Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mighty Bard

Good evening once again fellow progheads.  I made it back safely from Sweden and so my prog journey continues.  This week found me travelling back to the UK--a frequent haunt in my quest for all things prog-- searching for something different; perhaps a little off the beaten trail.  Many a great prog band originated in England, making me believe there would not be much hassle in my pursuit of good prog music here...and I was correct.  Wandering the aisles of the concert closet I recognized a band I have enjoyed listening to lurking in the corner.  This week I come back for a fresh take on The Mighty Bard.

The Mighty Bard is a band with a unique interpretation  progressive music.  I sense immediately the band has staked out a section of the prog universe not densely populated...just one of the reasons I chose to review The Mighty Bard in the first place.  I get a "Morrissey meets Marillion" vibe initially, with a hint of Falling Edge to make it interesting.  There are also dashes of Jethro Tull and  Alan Parsons Project in the mix just to give you an idea of how vast and varied The Mighty Bard is.

I began the week listening to a song called "Blue God."  The opening piano bleeds into some strong guitar work and then the song just seems to jump up and hit you--not too hard-- in the back of the head.  The keyboards have an almost theatrical feel as they take control.  The vocals come at you rapid fire as the song takes several twists and turns...and all you want to do is enjoy the ride.  The Mighty Bard went all-in on this tune; in true prog fashion the song builds on itself leading to a crescendo that drives the point home.  "Blue God" ran on high octane without screeching at the top of its lungs, and as it faded to black I got the impression The Mighty Bard wanted to keep up the pace...interesting first taste.

My next selection is called "I Know."  The opening is on the melancholy side, a bit dark but not sinister.  The acoustic guitar intro is followed by vocals that drip with emotion; the sadness and despair hang in the air like fog on a cold winter morning.  The drums and bass kick in to give the song a solid pulse that beats throughout, eluding to the possibility of a happy ending...until the darkness rolls back in.  This is a song about a soldier leaving his love behind only to discover he has nothing and no one to return to.  The keyboards are "church-like" if you will...a very poignant song.  The Mighty Bard play with their emotions on their collective sleeves, giving each song a life of its own.

Liner Notes...The Mighty Bard was formed in 2004 by Neil Cockle and Dave Clarke.  Having previously been in several bands between them, the objective with The Mighty Bard was to showcase their own personal talents and portrayal of the progressive genre.  Dave plays guitar and Neil keyboards, and The Mighty Bard has expanded with Mark Parker on violin and backing vocals, Mark Cadman on bass, Gavin Webb on lead vocals, and current drummer Ian Sands, who replaced Aleem Saleh.

My final cut for review this week is a song entitled "The Black Train."  The opening sounds of a train whistle and engine departing the station leave an eerie imprint on the ears.  As the guitar and drums move in like darkness, I get the feeling this is not a joyful holiday ride.  The echoing vocals of a child seemingly lost paint the picture of a ride into dread.  The black train is your final transport and loved ones left behind stand on the platform watching helplessly as lives are forever changed.  The Mighty Bard uses a lot of dark colors but they do paint a vivid picture.

The song posted below is called "No Flesh is the New Dream."  The opening is a bit crisper than the previous selections.  The guitar cuts right to the chase and Gavin has a voice soft as a steel wool pad;  gritty around the edges but the result is something extremely smooth.  The dueling guitars at the end gave me a Moody Blues feel--nothing wrong with that.  The Mighty Bard play with emotion; they make you part of the story that is the music.  Each song is but a piece of a life and you can't help but want to know how it turns out.  Learn more about The Mighty Bard at http://www.themightybard.com/

Well progheads, one more week has fallen off the calendar and one more stamp fills my prog music passport.  The excursion has thus far proved to be fun, intriguing, and educational, as well as extremely mind and eye opening.  Progressive music--like most things worthwhile--evolves without losing sight of its original intention. Bands like The Mighty Bard bring heart and soul to prog music; something that is often misunderstood and under-appreciated.  Take the time to savor what you're listening to and let it sink in a bit...

Now it's time to build up my frequent flyer miles...until next week...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Under the Psycamore

Welcome back once again progheads!  The journey through the concert closet continues...this week was a bit odd for me; I started out intending to review a band that was more "entrenched" in the prog scene and thus spent several days listening to some great music as result.  However; in doing so I stumbled across a group I had no prior knowledge of or appreciation for.  Suddenly I realized why I started this blog in the first place--to discover mind-blowing music that would get me back in touch with the kid who couldn't stop playing "In The Court Of The Crimson King" when he first bought it.  I could ramble on for days but I believe you would prefer I get to the point.  While Mother Nature continued to wreak havoc on most of the country this week, I spent my time in Sweden listening to a remarkable band...Under The Psycamore.

Under The Psycamore is a prog band with roots firmly planted in the garden of classic prog yet their sound is amazingly new, unique, and innovative.  This is a band that not only respects where progressive music came from, it also pushes the boundaries and alters the path of where prog is headed.  Under The Psycamore is the type of band that all at once makes me wish I played guitar and realize why I chose to simply play the stereo instead; although I do believe my appreciation for progressive music is steeped in an understanding of what it takes to be this good.  OK...on with the review...

My first slice of Under The Psycamore is a song called "Celestial."  The subtle opening is almost dishonest; this songs packs more punch than most metal bands can pump through a set of speakers without ever pushing the needle to red.  The guitars cast a net over the song that holds everything else in place.  The drums are dialed in to absolute perfection and the vocals--ahhh, the vocals!  Smoother than virgin silk and stronger than a shot of Maker's Mark, the impression left on the ears will not soon be forgotten.  Under The Psycamore has drawn a line in the proverbial sand that only the strong, talented, and confident will dare to cross.

Serving number two from this prog feast is called "Amalthea."  Under the Psycamore is not a throwback so much as a bridge to the next generation in prog.  The song opens in one direction only to switch course in less than a minute.  Listening to Under The Psycamore fills the air with aromas akin to Tool, Porcupine Tree, 1980's King Crimson, Yes, and even a hint of Uriah Heep.  The smooth guitar tracks seem to flow through the speakers like so much honey poured over a hot biscuit.

Liner Notes...Under The Psycamore is Jonathan Greiff on drums, bass, and backing vocals, and Carl Blomqvist on lead vocals and guitars.  Tora Greiff Bergstrom is credited on the band's website for playing the cello as well.  Their debut album "I" was released through Trey Gunn's 7D Media label.  Under The Psycamore has an uncanny ability to layer soft acoustics with metal guitar, strong drum output, and vocals that run a range from Jon Anderson smooth to John Wetton "not-so-smooth."  The sound is unique and marvelous all at once...I simply did not want to stop listening.

The final serving from this week's sound feast is "Chant Des Baleines."  This song features the aforementioned Trey Gunn playing Warr Guitar...evidently Trey had more than simply producing an album on his mind when he reached out to Jonathan and Carl.  This song is like a fine scotch; you savor it slowly and it grows on you immediately.

The clip posted here is a preview of the "I" album.  I lamented over posting this as opposed to a specific song...this won out mainly because there is no better way to sample excellence than small servings of every option.  Give your ears, heart, and mind a listen they won't soon forget and you can thank me later.  I encourage all fans of true progressive music to check out the Under The Psycamore website at http://underthepsycamore.com/.

This week's journey was an extraordinary stroll through some astounding music.  Under The Psycamore has managed to capture the essence of what prog was meant to be and carry it proudly like an Olympic torch into the 21st century.  Next week's itinerary is not yet mapped out although I am certain it will lead me to yet another remarkable location with out-of-this world prog...but first I have to get back from Sweden.  Until next week...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Spiral Key

Greetings from the concert closet fellow progheads!  Our weekly journey through the world of prog has led to many an interesting and exciting place; this week is no different.  Walking deeper in a section I have traveled before, I find myself back in the UK...familiar place, different face.  Many great progressive bands, artists, and musicians started in the British Empire and I doubt she has exported her last.  One more English new-comer to the prog scene worthy of note is a band called Spiral Key.

My initial taste of Spiral Key has a foundation comprised of  "Dream Theater meets Fire Garden meets Opeth " with splashes of Porcupine Tree and Vanilla Fudge folded in for interesting top notes.  Spiral Key took me back a few decades, when music discussions were loud and boisterous regarding progressive rock and which bands fit the "accepted definition."  Progressive music has traversed a very warped path to reach its current locale and some (I among them) came along for the ride kicking and screaming.  Auspiciously for me, thought processes, opinions, and feelings change.  Many a night I sit listening to prog music relieved my attitude evolved...the thought of missing out on bands like Spiral Key because of  a pre-conceived  ideology of what prog should be is startling--and the reminder I need to stay positive about change.

OK...on with this week's musical buffet.  My first selection is a song called "Colder Than Heaven."  The opening is calm and seems almost choreographed, until the darkness starts to ooze through and you can feel the pain laid at your feet by the vocals.  The guitar stings in all the right places and the keyboards and drums sit ominously in the background, patiently waiting to engulf you.  The song is both well played and well written.  The line, "This can't be hell but it's colder than heaven" hits you square; people can love and hurt simultaneously.  I feel Marillion coming through, flavored with an essence of  Genesis post "...and then there were three..."  Spiral Key has a bit more polish about them than other progressive bands new to the scene.  The sound is good, yet almost "too clean" if you know what I mean...

Serving number two from the buffet is the song "People Are People."  The opening is dark once again; I am getting the feeling Spiral Key has a closet full of secrets and music is pulling the curtain back...Spiral Key delves into what makes people tick with this song; the message is our differences are what make us similar. The accompanying guitar and keyboards seem to go below the surface while the drums hold steady; everything allowing the vocals to ask--perhaps demand--why people can't simply be people in all their imperfect glory.  A good thought-provoker...there is more to Spiral Key than meets the ears...

Liner Notes...Spiral Key is Ken Wynne on bass, vocals, keyboards, and programming, and David McCabe on vocals, guitars, keyboards, and programming.  This appears to follow the  trend of newer prog bands; two people carrying the load.  Spiral Key came together in 2012 as "a fully independent progressive rock/progressive metal band with symphonic overtones."  Spiral Key is a band for the progressive thinker; the music is meant to stir your emotions and pull on your brain rather than hammer it with noise for the sake of noise.  Ken and David complement each other well because they are on this mission together and music is the vessel chosen to deliver their message.  Spiral Key is more than simply a band; it is the culmination of years spent working at and with a passion to build something real.  Spiral Key brings to life the feelings, dreams, and perhaps even anger that make the artists who they are.

Meanwhile, back at the music buffet...my final choice this week is "Words Are Never Enough." The song opens in a downward spiral (no pun intended), and immediately I sense anger and defiance. The drums and guitars incline toward a posture that stares you in the eye and screams with the pent-up rage of a betrayed lover.  The vocals echo with a sadness that garners its fury more from disloyalty than melancholy.

The cut posted below is "At Sixes And Sevens."  The trademark darkness is there right from the get-go;  you can almost feel the veil separating the anger of emotion from the ferocity of action tearing in half.  The mood settles a bit but the rage remains just under the skin.  Spiral Key may be new to the prog scene but they are in a hurry to be heard.  

Spiral Key arrived on the progressive music scene with a bang, much like the student in class who asks questions without raising his hand and then demands answers.  The band does not redefine prog music so much as explore the deeper meaning of what prog really is.  Progressive music steers away from the mundane towards the deep end of the pool; the music is much more complex and analytical.  Spiral Key has staked out its camp in the land of the cerebral.  There is an emotion in their songwriting that begs for a  response, and it is difficult to listen and simply walk away.  Learn more about Spiral Key at http://www.spiralkey.co.uk/index.html.  Just remember to wear a hard hat...


Another week, another post in the blog, another prog band exposed to the light.  There are many flavors on the progressive buffet table, yet they seem to share one commonality.  Prog bands want to be heard for who they are and not compared to a random litmus test based on the vanilla blandness that mainstream music has become.  Spiral Key uncovered a different side of progressive music for me, one which has helped shape my view of what prog is.  Vision, knowledge, and desire are good traits to have and necessary equipment in the hunt for all things prog.  Gotta keep the journey moving forward...until next week...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Caligula's Horse

Thanks for joining me once again fellow progheads!  Another week, another hunt through the concert closet for something prog.  Continuing my journey for new and stimulating progressive music, I stumbled across a band I am slightly familiar with but had not given much consideration until now--a mistake I hope to avoid in the future.  Fortunately for me, this closet stretches all the way to Australia...say hello Caligula's Horse...

Caligula's Horse is a relative new-comer to the progressive music scene, and as I have said many times, there is always room on the prog bus for more talent.  Caligula's Horse has a sound that comes from many directions...perhaps because they admit to influences ranging from The Beatles to Rage Against The Machine to Frank Zappa; quite an eclectic mix to say the least.  Listening to Caligula's Horse this week I felt the urge to reach for my old Argent and Quicksilver Messenger Service albums.  There are definite hints of Dream Theater and Atomic Rooster in their repertoire as well.  Caligula's Horse runs the gambit as far as influences yet they are able to channel all that energy and emotion into a distinctive sound all their own.

I decided to start the musical buffet with the band's debut album, "Moments From Ephemeral City."  My opening selection is a tune called "The City Has No Empathy (Your Sentimental Lie)."  The first 25 seconds are a calm guitar intro with a smooth prog feel--and then BAM! a  full-on prog hammer aimed at your ears. The fluidity of the song is very impressive, like maple syrup flowing ever so smoothly down the side of a stack of pancakes.  Caligula's Horse may be new to the progressive scene, but they are not "deer-in-the-headlights" novices with no direction.  The vocals are smooth and hard-hitting, and the drums never let up yet do not overpower everything else going on in the song.  Very positive first impression...

Serving number two is also from "Moments," a little heavier hitting song called "Calliope's Son (Don't Ever Look Back)."  The opening takes me right to King Crimson's "Lizard" release...but only for a short while. The speed with which the song builds momentum and the strength of its punch is remarkable.  Caligula's Horse hits you with an incredible dose of guitars, keyboards, and drums that work together in alternating rounds of hard-hitting rock and subtle orchestral interludes like an emotional tete-a-tete.  True to the artwork on its album cover, Caligula's Horse is bright, loud, and tremendously clever.  Each time I listen to the music I am hit with something new that catches my attention; the third time through I am fixated on the time and tempo changes.  Caligula's Horse plays with an intensity that is refreshing, as if the rules musicians are expected to follow never existed.  However; the one rule Caligula's Horse does seem to adhere to is "play hard, play fast, and fill every minute with passion."  Of course it helps to have the chops to back it up--and Caligula's Horse has ability to spare.

Liner Notes...Caligula's Horse was started in 2011 by Sam Vallen and Jim Grey.  Originating in Brisbane, Australia, Caligula's Horse is  "...a modern and individual approach to music that channels the raw honesty of classic rock with the skill of progressive metal into a voice at once energetic, grand, and forthright..."  OK; I was about to write that on my own, but the bio on the band's website said it much more poetically.  As is often the path of a band laden with vision, energy, and genius right out of the gate, Caligula's Horse attracted the interest  of like-minded others and soon a full-fledged progressive band was thrust on the world.  The current line-up is Jim Grey lead vocals, Zac Greensill guitar and vocals, Dave Couper bass and vocals, Geoff Irish drums, and Sam Vallen guitars and everything else...I suspect there is a lot in that "box of everything else."

My final selection for this post is a song called "Dark Hair Down."  A little edgier than my previous selections, this song drips of Steve Vai and Opeth, although I also detect hints of Rush and Tool sprinkled throughout.  The song bangs on your head a bit when it opens, but the guitars come rushing in to set the tone. A strong definite bass line emphasized with drums keeps the sound just rough enough for the vocals to smooth it all out.      
Caligula's Horse is not a band that will challenge you intellectually--because (I believe) they choose not to.  Listening to the music all week I was more of the impression Caligula's Horse prefers to poke the inner child in the listener; challenging you emotionally.  Remember the feeling when you had your first crush?  Nothing else in the world mattered--all you knew was it felt great and you never wanted it to end.  Listening to Caligula's Horse may not be as heart string pulling as first love, but you get the idea...Caligula's Horse is more about the art of building a great sandwich rather than the science of a healthy lunch.

The cut below is called "A Gift To Afterthought."  The opening is reminiscent of latter Pink Floyd--until Liquid Tension Experiment leaps through the speakers to grab your attention. Caligula's Horse is a literal plethora of the magic rock 'n' roll used to seduce me as a kid and then keep me coming back for more years later...you can learn more about Caligula's Horse at http://caligulashorse.com/

Well fellow progheads, the calendar pages appear to be flying off the wall.  It feels more like seven hours since my last post--not seven days.  However; I believe you will agree that Caligula's Horse is a great start to February and the perfect energy boost keep the prog concert closet going full tilt.  The new year has kept me busy hunting for and listening to great new progressive bands all over the world; lucky for me the closet is deep and I don't need a passport...until next week...