All posts by Thaddeus Wert

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

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).

Chariots

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.

El Greco

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

Skallagrim 2

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. 

Skallagrim 1

 

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.

Band_Photo_1

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Big Big News From Big Big Train!

BBT 2021

Hot on the heels of BBT’s magnificent Common Ground album comes this announcement of another new album! In the case of Big Big Train, you really can’t have too much of a good thing, so this is welcome news:

Big Big Train – announce new album ‘Welcome to the Planet’

New single “Made From Sunshine” out now

 

Six months after the release of the critically acclaimed album ‘COMMON GROUND‘, Big Big Train are pleased to announce a new album ‘WELCOME TO THE PLANET’, due out on January 28th, 2022 on their own label, English Electric Recordings.

Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton explains the short time between albums: “The experience of the pandemic has shown us that we need to make the best use of our time on Earth. With that in mind and with new band members on board giving us a fresh head of steam, we decided on a speedy return to the studio to write and record Welcome To The Planet.”
 
As with ‘COMMON GROUND’, ‘WELCOME TO THE PLANET’ sees Big Big Train retain their progressive roots but also take influence from all spheres of music. The album’s opener ‘Made From Sunshine’, co-written by guitarist Dave Foster and singer David Longdon, has guitar lines redolent of Johnny Marr and vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Finn Brothers/Crowded House, with violinist Clare Lindley sharing lead vocals with Longdon.

Elsewhere on the album, keyboard player Carly Bryant gets her first Big Big Train writing credit and lead vocal on the captivating title track. The two recent singles ‘The Connection Plan’ and ‘Lanterna’ are included along with a winter themed song ‘Proper Jack Froster’, a bittersweet tale of childhood. The album is completed by the delicate acoustic ‘Capitoline Venus’, the beautiful ‘Oak And Stone’ and a pair of dazzling instrumentals, ‘A Room With No Ceiling’ and ‘Bats In The Belfry’, written by guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom and drummer Nick D’Virgilio respectively.

You can listen to “Made From Sunshine” here: 

Here is the track listing:

BIG BIG TRAIN ‘WELCOME TO THE PLANET’
 
Part One
Made From Sunshine
The Connection Plan
Lanterna
Capitoline Venus
A Room With No Ceiling
 
Part Two
Proper Jack Froster
Bats In The Belfry
Oak And Stone
Welcome To The Planet

For their March 2022 UK tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals), Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Greg Spawton (bass), Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), Dave Foster (guitars) and Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) will be joined by a five piece brass ensemble. In addition to two further UK shows in September, the band expects to announce North American and continental European tour dates shortly.

UK TOUR MARCH 2022 TICKETS ON SALE NOW AT 
https://myticket.co.uk/artists/big-big-train

Glass Hammer Continues Winning Streak with “Skallagrim – Into The Breach”

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Chattanooga, TN proggers Glass Hammer are set to release the second installment of the Skallagrim Trilogy: Into the Breach. It is an eagerly awaited work, and I am happy to report that it exceeds expectations. If you thought last year’s Dreaming City was a departure from their typical sound, Into the Breach further develops their new, heavier approach to their music.

Besides the obvious elements like super heavy, crunchy guitars, new lead vocalist Hannah Pryor rocks like a …. well, you can fill in the blank. Suffice it to say that Ms. Pryor can belt out a song with the best of them, while maintaining a purity of tone that is never grating.

The lyrics continue the adventures of the jewel thief Skallagrim, this time focusing on his mercenary adventuring as he battles to lift a curse and restore his memory. He is accompanied by his comrade in arms, Hartbert, and they are financed by a mysterious powerbroker, Erling. However, you don’t need to know the story to enjoy the music.

And what glorious music Into the Breach is! It begins with the short acoustic ballad, “He’s Got A Girl”, that segues directly into the roaring “Anthem to Andorath”. This one took my breath away when I first heard it (check out the official video below). Pryor’s vocals intertwine effortlessly with Babb’s and Schendel’s to an exhilarating climax.

The musical pummeling doesn’t let up with “Sellsword” which opens with the dirtiest guitar riff Glass Hammer has ever put to tape. Maybe they’re unleashing pandemic-spawned frustrations, but Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, and Aaron Raulston have never played with this much ferocity.

Glass Hammer, v.2021: Pryor, Schendel, Babb, and Raulston

“Steel” alternates between crushing riffs and bouncy flights of Rundgrenesque popcraft. Pryor’s powerful vocals are the glue that hold all the disparate parts together.

The next two tracks, “Moon Pool” and “The Dark” are instrumentals. “Moon Pool” recalls classic Tangerine Dream, continuing the trend Glass Hammer began in Dreaming City.

“The Ogre of Archon” is another winning hard rock song, which goes directly into the blistering title track. There is an excellent section where Babb’s bass and Schendel’s organ play off of each other as Reese Boyd (or Brian Brewer, it’s not credited) plays terrific solos worthy of Alex Lifeson.

To my mind, the next three songs form a mini-trilogy. “The Forlorn Hope” is one of the best songs on the album, and it offers a bit of a respite from the heavy atmosphere of the rest of the album. “The Writing On The Wall” combines Crimsonesque melodic runs with some more spacey sections that allow Babb’s always inventive bass playing to shine. “Hyperborea” is an almost ten-minute long tour de force that is the finest track on the album, and one of the best songs Glass Hammer has ever done. It is a loving tribute to classic Rush, which in true Glass Hammer fashion, deftly pays their respects without descending into mere imitation.

The album closes with the brief “Bright Sword” which sets the scene for the conclusion of the Skallagrim Trilogy, and leaves the listener begging for more. Into the Breach clocks in at a hefty 70+ minutes, but I’ve listened to it in its entirety a dozen times, and it never feels labored or long. Every note counts, and every second is an aural pleasure.

After nearly 30 years and more than 20 albums, most artists would be exhausted. With Into the Breach, Glass Hammer are playing as if someone has lit a fire under them; this music is some of the most passionate they’ve ever put together. Their ability to constantly challenge themselves and revitalize their sound makes them the most fascinating and satisfying rock band in America. Meanwhile, Skallagrim – Into the Breach consolidates the great leap forward Glass Hammer took with Dreaming City. It is the heaviest yet most graceful music they have recorded in their long career. It is an unalloyed triumph that leaves the listener eagerly awaiting Chapter Three.

Evership’s THe Uncrowned King Act I Rules!

Evership

A few posts back, I passed along the news that Evership was about to release a new album, The Uncrowned King. Well, it is now available, and it is the best work they have done.

The Uncrowned King is a concept album based on an allegorical story by Harold Bell Wright of the same title. It’s basically a very brief Pilgrim’s Progress, and since it’s in the public domain you can read it for free here. I highly recommend listeners take a few minutes to read through the story, because the album won’t make a lot of sense if you don’t. The story involves twin princes of a kingdom who take very different paths. In the end, they both learn that “The Crown is not the kingdom, nor is one King because he wears a Crown.”

Musically, The Uncrowned King is the most accomplished and adventurous achievement of Shane Atkinson and Beau West yet. Fans of melodic prog will love every song. There are hints of classic Boston, Styx, and Kansas throughout, while Atkinson’s unerring ear for a beautiful melody keeps Evership’s sound sui generis. Standout tracks are “The Tower” and the epic “Yettocome/Itmightbe”.

Beau West has been a phenomenal vocalist since the debut album, but his singing on The Uncrowned King is simply amazing. He is blessed with some awesome pipes, and Atkinson’s compositions give him plenty of space to wield them.

There have been several outstanding prog albums released in the past few months, and The Uncrowned King is definitely a contender for the best of 2021. Here’s the official video for the Overture:

Spirit Of Cecilia Takes On The Most Dangerous Woman In America!

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Brad: One of the lead singers of the incredibly good and powerful prog band, IZZ, Laura Meade, has just released an incredibly good and powerful art rock album, The Most Dangerous Woman in America

From its opening moments with a couple singing on the Seine to its closing notes of deep melancholic reflection, the album just moves and moves and moves and continues to move. Indeed, if there’s any flaw, the album is simply breathless. Or, rather, the listener is breathless at the end of each listen.  There’s just so much going on, and Meade has one of the single best voices in rock today. This, of course, is a great thing, and even after ten to fifteen listens, I’m still utterly captivated by the music and the story. Driven by piano and bass throughout, The Most Dangerous Woman in America sounds like little else, though I hear echoes of Tori Amos and Talk Talk and some 1980s style atmospherics. 

Whatever it borrows from others, though, this album is a work of unique genius.

Exactly who is The Most Dangerous Woman in America?  Meade never reveals, and, far from being frustrating, the mystery of the identity of the lead singer continues to intrigue, listen after listen.  Given the lyrics, this must’ve been a Hollywood celebrity. But, whether she was an actress or a director or producer (or all three) is unclear.  For now, I’m happy to keep guessing.

By wisely keeping the identity of the protagonist quiet, Meade has created something more akin to myth and allegory than to story and narrative.  Afterall, there may just be many possible dangerous women in America, women who once ruled the world but were soon forgotten.

Tad: Brad, thank you for putting this album on my radar; I wasn’t aware of it, and I am a big IZZ fan!

According to Laura’s official site, the album is about a woman who took a brave stand, and paid a price. In her own words, 

“There have been so many people throughout history – many of them women – who stand up for themselves, stand up for what they believe in, and experience great pain and suffering for doing so, their memories and voices lost along the way to gossip and rumor. I hope that this album, in some small way, honors and gives voice to the forgotten.” (From http://www.laurameademusic.com/about.html)

John Galgano, bassist for IZZ, collaborated with Laura, and I think that accounts for the emphasis on that instrument. Like you, I love Laura’s voice; thankfully, she does not sing in that faux-innocent folkie style that dominates pop music these days. Laura isn’t afraid to use her impressive range of voice, moving from hushed to full-blast power in the space of a few bars. 

While the album gets off to a slow start, in my opinion, the patient listener is rewarded with the extraordinary closing quartet of tracks: the title track, “The Shape of Shock”, “Forgive Me”, and the brief “Tell Me, Love”. “Forgive Me” is the song that I keep coming back to, with its exotic, almost middle-eastern feel. Its melody spirals up and up with unrelenting force, like a modern “Kashmir”. It’s definitely the highlight of the album for me.

IZZ’s last album, Don’t Panic, was one of my favorites of 2019, and Laura Meade’s The Most Dangerous Woman In America is a worthy successor. It has certainly brightened my 2021!

Here is the video for the first single of TMDWIA, “Burned At The Stake”: