Metal Music Reviews from AtomicCrimsonRush

METALLICA Hardwired... to Self-Destruct

Album · 2016 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 33 ratings
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"Hardwired... to Self Destruct" (HTSD) is the new Metallica 8 years on following the maddeningly successful "Death Magnetic" (DM) that followed the insanely dreadful "St Anger" (SA). First the good news, it is streets ahead better on every level than "SA"; though that is not exactly a tall order, let's face it. Now the bad news... it is not really up to the standard of previous masterpieces "Kill", "Lightning", "Puppets", "Justice", "Black", and I am still more blown away by "DM" over this latest release. The problem is that Metallica have raised the bar so high that it is almost impossible to surpass it, therefore they are their own worst enemy having reached the pinnacle in the early years and the unmitigated radio success of commercial friendly "Black album". They are undeniable as musicians, but the new album suffers in terms of vocals in places and some of the lyrics are immature. Now arguably Hetfield has still got the raw mechanics to make a growl sound convincing, but I was so taken in by his cleaner vocals on "DM" and "Black" that I felt disappointed that he opts for the growls on "HTSD". At times he sounds auto tuned and often goes for a multi tracked mix to hide the scorched vocals and raspiness. Some will love this approach of course, but he has such a wonderful timber in his cleaner voice that it feels like a waste when he ignores this. It seems that Metallica are making a statement that they can thrash and bash with the best of them, but they have more musical genius then just grinding out a speedy riff and growling for the duration of a song. The opening track is the worst in this regard. It just states Metallica are back and we are not taking any prisoners. But why do they need to prove that? We know they are back in force by listening to "DM". No, the title track is one I will skip. And what's with all the F bombs and swearing? If they need to resort to swearing their heads off then that shows they are no better than any of the other unimaginative metallers out there who think they need to use expletives to try and ram home a point, but I prefer my Metallica more subtle than that. Anyway, at least it is a short song. After this start, the songs improve dramatically. Next offering, is the catchy raucous "Atlas, Rise!" and it is certainly a killer track. This one has the infectious hook in the chorus, that has an old school feel akin to the earlier Metallica we all grew up to adore. I was one of the headbangers of the 80s that bought "Kill" off the shelf and played it to death on vinyl. So it is a joy to revisit this old Metallica sound. It has a wonderful instrumental break, Hammett on wah wah pedal as usual but its a powerhouse performance with a half time feel riff. Another solo follows which is a sheer delight, until it returns to the main melody. A highlight.

"Now That We're Dead" begins with an extended intro with a crunching riff, simple but effective, and it just chunks along with some amazing double kick drum. The cool galloping trot riff works nicely with the vocals. The lead break is fantastic shredding with Hetfield's chops and I admire the nice slow pace on this track, a veritable headbanger.

"Moth into Flame" is the track that verges on brilliant; perhaps the stand out track of the album, opening with a frenetic fast paced riff and very angry vocals "Blacked out, Pop queen, amphetamine, The screams crashed into silence, Tapped out, Doused in the gasoline, The high times going timeless, Decadence, Death of the innocence, The pathway starts to spiral, Infamy, All for publicity, Destruction going viral, Light it up!" The rhythms are hyper fast and Ulrich is banging the heck out of the kit; no more banging on beer barrels ala "St Anger". The mid feel is an intense 8/8 pedal to the metal riff blast. The lead break is wah wah and fast fingering all the way. Hammett certainly unleashes a tirade of metal firepower on this track. It is as if Metallica are just unleashing their fury on this track. It is old school and everything we love about Metallica. Another highlight. "Am I Savage?" is a straight forward slow track for a while until it moves into a proggish off beat riff prior to the chorus. I like how this shifts and changes throughout and the tims sigs are complex. Ulrich is terrific on this as he drums like a man possesed. It has a darker edge with the lyrics abnout the shapeshifting rage inner man can suffer from, "I don't recognise you anymore". The mid section feels like the sound on "Justice"; deep and bassy, and there is a great lead break to wrap your ears around.

"Halo on Fire" is another of the albums highlights; dynamic riffing with softerand great lyrics "Obey, obey, Come won't you stay, Sincere, sincere, All ends in tears, Endure, endure, Thoughts most impure, Concede, concede, But both shall we bleed, Oh, halo on fire, The midnight knows it well, Fast, is desire, Creates another hell I fear to turn on the light, For the darkness won't go away, Fast, is desire, Turn out the light Halo on fire!" The softer approach is welcome, acoustics and muzzled bass. Hetfield has a great voice here and uses it rather than screaming throughout. The half time feel is killer, with some really melodic riffage, and an infectious vocal treatment. The duel lead break is absolutely sensational. The outro is mind boggling, with brilliant infectious tune injected with the signature Metallica sound. The icing on the cake is the lead soloing finesse of Hammett as a capstone. Another highlight for sure along with "Atlas" and "Moth".

"Confusion" is just a wall to wall assault of raucous metal, with some great lead breaks and thrashing drums. Opening riff is like "Am I Evil" and partly you might hear portions of riffs from the "Justice" album. It could be misconstrued as the sequel to "One" though no where as brilliant. A bit of a throwaway to me but still delivers metal to the max.

"Dream No More" opens with a slow doomy riff. The feel is like "Harvester of Sorrow" meets "Sad But True". It grows on you with every listen, and finally I was enjoying the doomy crunchy riff. "You turn to stone" is quite a memorable lyric.

"ManUNkind" is a very intense track with killer riffing and very heavy lyrics. The lead break is simply stunning and it has a melodic chorus that stays with me. Like all these tracks there is an accompanying video clip and it features a parody of a Satanic metal band that snort drugs prior to going on stage and then proceed to cut themselves and bleed all over the insatiable crowd. The crowd are even more ravenous when the band throw the spiked pig's head to them, causing some fans to gourge themselves on it. The band resemble Black Metal legends Mayhem so is perhaps just having an affectionate dig at them; but it is a real eye opener.

"Here Comes Revenge" is another throwaway with a pedestrian riff and vocals. The song blazes past almost without notice among some of the stronger tracks. The riff is too close to "Leper Messiah" and other Metallica of the past for my comfort, but it is not as bad as anything on "St Anger". The lead break fires up and relieves the mediocrity. Oh well, some will love it as usual, but this does little for me personally.

"Murder One" is dedicated to Motorhead's Lemmy; in fact the film clip is a tribute to him showing him with Hawkwind and explaining why he left and how he conquered with Motorhead as a result. The "Aces High" and "Man in Black" lyric is a clue but the clip makes it obvious, beautifully animated in a style akin to the Gorillaz video clips. The music is not as good as the clip but it cranks along with some angry vocals and a simple guitar motif but not as high standard as other tracks. The lead break is worth sticking around for, one of Hammett's most manic lead shreds. "Spit Out the Bone" closes the album with a slice and dice metal riff motorvating along with purpose and power. This is absolutely one to wake up the senses with machine gun riffing and speed drumming. Once it gets going the pace is as fast as "Damage Inc" or "Whiplash" which will delight all Metallica addicts. There are some amazing riffs on this one, and a relentless tempo throughout with some detours into Pantera like chunks of metal. To cap it off the filmclip is brilliant with violent battling red ninjas, looking like a demented form of Star Wars Royal Guards complete with force pikes that electrocute their prey. The Iron Maiden like skull creature is a nice touch wrapped around a dystopian apocalyptic framework. The riffs at the four minute mark are superb, and it moves into a Slayer like metal feel at the 6 minute mark, as dynamic as anything on the metal scene today. A super fast lead break takes it away to the final chorus and mega fast riff. It ends the album on a high note.

So there you have it. It delivers and the news is good overall apart from some lapses in to mediocrity in the second half of the album. There are at least 4 killer tracks that will have the Metallica universe buzzing; namely "Atlas", "Moth", "Halo" and "Bone"; as good as anything I have heard from Metallica. The other tracks are not so high standard but still deliver a whallop in their own right. It will appease the depraved Metallica fans who have to wait so long in between albums, and for those who were not that impressed with the Lulu album prior. It will be interesting to hear how other fans feel about this but I was underwhelmed apart from the aforementioned highlights. It should have been a masterpiece given the experience and undeniable talent but a lot of this album feels lazy and uninspired. It deserves 3.5 stars for the great tracks without a doubt.

HEMINA Nebulae

Album · 2014 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.60 | 3 ratings
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Hemina, Australia’s answer to Dream Theater, have released their second album and it is a genuine delight. Hemina released an excellent album in 2012 “Synthetic” that really impressed me with its blend of metal and spacey musicianship. It is an album I would recommend to the prog metal fan who does not like to be constantly bombarded with speedy riffs, over produced complexity or death growls, and recommended for those who love haunting atmospheres, compelling lyrics, strong melodies and virtuoso arrangements. This followup album “Nebulae” is again a blend of crunching metal riffs juxtaposed with melodic keyboards and soul wrenching vocals. The vocals, as previous, are in the accomplished hands of Douglas Skene and his loved one Jessica Martin. Douglas is a busy guitarist, with involvement in a variety of other Prog related projects, and with Hemina he is able to shine with some fret melting lead breaks and killer riffs. His vocals always remind me of the type heard on Pain of Salvation albums, indeed the band are similar to the sound of Kamelot or Symphony X in places, and Jessica’s vocals may remind some of After Forever or Nightwish at times. It is a clear tone and easy on the ears, with easily recognizable lyrics. Jessica’s vocals enhance the sound, with beautiful resonance and haunting clarity. I believe an angelic voice can soothe the soul, and in the same way as is heard on many Ayreon albums, the addition of a female vocalist is always a welcome sound after a lot of male vocals. It balances out all the heaviness of aggressive guitar riffs and pounding drums. Jessica plays bass also and this strikes out effectively with some outstanding keyboards by Phill Eltakchi. The whole sound is fleshed out by Mitch Coull, also adept on acoustic and electric guitars, and plays some blindingly brilliant lead solos.

The lyrics are important in understanding the conceptual ideas behind the album. Each song is given a one word title and follows an emotional journey of searching in the darkness of despair and coming out of the night with a sense of hope and one final promise. On the way the protagonist has to battle the trials we all face but in the struggles there is strength leading to building up of character, and through strength of character comes hope. Then there is the literal meaning that has a science fiction element, but one can interpret this as they choose such is the ambiguity of the concept, and this is one of the drawcards of Hemina. Douglas Skene describes the concept as being centered around “lucid dreaming and the exploration of possible worlds dominated solely by particular human emotions and experiences in isolation. It's about the search for transcendence through love and the desire to be loved.”

The journey begins with ‘Before’, the lyrics hinting at the dreamscape concept; “I thought true love would make it easy if we played our parts, two souls hovering, floating, gliding for a counterpart”. The music builds gradually and then breaks into a lone keyboard seguing seamlessly into ‘Nightlives’. A multi tracked vocal is heard as a wild guitar phrase crunches along a forced percussion figure. The lyrics centre on the lucid dreaming; “In my waking world I can’t walk through these walls, or feed my hands to each other, oh, eye to eye with my watch face, to me its flickering, lucidly I forge my nebulae.” The latter lyric is sung with an aggressive growl, though the majority of vocals are clean and harmonised with multi tracked voices. Douglas Skene is in his element on this album, really powering out some excellent vocals. There are sudden bursts of sound in an ambient section that has a dramatic effect. A keyboard and lead guitar solo rounds off this indelible highlight, making this a great start to the album.

‘Freedom’ cranks along a genuine metal blast beat rhythm, with provocative lyrics; “set the masses free and destroy minority”. Some forced growls sounding like Devin Townsend are heard in places to great effect. I particularly love the jagged guitar rhythms. This one really grows on you after a few listens and the lead break is absolutely killer, reverbs, delays and huge string bends, merging into a frenetic keyboard solo. Coull’s lead guitar playing is a speed blur of frenetic picking and up sweeps. A final effect of a helicopter and air raid siren adds to the concept.

‘Lust’ surprises with a funkadelic groove reminiscent of late 70s Disco. Jessica has fun playfully plucking out a bassline that comes straight out of the Earth Wind and Fire Museum of funky bass hooks. The sound works as the song is about lust, and what can be more lustful than 70s porno funk grooves? A salacious hook locks in as chaotic percussion and bass warbles about. It’s nice to hear Jessica passionately duet with Douglas. The lyrics are compelling focussing on unrequited love; “I picked you out from across the room in this white light, so bright.” The soothing keyboards are counterbalanced by heavy passages of guitar, though the music is always allowed to breathe. The music is a testament to the innovative creative talents from the group that were only hinted at in the debut. The band go into full flight on this track and plunge deep into the steamy waters of quirky pop and dance at times, strange bedfellows I agree but Hemina make it work somehow.

‘Soulmates’ is a calming atmospheric track reverberating with acoustic vibrations. There is a romantic sense of mystery in the lyrics; “walking together, growing strong, amidst this void we found our call”. The song floats on an air of keyboards and acoustics as vocals caress the spaces between, with some of Douglas Skene’s best work and Jessica answers with emotive angst. The singing is exceptional on this album, and I particularly love how Jessica and Douglas are able to balance each other’s styles on soulful, melancholy songs such as ‘Soulmates’; it is truly beautiful. The twin lead break is also awesome with howling string bends and fast fingering echoing the turgid romance in the lyrics.

‘Strength’ follows, with staccato meat cleaver chops of metal chunks blasting over manic synths. This is a heavy song after the previous melancholia. In the lead break there is a fractured rhythm and some blazing riffs with duel guitar playing. The keys chime in with sweeping washes of string pads as the pacey rhythm gallops along in contrast. After more singing a stunning lead break takes the song out, with a flurry of speed trills and lightning fingering. The lyrics are mysterious and draw one in; “I head to unseen waters toward a light that is lovingly familiar, a figure glimmers in the distant sunset, the me I’d dreamed of with a little more strength.”

‘Loss’ keeps a steady rhythm with metal distortion and a strong melody. The lyrics are intriguing; “I want to thank you for sparing me the years or empty hope, strung along for what seemed like a legacy”. The melody is difficult to capture but there is so much happening at such a frenetic pace that it does not matter. The guitars are complemented by huge cloudbursts of synth.

‘Hope’ jumps along an odd meter with forceful passionate vocals that are the dominant force here, with some enticing lyrics, "my world a sphere of ice and me its cold insides, stars warm my heart the distant nebulae.” An ambient opening warms up ‘Promise’; a song with an optimistic note. The metal blasts are prevalent soon as Jessica and Douglas sing “promise me you’ll try eternally, I need someone who will grow.” The shattered rhythms are jarring to the ear and there is an ascending melody, and a soothing outro.

‘Otherworldly’ takes things out with Hammond sounds and a raucous chorus; “through the wormhole and rise to another frame, frame of reference free of a world of blame.” The song takes some twists and turns with sudden departures in volume and pace, quiet reflective moments concluding the conflict in the concept; “reach down inside and realise what you’ve lost, it’s simple to find if you’ve even got a heart.” A choppy riff is heard over a fast keyboard phrase. Some very powerful vocals follow, and it breaks into a classical piano passage, then the grinding metal riffs return, fracturing time signatures, and a final spoken narrative section over ethereal keyboards. The sheer force of musical virtuosity is astonishing on this album.

A new project “Venus” is still in the pipeline and hopefully will see the light of day in the near future, but till then “Nebulae” will continue to excite listeners with accomplished musicianship and mesmirising themes. There are throughout adventurous basslines and sporadic blitzing drums. The dynamic lead guitar breaks and keyboard flourishes are incredible. Hemina inject odd time sigs and intricate layers of instruments to create some remarkable musical compositions. Overall ”Nebulae” is yet another solid release from Hemina that delivers outstanding prog metal on a plate served up with a slice of funk, diced up with distorted guitar riffs and a nice garnish of spacey atmospheres wrapped around a concept of lucid dreaming and the exploration of emotions.

RUSH Clockwork Angels Tour

Live album · 2013 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.46 | 3 ratings
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This Rush live CD is identical in musical content to the DVD released under the same title “Clockwork Angels Tour”. The set lists are in 3 parts generally opening with an 80s set nicely pitched within Geddy Lee’s vocal range. It feels a bit like a reimagining of the live “A Show of Hands” set and is almost identical in the first half. There is very little from any of the 70s back catalogue that many would argue is the best Rush era so it is a risk to ignore the classic 70s. Personally I think it is nice to hear some different songs for a change though I missed Bytor and the Snow Dog, La Villa Strangiata, Xanadu and especially Working Man. The reworking of all the 80s songs are better than the studio versions, much heavier and better production, not as tinny as the retro 80s versions, so the CD grabbed my interest from the first strains of Subdivisions. Alex Lifeson’s lead breaks are fantastic, and at times very different to the studio versions. Neil Peart has no less than 3 extended drum solos on this concert. Geddy is wonderful on bass and especially the synths on this concert.

Set One consists of Subdivisions from “Signals”, and from “Power Windows” The Big Money, Territories, and Grand Designs, one of the only tracks not on “A Show of Hands”. Rush revisit “Hold Your Fire” with Force Ten, and “Grace Under Pressure” with The Body Electric, featuring those memorable lyrics “One humanoid escapee, One android on the run, Seeking freedom beneath a lonely desert sun”. Then the band rock out with The Analog Kid from “Signals” that I always love to hear. Another one from “Roll The Bones” is next, the bittersweet beauty of Bravado with potent lyrics sung so meaningfully here “If we burn our wings, Flying too close to the sun, If the moment of glory Is over before its begun”. The best track on this Set is perhaps Far Cry from “Snakes And Arrows” sounding vibrant and electrifying on the live stage, though it must be seen to really appreciate it as the flames and spectrum lights are mesmirising.

Disk Two is Set Two which is the Clockwork Angels Set with 9 tracks featured; Caravan, Clockwork Angels, The Anarchist, Carnies, The Wreckers, Headlong Flight, Halo Effect, Seven Cities of Gold, Wish Them Well, The Garden, and a drum solo thrown in for good measure. It is a powerhouse performance and definitely worth hearing or even viewing on the DVD, the best way to experience it, especially to watch the amazing light show and Steampunk décor of the stage. The Clockwork Angels String Ensemble add much to the songs and enhance each track with Cello and Violins eloquently adding ambience and dramatic nuances. Peart’s drum solo Drumbastica is spine tingling with all the trimmings of his usual awesome speed drumming.

CD 3 is a collection of crowd pleasers and oddities including Dreamline from “Roll the Bones”, and The Percussor (I) Binary Love Theme (II) Steambanger s Ball (drum solo), another Peart moment, with weird effects and sound clashes. The band reappear to crank out Red Sector A from “Grace Under Pressure”, a brilliant version of YYZ from “Moving Pictures”, and fret melting fingering on Spirit of Radio from “Permanent Waves”. The encore consists of a grand version of classic rush with Tom Sawyer, and then we are treated to the brilliant crunching irregular chords of 2112. This is the end of the concert but the CD features the same bonus tracks as on the DVD, namely a fascinating soundcheck recording of Limelight, virtually a karaoke version with Lee missing most lyrics out in the rehearsal. Middletown Dreams, from “Power Windows”, is next, then The Pass from “Presto”, and finally Manhattan Project, a better version than the one from “Power Windows”.

Admittedly this CD cannot beat the DVD experience as it adds so much when you can actually relive the band onstage goofing around and enjoying themselves with an appreciative crowd and some mind bending lighting effects. However this CD package is great on its own steam(punk), clock(work)ing over 3 hours of live music, so it comes highly recommended for Rushaholics and Heavy Prog lovers worldwide.


Album · 2013 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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Jinetos Negros, an Argentinian prog metal band, first came to my attention when it was sitting lovingly on a proggers list of the best 10 albums for 2013. Naturally this album “Tawa Sarira” intrigued me but I was surprised at the musical direction of the band, whose name incidentally means Black Riders, taken from a poem by Nené Dinzeo. First and foremost it is not a prog metal band in any sense of the word, at least not this album. Metal denotes at least some distorted guitar riffing and heavy rhythms in drums and bass and it delivers neither. Instead this one is replete with violin, orchestra, piano breaks and Gentle Giant whimsy complete with melodic high register voices.

There is a semblance of distortion on the guitars in ‘Corazón y Naranjas’ but the overall style is heavy prog at best. The voice harmonies are pleasant and I like the way the band blend piano with rock guitars. Octavio Stampalia is a great keyboard player and I like the style of guitarists Marcelo Ezcurra, also on vocals, and Eduardo Penney. The drums are courtesy of Ricardo Penney, backed on bass by Alex Yamashiro.

There is a hint of Canterbury at times such as on the jaunty ‘Canción del Océano’. The band sing in their own language that may or may not appeal to the mainstream audience but they sing well. On this track the piano is outstanding as virtuoso as Rick Wakeman at times. I like how midway through this there is an orchestra fanfare and medieval sounding keyboards. In fact the track definitely has that medieval Gryphon sound or Wakeman in his Elizabethan mood. There is even a flute to enhance this atmosphere. The sound is uplifting and bright at all times. The style changes at the end with a blistering lead solo. This is a highlight of the album.

Minimalist piano opens ‘Suene Tu Milagro’ sung with feeling and quiet reflection by Excurra. The violins have a melancholy resonance and the music builds emotionally into orchestrated passages of beauty. A more dramatic orchestrated approach is heard on ‘Shawarma’ and tribal percussion reminding me of a movie soundtrack. The slicing violins are well performed and the tom toms reminiscent of African music. The singing is more forceful but still maintains a clean tone. The mouth harp is even heard on this and it features a high pitched lead guitar break and a ton of sweeping strings along with some heavier guitars.

‘Amada Inmortal’ opens with a stirring string section and a wonderful bassline drives it. The swirling synth solo is nicely played and eventually a much heavier guitar distortion comes in. ‘Luna de India’ is dominated by violins and operatic choral vocals that echo the main vocal. It is rather a grand soundscape but the guitars are present to bring in a rock feel. I like the sound the band generate but still feel lost without knowing the lyrics.

There is a touch of cinematic drama on the rousing ‘El Eterno Retorno’ with grandiose violins and a building melody. The tune is memorable and I like the way the lead guitar is unleashed to execute a solo in the intro. Later there is a synth solo that sound similar to Rudess’ Haken Continuum keyboard fingerboard style. There is a lot of grand piano on this too. It is a more symphonic sound than I had expected overall on the album. ‘Esas Trampas’ continues the violin orchestration and is accompanied by rather theatrical vocals. It suddenly changes into a heavier style when the guitar riff breaks in.

‘Las Cuatro Verdades’ has a piano intro, followed by an organic guitar and synth sound. The choral vocals are operatic similar to any rock opera I have heard. There is even a reminder of some of the work of Therion though this is less heavy in that regard. The drums are a showcase on this track well worth checking out. At 2:30 there is a fabulous synth and lead trade off in the instrumental section. The band really radiate a grandiose atmosphere and the imposing presence of the violins are accompanied by flute passages and swirling synth explorations; another highlight of excellent musicianship.

‘El Velo’ opens with a heartbeat and then some beautiful chiming keyboard flourishes sweep over. the vocals are handled with sensitivity and flair. ‘Purgatorio’ has a dramatic intro of horns and strings as though it were a film soundtrack. The eerie synth melody works well on the scape of violins and rumbling drums. There is a really nice bassline also and I certainly know I cannot fault the musicianship of the band in these moments. By the time the cool heavy guitar riff enters this is already another highlight of the album. Even the vocals are approached with a heavier style rather than crooned and harmonised. The spoken dialogue intriguing and well supported by operatic chants. A quiet musical interlude follows with astonishing melodic resonance and some distorted guitar crashes before a grinding lightning fingered organ solo dominates. The sound even reminded me of the Hammond sound of the 70s. Towards the end there is a throbbing sound and a finale crescendo with multi tracked vocals and grand melodies. ‘Purgatorio’ is indeed one of the greatest tracks on this album.

‘A los Ojos Bellos’ is next with Gothic cathedral pipe organ and delicate horns in the intro. The synths sound like the synth sound in Europe’s ‘Final Countdown’ intro if you remember that retro 80s gem. Again there are Argentine lyrics followed by lead break, piano and some acoustic vibrations. A young female voice is heard in this section that enhances the atmosphere. An angelic choir of voices enters and it feels like the finale as the voices build over stirring lead guitars and a Wakemanish synth fanfare. The pace quickens with heavier guitars and multi tracked vocals. The last track is ‘Tawa Sarira Outro’, a short piece with wind howling, deep African like chants and clicking sticks as high register vocals sing a pretty melody.

Overall I really enjoyed hearing this operatic symphonic heavy prog album. There is more symphonic elements than I was prepared for but most of my favourite prog is Symphonic so this was a sheer delight to discover. I am still at a loss as to the moniker of metal as I heard none of that, however this is a great exploration of orchestrated symphonic rock that is some of the best Argentinian prog I have heard.


Album · 2013 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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Inter Arma’s “Sky Burial” is a diverse album merging so many various styles that it is quite astonishing. The opening track ‘The Survival Fires’ is brimming over with dark shrieks of black metal over an incessant doomy riff that represents a very deep resonating sludge metal sound. It simply grinds your ears to pulp and those shrieks are downright manic. It continues with the main riff hypnotising you until it moves into a lengthy lead break that is distorted and finally an outbreak of speed drumming and an onslaught of heavy riffs brought mercilessly to a halt by one final guitar blast. After this assault the next track ‘The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)’ just settles into gentle acoustics and quiet singing which is jarring to the ear after the previous brutality.

This is followed by a 10 minute spacey piece ‘The Long Road Home’ that is so reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ I expected shrieks any second. Instead there is a soaring lead break of palatable beauty that follows. The guitars are well executed by Steven Russell and Trey Dalton. This lead guitar solo is so uplifting it is sensual to the ears caressing them with long strokes. The wind effect lends a corporeal effect making it seem like the moonlit hallows of some darkened forest.

The psychedelic atmosphere is totally broken with the next track ‘Destroyer’ that opens with a blast of distorted guitar and hyper speed percussion. The shrieks return and Mike Paparo screams his throat rawer than vintage Tom Gabriel Fischer. The speedy guitar lick is weird as it is not like the average speed metal lick but more of a speeded up jam session. The drums are incredible by T.J. Childers. I used to listen to a lot of Bathory in the 90s and this sounded like the band were channelling the dark tones of Tomas "Ace" Börje Forsberg aka Quorthon, especially the memorable ‘Call From The Grave’. Joe Kerkes doomy bass line is a feature, and the guitars lock into a sludge metal riff as lowered shrieks are heard. I have no idea of the lyrics but it sounds bleak and is perhaps about some blood sacrifice though I don’t want to know. I also felt the voice here was more like the sound heard by Death especially on their “Spiritual Warfare”. I certainly felt like I was too old to be revisiting the music I used to listen to in my mid 20s and I know I could not play this out loud or my wife would walk out so my earphones came in handy! It is not for the squeamish as it really is dark metal, but for those into it they will eat this up no doubt. That droning guitar is a sludge sound and is perhaps more akin to a machine than actual music. The tribalistic drums quicken the heart rate and it gradually builds slowly with patience into a frightening crescendo. Though this throbbing guitar drone goes on way too long for its own good and becomes an annoyance after a while like an angry wasp.

The next track ‘’sblood’ has a skull crunching tribal rhythm like Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots” classic or even those drums on of 80s Celtic Frost. The song has more variation with a number of tempo changes and styles so appeals to me more and my prog attuned ears. I would hail it as one of the best on the album and it deserves to be heard if not anything else on this album. ‘Westward’ is another lengthy affair at about 10 minutes, and has too much screeching vocals for my tastes but the lead break is fabulous. I love the main riff on this that just grinds along at a steady pace.

‘Love Absolute’ is shorter at 4 minutes, and is an instrumental that focusses on acoustic finger picking at first that sounds like the typical quiet intro to 80s metal but there is a screeching in the background threatening to explode the quiet atmosphere. Instead a ghostly synth sound enters howling at a high frequency and gives it a Gothic ethereal vibe.

‘Sky Burial’ is a 13 minute doomy track that crunches along steadily on 4 barre chord changes. The lead guitar embellishments are sonically phased like a distant cry. Then it settles into a dreamy slow pace with psychedelic atmospheres. I can actually discern the lyrics on this one that are “At long last I have scaled, The spire to the sky, A stone's throw to the heavens above, Far past the skylines of cities, Fading into ruination, Far past the threadbare flags of nations spiralling into entropy, At this summit I'll feign death to call forth the scavenger's clan.” So there you go, that is what they are singing about, some mystic rituals of dark arts and an adventure of Gothic explorations through dark chasms and misty mountains. This one is very doom metal in sound and again has that Bathory sound though not as raw.

In a similar way to some Opeth albums there are songs that really appeal to me and then there are moments that are not to my tastes, particularly the darker screeches that are really only going to appeal to elite black metal or extreme metal fans. I liked the sludgey metal sounds and some of the more innovative moments but I believe this is an album that will divide opinion due to its insanely dark content and atmospheres. 3 stars for the original approach of blending psychedelic sounds with doomy black metal.

MOTORPSYCHO Still Life With Eggplant

Album · 2013 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 3 ratings
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Motorpsycho are an amazing band that have the power to mesmirise and inspire with their brand of heavy prog. The album that blew virtually everyone away is "The Death Defying Unicorn", a masterpiece that became a cult in the prog community, and one of the albums of the year for 2012. I remember how the music lifted me into another plane of existence as it simply nailed me to the couch with its inexorable power. The music blew the doors off any boundaries that may have been set in place for music convention and it was wrapped in a concept package. This time around with "Still Life With Eggplant" the band discard the concept and go for a bunch of diverse tracks that are boundary pushing but nowhere near as innovative as the previous album. They set the bar so high that it was almost impossible to reach those heights again I would suggest. In any case the album is still packed with some powerful tracks and wonderful musicianship.

It opens in a blaze of glory with 'Hell Parts 1-3' that has that deep resonating stoner guitar riff and psychedelic style of vocals. The riff jams along locking into place as the band launch into a jam and then it ends with a totally different melody outside of the previous form. It feels like a coda tacked on but it works well enough.

There are some grandiose spacey lead guitar breaks such as the lengthy break on 'Barleycorn (Let It Come/Let It Be)'. The intro has the same feel and melody as the Traffic song 'John Barleycorn Must Die' and this is intentional as it pays homage to the Traffic style. It sounds like a 70s song lifted from a Cream album or Traffic in all respects.

There is a mammoth epic on the album that clocks into 17 minutes, 'Ratcatcher' and this may wear its welcome out after so many minutes of free form jamming. The intro itself is ultra spacey and I love the way the bass builds into the soundscape. The glissando tremolo guitar reverberations are akin to the type of guitar on a Hawkwind album, and the style is totally removed from other material on the album. It suddenly launches into a freakout of pulsing bass, pounding drums and duel guitar licks. The vocals finally enter multilayered and psychedelic, "Save me, is this heaven or hell, ratcatcher!" I was reminded of another modern psych prog band The Ovals, or Diagonal, such as their 'Semi Permeable Men- Brain'. The recent Nik Turner album "Space Gypsy" captured this vintage sound too and it is a great retro throwback to the psychedelic 60s. Hawkwind's 70s music such as 'Orgone Accumulator' also rests on one riff and launches into a freakout lead break in the same style as this Motorpsycho track. The main component of the lengthy 'Ratcatcher' is an extended psych jam that is primarily spacey guitar played improv style over a grinding rhythm and bass section. The drums crash and cymbals splash as the tempo quickens and the lead guitar picking is more intense. There is a lot of sustain and high powered string bends with pedal effects and it begins to hypnotise after a few minutes. It felt as though it were a live concert played to a bunch of stoned followers, in the style of early Pink Floyd concert performances. The vocals return with a grand finale and then it leads into a quieter free form jazz coda till it is all over; one to really ponder over and a very bold track for the band.

The album certainly is a surprise as it is perhaps a simpler approach to the music then the previous release that was totally conceptual focussing on a ship lost at sea and how the crew fight for survival against incredible odds. There are only 5 tracks and none really jump out and measure up to the mind blowing stuff on TDDU. The band even opt for an acoustic ballad with 'The Afterglow' and go for a Cream guitar sound on the cover by Love 'August' that is more like the 1969 song from "Four Sail" than I would have expected for a song recorded in 2013. Motorpsycho are great at capturing the vintage sounds of days gone by when rock gods were born such as Hendrix, Clapton and Garcia. I liked the album a lot but to be honest was expecting something awesome, and it does not deliver in the same way as their previous album; playing it safer and thus draining dry most of the creativity that made them such a powerful prog force on "The Death Defying Unicorn".


Boxset / Compilation · 1977 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.09 | 2 ratings
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I really loved Wishbone Ash's "Argus" so have been drawn to live Cds and compilations that are surprisingly cheap these days from Wishbone Ash. The great WA sound consists of duel guitar playing from the excellent musicianship of Andy Powell and Ted Turner; they would always be remembered for this. The guitar breaks are nothing short of extraordinary, before Iron Maiden and before Judas Priest's twin guitar solos there was Powell and Turner. Martin Turner's vocals are easy to take and he doesn't go for high octave but stays in the mid range, his bass playing is noteworthy too. There are some of the classics here that appear often in live performances or on comps.

'Throw Down the Sword' is criminally missing but I guess most ash addicts are going to have "Argus" as it is the penultimate treasure. "Pheonix" is here all 10 and a half minutes of it including those incredible twin guitar solos. 'Persephone' is a slow paced bluesy thing with tons of grinding Hammond taken from "There's The Rub" from 1974.

'Rock N Roll Widow' is from "Wishbone Four", a straight forward rocker with loads of lead guitar breaks. 'Blowin' Free' from "Argus" begins with the killer riff that drives the song. The lyrics are great to sing to; "I Thought I had a girl I know because I seen her, her hair was gold and brown, blowin' free like a cornfield..." The twin guitar solo is a feature once again and this is a real favourite with the band and they always include it on their live set, which sound jammier and better than this. There are some delicious passages of soaring guitar and blues scales on this. The time sig remains fairly much the same apart from some slower bits thrown in such as; "In my dreams..." section.

"Argus" gem 'The King Will Come' is my favourite Wishbone Ash song and I saw this on the Classic Rock Anthology which drew me to the band. The band have so much fun rockin' it out and the lead guitarist wears flowing white flares. Powell moves back and forth playing a flying V guitar staring into the camera just having the time of his life. They sound incredible live, so this studio version is not as loud and aggressive though it's still great. The guitars are not as up in the mix but the harmonies are divine. It is a song about the Biblical end times when the king (Jesus) will return and apocalypse will reign; the Revelation. The lead break is magnificent from both guitarists using wah wah pedal effects and huge scales. Once again this is a staple of the live set and would not be complete without it. It is brilliant prog rock. "See the word of the prophet on a stone in his hand, poison pen Revelation, just a sign in the sand..."

Overall it is a solid compilation, cheap and succint; it epitomises all that make Wishbone Ash great. There are better comps stretching to 2 CDs or more but at least this comp features some of the treasures of the great Wishbone Ash at an affordable price for those that want to dip their toes into the sound and fury of this great band.


Album · 1999 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 18 ratings
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Opening with the brilliant Even Less, "Stupid Dream" is a genuine turning point for Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson's slide guitar is joined by his sparkling clear voice and it sends the listener into a relaxing state of mind. Barbierie's incredible keyboard playing is always a delight, Maitland's drums and Edwin's bass are impeccable. The heavy distortion is mixed with moments of tranquil beauty. in fact the whole album drifts along on a wave of tranquility with only short outbursts of heavy rock to keep us awake.

This is an album packed full of mystical moments, enchanting effects, guitars that soar and lyrics that entrance. Piano Lessons has a jaunty tempo and some reflective lyrical poetry as only Wilson can deliver. Stupid Dream is a 28 second droning transition to the magic of Pure Narcotic. This track has a nice tempo and a ton of acoustic over piano. Slave Called Shiver has a killer bassline that drives headlong with loud drums and Wilson's breathy vox "I need you more than you could know and when I hurt myself its just for show". The dark lyrics are a taste of how introspective Wilson became on his solo albums such as the masterful "Grace For Drowning" and "Raven that Refused to Sing". The spacey wah wah lead break is amazing.

Don't Hate Me has appeared on many live albums or DVDs and has a catchy chorus, "Don't hate me, I'm not special like you". It is lengthy at 8:30 running time but its haunting soundscape is absolutely wonderful. The flute and bass instrumental break has an ethereal quality unsurpassed in previous albums. Then there is a great jazz fusion sax solo to indulge in and some reverberated flute warbles that are ghostly with their chilling icy breath. A landmark track and one of Porcupine Tree's triumphs.

This Is No Rehearsal reminds me of the upcoming Trains with its rhythmic patterns. Wilson uses his filtered vocal tone on this, a device that appears many times on the classic album "In Absentia", "Deadwing" and "Fear of a Blank Planet". A wah wah lead solo is simply the icing on the cake.

Baby Dream in Cellophane is a drifting hypnotic melody with acoustic rhythms and estranged keyboard pads, over Wilson's sleepy vocals. Stranger By The Minute has Wilson's vocals mixed to the front and a jumpy 4/4 beat with drum strikes, glazed over with scintillating harmonies in the chorus. A Smart Kid is overlaced with acoustic vibrations and a soundscape of multilayered synths. Wilson speaks of being "stranded here on planet earth, its not much but it could be worse."

Tinto Brass opens with Italian commentary of the Italian porn director Tinto Brass, then a massive drum beat kicks in and some flute trills over a fast bass pulse. This is on the more experimental level for the Tree. Stop Swimming returns to Wilson's dreamy vocals and very soft focus keyboards. It is a beautiful closing song to reflect on.

Overall this is one of the better PT albums leading to the big three. It is so well produced as has become the standard for Steven Wilson projects. "Stupid Dream" is a really wonderful album with consistent melodic fire and passion.

DREAM THEATER Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour

Live album · 2006 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 45 ratings
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This 3 Cd package is jammed full of incredible prog metal from virtuoso masters Dream Theater. It is perhaps better seen with the DVD but this music still stands up on its own merits. The setlist spans the 5 year history with a symphonic orchestra augmentation. It is interesting the way the orchestra blends into the metal sound, similar to the Metallica S&M concert, or indeed Kiss Alive IV. It is always of interest when metal meets symphony. It opens with some deadset oddities such as The root of all evil, I walk beside you, Another won and Afterlife. It isn't until Under A Glass Moon that it really takes off showing the power of that brilliant track and Petrucci's amazing guitar solo. Later we are treated with The spirit carries on and the entire suite of Six degrees of inner turbulence; absolutely flawless and indispensable on the live stage. After an ovation the band belt out Vacant, The answer lies within, Sacrificed Sons and the masterpiece epic Octavarium that is quintessential to the band. The Encore: Metropolis Pt. 1 is a brilliant way of ending the concert to a rapturous crowd.

This is a fantastic concert accompanied by masterful orchestration. A must for all DT fans and I highly recommend the DVD for the full impact of this incredible performance.

DEEP PURPLE Live In Montreux 1969 (Kneel & Pray)

Live album · 2006 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.91 | 2 ratings
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Deep Purple's "Kneel and Pray" is a live Montreaux performance 2 years before some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground. It has the infamous MkII lineup with Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Ian Gillan on vocals, Roger Glover on bass, Jon Lord on organ, keyboards, and Ian Paice on drums. The 2 disk set features early performances of 'Speed King' and 'Child in Time' and the only surviving performance of 'Kentucky Woman' with this lineup'. It also has early songs such as 'Hush' and features a lot of banter from Gillan, being polite with the crowd as well as dealing with hecklers "Please escort that man out".

Powerhouse performances of 'Child In Time' (12:38) are simply wonderful with Jon Lord's crazy organ finesse and Gillan screaming mania. 'Wring That Neck' is a 20:30 instrumental that wears its welcome out for me but has some amazing organ playing and Blackmore's lead breaks to save it. The Jon Lord solo is of course absolutely brilliant and he gets a chance to unleash his trademark genius on this. Gillan ends by demanding the crowd cheer on Jon Lord and why not?

The version of 'Paint It Black' (10:48) is different than the Stones, focussing on organ, fiery guitar and no vocals and culminates in a huge Paice Drum solo that showcases his flair admirably and takes up most of the running time. He uses cowbell and a ton of cymbals to augment the timpani, snare and bass drums.

There is a mammoth version of 'Mandrake Root' clocking 22:08 to marvel at. Gillan introduces by talking about all the rabbits he saw on the hill, English speaking rabbits he saw in Switzerland, and a half eaten flower, then mentions the lovers taking a love potion, a drug and how it takes effect; yes he is probably stoned himself. Midway through the song Jon Lord unleashes a crazy organ solo including all sorts of weirdness including a rendition of 'Eleanor Rigby'. It becomes a psychedelic freakout when the guitar comes in total improvised style and a real mindbender, at times quite messy and abrasive without a shred of melody; nothing like the Deep Purple of the last 10 years.

'Kentucky Woman' has heart and soul and one of the better songs here. Overall it is Deep Purple in an extreme raw form doing what they do best; a ton of pioneering prog rock from the masters of Montreaux.


Album · 2013 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.12 | 21 ratings
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New Deep Purple?! One has to be excited to hear that the band are still rocking after such a massive career beginning in the late 60s. The album title is "Now What?!" and I guess the answer is "Let's prove we are the masters of classic rock!" The album features a brilliant line up with Steve Morse on guitar, Roger Glover on bass guitar, Don Airey on organ, keyboards, and Ian Paice on drums. The real surprise is the return of Ian Gillan on vocals! He is a powerhouse vocalist carving a niche in rock history when he was with the band and in his solo career. On this latest album Gillan simply proves the old dinosaur can still scream out his lungs and still has one of the greatest voices in rock.

Deep Purple are riff masters and although Ritchie Blackmore is absent, Steve Morse has a great style and blasts out some dynamic riffs and lead breaks. The album is dedicated to Jon Lord, and Don Airey certainly keeps the flame burning with his keyboard style, and I am sure was humbled to be involved. Ian Paice is a genius drummer and it is great to hear his pound away on these songs. Roger Glover is an accomplished bassist, making an appearance on a swag of Purple albums, so it is wonderful to experience his style again on this latest release.

The album is one hour of old school style rock with a metal edge, and there is a lot of progalicious extended keyboard breaks and lead guitar workouts. 'A Simple Song' kicks things off, beginning slowly with nice guitar licks then Gillan in a reflective mood. The heavy rock kicks in with guitar chord progression and very heavy handed Hammond squelches. The keyboarding on this is simply stunning, a real throwback to the great freakouts of the 70s. There is some delightful flute on this too giving a pastoral sound.

After this delightful start they launch into 'Weirdistan' with guitar stabs over a strong bassline and drum pattern. I love the multilayered vocals and melody on this. A lead break cements my enjoyment of this, and what a riff that locks in with organ and axe trade offs in extended jam sessions; it doesn't get better than this!

'Out Of Hand' opens with gloomy atmospheres with a bell chiming and preternatural sounds, then a drone and symphonic violin slices, reminiscent of 'Knocking at Your back door'. A chugging riff enters and some very cool vocals, Gillan is incredible after all these years to be able to sing like this. The way the riff comes and goes with the string section foundation playing beneath is simply wonderful. Again the organ shimmers are absolutely fantastic. A lead break showcase Morse's inimitable style, with fast upsweeps and sustained string bends.

'Hell To Pay' has that Bob Ezrin anthemic production sound, he certainly knows how to get the best out of a band. This one has a Kiss sound but still unmistakeably Deep Purple all the way. The lead break is precision playing from Morse and I love the organ embellishments; Airey is sensational on this album. He has a freakout moment on this track channelling Lord almost in an improvised freestyle; listen to those keyboard crunches.

'Body Line' moves into funky territory, the tune has a funky 80s vibe and yet is as heavy as the Purple get, especially the guitar riffing and that crazy organ. It has a more pedestrian structure but it's still a great song.

'Above And Beyond' is a safer song with a pop melody but I adore the keyboard motif on this and it has a beautiful lead solo at the end. 'Blood From A Stone' has a bluesy feel helped by Glover's bass and Gillan's vocals are deep and resonant showing his age at 67 here. The organ is definitely akin to The Doors 'Riders on the Storm' and that suits me as I am crazy about that song. It builds into a heavier chorus then pulls back to the Doors like sound on the verses. Later it switches time signatures then a gorgeous organ solo like Ray Manzarek in his stoned phase. The song really grows on you and it is so laid back and emotional I can't help but rate this as a highlight.

'Uncommon Man' answers the prog question with some very nice progressive moments, opening with Spanish guitar, then a sumptuous symphonic sound like Pink Floyd. This is quite a surprise after the heavy approach of previous tracks. It is great that DP still want to experiment with music after all these years. Paice has some cool drum fills over this soundscape. Then a guitar solo blazes over and a rhythm builds up ominously with a ton of strings until it moves to a trumpet fanfare on the keyboards. Gillan's vocals are multilayered, and the time sig is off kilter in the main riff as he sings "It's good to be king". The organ and lead breaks are delightful. This is definitely a great song to showcase the prog components of the band.

'Après Vous' is a raucous song with a classic Deep Purple sound especially the riff and the opening vocal section. The time sig has a prog sound and it is a heavy sound from the Hammond and metal guitar that are synced perfectly. It unleashes into an instrumental domination, beginning with soft guitar tones over ethereal synths and a pulsating bass and drum. A symphonic soundscape enters then the staccato organ comes to the fore trading off with incessant speed picking lead guitar; a powerhouse of musicianship.

'All The Time In The World' is the big single and sounds more qualified for radio airplay. The melody is infectious with an uptempo feel. Morse's solo is pleasant but again it is Airey that really captivates me on this track; his organ playing is phenomenal.

'Vincent Price' opens with cathedral pipe organ sounds, like the old actor himself has made an appearance. It is a throwback to the Hammer Horror films of the 70s, such as "Pit and the Pendulum", "Fall of the House of Usher" or "House of Wax". Price was a master and this is a terrific homage to his work. It even has a Gothic female choir and some horror themes interwoven in the structure. The heavy distorted guitar is doom metal and the lyrics capture the horror themes of vampires, and "red blood dripping, she doesn't have a prayer, I know it's not real but I just don't care, it feels so good to be afraid, Vincent Price is back again." The lead break is excellent with a phased sound, and there are effects of chains and Gillan even has a yell like the old days; delightful.

'Highway Star (Bonus track)' is a nice add on after such a great album, and it basically cruises along the familiar bass and drum line, with some incredible lead guitar work, and more Gillan screeches. I always loved 'Highway Star' and I never tire of this, the lead guitar and organ on this live version are absolutely killer, and it ends with a lead guitar workout with piercing screams.

"Now What?!" is a bonafide Deep Purple treasure. I was hoping it would measure up to the brilliance of the past and it certainly delivers from beginning to end. The organ playing is brilliant and a real tribute to the work of Jon Lord who the album is dedicated. I can't complain; this is Deep Purple at their best. It is a real pleasure to listen to and it is comforting to know that not only are Deep Purple back in the studio but they are creating some of their most proficient musicianship and every song has its own atmosphere; they really prove they are masters of classic rock.

DREAM THEATER Dream Theater - Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour Live with the Octavarium Orchestra

Movie · 2006 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 25 ratings
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I always look forward to putting this DVD on as I know I am going to get the best of both worlds; symphonic orchestrated music and full on Dream Theater prog. I agree with some reviewers that the setlist is not exactly mind blowing but it nevertheless spans the 5 year history. It is interesting the way the orchestra blends into the metal sound, similar to the Metallica S&M concert, or indeed Kiss Alive IV. It is always of interest when metal meets symphony. The DVD "Score" is very well produced, sharp editing throughout and excellent sound quality. There is nothing wrong with the visuals at all, with the band members sharing the spotlight, but the problem lies in the setlist itself. There are too many omissions and some opportunities wasted in the early part of the concert.

It opens with some deadset oddities such as The root of all evil, I walk beside you, Another won and Afterlife. It isn't until Under A Glass Moon that it really takes off showing the power of that brilliant track and Petrucci's amazing guitar solo. Later we are treated with The spirit carries on and the entire suite of Six degrees of inner turbulence; absolutely flawless and indispensable on the live stage. After an ovation the band belt out Vacant, The answer lies within, Sacrificed Sons and the masterpiece epic Octavarium that is quintessential to the band. The Encore: Metropolis Pt. 1 is a brilliant way of ending the concert to a rapturous crowd.

Disc 2 is packed with some hit and miss Bonus material including a mammoth 20th Anniversary Documentary, that has some fascinating info on the band and the way that not everything goes to plan on a tour. Portnoy has too much to say and now it is a bitter taste now he has scarpered and been replaced. The Octavarium Animation is terrific, and the live performances are always a treat including Another Day (Tokyo - 1993), The Great Debate (Bucharest, Romania - 2002) and Honor Thy Father (Chicago - 2005).

The DVD comes with high recommendations due to the visual quality, and overall package. Ignore the early part of the set and just enjoy DT at their absolute best in the middle half of the concert accompanied by masterful orchestration. A must for all DT fans and one of the best DT DVDs available to this point in time.

DREAM THEATER Live at Budokan

Movie · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 25 ratings
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One of the first DVDs I saw of Dream Theater before the onslaught of DVDs that have come since. This is an early performance and of considerable interest as a result. These were the glory days of Dream Theater ramming prog down the throats of the hungry Budokan fans. It is an incredible performance best seen than heard though the audio experience offers much as a type of Dream Theater concoction of the best of the earlier years. The CD is good listening but the visual persentation is incredible. There are a few odd surprises scattered in the mammoth set list but the classics are here and played to perfection. Beyond This Life is a huge epic clocking 19:37, and with some dynamic lead guitar from Petrucci. The Test That Stumped Them All is always a killer track live and sounds fresh and powerful with huge bass runs of Myung and Portnoy's slamming percussion.

Endless Sacrifice is an 11 minute gruelling journey into prog excess with a wild keyboard section from Rudess. The Instrumedley to follow features some awesome musicianship. LaBrie is in fine form on soaring vocals, and shines on such compositions as the 14 minute Trial Of Tears and New Millennium. It is always a pleasure to experience a Jordan Rudess keyboard solo and it is as inventive here as ever. There are some amazing songs such as Solitary Shell, Stream Of Consciousness and quintessential Pull Me Under. The set closes with epic 16 minute In The Name Of God. So overall this is a great set with power metal and tons of instrumental breaks. It is progressive and packed to the gills with mind bending virtuoso solos and material from some of their best albums. It was the "Train of Thought" tour so there is plenty from that album as well as "Six Degrees" and "Images and Words" among others.

The special features are wonderful featuring 'Riding The Train Of Thought" a Japanese Tour Documentary of about half an hour, and John Petrucci Guitar World segment, Jordan Rudess Keyboard World, and a Mike Portnoy Drum Solo clocking 12 minutes. The Dream Theater Chronicles - 2004 Tour Opening Video is okay showing the video the crowd saw in the opening, and Instrumedley with multi-angles is lots of fun. Overall it is a fantastic DVD concert, and all Dream Theater fans must have it.

DREAM THEATER Original Album Series

Boxset / Compilation · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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I bought this last year because although I had everything Dream Theater released I only had some albums on digital so this was irresistible. 5 of the earliest DT and some of their best at a very cheap price so you have nothing to lose really. It was nice for me personally to receive an actual CD of some of the albums I did not own physically such as "Images And Words", "Awake" and "Falling Into Infinity": The other albums I already owned but as I said, this comes under $20 so who can complain. The box is a cool design and the cardboard mini vinyl sleeves work for me. Of course this set has some brilliant early DT such as Pull Me Under, Metropolis - Pt. I "The Miracle And The Sleeper", Under A Glass Moon, 6:00, Caught in a Web, Space-Dye Vest, You Not Me, Peruvian Skies, Trial of Tears, and the entire "Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory". We also have "Train Of Thought" with a heavier DT sound to revel in.

It is a great set as all these 5 albums sets are and of course not really designed for those who already have all the albums. To catch up on the earlier DT sound it is worthwhile and for those who want to relive the awesome power of the band in the 1990s. 4 stars for the incredible music and for including so many masterpieces of prog metal.


Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.49 | 8 ratings
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Aeon Zen's "Enigma" has enough progressive metal to satiate the palate of respective headbangers and yet retains some very melodic songs with exceptional singing. At times the band launch into full blown death metal complete with deep devilish growls on 'Divinity', 'Eternal Snow' or 'Downfall', but they mainly opt for the Dream Theater style of keyboard drenched melodies with metal blasts and crystal clear vocals such as on 'Artificial Soul'. The softer side of the group is a delight and can be heard on the dreamy 'Seven Hills', that has a wonderful synth trumpet sound and multilayered harmonies.

Rich Hinks on guitar and bass has exceptional style as does fellow guitarist Matt Shephard. Andi Kravljaca handles the vocals well and there are some excellent drum figures at the hands of Steve Burton. Shaz is fabulous on keyboards, and often lends a rather ambient atmosphere in tracks such as the instrumental opener 'Enter the Enigma' and the intro of 'Warning'. This latter track also has a dense distorted metal riff that locks in and the melody and style reminded me of a Devin Townsend song. There are some nice sax tones heard on 'Downfall' that break up the frenetic metal blastbeats, and the vocals are always appealing and especially the killer lead guitar frenzies such as on 'Eternal Snow' or 'Still Human'.

Overall this is a great album, that will appeal to prog metal addicts, especially those who prefer the melodic side similar to Threshold, Haken, or Dream Theater.


Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 7 ratings
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Effloresce is an energetic metal band fronted by vocalist Nicki Weber who at times sounds like the female vocalists of Goth bands Nightwish, After Forever and Epica, but also has some moments where she growls. When a woman growls in metal it really is quite startling, reminding me of the Asarte and Kittie growls, quite unsettling but as powerful as male vocalists. Niki also is talented in the musical field playing some scintillating flute and percussion. Her dominating prescence is of course obvious but Effloresce also have some great musicians with guitarist shredder Dave Mola, who also plays Mellotrons adding to the ethereal quality of the music. Sebastian Ott is on bass, Tobi Sub on drums and also Tim Ivanic plays guitars.

"Coma Ghosts" is not extreme in heavy thrashing but mostly has a steady measured tempo with some complex guitar riffs. It opens with the melodic 'Crib' where Niki stays on the crystal clear vocal technique. On 'Spectre Pt. 1: Zorya´s Dawn', a 10:34 shredfest, the guitars begin with intricate fast riffing and then it settles with measured cadence and some nice guitar interplay along with a strong bassline. This has a more progressive feel, with odd rhythm breaks and time sigs that shift in tempo. There are some Gothic resonances at 4:50 with choral voices, and then Niki begins screeching, quite a horrific sound but it darkens the mood well. Later more technical metal riffs crash through and then suddenly the lilting serenity of flute chimes in. There are enough chord progression changes and mood shifts to make this one of the most progressive songs on the album.

The inventiveness continues with 'Pavement Canvas', a 9 minute track with an ominous droning intro, that fades up with rhythmic percussion and guitar phrasing. The wind effects add to the atmosphere and then a chunky guitar riff plunges it into heavy territory. The drums launch in to precision blastbeats and there is a quirky fractured time sig. Eventually Niki's vocals chime in with beautiful resonance and later she reverts to the screechy style. The guitar riff is killer on this track and the lead break cranks along the disjointed tempo.

'Undercoat' is a short track with an ambient tranquility, swathes of keyboards and ghostly reverberations. The lead guitar soars beautifully over, making this one of the calmest tracks on the album. It is followed by 'Swimming Through Deserts', that opens with more gentle meandering guitars. Niki's voice flows along nicely, angelic and crystal clear, along with some narrative interjections in this ballad. This is the band in a contemplative mood, lilting and with a drifting lullaby feel.

'Shuteye Wanderer' is a 16 and a half minute epic to close the album. Dave Mola throws the anchor down with some fret melting guitar outbreaks; his lead hammers along with a blinding ferocity and fast bass and percussion. It settles after the breakneck opening into a soft tempo with Niki's sweet tones and strong ambient music. The guitars crash through overtaking this atmosphere and more scintillating lead breaks are accompanied by raspy growls. There is a fiery extended instrumental section with choppy rhythms moving from speed metal to crawl and back to peaceful passages. The mood swings are wonderful, maintaining interest throughout. The flute returns and brings things to a pastoral change in the atmosphere. A rumbling roar of thunder cracks the silence and it builds with a portentous vibe, as Niki's gorgeous vocals interject at 9 and a half minutes in. eventually the guitars unleash their fury and the drums move into hyperspeed mode until it all breaks into tranquility and an angelic vocal. This track is a genuine delight, with some of the more innovative structures from the band.

To conclude, the album delivers the right dosage of heavy guitar thrash with keyboard ambiance, growls are used in the heavier sections and are quite brutal yet Niki is capable of pure beauty and choses this operatic style for the most part. The guitars are incredible on the album, especially the huge lead solos, and it is all capped off by precision technicality on bass and drums. The result is a great album full of sound and fury signifying prog metal bliss.

SOT Kind of Saltz

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 8 ratings
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SOT are a dynamic trio of avant jazz metal innovators, hailing from Norway, who have released a vigorous spirited debut, "Kind of Saltz". The orgiastic music jumps in spasms with blocks of jazz epilepsy, and then entrances in the next stanza with lucid sinuous strands of tranquillity. The guitars are always on hand to bring the melodic lines from the hand of Skjalg Reithaug. The tempos are everchanging and jolt the ear driven by sporadic percussion by Anders Hunstad. The final augmentation is the low ominous tones of the tuba expertly played by Lars Andreas Haug. It is perhaps this instrument alone that elevates the music above the average band, as there are few bands who use the tuba with such finesse. As a Euphonium player from the past myself, I can really appreciate the dexterity of the tuba playing, knowing how difficult it is to handle that brutish brass monster.

The album is instrumental apart from some odd Magma like vocal intonations that come across as part of the music rather than lyrics as such. Occasionally there are some odd dialogue effects and whimsical scat vocals similar to Focus' Thisj at times. The tracks tend to utilise a variety of styles rather than maintaining the one, and this is essential to the development of the music and the sheer exploratory nature of the band. At one place you may be blasted with spasmodic jerks of guitar and then on the next track there will be passages of calm tuba. There is an infectious exuberance in the sound, a band that is clearly inspired and content to play the way they feel in a non-conformist manner, and this is refreshing.

The music is out of the box in tracks such as 'Schlatan' that opens with a cavalcade of boisterous brass seizures, and guitar distortion, until it settles on a semblance of a melody before motoring back to jump start expulsions; simply delirious wake up music. The lead break is killer and then there is a brass embellishment replacing a bassline, sounding a bit like the aliens in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". The tempo slows down for a time until we return to the breakneck speed of the opening and then it ends abruptly; astounding music.

Some tracks are quirky and short, others are more complex and avant. It never gets too much for the ear and grows on you after a few listens. The hammering guitar riffs are off the scale in places but it is the tuba that always appeases my senses. It is such an odd instrument to hear in this style of music but it seems to work perfectly and the album would not be as endearing without it.

'End of Saltz' is perhaps the highlight of the album, opening with a familiar guitar melody sounding like the harmonics in the intro of Metallica's 'Sanitarium'. Then it moves into the jazz odyssey of outlandish avant prog, it never wears out its welcome as the tracks do not meander on one rhythm for too long, but rather lock into a melody or a densely layered time sig, and then get out without fanfare. SOT know how to bludgeon the listener with hammering riffs, and then pull back to allow the instruments to breathe sailing on the crest of a soundwave.

'Tzar Saltan' is another stand out track with an Arabian flavour initially, and then it spirals wildly into fast outbursts. It then slows back to the opening melody. Without warning, it screeches back into the frenetic tempo, before jumping to a metal rhythm and then some quirky melodies that are humorously familiar. It moves into a strong rock guitar figure, and then some high piercing vocals evolve into a new instrument; this is where I am reminded of the work of Thisj from Focus. It is a wonderful way to close the album.

The packaging is very intriguing consisting of a front cover of a salt factory expelling some kind of billowing smoke. An emu screams in terror in the foreground. The factory is oddly designed with tuba bells on either side and an enigmatic parlophone phonogram bell in the middle. This same bell appears on each illustration in the booklet. In the inner sleeve we see that the factory has lifted off as a rocket and is joining its airborne state along with some hot air balloons in the whitened sky. The picture hidden by the CD shows the phonogram bell attached to a cart in some abandoned warehouse with some emus wandering around. The back cover portrays the darkened image of the band. It is an effective design and so compelling that I wished there had been more pages to enjoy.

Overall, "Kind of Saltz" is a powerhouse debut from this adventurous trio, and the bold and brash approach to the music is inspirational. The music is replete with weird and jagged guitar phrases, enmeshed with some hyperactive drum time signatures that move well outside the standard 4/4 rock signature, and punctuated by effervescent tuba and vocals. It is tight, punchy and easy to enjoy. I recommend it for its inventive slant on the music that is always brimming over with complexity and innovation.


Album · 2013 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 50 ratings
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The perfect Halloween album perhaps, Sabbath return with a fury on "13" - album number 19 in the studio. It is hard to resist the power trio of Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne, back together at last. If nothing else it is great to hear Ozzy wail and his tone is so endearing. I have enjoyed Ozzy's journey from early dark debut to solo career and of course The Osbournes is legendary television. The new album impresses with Iommi's incredible deep resonating riffs and Butler's mighty bass but the real star is Ozzy who is terrific on vocals. He sounds as though he has been put into a cupboard and dusted off to rise again such is the crystal clarity of his vocals. The man has hardly changed over the years in terms of vocal technique. The lyrics have remained as dark as ever too with a few laughable moments such as "Satan's waitin;" and "God is dead". It is not exactly groundbreaking but it is Sabbath through and through.

I could not really latch onto any specific song as a highlight because they all whirl past in a blur with a ton of metal guitar in a classic metal vein and a ton of melodic singing. However I can say I loved the opener "End of the Beginning" and "Zeitgeist" is a psych metal delight, and perhaps a strong contender for a return to the classic Sabbath riff is found on the wonderful 'Age of Reason'.

Overall this is a decent return to the classic lineup. I cannot compare it with the great proto metal sound of vintage Sabbath though as that is definitive Sabbath, however "13" is still going to please many a Sabbath fan.

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 39 ratings
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Ayreon's "The Theory of Everything" is the eighth studio album Dutch songwriter, producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. This concept album features as always a cast of many prog legends portraying enigmatic characters that tell a captivating story. This Ayreon project begins a new saga that disregards the science fiction theme of previous albums to embrace a new concept based on a realistic world. According to Lucassen "The Theory of Everything" is "four long tracks divided into various segments", culminating in just under an hour and a half or prog opera theatrics. The segments add up to 42 in total, with Lucassen paying obvious tribute to Douglas Adams' 'Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything' in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" saga.

There are many guest artists to revel in on this album; the vocalists include JB from Grand Magus as The Teacher, Sara Squadrani from Ancient Bards as The Girl, Michael Mills from Toehider as The Father, Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil as The Mother, Tommy Karevik from Kamelot, and Seventh Wonder as The Prodigy, Marco Hietala from Nightwish, and Tarot as The Rival, John Wetton from Asia, UK, King Crimson, Family, and Roxy Music as The Psychiatrist, and Wilmer Waarbroek on backing vocals. The musicians are incredible on this project consisting of the incomparable keyboardists Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson in a powerhouse performance with Jordan Rudess. Genesis guitarist extraordinaire guitarist Steve Hackett makes an appearance. Also on show are Arjen Anthony Lucassen on electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, analog synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings. He is joined by talented masters Ed Warby on percussion, Troy Donockley from Nightwish on uilleann pipes, whistles, Ben Mathot on violin, Maaike Peterse on cello, Jeroen Goossens on flutes, piccolo, bamboo flute, contrabass flute, Siddharta Barnhoorn on orchestrations and Michael Mills on Irish bouzouki.

Now for the actual contents. It opens with 'Singularity' beginning with soft, minimalist flute and acoustics. A pulsating bassline pumps ominously and then the voices begin. The gorgeous vocals of Cristina Scabbia resonates like an angel; as the Mother she infuses her performance with passion and fire. The Prodigy is the main protagonist, an amazing vocal from Karavik, and Michael Mills is superb as The Father. After a huge conversation about the genius becoming manipulated into a world changing, mind altering mathematical experiment of scientific significance, the music builds into a tense metal riff and soaring synths. At 8:35 there is a violin concerto waltz and this builds to a fantastic guitar solo with delay reverb. There is an atmospheric grinding organ sound and some mechanised effects. The Father sings "down here on my knees, feeling the weight of shame, how could I have done this to you my son, why should I forgive you after all you've done." The Prodigy answers "I was driven and blind, we can still work together if you allow me". The Father retorts "why should I give you a chance why should I trust you now?" The Prodigy replies "if we join our minds then together we can do this, we both want to be the first, we both want to change the world, we can work all night, we can solve this mystery be a part of history".

The chemistry is signified by chemical synth effects. The experiment begins with scientific gobbledygook spouting out like some bad chemistry effect "isolate the gravity, symmetry". 'Progressive Waves' has to be given special mention as it is a huge keyboard solo between Emerson and Rudess; a simply gobsmacking moment of the album. Emerson is brilliant of course and I love to hear his unmistakeable trademark staccato Hammond sound. Rudess on the Continuum is a master in his own right and gets some amazing sounds out of that weird contraption of his. There is a mood change then as the Teacher sings emotionally, "dear friend, my work as done, science had to survive, thank you for your faith." A nice little segment of keyboard The Psychiatrist sings "His mind took flight and his eyes have lost their light, all we have to go on is a note, he changed the world last night working together side by side, his father is the only one who knows". The Mother sings passionately and then an emotive lead guitar break signifies the gravity of the situation as the experiment has gone wrong, entering the eleventh dimension. Some sad violin strains echo the dramatis and then very strong guitar and keyboard melodies join the soundscape. The Girl and The Mother have a duet as they wail over the plight of the Prodigy. A heartbeat bass draws the track to a close and the words "will we ever understand how two different hands styles came to grace this blackboard."

The second epic is 'Symmetry' opening with grand guitar and ethereal pipes until a throbbing synth locks in and some wonderful phased lead guitar motifs. This one has the foreign sound of 'Loser' from "The Human Equation". The deep resonating lyrics tell the tale, "I don't mean to interfere but I see quite a change in you". The tale unfolds where the Teacher implores "We can play a part changing history, our time is near" This is followed by the observations of The Psychiatrist "I have to say it's unusual, such a transformation overnight, I wouldn't have thought it was possible, I don't want to scare you but it can't be right" and the Son replies "A world of endless wonder lies ahead." The synth solo to follow is wonderful sounding very retro and 80s, then an ascending riff of distorted power crunches along till it moves to a fast tempo chugging metal riff. I love this section at 5:10 and the Hammond underneath is nicely placed. A lead guitar solo and Rick Wakeman's keyboard workout follows with grinding organ a constant presence. The aggressive vocals that trade off are so well executed "if you are such a genius it didn't get you very far".

Then the track segues to a droning buzz synth and a slow measured cadence at 7:50. This has a cool spacey sound and then moves into a melodic synth phrase and deep piano tones. The story continues with the regret of the characters shining through "I'm afraid we've got a problem, the side effects have been confirmed, psychosis and delusions, we have to stop the trial today, It's too dangerous, the boy deserves to know what's going on, what have we done?" This section reminds me of another Ayreon project in melody. The lead guitar break is brilliant, followed by more storyline from the Father, an incredible performance by Michael Mills, "I've been giving you a drug, I was convinced that it would help you, can you forgive me what I've done?" There is a nice synth section here that is captivating. Later, the metal riffs thrash along and kick the song up another gear. The Uilleann pipes enter and have a beautiful sound as the Prodigy and The Girl converse about him being able to stay with her. The Mother tries to warn her son with the Father and trade off a segment of arguing about the Prodigy; "He will deceive you, you're being used, don't let him play you, all he wants to do, he wants to be with you". I like the Irish sounding pipes throughout lending a very Celtic vibe and the song transcends into tranquil ambience. At about 17 minutes the music changes gears and the Teacher offers to make a deal, "I am a brilliant chemist, I can replicate your drug but my offer has a price you have to help me," sings Wetton. The Prodigy says count me in, "what do you need from me?" The Teacher explains what he wants. The Hammond grows in intensity as the Mother sings of her pain, pleading for her son to be cautious. An orchestrated passage signifies that the tale is getting darker, and there is a heavy rock guitar-driven section to follow, and the Girl sings "I won't be part of this nightmare, you're out on your own." The Prodigy is left to ponder "what have I done? Now she's gone."

The third multi-movement suite is 'Entanglement', opening with spacey synths, and a deep baritone voice; "do you struggle to adapt, do you feel detached?" The Prodigy answers he feels "like some alien machine, knowing what to feel or what is real". The Girl answers with her beautiful heartfelt tones and the conversation continues with the Psychiatrist; "let's talk about your dreams, can you describe what you feel, do you feel anything at all?" The Prodigy says "I see things that don't belong, there is so much more beyond." A lot of storyline is conveyed by the next sequence; the Mother screams, "I won't let you endanger my child". A cool retro synth workout takes over as a heavy riff cranks along. Michael Mills reaches some incredible high register octaves and then a gorgeous flute solo drifts in. The song becomes very melancholy as the Father whispers hoarsely, "ever since I was a child it all came so easy I never had to try." The violin adds a tone of sadness as the Prodigy pleads to continue with the experiment despite the warnings from his loved ones. The time signature changes to a funky bass and some techno keys that cascade up and down the scale. The lead guitar break is excellent at about 10 minutes and then a heavy rock beat with fast drums and a galloping metal guitar blasts through. Mills screams out as high as he can and then a violin solos over a synth pulse; one of the ambient moments on the album. The poignant lyrics are searching for answers; "Where am I going? How did this happen? My life is unfolding, depressingly average."

I like the time sig and choppy fractured riff as the gorgeous voice of Sara Squadrani chimes in. Some oddly placed violins over a very heavy riff enter and then another techno synth mix like a sequencer is heard, followed by distorted chopped riff and a grand crystal clear synth melody. At 15:30 there is an acoustic sound and this is broken by ultra heavy guitar riffing, an excellent sound, and soon staccato keyboards join. The story continues with "I know why you're here, you're a fellow man of science, our point of view is very much alive." The Prodigy asks to keep it between themselves, as "no one needs to know". The plot thickens and so does the music with layers of guitars and a pulsating synth locks in at 18 minutes. Some wonderful vocals sing "I am so close to the answer but I need your brilliant mind". The track builds to a crescendo as we near the end with grandiose keys, powerful melodies and shimmering Hammond then a final guitar motif. This is a fantastic song full of vibrant energy and incredible vocal performances with accomplished guitar and synth workouts.

The 4th phase opens with waves crashing on a beach and then the deep vocal sings "will we ever get this close again uniting the forces of our universe?" He is answered by Cristina's crystalline tones "it's been too long, I think he's gone." At this point the Hammond enters with a powerful fanfare, and then some delightful electric organ and a grand piano segment. The tale continues as the Prodigy is being immersed in the grand experiment; "Unification of the great and small". The Prodigy says "I just need some more time as the answer is blindingly near." The Girl is worried for his safety and pleads for him to stop. The Son is now confused and is losing touch with reality. An Egyptian sounding melody enters, with some wonderful flourishes on keyboard and Steve Hackett's guitar. Acoustics chime in and the Father's lyrics "is this your work, be honest now, how did you do it, I'm not angry boy, but I really need to know." The Prodigy is sorry but his Rival says he has always been the genius and "he just wants to be like me." This storyline reminds me of the rivalry between those who steal ideas and claim it for themselves seen in many movies.

I like the next section and how the Girl sings "what have you got against him, what did he ever do to you?" The Rival retorts with "I can't believe you're falling for this loser". He says that they should be together and is obviously jealous. At 18 minutes the song culminates in a fiery argument between the main protagonists. The music has reached a crescendo and is nearing the end. A dreamy flute solo and violin serrations are joined by piccolo; some of the most sublime music you are likely to hear. At the end of this I am left just shaking my head in absolute awe at the majesty and beauty of such music; it captures the soul and lifts the spirits.

Overall, this new Ayreon project is a stunning achievement with some unbelievably transcendent musicianship. The vocals are flawless throughout especially Mills, Scabbia and Wetton. It is hard to pick a favourite song as they complete the whole and are inseparable, though CD 2 absolutely shines through as some of the best Ayreon I have heard. To listen to this album in one sitting is one of the more pleasurable musical experiences over recent years. I have loved so much of Ayreon's work over Arjen's long career, and string of masterpieces, and this album is no exception; a masterful musical triumph without a doubt. It grows on my ears on subsequent listens, and especially noticeable are the flute, Uilleann pipes and the keyboard flourishes. The melodies are infectious and begin to grow familiar over a few listens. The storyline is perfect for this project and not as complex as other Ayreon tales. I thoroughly recommend this for all prog addicts; not too heavy, not too light, but perfectly balanced virtuoso musicianship and outstanding vocal performances.


Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 57 ratings
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Dream Theater are still an Enigma Machine. "Dream Theater" opens with a very dramatic classical orchestration with heavy dark foreboding strains 'False Awakening Suite'; that lasts just under 3 minutes, yet inexplicably is in 3 parts, but it is a grand start to this latest Dream Theater project. The metal speed licks really take off on 'The Enemy Inside' and there is that familiar DT sound with Labrie's vocals, and the precision riffing of Petrucci along with the power of Rudess keys and the rhythm machine of Myung and Mangini. They really are a force to be reckoned with, blending heavy duty power metal riffs with melodic orchestrations on this release. The violins and cellos certainly are a blast of fresh air not found on other albums of recent years, not counting the one off "Score" concert. The music in the opening song greets me like a long lost friend and is as great as any other DT I have heard. I looked forward to hearing new original instrumental breaks and the band certainly pour out their passion on this track; an incredible start to the album.

Next up is 'The Looking Glass' with a melodic guitar riff and some odd time sigs mixed in the structure. Sounds like they are channelling Rush; is that a bad thing? Even the lyrics are about the pitfalls of fame sounding like Neal Peart's ideologies in his composition 'Limelight'. It has a great lead break over a pulsating bassline, but overall this is not one of the best songs I have heard from the band, a bit drawn out and too reliant on a basic melody.

'Enigma Machine' runs for 6 minutes, beginning with chiming keys that are chilling and ethereal. The deep metal distortion crashes through beautifully. It locks into a weird time sig, reminiscent of the Inspector Gadget theme, but it has a compelling atmosphere. This track is one of the reasons to get hold of this album. The lead break goes into overdrive with twin powering on the speed licks and trade offs with the keyboards. Then it goes up a few gears with staccato Hammond flourishes, and double kick drums at a frenetic pace. Rudess chops out some amazing keyboard phrases and then there is an astonishing lead break with hyper speed fret melting Petrucci who is blindingly brilliant. The pace slows into a shuffling crawl, till a new section takes over with more fractured signatures and gob smacking riffing, then a drum solo and more melodic motifs. What a masterpiece instrumental!

'The Bigger Picture' is a long song at 7:40, and features LaBrie in a melancholy mood, softly singing to a gentle piano. The tranquil atmosphere is a standard for DT who always include a soft ballad at some point. After the blitzkrieg attack of the previous track it is not such a bad thing in context. The chorus builds into a heavier vibe and very catchy melody. The song actually gets quite heavy with choppy riffs and a string orchestra cascading over like warm honey. The lead break is glorious, empowered with twin harmonics and simplistic string bends and sustain. This song grew on me as a genuine highlight due to the powerful melodies.

'Behind the Veil' opens with ominous horns and atmospherics, a cinematic soundscape, and very eerie keyboard shrieks. Suddenly the peace is punctured like a balloon with a flurry of thrashing metal riffs, and it locks into a rocking rhythm with very dirty guitar distortion. LaBrie moves into his nasty mood with spiteful lyrics and it is apparent this has a dark edge about the evil that men do. The instrumental break is terrific with Rudess and Petrucci having way too much fun trying to outdo each other in technical finesse. This is an aggressive song and certainly a thrashing prog fest by any standard.

'Surrender to Reason' is layered with synth strings, opens with an Alex Lifeson guitar sound and transcends into Porcupine Tree territory with acoustic guitars in the verses, then builds into tricky distortion riffs and grandiose organ flourishes. Not a highlight of the album but it has the power to grow on you.

'Along for the Ride' is the obligatory ballad of the album, LaBrie revels in these and of course it breaks up the incessant complex riffs and instrumental workouts. The acoustics are crystal clear, and LaBrie is an accomplished balladeer. The problem is this sounds the same as other DT songs and sticks to formula. The band could do with a revamp and try something different as it's getting very similar from album to album. Having said that, there is a section where Keith Emerson walks in and begins to play a ditty on the Moog, actually it's Rudess at his rudest mimicking 'Lucky Man's sound, but of course a Moog moment can never go astray for the prog afficianado.

'Illumination Theory' is the huge momentous epic, a 22:17 pomp romp of prog excess as only Dream Theater can perform. It is in 5 sections in classic prog style, a multi movement suite in the classical tradition; I Paradoxe de la Lumière Noire, II Live, Die, Kill, III The Embracing Circle, IV The Pursuit of Truth and V Surrender, Trust & Passion. It segues together like all great epics almost seamlessly and I can only shake my head in awe at the end of this mammoth track. It opens with stirring string ensemble and then plunges into a rhythmic distorted metal outbreak. So far so good. Then a riff that is lifted from "Images and Words" locks into place and LaBrie decides it's time to sing. The musicianship is awesome and saves this from getting dull even after 6 minutes of kanoodling and spouting off New Age influenced conspiracy theories about the Illuminati; "we seek to understand." A lovely keyboard workout follows and then a lead guitar domination, certainly driving the point home that the band are virtuosos. The music settles into an ambient scape with ghostly reverberations and strange chimes. There are even bird sounds as the orchestra movement begins to play; an extended violin and cello arrangement that stirs the soul. This piece stands out as it is a genuine classical symphony sound that is generated. It sounds like someone switched channels and we are hearing the ending of some old classic romance movie. This would make a beautiful concerto on the live stage and it took me by surprise after all the rock.

The power metal returns as though lurking round the corner ready to strike, with loud LaBrie languishing eloquently about mothers, children, wives and fighting for your life, teachers and students, crimes and freedom; whatever he is on about LaBrie is giving the microphone a real pasting. The epic shifts up a few gears as the pace quickens, with frenetic piano spasms and a schizo staccato riff, along with hyperactive percussive rhythms. The brilliance of all this chaos is answered with a swift lead guitar speed picking passage until Rudess says shove over it's my turn. Rudess' keyboard break is insane here with some of his best arpeggios and he is answered by Petrucci's wah wah workout; okay, we know you can play, genius! After this indulgence where is there to go but to move back to conventional melodies, a reprise of the string ensemble and LaBrie singing uplifting lines such as "you must suffer through the pain, when you surrender to the light you can face the darkest days." We believe his conviction and a huge crescendo climaxes. It is all so majestic and uplifting that you can't help but be mesmirised by the sheer spectacle of it all. The band go into full flight as the finale nears, with Petrucci's soaring lead guitar licks and Mellotron sounds emanating beneath. The darkness has lifted and all is well with the world again. Oh, just time for a ghost track with stirring symphonic prog nuances and a piano to boot. No complaints from me; this is bombastic prog at its proudest, with DT waving the prog metal flag triumphantly.

This latest Dream Theater album is a real mixed inconsistent affair; moments of brilliance with moments of familiar territory that demands some kind of diversity. The band are getting too familiar to be honest, and could do with a real shake up to try something different. Each album is sounding the same and some of the material on this latest album leaves a lot to be desired especially the middle section. Also Mangini's drums sound a bit synthetic lacking Portnoy's punchy style. The creative department also needs a shake up as there is not a lot of lyrical punch and Mangini had input into the songwriting but it has not affected the band that much at all; they still opt for the safe approach revisiting what has worked on previous albums.

Of course the opening tracks, and instrumental are brilliant, along with the epic final track, so this could be enough to warrant a 4 star rating and I have to consider whether this measures up to other 4 star albums of DT. And what is with that dull album cover and uninspired title? Not exactly as if there was a lot of effort put into it. One has to ask, if this does not measure up to the masterpiece releases whether this is as even as good as "Awake", "Six degrees?" and "Black clouds and silver linings", all of which I awarded 4 star reviews. Really it is not as good as these, so is it then better than the middle of the road 3 star albums "Systematic Chaos", "Train of Thought" or even "Falling into Infinity"? Well, it definitely had more impact on me than those which leads me to believe a marginal 3.5 star rating is warranted. I will settle for 4 stars but only due to the astonishing symphony intro, the awesome instrumental and colossal epic that I really enjoyed, especially all the symphonic elements, and guitar and keyboard freakouts. Dream Theater still hold the attention and even though this is no masterpiece it is well worth a listen and as always is going to divide the prog fanbase, which has become an essential part of the band's appeal. Love 'em or loathe 'em, Dream Theater still has the power to make the rock world wake up and take notice.


Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 23 ratings
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Aus proggers Karnivool released a dynamic alternative heavy prog album "Sound Awake", reminiscent of Tool, Cardiacs, Live or Soundgarden. Many cite this album as their pinnacle, as it is consistent in quality and innovative approach. It is a lengthy album of almost 80 minutes of powerful melodic and inventive prog rock.

'Simple Boy' drives along on a powerful time sig, confident loud vocals of Ian Kenny, crashing explosive drums, and an infectious chorus. 'Goliath' starts in 7/4 then locks into a weird 6/4 tempo, before the more conventional chorus. The bass tones of Jon Stockman are incredible, with a fuzzy sound and this is complimented by chiming jangly guitar phrases.

'New Day' has a guitar rhythmic intro then some tempo beats come in over the relaxed singing style. It builds to a measured rock vibe, some reverb guitar motifs and a new feel midway through; "hey let's get lost in a crowd, I'll show you much more". The heavier guitars are welcome in the instrumental break and it sounds somewhat like Live, one of my favourite 90s bands, especially their masterpieces "Throwing Copper" and "Secret Samadhi" that they never topped.

'Set Fire To The Hive' is much heavier with caustic phased vocals and some aggressive guitar riffs. This sounds a bit like System of a Down in places. It is the band unleashing a furious attack of raw guitar and pounding drum and bass rhythms, complete with police sirens. 'Umbra' has a nice melodic intro with some complex time sigs to follow. The guitar crashes with high powered drum ferocity, but the vox are soft and gentle in contrast. The light moments are darkened with brutal guitar tones. The lyrics are thought provoking; "Imagine that everything's effected by a cause, well I don't feel so lucky you know" and "set in stone and blood, hold your promise." The ending is wonderful, with low guttural guitar splashes on an urgent drum beat that fade into a spacey tone. 'All I Know' segues seamlessly with an odd quirky riff and nice harmonised singing; "Are you with me, this is more than just infinity, I'm a soul taker, hey is this the end of all I know." The lead guitar break is very pleasant with sustained tones and it breaks into a Tool like rhythm. 'The Medicine Wears Off' is a short piece at 1:49, which is rather melancholy with outstanding singing from Kenny. It leads to 'The Caudal Lure' that veers into odd time sigs from 4/4, 3/4 to 2/4, and the drums of Steve Judd are intricate throughout. It has a rock feel and some blasting guitar riffs.

'Illumine' begins with sonic feedback and very distorted guitars leading to the verse; "don't listen, don't even hear a sound they make, it breaks you, words that haunt you while you're sleeping, you seem afraid, don't be alone." This has a nice melodic line and more commercial in sound then previous songs.

'Deadman' is the longest song at 12 minutes, with cool percussion grooves and rhythmic guitar picking. The vocals are well executed with lyrics such as; "Grab your belongings the exit is near, this can't be happening." The song breaks into a new time sig with faster tempos at the 4 minute mark, this leads to a glorious lead break from Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking. The jerky off sync guitar riff at 9 minutes is a dynamic touch, and then it moves to a low vocal and bells on this excellent highlight. The last section is gentle high register vox, and Pink Floydian guitar sounds. 'Change [Part 2]' is also long (10:47) and another highlight opening with machine grinding crushing guitar blasts. The didgeridoo is killer along with cool vocals and it moves to a section reminding me of Live at 3 and a half minutes in; "what a way to see this thing out, what a way to lay your burden down". The low grinding drone has a Tool sound and the way it blazes into the odd riff sig. The drum solo at the end by Judd is fantastic.

'Roquefort' closes the album with a bright riff and very low end bass, and the vocals are more aggressive. It is more of an FM radio track than others but finishes on a rocker with melody and heavy riffs.

Overall "Sound Awake" is a very dynamic and powerful album that will resonate with fans of Tool yet Karnivool inject their own style with some passion and fire. The riffs are ever changing along with tempo shifts, and the mood throughout is consistent with a dark edge and moody atmospheres. It is an excellent lengthy journey and showcases the best of Australian music at its most alternative and progressive.


Album · 2013 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 6 ratings
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Karnivool are an Australian band that I had heard of, being Australian, some years back when there was quite a fuss over their rise to fame in this country. "Themata" released in 2005 seemed to buzz by without raising too much of a stir outside of Perth, but 2009's "Sound Awake" was hailed as an Aussie classic and really made the country aware of how great Karnivool are. This latest release is actually heavier in every department with very strong emphasis on distorted rhythm guitar with a metal sound and pounding percussion and a deep resonating bass. The vocals remind me of Tool or Soundgarden on this latest release "Assymetry". The artists present are Ian Kenny on vocals, Andrew "Drew" Goddard on guitar, Mark "Hoss" Hosking on guitar, Jon Stockman on bass and Steve Judd on drums. From the outset on the drones of 'Aum' the band have adopted a darker sound with definite influences of Tool, especially in the off kilter rhythms and odd time sigs of 'Nachash'. The deep resonance of the bass synth gives this an industrial metal feel and the guitar riffs are as exploratory as Tool. The guitars are executed with inventive relish and blast with a distorted machine grinding ferocity; check out the intro to 'A.M. War' that is one of their outstanding tracks. The time sig is so fractured it wakes up the ear on every listen and has an unsettling effect with its broken cadence. The drums are incredible on this track reminding me of the intricate work of The Cardiacs. There are many switches of tempo throughout the album but this track takes so many twists and turns it is veritably spellbinding. I was surprised as there was nothing like this on their previous album and it is a change for the better. Listen to 'A.M. War' to hear one of the most chaotic time sigs in years! It is unbelievable and must have really shaken up old Karnivool fans. At one stage when the tempo gets fast it is hard to locate the actual rhythm as it competes so dissonantly with the other instruments. I must admit I loved this battle of the instruments complete with its beautiful chaos.

Following this brilliant track is 'We Are' that is also very riff heavy and features Kenny's exceptional vocals and Goddard and Hosking going ballistic on guitars. This is a more FM alternative sound but the album needed some commercial sounds after the previous tracks, and this became the single deservedly. 'The Refusal' features booming guitar distortion and some screamo vocals over relentless drum crashes and bass runs that are a constant presence, very much like Oceansize or A Perfect Circle.

'Aeons' is a more lengthy track at 7:18 and feels like a Porcupine Tree song in the opening, especially in the vocals. It builds from reverberated tremolo guitar to strong synth lines and the rhythm section of drums and bass. I was reminded of The Mars Volta once the time sig became chaotic and then it settles into spacey passages and lyrics about chemical fires; "will I breathe again, will my lungs fill with fire, when the smoke clears who will still remain here."

'Asymmetry' is a short sharp burst of prog that loops a sequenced keyboard and is joined by distant vocals and distorted improvised guitar as heavy as the sound of Sunn O))). It feels like a transition, a real oddity, and leads to 'Eidolon' with a pleasant bassline and gentle guitar joined by crystalline vocals. The lyrics are reflective "maybe I'm just too proud to stand in your defense, still I feel the pull of hidden wires, I'm never gonna try again to speak my mind." This song is more radio friendly and accessible, certainly a welcome change after the high strangeness previous. The melody is infectious and really stays with you unlike the unusual approach of constantly switching time sigs on other tracks.

'Sky Machine' is a longer track at 7:49, beginning with multi-tracked vocal harmonies and stunning drum tempos. Inevitably the heavy guitars crash through and then a great melody in the verses is heard. I love the sound of the guitars the way they reverb and overlap on this track. It is also wonderful when the music settles down and we hear the warm vocals of Kenny in the mid section.

'Amusia' is a transition that is just odd but delivers nothing to enhance the album at all. I am quite perplexed with the short transitions and really believe they would have been better used as intros to lengthen the rather short songs. They simply don't offer anything and feel like fillers. 'The Last Few' returns to the more intricate layers of musicianship and feels a bit messy though I admire the rather innovative percussion sounds, that are the opposite to any prosaic approach of most alternative bands these days. It is difficult to locate any semblance of melody and this just swishes by with a lot of sound but very little substance in terms of melody or structure. The album has run into a lull at this point after its blistering start so I hoped the next few songs would be outstanding.

'Float' is a psychedelic exploration with reverberations of glissando guitar in the Steve Hackett tradition. The vocals are sung in falsetto and are very emotive on this track. There is genuine beauty here and it literally feels as though it were floating along with chiming reverb attached to distant droning harmonics. The feeling of melancholy is strong and yet it feels as though a ray of hope is shining with the repeated "just enough to get by".

'Alpha Omega' is more like a real song without all the complexities and even features an infectious melody that can easily be recalled. 'Om' concludes on yet another oddity that is an instrumental of piano free form style, and enhanced by eerie atmospherics that sounded like Godspeed You! Black Emperor for a moment. When the recorded interview begins it sounds even moreso like GY!BE and yet I am at a loss as to what the band are trying to achieve with this strange ending; is it after all a concept album? And if so what it is it all about?

At the end of the latest Karnivool album I am once again left pondering what a masterpiece it could have been had it been more structured and made some kind of sense; perhaps even a plausible concept would have helped but it all seems to have been thrown together randomly. This is okay for a commercial album where the listener is not more demanding and just wants to hear a bunch of songs they can sing or dance to, but surely a prog band should deliver more, especially after 4 years hiatus. Karnivool certainly are not commercial or a band you would likely dance to, moreover they are thought provoking and inventive at their best, but the problem is in the short transitions and filler material that mars the rest of the outstanding work; it doesn't seem to serve any purpose. I am still impressed by this album in many ways and believe it deserves recognition for its innovative approach to the medium, especially on songs such as 'A.M. War.' The album has received attacks from the prog community for its chaotic soundscapes and lack of structure and I can see this is justified, but nevertheless the musicianship is outstanding, if a little too clever for its own good. It is excellent music though and a great way to idle the hour away on a lazy evening with the headphones cemented on. Karnivool refuse to sell out to the commercial trappings of so many other alternative bands and maintain intricate musicianship without languishing into dull radio friendly mush. For this very reason and for their innovative approach they deserve better exposure in the prog community and should be given a chance as I believe the offer a great deal and are a very original and talented band.

RUSH Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland

Live album · 2011 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.86 | 5 ratings
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Helloooooooooooo Cleveland! Sniff sniff

Rush are definitely in my top 3 favourite bands, and I have been putting off this review now for a year. Okay now for a true confession. This is Rush's worst live album. This is not going to be pleasant coming from a huge Rush fan. I have been listening to this latest live Rush for some time and everytime it starts I shake my head in dismay at how bad the sound is, the production is TINNY! It is beyond belief, the guitars jangle and the cymbals shatter throughout, the bottom end of bass is trebled out and then there is Geddy's voice. I have heard all of the past live release and he is a dynamic presence on every song. Here on the Time Machine Tour he is off key, flat, and struggles to hit any high notes, sometimes squeaking or whispering the high notes. Surely he could bring some of the melodies down a tad if that were a problem. He sounds like his nose is blocked when he sings 'if I could wave my magic wand' on 'Presto', and of course it became common knowledge that Geddy had a cold that night. That is okay, it happens to rock stars and they get through concert tours the best way they can. But why do we have to sit through an official live release when the band are not in peak condition, that is just wrong. Furthermore, the concert was filmed and I have watched that and admittedly Lee's vocals are overshadowed by the stunning visuals, so that is definitely worth getting despite the awful sound and caterwauling vocals.

This concert could have been brilliant as it features the entire 'Moving Pictures' album and that is certainly a drawcard worth checking out and earns an extra star on its own. There are some wonderful choices on the setlist with songs rarely heard if at all. It is great to hear 'Presto' for a change, and 'Stick It Out' the rocker from one of my favourite albums.

The classics are here as always and I always look forward to the incredible musicianship on live staples 'Tom Sawyer', 'Limelight' and the finale, the last 27 minutes, is incredible with '2112 Overture/The Temples Of Syrinx', 'Far Cry', 'La Villa Strangiato' and 'Working Man'. Alex Lifeson absolutely has a killer time with fret melting lead breaks and trademark chord structures, simply genius playing, so I will add a star for that. Of particular interest are songs from the 'Clockwork Angels' album though they are only the 2 from the single, it is still terrific to hear them live. Peart gets to attack his drums in his infamous drum soloing with odd music thrown in to jazz it up, such an incredible drummer. So another star awarded for his virtuoso playing, what are we up to now, 3 stars?

Overall this live album is disappointing due to the sound and Lee's voice but here it is, with the good and the bad in full public view. Perhaps as a bonus CD this would be forgivable or as a bootleg but this is quite painful at times, and it makes me sad to hear every time, but it is deserved of the scathing reviews it has received. Grab the DVD if you see it cheap. Nevertheless they deserve their induction into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame!

RUSH Presto

Album · 1989 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.33 | 32 ratings
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Mixed feelings on this one. A very mediocre affair with perhaps 4 great songs and the rest to be discarded in the waste paper bin of banal popular mainstream radio blechh. There is very little to recommend as far as progressive - in fact it is further from progressive than most other Rush albums.

The sound quality of crashing clanging guitars is up to a high standard but the lyrical content and song structure is very forgettable. In fact it is difficult to find any particular highlights but of note, I guess, is Show Don't Tell, Chain Lightning, War Pass and Superconductor.

As for the rest... scrape it off into the paper bag and sell to the highest bidder.

I love Rush, the classics are indispensable - 2112, Farewell to Kings, Moving Pictures and even more recent works such as Counterparts are brilliant heavy prog works. However, Presto is as exciting as pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Some of it works and most of it does not - It is all so safe and superficial and devoid of that classic quality that is... Rush.

RUSH New World Man / Vital Signs (live): colored vinyl

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1982 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.25 | 3 ratings
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This single is certainly one to grab as Rush did not have a lot of 80s singles. It features the one from "Signals" that hit the radio charts. 'New World Man' is a fan favourite with catchy hooks and some strong melodies that are memorable. The track appeared on many live sets over the years.

'Vital Signs' is the weird choice as it is a live version of the lesser known song from "Moving Pictures", but of course this was not available at the time on either of the Live albums of the 80s, "Exit?Stage Left" or "A Show of Hands". It is a decent version, Lifeson proudly smashing it with his killer riffs and Lee sounds excellent singing the now familiar melody.

As always these vinyl singles are for collectors but for the Rush completists are irresistible.

RUSH Entre Nous

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1980 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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"Permanent Waves" was a 1980 triumph for Rush, one of the more celebrated 80s Rush albums. This single was an oddity as the songs were certainly not the best the album had to offer. Nevertheless, it is a rare find, and worth the effort if it appears on your album hunting quest.

It was a new style of Rush in comparison to previous efforts but it is surprisingly mainstream yet still keeping the aspects of prog. 'Entre Nous' has the Alex Lifeson guitar riff that is familiar as soon as it starts and chugs along nicely. Overall this is one for collectors, and difficult to locate so if you see it, snap it up without hesitation.

RUSH The Spirit Of Radio

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1980 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.08 | 3 ratings
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This Rush single is promoting the wonderful "Permanent Waves" album. The edited radio friendly 'The Spirit of Radio' was the reason to purchase this at the time. These days it is more of a curio as all Rush fans and non Rush fans who love prog have no doubt got this somewhere. 'The Spirit of Radio' was a massive hit for the band and it is easy to see why. It has some of the most endearing and memorable guitar work from Alex Lifeson. Listen to that phased out lead work in the intro, and the way the time signature instantly changes only to kick into a standard 4/4 riff. Geddy Lee's high soprano vocals have never been better and you have to love the lyrics: "Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion, unobtrusive, plays that song that's so elusive, and the magic music makes your morning mood." This example of crazy alliteration that evokes a quirky sense of humour has defined the Rush sound.

The track works effectively as a radio jingle promoting the medium, no wonder it was a top 20 UK hit in 1980, one of the greatest rock singles ever. It even features a startling reggae breakdown towards the end that shouldn't work but Rush makes it work because they are masters of song structure. After the words "Concert hall" we hear a crowd roaring, which really adds to the overall effect of the track. Lifeson's wah wah guitar solo is amazing. A short blast of the opening riff and then it ends abruptly.

RUSH Twilight Zone / Lessons

Promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs) · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.25 | 3 ratings
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Rush singles were a big thing when vinyl was king and if you can lay your mittens on this early single more power to ya; as its almost impossible to track down. Luckily Australia still revels in second hand vinyl specialty stores, and when this gem sat in the rack staring back at me sadly for a pretty price, I naturally had to indulge.

Okay, of course I had the songs on "2112", no respective Rushaholic would be without that classy album, but it is nice to hold onto such a relic. 'The Twilight Zone' was never one of my faves on that album but still has the classic Rush sound when they were a power trio and as fresh as a daisy. The music is dynamic and exciting when Rush were at their proggiest and their early years are essential. Certainly the album is quintessential but as a single there is still value on grabbing these early vinyls for collectors. The flip side 'Lessons' is a throwaway but not too bad all things considered. Collectors only, but what a find if you can locate this vinyl antique.

TORMAN MAXT The Problem of Pain (Part 1)

Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 1.45 | 10 ratings
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Torman Maxt's The Problem of Pain: Part 1? Universally panned and loathed in the prog community so naturally I had to taste and see.

Immediately I noted the guitars don't have enough power to blow the fluff off a peanut. The vocals sound processed and high pitched. The singing is dreadful especially when they are not processed such as on 'Job's Song.' The riffs are so forgettable though at times they have promise only to be ruined by terrible, terrible production.

The appalling drums sounds like he is banging an old oil drum in an aeroplane hanger. I'm sure Lars used his sound for the "St Anger" album, that snare, which is only marginally worse than this album.

Shocking lyrics. I love reading The Bible but these songs based on Job do not do it justice. Mixed feelings, as I like the themes but they are sung with a weird up beat tempo as if it's a happy book and it is exactly the opposite as Job undergoes horrific trials.

'The Angel's First Song' is the slow one but painfully so with boring structure and wailing vox. At this point I was ready to give up. Next is 'Satan's First Song' has a decent melody but the singing kills it. The lead guitar attempts to be dark but is too tinny to exude any power. The production is so lo fi it is stunning this got off the ground. The instrumental section of psychedelic twinges is ridiculous. It changes to a grinding riff with a cool sound but then moves to the tinny drums and bass again.

Next is 'Job's Initial Shock' with a punky sound and abysmal vocals send it off to the abyss. It is short though. Next is another boring melody sounding similar to the other songs, in fact I can't even tell the difference so let's move on. 'Job's Commitment' sounds like an 80s Ace Frehley riff but not as powerful. The melody locks in then more whining pitchy vocals and he sounds like he is out of tune.

Next, 'The Angel's Second Song' with interesting opening, creepy synth and ethereal atmospheres. This is far more promising, and without vocals is the best so far. Then the drums come in and some chanting vocals, as bad as the rest. The lyrics are okay but terribly sung so nobody cares.

'Satan's Second Song' has a nice little guitar riff and waves crashing. The lyrics are Biblical; "Yes Job does love you, But not without a cause, Sound mind and body, Help him to cope with loss". Then the same melody as previous crunches in though the guitars are heavier and this is certainly a classy rocker. 'Job's Second Response' sounds like the drums of Ace Frehley's 'Wipeout'; did he release some musicians for this album? The melody comes in and it's exactly the same as other songs. This is getting very tiring now. There is an interesting clean guitar motif, with some dangblasted vocals that can't find a note.

'Job's Wife' is more of the same, pathetic vocals, boring melody and terrible infantile lead guitar work. Then it ends with a repetitive riff that just goes on and on and on without variation. The last song is an instrumental that is okay but it is too late to save a train wreck when the train is already off the rails.

Well, folks believe the hype. This is perhaps as bad as it gets. "Love Beach" may have been bad but at least it has decent production and one good song. Torman Maxt are infamous for producing one of the worst albums, that is mercifully free as a download, and if you are like me you will want to hear this to see if all of us reviewers are just exaggerating. No, I assure you, we are not; this stinks like yesterday's stinking nappies.

BUDGIE Bandolier

Album · 1975 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.43 | 26 ratings
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Budgie first came to my ears with their big Box set, the definitive anthology, 'An Ecstasy Of Fumbling', featuring a massive 29 tracks taken from albums during 1971-1982. This lead me to chack out some other Budgie albums and the first on my list was one that was recommended to me by Budgie fans, 'Bandolier'. This is perhaps their most popular album, certainly featuring some of their best songs and coolest guitar riffs, though it is inconsistent in terms of quality songs. The band revel in riffs that lock in with outstanding rhythmic 70s classic rock. 1975 was one of the great years for Prog and 'Bandolier' features the classic incarnation of the band; bassist/singer Burke Shelley and guitarist Tony Bourge, along with drummer Steve "Syco Steve" Williams, arguably their proggiest lineup before they turned to hard rock and AOR.

The album opens with the dynamic 'Breaking all the House Rules', a terrific sledge hammer attack of crashing riffs and very well executed vocals. The structure of the song detours into many directions and even changes feel in the middle sounding like a different song until it returns to the main riff.

'Slipaway' is next with gentle acoustics, followed by Bad Company sounds on 'Who Do You Want For Your Love' with a bluesy shuffle. There is more blues with 'I Can't See My Feelings' that has nice guitar licks but is nothing special really. After these rather lacklustre numbers it hots up with the wonderful cover by Andy Fairweather-Lowe from Amen Corner, 'I Ain't No Mountain'.

They save the best for last with the outstanding 'Napoleon Bona, Pts 1 & 2' that begins very slowly with gentle guitar and ambient swirls. Shelley's vocals are quiet, sounding like a bluesy version of Geddy Lee. When the distorted guitars crunch in with the chugging riff the song really picks up, especially the way the riff descends strangely giving it a dark feel. The lead break is always amazing, and Bourge blasts away with speed trills up and down the scales and high end string breaking bends. At 6 mins in there is a weird effect that muffles the sound and then it releases for more lead work.

Not many would disagree that the best Budgie stems from the early 70s years with "Squawk," "In for the Kill", "If I Were Britannia" and of course 'Bandolier'. These are the proggy innovative Budgie years, and 'Bandolier' is certainly one to hunt down for sheer hard rock riffing excellence with prog elements sprinkled thereabout.

DREAM THEATER A Change of Seasons

EP · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 89 ratings
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This EP is well worth seeking out as it captures Dream Theater in all their glory when the band were at their most inventive and one look at the track list would spell this out as it begins with a massive 23 minute epic, the incredible 'A Change of Seasons' that is segmented into 7 parts like the old vintage epics that used to swallow a side of vinyl. This track alone is worth the price of purchase but the EP also has some intriguing covers such as 'The Elton John Medley' and a brilliant version of Deep Purple's 'Perfect Strangers'.

I love the 'Led Zeppelin Medley' reminding me of the melodies of 'The Rover', 'Achilles Last Stand' and 'The Song Remains the Same'. However the real surprise package is found in the live medley at the end simply called, 'The Big Medley'. It features wonderful covers from Pink Floyd, 'In the Flesh?', and Kansas with 'Carry On Wayward Son', Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', the best bits, and then others include 'Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin', 'Cruise Control' and the wonderful 'Turn It On Again' by Genesis.

Overall it is a great EP with terrific musicianship and energetic covers, along with the colossal title track, all jammed into just under an hour.

JIMI HENDRIX Electric Ladyland

Album · 1968 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 21 ratings
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"Electric Ladyland" is an essential Jimi Hendrix album, one of the most discussed and revered in rock history. One glance at the track listing will provide a reason, as it boasts some of the Hendrix classics such as the bustling rhythmic 'Crosstown Traffic', the extended 'Voodoo Chile', both versions simply blaze and smoulder with infernal power, the psych rock of 'Burning of the Midnight Lamp', and wonderful lead guitar standard, the blues drenched Dylan penned 'All Along the Watchtower.' This last song is essential Hendrix, with some amazing guitar interplay with the poetic lyrics such as the infamous, "there must be some way outta here, said the joker to the thief." The wah-wah guitar lead is hugely influential and well known by guitarists.

It is also an album with some incredible psychedelic bursts such as the floating, trippy '1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)' clocking just under 14 minutes. After a haunting slow start it moves into an improvised percussion segment and some chilling celestial atmospherics, with minimalist guitar and heartbeat bass. 'Voodoo Chile (slight return)' is brilliant, and a staple for guitar enthusiasts that has blasted the radio airwaves ever since it saw the light of day. The lead break is quintessential Hendrix, with slices up and down the frets and soul chilling sustained string bends that pierce like arrows. 'Burning of the Midnight Lamp' has a recognizable guitar signature and Hendrix' voice is saturated with Acid influenced venom. There are also weird experimental pieces such as '...And the Gods Made Love' and 'Moon, Turn the Tides... Gently Gently Away' that are more confounding then welcome additions.

Some of the lesser known songs are the ultra bluesy 'Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)', uptempo fast riffer 'Gypsy Eyes', blues rocker 'Come On (Part 1)', saxophone, Hammond and guitar driven cruiser 'Rainy Day, Dream Away', the sizzling riffing Bolero rhythm influenced 'House Burning Down', and the jazzy, simmering 'Long Hot Summer Night'.

It is the last studio release for Hendrix and came out at the peak of the flower power counterculture era, 1968. The album became the soundtrack for the Vietnam War that was raging strong, and it was the album to play as one was ingesting hallucinogenic psych drugs. This was an era of immeasurable change; Man was about to land on the moon and Woodstock on Yasgur's Farm was still in its planning stages. The front cover was banned in some countries, and photographer David Montgomery's artistic license was not embraced by Hendrix who expressed embarrassment at the naked women adorned all over the cover leering at the music buying public with enticing delight. This cover was quickly replaced with the original design of Hendrix singing in close up, but of course it is the "naked ladyland" cover that everyone remembers and that appears in album cover books.

Overall, the album is a showcase of all that made Hendrix great and as a double album of considerable length, over 75 minutes, it delivers quite a bang for the buck. It features some incredible musicianship from members of Jefferson Airplane and Traffic among others. The extended improvised jam session features Steve Winwood burning gloriously on his keyboard, and there is a massive drum solo, as well as Hendrix taking control with blues power finesse, and a lot of congratulatory cheering and applause. It is moments as these that make the album a milestone of classic rock. Hendrix connoisseurs herald it as one of the best of 1968, and it has gone down in history as an essential rock treasure.

MOTORPSYCHO The Death Defying Unicorn

Album · 2012 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.73 | 6 ratings
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A masterpiece album of 2012.

Not so much a metal album as an assortment of prog and odd nautical themes with a ghostly atmosphere. Before I approached the album I had no idea what to expect, though I had heard one track on a Prog mag compilation sampler and loved that. So I put on the headphones one dark evening after midnight and let the music immerse my soul. I think I was lifted into another plane of existence as the music simply nailed me to the couch with its inexorable power. The opening hyperventilating saxophone kept lunging into spasms until finally an outbreak of dizzying orchestra blew the doors off any boundaries that may have been set in place for music convention. This is mind blowing stuff and is encased in a concept of a ship lost at sea and how the crew fight for survival against incredible odds. It moves eventually into an acoustic rhythm with beautiful flute responses and a song begins.

We have come Out of the Woods into The Hollow Lands. I am already in love with the hyper strangeness of odd rock and orchestra symphonic expulsions. I begin to realise why the album was hailed as one of the albums of 2012. It is purely progressive heaven. The way the band utilise bass and scratchy guitar on this song is incredible. This is the song I had heard on the sampler and I couldn't stop playing it. It is mesmirising. This is amazing music and I don't know why it took me so long to get to it. The lyrics spell out the tale unfolding of a cabin boy as part of a ship's crew; 'It seems the order was clear, 'go see if anything's there', so our ship set sail found her course, and in a month a hundred souls slipped through the veil, to state our claim to the Hollow Lands'.

Next it is Through The Veil, a 16 minute epic that opens with scratching on a guitar or something. It is weird and delightfully avant garde. The sax reminds me of Jackson's odd chimes from 'Pawn Hearts'. It builds into a heavy fuzz guitar riff stinking of classic 70s rock and it is buried in avant sax outbursts that grind with vivacious delight. The pure invention and bold approach is captivating and never fails to impress. This is prog with the hinges hanging off the doors, not just out of the box, the box is blown clean open. It is quite unnerving in sections, with screaming violins, crescendos that blaze from nowhere and then are layered with beauty. I listened to this during a rather downbeat moment in my life and it spoke to my heart. This is so incredible, I feel even more moved emotionally than my first listen of the masterpieces of King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator. It changes time sig at 5:50 and motors along with staccato sax, and out of sync guitar that floods through and germinates into spasmodic fireballs of anger.

The lyrics unfold the amazing tale; 'Something fills the air, it's all around us, as striking as a bolt out of the blue, the impact's nearly rendered us unconscious, laid a mist upon the crew'. It feels aggressive and unfriendly but it is such a refreshing soundscape, the way prog should be, not the poor excuses of prog bands that commercialise everything they put their hand to. To heck with commercial, Motorpsycho are the real deal and are full on proglords. The vocals are like Hawkwind and the guitars are like Led Zeppelin or Budgie tuned down; it has a distinct 70s sound, that was captured by Opeth on 'Heritage'. At 11:50 the song takes a detour into pure sonic violence with a freakout psychedelic lead break over a cacophony of brass noise. Then it moves into a spacey reverberating voice effect akin to Camel or Led Zeppelin's most psychedelic vocal work. The way the sax riff locks in and allows the other musicians to commit jazzerside over the scape is an astonishing achievement; this is the beauty of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimssolistene. I love how this music is not designed for the squeamish, and how it would cause the average music listener to switch off; this is prog dammit!

Doldrums is next, much shorter at 3:07, but no less inventive, glistening with off kilter brass and downright chilling musical figures, like an orchestra in its most rebellious state of mind. At this stage I had to look at who was playing this zany music; we have Bent S'ther on vocals, bass, Hans Magnus Ryan on vocals, guitars, Kenneth Kapstad on drums, and Staale Storl'kken on keyboards. They are an incredible unit and are getting some well deserved attention with this astounding album. The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimssolistene are a real drawcard to this album though as they provide intense musicscapes that really augment the rock sections.

Into The Gyre is replete with beautiful violins in the opening that move into a floating flute passage. The heavenly sounds threaten to break out and yet it merges into an airy vocal instead. The music is mischievous playing with time sigs and tempo changes. I can depict a semblance of a concept more clearly that revolves around the sailors on a voyage to somewhere, who hit a snag as the ship is plummeted down.; 'Down into this sailor's tale, damned before the storm, and into the gyre we'll go, I think I feel the Maelstrom's tug, on our ship, my mind and my soul'. It builds with cymbal splashes and plucking guitar Frippisms that may represent waves crashing against the ship as it heads to a destination lashing through torrential storms. It builds ascending higher in pitch and the intensity grows until the crescendo and the fuzz guitar takes dominance with a fret melting lead break, and some dissonant violins scream violently. This is an unbelievable virtuoso performance from all concerned. It is as good as the Van der Graaf Generator outbreaks of the 70s. Then it stops and a lone guitar monotone figure is heard and some tearful alienated violin scrapes. An organ shimmers and throbs with an unnerving drone, and it has a chilling dark resonance. The image of a ship moving slowly through the fog springs into the conscious. At 2 am in the morning this is a creepy soundscape for this reviewer but I cannot stop listening intensely.

Flotsam is a short (1:33) transition style track that has a hollow minimalist violin sound that enhances the feelings of loneliness out on the water lost at sea. The raw sound is so moving, we can even hear the strings being scraped and the bow lifting off, all is mixed to the front for great effect. Then it segues into Oh Proteus - A Prayer, that features more violins with melancholy power. The voice that sings is harmonised; 'our ship is sunk in the deep forever.' It is very sad in mood and a measured performance over the mournful symphonic strings.

'We are lost in the fog directionless,' Bent S'ther sings, and then a majestic organ and violin passage builds with a powerful crescendo. Then a very deep guitar riff joins on an odd time sig as we hear of 'the desert of torment' and the words state the tale has taken a turn for the worst as the crew bravely fight for survival now their ship is lost. 'an ocean of thirst and madness, Oh, we must row ' put your weight on the oars, oh, we must pull as if everything depended on it, Let us sing a song while we bend to the task, let us set the course by the stars, and let us row and save our lives.' Again my thoughts are drawn to VDGG's 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers', not only the lyrics but especially the atmosphere and creepy effects made by odd musical figures.

Sculls In Limbo is an atmospheric piece with very eerie music that has a haunting resonance. La Lethe is more upbeat with a dynamic jazz fusion feel like Mahavishnu Orchestra on slow motion. It mirrors the feeling of rowing on an endless ocean, and has that ray of hope the sailors would also have at this point as food runs dry and the sea becomes a beast ready to swallow them whole. This is a powerful instrumental that has many emotional textures, it is sombre, bleak and yet strangely compelling music.

Oh Proteus - A Lament is another short piece (1:05), with doom laden lyrics; 'Something here is wrong, Still hunger is gnawing, and I feel my mind is going slowly.' Sharks (7:56) is an appropriate title as we realise the sailors are going to be eaten alive by the ferocious killers of the sea. This track moves in many directions like sharks circling as the protagonists face certain doom in the terrifying maw of the sharks. The lyrics state it clearly; 'Nothing moves but the fins of the sharks that swim, So endlessly, dark shadows that roam the deep, stalk our wake and haunt our sleep so ghastly white.' So the occupants await their turn to die, but the protagonist does not want to go quietly in the night without a fight; 'We ventured to find the hollow earth but all that we found were the hollows on our souls screaming for subsistence, gnawing, devouring, to give my life to give them their lives? Such preposterous hypocrisy I cannot abide, oh no I will not go quietly.' The lyrics are staggering in their poetic beauty and are perfectly matched by the glorious progressive jazz symphony.

Mutiny! Is a fast paced track, quite jarring after all the gentle ambience. In fact it blazes with heavy guitars chugging and brass stings. It moves into dissonant competing guitars and reverberating keyboards. It is a raucous sound emulating the trauma of the protagonists who fight for control on the boat. The lyrics speak of the mutiny 'Damn you sir, and damn your etiquette! The blood red moon has set and you're not here for long, I'm no gent, but don't take me for a fool, I serve no master and I won't obey your rules! You're a thief and taker! You're a cheat and faker!'

The noisy avant jazz settles into violins and segues to Into The Mystic. This last track wraps up the concept beautifully, opening with 70s style guitar riffs and a wonderful pulsating bassline. The violins are everpresent howling over the guitars and pounding drums. It is an accomplishment the way the musicians are able to capture so much raw emotion with the blend of rock and jazz. The protagonist tells the last part of the tale; 'It was a hopeless try, but I couldn't just lay down and die.' He has survived after 'staring death in the face' but he is now left with painful memories as 'deep into the mystic I gazed.' The music feels like a finale, the violins and flute compete nicely with a Fripp like guitar riff and there are some lovely sweeping symphonic textures. The keyboards join in and there is a wall of sound drawing the album to a close.

I can only include with the inevitable after being treated to a mesmerising musical explosion like this. The album is an undisputable masterpiece of prog and one of the must listen to albums of 2012.


Boxset / Compilation · 1993 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.93 | 5 ratings
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Ok, this comp is designed for all the fans out there who do not own the individual LZ albums, bought the Remaster box set and were complaining that not all of the LZ tracks were present. This one provided the answer and summarily provides the Zephead with all the leftovers that were either too long or were no ruddy good to include on the box set. Indeed it houses some holy relics such as Good Times Bad Times, Carouselambra, Tea For One, How Many More Times and The Crunge, which are masterful in their own way, but you have to trawl through endless tedious songs to get to them. When I say tedious there is none worse than the Elvis inspired ditties such as Darlene, and the awful Presence leftovers, Hots On For Nowhere, strategically sandwiched between two gems on the comp.

We also have a ton of tracks from the afterthought "Coda" album, which is not a good sign, and 3 from "In Through the Out Door" (ITTOD), also not welcome. Listening to these is like eating a cream pie without any of the filling; it is all just mush and no flavour. However, kudos to the compiler as they place the bad with the good rather than pile all the bad in one stack for us to endure. I know some ZepHeads will state LZ can not do wrongbut there is no room for fanboyism here, folks. A lot of this compilation smells and it smells very bad indeed like the rotting corpse of prog that was stinking during 1993 when this was released to the adoring public.

On Disc numero uno we start things in a blaze of glory with the brilliant 'Good Times Bad Times', a song that captured my attention back in the early 80s when I thought Kiss were the coolest band in the world. The way Page crashes in with that flurry of notes never fails to impress.

'That's The Way' is a melancholic bluesy thing with Plant mesmirising on vox. 'Baby Come On Home' is the previously unreleased track that had ZepHeads salivating, as its better than all those bootlegs that seemed to be churned out at the time. 'The Lemon Song' from LZ2 is terrific to hear again

'You Shook Me' simply drives nails into the floorboards with ultra blues guitar and descending vocals that careen down the side of the cliff with staggering precision. When Page and Plant were in this frame of mind they were mind blowing. The song is a genuine lighting in a bottle explosion of blues heaven, and by the time it gets to the response and answer section with Page emulating Page's guitar tones, we are in masterpiece territory. The emotion behind this is overwhelming as it seems to magically encapsulate the feeling of spiralling into the abyss, yet the lyrics are oddly upbeat about Plant's sexual escapades. The song feels dark though with mournful guitar and pain wracked vocal delivery.

'Boogie With Stu' is laughable by comparison but thankfully the jangly piano rag time ditty only lasts a merciful 3:53 and is followed by another PG filler 'Bron-Yr-Aur' that is more annoying than inventive. 'Down By The Seaside is a beautiful song with pleasant cadence and tone. 'Out On The Tiles' features all those brilliant Page riffs as only he can deliver them, it works so well and doesn't feel like a reject at all, perhaps should have been on the first box set that was meant to house all the Zepclassics. It is great to hear that Bonham magic on 'Moby Dick' from LZ2, and it is followed by 'Sick Again' from PG that I had forgotten but the riff jarred my memory soon enough. It is really a rollicking blues buster, with loud bar room brawling guitar, sounding as sleazy as Rolling Stones 'Brown Sugar'.

'Hot Dog' is another forgettable thing and I had forgotten it as a strategic move, until a relisten for this review. It is from ITTOD, an album that can never measure up to the brilliance of previous LZ albums, however it chugs along nicely as only a country hillbilly rocker can chug. The honky tonk piano and idiotic humour is as awful as it sounds on paper, and Plant's Elvis impersonation is abysmal, as much as Plant probably thinks it's fun to do this. He did it on 'Candy Store Rock' and that was as bad. Thankfully this never sees the light of day on other compilations or concert performances.

'Carouselambra' may be the best song on ITTOD so no problem sitting under its lengthy running time and Page's indulgent axe work. The weird off kilter sequenced keyboards are blindingly unique to a LZ song so it holds some interest. Plant sings too many lyrics and it too repetitive until finally it breaks away into a new time sig and a synth workout. The song really builds into a guitar and synth trade off and it is a genuine curio but never tiring in its ten minutes of fame. A great side one, flawed but nevertheless a genuine treasure trove of forgotten gems.

Onto Disc numero duo and it begins with 'South Bound Saurez', a rocker from ITTOD that I had again forgotten. Returning to it reminds me of how great this band was in its day. The song just booms with Jones' bass and his piano skills are exemplary. What a blast this is! 'Walter's Walk' trudges along next, with a killer riff and pounding drums the way they should sound, over present and dominant. Well, at least they drown out the poor vocal technique of Plant drooling a bunch of nonsense. Next is 'Darlene', which is ruddy awful apart from the repetitive guitar riff. Now that we have "Coda" out of the way, we can move onto PG's 'Black Country Woman' with its odd intro dialogue and acoustic slide work. It is okay for a while but I prefer the Zep rocked up more rather than sparse and set on repeat. By the time Bonham;s drums boom along and a harmonica joins, I have lost interest.

'How Many More Times' is the first classic on this disk, it is mind blowingly brilliant. The riff hooks into me and tears my head off, such an awesome bassline and unbelievable ferocious guitar execution. I could rate this with other LZ masterpieces easily and yet this underrated gem sits here on this afterthought compilation. That in itself is criminal, but of course this is lifted from the trailblazing classic debut, one of the alltime great debuts in rock history along with debuts from Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, ELP, Rush, Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd. The lead break is to die for with Page scorching on hyper string bends and fret melters along that insane tempo. Then it goes silent and the band lapse into their stream of conscious mood with ethereal violin bow serrations and Plant in reflective mode. This is a precursor to the Dazed and Confused performance on "The Song Remains The Same" that would have critics chin wagging for years. It ends with a vocal Planterism answered by Page's axe strikes; masterpiece, Proggers, masterpiece.

'The Rover' is next from PG and is one I had also developed amnesia over, but it jams along with Page riffing eloquent and a bright beat, and sleaze rock melodic line. 'Four Sticks' is the one from Zoso album and of course it is a 5 star classic album so no problem with this, perhaps the most underrated song from the one with 'Stairway To Heaven'. It has a driving rock beat and some well structured passages as it moves from complex time sigs to a steady rock beat effortlessly.

'Hats Off To (Roy) Harper' is the LZ3 throwaway though many will dispute this. The vocals are warbled and there is a lot of slice and dice on acoustic. It is a curio but after a few listens this can grate on the ears. 'I Can't Quit You Baby' is back to brilliance as the Zeps move into the dominant blues landscape, a searing performance by Page who makes his guitar cry hot tears. LZ were masters of this genre and when they are released to improvised blues jamming there were none better.

'Hots On For Nowhere' is from "Presence" and is quite a mediocre attempt at injecting some life into a band that had just about given up at this point in their career. Wheelchair prone Plant gives it what he can with his "la-na-na na-lanana-naaaa yeah, ohoho ohoho"'s but it is lacklustre; what, did he run out of lyrics? 'Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)' is another one only the diehard Zepfanatic has heard of, from LZ2 but not the best example from that dynamic album. It has a great bass and guitar riff, and sounds like a vamped up Beatles song in some ways. That riff is enough to maintain interest. 'Royal Orleans' from "Presence" has been thrown here for the means of posterity, again with a cool riff but loses its impact, and also for the completist we have yet another from "Coda", 'Bonzo's Montreux', that has a clever title but little else. Okay, it is Bonham banging the living suitcase out of his kit and I guess that has merit, you have to hand it to the man, he knew how to slam those cans, but he does this every concert. Having said that it is one of the lone highlights on "Coda" so nice to hear again.

Next on the menu is 'The Crunge', that is from "Houses of the Holy", the sole one, and even though it is that album's worst song it is a reminder of how great that album is. Plant wants to tell us about his "good thing", and Page jangles his guitar to his heart's content, but this soon wears out its welcome before it is mercifully cut short by the classic ending "where's that confounded bridge", that only makes sense to me now after all these years of studying music. 'Bring It On Home' is yet another blues treasure from LZ2 with haunting harmonica and soul chilling vocals as he sings into the harmonica giving Plant a metallic edge. The feeling of isolation and nocturnal scapes are broken with a blazing riff and heavy duty tempo; absolutely terrific rock blaster.

We end on a blues blitzkrieg with the incredible 'Tea For One', that is one of the three diamonds located on "Presence" making it worthwhile. No prizes for guessing the other two. It is lengthy but so smooth and melancholy with powerful guitar blues passages that it is undisputed as one of the last triumphs of the struggling Zep in their last days. It sounds like Dazed and Confused in tempo but is unique with the guitar licks and Plant's firebrand vocals capturing the sadness he felt at the time after his horrific accident. Listen to those lyrics to hear the soul of the band; "a minute seems like a lifetime, baby when I feel this way, Sittin', lookin' at the clock, time moves so slow, I've been watchin' for the hands to move, Until I just can't look no more, How come twenty four hours, Baby sometimes seems to slip into days?" Bonham would die soon after, the final nail in the coffin for the band, and it all came crashing to a screaming halt. This song is like a penultimate farewell to the fans; as such it retains an incredible power and is chilling to the soul.

Of course it is easy to be cynical, when presented with this stack of songs that were not good enough to make it to the first box set, but there are a lot of great songs, if not excellent, especially the lengthy blues numbers. These tracks are still wonderful to listen to coming from the first 4 LZ albums, their best albums, as well as 7 tracks from PG that are always a treat. The one reject from LZ4 is of course still brilliant. Listening to all these tracks out of context is quite a delight as they are not the ones you hear ad nauseum, and therefore remain fresh rather than become stale with overuse and airplay. I think I would rather hear a repackaging of these rejected tracks than to hear them on the actual studio releases, as it always an intriguing exercise to plough through the canon of Led Zeppelin in any form. And in fact many upcoming bands would kill for just a tenth of their talent, even though at times they sound uninspired here. The compilation is worth owning for completists, I enjoyed it tremendously having forgotten most of these, and of course it is coming from arguably the most influential and indisputable rock gods, the mighty Led Zeppelin.

LED ZEPPELIN The Song Remains The Same

Live album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.27 | 13 ratings
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This Led Zeppelin live concert movie is groundbreaking as one of the first, way before Spinal Tap's mockumentary that is very similar in style, showing the band struggling with issues and then capping it off with segments from the concert. There are some unforgettable moments such as Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant squaring off with merchandisers that are selling photos illegally outside the concert hall; After dropping a dozen f-bombs Grant says to the dismayed organiser, "as long as we can screw a few extra bob out of the group? if there's an extra nickle to be drained by exploiting Led Zeppelin, it's great". Grant is furious and lets the organisers have it, and they have no answers.

It is great to see the enigmatic band behind the scenes preparing to go on tour or hanging around bars, grassy fields with girls, and to see their fantasies realised, though the Mafia section is very odd. A lot of the concert material is complimented by a video clip of each band member. We see Robert Plant sword fighting, on a boat, capturing a castle and rescuing a princess, Bonham driving fast cars and hanging around farms, and we are treated to Jimmie Page changing into a tarot hermit, regressing back to the foetus and back to ancient and then lofting a sword with psychedelic colours emanating during 'Dazed and Confused'; perhaps the highlight of the concert footage.

The concerts are captured well with low angles and close ups and crowd shots showing how the band communicate their magic with the audience. They are a visual treat; with the iconic Plant bending backwards with tiny open vest, Page in starry pants clad in black maintaining poise as he saws a violin bow across his guitar strings, Bonham going manic with the drums and Jones looking aloof. It was one of the only ways of seeing the band play back in the day as, unless you saw them live on a tour, there was very little footage released of the band. Nowadays there is an unbelievable amount of concert footage available but it is mostly bootleg quality.

It is great musically too with some of their greatest songs with crunching speaker blowing riffs in 'Rock And Roll', then moves on to 'Black Dog' with killer riffs and footage showing a drive down the traffic laden streets. 'Since I've Been Loving You' is beautiful and there is a 12 minute version of 'No Quarter', always a classic Zep favourite. 'Dazed And Confused' is the blockbuster here and the film really takes off into a magical realm. The sounds of the violining are as preternatural as the film clip that accompanied it, showing Page slicing a bow over the strings. The psychedelic images are perfectly placed, zooming into Page's eye, watching the angel descend the staircase and then the wielding of the sword; it is a powerful aural and visual experience. We also see backstage some groupies desperately wanting to get in to see the show and some bouncers let them in for free; "a lot of fun" he says turning to the camera. Later we see a fan being wrestled to the ground and kicked out backstage, so it was very random the way gate crashers were treated. It is a time capsule of the 70s and as such has documentary importance to rock history connoisseurs, in the same way "Woodstock" has historical importance outside of the actual music.

After some backstage footage worth a look, a cop on horseback replying to "do you expect trouble?" with "no comment, that's all you are going to get". Plant says onstage "this is a song of hope" and we are treated to the ultimate classic 'Stairway To Heaven' clocking 11 minutes with blue moody lighting. It is an incredible performance from Plant and Page who absolutely destroy the studio version. A safety deposit box is stolen and the manager respond in a press conference, the largest amount ever taken from a hotel reportedly. We see a news report on this event, which is soon cut off by more killer rock concert footage. Live is definitely the best way to hear this iconic piece of mystique. 'Moby Dick' follows with lengthy drum solo and Bonham is brilliant. It ends with the masterpiece 'Whole Lotta Love' which is very different than the original and just as compelling. Then the band stroll off to their Mercedes cars and then hop on a plane and as 'Stairway to Heaven' chimes over we see the planes do a dance on the runway and it's all over.

Overall this movie is a terrific indispensable document of how it was back in the magnificent 70s, a no frills, no effects concert, just a brilliant band giving it everything to a mesmirised well behaved crowd. Recommended to all fans of classic rock at its highest calibre.

LED ZEPPELIN Celebration Day

Live album · 2012 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.65 | 14 ratings
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This review focuses on the DVD visuals and the main audio concert. This momentous event is definitely one for the annals of rock history. The legends are back and for one more time weave their magic before a spellbound crowd.

'Good Times Bad Times' is a perfect way to start, as the band said in the press conference, the song that started it all was the appropriate beginning. It is a terrific version, rocking real hard and Plant taking it down a tone to his vocal range and it works. The bass work of Jones is a blazing inferno, I never really gave him as much credit until I saw him live here; he is a master.

'Ramble On' is a pleasant surprise as it rocks the roof off here. Plant sounds fantastic even after all the years. 'Black Dog' is always brilliant to my ears although Jimmy struggles with those solos. I love the fact that there were no overdubs, just plain raw Zeppelin turned up to the max.

'In My Time Of Dying' has an incredible guitar sound that Jimmy gets from his gibson es-175 blonde axe. I love this version more than any I have heard, it is absolutely bone chilling. Page is more comfortable here on sliding the guitar strings with all the dexterity of the virtuoso legend he became. Bonham's son, Jason, is brilliant here taking it to the drums with a ferocity his father would have been proud of. Plant says "it still feels pretty good up here!" and my thoughts are it feels good from back here too; what a legendary performance. Plant then says "we are honoured to bring Jason in on this" and then states it is the first time they brought this next song in public. It is a strange choice because it is the little known 'For Your Life' and I had to look up from whence it came; namely "Presence", not a great album but this is the better way to hear this song, it really has a lot of passion.

Next is 'Trampled Under Foot' another gem not expected, but you have to love those guitar riffs, from the Terraplane Blues, and Jones is fantabulous on keyboards. The psychedelic visuals are effective too; a real stunner live. 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' follows and I was so delighted as I absolutely love it. The guitar again is given a ballsy muscular tone. It is incredible how tight the band are here, simply faultless (pun intended). By the time we get to the solo it is goosebumps all the way. Plant's harmonica work is great too; one of the concert highlights.

'No Quarter' was a great choice as its super popular and proggy. The guitar sounds amazing with wah wah fuzz but Jones is the real star here on psych keyboards. I love how the crowd sings softly with Plant. A perfect rendition of a classic, and the dry ice is an ethereal addition that looks ghostly. I forgot to mention too, throughout the concert, occasionally, there is an insert video that looks like a bootleg from the 70s, but it is the same concert, just made to look that way, all shakey and fuzzed; quite an affective element. The solo by Page here is one of his best on the night and when he raises his guitar at the end it is a sacrifice to the rock gods.

'Since I've Been Loving You' is a fine example of the band at their bluesiest best. It was a brave move for the band to do this as its so full of complex guitar and high bluesy wails but they nail it; Page and Bonham exchange some smiles cos they feel it. It smokes along with massive guitar solos along with shimmering organ. At the end Plant and Page share a laugh as they really enjoyed it as much as the crowd.

'Dazed And Confused' was a quintessential choice and it always has the power to captivate from beginning to end. The dynamics of tension are dramatic, with Plant screaming up a storm and scatting with improvised finesse, and it is released into some astonishing powerhouse lead soloing. Page takes the violin bow and gives the Gibson a good ol' thrashing. The laser pyramid surrounds him as he makes the guitar scream in agony; the only thing missing is the psychedelic sword wielding from the tarot hermit. It is a stunning live performance, certainly one of the better versions I have heard of this treasure. .

The band would have been lynched had they not done 'Stairway To Heaven' and it receives the appropriate ovation it deserves. The band cruise beautifully through it during the slow parts, though the double guitar sounds too distorted rather than acoustic, and it is downtuned. The heavy section with solo is excellent but it is not as dynamic as the older version from "The Song Remains the Same" movie; though still great to hear after all these years. I think the band are relieved when its over, even Plant says "we did it".

'The Song Remains The Same' is another obvious number to perform live as it is the signature tune from the infamous concert movie. The guitars are tuned down way too low to match Plant's voice and this ruins it a bit but overall it is a decent rendition. It might have been better to leave this out and do a different song, for instance my favourites are missing such as 'Immigrant Song', 'Achilles Last Stand' and 'You Shook Me'.

Plant says Bonham is "Spectacular" on drums and we believe he is right. The drummer shows proudly his Zoso tattoo which is appropriate as they launch into an upgraded version of 'Misty Mountain Hop', one of the album gems from the Zoso LZ4 classic. Bonham has fun backing on vocals and doing a great job. Plant mimics smoking dope at one point and the kaleidoscope video effects pretty much sum up what this is all about.

'Kashmir' is another definitive Zep classic and it sounds perfect here. The members play with emotion and passion and it really has the epic quality it deserves. The graphics are fantastic too on the background screen. Jones is a revelation on keys but you have to hand it to Bonham who drums his little heart out and when he bangs the gong at the end and stands to his feet, everyone in the crowd raise their fists in Valhalla glory; an absolute blockbuster performance from the Zeps at their best.

'Whole Lotta Love' is one of my faves with that awesome riff. Page is not up to scratch in the solo and Plant is a bit weird groaning in his old age here but it had to be included. The guitar interlude is a bit off the boil but you can hear the crowd loving singing along with those Planterisms which is a nice touch. The band leave after thanking everyone who made it possible. Then its off for a breather and an encore.

'Rock And Roll' is the perfect finish to this epic concert; the ultimate encore and the band really have tons of fun cranking it out. Plant plays with the crowd singing too many "lonely"'s and then Bonham lets rip on drums, and it is all over. As the band said in the press conference 5 years is 5 minutes in Zeppelin time, and it feels like time has gone fast too watching this.

The crowd roar as the band bow down and then roar even louder when the Led Zeppelin logo goes up emblazoned on the massive screen. It has been an incredible event, one that will go down in the annals of rock history. 5 stars for a masterpiece come back performance, hammered by the gods in stone, etched in our memories forever.


Boxset / Compilation · 1990 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.21 | 8 ratings
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I have had this for years and forgot to review it but as I have been getting back to the great Led Zeppelin back catalogue this month the time has come. This is undoubtedly the best LZ compilation because it is a genuine record of all their best material. It is pointless to go through every song in detail and try to convince you that this is indispensable. All ZepHeads know them, and they are a part of rock history, and rock wouldn't be the same without them.

Disc 1 begins with a bang on Communication Breakdown, then moves to smooth emotional blues on Babe I'm Gonna Leave You. Good Times Bad Times is the barnstormer from the debut, then the comp moves to LZ2 with the powerhouse Page brilliance on Dazed And Confused. Whole Lotta Love is indispensable pomp rock complete with killer riff and equally venomous vocals from Plant with the iconic backswept echo.

Heartbreaker grooves along and then the light shades of acoustic on Ramble On, revved up in the chorus. My all time fave is next with Immigrant Song, sheer brilliance captured in a miserly 2.23 running time. Celebration Day follows, a barnstormer, then blues finesse on Since I've Been Loving You, Page absolutely glorious with soulful string bends and hammer ons.

Then we get to the Zoso album and there are 5 to chew on here; quintessential Black Dog, with awesome riffing and odd signature, Rock 'n' Roll, sheer unadulterated muscle rock, Battle Of Evermore, thematic Tolkienesque acoustics, and the psych acid head fuel of Misty Mountain Hop. It all leads to the over played, over hyped Stairway To Heaven, that has lost its sheen after too many listens, though of course is a masterpiece.

Disc 2 opens with the riffy heavy Song Remains The Same, followed by Rain Song, reggae infested D'yer Mak'er, and the chilling haunting No Quarter. Houses Of The Holy is a good choice next and the wonderful prog string tones of Kashmir, that has become its own institution, simply genius songwriting.

Trampled Underfoot is replete with hammering riffs, and then the grinding power of Nobody's Fault But Mine, that is blistering rock at its finest. This is followed by arguably the proggiest song of the Zeps and the reason to hear 'Presence', Achilles Last Stand; brilliant tempo shifts and colossal guitar work are on show throughout. Things settle down with the ballad All My Love, and then ends with the standout track on the last album In The Evening.

Overall, this is the best of the remaster compilations that came hurtling at us during the resurgence of interest in Led Zeppelin; it features every song that made them the titanic gods of rock. There are omissions as usual but one only has to look at the track list jammed onto these 2 CDs to realise why they are one of the most influential bands on heavy metal and indeed indispensable to the rock industry itself. The CD packaging is photos of the group as no words are necessary really. 5 stars are warranted for these one of a kind legends at their best.


Album · 1982 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.72 | 40 ratings
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"Coda" is the afterthought album when the Zeppelin crashed into the tower and burned up in a fireball. The travesty of "Presence" set the ball rolling towards a break up, followed by horrendous "In Through the Out Door", and then John Bonham's death sealed it in stone. The band had nothing left to give and the great drummer's death rocked their world and he simply couldn't be replaced. Some bright spark decided to release all the tracks that were unreleased from past recording sessions as a posthumous gift to the fans, after all the bootlegs were being unearthed in large quantities so there was obvious interest in the group, and there you have the creation of "Coda". It is Led Zeppelin's worst album with very little to salvage even for the diehard ZepHeads.

There are moments that are up to the excellent Zep standard, as usual, namely 'Walter's Walk', that trudges along with a killer riff and pounding drums, the way they should sound, over present and dominant. Well, at least they drown out the poor vocal technique of Plant drivelling the non-sensical lyrics.

'I Can't Quit You Baby' is back to brilliance as the Zeps move into the dominant blues landscape, a searing performance by Page who makes his guitar cry hot tears. LZ were masters of this genre and when they are released to improvised blues jamming there were none better.

However you have to trudge through tedious songs to get to them. When I say tedious there is none worse than the Elvis inspired ditties such as Darlene, a must to avoid. I know some ZepHeads will state LZ can not do wrong but there is no room for fanboyism here, folks. A lot of this album smells and it smells very bad indeed like the rotting corpse of prog that was stinking during 1982 when this was released to the adoring public.

Also 'Bonzo's Montreux', has a clever title but little else. Okay, it is Bonham banging the living suitcase out of his kit and I guess that has merit, you have to hand it to the man, he knew how to slam those cans, but he does this every concert. Having said that it is one of the lone highlights on "Coda" so worth seeking out.

Anyway this is an album designed for completists, and of course it is coming from arguably the most influential and indisputable rock gods themselves. It has a couple of decent tracks so deserves at least 2 stars. The mighty Led Zeppelin were capable of so much better, and if you want to hear the best you need to turn to the first 4 albums; sheer brilliance.


Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 35 ratings
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"I love you, I need you, I've always been around you" - get out of my head!

Devin Townsend has some curious albums that include music ranging from breakneck thrash metal blasts to balladic serenity, and his vocals are incredibly diverse, moving from screamo growls to beautiful soft tones and melodies. On this latest album there are moments of Heavy Devy of course but it is mainly permeated with very melodic infectious soft rock songs. Some of these songs jam into the brain and are maddeningly infectious such as 'True North' that haunted me for days; 'I love you, I need you, I've always been around you.' The female vocals are absolutely angelic on this album from the golden tones of Anneke Van Giersbergen she is in fact one of the best things about this album; as she was so on Devin's 'Addicted' album. When she begins singing it is heavenly, and she balances the vocals of Devin masterfully. This is one of Devin's most accessible and enjoyable albums, as he refrains from growls and thrashy music on most songs. There are thrashy numbers though to keep us in touch with his SYL background.

'Effervescent!' opens proceedings with an a cappela harmonised vocals that have a strange religious atmosphere. 'True North' has Annneke jammoing that melody into our heads and then joined by Devin and the heavy distorted guitars; it is definitely one of my favourite tracks. The hypnotic melody and beat is perfect for the album after that odd start. It features repeated phrases such as 'where do we go from here' and some sounds that remind me of past DT albums, especially with that wall of sound generated, a bit like 'Terria' or 'Ziltoid'. It has a majestic soundscape that builds into a variety of melodies, ending with more a cappella.

This is followed by another catchy tune with the heavy guitars and vox of 'Lucky Animals'.
'Animals, animals and we're lucky hanging all around us all'. The hypno melody and rhythms are again guaranteed to lock into the brain. It took me a while to like this but now I look forward to it appearing on each listen.

'Liberation' has a powerhouse riff that grinds along with some odd Bowie like vox and then the aggressive Devy voice drives it along with more repeated phrases, 'one minute away from you.' This is as heavy as the album gets and it absolutely cranks with pounding drums and mega distortion, along with atmospherics.

So far the album is perfect and it moves to 'Where We Belong', an acoustic intro and very soft vocals from Devy, as beautiful as anything on 'Ghost'. The gentle delivery is something that Devy has become known for on his albums, ever since the softer side displayed on 'Synchestra' or songs on 'Ziltoid' such as 'Hyperdrive' or 'The Grays'. The melody is excellent and really grabs hold of the emotions, along with a blazing guitar outro.

'Save Our Now' begins with wonderful guitar chords and drums before the AOR style rhythm locks in and Devy's quieter mood continues to pervade. The sound is pleasant and when Anneke joins in the augmentation of harmonies is absolutely lovely. It is such a pleasant listening experience and a real surprise as I am used to a lot more heaviness from DT.

As if on cue there is a grinding distorted blastbeat on the intro of 'Kingdom', then a thrashy rhythm with some nice keyboard motifs. Devy goes for a high register vibrato on some of his more powerful vocals. This is a diverse detour into heavy rock, and Anneke adds her classy tones overlayed; they are a real force on this album that works with admirable proficiency. The song builds into speedy double kick drums and fiery guitar work, in signature thrash style as heard on songs of the past such as 'Ziltoidia Attax' or 'Earth Day'.

'Kingdom'is raucous but still maintains a strong melody; 'stay with me or play with me' repeated so as to log into the cranium.

'Divine' follows, with dreamy guitars and keyboard ambience. The pretty melody is well executed by Devin in his most romantic mood, 'loving you is the best thing and the worst thing in my life'. The atmosphere is ethereal and haunting with those sweet melodies and ghostly key pads. It is definitely as gentle as Devin gets, and works well to balance out the mayhem previous.

'Grace' has Anneke's crystal vocals echoing across clean guitars and key pads. It has a spacey sound wth crystalline production; astoundingly dreamy, and then extreme metal blasts crash through for the chorus that is one word 'Grace!' I love how Devin screams over the jumpy rhythm and orchestra sections. This track is a mixture of metal and Symphonic nuances. It builds into fast complex riffing and Anneke sounds more like her work on The Gathering. 

'More!' is another very heavy track, belting along with manic guitars revved to the max. The riff is killer and just screams along with loud vocals sung on a high note. It reminds me of the sound on Alice Cooper's 'Brutal Planet'. I love the heaviness that balances out the next tracks so well.

'Lessons' returns to dreamy ambience with acoustics and is followed seamlessly by very gentle vocals that build to a crescendo in the chorus. The song 'Hold On' is a highlight even at this late point in the album; Devy has a magnificent timbre in his voice, such a surprise after the boisterous yelling on past albums. Anneke again adds her voice and it is a dramatic effect, hearing the high and low parts of the melody balancing each other.

'Angel' ends the album release (not counting the bonus CD), and it ends on a wonderful sweet melody, with a majestic soundscape. Anneke and Devy trade off over a killer lead riff. The lead guitar is some of the best on the album, and the ascending and descending notes actually sound like a guitar exercise but it works magnificently. It closes with a choir with religious nuances, and the positive theme of 'everyone into forever, everything a part of me' bookends the album.

Being such a brilliant album I had to get hold of the double disc Deluxe Edition. I was not disappointed as there are some fantastic tracks on the bonus. These are demos but they sound great. 'Believe' is a quiet ballad with Devin's quality vocals and gentle acoustics. 'Happy Birthday' has the gorgeous vox of Anneke over a steady beat; simply sumptuous music. 'Quietus' is a pop song with odd quirky synth effects, sounding a bit like 80s Devo, right down to the twangy guitars. I like this one a lot as it is so different than any other Devin track. It builds to a heavy sound that is abrasive and feels like a new song.

'Heatwave' is just a fun exploration of country rock; not too bad but very much a curio with a truckie theme and some out of place choruses that have a spacey quality. 'Love Tonight' has a bouncy tune and bombastic musicianship and very good vocals. 'The Mind WASP' sounds like an Arabian melody with a tinge of psychedelica and is one of the heaviest demos on offer here. 'Woah No!' has an odd title and is basically a metal blaster with some great keyboards. The harmonised vocals are dreamy balanced over the distortion and some Devin screamo. It is great to hear some more metal in the vein of 'Ziltoid'. 

'Love And Marriage'
is an odd beast that throws in all styles including the kitchen sink of Sepultura growls and a smattering of burps and Anneke reacting to her imaginary husband with that's what she would have expected; it is a lot of fun really to hear them spar off. The odd mixture of pop synth and brash vocals over distorted riffs is Devin at his most experimental. Perhaps this would have worked on the 'Ziltoid' sequel better. 'Socialization' clocks 7:18 and its length flashes by with very heavy fast drums and guitars. The operatic vocals are weird over all this metal sounding more like Galahad or such gladiator metal. The frantic guitar riffs are incredible, as well as a Slayeresque lead break, and a smattering of Mortification style growls, making this definitely the heaviest song on the whole album.
'Little Pig' is last on the slab, and the worst for me meandering along a dull musical scape and over produced vocal layers. With silly bloated lyrics 'I need a Friend'; but that is Townsend having fun in the studio and he will try anything.

If this had been the anticipated 'Ziltoidia 2' it would have been a masterful followup but of course it was not to be and this is still one of the top 3 Townsend albums I have heard. Anneke is a revelation on this album and works well with Devin's screaming and gentler moods. She is always an augmentation to every track and makes this such a compelling experience. Devin is at his best in his structuring and composition of each song. The lyrics hit home perfectly that are positive and have an optimistic edge, and the catchy tunes are surely some of the best he has created over his grand tenure. Some of these songs are unforgettable and it is an absolute stand out album, far superior to his last few, and absolutely buries 'Deconstruction' and 'Ghost'for innovation and diversity. The Phil Spectorish production is crystal clear with a commercial friendly sound, and every musician is clear, especially Devin's Keys, and guitars. It has been a delight to hear such a wonderful uplifting album. It is epic, it is loud, it is one of the great albums of 2012; treat yourself to 'Epicloud'.


Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 48 ratings
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Devin Townsend's 'Addicted'was an album that I bypassed at the time of release but was drawn back to it after hearing the masterpiece 'Epicloud'. The power of that album was partly due to the incredible vocal performance of Anneke van Giersbergen. As her presence was also on this Devin album it became a point of necessity to hear it. The album opens with a very raucous slammed in your face scream fest on 'Addicted!'. My real attention was grabbed on the next track 'Universe In A Ball!' with its catchy main riff and phrase repeated over and over. It jams into the head in the same way of much of the material on 'Epicloud.'

Devin screams his lungs raw again and the riff is entrancing, though simple sitting on the one note. It is the rhythm that transfixes and the drum blastbeats. When the boisterous tunnel of sound settles and allows some softer vocals it becomes more tolerable. This is a very loud album and is perhaps more metal than albums to follow. That is why every song title ends with an exclamation mark; it simply powers out on these metal piledriver tracks.

'Bend It Like Bender!' is one of the best here especially as the riff is infectious and Anneke gets a chance to allow her golden sweet voice to reverberate. I love the blend of metal and her vocals; it is as endearing as 'Epicloud' that I cannot rate more highly. 'Supercrush!' has a skull crushing riff and some terrific harmonies, Anneke is audible over the intricate rhythms, and virtually takes the lead and that makes a break from all the yelling and screams. This is a masterful song and a definitive highlight.

'Hyperdrive!' is divine as it is the same song from the insanely brilliant 'Ziltoid', except this time Anneke takes the central role and she is wonderful here. I love her passion on the familiar lyrics, reinvigorating this classic track. So that's 3 excellent songs in a row after a rather aggressive start. Following next is 'Resolve!', with a killer riff, Anneke and Devin powering out a bombastic melody. They work well off each other and the lyrics have a potent theme as 'I won't resolve to receive what you'll be, the ocean returns to the sea'.

'Ih-Ah!' has an odd title so what will the music sound like one may wonder. What we have is an acoustic opening, soft Devy vox, a very subtle lightweight melody and lyrics about the dangers of love, 'we don't even understand so how can this be wrong' and he cant express any more so just sings 'Ih-Ah, Ih-Ah'; a bit kitsch but the song is a break from the metal mayhem previous.

'The Way Home!' has a hyped up fast driving rhythm and clean measured vocals from Devy. That rhythm is so fast over the slower vocals it has a feel and style all of its own unlike anything I have heard from the mad scientist of metal. 'Numbered!' returns to the huge metal riffs and a very melodic over produced sound that is the way Devin likes it. His vocals are easier on the ears here, some of his best in the high register. The album ends with

'Awake!!' with the extra exclamation mark so it is bound to kick serious butt. It is the longest track at over 9 minutes and features a blistering riff and clean tones from Devin singing very well on this song. Anneke joins him and lifts the atmosphere up a notch and the it gets brutal again with pace and powerhouse vocals.

I would say this is one of the heavier albums of DT especially the opening tracks and the last. It has some variation in the centre and Anneke'svoice is an embellishment that was worth returning to with 'Epicloud'. She is the ex Gathering singer and certainly knows how to power out a song. 'Addicted' is a great album, though not as consistent as some others I have heard. Devin rarely disappoints with his blend of styles and here is no exception. I am glad the album delivered the goods and it certainly features some of Devin's best material. This is an album to savour and leads nicely to the next stint with Anneke that came 3 years later on the superior "Epicloud".

KREATOR Pleasure to Kill

Album · 1986 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 41 ratings
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Speed. Aggression. Brutality. Lethal.

These are all words me and my mates used to utter listening to this killer album. It was so fast and extreme it really knocked everyone off their perch. The songs were chock full of nasty lyrics and the singing was gutteral and German accented.

The lead guitar work is incredible throughout, the drum blastbeats are deadly and above all the rhythmic riffs are always skull melting. It opens with wind howling, ethereal voices and sweet acoustics, then it breaks into the blazing Ripping Corpse. The sadistic lyrics are screeched out by Mille who thrashes the axes. Rob is great on bass and Ventor is a powerhouse on relentless speed drumming. Everythign is turned up to a blazing tempo as fast as i had heard, even as fast as Slayer. It was a very influential album for all these reasons and showed that Germany was capable of some extreme hardcore thrash.

Death Is Your Saviour is another speedy track, and it gets faster as it progresses. At times it sounds like a machine grinding, hence the term grindcore, and the lyrics are always about killing, death and brutality, so nobody took them seriously as a result, unless you were into the extreme end of thrash.

Pleasure To Kill was the ultimate classic from the album that they played live and had the crowd screaming back kill! i love the drum fills on this, and the way the riff chops and fractures with odd time sig shifts. This is as technical as they got in these early years. 1986 was a groundbreaking year for thrash with the rise of Metallica, Slayer, Onslaught, Exodus, Anthrax, Megadeth, Sodom and Kreator. These bands simultaneously crushed the glam metal scene. Destruction were even faster than Kreator but none would have the same impact as this album seemed to generate. One thing that stood out was the way they broke the music up with half time feels and very odd riffing. The lead breaks were brilliant too, but the vocals were nothing like anyone had heard, so gutteral and raspy. Riot of Violence has an awesome driving riff with lead guitar squeals. When I was into this thrash this was one of my favourites as it was not just breakneck speed but had some wonderful lead breaks and a powerdriving riff. It does speed up in the chorus but somehow the mixing allows one to hear every note.

The Pestilence has powerful drumming in the intro and then locks into a blitzkrieg of galloping riffs with extreme distortion before launching into high speed rhythms.

Carrion is an underrated track with a very fast lead solo intro over blastbeats and double kicking with aggressive speed. This is as furious as metal gets, definitely for the hardcore speed metal freak.

At the time I was into this metal I was actually to the point where I was beginning to mellow into a different style of music, but this was irresistible, and will be hailed as a thrash classic forever.

EXODUS Bonded by Blood

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 44 ratings
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I walked into a metal store in 1985 and this guy saw me wearing the Slayer denim jacket and spiked arm band and he yelled at me, "have you heard this one, its the ultimate!" I said who is it. Exodus? What is this? I told the salesman to chuck it on and it absolutely drove nails into my skull. That day I bought some Venom, Slayer, Nasty Savage, Onslaught and Metallica, but nothing compared to this killer album. It is a thrash classic.

"Bonded by Blood" Has wall to wall killer riffs and mind melting lead guitar breaks but above all is the screaming powerhouse of Paul Baloff. A man who died in his 40s, and a hellion at parties, he was unbeatable as the frontman to this hardcore thrash act. I was heavily into the speed metal scene in the mid 80s and this band was as good as it gets.

Highlights include 'And Then There Were None'. 'A Lesson in Violence', 'Piranha'. but the one I played continuously is 'No Love'. this track had an awesome lethal riff and very dangerous lyrics.

This is one hell of an album and is one of the most influential thrash album of all time.

RIVERSIDE Celebrity Touch

EP · 2012 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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'Celebrity Touch' is the taster if you like, the intro to the new Riverside album. It came out with an edgey video clip with a celebrity portrayed going down in to the abyss as their life is consumed by self obsession, alcoholism, sexual grandeur and finally madness. It is certainly an eye opener and not for the squeamish even showing quite explicit encounters with groupies and an eerie masking over a deformity until the celebrity transforms into a mummified zombie. Of course it has been done before with Pink Floyd's "The Wall" with the transmogrification of a rock star into a nazi dictator. Madness seems to be a concept that many artists like to focus on as it becomes an incarnation of humanity being degraded by mass consumption.

Musically the song is very different than anything else on the actual album "Shrine of New Generation Slaves" (SONGS) and is perhaps not the high point of an album that is a masterpiece to my ears. The song is on this single in two forms but the album format, the longest, is the best way to enjoy it. The album track opens with killer driller riffs that have an intricate time sig. Duda's vocals are crystal clear and work well with the electrifying keyboard and guitar driven punctuation. It is a heavy song with some magnificent syncopated rhythms. There are some higher vocals in the background too that augment the tranquil atmospheres generated in the quieter verses. It has an infectious melody in the chorus and moves along at an energetic pace. This is a very nice composition with layers of musicianship of the highest quality. It really grew on me with that bassline and crunching guitar riff. I love Duda's lyrics on the dangers and hypocrisy of celebrity status, the lies and fabrication of maintaining a false facade that will please the masses but in in the end is an empty existence; 'In the center of attention, TV, Glossy magazines, My private life is public, I sell everything, Days are getting shorter, They'll forget about me soon, So I jump on the bandwagon, With no taboos.' This sentiment could represent any celebrity who is trapped by public attention, something that is craved but when it is gained the celebrity abhors being the subject of hysteria as their life becomes a tomb, their home a prison, it is a sobering thought. It is little wonder celebrities become cynical and crazy, jumping on a bandwagon with no taboos, as sometimes they are given little choice as products of consumer hell.

Get the album just stop reading this and get the danged album - it is a bonafide masterpiece.

RIVERSIDE Memories In My Head

EP · 2011 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.79 | 15 ratings
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32 minutes of solid gold atmospheric prog metal!

I own all of Riverside's albums and it has been a while between listens but it was an absolute pleasure to return to their inimitable style on this new EP. Immediately the Riverside sound is there on 'Goodbye Sweet Innocence', with a squealing feedback sound over a throbbing drone. It is pitch dark and atmospheric, gaining volume and power until the drones fade and a backwards guitar is heard. Finally a clean guitar breaks in and feedback slashes across the sound, allowing room for the quiet vocals of Mariusz Duda. The lyrics are based around the trials of life, the regrets of the past, and the changes we experience; "stuck in the crossroads of time". The lead break of Piotr Grudziński is delightful. The violin sound section is effective, and the strong keyboard solo, making this one of the most atmospheric of Riverside's repertoire. A great start.

Next is 'Living In The Past', not a Jethro Tull cover, but a very well structured song about what we leave behind as we move through life's difficulties and overcome them. The effects of keyboard swirls adds an ethereal quality. The guitar solo at the beginning is beautiful, haunting and passionate. The blasts of organ and guitar complement one another, and there is a very Pink Floyd like vibe to this. The vocals are fresh with lyrics that are memorable; "cancel all light, I'm not going to live like everyone, and I don't care if the signs are over, my future is living in the past." The little riff in the next section sounds Arabian. Eventually the song bursts into a heavy distortion and lengthy instrumental break that pounds along with sensational keyboards. Another terrific song highlighted by an inventive structure and very bold instrumentation.

Lastly, 'Forgotten Land' begins with minimal bass pulses, echoes of high pitched guitar, pounding drums come in, then the vocals; "there was a kingdom here a city full of lights". The lyrics focus on the ancient days of a lost civilisation where gods were believed, the Greek mythology perhaps, they "Call themselves gods above everything and everyone" and then the song talks about how the people build monuments to their deities, "faster and faster, higher and higher, great temples of gold glitter in the sun, the gods assured of themselves never lost their pride." The track builds gradually into some powerful soundscapes of emotionally moving guitar and vocals. "How quickly they die! How quickly they turn into dust," is sung with venom and is a phrase that is memorable on this song. The instrumental section that follows is absolutely mesmerising, chilling effects and ambient keyboard motifs and guitar swells.

On this new EP, Mariusz Duda is very good on vocals, at times aggressive and then passive and melancholy. His bass and acoustic guitar work is well executed. Piotr Grudziński has a chance to shine on some incredible lead breaks. Piotr Kozieradzki is an accomplished drummer who knows when to crash down and when to hold back on gentle hi hat work. The real treasure of the musicscape is Michał Łapaj who is a wizard on keyboards.

If this is a sign of the next Riverside album, we are in for a real treat. This is a sensational EP, it grows on you with every listen, and every track is offering amazing high quality progressive metal.


Album · 2003 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.98 | 48 ratings
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Riverside's "Out of Myself" is the debut for one of the most dynamic prog metal band over recent years. This album is heavier with more distorted metal riffs than the material they would settle into on their fourth and fifth masterpieces. Piotr Grudzinski indulges in a lot of intricate riffing and some thrashy blasts of guitar, Mariusz Duda is more aggressive on vocals on the debut, even screaming on songs like 'Loose Heart', but still maintains an overall clear melancholy texture. He is also a great bass and guitar player. The rhythms of Piotr Kozieradzki on drums is always a solid foundation for the layered musicianship, and Jacek Melnicki's keyboards generate an ambient quality, though he would be replaced later by Michael Lapaj.

The album starts with a Pink Floyd resonance on 'The Same River', a 12 minute musicscape that meanders along patiently and builds into some heavier passages. 'Out Of Myself' soon blazes with some upbeat cadence and then is followed with the contemplative vocals of Duda on 'I Believe'.

The stand out of the album is 'Reality Dream', a powerhouse song that would be played live many times over the years as a regular favourite. The band are able to display their virtuoso skill with the interplay of guitar and keys over shifting time signatures. 'Loose Heart' has an energetic riff and some fractured structures embellished by guitar and keyboard crescendos.

'Reality II' is a fast tricky instrumental with Grudzinski's excellent lead guitar work outs and some sledgehammer syncopated percussion. 'In Two Minds' is a Riverside ballad, something that they would include on every album, a reflective atmosphere with ethereal keyboards and soaring guitars. 'The Curtain Falls' is an 8 minute haunting song with a soft chime, acoustic picking and ambient keyboard textures. It locks into a Pink Floyd 'Run Like Hell' riff that shows where the band have been inspired and that is not a bad thing. The lead break by Grudzinski is wonderful, with sustain and emotional string bends. 'OK' ends this on a rather gentle song with melancholy passages of beauty.

Overall this is a great debut, which is really a beginning for the band who were daring and adventurous but became even moreso on subsequent albums. It is a worthwhile listen with some of their best compositions and a darker feel with some aggression and powerful metal riffs.

RIVERSIDE Shrine of New Generation Slaves

Album · 2013 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.25 | 44 ratings
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A tour de force of compelling concepts and brilliant musicianship, a triumph of Riverside.

Riverside are one of the most exciting dynamic prog artists to come out over recent years. On this latest release 'Shrine of New Generation Slaves' (abbreviated as SONGS! Don't you love it?) Mariusz Duda is as masterful as ever on crystal clear vocals, and pulsating bass. He is joined by the incredible guitars of Piotr Grudzinski, the keyboard finesse of Michal Lapaj, and the piledriver drums of Piotr Kozieradzki. When I first listened to this album I was not really worried about whether the band would sound like previous albums as I have found that their albums differ greatly from one another over the years, and they are still able to maintain interest simply due to the virtuoso musicianship and innovative compositions. So I ventured into this without any prior knowledge of what to expect, conceptually or otherwise, and had not looked at a single review, and forgot the clip available of 'Celebrity Touch'. This was a good move because the album absolutely transfixed me from beginning to end, without prior expectation. It is an incredible album, and one of the best so far in the early stages of 2013; one of the top ten masterpieces of 2013. I am delighted that this is the case as I have really grown to love this band over the years and they never disappoint which is a rare thing these days.

'New Generation Slave' (4:18) opens with distorted vocals and a powerful prog riff crashing through. It builds to a fast fractured rhythm reminding me of Soundgarden's 'Spoon Man', or indeed the riff on 'The Same River' from Riverside's 'Out of Myself' debut. The heaviness is densely layered with Lapaj's shimmering Hammond. There is a fiery guitar and bass tempo and it is all refined by the glaze of Duda's pristine vocals; a towering start to the album and an absolute sure fire killer intro to the band for those who had not heard previous songs. The lyrics focus on the hate of the new generation, the lost hopes and broken dreams that pervade this dark world; 'Into this world I came, Filled with fear, Crying all the time, I guess my birth, Left a great scar on my heart and mind, Now I hand-pick cotton, And struggle to sing "I am happy and I do what I like", But my voice breaks and I start to hate my singing and simply everyone.'

'The Depth Of Self ' Delusion' (7:40) has the acoustic vibrations of Grudzinski's guitar, and Duda's melancholy vocals are executed with passion. The lead break and driving tempo is built gradually over an uplifting melody. It is bookended with more finger picking acoustics capping off a beautiful song with a compelling structure. The lyrics by Duda are all about feeling like a wall is being built up, similar to Pink Floyd's hypothesis, and it really touches a chord with me; 'I could be foreign forevermore to your neverland, One little brick then another and I will build that wall anyway, You can find me there rested and calm without mask, This is where I will stay.'

'Celebrity Touch' (6:48) opens with killer driller riffs that have an intricate time sig. Duda's vocals are crystal clear and work well with the electrifying keyboard and guitar driven punctuation. It is a heavy song with some magnificent syncopated rhythms. There are some higher vocals in the background too that augment the tranquil atmospheres generated in the quieter verses. It has an infectious melody in the chorus and moves along at an energetic pace. This is a very nice composition with layers of musicianship of the highest quality. It really grew on me with that bassline and crunching guitar riff. I love Duda's lyrics on the dangers and hypocrisy of celebrity status, the lies and fabrication of maintaining a false fa'ade that will please the masses but in in the end is an empty existence; 'In the center of attention, TV, Glossy magazines, My private life is public, I sell everything, Days are getting shorter, They'll forget about me soon, So I jump on the bandwagon, With no taboos.' This sentiment could represent any celebrity who is trapped by public attention, something that is craved but when it is gained the celebrity abhors being the subject of hysteria as their life becomes a tomb, their home a prison, it is a sobering thought. It is little wonder celebrities become cynical and crazy, jumping on a bandwagon with no taboos, as sometimes they are given little choice as products of consumer hell.

'We Got Used To Us' (4:12) is a song that has a measured tempo and some effective lead guitar motifs over layered harmonised vocals. The timbre of Duda's voice is always a drawcard for me, he is able to create the most powerful sensuous moods as he pours out the reflective lyrics. Once again Grudzinski's lead guitar break is present but this one is more subtle with Lapaj's moody piano augmentations. This sombre song sent chills through me, it is simple compared to other tracks on the album but it has such a haunting melody and some very potent lyrics that strike to the heart; 'I know we got used to new life, And I don't want to be there, No, I don't want to be there, Where we are, Silence fallen between, All the doors are locked, All the words unsaid, And we're still afraid of time, Started to keep ourselves, At a distance that we could control, Not too close, Not too far.' The protagonist is trying to come to terms wth the loss of his loved one, perhaps a good break up song as it captures the turmoil of emotions felt, the emptiness that drives nails into the heart, love being replaced by bitterness and the cold feeling that it is over. It ends with the pleading phrase echoing, 'so walk away with me'.

'Feel Like Falling' (5:19) is a real surprise eclectic package beginning with 80s retro synths buzzing, reminding me of the rhythm of 'Candy Man' by Suzi Quatro, one of my favourites. It is enhanced by 1968 style Hammond pads from Lapaj. The rhythm is quirky and similar to the style of Muse and high register vocals again backing to add a further dimension of harmony. A heavy guitar riff comes in with a half time feel, and some glorious effervescent Hammond quavers. It closes with an instrumental break with Grudzinski's muscular guitars in an odd time sig and some wah-wah pedal lead embellishments. This is one of the highlight tracks undoubtedly. The time sig is complex at times and I wished it would have gone on longer as it is one of Riverside's best compositions. The lyrics focus on the protagonist bouncing back after the loss felt from the broken relationships, expressed in metaphors; 'Could have been a tree of dawn, Rooted deeply in the ground, Bearing fruits, Far away from falling into blank space.' The blank space is that nothing box that has been opened when one's world has turned to despair and life is like a blank slate with nothing written on it. It is like starting over from scratch now that his lover has moved on, and he tries to forget but the memories are still too raw. Thatis why he feels like falling over the precipice, to rid himself of the burning pain. But these emotions will soon subside as long as he hangs on to what he has.

'Deprived' (Irretrievably Lost Imagination) (8:27) follows with Riverside in a more contemplative mood with reverberating guitars, violin strings and an ethereal atmosphere. Kozieradzki's drums maintain a strong tempo and Duda's vocals are more estranged and laid back. This has a lovely saxophone sound, or clarinet jazz break out, and it cascades over the music with astonishing power. There are a number of tempo changes The lyrics are the dreams of the protagonist that have become fractured over time in a life that has become deprived of so many things; 'I live surrounded by cherished memories, I have a weakness for collecting them, Alphabetize, As far as I recall my childish rituals, Icons of that world always filled my shelves and heart.' I love the section where the sadness and loneliness is conveyed by poetic beauty; 'In a world of synonyms and handwritten notes, My own puppet performances, Endless bedtime stories, I could touch the moon and switch off the sun, I could have my dreams and dream about better times.' Perhaps this is the ray of hope now, the next phase of his life is beckoning and he is moving out of a depressed state to embracing what may come in the future.

'Escalator Shrine' (12:41) is the longest song so I was hoping for layers of intricate musicianship and the band to launch full tilt into the heavier prog rock I loved so much on 'Anno Domine High Definition' and some of the songs on earlier releases. It surpassed my expectations and is perhaps the definitive track to check out if you are still wondering what all the fuss is about. This song absolutely blew me away. It begins with subtle quiet vocals and soft Spanish guitars over an ominous drone. The guitar takes on a complex signature and keyboard chimes sounding like The Doors' 'Riders on the Storm'; was Ray Manzarek in the studio? I loved this soundscape generated and the unusual signature works so well with the very innovative lyrics about feeling isolated in a crowded city, moving aimlessly along with the human traffic, as people move to places of mass consumption and buy things they don't need, and the protagonist feels more empty as nothing is real or still, and he is bitter and more convinced that everyone around him is putting on a fa'ade to hide their true feelings, that they too are as lost as him but are too self obsessed with the trivialities of life to admit it; even wrapping themselves in the cocoon of syber technology, laptops, mobiles and ipods, as they converse with faceless entities to compensate for friends, and pretend thay are not alone, 'We are stairway drifters, Made of cyber paper, Google boys and wiki girls, Children of the self care, We come to pray every single training day, Looking for a chance to survive, Buying reduced price illusions, Floating into another light, Melting into another lonely crowd.' Then it builds with a grinding Hammond harking back to the 70s era, and a hammering tempo blasts in like a tempest. The Hammond is given a workout and is an absolutely stellar performance from Lapaj. Guitars jump in and out of the keyboard freakout, a tantalising skin crawler, one of the best keyboard passages on the album. The pace locks into a crawl with beautiful guitar reverbs and Duda's echoing vocals. The time sig changes into the slow measured cadence similar to Pink Floyd's spacey atmospheres. The lyrics breathe out vehemence against the throwaway society we have become, and exude that our years are wasted trying to chase unattainable dreams as we drift from day to day; 'Dragging our feet, Tired and deceived, Slowly moving on, Bracing shaky legs, Against all those wasted years, We roll the boulders of sins up a hill of new days.' This builds into some powerful riffs with Grudzinski's heavy guitar emblazoned with stirring dramatic keyboard creating a wall of sound. At the end of this I was convinced I had heard a masterpiece track of immeasurable quality; simply a stunning achievement from Riverside.

'Coda' (1:39) is the brief closing track, that glistens with sparkling acoustics and Duda's vocals with the same melody as the opening. He concludes with the sentiment that he has come to the point where he no longer wants to fall into blank space; a ray of hope at last; 'Want to be your light, Illuminate your smiles, Want to be your cure, Bridge between self and us, Want to be your prayer, Wipe the tears from your eyes, When the night returns I won't collapse, I am set to rise.' It feels like the end of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' with the brief coda that wraps up the album.

SONGS is an amazing album full of dark and light shadows, and poetic beauty. It has some of their greatest songs, namely the chilling 'New Generation Slave', 'Feel Like Falling' and 'Escalator Shrine'. Those three songs alone are awesome, but the album also has the more subtle quiet moods that will appeal to the now generation. The one thing that really impressed me is that the album is progressicve in every sense of the word with intricate time sigs, shifting tempos, comtemplative lyrics, dynamic musicianship and innovative layers of sound. There are many bands coming out that sound like they belong on the radio and they are only interested in cash cow singles. Riverside stay true to the prog roots that progheads adore and they do it in style with inventive ideas and some of the most incredible melodies and riffs; though it is more symphonic than metal, with Deep Purple or Uriah Heep sounds, a bit like Opeth's 'Heritage'. The Hammond flourishes are amazing over the heavy guitar textures. The album also grows on the listener as I noticed on subsequent listens certain songs are drawn to the ear with their beautiful meloides, for instance on my third listen in a row 'The Depth of Self Delusion' soon became one of my favourite songs, it has a relaxing serene atmosphere and Duda's vocals are wonderful speaking to our spirit. 'We Got Used To Us' likewise strikes a real chord with me, the melancholy touch and overall melodies are absolutely mesmirising. There is not a bad song on the album, even after multiple listens nothing feels like filler. In fact each track is complimenting one another with a magical entrancing resonance, until we get to the magnificent finale; the crescendo of power captured in the tour de force 'Escalator Shrine' epic.

With so much quality displayed and with the layers and depth of musicianship executed here, I can only conclude by awarding this with the highest accolades. It is awe inspiring that Riverside maintains such a consistent high quality from album to album. 'Out of Myself', 'Second Life Syndrome', 'Rapid Eye Movement' and especially 'Anno Domini High Definition' are treasures of prog, and now 'Shrine of New Generation Slaves' is the pinnacle of their master class musicianship; a genuine musical epiphany. I hoped this would be an excellent album but I didn't expect it to have this much impact and resonate with me to such a degree. Strike this one down as another top notch brilliant masterpiece from one of the greatest prog modern artists on the planet.

ARCH / MATHEOS Sympathetic Resonance

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 48 ratings
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Arch/ Matheos is the project that was to be the next Fates Warning album but never came to be. Instead Fates Warning’s vocalist John Arch and guitarist Jim Matheos came together to create something as special that would please Fates Warning fans and beyond.

The album “Sympathetic Resonance” opens with 'Neurotically Wired', and immediately the high powered high register vocals of Arch resonates beautifully. The vocals are as clear and exceptional as in the Fates Warning days. The guitars hammer on with pounding riffs as one would expect from the legendary guitarist Matheos. There are some stunning time sig changes and overall a strong prog metal vibe.

The melodic chorus on 'Midnight Serenade' is infectious, and this is followed by the longest song,'Stained Glass Sky'. This features amazing dextrous lead guitar work and a killer riff. 'On the Fence' is more emotional, a power ballad of sorts, and particularly shines with Matheos’ lead breaks and guitar tones. 'Any Given Day (Strangers like me)' begins with wonderful instrumentation, and acoustic vibrations. It builds with a great percussion meter from Bobby Jarzombek, and switches tempo at will with some pummeling riffs and the omnipresent bassline of Joey Vera.

The closer is 'Incense and Myrrh', a short track with enough power to make it worthwhile. The distorted riffs resound nicely in the ears, and has an outstanding melody.

Overall this album is a real crowd pleaser, a definitive prog metal album, and hopefully not the last time Arch and Matheos will collaborate, as they are obviously capable of greatness even without the Fates Warning moniker.

MANOWAR Into Glory Ride

Album · 1983 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.30 | 30 ratings
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"Battle Hymns did sound the call you came to our side, you heard true metal Into Glory Ride!"

Manowar came out with a blaze of glory on their first 2 albums and the lyrics and image made many take notice, for the wrong reasons. Despite the Norse warrior posing, the music always spoke volumes, no nonsense riffs and power metal with some scorching lead breaks on each song and the vocals powered out by Adams.

Ross' Lead work is excellent though the production is rather muddy as it is on a lot of these early Manowar albums. Highlights are found with the killer opener Warlord especially the unforgettable intro where an irate father bursts in on two lovers in the act, and the bikie has a fight and ends up smashing the father and running out into the night laughing like a maniac - this was the 80s and anything goes when metal was king.

Revelation (Death's Angel)is another highlight focussing on the last book of the Bible and moving into many riffs and a sense of grandeur that is imposed by Adams bombastic vocals and very heavy percussion by the late great Columbus. Its an album to relish for all these reasons but was surpassed easily by the next 2 albums.

MANOWAR Hail to England

Album · 1984 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 35 ratings
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Let each note I play be a black arrow of death sent straight to the heart of all those who play false metal....

This is undoubtedly a masterpiece for the band featuring some of their most famous songs beginning with the power metal of Blood Of My Enemies, followed by cool riffing Each Dawn I Die, with some naff lyrics powered out by the great Adams, but that’s what Manowar were about. A song about killing and “die die die!” on Kill With Power soon became a fan favourite for concert set lists, along with anthemic glitz on Hail To England, one to raise the horns up to in a concert.

I had this on vinyl and must have played side one hundreds of time but I was always looking forward to the power intensity of Army Of The Immortals and the killer Black Arrows that is basically a lead guitar solo with fret melting spasming arpeggios at light speed by Ross the Boss. It ends with a slower paced Bridge Of Death, that was a low point for me, but overall this is still a glorious victory for the band and one of their most revered. HAIL from Australia!

MANOWAR Sign of the Hammer

Album · 1984 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 29 ratings
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I used to love thrashing this thing during the 80s and I memorised many of the songs simply because I played it to death. It really has some of the best Manowar tracks especially on side 2 the side that rarely left my turntable on the days of vinyl.

Regretfully most of my metal vinyl has gone but I still remember Sign of the Hammer "be my guide, the spell has been lifted" it is in my brain forever. Loved those manic riffs too. 'The Oath' and 'Thunderpick' have some resonance with my memory too but I will never forget 'Guyana (Cult of the Damned)' with its haunting lyrics; "I thank you for the cool aid Reverend Jim." I knew every riff especially as it builds to the big riff in the verses. I did not know at the time what it was about but have since learnt it was focussing on the Jim Jonestown Massacre. The lyrics have even more power with that knowledge. The intro to the song is kind of a Latin rhythm that works well, and the drum pounding is incredible, like a march to the gallows, or a march along the boardwalk to the vats of poison the cultists eventually took.

This is a strong Manowar and perhaps one of their last great releases, still powerful and riff heavy, with glorious vocals throughout, and then they moved into a more mainstream sound.

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