Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gregorian Rock

Hello once again fellow progheads and welcome back to the concert closet.  2014 has so far been a stellar year for all things prog and new; I have discovered some extremely talented, diverse, and exciting bands to broaden my progressive horizons.  This week I am amazed at how cavernous this closet really is...strolling deeper and deeper, past the leisure suits, rows of wide ties, and a bizarre hat/belt rack, I discovered a band that is truly different in every sense of the word.  Although I use the word "unique" a lot in my posts, I believe you will agree that the music on the menu this week is distinctive, uncommon, and absolutely tremendous...welcome to the sounds of Gregorian Rock.

Gregorian Rock is described by its founder Dale Benedict as "...the first all-original Gregorian rock album ever, combining Gregorian chant and rock influences into a serene yet pummeling sound."  Spot on actually, although you have to leave your comfort zone and try Gregorian Rock on for size to fully appreciate something this out of the ordinary.  Using my own words I would describe Gregorian Rock as the biblical version of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.  When I said unique, I meant exactly that...one-of-a-kind unique.

My jump-off point for this week is a song called "Saeculum."  The prog feel kicks in almost immediately; the keyboards, drums, and guitars work together in a way that is smooth as eight inches of untouched powder on a cross-country ski trail.  The vocals have the Gregorian chant vibe without the pipe organ/chamber music feel.  The  tempo is upbeat--another unexpected surprise.  Listener beware; Gregorian Rock is neither old-style, religious music nor loud, ear-crushing metal.  Rather, Gregorian Rock has taken the hallowed sounds of Gregorian chant and traditional Catholic hymns and melded them with some amazing progressive instrumentation.  The result is a sound so incredibly special I am absolutely blown away.  This is a music feast I will not soon walk away from...

Serving number two is a tune called "Agnus Dei."  The opening keyboards and drums tell me immediately Gregorian Rock is by no means one dimensional because this song is 180 degrees from "Saeculum."  The vocals have an almost eerie similarity to Sammy Davis Jr.--and I do not say that like it's a bad thing.  Eyes closed I am getting Alan Parsons Project with a church choir doing back-up.  This song is upbeat, tight, and fun. Gregorian Rock is definitely music to play loud wherever you are...

Liner Notes...hailing from San Antonio TX, the mastermind behind the curtain with Gregorian Rock is Roland Dale Benedict.  Gregorian Rock is basically a one-man gig with Dale playing keyboards, wind controller, and Chapman Stick.  Many a musician has performed and recorded with Gregorian Rock, but the focus here is Dale and the music.  Simply stated, Gregorian Rock works because the music transcends. Personally I would never have been inspired to blend Gregorian chant with progressive music, but I am most certainly appreciative of Dale for having had that very brainstorm.  The music comes at you full force on each cut...just from different angles, viewpoints, and directions.  Gregorian Rock may have a definite "cathedral texture" about it, but not to the point where you feel the urge to genuflect or reach for the holy water--better to grab the volume control and crank it just a bit. The vocals can be almost haunting at times, and the drums, keyboards, and guitars are so full and tight I find it hard to believe Gregorian Rock is not fifteen people playing Madison Square Garden...a special kudos to the mixing on these tunes.

Taking my last helping from the buffet this week, I chose "Psalm 23."  Probably the most widely recognized of all the psalms in the bible, Gregorian Rock's version opens with lightning fast synthesizers and drums that dare you not to play air versions of either one.  The vocals on this cut are technologically terrestrial...try saying that three times fast.  If Gregorian Rock was around "back in the day" the Pharisees might not have been so inclined toward Crucifixion...

The song posted below is called "Sanctus."  My initial flashback to catechism class is short-lived--the drums and guitars made sure of that.  Anyone even remotely familiar with the Catholic church will recognize the hymn until the sledgehammer smashes you right in the face.  I pick up some influential aromas of  Roxy Music and Yes...I believe the Brian Eno and early Rick Wakeman years for both respectively.  Gregorian Rock has put a whole new spin on Christian music for me; I might have been a choir member if the songs were played this way on Sunday mornings.  Learn more about Gregorian Rock at http://gregorianrock.com/.  And don't be surprised if you get the urge to buy a hooded brown robe and a waist length piece of rope...

Well fellow progheads, as impossible as it seems (at least to me) this is my last post for January...is 2014 moving at lightning speed or what?!  The year has certainly started out strong and the bar has been set high, which only means there are other incredibly talented prog bands out there I need to find.  Fortunately "Prog Band Hunting" has become something of an Olympic sport for me.  I get the feeling I may never reach the end of the journey--which is absolutely fine with me.  Thanks for listening and riding  along.  Now back to the search...until next week...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Grey Lotus

Hello again fellow progheads!  As winter continues it slow cruel trek into spring (it has to get here eventually), I have decided to turn up the heat just a bit.  I thought the time was right to search out something with a bit of an attitude; not "screaming-in-your-face" attitude, more like "please-check-your-mind-at-the-door" attitude...

So I spent this past week wandering the closet looking for something with a bit of an edge...a place I have not visited in a while.  As I said, I have been in the mood for something more on the unique side of prog and I knew I would have to dig deep to satisfy my craving.  Moving a box of old baseball cards I found just what the prog doctor ordered...Grey Lotus anyone?

Grey Lotus is a band I have been curious about for a while...and going forward I promise not to wait so long to satisfy my curiosity.  Flavored with metal--but not so much I remind myself of my Dad--Grey Lotus walks the jagged line along the fringe of progressive music.  I pick up many new aromas and a few distinct flavors; Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, The Strawbs, and even a hint of Marillion.  Grey Lotus is definitely a band for the creative thinker.

My first selection this week is a song called "Murder."  My first thought was go big or go home and Grey Lotus does not disappoint.  The song opens almost ballad-like but randomly hits you with jolts of heavy guitar and drums.  The vocals are haunting and I am taken back to Warren Zevon describing the unfortunate demise of the Excitable Boy's prom date sans humor, and Pink Floyd warning Eugene to be careful with that axe.  The song is dark for sure, but there is a strange, eerie kind of calm that surrounds you even when the tempo picks up.  You feel your heart racing yet your pulse is as steady and calm as syrup dripping through a funnel.  This is a new sensation and so far I am enjoying the ride...

My second choice is "Miscommunication."  The opening keyboards are a pleasant start as they bleed into vocals and synthesizers taking the listener on an unknown journey.  Grey Lotus takes you inside the mind of a person who seems to be searching for and simultaneously running from the truth.  I close my eyes and I am standing on a train platform watching a silhouette through a fogged window as the train leaves the station...I am alone and helpless, knowing the chase is futile but feeling the need to continue.  Grey Lotus grabs you by the thought process and penetrates deep into the recesses of your mind with deep, dark music covered with emotion, like moss on cobblestones.

Liner Notes...Grey Lotus was formed in the Netherlands in 2008 as a progressive collaboration between Joost Verhagen and Daan Arisz.  Joost  sings vocals and plays piano, bass, guitar, and "found objects," while Daan plays guitars, EBow, bass, drums, synthesizers, drone, noise, and samples.  Additional musicians have included Martijn Scholte, Roelof Ruis, Bob van Waarde, Berit Soolsma, Niels and Lars van der Weiden, and Sand Snowman.  Grey Lotus may not be comprised of household names, but they are extremely talented musicians in an ever-changing line-up built around Joost and Daan.

My third and final choice this week is a song called "Slowly Letting Go."  Once again Grey Lotus opens with images intended to bring you out of your seat and into the song. There is an almost "Tears For Fears" feel as the guitar and synthesizer start out quiet and still; almost too serene.  Despite the initial mellow overtones and dark quiet tempo, I feel like I am about to catch a sledgehammer in the forehead...and here it comes.  Grey Lotus has the uncanny ability to add metal to the music with vocals just as much (if not more) than with guitars, drums, and keyboards...and just as suddenly the bus comes to an abrupt stop and I fall forward trying not to smash my face on the seat in front of me.  Grey Lotus has taught me a new way to listen to prog music, and as an ever-appreciative student of the art I can only sit starry-eyed and say thank you.  I am humbled this week listening to a sound so unique and bold yet so understated.  You need to listen--really listen--to understand.

The clip below is called "Not If."  The opening violin sets a mood that is soothing and scary all at once.  The vocals are incredible; you can almost feel the aching in Joost's voice as he walks back through a life looking for second chance opportunities.  The song is from an  album aptly titled "The Art Of Listening."  Grey Lotus has put together a lesson on the difference between hearing and listening that needs to be shared.  As I replay these songs I take my own advice and really listen; Grey Lotus paints a scene so vivid and bright I feel as though I have transcended my reality and broken through to theirs.  Listen for yourself  and feel what I am so inadequately trying to say.  


Once again fellow progheads we are at the end of another incredible week.  I learned a lot listening to Grey Lotus and I hope those lessons made their way to you as well.  Progressive music in general is more than sound pressed on a compact disc or 12" of vinyl.  True prog uses all five senses to give the listener an experience that changes each time the music is played...almost as though it is alive and breathing in the room with you. Grey Lotus has found a way to take that to the next level and bring the listener into the music.  The art of listening is one to be savored and appreciated, and Grey Lotus makes you realize the value of patience while doing just that.  Another opportunity to discover great new prog awaits...until next week...


Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Welcome once again fellow progheads to the concert closet.  In an effort to maintain the momentum 2014 started with, I am continuing my quest for new and exciting prog music.  During my search this week, I found myself in an interesting discussion about music and what constitutes "mainstream" vs. "indie." Unfortunately both terms conjure up (at least for me) one of two images:

First, the "Corporate" attack on radio that has numbed the mind, heart, and soul...reducing music to 3-minute empty choruses about love and cars.  Playlists have been reduced to 27 songs in total and they are played faster than intended in a never ending loop designed to guide you through your plastic day...

Second, the self-proclaimed "Independent Thinker" who believes he/she is the smartest person in the room.  Most of the indie artists heard today are produced (and thus owned) by major labels.  It is akin to artisan beer that is actually bottled by Budweiser or Miller--how new and original can it really be?  Ahhh, but I digress...

Coming back to Planet Prog I am happy to say things are different here.  Music is appreciated and respected for what it is.  Prog is different because prog doesn't try to conform to any specific target audience--you either like progressive music or you do not--and either answer is acceptable.  Prog may re-invent itself along the way; that is part of the draw for me.  Past and current artists inspire and mentor; the next generation picks up the torch and marches headlong into the fray...and with that in mind I chose a band this week that seems to re-invent itself with each song...a band that is difficult to pin down on every front except one--the sound and the music are fantastic.  This week progheads, I bring you Majestic.

My first selection from the Majestic Music Smorgasbord is a song called "Whispers/Freefall." A very intriguing sound; at first I find it difficult to make a comparison...which makes for a good first impression. Original is always nice and the soothing undertones to this song force my hand; I have to clear my head and focus.  The vocals are soft yet right out front.  There is a keyboard playing in the background that grabs your attention a little at a time...a very interesting tune--a bluesy/jazz fusion mood seems to have wrapped its arms around the song and massaged its way into the sound...and then without warning I get a hint of Genesis-meets-King Crimson and suddenly all bets are off.  Intermittently I am hearing an alternate version of King Crimson's Red album with a little of Genesis' Wind and Wuthering mixed in for fun.

Off to an excellent start, I eagerly return to the buffet line for a second helping and find "Dance Of The Elders."  I admit my first attraction to the song was the title...fortunately anticipation did not kill the expectation.  The song opens with a much different and more distinct sound; a definite Alan Parsons Project feel this time.  Keyboards and drums fill this song to the rim without making your head hurt.  Majestic seems to taunt you with its ability to change everything from song to song.  There really is no point in pigeon-holing Majestic--the band would simply re-define itself 15 minutes later in the middle of the same song!

Liner Notes...Majestic was created in 2007 and is the brain child of self described producer/artist Jeff Hamel.  Ranging from "atmospheric passages" to "symphonic prog," Jeff manages to hit every note on the progressive music machine as he puts together what I consider individual orchestral prog pieces.  Majestic has collaborated with Jessica Rasche, Tara Morgan, and Dave Cagle on vocals, Mike Kosacek and John Wooten on drums, Jerry Swan and Scott Hamel on bass, and Gregg Johns on guitar.  This however is by no means a complete list--I would spend less time listing the Minneapolis area phone directory than the artists and musicians Jeff has worked with to make Majestic what it is...a myriad of incredible prog music.

For my third and final sampling this week I chose "Darkened Worlds." The acoustic opening with deep vocals starts to draw me in almost immediately;  I am on a beach and in the middle of Manhattan at the same time searching my subconscious for meaning...Majestic is truly on a par with the the best prog has to offer.  If progressive music had forefathers they would be proud...

The track below is "Voyage Ends."  I wanted to present one song that sort of summed up who Majestic is--but that is like describing the Sistine Chapel as a "pretty church."  You might be right--but you left out the good stuff.  There are strong hints of Dream Theater and even a bit of Beardfish in this tune. With Majestic it is best to simply lie back, breathe deep and slow, and simply forget everything you know (or thought you knew).  Learn more about Majestic at www.majesticsongs.com.

Hard to believe progheads but another week has passed us by faster than a trip across the George Washington Bridge.  Majestic has convinced me there are prog bands out there just waiting to be discovered.  There are worse things I could do than search them out and bring them to you--but there aren't many things better!  Of the things I like about Majestic--and there are many--the constant restructuring of the band based on which direction Jeff wants the music to go in seems to me the most fascinating.  I have been listening to Majestic all week and I am amazed at the contrast from song to song.  Well, it's time to say good night fellow progheads; I hear keyboards calling...until next week...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Welcome back fellow progheads!  Thank you for your continued support and traveling with me on this incredible prog journey as we enter the abyss that is 2014.  A new year brings with it so many new promises, dreams, wishes, and opportunities...and this being my first post of the new year I wanted to find something different...something special.  With that in mind I decided to venture into the way back, far corners, where-the-monsters-hide section of my closet for something new and original...who knew I would be traveling all the way to Italy?!

Over the holiday break I took a trip via the Progmusic Express to my ancestral homeland and discovered Pandora,  a band that really understands the meaning of "progressive music."  Pandora plays prog the way it is meant to be played--loud, hard, deep, and real.

The album I have been listening to the past few weeks is called "Alibi Filosofico."  This seems to be a concept album dealing with the battle of Good vs. Evil with music as the weapon of choice.  The first song, "The Necromancer, Khurastos, And The Forthcoming Victim" takes you right to the heart of the fight; the center of the battlefield.  The music sets an emotional tone that prepares you for a journey through darkness, rage, fear, hope, happiness, and love--lost and found.  Pandora puts so much of themselves into their music it is almost frightening.

Moving to my second selection I choose "The Resurgence."  The opening horn has a jazz club feel as it first rolls over your ears, but you are quickly carried away to a carnival-like atmosphere that is almost other-worldly.  Pandora has strong hints of early King Crimson; I am making mental comparisons to "Lizard" and "Lark's Tongue In Aspic."  The hook for Pandora, however, is the constant time and tempo changes wrapped around incredible mood swings...I find myself anticipating where the music will take me next with the excitement of a six year-old on Christmas morning.  The music is layered in such a manner I feel like I am enveloped in it rather than listening to it.  The guitars, keyboards, horns, and percussion meld together as if playing from one single source simultaneously...the vocals are here to explain the scene being played out musically.  The resulting tapestry is quite a piece--and one to be savored.

Liner Notes...Pandora is Claudio Colombo on drums, guitars, keyboards, and flute, Beppe Colombo on keyboards, and Corrado Grappeggia on vocals and keyboards.  Other vocalists and musicians are credited on particular songs but it appears that these three artists are the heart and soul of Pandora.  To list every musician would force me to run the blog a bit too long...suffice to say Pandora has assembled an amazing group of artists, musicians, and vocalists resulting in an incredible prog album in the truest sense.  Pandora plays as though music is the life blood of the band--and that is the way music should be played. Prog is well served with Pandora in her entourage.

Listening to Pandora is like being in the middle of a prog opera at times.  Their sound is so full and complete I just want to sit back and let the music wash over my soul.  Making my third selection was a bit challenging because I wanted to capture the real sense of what Pandora has done on this album.  After thinking way too long I decide on "Apollo." I chose this song because Pandora uses everything here except the proverbial "kitchen sink."  The song opens with some floating saxophone, surreal vocal echoes, and an almost full-color music eruption that builds to an energy level you can almost see explode.  The percussion comes in with keyboards, horns, and guitars to tie it all together into an incredibly tight piece.  I feel as though I am running through the countryside being swept up in the vortex of a wild musical ride.

Pandora has taken prog music back to its inception; the sound is so full, fast, emotional, energetic--and real. I have been listening to this album for two weeks now and I am still discovering new sounds and images I missed in previous listens...a true testament to the capabilities of the band.  Pandora makes popping in a CD (although I still prefer putting on an LP) fun again.  Listening to the music of Pandora is like an Olympic event--you need to keep up and be constantly prepared for the next challenge.

The selection below is called "Neither Title Nor Words."  The haunting vocals by Emoni Viruet backed up by the acoustic guitar, moog synthesizer, and full sound of Pandora make this another incredible piece of prog music.  Pandora has set the bar high for me going into 2014.  You can learn more about Pandora--and I urge you to do so--at their website http://www.pandoramusic.eu/

Well fellow progheads I believe we have gotten off to an awesome start with Pandora.  As 2014 unfolds with high expectations, great promises, and no preconceived ideas about what lies ahead, I am excited to continue my journey through Progressive Music Utopia.  Thanks for checking back in this week and I hope you will continue with me on this amazing ride.  After discovering Pandora I know there are so many more amazing prog bands out there just waiting to be heard...and my ears are just waiting for me to hit the "play" button....until next week...