandana, Cole, Jones, and Gehrt have gelled into a formidable ensemble, and I hope they plan to tour.

Promises of Hope is on Gravity Dream Music. Here is the official lyric video for The Essence

R.I.P. Vangelis

A giant of electronic/space/soundtrack music has passed away: Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis. His music for the movie Chariots of Fire won an Academy Award for Best Score in 1981 (back when Oscars reflected both artistic excellence and popularity).

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His first solo album, Earth, was released in 1973, just before his soundtrack to the Frederic Rossif film, L‘Apocalypse Des Animaux. He continued to release solo albums and soundtracks at a regular pace until 2021.

I first became aware of Vangelis via his extraordinary soundtrack to one of my all-time favorite movies, Blade Runner. Rarely has the music matched the visual landscape the way his did for that movie. Set in a dystopian Los Angeles, Vangelis’s themes are a perfect complement to the many moods Ridley Scott evoked in that masterpiece. Unfortunately, his actual soundscapes for the film were never officially released. Curious listeners should seek out a bootleg album called “Blade Runner: Esper Edition“, which compiles all of Vangelis’s music directly from the film.

Another excellent example of his empathetic soundtrack composing talent is Antarctica. His music for Koreyoshi Kurahara’s film is an incredible evocation of snowbound wastes, adventure, open spaces, and timelessness. His compilation album, Themes, is a nice introduction to Vangelis’s best soundtrack work of the 80’s.

Antarctica

One of his best solo albums is El Greco, which is dedicated to the Greek artist who lived and worked in Spain in the late 16th – early 17th centuries. That, and 1984’s Soil Festivities, are masterpieces of melodic electronic music. Vangelis’s gift was to take electronic music and make it sound warm and organic, and both the aforementioned albums are prime examples of that.

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He could also compose and record very challenging music. His sole album for the Deutsche Grammaphon label, Invisible Connections, is a melding of Anton Weber-like atonality with Tangerine Dream rhythmic drive. His 2001 album, Mythodea, is dedicated to NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission. Scored for a full chorus and orchestra, it is a massive work that, frankly, I find exhausting.

Much more accessible is his final trio of albums, Rosetta, Nocturne, and Juno to Jupiter. Rosetta is dedicated to the European Space Agency’s mission to the Rosetta comet, and it has some of the most moving music he ever composed. Nocturne is a delight – Vangelis revisits some of his most memorable songs and plays them on acoustic piano. Juno to Jupiter is dedicated to the NASA mission of the same name. It features the outstanding vocals of soprano Angela Gheorghiu, and is a terrific summation of all Vangelis has done in his career. Whether intentional or not, it is a perfect final solo album.

Vangelis Trilogy

Finally, we have to acknowledge Vangelis’s most popular music – the albums he recorded with Jon Anderson of Yes. Short Stories, The Friends of Mr. Cairo, and Private Collection are all wonderful examples of prog/space/ambient music. I’ll Find My Way Home from The Friends of Mr. Cairo was a big hit in the U.S. in 1981, but for me, Private Collection is far and away the best music of this fruitful partnership. Every song is a timeless classic, with the epic Horizon closing things out on an incredibly majestic note.

If you aren’t familiar with Vangelis’s music, I hope this post has piqued your interest. He was a towering talent in electronic music and composition, and he will be missed. R.I.P. Vangelis Papathanassíou.

Top-Notch Sword and Sorcery From A Prog Rocker

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Stephen Babb is best known as coleader, bassist, singer, and songwriter for venerable prog-rockers Glass Hammer. Now he can add “accomplished fantasy author” to his resume. He has just published Book One of a projected trilogy featuring the character Skallagrim, who also features in the two most recent Glass Hammer albums, Dreaming City and Into the Breach.

Let me say right off the bat how impressed I am with Babb’s writing ability. From the very first word, he takes the reader on a rollercoaster of a ride through a fully fleshed out world that includes demons, sorcerers, assassins, hideous Lovecraftian creatures, beautiful nymphs, and monstrous ghouls.

While the plot loosely follows the one outlined in Dreaming City, Skallagrim In The Vales of Pagarna is full of surprising twists and turns. Skallagrim himself is a very likeable and endearing character who endures tremendous trials and hardships on his quest to rescue a beautiful young woman he sees for just a moment before she is taken captive by an evil sorcerer. I won’t say anything more than that regarding the plot, because I don’t want share any spoilers. However, even if you’re familiar with Dreaming City, you will still be surprised with how this story concludes. 

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The underlying theme of the story is how Skallagrim, a lowly thief who suffers from amnesia, matures both emotionally and spiritually. In that sense, In The Vales of Pagarna is a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress, albeit quite a bit bloodier! The obvious comparisons are to Tolkien and Lewis, but Babb has managed to come up with an original mix that includes the aforementioned H. P. Lovecraft and a bit of Moorcock. Like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Christianity provides the framework for Babb’s fictional world, but it is never explicitly referenced. There are several episodes where Skallagrim is “surprised by joy” as C. S. Lewis would say.

Fans of Glass Hammer will rejoice to learn that the story from their The Inconsolable Secret album is deftly integrated into this new saga, and there are several “Easter eggs” sprinkled throughout. GH has long been a favorite musical artist of mine; now I have a favorite fantasy author as well!

Spirit of Cecilia Decrees: The Flower Kings’ Latest Rules!

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The Flower Kings have a new album coming out March 4, 2022, and it’s called By Royal Decree. It is a two-disc set that includes some songs that were written even before they recorded their first album! Brad Birzer and Tad Wert share their thoughts on this latest release from one of their favorite prog artists.

Brad: When one thinks about Third Wave prog, it’s rather impossible not to think about Roine Stolt and The Flower Kings.  And, of course, who wouldn’t want to spend time thinking about Stolt?  The man just exudes genius in every project he’s in, as does every manifestation of The Flower Kings.  

Really, just think about how important Stolt is–not just to The Flower Kings, but to Transatlantic, Sea Within, Stolt/Anderson, Steve Hackett, The Tangent, his solo material. . . .

Amazingly, to me at least, I didn’t encounter The Flower Kings until 1999’s Flower Power.  A student (now, thankfully, a beloved colleague) lent Flower Power to me, and I was rather and immediately gobsmacked by it.  I then quickly purchased every previous release from the band and looked forward to every future release.  There’s nothing the band has released that I don’t like, and I would rank Space Revolver, especially, as a top-ten of all time rock release for me, with Stardust We Are and Paradox Hotel ranked very highly as well.  Unfold the Future, too.  Anyway and regardless, The Flower Kings have been a favorite for me for nearly 23 years now, and I can’t imagine my adult life without the band providing a myriad of soundtracks to it.

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This brings us to the latest by the band, the forthcoming By Royal Decree (Inside Out Music).  It is, simply put, excellent, a double-album that reminds me very much of Stardust We Are.  The band, once again, proves why it is still the most mischievous psychedelic prog band out there.  The energy levels of the band are off the charts, and the uniquely Flower King flourishes are delightfully to be found throughout the album.  And, I, for one, am very happy.

Tad: Brad, Mr. Stolt certainly spoils us fans, doesn’t he? After 2020’s huge two-disc Islands, he and his bandmates begin 2022 with another two-disc offering. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! 

Since you outlined your history with the Flower Kings, I’ll just say that I first learned of them years ago after I read an article on prog rock in Mojo Magazine. There was a brief article on “new and up and coming prog artists”. Based on that article, I picked up Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia, Spock’s Beard’s V, and The Flower Kings’ Stardust We Are. I remain a devoted fan of all three groups and their various permutations and offshoots to this day.

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So let’s take a look at By Royal Decree. First off, I absolutely love the cover art. I have no idea why the monkey is holding a timepiece, nor what significance the peacocks have, but it all gives the impression of some fantastical world that an Alice might fall into.

The first song that really grabs me is track 3: “Blinded”. I am a sucker for a sinuous bassline, and this song has one in spades. I also dig the soprano sax that trades solos with Roine’s guitar. The mix of jazz and rock in this song, along with the stop/starts and time changes, reminds me of ‘70s Frank Zappa. 

Brad: Tad, it’s always good to review with you!  Such a joy in this rather fallen world.  And, thank God for The Flower Kings.  Like you, it’s very hard to imagine the last two decades without them playing constantly in my life.  

For what it’s worth, I don’t get the album cover either, but I think it’s gorgeous.  I think–but am not sure–that it’s supposed to be a sequel cover to the earlier album, Waiting for Miracles.  As much as I liked Roger Dean’s cover for Islands, I really love it when The Flower Kings are blatantly surrealistic and hippie-ish.  This cover for By Royal Decree is just weird enough–and beautiful enough in its colors, especially–to make it exactly the right cover for this album.  I’m assuming the monkey holding the watch is the great pretender?

I really like “Blinded” as well, and it has a very traditional TFK sound to it.  Very angular in the construction of the song with fetching lyrics.  In actuality, I really like the whole first disk as a whole.  I think it blends together really nicely, again, reminding me of Stardust We Are.  But, of course, musically–especially the sax part on “Blinded”–harkens back to Space Revolver.  “I left my heart in San Francisco, I left my mind in San Francisco Bay!”  In fact, one of the truly great aspects of this album is how much it plays with the history of the band itself, constantly echoing themes and melodies from previous albums.

Immediately after the wildly progressive and jazz-infused “Blinded”, the band gives us the very lush and poppish “A Million Stars,” which the band has also released as a video to support the album.

After “A Million Stars” comes the nearly-perfect track, “The Soldier,” a gut-wrenching examination of our darker sides, but with gorgeous bass playing and keyboards and drums.  Indeed, every instrument just soars on this song.  I also really love “Peacock on Parade,” the second from last track on disk one, as well as the final track, the resigned and circus-like “Revolution.”

Disk Two is every bit as strong as Disk One, with wonderfully odd tracks such as the progressive folky “Letter” and the soulful “Evolution” and the chamber-like drama of “Moth.”  I’m especially taken with the “Big Funk” which brings back the Holy Mother of Unfold the Future, as well as the final song of the album, the rather complex “Funeral Pyres.”

Tad: Brad, I think Disk Two is a wee bit better than Disk One. “Evolution” is my favorite song on the album (at least today it is!). The organ intro conjures up classic Yes vibes for me, and it has a great hook in the melody.

Disk Two also closes incredibly strong: “The Big Funk”, “Open Your Heart”, “Shrine”, and “Funeral Pyre” are all terrific songs – a minisuite of excellence. On “Funeral Pyres” Stolt crafts one of his finest guitar solos ever. 

All in all, I would say that By Royal Decree is at the top of The Flower Kings’ discography, and they have released a lot of great albums! As good as Islands was a couple of years ago, TRD is even better. Isn’t it impressive how prolific The Flower Kings are without any diminution in quality?

Brad: Tad, thank you so much for this joint review.  Let me just conclude my part by stating, I am one very happy man.  This is exactly The Flower King’s album I wanted and needed.  A glorious return to all that makes the band so special.  Roine Stolt is truly astounding as a composer, as a lyricist, and as a guitarist.

The First Prog Masterpiece of 2022: Miles From Nowhere

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2022 has barely begun, and Spirit of Cecilia is already excited about some new music! Editor-in-Chief Brad Birzer and Arts Editor Tad Wert discuss the album that has them both singing its praises.

Tad: Brad, I have been listening to Miles From Nowhere by Jonas Lindberg & The Other Side almost nonstop since early January. It’s already a contender for album of the year, in my opinion! From the opening rocker, “Secret Motive Man” to the closing epic, “Miles From Nowhere”, this is one of the most satisfying sets of songs I’ve heard in a while. I like everything about it: the production that recalls ‘70s prog rock masterpieces, the vocal harmonies of Lindberg, Jonas Sundqvist, and Jenny Storm, and most of all, the insanely catchy melodies liberally sprinkled throughout. 

Brad: Tad, it’s great to be reviewing with you again.  It’s been too long, my friend.  I know, of course, that we’ve both been very busy, but life should always give away–at least partially–to the excellences of prog!  In previous reviews, you and I have wondered why there isn’t more music in the vein of Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, The Flower Kings, and Transatlantic?  After all, Steven Wilson has a multitude of musical followers and imitators.  

Here, Jonas Lindberg and The Other Side, provide, I think, the proof that Morse and Transatlantic and Stolt and The Flower Kings do, indeed, possess followers, in the best sense.  Like the best of Stolt and Morse, Lindberg and The Other Side provide gloriously catchy melodies but always through complicated song structures.  I mean THIS. IS. PROG.  It’s everything I want in my music–driving, meaningful, full of integrity, and reaching toward true transcendence and greatness (lyrics as well as songs).

While I love the whole album, I’m most taken–at least at the moment–with “Oceans of Time,” track 4.  A glorious journey, to be sure.  The keyboards on this track especially soar.

Insideout really has found a great artist in Lindberg and his cohorts.

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Tad: Brad, great minds think alike. I, too, am struck by how Morse-like Lindberg’s music sounds. How great is it that we are getting the fruits of Morse’s many projects in a new generation of artists?

I love “Oceans of Time”! In January, I taught a minicourse at my high school on how to design and put together stained glass windows, and while my students worked I played Miles From Nowhere. When “Oceans of Time” came over the speakers, one young woman remarked, “Mr. Wert, that’s some intense music.” Another replied, “I like it. It’s like punk rock by Celtic people!” And you know what, she’s right! The introductory riff definitely has a Celtic feel to it, and overall the song really rocks. 

I love the interplay between lead vocalists Linberg and Jenny Storm in this song and throughout the album. The press release from Inside Out says the song is about ending a relationship, but the sound of it is just bursting with exuberance and joy.

Another favorite of mine is the relatively brief “Little Man”. I’m a sucker for a Beatlesque melody played on acoustic guitar. The way Lindberg layers electric guitars, bass, drums, and organ on top of the acoustic foundation is brilliant. If this were a single back in the heyday of Boston, Styx, and Kansas, it would be a smash hit. 

“Why I’m Here” also features some tasty acoustic guitar work. Once again, I’m reminded of classic 70s album rock (in a very good way) in the vein of Pure Prairie League or Little River Band. I’m not sure Lindberg would appreciate those comparisons, but there is no denying they came up with memorable songs that have stood the test of time. 

And we haven’t even touched on the 25+ minute long closing track! Suffice it to say that despite its length, it flies by in no time, never causing the listener any weariness. Just like the album as a whole, it holds my interest from the first note to the last. 

Well, Brad, I think we’ve done justice to the first great album of 2022! It is due to be released on February 18, 2022. I’ve already preordered a physical copy, because I like it so much. Others interested in purchasing it can do so at http://www.lindbergmusic.com/. Meanwhile, enjoy Lindberg’s video for “Why I’m Here”:

The Best Albums of 2021

As much as I am happy to see 2021 fade away in my rear-view mirror, it was an exceptionally good year for music. Wait, let me qualify that – 2021 was an exceptionally good year for some genres of music. In broader cultural terms, music streaming services continued their ascendance as the preferred choice of consumers. Spotify, Apple, and Amazon are steadily erasing the idea of the “album” as a listening experience. People can now create their own playlists, mixing artists and genres to suit their personal preferences. In some ways, the compact disc was its own worst enemy. Instead of an album taking 35 to 45 minutes of a listener’s time, artists began adding more and more subpar songs to their releases so as to fill out the 75-minute capacity of the CD. While the extra available time is a perfect fit for progressive rock, classical music, and jazz, it definitely doesn’t work for pop music.

Speaking of which, pop music itself has degenerated into a homogeneous olio of auto-tuned, computer-composed dreck that is as lasting as cotton candy. There are no longer any artists that attract a broad audience that spans ages, cultures, and tastes. Taylor Swift might come close, but her sales (if that concept has any meaning these days) are a fraction of what a 1970s Fleetwood Mac or Elton John achieved. Radio is a spent force, and most teenaged music consumers get their tunes via TikTok and other social media. The days when one could turn on the radio and hear The Beatles, a Motown masterpiece, a Burt Bacharach ballad, some Lee Morgan hard bop, and The Who on the same station are long gone.

However, in 2021 progressive rock continued to champion the album as the preferred musical package. With that in mind, here are my favorite albums of last year. It was such a bountiful crop that I can’t limit myself to a Top Ten; it was hard for me to whittle the list down to fifteen!

15. Arc of Life

arc-of-life-album

This is a side project of Yes-men Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison, and Jay Schellen, who are joined by prog-genius Dave Kerzner and Jimi Haun. While Yes’s album, The Quest, got all the attention, I found myself enjoying this one more. It’s poppier and tighter, with terrific production. Also, the optimistic and uplifting lyrics lightened the dreary early months of 2021.

14.Gary Numan – Intruder

Numan Intruder

From the light of Arc of Life to the darkness of Gary Numan. His previous two albums, Splinter and Savage were tremendous efforts, and Intruder continues in their synth-heavy style. There’s not a lot of hope in Gary’s outlook on life, but you can’t deny his compositional gifts. Every song satisfies on a gut level.

13. Kevin Keller – Shimmer

Keller Shimmer

One of my favorite contemporary composers, Keller solicited suggestions from his fans and incorporated them into this collection of songs. At times minimalist, other times unabashedly romantic, Keller’s music in Shimmer is always a treat. This is one that will never grow stale.

12. Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe

transatlantic

An unprecedented release from this prog supergroup, and one of their best ever. It came in three versions: the single-CD Breath of Life, The two-CD Forevermore, and the Blu-Ray Ultimate Version. All three are different albums with unique character. If pressed, I prefer the Ultimate Version, but I have really enjoyed immersing myself in each one.

11. Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk – Eight Fragments of an Illusion

Schnauss Munk

I’m such a big fan of Schnauss (Tangerine Dream, Engineers) that I will buy anything he puts out. This is his third collaboration with guitarist Jonas Munk, and, and it is excellent instrumental electronica. Highly recommended for fans of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, and American Dollar.

10. Evership – The Uncrowned King

Evership

Nashville proggers Evership continue to impress with their third effort. This is a concept album based on an allegory by Harold Bell Wright. This is great prog in the style of classic Kansas or Queen.

9. Leprous – Aphelion

leprous Aphelion

With a name like Leprous, you might think this is extremely dark, growly metal. However, vocalist Einar Solberg possesses some of the most impressive pipes in music. This is a set of songs that are uplifting and thrilling. Leprous is on the verge of breaking into a huge phenomenon.

8. Richard Barbieri – Under a Spell

Barbieri Spell

Barbieri’s previous album, Planets + Persona, was my favorite album of 2017. Under a Spell continues his unique musical creations – part jazz, part samples, part rock, all great. Spooky and comforting at the same time, if that makes sense.

7. NMB – Innocence and Danger

NMB Innocence

The Neal Morse Band is now a full-fledged collaborative group, and this 2-CD set is their best yet. No concept, just terrific songs. The 31+ minutes long Beyond the Years is one of their greatest epics. The only fly in the ointment is Bill Hubauer’s annoying nasal vocals, but they aren’t distracting enough to ruin the listening experience.

6. Big Big Train – Common Ground

welcome-to-planet

A wonderful collection of songs that cement BBT’s status as the most creative group making music today. The loss of David Longden was one of the most tragic events of 2021.

5. Glass Hammer – Into the Breach

Skallagrim

Glass Hammer reinvent themselves once again, this time as ferocious prog rockers. New lead vocalist Hannah Pryor is the perfect person to carry these powerful songs. Messrs. Schendel and Babb never cease to amaze with their endless musical ingenuity.

4. Styx – Crash of the Crown

Styx Crown

I never thought I would be raving about a new album from veteran rockers Styx, but this is the real deal. Tommy Shaw has never sounded better, and there isn’t a single piece of filler in this album. Fifteen songs clocking in at 43 minutes, this an impeccably crafted set that was the biggest surprise of 2021.

3. Downes Braide Association – Halcyon Hymns

DBA Hymns

The fourth album from DBA is their best yet. Chris Braide is a terrific singer, and this is a great set of melodic gems. Each song evokes a pastoral paradise, providing relief from an anxiety-laden 2021. For most of the year, when I couldn’t decide what to listen to, Halcyon Hymns was my go-to album that never failed to satisfy.

2. Lifesigns – Altitude

Lifesigns Altitude

What a tremendous album, full of gorgeous twists and turns. The title track and Last One Home are two of the finest songs of the year. I listened to this one more than any other, excepting….

1. Frost* – Day and Age

Album_Cover

The title track is my favorite song of the year, featuring a killer hook from Jem Godfrey and ferocious guitar and vocals by John Mitchell. A perfectly sequenced album, with musical themes resurfacing throughout, Day and Age is a towering achievement for Frost*. The production is unbelievably crisp and reveals new details with each listen. Hands down, the best album in a year of truly outstanding ones.

I hope my list piqued your interest in some artists you may not have heard before. Here is a Spotify playlist that samples some of the delights contained in these wonderful albums.