Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Good evening once again fellow progheads!  Spring is nudging her way onto the calendar and into the atmosphere, while Winter seems to have a death grip on the thermometer...but alas, I fear not! My search for all things prog is heating up and the Concert Closet has been traveling at warp speed in search of  something fresh and stimulating to ring in the season.  The Mighty Bard was a brilliant way to ring out the cold and mark my exodus (for now) from the UK.  This week finds the Concert Closet back on domestic turf--escaping the final icy grasp of winter--in sunny California listening to the multi-layered sounds of Epoch.

Referring to themselves simply as "...an original prog rock band...," Epoch makes a bold statement with just five words.  Knowing that many an "original" band tries to take cover under the prog umbrella, I feel compelled to check out the definition of original as defined by Epoch.  So if I have to take the Concert Closet to a warmer climate for seven days, then suffer I will (he said sarcastically)...

Cutting a path to the buffet for my opening round, I come away with a vibrant first serving, "Colossus."  The song opens with an auditory curtain being drawn back to reveal something macabre at first, but repeated listening exposes a piece of music that is complex, explosive, and yes--original. There are strong top notes of Dream Theater and Black Sabbath permeating this piece.  Guitars don't so much explode as much as they simply pour a thick coating over the music; much like the chocolate dip you enjoyed on your ice cream cone as a kid.  The drums hit hard and strike fast, bringing the song together with a solid foundation.  These seven days are off to a metallic start so you'd better get ready for a bumpy ride...isn't that right Barbara?

The next offering from the prog buffet is a song called "Terran Tula."  The carnival-like keyboard opening is extremely short-lived as once again Epoch hits you square in the cranium with a piece of darkness that pulls you inside yourself.  I sense aromas of Tool and Liquid Tension Experiment with a dose of Opeth added to the mix just for the fun factor.  Epoch takes you on an abstract roller coaster ride that punches through to the dark side without leaving you in hell.  Every note is crisp and tight, while echoing vocals wrap around your ears and squeeze until you feel as though you've been turned inside out.

Liner Notes...calling San Jose, CA home, Epoch is Randall Cieri on lead guitar and backing vocals, Mike Underwood on bass and backing vocals, Brad Mayol on lead vocals and keyboards, and Tim Franks on drums and electronic percussion.  Epoch has been cultivating the metallic darker corners of the prog garden since 2010 and working hard to become masters of their craft.  Having earned individual music awards and degrees as well as performing in several other prog/metal bands, the members of Epoch together are now carving their own progressive rock identity...with a chainsaw...

Selection number three--the final morsel from the buffet this week-- is another explosive piece called "The Red Dragon is Under the Queensboro Bridge."  The seemingly obligatory dark opening leads to a door from which guitars and drums are only too happy to leap once you turn the knob.  Oddly enough however, once the demons are exposed to the light the bitter edge becomes a bit more palatable.  Don't get too relaxed--Epoch is poised to bore through your ear drums and explode dead center in your brain...listen closely as this piece leaps through mood and tempo changes like Bugs Bunny eluding Elmer Fudd.

The clip posted below for your personal consumption is "Calling the Spirit."  This piece starts out more melodic than previous songs.  Epoch is still able to go for the throat; they just decided to make the attack more subtle this time around.  The guitar fills your head just enough to leave room for a bass line Chris Squire would be proud of, while keyboards and drums occupy your subconscious much like the need to breathe occupies the automatic section of your brain.  Epoch leads you on a road trip across the prog galaxy with this tune...think Dream Theater meets Marillion meets Yes for a game of Truth-or-Dare...learn more about Epoch at http://www.epochband.com/index.php.  You can also follow the band on Twitter at @EPOCHBAND.  Look for more of Epoch's music at https://myspace.com/epochrock/music/songs

It can be difficult if not downright impossible to not be compared to or labeled with peers or forerunners of any genre.  However;  Epoch seems to take that in stride and wear the badge with honor. Comparisons to the heavy-hitting standard bearers sets the bar high...the better to challenge yourself with.  Spending seven days with Epoch revealed a different side of prog metal...and one must peel back the armor plating to get a glimpse. The metal section of the prog garden has fertile soil; Dream Theater, Opeth, and Led Zeppelin are but three offshoots that have flourished in the "dark sunshine."  Epoch is following the lead and unfurling their own banner..staking out their own territory.

As the saying goes, never rest on your laurels.  The search for all things prog continues to unearth the dark stones that need polish and the bright shining gems that burn a lasting image.  Time for the Concert Closet to continue the quest...until next week...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Mighty Bard "Blue God and Other Stories"

Greetings once again fellow progheads!  After spending a week with the Happy Graveyard Orchestra, I decided to extend my UK stop over seven more days so as to check out a new album release by a band I have been enjoying for a while now.  If you are a regular follower of my blog--and I sincerely appreciate those of you who are--The Mighty Bard should ring a progressive bell or two...

Having released their CD "Blue God and Other Stories" in December, The Mighty Bard has graciously asked me to review it here in the Concert Closet...of course I was quite flattered and eagerly agreed.  The Mighty Bard has been making fantastic prog for over a decade and being privy to their ascent in the genre is a bit special for me.  I always knew the UK was fertile ground for great progressive music, so let us take a quick jaunt to High Wycombe and check out the sounds of The Mighty Bard.

I believe it is best to start at the beginning of the disc and build a mood...much the way I approach the prog buffet each week.  The Mighty Bard are storytellers from the emotional side of the tracks, and I found that listening repeatedly to this disc opened new windows in the frontal and limbic lobes of my brain...but enough biology--let's get this prog feast started!

The CD opens with a "tech-savvy" intro called "Before..." and I immediately get the feeling this will be an affecting disc, with mood swings and tempo changes sure to hit the "thrill" and "thought" buttons in those earlier mentioned lobes...The guitar work is tight and crisp while the drums fill the spaces in between like so much insulation.  There are strong top notes of The Alan Parsons Project, The Tangent, and 10cc emanating through my headphones...aaahhh yes, it is good to be "home..."

The fade out from "Before..." as the laser starts to dig into track number two, "Blue God," is as smooth as chocolate melting on your tongue...at first play through I almost missed the changeover. Gavin's vocals weave through the air like a warm knife cutting through butter, and everybody behind him nails their role perfectly.  The keyboards flow like champagne at a victory celebration, while once again strong guitar hacks to the bone--but at just the right depth.  Andy's drumming has the ability to hold the entire piece up like a trophy on display.  The Mighty Bard have not missed a step since my last visit.  Sit back and let this piece wash over you a few times; the passion hits you repeatedly but you know you want more...

Liner Notes...Hailing from the aforementioned town of High Wycombe in England,  The Mighty Bard remains founders Neil Cockle on keyboards and Dave Clarke on guitars, joined by Mark Cadman on bass, Mark Parker on violin and backing vocals, and Gavin Webb singing  lead.  The only personnel change since our last visit is Andy Dovey sitting behind the drum kit.

Moving back to the music, track seven is a thought provoking piece called "Placidity."  The opening speaks to the title as it flows delicately through the headphones, gently piercing the veil of my auditory canals.  Not so much a dark piece, but sadness and melancholy do drip off the edges like honey from the comb.  The Mighty Bard has a remarkable talent for digging deep into a story without getting lost in the periphery...they cut right to the heart.  You don't just sense a loss--you feel it.  Yet along with the despair and darkness there always seems to be a ray of hope...a thin shaft of light...

This glimmer of a chance bleeds through to the next song, a more haunting piece called "I Know." There is a poignant, somewhat evocative tone riding shotgun over the top of this tune...you can almost feel something tangible in the darkness here; a sense of loss deep and strong enough to pull you in if you are not careful.  The Mighty Bard carves through flesh and cartilage like a skilled surgeon...leaving no marks but for the emotional scars on the soul. Buy this disc, clear your head, sit back, and ponder the possibilities...learn more about the Mighty Bard and purchase the "Blue God and Other Stories" CD at http://themightybard.bandcamp.com/.  The Mighty Bard can also be found on Twitter, @TheMightyBard and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheMightyBard.  While you're surfing, check their website, http://www.themightybard.com/.

I posted below one of my favorite cuts from this release, "Heart of the Strangelove."  The keyboards bring you into the 21st century, but the lifeblood of this song--the hallmark of The Mighty Bard--is good old-fashion story telling.  Gavin sets a layer of velvety smooth vocals across tightly assembled guitars, keyboards, and drums, and just like maple syrup poured over grandma's pancakes on a cold Sunday morning, you'll want to savor this for a while...

As winter winds down ever so stubbornly into a spring filled with hope and promise, so to does my search continue for all things prog.  The Mighty Bard has put together a truly great release and  I hope that resonates through this review.  There is an often under-appreciated strength in the ability to tell a story--a deep, gut-wrenching story--put to music.  The Mighty Bard grabs all the strings and weaves them together like a soft Persian rug underfoot; you appreciate it every time you come in contact with it.

My search for all things prog has led to many a great discovery; The Mighty Bard being just one of the gems.  But now the time has come for The Concert Closet to be refueled and re-stocked in preparation for another leg in what has become an astonishing journey.  Please check out The Mighty Bard and their music...then get ready to follow along in my continued search for all things prog. Time to set the GPS for a new landing spot--outside the UK...until next week...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy Graveyard Orchestra

Welcome once again to my search for all things prog, fellow progheads!  I hope you enjoyed the two week extended stay in Germany as we all got to know Fire on Dawson...and now the search continues.  This week I find myself  back yet again in the familiar confines of the UK--must be some sort of magnetic pull--as I feel the Concert Closet being drawn to some new and distinct sounds emanating from London.  Looking to "loosen up a bit" I discovered a band that, while it might not take itself too seriously, does have an interesting groove.  Welcome to the sounds of Happy Graveyard Orchestra.

Happy Graveyard Orchestra qualify themselves as "...experimental rock...unpredictable music, unexpected musicians..."  If you've followed my blog for even a few weeks, you know it is impossible for me to travel past that billboard without at least a look-see...so with a wink and a nod toward a "less than formal" week, let us wander into the off-beat darkness of the Happy Graveyard Orchestra...

Moving slowly and perhaps a bit cautiously to the prog buffet for my first serving, I come away with a very distinct tune called "That Thing There for Me."  Almost immediately I get a sense of Crowded House performing with Frank Zappa.  Soft and melodic, the music wends itself not so much through the dark gloom of a graveyard, but rather the upbeat celebration of achieved happiness. There is quite a bit happening here really; it is almost as if the music causes an out-of-body experience.  The simplistic acoustics are accented with just the right emotion by the vocals.  I sense top notes of Difford and Tilbrook floating across a smoke-filled nightclub where Ebn-Ozn are back lit on a dark, sparse stage...striking while making you hanker for more...

Moving with a bit more confidence in my gait, the return trip to the prog buffet yields an ironically fitting piece called "Dracula."  An instrumental lead in with aromas of early Beatles in an oddly funky mood.  As the song progresses, I detect top notes of Architecture of the Absurd and Van der Graaf Generator...almost a Hocus Pocus unplugged kind-of-vibe.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra oozes with fun and talent--an atypical combination that is both refreshing and exhilarating.  The bass thumps across the latter part of this song like stones skimming a lake.

Liner Notes...Haunting the area in and around London, England, Happy Graveyard Orchestra was founded by bass playing vocalist Ivan Perilli currently joined by Debbie Teo on oboe, piano, and glockenspiel, Saif Ur-Rehman on steam punk guitar, and Pablo Perez Vich on drums and percussion.  I can honestly say I do not recollect seeing an oboe or glockenspiel credit listed by a band prior to this, which goes to my point about how talented, dedicated, and comfortable Happy Graveyard Orchestra appears to be.  Fold in the ability to avoid being overly serious, some humility, and a dash of zaniness...voila!  Happy Graveyard Orchestra. With two demos to their credit, Happy Graveyard Orchestra emerged from the darkness around A.D. 2012 and have been wreaking musical havoc since.

Trip number three to this ghoulish buffet yields a song reminiscent of New Orleans jazz; "Danse Macabre & the Swan."  The snare drum opening leading into dark, ominous acoustics takes me to a funeral march that is more celebratory than downtrodden.  I pick up the scent of Bang on a Can All Stars emanating from my headphones...Happy Graveyard Orchestra didn't just walk to the end of the prog garden--they leaped across the babbling brook, paced off another fifty feet and then dug a trench into which they poured their souls.  Music like this comes along rarely...and I believe that is because while many would like to break the mold and leave an indelible mark, few have the courage to step into the moonlight for that "offbeat foxtrot."  Happy Graveyard Orchestra are fun to listen to...akin to hanging out at your favorite local gin joint because the house band just plain ol' kicks ass...learn more about Happy Graveyard Orchestra at http://happygraveyardorchestra.co.uk/.  You can also follow them on Twitter @HappyGraveyardO and Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/HappyGraveyardOrchestra.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra can also be found on Spotify and iTunes.

Choosing a clip to post for your listening pleasure was a unique challenge this week; I wanted to capture the essence of what Happy Graveyard Orchestra is without spoiling the fun.  Ultimately, I opted for a song called "Those Seventeen Letters."  The tempo and mood flit about; energetic to sedentary...macabre to joyous...even structured to avant-garde...which is what makes Happy Graveyard Orchestra both fun and maddening to listen to.  There are bands that dare you to put a label on their music, or try to pigeon-hole their style. Happy Graveyard Orchestra just sits back and watches you try, with the evil genius grin your algebra teacher wore when you tried to explain a quadratic equation...


Well my fellow progheads, I hope you enjoyed deciphering Happy Graveyard Orchestra as much as I did.  Progressive music is such a moving target and bands that are able to expand the landscape are a special breed to me.  Emulation is fine--even desired at times.  But the true artist is one who can walk out on the stage that is life and project something new and distinct...Happy Graveyard Orchestra does that with all the seriousness and stress of blowing bubbles in a glass of chocolate milk.

Much like other trailblazers, Happy Graveyard Orchestra leaves you scratching your head and wanting more...but alas; the Concert Closet is off once again to extend the search for all things prog...until next week...  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fire on Dawson...Take Two; "The Interview"

Prog greetings from Karlsruhe, Germany one more time fellow progheads!  I hope you enjoyed your initial introduction to Fire on Dawson last week.  Tonight we dig a little deeper in the prog garden; peel back the petals from the flower for a closer inspection.  As promised last time we met, Fire on Dawson gives the Concert Closet a behind-the-scenes look into the heart and soul of a truly exceptional prog band.  So let us jump in with both ears, shall we?

Closet Concert Arena: Who and/or what are Fire on Dawson?

Fire on Dawson: Well, you could say we are a group of four individuals who find common ground in expressing our emotions and ideas in the form of music.  We like pushing the boundaries of what our minds and ears can comprehend and sincerely hope that it continues that way.

CCA: What bands influenced you growing up, and what bands do you believe influence Fire on Dawson's style today?

FoD: That's a difficult one, because as artists I think we are influenced not just by other musicians but also by things that might be easily overlooked and deemed mundane, such as a traffic jam or a really grey day.  But if we were to strictly talk about other artists, bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, Breaking Benjamin, Tool, and even performers like Michael Jackson and Eminem for that matter have had some part to play in our musical evolution.

CCA: Your current album releases have a dark, metal feel to them.  Is this your comfort zone,or will Fire on Dawson take new risks on upcoming releases?  

FoD: We are currently working on an unplugged album which will be an amalgamation of stripped down and restructured versions of existing songs from our first two albums, as well as some new tracks we are pretty excited about.  As I mentioned earlier, we are always looking to push the envelope and see what our musical soul comes up with.

CCA: Is there one main song writer, or are the songs a collaboration among all members of the band?

FoD: When it comes to the songwriting or brainstorming process for new songs, we usually bring a small idea to the table and then just try to impose our individual personalities on that piece.  So a song could be written in its entirety by just one person or stitched together with each of our input.  I am blessed to be in the company of three very creative and unique individuals, where each of them has a different take on a riff or a melody.  That makes this whole process very exciting and enriching.

CCA: Where do you go emotionally/mentally when writing?

FoD: I personally like to envisage a situation or a setting in my mind inspired from the mood set by the tone and feeling of an instrumental idea and then just imagine a story play out.  I then try to express that in words and intonations and work from there.  Some songs take maybe hours to write while others can play on for months before a satisfactory path is found for them.

CCA: If you could invite anyone to play a live gig with, who would you choose?

FoD: Jesus, followed by a few questions backstage.

CCA: You classify your music as alternative progressive; can you elaborate on that theme?

FoD: Well, the "generalization" of our music was never something that interested us.  But listeners, promoters, and everyone else wants you to put a label on it so they can decide before even listening to it if it's worth their time.  Our busy lives and short attention spans don't give us the freedom of really exploring art to its full extent anymore.  So when we were releasing our first album and had to send it out to reviewers, the first question was always, "What kind of music is it?"  We then made a list of all the bands we enjoyed listening to, checked their genres on their Wikipedia pages and by the process of elimination, came up with this description. Some things we do are artistic in nature while others are purely scientific... :)

CCA: How did you come up with the name "Fire on Dawson?"

FoD: A restaurant called "Fire" on Dawson Street in Dublin, Ireland.  One of our ex-bandmates was in that restaurant and happened to still have a bill from there in his pocket.  At the time we had been searching for a name for our group and had gone through at least a thousand ideas, all of which to no avail.  But when we saw the bill from this restaurant, we unanimously agreed it was the way to go.

CCA: You have a large following in Europe; any plans to bring your sound across the pond to the US?

FoD: It has always been a personal dream of mine to present our music to an English speaking audience; most of our lyrics are in English and I actually take a lot of time and pain to match the mood with the perfect word.  So it would be pretty exciting to have an audience that appreciates not only the musical side of things, but also listens and understands the lyrics so they can completely immerse themselves in the world which the songs find themselves in.

CCA: Your music has multiple layers that can be soothing, searing, and deep.  Who/what influences the arrangement of the music and the final product on the album?

FoD: It's very different for every song.  Some songs are written exclusively in the rehearsal room during jam sessions, while others are pondered over for hours in the comfort of our homes.  Once we are all satisfied with the basic structure of the piece we move into the territory of making it sound like we hear it in our heads.

CCA: Is touring something you look forward to or are you more comfortable in the studio?

FoD: It's circumstantial, really.  We love touring and playing live shows and have had the good fortune of performing in many countries across Europe and Asia.  Due to several different factors, however, we are not a band that is constantly on the road.  We respect bands that do that, but it was never a viable option for us.  That being said, we have played over 150 live shows so far--so it's not like we never get out of the studio space.  There is a special excitement to seeing people's faces when you present your songs to them in a live setting!

CCA: Is there a new album in the works?

FoD: Yes; we are currently in the final stages of writing and producing our third album,which we hope to release later this year.

CCA: Where can fans see upcoming shows?

FoD: We are planning shows across Europe currently, and hope to undertake our first UK tour this year. We would love to travel across the pond to the Americas for a lengthy tour someday as well!

Thank you Ankur Batra and Fire on Dawson for shining a light into Fire on Dawson's world, and exposing the heart of a really impressive, up-and-coming prog band.  Finding the words, emotions, and feelings with which to bare yourself to the masses is not the easiest thing to do...vulnerability is a hard trait to master.

I offer up one more piece from the band, a powerful song called "Willow."  The somberness of the vocals in underscored by the veracity of the music.  Fire on Dawson does indeed draw from an emotional place...and I for one would love to be a fly on the wall during the Q&A with Jesus...  

Please do yourself a favor and dig deeper into Fire on Dawson at http://www.fireondawson.com/ and
https://soundcloud.com/fireondawson.  Feel free to follow them on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/fireondawson and Twitter, @fireondawson .  Fire on Dawson may not have been totally scientific in describing their music as alternative progressive--but they were dead on accurate.  Digging deep into the recesses of soul, mind, and spirit, Fire on Dawson throws the gauntlet down with each song.  'Tis more effective to hit with feeling than to simply hit hard...

Suddenly fourteen days in Germany are winding down and the Concert Closet needs to continue the search for all things prog.  You certainly are invited to stay a while longer--please do.  Just don't forget to catch up with me on the next leg of this journey...until next week...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fire on Dawson...Take One; "The Music"

Good evening and "Happy Tuesday" once again fellow progheads!  Last week's search for all things prog unearthed a "threefer" that was one more step left of center; taking this blog on an alternate course.  Continuing that quest, the Concert Closet opens March in Germany for a two week stint listening to the prog sounds of Fire on Dawson.  The extended stay will enable me to not only immerse myself in some remarkable German progressive rock, but also talk with the band and conduct an interview--which I will post next week.  So let's begin this double-barreled shot of prog paradise...

Fire on Dawson refer to themselves as an "...alternative progressive rock band...we like long walks on the beach...the longer the better..."  The imagery here is multi-colored; romance, solitude, high/low tide and the accompanying emotions, nature, serenity...so many tangents creating so many opportunities.  The coherent option is to start with the music--so open the floodgates and let the festivities begin!

Stepping to the buffet for a large first course, I come away with a plateful of "God of the Lost." The soft guitar opening belies the depth of the tune; in quick succession the music rains down over your auditory senses and fills your head with hard hitting drums, guitars, and vocals.  Fire on Dawson leaps off the disc and kicks you right in the forehead.  The mood is extremely dark, yet there is light struggling to shine through...you can feel the thrashing through the headphones.  Strong top notes of Opeth and Tool permeate this track, as well as the smoother side of Atomic Rooster.

Strolling surreptitiously back to the buffet for a second serving, I come away with yet another powerful piece called "Hit Me."  This one races at you full force from all sides, making you feel like there is nowhere to hide--until the sudden mood swing stills the air--but you know the raucousness will be coming back around the bend.  The alternate hammer blows and soft coddling paint as vivid a picture as you can stand.  In amongst the darkness and pain is genuine confusion as you begin to feel hopelessness turning to rage.  Fire on Dawson drives a spike through you ears with this piece; dark yes--but oh, so powerful!

Liner Notes...Calling Karlsruhe, Germany home, Fire on Dawson is Ankur Batra on vocals, Markus Stricker on guitar, Martin Sonntag on bass, and Max Siegmund on drums.  Fire on Dawson released their first album, "Prognative" in  2010, and followed that up with the exceptionally explosive "Seven Billion and a Nameless Somebody" in 2012.  The international make-up of the band shines some light on the flavor of their sound...Fire on Dawson lights a blaze in your brain with a blowtorch and then extinguishes the flames with a simple breath of fresh air.  The mood swings dark to light and back again.  Agile and focused is the listener, walking a tightrope ever so gingerly--as much to gain strength and inspiration as to not lose his/her balance.  Fire on Dawson leaves nothing in the quiver--every arrow is fired full force with each note played and syllable sung.

My third-and last--portion from the prog buffet is a song called "Pseudo Christ."  Fire on Dawson walked the length and breath of the prog garden only to step three paces out of bounds and till their own acreage.  The ability to look inward while projecting outward is rare and mightily appreciated. This piece lashes at you just long enough to give the impression of yet another metal prog blast--but they dig oh so deep with the vocals.  Let this one melt over you like hot fudge running down the side of a banana split...  

 Deciding which clip to post here was anything but tedious...Fire on Dawson paints with as much emotion as any prog band I've listened to recently, so I decided to to offer up "Synthetic Part I."  I chose this not so much because it is dark--but because it is so damn raw.  Fire on Dawson gets under your skin and into your bloodstream like an ice cream headache...the immediate rush forces you to stop dead in your tracks, but once the initial shock subsides you ride the emotional wave and brag to all your friends. This piece is not exactly Fire on Dawson stripped down--they just allowed their inner souls to be exposed for your gratification.  Learn more about Fire on Dawson; check out http://www.fireondawson.com/ and https://soundcloud.com/fireondawson.  You can also follow the band on Twitter, @fireondawson and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/fireondawson.  Gratify yourself and support Fire on Dawson at the same time...purchase one or both of their CD releases while you're doing all this Internet searching and listening...

Well fellow progheads, "Fire on Dawson...Take One" is officially in the books.  One of the more intriguing things these past seven days was how deep Fire on Dawson cut with every guitar stroke and drum beat.  My search for all things prog continues to unearth astounding music and more importantly, the artists behind the curtain.  This two weeks of merriment culminates next Tuesday with an interview with Fire on Dawson.  Please join me on this extended stay in Germany and get to know the scene-behind-the-scene...until next week...