Haken – Vector

British progressive metal darlings Haken return with “Vector” the 5th studio album and follow up to the acclaimed “Affinity.” Massively heavy and decidedly darker In tone, this release sees the chaps changing things up a tad, but fret not, it’s just the right amount.

After a rather short yet unsettling introduction track “Clear”, that perfectly sets up the darker tone of Vector with a baroque tinged keyboard performance, we are treated to the most Haken-esque track on the album, “The Good Doctor.” This song has all the usual twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the sextet. 8 string guitar riffs a plenty, quirky-jagged keyboard accents, soaring and hooky vocal parts, with downright funky bass work.

Veil is perhaps the most progressive song and also the longest on the record, which falls in line with their discography. Every Haken album Must have a song over ten minutes apparently! Around the seven minute mark this song take on a Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree personality replete with a slide guitar harmony.

The more 70’s Genesis and Gentle Giant influences seem to have evaporated this time around in favor of a harder edge. Organ sounds are still used throughout the album as in Veil but that is about the only remaining facet of that sound.  Also of note is that there are no fun/silly type of songs reminiscent of “Cockroach King” or “1985.” It makes sense considering the subject matter and most likely wouldn’t fit the overarching concept, but this further hammers home that Haken is changing their album makeup and sound.

“Nil By Mouth” is easily the heaviest song Haken has written thus far. Starting off with a Devin Townsend/Meshuggah groove cascading into more familiar Waters …it’s a bit confounding as to why this is an instrumental track however. There is plenty of room for vocal parts and   A vocalist as talented as Ross Jennings would certainly find no difficulties in finding the right spots to place them. Aside from the one grievance, the track acts as a good transitional point in the record acting as a climax of sorts.

“Host” is the antithesis to the preceding track. With a touching and lyrical flugelhorn solo courtesy of guest musician Miguel Gorodi and lush vocals, this is perhaps the most touching song Haken has written since “Earthlings.” Especially considering the lyrical content, the ending of this song is one the most powerful moments on the record, emotionally and musically. If there is a Haken song that could bring the listener to tears, this is the one.

Of particular note is how far drummer Ray Herne has elevated his perfomances. While his parts were by no means inferior on previous effort, Affinity, this time around every part is just a bit Extra. Extra complicated groves, beats, and fills. “Nil by Mouth” is essentially a drum solo, where Herne is allowed to flex’s his drum chops to their max. The superb recording quality from Adam “Nolly” Getgood is breathtaking not just from a beautiful drum sound but overall band mix. It feels and sounds “real”, for lack of a better description, In a world of overly polished and replaced/sampled instrumentation.

For studio album number five, Haken could have easily just rested on their laurels and they would please their fans regardless. This album sees them crafting their most accessible record yet, which is not a bad thing. With this accessibility the album feels decidedly more succinct than previous efforts, but the overall effect is much more potent this time around. There is absolutely zero filler material to be found. The decision to be heavier and darker definitely reflects  our current global cultural climate and casts a wider net into the vast progressive metal fanbase, all the while not varying the core principals in Haken’s sound. Highly recommended!

Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor

The mighty Spock’s Beard return with a new release. Continuing with Ted Leonard on vocals, you know you can expect greatness.

“To Breathe Another Day”… The vocal harmonies are so good.

“What Becomes Of Me” has sort of a spacey intro that pick up into a Rush styled groove, but much more detailed. Ted’s vocals kick in and they’re so clear and understandable. I can’t stress enough how well he fits into this band. The bridge section is pretty cool. You get lead, vocals, solo. Just very well written.

“Somebody’s Home” has a nice acoustic intro, then it picks up a bit. You get a folk oriented guitar lead. The verse is loaded with a lot of emotion. The chorus is super memorable. I’m telling you, Ted brought new life into this band.

“Have We All Gone Crazy Yet” has such a genesis styled intro, The distorted guitars kind of break that up though. The acoustic guitar kicks in and well, Spock’s Beard does what they do best. They just keep building up the song with a ton of energy that comes through in the recordings. This is the longest track on the album, but it really doesn’t feel that way. I won’t spoil it for you.

“Box Of Spiders” has sort of an 80’s retro synth opening, but then throws in quite the proggy curveball. Trust me you’ll see. This track get pretty aggressive. I absolutely love it. There’s a ton of groove and spacey feeling stuff happening. It’s probably one of my favorite tracks. It’s what every Prog fan wants to hear.

Overall this is an extremely well put together album, Spock’s Beard has proven that they’re here to stay. Listen for yourself and be the judge.

Kino – Radio Voltaire

The new album from Kino. A band I was never familiar with, but had heard the name. Definitely glad I gave them a chance.

“Radio Voltaire” I would normally say sets the overall tone for the album, but I don’t really think it does. It’s a standout track and also the longest. It feels very triumphant. The lead playing is very nice throughout it. Very “80’s” styled phrasing.

“The Dead Club” is a bit more rocking, with a big use of synthesizers. I kind of get a Porcupine Tree vibe in this track. The structure is “straight forward” yet packed with a lot of subtle details and changes.

“Idlewild” is another one of the longer tracks. It starts with a really nice piano intro that gets followed by the vocals. After a full run through, it picks up with all the other instruments, becoming even more memorable that the first time around. There’s a really tasteful solo that comes in. It’s arranged quite well.

“I Won’t Break So Easily Anymore” has a very calm intro with some cool audio samples. When the keys and vocals kick in, I get some Marillion vibes. This is probably my favorite track. The instruments display a lot of variety while the song maintains a catchy feel. There’s a really cool synth solo that reminds me of early Genesis. That alone wins me over.

“Out Of Time” manages to mix a 90’s rock with a British Invasion feel. There’s a very cool break that comes in and changes the feel utilizing… Lydian of course. Typical prog fashion. They continue to build on this theme, until a nice bass solo kicks in. You heard right. And it goes on for quite awhile. I really dig this track

I recommend this album. It’s simple enough to enjoy on the surface, but intricate enough to dig in deep.

Gösta Berlings Saga – Et Ex

The polychromatic instrumental adventure of Gösta Berlings Saga begins in 2000 in the Stockholm suburb of Vällingby and now the band has the chance to reach a wider audience worldwide with the brand new effort “Et Ex”.

With a somber mood “The Shortcomings of Efficiency” offers haunting multilayered atmospheres that steadily surround crispy and utterly eclectic guitar melodies with an intriguing prog rock approach and retro tonalities but the song often tends to change pace and style in order to build cinematic soundscapes.

With a melancholic nature immediately expressed by ethereal piano harmonies “Artefacts” follows softer rhythmic dynamics where guitars and synths embrace to craft intense atmospheres, bizarre electro layers and dreamy melodies.

“Capercaillie Lammergeyer Cassowary & Repeat” is another strange track where variegated synths constantly provide mysterious atmospheric sections with increasing dramatic intensity.

On “Fundament” there is a multitude of moody lead guitar melodies confidently channeling classic prog rock elements in the midst of opulent atmospheric arrangements that naturally shift from hazy tones to darker nuances.

There are evident prog roots behind “Et Ex” which often feels more like a movie soundtrack relying heavily on synths and unusual sonic textures and in the end you might notice that Gösta Berlings Saga is not a typical prog band.

 

Riverside – Wasteland

Following the sudden loss of co-founder and guitarist of Piotr Grudziński, Riverside decided to continue as a trio therefore the latest release “Wasteland” marks a new chapter that sounds like a deeply emotional music endeavor with post-apocalyptic visions of the world.

“Acid Rain” immediately stands out for the profoundly somber tonalities embedded in the suspenseful textures of the refined atmospheric arrangements as well as the stellar guitar work which confidently delivers a memorable blend of heavy prog dynamics, crystalline harmonies and heartfelt melodic splendor.

“Vale Of Tears” sounds more energetic with an eclectic rhythmic section featuring solid riffage spiced up by modern keyboards accents and excitingly complex lead guitar work yet the minimalist melodic moments feel like an emotive lullaby.

“The Struggle For Survival” is a truly epic track that never ceases to impress the audience as the band follows an artsy sonic vision offering intricate rhythmic segments and freely experiments in order to craft multifaceted instrumental passages ranging from full throttle progressive dynamics to cinematic atmospheric layers.

The title track is moody & darker starting with a fragile melodic ensemble of elegant piano and smooth arpeggios that surround poignant vocals while later the song will morph into a more progressive entity where guitars offer some intriguing heavier riffs before returning to calmer introspective moments.

“The Night Before” is a minimalist piece that closes the album with immense melancholy courtesy of gorgeous piano melodies and soft sorrowful vocals that will move you to tears.

For Riverside the seventh album “Wasteland” feels like a renaissance as the band aims to express personal struggles and strong emotions through an elaborate ensemble of technical musicianship and darkened melodies.

The Sea Within – The Sea Within

The concept of the “supergroup” is not new and in the progressive rock/metal circles this holds even more truth. The Sea Within are certainly no exception! The pedigree from guitarist and singer-songwriter Roine Stolt, keyboardist Tom Brislin (Kaipa, The Flower Kings), bassist Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Tangent), guitarist & vocalist Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), and drummer phenomenon Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani) is in the upper echelon of Prog rock royalty. With such high profile musicians are The Sea Within capable of crafting Prog Greatness or Prog Mediocrity? Let’s find out.

The album starts off with an impressive opener “Ashes of Dawn” that harkens influences from Pain of Salvation’s more recent work peppered with both bombastic and tasteful drumming courtesy of Drumming phenom Marco Minnemann. Out of nowhere a quite passionate saxophone solo by guest player Rob Townsend culminates into a Prog-Chops fest that appropriately announces the band has arrived and demands your attention.

“An eye for an eye” is where things start to take a change with a more overt 70’s influence that one would guess would surely be the work of Roine Stolt. Things in the later half of the track take on a few different layers with a jazz-ish piano trio part that’s more Chick Corea than Dream Theater.

“Goodbye” proves an inconvenient and somewhat jarring change of pace with the track featuring vocals via Casey McPherson. A great and tasteful singer in his own right, but after twenty plus minutes of vocals by Daniel Gildenlöw the change in vocals was almost too drastic. I was completely distracted and pulled out of the atmosphere by this decision. At only 4 minutes this track is tossed in almost as an afterthought, quickly getting out of the way for instrumental track “Sea Without” serving as a sort of bombastic intro to Beatles-esque “Broken Chord.” Honestly those two tracks could easily have been one epic Prog song!

And that is the predicament that The Sea Within finds itself. It seems to struggle to find its own identity through its mixture of 70’s drenched Progressive worship of bands like Genesis and Yes mixed with a healthy dose of Modern sensibilities like Pain of Salvation, Black Bozo, and even Big Big Train. At times beautiful, other times fun and even a bit silly, The Sea Within’s debut is most worthy of taking the time to dig into. While it could stand to shave off about twenty minutes of play time in hopes of being a bit more concise, the record is sure to find a rabid fan base. For a debut record of a self proclaimed supergroup, it will certainly not disappoint fans of these high caliber musicians.

Anneke Van Giersbergen – Symphonized

We all fell in love with the enchanting voice of Anneke Van Giersbergen when she was the vocalist of The Gathering and after that she embarked on a prolific solo career, collaborated with various brilliant artists such as Devin Townsend and Arjen Lucassen and recently returned to metal with her new band Vuur. Anneke’s new release “Symphonized” is a remarkable live album because here you can experience her two career-spanning concerts with orchestral arrangements together with Residentie Orkest The Hague.

The show starts with the lavish orchestrations and graceful vocals of “Feel Alive”, originally released on Anneke’s solo album “Everything Is Changing”.

“Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki”, originally released by Vuur, is certainly stripped of its bold progressive metal core but in this version it shines for the natural blend of triumphant orchestral vibes and classical dreamy tonalities.

The aria by Henry Purcell “When I Am laid In Earth” feels particularly compelling as it completely deviates from the rock/metal realm with its purely classical elegant harmonies that allow Anneke to show her operatic skills.

On “Travel”, a The Gathering song loved by many fans, Anneke’s vocal performance feels utterly nostalgic while the sumptuous orchestration successfully channels the original inner spacey melancholy.

The unreleased song in Dutch “Zo Lief” stands out for Anneke’s emotionally charged genuine vocals accompanied by charming minimalist piano and strings.

Another The Gathering lovely song “Forgotten” takes us back in time with refined orchestrations and Anneke’s voice will inevitably trigger immense nostalgia.

“Shores Of India” was originally released by The Gentle Storm, an unforgettable collaboration with Arjen Lucassen featuring epic & eclectic prog dynamics that here acquire classical allure and melodic splendor.

Anneke’s fans will be instantly delighted by the marvelous live performance on “Symphonized”, an album that rightfully celebrates her vocal talent accompanied by an extraordinary orchestra.

Long Distance Calling – Boundless

Germany’s Post-metal powerhouse Long Distance Calling return with “Boundless.” The title of this record couldn’t be more apt, for LDC take a no holds barred approach to songwriting this time around blending all elements of rock, metal, prog, and ambient textures resulting in a compelling and often times emotional listening experience.

Opening track “Out There” begins with a rather simple but huge sounding drum fill cascading into heavy soaring riffs that finally lead into ending that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Steven Wilson’s solo records. “Ascending” kicks things off sounding downright like Mastodon or High on Fire but quickly takes a left turn to riffs that channel Tool or even Cave In. The use of keyboards definitely give Tracks like “One The Verge” a welcome change in texture from the otherwise guitar heavy instrumentation’s

This record took a few spins to really appreciate, but I chalk that up to how multifaceted the writing and songwriting is. Heavy, ethereal, and oftentimes downright Cinematic In scopes, ”Boundless” is exactly as it’s advertised. The record takes you on a journey where the lack of words snap vocals lets the music do all the talking that’s necessary.

This is not just for the post metal Russian Circles fans either. Fans of Steven Wilson, Mastodon, Tool, or Cave In will definitely find an album to appreciate.
Boundless

Perfect Beings – Vier

If you can imagine in your minds third-eye what a quintessential classic prog band would sound like filtered through a modern sensibility and perfect production, Perfect Beings is exactly that. Like a train ride crossing the plains of the Prog Rock timeline, Vier traverses this terrain with somewhat mixed results but never derails, leading to an interesting and captivating experience to listeners with a deep attention span.

Vier, German for four and the namesake title of this grand prog experiment is thusly and conveniently split into four separate parts. “Guedra” opens the record with retro drenched Prog worship. This part is most notably influenced by classic Yes. “The Golden Arc” is a bit heavier and mathier, less 70’s inspired overall, but yet positively proggy. “Vibrational” is as the name suggests extremely and essentially all ambient/atmospheric. Rounding off the album is “Anunnaki” which is a summation of all these disparate parts.

Instrumentally speaking, these guys can play and play they do.  “Enter the Center” provides some room for Levin to channel his inner Bill Bruford mixing bells, chimes, and flurries of fills reminiscent of classic “Red” era King Crimson. “The Persimmon Tree” is a keyboard tour de force offering a complex and captivating arrangement of strings, percussion, flute, and of course piano resulting in a haunting and melancholy theme. The vocals are the real highlight of this group as the complex three part harmonies of bands like Yes and Gentle Giant are fully replicated here.

These blokes proudly wear their influences on their sleeves and throughout each song flagrantly wave it in the listeners face. The influence is so uncanny at times it borders on replication of other bands, namely Yes, King Crimson, and even Steven Wilson. While imitation is the best kind of flattery, one must wonder that with as much talent that Perfect Beings clearly possesses, what else they could muster if not so intent on channeling their influences. That said, It’s impossible not to feel a warm sense of nostalgia for all things progressive especially on tracks like “The Blue Lake if Understanding” and “Patience” whose erratic structures offsetting wonderful vocal harmonies, and lush atmospheres would warm the heart of even the most jaded Prog head.

Throughout this almost hour and thirty minute Prog epic, your ear will lean to the familiar as well as the unknown. Take note, this music is not for everyone. Perfect Beings have crafted Vier with the hardcore Progressive rock/metal crowd in mind and they do this without a single shred of apology. If you are a fan of The Beatles, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and possibly even John Carpenter, Vier is just what the doctor ordered. This is music for Prog’s sake.

The Tangent – The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery

With a pretty extensive catalogue for the period of time that they’ve been around, The Tangent release quite a lengthy album.

Two Rope Swings: is a little more straightforward, if you can even say that. This track sort of gives you a little bit of everything, setting a nice tone for the rest of the album, to prepare you for what’s to come.

Doctor Livingstone (I Presume): opens with a cool lead synth melody that has a great tone, followed by some tasty lead guitar playing. Lots of tasteful playing going on here that’s very “well thought out.” There’s a big jazz influence that sneaks in all over the place with the chord voicing and phrases. You get hit with tons of dynamics. There’s solo, after solo, after solo, with the parts constantly changing. What more could you ask for?

The Sad Story Of Lead and Astatine: has a very melancholic opening. It sort of pulls everything down. Then it picks up with a bit of quirkiness that leads into more of a smooth jazz type of verse. But… That verse is loaded with some pretty crazy playing. The dual vocals add a really nice feel to this. It fills in some really nice space in the overall mix. I really like that these guys aren’t afraid to show off. There’s no need to hold back and, they know it. There’s a bass solo in here that is absolutely awesome, we’ll just put it that way. These guys all have a lot of clarity in their playing. And again, solo, after solo. There’s even a drum solo. Yes you heard right, a drum solo. And it works very well with the song. Trust me. I won’t give anymore away. You’ll just have to find out the rest for yourself. But if this intrigues you, then you will not be disappointed.