Wednesday, July 8, 2009

94. The Beatles- Rubber Soul

I'm going to keep this one short since I already talked about how important the Beatles are to my experience as a music listener. Rubber Soul is a very special album because it is a perfect bridge between the poppier early Beatles and the experimental later Beatles. Every song here is a classic and I love how the album flows seamlessly from track to track. I can't pin down exactly what it is, but this album has a very specific spirit to it, and each track embodies that spirit perfectly. This album has it all: beautiful harmonies and brilliant songwriting and arranging. This album reminds me of my childhood, and for that very reason, I simply couldn't resist putting it on my list. An essential Beatles album.

95. Genesis- Trick of the Tail

“Trick of the Tail” is the first Genesis album after Peter Gabriel left the band following their masterpiece “The Lamb Lie Down On Broadway”. Genesis have a very special place in my heart because they are one of the first four prog bands that I ever heard (the others being Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd and Yes). My dad is a huge fan of Genesis and is the one who introduced me to them and it was a magical experience. He mainly focused on the Peter Gabriel Genesis albums (which I will get to in later entries) and I discovered the Phil Collins Genesis albums later. Trick of the Tail is solid proof that Genesis was more than capable of carrying on without Peter Gabriel (much like Spock’s Beard carrying on without Neal Morse). Phil Collins does an excellent job of taking the role of front man and singer. This album has a really positive mood about it and it always makes me happy when I listen to it.

There are several standout tracks here. The opener, Dance on a Volcano, is excellent and sounds in many ways like classic Genesis. It is hard rocking and shows that Phil Collins has chops as a drummer (which many people don’t know). Entangled is a beautiful ballad that showcases the talents of Steve Hackett on guitar. I really love Mad Man Moon which is a showcase for keyboardist Tony Banks, who proves that he is a virtuoso at his instrument. Also, the closer, Los Endos, is excellent in how it brings the whole band together to revisit the themes of the whole album in an explosive instrumental track. I really do love this album—it still sounds fresh even 30 years later and really makes me feel good when I listen to it. The mark of a masterpiece of music is one that connects with the listener emotionally, and this album definitely does.

Monday, July 6, 2009

96. Agents of Mercy- The Fading Ghosts of Twillight

This is a very recent album, in fact I reviewed it not too long ago on this blog. I'll just copy and paste some of the things I said before in my review about why I love this album so much:

"I love this album! It is simply beautiful. It has grown on me through repeated listens, and now I really have a great appreciation for each song. First, a small background on the album, it is mainly the brainchild of one of my favorite prog musicians of all time: Roine Stolt. His signature sound is all over this album. Another notable feature of this album is the singing of Nad Sylvan. I'll admit, his voice took me a little getting used to, but once I did, it really enhanced the music. His voice is a cool cross between Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Fish- 3 of my favorite singers. He has a lot of character in his voice that really comes out in the compositions of this album.

The album is a little more laid back than your average prog album, but I love it that way. It gives the album a really cool mood that is consistent throughout. And, don't be misled, there are moments when it rocks hard. It is a brilliant combination of classic Genesis, Beatles, and the signature Flower Kings sound that comes with Roine Stolt's songwriting. It makes for a rather enjoyable listen that I just can't get enough of. It has stayed in the CD player in my car since it was released and has been a joy to listen to.

....As you can tell, I'm having a difficult time really putting my feelings for this album into words. I really love the laid back mood of the album, a great soundtrack to spring and summer. There is a lot of great acoustic moments, which makes sense since Roine Stolt originally intended for this album to be an acoustic solo album. But, there are also a lot of great prog moments that really call back Genesis at their best. Nad Sylvan also has managed to really capture the mood of this piece with his vocals."

Conclusion: This is an incredible album that is a throwback to late Beatles and early Genesis. Roine Stolt is a master at what he does and this is no exception.

97. Michael Jackson- Thriller

I consider this album to be a perfect pop record. Michael Jackson was a genius at what he did. He was a brilliant performer and produced some of the greatest modern pop music during the eighties and early nineties. He had a huge, important impact on music as we know it and truly deserves the title "King of Pop". Unfortunately, towards the end of his life, the controversies he was involved in seemed to dominate the attention placed towards him. But, that shouldn't be allowed to take away from the brilliance of what he did for music and for the performing arts.

This album contains many hits of which Jackson is well known for, including: Billie Jean, Beat It, and Thriller among many others. The songs have an appealing funk to them which makes them great to dance to. He even infuses some rock, especially on Beat It. I think Billie Jean is a perfect pop song, it has a catchy chorus and engaging verses. It is truly a brilliant song. I also have a special place in my heart for P.Y.T. which I think is a great song that has a great groove to it. Thriller is a huge accomplishment for Michael Jackson who was relatively young when it first came out. It really has nothing to do with Progressive Rock, but I can't help but smile while I listen and enjoy the melodies and beats. It is a masterpiece of pop, and should not be overlooked!

Dream Theater- Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Dream Theater have been one of my favorite bands ever since I first heard Scenes From a Memory. Scenes From a Memory was a revolutionary album for me—it instantly connected with me and introduced me to a genre I love called Progressive Metal and began my fascination with this band which of course led me to pick up all their albums and to eagerly await their next album (which at that time was Train of Thought). The album in question here is Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which I don’t hesitate to say is one of the best albums Dream Theater have ever created. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and I haven’t been this excited about Dream Theater since I first heard Scenes From a Memory over five years ago.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings, just as the name suggests is a record about the hard times in life and being able to find the “silver linings” from these experiences, such as a lesson that can be learned or pulling out something good that came out of the hard experience. The album opens with a storm, representing the black clouds, before the band comes in full force with “A Nightmare to Remember”. This is one of Dream Theater’s best openers and really causes the excitement to rise within the listener. Mike Portnoy is in top form as he drums with intensity, even doing some blast beats. One of the best parts of this song is the “Beautiful Agony” section where things slow down a bit and James LaBrie shows off his incredible voice. The band comes back in and Mike is able to give some growling vocals to accent the fierceness of the vocals before the band comes in for a quirky and fun instrumental section before the song ends.

“Rite of Passage” is the single from the album and it is a typical metal song, although much better than the previous single from the last album “Constant Motion”. This song has a wonderful sing-along chorus and a great soloing section where John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess get to show their chops on their respective instruments. A notable moment is the bebot solo from Jordan which is done with use of his iphone. The next song, “Wither”, is a beautiful ballad—one of the best ballads this band has created. “The Shattered Fortress” is the conclusion of the 12 step saga that Mike Portnoy has written about his steps in overcoming his alcohol addiction. It is a powerful finale that incorporates all the best parts of the whole saga and it has some more incredible solos from John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess.

“The Best of Times” is a touching song that Mike wrote for his dad who passed away recently. The song makes me tear up because it such a sincere lyric from Mike that shows that he is truly speaking from his heart. Continuing with the theme of the album, this song shows how his Dad’s death was a black cloud, but the memories they shared is the silver lining that he can take away from it that will help strengthen him throughout the rest of his life. One of my favorite moments of the whole album is the end of this song where John Petrucci performs a magnificent guitar solo that is emotionally moving and a great way to end this song.

The final song of the album is “The Count of Tuscany” and it is one of the best Dream Theater epics. The introduction is an excellent showcase of the whole band, and it is one of the most brilliant melodic sections of music the band has ever crafted. The story of the song is a personal experience by John Petrucci where he took a ride with a man who called himself the Count of Tuscany and was an odd man with a brother who is compared to a cannibal. John feels terrified for his life in this situation being in a house with these eccentric characters. There are so many great instrumental moments until finally there is a break and a big atmospheric Yes-like section starts of for the next several minutes. The finale of this song is one of the best parts of the whole album where the Count tells John that he is not as scary as John thinks he is and that John is free to go and to tell everybody about him and his brother. It is a majestic closing with wonderful guitar and James LaBrie’s voice is on top form here.

As you can probably tell, I love this album. I consider it a masterpiece. From the opening storm to the majestic closing, I am captivated by it. I can’t wait to see them live in August and I hope they perform some of these songs at that concert (please play A Nightmare to Remember and The Count of Tuscany!). I think this album is the perfect balance between the different styles Dream Theater has: metal and progressive; hard rocking and emotionally touching. It is a perfect balance, which I believe is another manifestation of the Black Clouds and Silver Linings theme. This is going to be a tough album to top this year (Transatlantic, I’m looking at you). I am thankful for all the brilliant music that Dream Theater has created throughout the years and am delighted to say that they still have “it”. As evidence of this, this album landed at #6 on the billboard charts—the highest position the band has ever received throughout their career. This album is a band playing at the top of their game, and I hope they can continue making brilliant albums like this one.

Rating: 10/10

98. The Beatles- Revolver

Ah...the Beatles have a very special place in my heart because they are what started my passion for music. When I was very young (somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13) my Dad shared the Beatles music with me and I was blown away. We immediately went to the store and picked up the red and blue albums (which contain all of the Beatles greatest hits throughout their career). I wore those albums out and then set out to collect all of the Beatles albums. This sparked my interest in prog later (which my dad introduced me to) and also to more modern rock, which was a passion of mine throughout high school.

Anyway, enough reminiscing, this is one of the first albums where the Beatles truly started experimenting with music (and drugs, unfortunately) and created an album that was extremely sophisticated for its time. I feel that Revolver is one of the important albums that influenced progressive rock because it was a band at the peak of their creativity experimenting with rock music and pushing the boundaries of what was considered conventional rock at the time. There are many highlights on this album- the wonderful opener, Taxman, sung by George Harrison. Eleanor Rigby, which is a classic in every way, that makes use of strings to create a certain mood. Here, There and Everywhere is a wonderful ballad that features the great vocals of Paul McCartney. Good Day Sunshine and And Your Bird Can Sing are both wonderfully uplifting and are great examples of the Beatles at their peak.

The Beatles are the most influential band in rock history and are a huge influence on progressive rock and I'm thankful for their influence. On later albums they get even more experimental and progressive, but I'll leave that for future entries...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

99. Spock's Beard- Feel Euphoria

It’s funny, the previous favorite album is by a band that is perhaps my least favorite of all the prog I’ve heard, and now I’m featuring an album by my favorite prog band. This is going to be an interesting list to be sure! Feel Euphoria is the seventh album by Spock’s Beard and is an important one in their history. Following their concept album, Snow, Neal Morse decided to leave the band for religious reasons. This was a huge deal since Neal Morse was the main songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalist for Spock’s Beard, so what would they do with him? They decided to pull a Genesis and let drummer Nick D’Virgilio become the new front man. He had already shared his wonderful voice on a couple of tracks from Snow (Carie and Looking For Answers) so it seemed like a promising proposition.

I discovered Spock’s Beard around the time that this major change occurred in their line-up. I was devastated when I heard about it because I had just discovered one of my favorite bands, and now its key member was leaving to forge his own solo path. But, I decided to look at it positively—now I was getting not just one, but two albums at a time from my favorite group of musicians. So, I awaited Testimony by Neal Morse and this album with a lot of excitement.

Feel Euphoria came first and it was an exciting moment since this was my first brand new Spock’s Beard album to explore. I recognized that it wasn’t as good as the Spock’s Beard material with Neal, but I was pleased to find that it had a charm all of its own. Spock’s Beard was far from lost without Neal at the head. Nick has a wonderful voice and this album showcases it brilliantly. There are a few weaker tracks, but that is forgivable since this is practically a debut album for Spock’s Beard version 2.0. I love the opener Onomatopoeia, it really rocks hard and brings the excitement right up front. The Bottom Line is a classic Spock’s Beard track to me that has some great synth from Ryo and a multiple sections that are all great. If anything the song is too short and they could have developed some of the ideas in it more.

Other tracks I really love are the hauntingly beautiful Ghosts of Autumn that really showcases Ryo’s chops on keyboards and Nick’s wonderful vocals. This song was written by Dave Meros, and shows that he is a strong songwriter. I love the epic, A Guy Named Sid. It may not be as strong as Neal’s epics, but it has its moment including a Gentle Giant vocal round section all done by Nick. I think Nick D’Virgilio and Dave Meros are perhaps the greatest rhythm section in all of progressive rock. They are very solid here and Alan Morse shows his signature guitar sound. Carry On is a great closer and ends on a very positive note.

I have a special spot in my heart for this album because it proved to me that Spock’s Beard was not dead—they were alive and kicking and capable of producing great music without Neal’s influence. I can’t help but smile and feel nostalgic as I listen to the album. I am very impressed with how Spock’s Beard moved on so quickly from Neal’s departure and were able to craft such a great album. This is truly a remarkable feat and I will continually appreciate the album as I keep that in mind.

100. Marilion- Misplaced Childhood

I will admit straight out that I have had a constant struggle with the band Marillion. When I was discovering modern prog bands for the first time, I discovered a band called Transatlantic and found out they were a supergroup made up of members of different current prog bands. One of the members, Pete Trewavas, was the bass player for Marillion, so I decided Marillion would be a good band to check out. Well, I was severely dissapointed because the music sounded really boring and I couldn't really identify anything "proggy" about it. But, throughout my exploration of modern prog, every once in a while I'll come across a strong recommendation for Marillion and I decide to give them another chance, usually ending in more disappointment.

One of these times I bought the album "Misplaced Childhood" because it seemed to be the album that everyone considered to be their masterpiece. I wasn't too impressed on first listen and once again regarded it as a dissapointment. But, something possessed me to try the album again, and I found it a bit more enjoyable on second listen. After a while this album managed to grab me and now I consider it as one of my favorites. Later I would try to get in to other Marillion albums without success (sorry, I just don't understand the appeal of Marbles). My conclusion is that maybe I only like the Fish fronted Marillion, because it seems that all the Marillion that has been disappointing has been the version of Marillion fronted by Steve Hogarth. Fish is such a charasmatic front man and singer that I can't help but be captivated by his performance on this album. This post has actually inspired me to perhaps check out more of the Marillion with Fish.

This album is a concept album, and I'm a sucker for concept albums- they always tend to be my favorites. The album is about losing childhood as we grow up and the loss of innocence associated with growing up. Because of the concept, the music is pretty dark for a majority of the record and Fish gives a very emotional vocal performance that is one of my favorite vocal performances on any album. You can tell that he is very emotionally invested in what he is singing about. Kayleigh is a wonderful pop song that actually recieved some popularity at the time this album was released. Heart of Lothian is a wonderful rock song with some wonderful guitar work from Steve Rothery. My favorite section of the whole album, though, is the last three songs: Blind Curve, Childhood End? and White Feather. These songs are the most progressive on the whole album and they also the most uplifting (the last two especially, Blind Curve is still depressing). The message given is that there isn't really an end to childhood, that we can still maintain the innocence we had as children and can use our knowledge to help the children of the world now. It is a great ending to a great album.

I really do love this album despite it not seeming completely progressive to my ears. I am not a huge fan of music that came out in the '80s, in fact I believe this is the only '80s album in my whole top 100. But, that perhaps makes it even more special, because it was released in the year of my birth, 1985. This album is also special because of the inclusion of Pete Trewavas who is one of my favorite musicians of all time (and he does do a lot of impressive bass playing on this album). I may never fully understand Marillion's huge fan base in the prog community, but I do have a place in my heart for Misplaced Childhood and consider it a gem of progressive rock.

Riverside- Anno Domini High Definition

This album is heavy and aggressive…and I love it! Riverside is a Polish band that made quite an impression in the progressive rock scene with their Reality Dream Trilogy. I found all three of the Reality Dream albums excellent, but I think this album may transcend even that excellent trilogy. All musicians are in top form here, the playing is absolutely fantastic and this album is a nonstop roller coaster ride for its almost 45 minutes. In fact, it is hard to tell where one track ends and the next begins, it all just seems to blend together making for a breathtaking experience.

The first two tracks are pretty standard Riverside rock songs. The opener, Hyperactive, is notable for its interchange between heavy guitar and drums and Duda singing beautifully acapella. It really creates a great dynamic that is fun to listen to. The third song, Egoist Hedonist, is wonderful—it starts with a more laid back electronica section before becoming another aggressive rock jam complete with horns! This leads into perhaps my favorite track on the album, Left Out. This is the most mellow track on the album and is beautiful with Duda’s singing and beautiful acoustic guitar. As is common on this record though, the mellowness doesn’t last long and we are taken into another jam that really grooves with some awesome organ playing. The final track is another epic of sorts that is even heavier than the previous song and ends the album on a high note.

This is an incredible album because of the virtuosity involved with all band members. I am impressed with how much power and aggression is put into this album, and it is an exciting listen that captivates me for the whole album length. I really can’t find anything to complain about with this record, it is consistent and a blast to listen to. Definitely a contender for top album of the year.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Top 100 Favorite Albums

I have not kept up with this blog as frequently as I have wanted to, so I've decided to commit to counting down my favorite albums of all time, giving the reasons why the album is so special to me. I'm not sure how frequently I'm going to do this, possibly daily throughout the summer since I have some more time. Anyways, it should be fun, I may even put up number 100 some time later today! With these entries, I will listen to the album prior to writing my entry so that I can be reminded of why that particular album is one of my favorites. The difficult thing about making such a list is that it is constantly changing, and tomorrow I may feel completely different about what my top 100 albums are. However, I am going to do my best to compile a list that represents a pretty consistent view I have with these albums. Another difficulty is that often a new album comes that will really impress me and will become one of my top 100 albums.

So, I guess what I mean by all of this is that this list is by no means a definitive list. It is ever-changing and will probably continue to change even as I'm presenting the various albums. But, I think it should be fun anyways. So, stay tuned for my top 100 favorite albums! Also, I'm still going to be reviewing new CDs as well, in fact reviews should soon be up for artists such as Dream Theater, Riverside and Phideaux. So, that is the plan, I hope it works out well!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

IQ- Frequency

Frequency is the latest album from prog giants, IQ and is notable for being their first after the departure of key member Martin Orford. Many fans wondered if IQ would be the same without Orford’s influence. Let me assure you that this is still the IQ that fans know and love. I may not be the best to judge because I’ve never been a huge IQ fan, but to these ears this is the best album IQ have ever created. I have always tried to avoid IQ because of their frequent comparisons to Marillion (a band I just can’t seem to get) and their association with the Neo-Prog movement (a subdivision of prog that generally doesn’t interest me). But, despite these reservations I picked up Dark Matter quite a few years ago when it came out and I ended up really enjoying it. Because of my positive attitude towards this album, I decided to order the latest IQ offering, Frequency, and boy am I glad that I did. This is one of my favorite albums, a true masterpiece of Prog for me. I can’t get enough of it!

The album kicks off with the title track, and what a powerful track it is! It starts with some random frequency noise before the bass kicks in with a pounding rhythm. The band rocks out for a bit before slowing down, allowing Peter Nicholls to come in with his wonderful voice. One of the things that strikes me with this album is the pure beauty of Nicholls voice, it fits the music perfectly and makes him one of my favorite prog vocalists. This song moves fiercely through many great sections, and it ends leaving me wanting more. It is a progressive tour de force that never gets old. It is followed by Life Support which starts as a pleasant ballad once again focusing on Nicholls voice before it turns into a jam with a weird keyboard solo. I wasn’t sure what to make of the odd keyboard noises from new keyboardist Mark Westworth at first, but I have gotten used to them and now love them.

This leads into Stronger Than Friction, another favorite of mine, which starts with a happy upbeat melody that isn’t overly complicated but is really fun to listen to. This song moves through different movements but does so naturally so that the song flows beautifully from one part to the next. I especially love the ending where the band rocks out, especially guitarist Mike Holmes (who I feel is the other star of this album along with Nicholls). The ending goes right into One Fatal Mistake, which is a great segue between Stronger Than Friction and Ryker Skies. It is another ballad that presents one of the main themes of the album in a pure way. Ryker Skies is a killer song that has a great heavy atmosphere to it that really grabs the listener’s attention. I really like some of the proggier keyboard moments spread out through the piece, and I love the sing-along chorus. It is definitely highlight.

This song leads right into the masterpiece of the album, The Province. I don’t think I have adequate words to describe the beauty of this song. It is 13 minutes of pure beauty and inspiration and impresses me even on the 37th listen (or whatever listen I’m on right now, sorry I haven’t been keeping track). The sound bursts out at you at points that makes it a really exciting piece, but there is also room for heartfelt vocals from Nicholls. My favorite moment of the song, and the whole album in fact, is toward the end with Holmes goes off on this incredible guitar solo that highlights the main musical theme of the song. It is inspiring, magnificent, and whatever grand word you want to put in. It just gets me every time-it is wonderful.

Appropriately titled, the final song of the album is Closer, and what a great closer it is! It is a pleasant ballad that once again highlights the main theme of the album and really brings things full circle. As I listen, it gives me time to reflect on how brilliant the album was. Every musician involved is playing at their top performance level, and there is originality and emotion pouring through every note. It isn’t very often that I feel this moved by an album (unless Neal Morse is coming out with a new album). I really have no other choice but to give this album a perfect score. I urge all prog fans to give this album a chance, you may be as moved as I am by it.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hourglass- Obvious to the Oblivious

Hourglass is a new band to me. They are based out of Orem, Utah, which happens to be the next city over from where I live in Provo. I discovered them on one of my favorite prog sites where there was a very positive review of this album. From there I went to Hourglass' website and listened to samples from their latest album and was blown away. I bought the CD from them immediately because of how impressed I was. When I recieved the CD in the mail a couple days later, I couldn't wait to listen to it! I put the CD on my ipod and started to play the music and...I wasn't all that impressed. I was really bummed out- had I made a huge mistake? Luckily, I decided to give the album another chance and was blown away by it all over again. How could I have been dissapointed with this album on first listen? This is definitely one of my favorite albums so far this year and is a strong contender for album of the year.

This album could be classified as Progressive Metal, but it is never too heavy. The heaviest track is easily the first one, On the Brink, that starts off Disc 1. This song really reminded me of The Glass Prison by Dream Theater, which is one of my all time favorite songs. It has a powerful riff, and the whole band plays fantastically- it is a perfect start to a great album. The singer, Michael Turner, sounds like Ted Leonard from Enchant, but also gets in some growling in the opening track. He hits this high note in the second half of the song that just blows me away every time- he is truly a great singer. What really impresses me about this band, though, is the amazing bass playing of Eric Blood. There are moments where the music stops and Eric Blood plays an awesome bass part by himself before the rest of the band come in. These are some of my favorite parts and show how funky and rocking he is as a bass player. Amazing stuff!

There is a lot of stuff on this album, so I think it would take too long to go through each song individually, so I'll just give some highlights. What is amazing to me is that this album spans two whole discs and there is not a boring or bad moment throughout the whole album. I love Pawn II, which seems like an instrumental until the soft, tasteful vocals come in about halfway through the song. There is some amazing playing going on in this song and it just blows me away every time. I love the closing epic on the first disc, called 38th Floor. It is over 20 minutes of highlights that move seamlessly from one piece to the next. Just so you know I'm not playing favorites, I really love the guitar playing of Brick Williams, it is truly outstanding.

I love the instrumental piece on the second disc, Delirium. It gives all players a chance to shine including the two band members I haven't mentioned yet, Jerry Stenquist on Keyboards and John Dunston on Drums. There is no weak link in this band, every member is fantastic! And, who can forget the awesome epic that closes the album? The title track, a thirty minute piece split into 5 parts, is incredibly done and showcases all the great styles that this band includes in its music. There are heavy bits, some great singing, more tasteful bass work, a beautiful ballad section, and a jazzy ending. It is the perfect ending to a great album as the band members jam together.

I love this album! The more I write about it, the more excited I get about it. It is an album that keeps growing on me and really makes me appreciate the complexity involved in progressive metal. I would give this album a perfect score, but there are some minor imperfections, mainly the sound quality of the album is not as crisp as I would like it to be. Also, I have a feeling Hourglass have even better albums to come, so I want to give them room to grow. Great work here and a strong contender for album of the year!

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blind Ego- Numb

I'm going to keep this review short because I'm not quite sure what to say about this album. Although labeled as prog, this album feels a lot more mainstream to me, almost veering into modern rock/AOR. Blind Ego is a side project of Karlheinz "Kalle" Wallner, who is the guitarist of a prog band called RPWL. He has assembled a sort of prog super group composing of such people as John Jowitt and John Mitchell, who initially sparked my interest in the album. However, after listening to this album several times, I find it hard to come to some conclusion about how I feel about the album.

To my ears, this feels like some kind of cross between Demians, Porcupine Tree, and perhaps IQ. The album has a very distinct feel that I actually enjoy. It has many great moments both heavy and light. I love the guitars on this album, there are definitely some great headbanging moments throughout this album. I do miss, however, any sign of keyboards throughout this album. I'm not sure if they are sparse or nonexistant, but the lack of them really lessens the impact that this album may have had on me. But, that being said, this album is an enjoyable listen- I have no urges to turn off the CD player as I listen to it. However, on the other side, it isn't a CD I would play often, I think it is largely forgettable. Enjoyable, yet not memorable is how I would describe it.

I hope this doesn't come off as sounding too harsh, because that is not my intention. I think the band members all play incredibly well on this album and there are many moments that are truly breathtaking. It is just that, after listening to it at least 5 times, nothing really sticks out to me. Most of my favorite albums have moments that I can immediately think of when I think about the album that stick out to me and make me excited to get to those moments. On Numb, I can't recall any particularly interesting moments until I actually go back and listen and think, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that part, it's pretty good!" I think the reason for this may be more because I just can't get into a certain vein of prog rock, usually classified as "Neo-prog". I like my prog symphonic and bombastic. There are a few artists within the "Neo-prog" category that do connect with me, but the large part doesn't move me. I stick this album in with ones by Demians, Marillion, Arena and Pendragon. I just don't "get" these artists. But, Numb is an enjoyable listen, and I don't regret buying it, I just don't see myself returning to it often. If you like the bands mentioned, go ahead and get it, you might just disagree with me.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, May 18, 2009

Be Patient, Proggers!

There haven't been that many updates here lately, and I'm sorry for that. The main problem is that there has been a bit of a dry spell for new releases for me. But, there are several that should be coming soon, so I should have a pretty consistent stream of new prog albums to review. I'm also going to try to make a better effort to keep my masterpieces of music series going consistently. So, don't lose hope! Reviews are coming, and I'm anticipating many great albums coming in the near future. It should be fun!

Thursday, April 16, 2009




TRANSATLANTIC, the progressive rock "supergroup" comprised of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Neal Morse (ex-Spock's Beard), have reunited after a 7 year hiatus to begin work on a brand new studio album.

The band began work on the album in early April in Nashville and are expected to have it released by year's end if all goes as planned.

TRANSATLANTIC have previously released two studio albums to tremendous critical and fan acclaim: 2000's SMPTe and 2001's Bridge Across Forever. The band toured on the heels of each release with an American Tour in 2000 and a European Tour in 2001 and released subsequent Live DVD's/CD's from both tours before going their separate ways for an indefinite hiatus which lasted almost the entire decade.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Masterpieces of Music: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

Dream Theater is one of my favorite bands. They were one of the first I discovered when I was looking into newer prog. I had already gotten a Spock's Beard album and a Flower Kings album, and it seemed from my research that the next logical step was to get a Dream Theater album. At the Best Buy, I couldn't help myself so I actually got two Dream Theater albums: Scenes From a Memory and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (their two newest albums at the time). I immediately became a fan when I listened to these two albums and still consider them to be the best two Dream Theater albums.

One of my favorite Dream Theater moments is their performance of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence on the Score DVD. They unveil a full orchestra who proceed to play the complete overture. It is brilliant and really shows how great of a composer Jordan Rudess is. The overture on the album is already brilliant, being mainly a keyboard piece, but the orchestral version really takes it to new heights. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is an epic song split in to 8 parts. It fills the entire second disc of the double album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. It really showcases all the things I love about Dream Theater, from the Proginess, the heaviness, and even some heartfelt, slower parts. It is truly a remarkable piece of work.

It opens with the Overture, which I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. The overture highlights the whole rest of the piece, giving you a preview of the brilliance to come. There are even some bits that sound like they are straight from Disneyland's "Fantasmic". It is very exciting and epic and gets the listener ready for the song. I love it. This leads into "About to Crash" where the actual song starts with some brilliant keyboard playnig from Jordan Rudess before the whole band kicks in to start this rocking section. It has a great groove to it due to Mike Portnoy's brilliant drumming. I don't how to describe it, but the song just makes me really happy due to its uplifting melody. It is so great. There is a great guitar solo near the end that really allows John Petrucci to shine, he is one of the greatest modern guitarists. This all leads tot he next part...

"War Inside My Head" is a heavy piece that really takes the mood in a different direction. While "About to Crash" is more fun, this is more metal. But, that is why I love this piece, each section has a different mood to it. Everybody is playing at the top of their game here, down to the impeccable druming, crunchy guitar riffs and pounding bass lines. I like the trade-off vocals between James LaBrie and Mike Portnoy during the chorus, it really illustrates the war inside the head. This leads to the next section, kicked off by some amazingly fast guitar and keyboard. The next section, "The Test That Stumped Them All" is even heavier than the previous song. It allows for James Labrie to add some growl to his vocals. I love the drumming in this piece, it is killer! There is also another amazing guitar solo followed by a great keyboard solo--a trademark Dream Theater solo-off.

Then, things slow down considerably for "Goodnight Kiss". It is like a beautiful lullaby with a fantastic keyboard solo and James LaBrie at his most tasteful vocally. Not to be outdone by Jordan Rudess, there is a heartmelting guitar solo from John Petrucci in this piece towards the end that is truly one of my favorite moments of the whole song. This leads to a very fun piece called "Solitary Shell" which starts with some light-hearted acoustic guitar playing complemented by some great proggy keyboards. This is a great section with a wonderful sing along chorus. There is also a great acoustic guitar solo in there which really gives this section almost a Morsian Latin flavor, followed by a great little solo bit by Jordan Rudess. They are always complimenting each others solo never giving the other a chance to upstage them.

This leads into the fantastic guitar-led opening of "About to Crash (Reprise)" which is an incredible section that obviously harks back to "About to Crash". The whole band is rocking on this piece and it is one of my favorite sections of the whole song. The end is a soaring instrumental section that is simply too awesome for words with everybody having their moment to shine- it is very classic progressive stuff, and I love it that way! What would an epic be without a grand finale? The last section is appropriately called "Losing Time/Grand Finale" and it definitely lives up to the title. I really can't describe the heavenly beauty of this closing section. James LaBrie gives what I consider his best vocal performance ever, and the band complements him in epic fashion.

I just love this song because it shows everything that Dream Theater is about. There are plenty of amazing solos from both Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci. There are heavy, rocking sections. There are light, more progressive section. There is a ballad. Everything about Dream Theater is summed up in this one song. I love Dream Theater and am thankful to them for providing me with so much great music over the years. I am very excited to see them live this year at Prog Nation. This song is a monument to the greatness that is Dream Theater. Hopefully, their new album contains a song (or more) that can top this one, but I have my doubts because of how brilliant this song is. Keep on rocking/proggin'!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Agents of Mercy- The Fading Ghosts of Twillight

I love this album! It is simply beautiful. It has grown on me through repeated listens, and now I really have a great appreciation for each song. First, a small background on the album, it is mainly the brainchild of one of my favorite prog musicians of all time: Roine Stolt. His signature sound is all over this album. Another notable feature of this album is the singing of Nad Sylvan. I'll admit, his voice took me a little getting used to, but once I did, it really enhanced the music. His voice is a cool cross between Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Fish- 3 of my favorite singers. He has a lot of character in his voice that really comes out in the compositions of this album.

The album is a little more laid back than your average prog album, but I love it that way. It gives the album a really cool mood that is consistent throughout. And, don't be misled, there are moments when it rocks hard. It is a brilliant combination of classic Genesis, Beatles, and the signature Flower Kings sound that comes with Roine Stolt's songwriting. It makes for a rather enjoyable listen that I just can't get enough of. It has stayed in the CD player in my car since it was released and has been a joy to listen to.

The title track kicks off this album with some tinkling piano and Nad's signature vocals. It is a brilliant piece that moves seamlessly. "Unwanted Brother" took a little more getting used to, but once I did, I found myself in love with this song. I love the "like a thief in the night" part and how the harmonies really fit together. It is just really fun, calm little song. "Afternoon Skies" is a delightful song strengthened by some strong acoustic guitar playing. It is really peaceful with wonderful vocals. Then comes one of my favorite songs of the whole album "Heroes and Beacons". It starts out softly before it builds into a powerhouse of a song. It is full on prog in all its glory at its best moments, with great mellotron and guitar playing from Roine. I do have to make a special note of the guitar solo from Roine Stolt towards the end of the song, it is beautful and tasteful. Just another reason why Roine Stolt is one of my favorite guitarists. I just find myself captivated by the song from start to finish. Another captivating song for me is the next one, "Jesus on the Barricades". It is a slow ballad, but it is emotionally powerful and features some excellent basswork from Roine's bandmate, Jonas Reingold. It is one of my favorite moments of the album and a strong contender for best song of the year.

What I like about "Wait For the Sun" is that we finally get to hear the wonderful vocals of Roine Stolt. I've always really liked his voice. "A Different Sun" is another delightful song with some big prog sounds and another wonderful guitar solo from Roine. "Ready to Fly" is another song with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. It is a wonderful acoustic piece that is really uplifting and fun. "People Like Us" is also a great song with a bouncy, fun melody. I must admit, it is probably the least memorable song on the album for me. This leads to my favorite song of the album "A Soldier's Tale" that has everything I love in prog rock. There are even some great horns in the mix that really enhance the whole song. It is a powerful song that is beautiful, rocks, and is extremely proggy, often all at the same time. I can't express how much I love this song. I love the lyrics too, about a soldier who feels guilty about killing in war and never gets rid of that guilt no matter how much he is forgiven by God. It is brilliant. "Bomb Inside Her Heart" is another fun, poppier tune that is really catchy with a lot of good acoustic guitar. This leads to the awesome conclusion of the album, "Mercy and Mercury". This song brings the album full circle with some brilliant rocking bits along with call backs to the title track. I really love this track and think it is the perfect ending to a wonderful album.

As you can tell, I'm having a difficult time really putting my feelings for this album into words. I really love the laid back mood of the album, a great soundtrack to spring and summer. There is a lot of great acoustic moments, which makes sense since Roine Stolt originally intended for this album to be an acoustic solo album. But, there are also a lot of great prog moments that really call back Genesis at their best. Nad Sylvan also has managed to really capture the mood of this piece with his vocals. This album gets a high rating merely for the joy it gives me and is a strong first contender for album of the year, although there are many great albums coming, so I'm not sure if it can hold that spot for long...

Rating: 9/10

Monday, March 2, 2009

Masterpieces of Music: The Great Nothing

I really don't have a profound experience to share that goes along with this song. I just remember picking up the album 'V' and being blown away by it, and feeling that "The Great Nothing" was the best part of the album. It is so unique, fun, and so typical of an amazing Spock's Beard song. It is all members of Spock's Beard playing at top notch and it sounds great. I guess a funny experience is that I was really excited for this song to play in the car as me and my friend Kevin took a trip to California for a Neal Morse concert. I had put together a collection of Neal Morse songs and this one came up and I started getting into it and was shocked to see that Kevin had fallen asleep! How could someone fall asleep to such a masterpiece? He woke up as soon as the next song started and I felt shaken about my placement of this as one of my favorite songs. But, I listened to it again on my own and realized that its position at the top of my favorite songs list was well deserved.

It opens with great majestic organ chords before the sublime acoustic melody that runs throughout the piece starts up and gets heavier with violin and electric guitar. There is beautiful acoustic guitar and piano running throughout the whole piece and it works wonderfully to create a great mood that was often achieved by Genesis in their greatest moments. I love the "One Note Timeless" theme, and that is the best way to describe this song- it is a timeless Spock's Beard classic.

Dave Meros is awesome on this song as well with some great chunky rhythms being played throughout the whole piece. Nick D'Virgilio is spot on with his drumming, which sounds fun and technically brilliant at the same time. One of my favorite parts is when the piano comes in with the haunting main melody right before the "Submerged" section. I love it so much.

The "Submerged" section on it own is incredibly fun. This section leads into "Missed Your Calling" which is another incredibly fun section that bounces along with a fun piano part. This section always puts a huge smile on my face even though the idea of missing your calling is not a particularly happy idea. This leads to an incredible Alan Morse guitar solo that really soars. Then Morse quiets things down by literally singing "quiet down". This leads to another of my favorite parts, where the main melody is played again on acoustic guitar as it was at the beginning. Which leads to a powerful cello version which sounds really cool, accompanied with some ultra-cool guitar licks and great drumming from Nick.
This is the best part of the song, where the whole band transcends the boundaries of music and play their hearts out. It is extremely fun, emotional, and awesome with some great fast keyboard bits thrown in for good measure. This is prog at its finest. Then Morse comes in with one of his most emotional singing moments, the climax where he repeats "One Note Timeless". This feels like a dramatic statement from the band about themselves. They came out of nothing, and literally had no buzz or following, but they have become truly great. And, I love the last line, "It plays on and on..." This statement to me makes me feel that Morse is saying that they will play on and on, even though they came from nothing.

This is why I love this song so much. It is a defining song for prog itself. Most of the world considers Prog as nothing and dismiss it, but those who really are dedicated to find good music recognize its greatness. Neal Morse came out of nothing to produce something truly great that will play on and on forever in the hearts of his fans, like mine. He and all of Spock's Beard are truly great and timeless and I will never be able to thank them enough for the great music they have produced that will play on in my very soul. This song is brilliant and captures my favorite band at their peak. Please listen and let this Greatness that came out of Nothing touch you as it has me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Source- Prickly Pear

The Source is a young progressive rock band based out of Los Angeles. Prickly Pear is their sophomore album and shows development within the band from their first release. I regard them and Moon Safari as great new, young, fresh progressive acts amongst a lot of older, more established bands. I feel that the vast majority of prog bands are a lot older and it is refreshing to see young people closer to my age be inspired by progressive rock and provide a more youthful perspective. That is one of the main things I love about The Source, their sound is very refreshing in what can sometimes feel like a stale genre. I am in no way dissing progressive rock because I love more established bands, but it is a nice change of pace to have such a young band.

This album was a difficult one to review. At first, I was not that impressed by it. There were bits and pieces that caught my attention, but as a whole I wasn't moved by it. But, on repeated listens, I've really grown to love this album and now consider it a considerable improvement on their debut album. This album is definitely a grower, and I recommend that you listen to it numerous times to give it a chance before you make your final verdict on it. In fact, I still feel it is too early for me to form a final opinion, and I feel that it will only keep getting better as I keep listening. This album has become truly addicting for me and I love it.

While I feel the star of their debut was keyboard player/singer Aaron Goldrich, I think the star here is guitar player Harrison Leonard. I am drawn in by his playing which sounds an awful lot like Steve Howe at times, and very jazzy at others. I also love some of the acoustic guitar work as well that pops up on a few tracks. By highlighting Leonard, I in no way am downplaying the other members of the band. I think the playing is top notch all across the board. So, that being said, I'm not sure what bothered me when I first listened to this album. I thought Goldrich's vocals were perhaps too whiny, but I am now quite impressed with his style and love certain vocal sections. I think my main problem with the album is that there doesn't seem to be as much heaviness as I usually like in my prog. I don't mean that they have to have heavy, fast Dream Theater like sections, I just felt that sometimes they get a little too light in their approach and I would like a little more bite.

But, that being said, I've come to appreciate the more "light prog" elements of their sound. I absolutely love the opening track, "Promised Land" and have loved it from the start. The opening reminds me of the opening of "Close to the Edge" by Yes. It is chaotic and beautiful at the same time. I also love the instrumental bits at the end that lead the listener on quite the musical journey. I was actually a little dissapointed when it started to fade away because I was ready to be taken to the next part of the musical journey. The two shorter tracks, "Star Dreamer" and "Thin Air" are both favorites of mine as well, especially "Thin Air". I love the jazziness of this track and the "ooh, la la las" that make this such a fun listen.

The two longer tracks have been the most difficult for me to get into. "Until Morning Time" is great, but once again it seems to drift along without getting to a really hard hitting place that I expected it too. "Castles in the Sky" I like a lot more, and I especially love the ending which for me resembles the ending of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" by the Beatles. This really is a great piece and I have grown to love it more and more with each listen.

So, my verdict on this album is that I have really grown to love it and my score for it has gone up and up as I've listened to it again and again. I still feel I have a ways to go to truly appreciate this record. At first I thought that the compositions sounded chaotic and messy, but I am starting to get how the compositions fit together and flow and it is making for a much more enjoyable listen. So, my conclusion is that this is a remarkable band who have created a great album of music. There are parts where I get a little bored, but for the most part I am fully entertained and even blown away by some parts. This comes highly recommended and is the first album of the year that I feel truly has a chance of making the big end of year countdown. I look forward to getting to know this record even more.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Masterpieces of Music: Monsters and Men

I have always loved The Flower Kings since I first heard their music. The last CD I bought before I went on my mission was "Adam and Eve" which I loved to death. It was one of the first albums I was excited to listen to when returning from my mission. So, I can't tell you how excited I was to recieve their new CD "Paradox Hotel" that had come out while I was on my mission. I had heard that it began with a great epic called "Monsters and Men" that all fans of classic Flower Kings would love it. So I listened expecting "love at first listen". Instead, I was baffled because the song didn't connect with me at all. I was dissapointed with myself, and tried to listen to it a few more times before I decided that there was finally a Flower Kings epic I didn't like.

Then, I was walking one day to BYU campus, and I had my ipod on shuffle as usual and this song came up. I almost skipped it, but then decided to let it play, and I was completely blown away! The emotional power of this song gripped me and I was almost in tears as I walked on campus that day. The song was touching me so deeply that I took a longer route to get to class so that I would be able to listen to the whole song. I couldn't believe that this song had never connected with me before. But, now, the song is one of my favorites of all time and my favorite Flower Kings song by far. I also must confess something- unless it is Neal Morse, I don't pay much attention to lyrics, so I'm not completely sure what the song is about lyrically. But, I know that the Flower Kings are all about optimism and hope and those qualities shine through the music. I love this song for the way it makes me feel as I listen and for the smile it puts on my face.

From the soft, serene piano opening, you know you are in for a treat. Then, Roine Stolt's guitar comes in for its heavenly melody before Hasse's voice comes in, starting the song in full force. I love the guitar lick at the first break from the singing, one of my favorites of all time. Then, Tomas Bodin comes back in with the great calm piano medley from the beginning of the song that leads back into the guitar lick I love being played mainly by Roine Stolt. It is hard to put into words the great feelings that wash over me as I listen to this melody as Roine Stolt and Tomas Bodin trade off in their virtuosic solos. It is Flower Kings perfection to the highest degree. It gives a distinct feeling that this song is not of this world, which is really a theme of the whole album in general.

Tomas Bodin plays more great piano, before Roine Stolt comes in with his voice to sing the next section. I really love his voice- it is so unique and fits the Flower Kings music like a glove. Roine Stolt compliments this section with some great guitar work. I am so impressed with how Roine and Tomas shine instrumentally throughout the whole piece. They really work well together and many of the solos in this song contain them playing simultaneously. There is a funny little section with a bouncy keyboard melody from Tomas interrupted by some mischevious laughter. It is a fun little section that ends with some great Organ work from Tomas. Once again, this leads right into another perfect Stolt solo that really rocks. I also love the drumming here, it really provides a great backdrop for Stolt and Bodin to shine.

Then we get into a heartfelt section led by Hasse's great clean voice. It is very reminiscent of Yes, especially the song Close to the Edge. There are some great harmonies that really lift this section. It is stunningly beautiful. This section moves along seamlessly with some more great piano playing from Tomas- I love the melody he plays here, it is so majestic. Then, things slow down even more for an emotionally heartwrenching guitar solo from Roine. I am so impressed with how he is able to just produce these amazing guitar solos in every project he is involved in. It is really amazing and makes him one of my favorite guitarists of all time. It really soars here before going back into one of the main melodies in the piece for a grand finale of epic proportions. It is truly one of the best examples of Roine Stolt's talent at the guitar. Then, the song fades away and the listener is left to ponder its brilliance.

I truly love this piece of art. Although I may not completely understand the lyrics, I feel the power in the music. The Flower Kings are masters at creating a mood in their music and I feel the majesty and positivity that this piece displays. I truly love it and feel it is the perfect representation of what the Flower Kings are all about. Truly brilliant!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Masterpieces of Music: The Door

It was a day in early 2007 and I was anxiously sitting at my computer downloading a radio program that was going to play two whole tracks from the upcoming Neal Morse album, Sola Scriptura. This was the first new Neal Morse CD to come out after my mission, and I was dying of anticipation to listen to it. The radio program finally downloaded and I pressed play and fast forwarded through some chit chat from the radio DJ. Then, I started with the first track of the album, "The Door" and was completely blown away. It was 30 minutes of pure elation- every thing I love about prog is included in this one track. Neal Morse is a true genius and this is my favorite of his solo albums, and my favorite song on that favorite solo album. It holds a special place in my heart.

Sola Scriptura talks about the story of Martin Luther and the evil that he observed in the church during that time. In this track, we go back and forth between the evil practices of the church and Martin Luther's own conversion to the truth and his obligation to share that truth with the world. The introduction is the first part of the song, and it is a musical powerhouse. Neal starts right off with an insanely fast keyboard riff that develops into a full hard prog opening that blows my mind. All three of them (Morse, Portnoy and George) are going at full speed and it is breathtaking.

This section flows right into "In The Name of God" where we get our first look at the evil doctrines of the church at this time. Neal is very bold in this section and throughout the whole album and he doesn't hide anything. Lyrics like "Calls himself the Bishop-Prince and blood's his favorite wine" and "We'll take the Roman Gods except the names will all be changed" are particularly biting. This section also involves one of my favorite chorus's where Neal exclaims "In the Name of God you must die!" I also love the punchy keyboard bits towards the end of this section.

This heads right into the next section which contains one of Neal's best chorus's to date, "All I Ask For". This is our first glimpse at Martin Luther and his desire to be with God and live the life that God wants him to live. This shows Martin's faith, which provides a foundation for the rest of the album. I love the beauty of this section with the acoustic guitar and sublime harmonies. It is great at showing God's love and Martin Luther's sincerity in the gospel. It ends with what I consider the "God's Theme" of this album, which is repeated during different sections of the album to show that God is with Martin Luther in his quest. This is a wonderful melody that really connects to me emotionally.

Then, we are thrown right back into the heavy section that preceded "All I Ask For" with the same great punchiness. Then we get more biting lyrics in "Mercy For Sale" which is a fun section musically. This section once again shows the evils of the church and how they are trying to sell the gospel. There are some great vocal harmonies here similar to Gentle Giant. This leads to a bouncy section that always reminds me of Kansas. There is also a great guitar solo in the midst of this bouncy fun.

This leads to the next section, "Keep Silent" which starts with a great groove and goes into a more gospel oriented section. This section talks about how Martin Luther has to share the truth that he has found in the gospel. He can't just keep this truth to himself, he has a calling to bring this truth to the world, even though it might bring persecution from the church. I love the laid back feel to this section and there are some great guitar licks. It is really a cool section.

This finally leads to the finale of the song, "Upon the Door". This starts with a slow buildup with some beautiful strings carrying the melody. Things then get really quiet and there are some keyboard chords that closely resemble "Watcher of the Skies" by Genesis. Then, Neal's voice comes in and he sings alongside his piano. This is the moment where Martin Luther put the 95 theses, which show all the problems with the church at the time, on the door. It is a big moment of Martin Luther's life, and it is beautifully captured here. Then, there is the best guitar solo I have ever heard by guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert. I cannot describe how wonderful this guitar solo is- it manages to be emotionally beautiful and technically brilliant all at the same time. It gets to me every time. Then, this song is brought to a close with the words, "I will write my words upon the door."

It is an amazing piece of art that is technically brillant and emotionally poignant. It has some of the fastest, heaviest riffs I've ever heard Neal play, but also with the most emotionally charged lyrics I've ever heard. It is a great balance that showcases the contrast between the evils of the church and the righteousness of Martin's divine calling. This is prog at its finest and I never get tired of listening to this masterpiece.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Masterpieces of Music: Stranger In Your Soul

This is the first entry of my "Masterpieces of Music" series. "Masterpieces of Music" is a series in which I highlight songs that I consider to be masterpieces. I will talk about what makes the song so special to me. I figured the best way to kick this series off is to talk about my favorite song of all time "Stranger In Your Soul".

Transatlantic is a magical band made up of several of my favorite musicians. First of all there is Neal Morse, my favorite song-writer/musician of all time- I think he is a musical genius. His music will be featured frequently in the "Masterpieces of Music". He is the main composer of this epic and his signature sound is all over it. Taking over the drum chair is Mike Portnoy, one of the most virtuosic drummers around today. Then there is Roine Stolt, who is at the head of another one of my favorite bands (The Flower Kings), taking over the guitar duties. He adds a unique spice to every project he is a part of. Finally there is Pete Trewavas who does a masterful job at playing the bass- truly one of the great bass players in the modern prog scene today. These four huge players in the prog scene came together for two incredible albums and, to me, the song "Stranger In Your Soul" is the peak (and unfortunately the end) of their amazing run.

One of my earliest memories of this song is when I was walking to High School one morning. I always would carry my discman with me and listen to a favorite CD during my walk to school. This particularly day the CD of choice was "Bridge Across Forever" and I was on the song "Stranger In Your Soul". It was a rainy day, and I didn't have a rain jacket or umbrella, but for some reason I was in absolute heaven listening to this sublime piece of art. The rain pounding on my head was like the drums pounding throughout the song and I was in a musical trance that I really hadn't experienced to this degree before. One of my friends moms pulled up to me and offered me a ride to school and I turned her down because I couldn't stand the thought of having to turn off this epic song that was giving me so much enjoyment. So, I continued walking in the pouring rain getting drenched, but feeling the music pulse through me stronger than ever.

Another reason I love this song so much was that it signified the day that I knew I had truly converted my best friend to Prog. He told me about how he was so in love with this song that he had to listen to it 4 times in a row (quite an undertaking for a 30 minute epic). I was impressed and ecstatic that his favorite song was mine as well and that we could share this new bond to strengthen our friendship. I also chose this song to be the final one I listened to before my mission. I was depressed because I wasn't going to be able to listen to my music for 2 whole years! But, as I listened to this song on the car ride to the MTC, tears of joy ran down my face. It was the perfect symbol for what I was going through at the time and continue to go through daily.

To me, this song is a metaphor for life and what we as humans go through in our lifetime. We are born as strangers and we spend our life trying to figure out who we are. We try to figure this out by looking into our past and grasping onto things that aren't of any worth. This search to find our true selves is what drives us and can ultimately lead us to awaken that stranger in our soul, to find out who we truly are and what our potential is. There is a lot of bad stuff happening in the world outside, but we can always find comfort in knowing who we truly are and what we can become. This is what life is all about, finding out who we really are- awakening the stranger in your soul. It is beautiful.

And, of course, the music behind all of these meaningful lyrics is incredible for the whole 26 minutes or so that makes up this masterpiece. It begins with the great string melody that begins the album on Duel With The Devil. Then you hear Mike's drums in a very unique rhythm before Neal comes in with the keyboards. It is an awesome buildup that creates excitement for what is to come. The first section, "Sleeping Wide Awake" introduces the main themes and is a beautiful piece that leads right into the hard rocking "Hanging In The Balance" where the 4 members get to trade off vocal lines in a very unique fashion. This technique really displays the confusion that can come from trying to find out who you really are.

Part 3, "Lost and Found Pt. 2", brings back an older theme on the album from "Suite Charlotte Pike" and is a lot of fun. It is a great way to convey the desire of trying to become found when you feel lost. Then, things slow down considerably for "Awakening the Stranger" which is pretty much just Neal playing beautiful keyboards and singing passionately. This passage describes the beginnings of the Awakening process and it is beautifully done. But, its not over yet, because this leads back into another rocking section called "Slide" which is one of the more fun bits in the song. All musicians are playing top notch here and the lyrics describe getting rid of all the doubt and fears and truly coming into your awakening process for your soul. Then comes the ultimate climax that is the most grandiose, beautiful ending for an album/song ever. This is a huge chill inducing moment as the first part of the song is repeated, but the lyrics are changed ever so slightly to have the complete opposite meaning from the beginning. No longer is the individual lost and a stranger to he has found himself and awakened that stranger in his soul. He can rise up to his potential and do that which he was meant to do! This is brilliant and gets me emotionally everytime I listen to it.

This song is a true masterpiece and I can't imagine any song ever surpassing it. It is the perfect description of everything I love about music and about life in general. If you haven't heard it, you are severely missing out on a life changing experience.

(Quick Note: This entry is quite a bit longer than what most entries in this section will be- I got a little bit carried away.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Umphrey's McGee- Mantis

This is my first album review of the year, and I am pleased to say that it is a good album. Umphrey's McGee is a jam band out of Chicago that has had increasingly progressive rock leanings throughout their history. I listened to their album "Safety In Numbers" a while ago, and was not overly impressed. There were some cool things on there, but overall I found it to be quite forgettable. So, I had my doubts about this album, but I have to say that it is a vast improvement over "Safety In Numbers" for me.

The album begins with "Made To Measure" which is a fun, bouncy Beatles-esque track. I really love this song and find it to be one of the more fun on the album. It is a great start for what is to come. The short "Preamble" sets the stage for the big epic of the album, "Mantis". I love so many things about this song. I love the piano line at the beginning that is a little haunting, and then it launches into a great lead guitar that gives the theme of the whole piece. This song moves from one section to another without stopping for the listener to take a breath. There are times when I felt the song maybe went on a little long, but there is so much great stuff included, that I can forgive this minor complaint. There is also some great string parts, particularly at the end. Great stuff!

"Cemetery Walk" is my personal favorite song of the album. I love the feeling the eerie piano gives at the beginning. This album, after the first song, seems to have a slightly darker mood to it. It is such a fun song with a great groove to it that is perhaps reminiscent of Steely Dan. It is very jazzy and funky and irresistably fun to listen to. I recommend it strongly! The band obviously felt the same way about the song because they immediately follow it up with "Cemetery Walk II" where they take the same great medley and turn it into an electronica dance song. It is very strange, and perhaps a little unnecesary.

"Turn and Run" is another favorite track of mine. It starts of with great acoustic guitar that provides a foundation for the rest of the song. The best part of the whole song, though, is the amazing guitar solo at the end. This is perhaps the most amazing display of guitar skills I've ever heard- it is just perfect. It would be a lot of fun to see live. "Spires" is another fun song. I felt an almost ELO vibe on this song. It is heavy in the first part, but then gets a lot more spacey towards the end. I love the vocal harmonies at the end, very cool stuff.

This is where the album kind of takes a turn for the worse. I really don't care for "Prophecy Now" which feels almost like filler to me. It is a droning piece with a lackluster vocal that follows the piano melody exactly. "Red Tape" is a little better, but it is particularly forgettable to me. But there are some cool horns on it and a great synth solo. I just don't feel it quite matches the quality of the better stuff on the disc. Thankfully, Umphrey's manages to get back on track right before the album ends. The album closer, "1348" is a great track that has some great guitar lines that are really rocking. It is a great finish to a really remarkable album.

So, in conclusion, despite my reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. I feel Umphrey's are coming out of their shell and developing into a full fledged prog rock band. When this album is at its best, it can contend with the best stuff in the progressive music scene today. I love the solos, which still remind us that this is a jam band at heart. So, I feel this is a potential contender to be on my top ten list at the end of the year. It is definitely a grower, and I love it more and more with each listen. I was going to give it a score of 7 originally, but after repeated listening, I had to raise that up a little. Great job, guys! Keep improving and you may end up as one of my favorite bands!

Score: 8/10

Friday, January 30, 2009

Out of the Depths of the Sea...

This is my progressive rock review blog! I will review all of the latest prog rock CDs (and other CDs) that I acquire and will give my opinion of it and my score based on a 1-10 scale. If there is a dry spell where I don't get many new CDs for a while, I will give what I call a "Spotlight Review" where I will showcase an album from my collection that I consider fantastic and an essential album for all prog fans.

I will give a listen to an album at least 3 times before I give my opinion of it on this blog. At the end of the year, I hope to look back through this blog in order to determine the best albums of the year. Just to give you an idea of my music taste here are my top ten albums of last year:

10. The Garden- Unitopia
9. The Bedlam In Goliath- The Mars Volta
8. Not As Good As The Book- The Tangent
7. Who's The Boss In The Factory?- Karmakanic
6. Watershed- Opeth
5. The Tall Ships- It Bites
4. 01011001- Ayreon
3. Blomljud- Moon Safari
2. Experiments In Mass Appeal- Frost*
1. Lifeline- Neal Morse

Some of these albums may even be featured in one of my "Spotlight Reviews". I also may do many other things that I'm considering (such as showcasing favorite songs or having random countdown lists), but they will always relate to music- mostly progressive rock. Music, specifically prog rock, is a huge passion of mine, and I'm excited to share my excitement for this music with everybody. Prog rock did not die in the seventies, it is alive and well right here and now. So, come and ride the Leviathan- it is going to be exciting (and a little dangerous, mua ha ha!).