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Review by bartyMJ published
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Zed 1996
D Italian Prog Zeuhl

Until this point, links to the Zeuhl genre were generally only found in France and were burgeoning in Japan, but here come an Italian band. Runaway Totem’s second album consists of two long tracks and piques the interest from the start with a classical trumpet fanfare turning into a sludgey Black Sabbath riff. The slow pace builds into a twin guitar attack with a host of male and female vocalists. The Zeuhl tropes of melancholy guitars, a mix of monotonous and harmonious vocals, and prominent drumming are all present, but there’s plenty of diversity throughout. Points of difference though are that the bass is less of a feature, and there’s also plenty of calmer synthesiser work too, in particular at the halfway point of the first track, where vocals are sung in Italian, in tune, and much more in RPI style. That passage lasts a full four minutes before slamming back into another heavy riff which slowly mellows out towards the end of the track.

The second track begins quite differently, with a four minute psychedelic soundscape to begin with, before a long and complex, but slightly repetitive guitar section. After some Zeuhly vocals there’s a fast paced classic-rock style instrumental passage which to be honest, goes on far too long. It’s eventually broken when the vocal ‘hey’s turn into some actual lyrics (in Italian), both male and female, with the latter fairly operatic in Zeuhl fashion.

First track far more interesting than the second, but worth a listen nonetheless

Review by bardberic published , edited
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F Energetic Noisy Non-Prog Stoner Punk/Sludge

I mean it's Boris, and loudness is kind of their thing... but this one takes it too far for me. I wasn't a huge fan of the studio version of 2002's Heavy Rocks, because it was too compressed for my total enjoyment, but I could sit through it without pause.

Akuma no Uta is basically Heavy Rocks, and in fact an even better album in almost all compositional and performative measures in my opinion, however, a good chunk of the album has a DR of 2. For reference, Metallica's Death magnetic has a DR of 4. Heavy Rocks also clocks in around DR 4 for most of the album, and even that was only barely tolerable. Akuma no Uta, however, is so compressed and everything is toned up so damned high it is literally tinnitus-inducing - I can't sit through the whole album at once for fear it will trigger my tinnitus.

I mean it's hard to make this complaint against Boris because they're flipping Boris and this is literally the point of the band, and while I love Boris as much as the next guy, this one doesn't do it for me, for the most part. There's no breathing room and I'm overwhelmed listening to this as it's just too noisy for me, which is a shame. In a similar manner, I found Boris playing Heavy Rocks live to be much more enjoyable than the Heavy Rocks album precisely because there was breathing room there. I bet, in a similar manner, I'd find Akuma no Uta much better in a live setting or with a live production - again, this album does Heavy Rocks better than Heavy Rocks did Heavy Rocks, and with that comes the "Heavy Rocks" production at maximum extent, which is the only aspect I don't like about it and pretty much ruins the experience for me.

The first seven minutes of the opening track, Introduction, however is impeccable, until it delves into a Noise track. While I love Drone Metal, I detest Noise, and the final two minutes of the song is excruciating for me. The two minute Japanese version of the track is outstanding from start to finish; too bad it's only two minutes, but it's also produced much better. Naki Kyoku also would have been tolerable for me if not for the last fifteen seconds, which caused me to rip my headphones off of my head because it's straight up high pitched guitar feedback.

Unfortunate. But I guess not everything in a hundred-something release discography by experimental musicians is going to be a winner.

For the record, I sat through the whole album over multiple sittings. It was not a pleasant experience, and not a good start to my new year. Again, my complaint here is on the production, not the musicianship nor compositions, which actually sees the band at some of their very finest. Will look for a live "bootleg" of the album.

Review by bartyMJ published
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B Eclectic Prog Avant Zeuhl/Metal

Eccentric, heavy, chaotic, avant-garde… skilful. Whereas Ruins, another proponent of Japanese chaos, often just sound like they’ve thrown a drum kit down the stairs and shouted about it, Happy Family’s brand of carnage sounds pretty well choreographed. Particularly interesting to me on a number of tracks is the style on the keyboard – at times if you listen to it in isolation, you could imagine it being used on a soundtrack to that era’s latest Sega or Nintendo offering. But then all of a sudden drums and guitars take over (maybe it’s the boss level?). The biggest challenge, although perhaps it’s a bit unnecessary, is pinning this down to a ‘genre’. Rock & Young, and Shige et Osanna are two examples of this eccentric and chaotic metal soundtracks to battles with Dr Robotnik. The first time you really think of Zeuhl influences is the intro of Partei, which is certainly a Zeuhl influenced Jazz fusion track with a really crunchy bass guitar that to me at least is a classic metal hallmark too. Rolling the Law Court though is more avant-jazz than metal (maybe it’s the Frank Zappa brass instruments?), before Kaiten Ningen Gyorai is back to the Zeuhl inspired metal like Partei. Naked King – the 19 minute thumper – Zeuhl, RIO, elements of King Crimson, and still sounding like a Sega boss battle. It’s a slow burner with some seriously sludgey bass, but unfortunately being this long its actually the first time I’d pass on listening to a track again. The almost standstill pace increases quickly to a chaotic crescendo after 15 minutes, and the drumming in particular is pretty stellar. I wish they’d have ended the album here but instead we’re given a minute and a half of piano plinking and squeaky toy noises (drums whisper spacy a very misleading title). With two tracks to go I was on the verge of giving this a really high rating, in the context of Zeuhl style albums, but less impressed by most of the last 20 minutes. Still, a low 4 stars, and a must listen for anyone exploring a niche genre, and who wants a way in via something slightly closer to metal in some of its style.

Review by bardberic published , edited
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Sheshet 1977
S Light Lush Exp Prog Fusion/Canterbury Scene

I was not expecting this album to be THIS good. Shame it's their only release.

Nothing short of stellar - a light and easy-going album, somewhere between Renaissance, Jethro Tull, and Camel, with some Osibisa-esque jamming and King Crimson level jazz-filled experimentation.

Upon first listen, I almost gave this a 10, and it almost became my very first ever 10, but the last two songs, Dinosaur Jr. and F Minor, dragged a little for me, with the former being too jammy for me and the latter meandering a little bit. Aside from that, a near flawless album, and an essential listen for fans of prog and jazz fusion.

Review by bartyMJ published
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B Instr Prog Rock

Privileged to have been sent this album by Chris Malmgren to review ahead of its release. Full disclosure, I’ve given Blurring the Lines a 5 star review, and StarStuff 4 stars, so I’ve gone in as a fan of the prior two releases, although not with fresh listens to them in mind! I’m also not a pro reviewer, nor is my musical vocabulary much cop…

Anyway… my review of the fifth studio album by American instrumental prog band Ovrfwrd. First thing to reference is the album cover, a zoomed in shot of an hourglass, which is great in its relative simplicity. Time, moments etc. The other point to make is that Ovrfwrd are one of that great number of bands that shouldn’t be pinned down to a single genre. Yes, generally heavy prog, but you’ll find Jazz, Space, Classical, and many other influences throughout. After all, the title does promise nothing ordinary...

Red Blanket – a really strong opening track, and a perfect example of where Ovrfwrd sit in the middle of a Venn diagram of Heavy and Jazz Rock. Someone with better musical ears will need to tell me whether there’s guest wind and brass instruments or whether they’re programmed in. The initial five minute section of this track is mid-paced, and really tight, with bass and keys playing almost the same melody alongside some really tight drumming. Guitars and the wind/brass instruments weave in and out throughout, the end result being quite the toe tapper! The pace get slightly faster for the final two minutes or so, in a passage more like a ‘standard’ heavy prog instrumental, before fading into a few trumpet notes. Very good start.

Eagle Plains – A notable track for how it takes a swirly, spacey opening into a short passage from 3 minutes which makes simple but brilliant use of the far left end of the keyboard in in combo with some deep growling guitar.

The Virtue Of – A good example of Ovrfwrd can bounce between styles but without it feeling like its happening just for the sake of changing it up. At the start of the track we have a slow building winding river type of atmosphere, which then goes through a couple of complex time signatures (complex for my daft brain anyway), before we end up almost in post-punk revival territory. Half expected Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand to pipe up with some surprise vocals.

Flatlander – Possibly the closest thing track to a ‘standard’ heavy rock instrumental thus far, and in that respect a bit of an interlude.

Tramp Hollow – One track that does actually stick to the same pace and style mostly throughout, and perhaps because of the variety that came before it I sort of expected it a gear change that never really came. A great guitar solo though. Notes of the Concubine – Here is the gear change. After a couple of minutes of drifting guitar, we’re treated to some avant-jazz, deliberately slightly jarring and awkward.

Eyota – the longest track on the album. I often take the time to review albums filed as Zeuhl which probably explains why I’m making this reference, but the opening two or three minutes here wouldn’t be out of place in an early Magma album, led by keys and drums and bouncing between beautiful atmospheres and more ominous sounding passages. Following that, the track ebbs and flows through a rich soundscape of ‘classic’ instrumental prog, complete with Floydian guitar solos, but never settling for too long in a single style.

Chateau La Barre – the transition from Eyota into this short track and then out into Serpentine is a little clunky if I’m honest. Chateau La Barre is a short electronic track, compared to the heavier sounds either side of it, which makes it seem slightly out of place.

Serpentine – That said, the heavy rock opening of Serpentine does get you going. The track alternates between heavier sections (still with some organ involved) and more complex jazzier passages.

The Way – A really nice track to finish too, starting with a great jazzy jam but drifting into a spacey sounding atmospheric finish.

Overall, a great album. Loved a lot of it, but being hyper-critical I wasn’t as into tracks 4-6 as the rest, and I’m still a bit confused by Chateau La Barre's place in the album. But, I always think an instrumental has to work harder to stand out, and so a lot of credit needs to be given as in many ways it does – there are indeed no ordinary moments! At the high end of 4 stars in my humble opinion.

Review by Rivertree published , edited
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Momentum 2023
A Psych Prog Krautrock

One or two may be surprised, they are delivering a really modern sound. This album proves that they should not be reduced to the vintage 1970's times. When the band could set a landmark concerning the development of experimental music, and hereby especially the Krautrock genre. It certainly sounds influenced by the album 'Malesch' and their early excursions to some French speaking North African ressorts. But some Far East flavour is coming up too while drawing obvious references to their 2007 re-union tour in Japan. Apart from new bassist Daniel Cordes the line up is still the same compared to the 1970 years. More than ever this is interspersed by a fascinating percussion work, and Michael Hoenig's contemporary electronic goodies, apparently resembling his experiences as a film music composer.

Review by bardberic published , edited
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B Lively Symph Oriental Prog Metal

The orchestrations are lovely. The band is energetic. The choir is excellent. The production, despite its ties to Fascination Street Studios, is surprisingly good. But something is missing... passion, perhaps? Uniqueness?

The loss of Yossi Sassi here is very apparent. Idan Amsalem and Chen Balbus are proficient musicians, if not a bit generic, don't get me wrong. Chen makes a fitting rhythm guitarist, and Idan would fit in great with pretty much any other progressive metal band in the realm of Symphony X and Scardust; however, I feel the latter lacks the "wow factor" of Yossi. Can he shred? Yes! Can I headbang to him? I suppose. But can I bellydance to it? That's the real question and the answer is a disappointing no.

What we have here is a tradeoff of orientalism for technicality. And frankly, the way, in the videos, he displays his guitar and neoclassically shreds, as if he's a support act Michael Romeo, with a deadpan expression doesn't feel right for Orphaned Land - he feels like a show off, which works for bands like Symphony X and Dream Theater. In their previous live album, The Road to Or Shalem, Yossi was smiling the whole time, moving around and interacting with the crowd. Idan is just... kind there.

His style lacks power and heaviness - when Yossi plays it feels like I'm being hit with a sledgehammer - the sound works for Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, as it was a more symphonic, classically-influenced album than the band's previous work. When he plays their older Mabool/ORwarriOR stuff, it just doesn't sound right.

Chen is the one who maintains the modality in the band's sound along with Kobi Farhi, and while he's competent, he just can't compare to Yossi, except when soloing, on which are evident that he spent a ton of time practicing them to sound just like Yossi - the satisfaction he gets when successfully completing them is wholesome. I understand that lineups change, but this was a major loss in my humble opinion.

As for improvements over The Road to Or Shalem, Kobi's clean vocals have improved significantly. That was my single complaint on their previous live album. He did not sound good - he was nasally and almost sounded lethargic. On here, he's shining bright, however, as expected with age, his harsh vocals here do seem a bit more strained, not unpleasant, just not as natural. Noa Gruman of Scardust singing Shlomit's parts was a surprisingly strong fit. I hear more Turkish vocal techniques in her singing than Shlomit's Yemenite techniques, but it works overall - it's still "oriental" enough to compliment Kobi's more Mizrahi/Sephardic Jewish vocal techniques. I also think the video production itself is a massive improvement; in The Road to OR Shalem, I couldn't stand how frequently the camera angle changed as it felt unfocused and all over the place. Aside from the generally better recording angles and higher quality video, the editing is a lot more focused and I feel the right people are in frame at the right time, and it's just a better watching experience overall.

Don't misinterpret me; the symphony orchestra is perfect match, and the band performed well. I just feel the lineup change since their last live album is just too much of a departure to the band's core sound and I would rather listen to The Road to Or Shalem, and part of this is because I prefer ORwarriOR and Mabool material to Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiah material, but mostly because I want to hear (and see) Yossi Sassi. Kobi Farhi is still a phenomenal frontman, and super engaging with the crowd, and Chen, like Yossi, is always smiling and happy to be there - he even appears to try to mimic Yossi's overjoyed facial expression and pseudo-laughter when soloing, and man does he NAIL those solos, which is very fun to watch in a good way; but I don't like his reliance on power chords and his too-polished guitar tone. Uri Zelcha, the "metalhead" of the band is headbanging to his hearts desires. Sharon Mansur, the band's touring keyboardist might be the most lovely woman I've seen play with a metal band - she's always smiling and super happy to be there, and I like seeing her play, but I do think the programmed keyboard sounds a little "cartoony," if not novel, and in contrast with the professional orchestra feels out of place, yet strangely enough I do like it. Matan Shmuely, as usual, is great drummer and adding the darbuka to his kit was a brilliant idea, and I also find it amusing how he's wearing the exact same shirt in this concert as he did in The Road to Or Shalem. It's a good album, overall, and it's interesting enough that I will probably still get it, I just think the new lineup needs some getting used to.

Review by Rivertree published
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Insania 2023
A Symph Latin American Prog Rock

This band from Argentina has delivered a splendid new album, the production fulfills all the wishes of a Symphonic Prog lover. Especially to note Lalo Huber's comfortable opulent keyboard and synthesizer presence all the way through. Due to the dramatic organ this partially resembles an Atomic Rooster and ELP feel. Splendid female lead vocals on top, lyrics are in native language. Just let me file the music under the term Flourishing Symphonic Prog. Because the more I listen the more I'm enjoying the album.

Tracks

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A Insania 4:40
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A Resurgiras 5:57
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Review by Rivertree published
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A Heavy Prog Space Rock

Inspired by the dystopic Jack Vance Sci-Fi novel 'The Blue World' the band around David and Gonçalo Ferreira is delivering a captivating varianted atmosphere. They ultimately are capable of setting the dramaturgy into motion, to transfer the adventurous context into the appropriate musical expression. The album marks a competent blend of Hawkwind inspired Heavy Space Rock, tempting Psychedelic expression and a pinch of Kraut Rock due to some hypnotic motoric rhythm work in between.

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B Blue World 2:12
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B Golden Eye 7:28
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a wonderful fluid psychedelic flow, features soaring guitars, spheric synths, and electric piano all over ...

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B Upheaval 8:16
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B Land Soon 7:16
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B The Beast 8:05
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Review by Rivertree published
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A Microtonal Prog Math Rock

Occasionally this sounds like a more way-out incarnation of the band Sanguine Hum, also similar to Nick Prol and The Proletarians project in some way. Meets my taste. Hard to believe, actually they are capable of delivering a rather unusual, alienated yet wonderful experience based on a Math Rock approach with microtonal guitars. Another strong contender for an album-of-the-year contest.

Tracks

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B Binary 3:46
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A Dark Triad 9:26
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