Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Hello once again fellow progheads!  It never gets old thanking you my loyal followers for faithfully checking in.  This week in my search for all things prog, I decided to change it up a bit...trying to avoid staleness and predictability.  As October 2014 draws to a close I have grounded the Concert Closet for a much needed "Febrezing" and a little rejuvenation while I take a long listen to some remarkable prog.  Under the stack of empty Ramen Noodle containers, I found a prog album loaded with tremendous talent and brilliant music.  Please to enjoy a review of sorts as we listen together to the marvelous sounds of Kompendium.

Kompendium was the prog brainchild of Rob Reed, founding member of Magenta.  In 2012 Kompendium released their only album, "Beneath The Waves."  It was three years in the making and I am honored and pleased to review it here.  The talent assembled to pull this off is is something to behold...but I will pull back the curtain later.  Right now I want to indulge my unending appetite for all things prog...

The buffet this week is loaded with choice morsels, so let us step with a graceful gait to the first course, a song called "Mercy Of The Sea."  As the piece unfolds you immediately get the sense this is not your average band--prog or otherwise.  The Celtic mood embraces while the ocean waves slowly wash over you, causing auditory hallucinations.  Vocals that are as crisp as a sea breeze meld beautifully with the guitar work, backed beautifully by orchestral sounds reminiscent of The Moody Blues, a la "Days of Future Passed."  This band is packed with talent and spilling over with creativity. Hang on tight; I have a feeling this is just the start of a seven day journey across the entire prog garden and back.

The second serving delicately served up is a piece called "Lilly."  The acoustic guitar and cello blend together so well you are hard pressed to separate one from the other.  As previous, the Irish folk overcoat envelopes the song while simultaneously crawling through your ear canal and melting into the tissue lining of your brain.  Steve Hackett plays guitar on this song, but I am getting ahead of myself...the talent pool for this album is extremely deep.  Rob Reed either had a lot of favors he was able to call in or is tremendously good at arm twisting, because he was able to place the perfect musician in just the right place for each song--even the vocalists.

Liner Notes...Kompendium is an amalgam of some of the best progressive rock has to offer.  Leading off with the previously mentioned Rob Reed and Steve Hackett, the band also includes guitarists Jakko Jakszyk, Neil Taylor, Nick Barrett, Angharad Brinn, John Mitchell, and Francis Dunnery, B.J. Cole on pedal steel guitar, Nick Beggs on bass and chapman stick, Gavin Harrison on drums, Mel Collins and Troy Donockley on horns,  and vocalist Steve Balsamo.  Rob didn't stop there though; Synergy Vocals include Shan Cothi, Rhys Meirion, Barry Kerr, Chris Fry, Hywel Maggs, and Christina Booth...and that's not all!  The stage gets even more crowded with The London Session Orchestra and The English Chamber Choir.  Kompendium certainly lives up to its name...

For the final serving from this prog feast, I actually struggled.  Trying to find the perfect finish was no easy fete--this entire album is a true masterpiece.  I do not take lightly the task Rob shouldered in bringing this many musicians and artists together--the scheduling challenges alone would be enough to send even the most ardent task master into mental overload--never mind the egos.  So to close out with a major head slap I chose "The Storm."  The opening thunderclap is but a prelude to the rough seas that lie ahead. A guitar riff tears open the clouds and Gavin's drums, backed by that marvelous horn section, rain down like parachutes over Normandy.  The tempo is much livelier than previous tracks, but the song remains true to the Celtic underpinnings that seem to be the foundation for the entire album. The vocals hit hard and strike fast, and the choir supports the entire piece.  The song comes alive as though you are in an Imax theater; the hits come from all sides . Kompendium works because every musician knows what to do and does it to perfection--there is no second best here. Learn  more about Kompendium at http://www.kompendium-web.com/.  You can also follow on Twitter, @Kompendium1.

An even tougher call this week was the selection to post for your listening pleasure.  After much deliberation (and perhaps a snort of Scotch) I chose "Exordium."  The ominous opening paints a vivid picture of the heart and soul poured into this album.  You can almost see the ship breaking over the waves if you close your eyes...the giant clipper sailing majestically across the ocean as the music compels the vessel onward.  One can only hope that Rob Reed et al will reconvene soon and pick up where "Beneath The Waves" left off.


OK fellow progheads, I hope you enjoyed this brief respite from the weekly norm.  "Beneath The Waves" is a concept album that not only sets the standard--it is the standard.  I recommend you make the purchase and take a weekend to listen thoroughly...very thoroughly...you will not regret it.

Well, now that I have the Concert Closet all "Febrezed" up, it is time to pack some clean clothes, fresh snacks, and new headphones as I continue my search for all things prog...until next week...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stone Umbrella

Good evening and welcome back fellow progheads!  Moving deeper into October, I realize the morning air is crisper, the evening sky is darker, and the leaves that have not fallen are screaming with color.  Focused on that thought and its repercussions, I turned up the heat in The Concert Closet, pulled on a long sleeve fleece, set the auto-pilot for all things prog...and found myself sailing toward Sweden, taken by the sounds of Stone Umbrella.

Stone Umbrella is to prog today what Klaatu was to rock 'n' roll in the 70's; extreme talent, distinctive sound, not caught up the hype...and bursting with energy.  Stone Umbrella is self-described as "...sometimes weird, sometimes calm, sometimes heavy, and progressive..."  This has all the makings of bizarre, high-energy serenity filling the Concert Closet, so let us start with dessert for a change and open the prog buffet with some "Candy From a Clown." As the title suggests, I am immediately taken to an eerie carnival, where the calliope sounds like an ominous church choir.  This is my kind of circus.  The keyboards blend with the guitar work to paint a scene reminiscent of a Stephen King novella...even the vocals stir up images of a circus barker leading kids into a big top filled with unsuspecting mayhem...this must be what high-energy serenity is...

For serving number two I switch gears, moods, and time changes for a more refined piece called "The Visitor."  This is broken into three parts and truly is a world away from the circus.  Stone Umbrella tends more than one section of the prog garden; the macabre, the intense, and the cerebral.  This piece hits you like a velvet hammer; it may not leave a physical mark, but you are never quite the same afterward.

Liner Notes...Hailing from Sweden, Stone Umbrella is a one-man gig--the "evil genius" behind the curtain is Pekka Karjalainen.  Having been involved in music since the age of fourteen, Pekka took up residence in the prog world circa 2005.  Stone Umbrella has strong hints of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and  Pink Floyd blended with top notes of Beardfish, Alan Parson's Project, and Spock's Beard...which is to say Stone Umbrella has roots all over the prog garden.  Stone Umbrella was born from Pekka's science fiction writing in 2009.  As a fan of concept albums with a strong like for instrumentals, Pekka felt led to put together what he calls "movie soundtracks without the movies."  If there were to be a prog documentary film of sorts, perhaps Stone Umbrella could provide the soundtrack...

My final selection this week is a song called "Escape."  You can feel the tension as the song opens; a desire to break out and run, free and fast.  The keyboards build on emotion and the guitar creeps in adding fuel to a slowly burning fire...but the raw explosion you expected emerges almost innocently, like a smoldering brush fire.  Bursts of raw energy suddenly seep through the headphones--a battle of sorts. The naive laughter dares the anger in you to settle down and relax as the fracas for control continues.  Yes, Stone Umbrella can command your emotions to jump through hoops with every time change...and somehow you feel better for it.

The clip below is a little different for the Concert Closet...not so much a single cut as a preview of the earlier mentioned concept EP "The Visitor."  Stone Umbrella plays with a serious intensity while at the same time reminding the listener (and himself) not to get too caught up in our own little worlds.  Learn more about Stone Umbrella at http://stone-umbrella.com/ and follow Pekka on Twitter at @StoneUmbrellaSE

One more week, one more stop on the Concert Closet "Prog World Tour."  Sweden seems to be fertile ground for progressive bands that seep through your pores and pump through your veins. Stone Umbrella doesn't grab you so much as embrace you, and before you realize it you just absorbed a whole new experience.  Time to carbo-load and move this search for all things prog onward...until next week...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Machines Dream

Yes, it's that time once again fellow progheads...and thanks for coming back!  The fall season is just getting revved up; Mother Nature is showing off the splendor of her colors, sleeping with the windows open is a hit-or-miss proposition, and the Concert Closet is testing the HVAC system with a trip to Canada this week...Ontario to be a bit more specific, as we take a listen to Machines Dream.

Machines Dream describes themselves as "...a band that wasn't supposed to be a band...progressive, atmospheric rock..."  While I admit it doesn't take much of a hook to lure me in, this does make for a curious prog blogger; a band that wasn't supposed to be a band...hmmm...time to break out the headphones and saunter up to the prog buffet once more...

My first course this week consists of a strong tune called "Toronto Skyline."  Immediately I get the sense this song is deep...the acoustic guitar almost stings as the mood starts to swell.  The drums and keyboards soon fill in the gaps and an accompanying electric guitar actually seems to drag the song down deeper--but don't mistake that for something dreadful--this song thrives on the weight.  When you hear aching vocals about feeling "...alone and...old again against the...cold Toronto Skyline" you get the sense the voice echoes from a wounded heart.

Serving number two is another emotional head slap called "Locusts."  Machines Dream seems to enjoy using dark colors to paint a bright picture.  This song slowly creeps along the inner lining of your skull, clinging like ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field...and as the song fades out there is a strong sagacity of acute mental meltdown.  Machines Dream has dark, rich, poignant soil in their section of the prog garden.

Liner Notes...Machines Dream is Brian Holmes on keyboards and bass, Craig West on guitar, lead vocals, and bass, Jake Rendell on bass, backing vocals,and mandolin, Ken Coulter on drums, and Rob Coleman on guitar.  A five-man operation that meshes extremely well...Machines Dream has an aura of Pink Floyd and early Genesis, and there are hints of Marillion and Radiohead in their style as well. This is a band that swims in the deep end of the pool.  Think progressive rock with a shot of
bourbon--it might sting going down, but the satisfaction lingers a good long while...

My third choice from the menu is called "Unarmed At Sea."  A calmer, almost soothing lead in with more of that signature acoustic guitar work.  Machines Dream filled their prog acreage with strong imagery, heavy sounds, and a nod to the early visionaries and latter day ground breakers of the genre; notably King Crimson, Yes, and Tool.  This song reaches inside you slowly while nonchalantly grasping your insides and slowly pulling you down.  The darkness once again moves in like nothing more than a routine storm cloud--but the mood is almost desolate as the guitars and drums swallow you whole.  Machines Dream is a band that forces you to find your own outer edge and then dance on it.

The clip below is called "Mad For All Seasons."  Ironically,  this tune is a bit more upbeat than most I have listened to this week--but it ain't even close to clowns and cotton candy.  Machines Dream plays with emotion and feeling and that comes through immediately when the laser hits the disc.  But before you push the  start arrow, clear your head and dim the lights...this is a band that understands the importance of pulling you in so as push you out.  Learn more about Machines Dream at http://machinesdream.com/     
Canada has proven to be fertile ground for the prog garden...one need listen no further than Rush to get an adult dose of Canadian prog rock, and Machines Dream is but one more example of an impressive  export from "The Great White North."  The Concert Closet has traveled this close to the Arctic in the past and after this week I will probably scope the landscape for other prominent up and coming progressive artists.  So off to continue the search...until next week...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Interview with Gregorian Rock

Greetings from the Concert Closet fellow progheads!  As autumn starts to roll in and shake the leaves off the trees, I feel the time is right to venture into into "semi-familiar waters."  So I set the compass in the Concert Closet for home and head back to recognizable tundra.  However; there is no sense rushing back to crisp mornings, a waiting rake, and random lower back pain--time is better spent continuing my search for all things prog...so here I am in Texas one more time for a conversation with Dale Benedict, the founder of Gregorian Rock.

First, a little background...I caught wind of Gregorian Rock back in January of this year and was blown away.  Dale broke new ground in the prog garden blending Gregorian chant with modern music...the resulting sound was a staggering eargasm.  Dale is currently working on Gregorian Rock's second album, due for release in December,  and was kind enough to take some time to talk about that and a few other things...please to enjoy...

Closet Concert Arena: Who and/or what is Gregorian Rock?

Dale Benedict: Gregorian Rock is a musical idea I had a few years ago. I was searching for that elusive thing that would be my own unique sound. With that in mind, I wondered what would happen if I combined Gregorian chant with modern instruments and styles. Previously I had pursued other, more mainstream styles of music, but none of that really went anywhere.  This idea seemed to propel itself along like nothing else had.

CCA: What influenced your decision to combine progressive rock with Gregorian chant?

DB: I didn't set out to work mainly in the prog vein, but it seems to have ended up like that. One of the goals of this musical endeavor was to make music that I want to listen to; music that nobody else was making. I am intentional about keeping the instruments as important as the vocals, and that alone will drive the bus onto the prog highway.

CCA: What bands/musicians do you feel have had the most impact on your music style?

DB: There are many, but the earliest and most profound are ELP, Yes, and the Switched-On Bach records. The more recent influences are Iona, Neal Morse, and Frost.

CCA: Your first album grabbed the listener because it was new, innovative, and exciting.  What can we expect from album #2? 

DB: You can expect the same unusual blending of Gregorian chant and modern instruments, but you can also expect this one to be a step up. I’m taking the lessons learned from the first album and applying them. The writing is more focused and I’ll be more directly involved in some of the final steps. Another difference is instead of all the music being written by me this time, I co-wrote one of the songs with a dear friend, and re-arranged an old hymn to be “Gregorianized”. There are a couple of other twists.

CCA: What musician(s) would you most like to cut an album with?

DB: How about Jeff Beck, Rick Wakeman, Tony Levin, Phil Keaggy, and Mike Portnoy?

CCA: You just added a wish to my bucket list…

CCA: You peel the curtain back a bit and introduce the band on your website.  How did the members of Gregorian Rock come together?

DB: The members of the band are all friends of mine. Some of them were band mates from back in the day, and some are more recently met. When I began this project, I made a list of the musicians I knew, and started contacting them to see who was interested and available. There was the additional requirement that they had to be able to record themselves, or come to my home studio. That last requirement took several out of play. The band is scattered across multiple locations in three different states.

CCA: Any touring on the horizon?

DB: Not at the moment. I am a full time graphic artist, and a part time musician with a family to support. If a tour happens it will mean Gregorian Rock has become the next big thing.

I may not be psychic, but I believe it is safe to say that progheads like me are chomping at the bit for the second release from Gregorian Rock, and that December release date means the hysteria will be here before you know it.  You can learn more about Gregorian Rock at http://gregorianrock.com/ . You can also follow Gregorian Rock on Twitter at @cantusnovus and https://www.facebook.com/gregorian.rock?fref=ts

The clip below is a reprise from my original blog post on Gregorian Rock, a tune called "Sanctus." This is but a small taste of what I anticipate to be a smorgasbord of prog on the second album by Gregorian Rock.  Dale has built a sound so unique, inspiring, and mesmerizing...Gregorian Rock hits your insides full on and reverberates throughout the core of your being.   

As I conclude another post I would like say thanks to everyone who has been following me each week.  This search for all things prog has taken on a life of its own and I am grateful to be a passenger in let alone the captain of the Concert Closet.  Time to once again pull up stakes and continue the search...until next week...