Monday, May 30, 2011

Sorry For The Long Absence!

I haven't written in this blog for a long time, and I feel very bad about it. It has been a crazy month. But, I plan to start back up in writing regularly in this blog. I have many prog albums to review from this year. Soon there should be reviews of Beardfish's Mammoth, Pendragon's Passion, Wobbler's Rites At Dawn, and Neal Morse's Testimony 2 among many others. I also plan to give a detailed review of the Neal Morse concert I attended this past weekend, which ended up being one of the musical highlights in my life this far. I can't wait to share all of this with all of you. I hope you haven't given up on checking out this blog. I promise to have many things in the upcoming weeks for all you prog fans to enjoy. Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon with a new entry!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

First Quarter Report

So, the first quarter of 2011 is over, and I thought I would give my general impressions about new music I discovered over the course of the last three months. The best album by far of the first quarter for me is "Snowtorch" by Phideaux. Fresh off the heals of two incredible albums ("Doomsday Afternoon" and "Number Seven"), Phideaux has managed to release his third masterpiece in a row. I love everything about "Snowtorch" and am forever grateful to Phideaux for allowing me to hear it early. It hearkens back to the classic prog days with some vintage sounds, influences and even the album length. But, Phideaux put their unique stamp on it and create a piece of music that is both fun and heartfelt.

Another big album to be released this quarter is "Mammoth" by Beardfish. I feel that "Mammoth" is a return to form from one of my favorite bands. "Destined Solitaire" definitely has its moments, but as an album, I felt it was a little disjointed. Some moments just didn't work for me. "Mammoth" on the other hand is a complete beast of a record and is full of highlights. The epic "And The Stone Said: If I Could Speak" is worth purchasing the album. The band at times takes a harder edge, but never looses that special eclectic proginess that I love from them. A full review of "Mammoth" should be coming soon (hopefully this weekend).

The biggest surprise of the first quarter is by far "Voice" by Hiromi. I usually stick to prog, but "Voice" is a full on Jazz album and I just love it. It is completely instrumental, sticking to the trio of piano, bass and drums. Hiromi is an incredible jazz pianist who just blows me away whenever I hear her playing. She has to be one of the best piano players in the world. I love all the various moods that can be felt throughout this album. A review should come shortly for this album as well. Another album I thoroughly enjoyed was "The Suffering Joy" by Magic Pie. I will admit that I'm not as excited about it now as when it first came out, but it is still a satisfying slice of symphonic prog and definitely the best album the band has released this far in their career.

Beyond those albums, I've fallen for the beautiful simplicity of "The King Is Dead" by The Decemberists. By no means a prog album, I would actually place it somewhere between country and folk. I haven't listened to it much, but I've really been digging "The Perils of Time Travel" by Thank You Scientist. It is only a 30 minute EP, but it showcases a very modern sounding band with some unique flavors. I especially love the saxophone they use in their music. They sound like some crazy mix between the band 3 and Dave Matthews Band.

Other albums that are good, but haven't really grabbed me the same way as the others are "XXV" by Pallas. It has moments of greatness, but there are moments where the music drags, making it a little difficult to get through. "Welcome To My DNA" by Blackfield is pleasant enough, but lacks the specialness of the first two albums. Maybe I'll find more to love as I listen more.

So, to summarize, here is my top ten releases of the first quarter of 2011:
10. The Collective- Scale The Summit
9. Invisible Places- Presto Ballet
8. Welcome To My DNA- Blackfield
7. XXV- Pallas
6. The Perils of Time Travel- Thank You Scientist
5. The Suffering Joy- Magic Pie
4. The King Is Dead- The Decemberists
3. Voice- Hiromi
2. Mammoth- Beardfish
1. Snowtorch- Phideaux

There is a lot to look forward to in the second quarter. There should be releases from Pendragon, Mars Hollow, Neal Morse, The Dear Hunter, Symphony X and Karmakanic, among others. It should be good!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hall Of Fame: The Tall Ships by It Bites

It Bites is what could be called a progressive pop band, and boy are they good at what they do. This is my first and only It Bites record, and I think it is brilliant from beginning to finish. I love this record from the opening harmonies of "Oh My God" to the big grandiose finale of "This is England". I purchased this album after hearing many good things about it from sources that I consider reputable and heard a sample of "Oh My God" that made me smile in delight as I listened. When the CD arrived, I immediately put it in my car, and it stayed in my car CD player for at least a month solid. At first I was only sold on a few songs and considered certain songs to be mediocre, but after repeated listenings, I found those songs to be highly enjoyable and to have great catchy hooks. Very impressive work!

The star of this album for me is John Mitchell who seems to be in every new prog rock project these days. He lends his voice and guitar skills to this, his first It Bites album. His voice fits the music perfectly and the guitar is tasteful and downright brilliant in spots. The truly progressive rock moments are fairly sparse throughout the album, but when they appear, they are refreshing and not overblown. The main progressive tracks are the opener, "Oh My God" which has beautiful vocal harmonies, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" which goes into a very impressive progressive instrumental section, and the 13 minute epic, "This is England" which moves through several different movements before landing on its bombastic finale. The songs in between are all catchy and fun and are a pleasure to listen to over and over again.

"The Tall Ships" is very consistent and I love the sound that the band creates. I highly recommend this album to any music fan, especially one who enjoys a good amount of pop hooks as well as some progressive elements thrown in. All in all a very enjoyable listen and an album I keep coming back to.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Tangent- Going Off On Two (CD/DVD)

One of my favorite bands, The Tangent, is releasing a live DVD/CD called "Going Off On Two." It should be released in mid April, but it can be pre-ordered now at

I have included the trailer to this DVD below. It looks and sounds fantastic. It is very interesting to release a live performance of the band in the studio with no audience. Also included on the live set is a performance of "The Mind's Eye" from their upcoming album "COMM" which will hopefully be out in September of this year. Based on this short clip, it very well may be a contender for album of the year (although it is going to have some stiff competition).

So, for your enjoyment, here is the video:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hall Of Fame: The Whirlwind by Transatlantic

Some excerpts from a review I wrote on this album:

“The Whirlwind” is a masterful concept album from the minds of Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy. When I first heard that Transatlantic was reuniting for another album, I was ecstatic. “Bridge Across Forever” is my favorite album of all time, and when I discovered that Transatlantic essentially broke up after this masterpiece, I was crushed. I figured that I would never hear new Transatlantic material. Thankfully, I was wrong, and not only did Transatlantic meet my high expectations, they exceeded them. “The Whirlwind” is a beautiful album that captures for me four talented artists at the peak of their creativity and ability.

Pete Trewavas really impresses me with his bass work on this album, it is consistently amazing throughout the album. Roine Stolt has some amazing guitar solos peppered throughout the album (some of the best in my opinion come in the middle of “The Wind Blew Them All Away” and “Out of the Night”). Mike Portnoy is amazing on drums as usual and I always love Neal and he continues to shine on this album by bringing a high level of emotion and passion to everything he does. I absolutely love the Overture that starts the album. It is a masterful way to include all the main themes that will be explored throughout the album in such a way to build excitement in the listener. Other favorite moments include the heartfelt "Rose Colored Glasses" and the last half of “Is It Really Happening?” where the music gets faster and faster and all members of the band play at breakneck speed.

I love the creativity that abounds when these four individuals get together to create music and I hope to hear a lot more from them in the future. There is a sense of fun in this record that is infectious and that is part of what I love about what Transatlantic brings to the table. They can be goofy and fun in one moment and heartfelt and passionate the next. They truly have a love of the progressive rock of the seventies and that shines throughout the album as well. This album is most definitely a masterpiece and I expected nothing less from the creative forces at work behind it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hall Of Fame: Close To The Edge by Yes

I have decided, after much thought, that I am going to create a Hall of Fame on this blog. The tab for said Hall of Fame is located at the top of this blog and is called "The Leviathan Hall Of Fame." The Hall Of Fame will contain songs or albums that I consider to be classic. You can call them strong recommendations or just a list of my favorites, but I thought it would be fun to put them in a hall of fame to honor the music that has touched me so deeply throughout my life. The hope is that The Hall of Fame will become a huge list of what I consider the best in music. Then, the viewers of this blog can conveniently go there in order to find some very strong recommendations about which music to pursue. Of course, in the beginning, the list might seem sparse, but I'm hoping over time it will grow and become quite substantial. Also, there is not really any limitations to what I can include there. I will try to stick to music that I consider progressive, though, so as to keep some consistency.

So, for my first entry into the Hall of Fame, I figure that a good choice would be the prog classic, "Close To The Edge" by Yes. For the purposes of this entry, I am referring only to the song, not the entire album (although later I may decide to induct the entire album). "Close To The Edge" was one of the first progressive rock epics I was introduced to when I was first getting into prog music. I was pretty much blown away by it on first listen. My dad was the one to share it with me, and he warned me that it was really weird, especially the beginning. But, I really connected with it right away, and I feel that "Close To The Edge" is one of the biggest reasons why I am a huge prog fan today.

The epic is introduced by sounds of nature, taking you into an alternate world. I feel the best music is able to transport you to another world, and Yes has a unique talent to do just that. The music is then quite chaotic with mainly a crazy drumbeat, noodling guitar, tinkling keyboards and thumping bass, interrupted occasionally by Jon Anderson's spacey vocals. Then, the chaos subsides, the guitar plays the main melody of the song and things get underway. What really sticks out to me here is Chris Squire's bass playing. Before listening to progressive music, I often was unable to recognize the bass in rock music. But, here, it is unmistakable due to Chris Squire's distinct tone and groove. Now, the bass is one of my favorite instruments to listen for.

About eight and a half minutes in, the upbeat music stops, and what is left behind is a dreamy atmospheric section that is truly heavenly. Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Steve Howe sing some wonderful harmonies that truly bring tears to my eyes. Then, Rick Wakeman comes in with a powerful organ solo that is mind-blowing. It is truly one of the highlights in progressive rock for me. Then, the band kicks back in with the killer main melody of the beginning before it fades out with the same sounds of nature that began the epic, bringing everything full circle. It is truly musical perfection. I wish I had the ability to describe the true euphoria that I feel when listening to this epic. It transports me to another world, and makes me feel true happiness.

Here is the epic split up into two youtube videos. Please have a listen and hopefully you'll be transported to another world like I am.

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Prog Band On Late Night TV?

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a prog band was featured on a late night talk show in the US. The talk show is The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which is one of my favorite talk shows on TV right now. On Monday, March 14th, they had '70s English Prog band, Stackridge, perform on the show. Craig introduced them as a band that his brother called "The New Genesis." This is a band that I'm not too familiar with, but apparently they reformed in 1999. The song they performed on the show was "The Last Plimsoll" from their 1974 album, "The Man In The Bowler Hat (AKA Pinafore Days)." To my ears, this track sounds very inspired by Sgt. Peppers era Beatles, which is a good thing in my book. It is really cool to hear a proggy band on a talk show, so I thought I had to share. Here is the video:

I hope you enjoyed that! I might pick up some Stackridge based on that, they sound really good. Hopefully this will lead to more progressive music on TV!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Artist Spotlight: The Reign Of Kindo

I thought it might be a fun idea to spotlight some of my favorite musical artists when there aren't many new albums to review. So, the first band I thought I would spotlight is a new band I have been obsessed with over the past few months, namely, The Reign of Kindo.

I think part of my obsession comes from the fact that this is a band that is very different from what I typically listen to. They are not really progressive rock in the sense that I'm used to. Sure, there are some progressive elements in their sound, but mostly they are an indie jazz rock group. Of course, musical labels aren't too important, what matters is the music and how it connects to the listener. For me, The Reign of Kindo create a unique blend of sumptuous melody, jaw-dropping musicality, and heartfelt emotion. The passion for music oozes out of each of the musicians in this band and I find myself totally captivated by the music they create.

I thought it would be fun to go through their relatively short career so far and showcase some incredible youtube videos of them performing songs throughout their discography. The hope is that you will watch the videos and perhaps become enchanted like I was by the music.

First, they released their self-titled EP which contains 24 minutes of beauty that really showcased their sound right from the start. The six tracks on this EP really show this groups penchant for tight musicianship and melody. Here is one of the tracks from that record called "Needle and Thread":

I love all the musicians involved, from the extremely tight drummer, to the incredibly smooth vocals. Just because it is so awesome, I have to include another song from their EP. My personal favorite, "Just Wait":

It is just too cool for words, and I struggle to really capture how I feel about this music in writing. It just grooves so magnificently and the piano playing is sublime. It is refreshing to hear a rather young group of musicians playing music that is technical and led by piano. I love it.

Their next album is "Rhythm, Chord & Melody" which is a true masterpiece to me. Everything just works perfectly here. They took everything that worked from their EP and expanded upon it. The title track itself, which is a pleasant instrumental, is just true genius. I love the controlled chaos of this group as they get into their more frantic moments. But, at its heart, there is just a certain groove that is infectious. Here is a video of the last song of that album, "Hold Out":

Their most recent album is "This Is What Happens" from last year. This is my favorite work of theirs, and since I already called their previous album a masterpiece, that is high praise. Every track on this album is brilliant and has a really transcendent quality about it. All the trademarks of their sound are still here: the super smooth vocals, the sublime jazzy piano, the jaw-dropping rhythm section and grooving guitar work. I am blown away by this band and the sounds they are able to create. Have a listen to the somewhat chaotic but beautiful track from this album called, "Bullets In The Air":

I just can't get enough of this band and their sound. There is just something about it that brings tears to my eyes every time. At times it is fun and others it is heart-breakingly beautiful. I only hope they continue to release music of this high level of excellence. I am going to end this spotlight with one of my all time favorite tracks of theirs called "Flowers By The Moon". It is hauntingly beautiful, with some wonderful violin work.

I hope this hasn't been too long and perhaps has introduced a few people to an incredible band that deserves some attention. I can't wait for what this band comes up with next! It is exciting!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Album Review: Phideaux- Snowtorch

Phideaux is a band very close to my heart. Fronted by multi-instrumentalist/musical genius, Phideaux Xavier, they have crafted some of the greatest progressive rock of the modern era. In particular, I find Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven to be masterpieces of progressive music that have a very important place in my music collection. So, I was thrilled to be amongst the first people to hear the newest Phideaux release, entitled Snowtorch. The man himself, Phideaux Xavier, sent out early copies of his album to several close friends, fans and reviewers, and I was privileged to be amongst this group. Along with the copy of the album, Phideaux wrote a note that said that this version of the album is about 99% finished, so there might be a few differences between this and the finalized product that comes out in just a couple weeks. So, just keep that in mind as you read this review.

I am pleased to say that Snowtorch is a monster of an album. It hits all the right chords for me musically, and I place it amongst his trilogy of excellence along with Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven. All the trademarks of the Phideaux sound are present here: the great vocal combination of Phideaux's unique tone along with the gorgeous female vocals, the beautiful piano melodies, the acoustic guitar passages, a very strong influence from the early prog pioneers but with a modern edge, the quirky yet highly intelligent lyrics, weaving through several different musical passages with ease, and the list goes on and on. It is all here, and all done to perfection.

Just take the first track, the epic "Snowtorch (Part One)" that is almost 20 minutes long and features just about everything I love about Phideaux. It starts off rather slowly, but builds up in intensity throughout the track in a magnificent fashion. The whole band is playing fantastically with one another. I certainly love the instrumental section about six and a half minutes in that seems to nod in the direction of Gentle Giant with some great vintage keyboard sounds and guitar playing. Then there is a great section where wind instruments get the chance to shine amongst the symphonic mix. What follows are some truly majestic sections with a great keyboard melody at the forefront. Then comes a Beatles' inspired section that includes some clever lyrics sung by Mr. Phideaux himself.

But, at about the 13 minute mark, my favorite section of the album (and perhaps all of Phideaux's catalog) begins with a wonderful piano medley accompanied by violin and some great vocalizations. The piano begins playing a majestic melody, perhaps in the style of Neal Morse, that really brings to mind the wonder of being out in the middle of space. Then the piano morphs into a quirky, quick section that brings to mind ELP at their most technically furious. This instrumental section is phenomenal and builds fantastically towards an almost funky section that even includes saxophone. The keyboards, violin and saxophone along a solid drum and bass backdrop really make this a magical piece of music. I just could not keep the smile of pure joy off my face when I first heard this section. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Things slow down considerably for "Helix", which could perhaps be considered the ballad of the album. Truly it is a little breather between the two epic parts of Snowtorch that bookend it. The best part about this track to me is the feel that it conveys. I feel as I'm listening to it as if I am floating through space listening to the beautiful female vocals and beautiful violin, keyboard and guitar that surrounds those vocals. I almost get a dreamy Yes vibe from this track. Part Two of Snowtorch begins with an interesting instrumental section that really features the acoustic guitar. It is a great way to build-up into the second half of the album, with a wonderfully quirky stop-and-start style rhythm.

After a bit of a fade out from that section, the acoustic guitar remains a major presence into the next instrumental section which starts slowly, but then kicks in with some intense keyboards and fast drumming. What I love about this whole opening section is that it is really a fantastic introduction into the second half of the record, before themes from part one are re-introduced. I love when the familiar keyboard line from part one comes out from the somewhat chaotic instrumental section, taking us back into familiar Snowtorch territory. For some reason, this whole second part (and perhaps the album as a whole) really brings to mind "A Passion Play" from Jethro Tull--an album that I truly love.

The album concludes in spectacular fashion, bringing back the themes from the first part of the album. There is even a little epilogue of a track that is a lot of fun and ends the album on an upbeat note, leaving the listener wanting more. And, with that, the only criticism I can give towards this album is that it feels a little short. But, perhaps at the same time that is one of its greatest strengths. It is very compact, devoid of any weak spots, and leaves the listener wanting more. A piece of music should never be extended just to fill the length of a CD, and Phideaux seems to have a good sense of how long this piece should be. There is not a wasted moment--every second of this album is top-notch.

I feel that Phideaux has very much succeeded in creating a modern progressive masterpiece with Snowtorch. I find myself debating if I prefer it or Doomsday Afternoon as my favorite Phideaux album. They are both incredible in their own way. I love how Phideaux manages to pay homage to the progressive rock artists that influence him (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, etc.) but crafts a sound all his own that is unique to him. When I hear Phideaux, I instantly recognize it, and that to me is a quality only the best bands possess. I love the playing on this album and I love the spacey feel that fits perfectly with the unique lyrics. Phideaux has created something truly special here and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. It is exciting when a band is at their creative peak and continues to put out high quality music year after year. I recommend this album to all. Those who already love Phideaux, will love this album, and I imagine those that don't could become new converts to the world of Phideaux. I strongly suggest you give it a chance. A perfect album.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Concert Review: Yellow Matter Custard In Long Beach

I was privileged to be able to attend a concert by Beatles tribute band, Yellow Matter Custard, last week. They did two shows back in 2003--the second was actually recorded for DVD and CD and showcased a group of very talented musicians having a blast playing many classic (and lesser known) Beatles songs. They decided to "come together" again and play some more Beatles tunes in three very lucky cities. The band consists of Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Paul Gilbert, and newcomer Kasim Sulton who replaced Matt Bissonette, the man who played with them in 2003. This time around, Mike Portnoy made sure to craft a setlist that did not include a single repeat from the shows they played in 2003. I was worried that we would get the lesser Beatles songs, since these weren't good enough to make the top thirty songs that they played last time. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the killer setlist, which I think was even stronger than the one from 2003. It is a real testament to how strong the Beatles' catalogue is (heck, they could probably even make an equally strong third setlist).

The show was truly incredible. It was apparent that each of the four musicians were having a blast on stage. Their energy really transferred to the audience and made for a great experience. Even though they stayed mostly faithful to the Beatles' arrangements of the songs they played, they had a few moments that allowed for their incredible musicianship to shine. One particular example was an extended guitar solo at the end of Taxman that showcased Paul Gilbert's amazing skills at the guitar. They also really shone during a White Album medley where Alan Morse came in as a guest and traded solos with Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse. Throughout the night, they all traded off vocals and each had their strong vocal moments. I was also impressed by the harmonies they were able to pull off as a group. The show ended perfectly with the Abbey Road suite from the second side of Abbey. The musicians really played their hearts out and the night was brought to a thrilling conclusion.

I loved this concert experience. Although the Beatles' music is not the most technically complex music ever written, there is a timeless quality about it. They are true pioneers in the rock sound of today and I believe are one of the most important bands to influence Progressive Rock itself. It seemed fitting that these progressive rock musicians would pay tribute to the band that might have been the first to be truly progressive. I left the concert that night with a smile on my face and a desire to listen to my Beatles' albums at home.

Here is the complete setlist of what they played, which I feel is a perfect balance of the well known songs, along with some surprises of songs that aren't played very often at all.

Back In The USSR
I Got A Feeling
And Your Bird Can Sing
Day Tripper
Getting Better
It Won't Be Long
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Lady Madonna
We Can Work It Out
I'm A Loser
I Don't Want To Spoil The Party
Penny Lane
The Fool On The Hill
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
Things We Said Today
If I Needed Someone
Its Only Love
She's A Woman
The Word
Any Time At All
Paperback Writer
Don't Let Me Down
I'm So Tired
Savoy Truffle
Glass Onion
Yer Blues
Helter Skelter
You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Her Majesty
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

39 classic Beatles' songs that they all played excellently (40, if their impromptu rendition of Birthday is to be counted). Overall a very enjoyable night full of fun and great musicianship. I am very glad I was able to attend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Many Exciting Things To Come!

Welcome back to my progressive rock blog- The Leviathan. I used to post regularly in this blog, but for some reason, stopped writing a while ago. But, I am dedicated now to bringing you, the readers, a regularly updated blog about the music I discover throughout the year. The music discussed will typically be Progressive Rock since that is my favorite genre. My promise is to review every new album I hear in the year 2011 in this blog. I already have posted several from the last two months. In the next few weeks, expect a few more reviews, including a review of 'Snowtorch' by Phideaux and 'Invisible Places' by Presto Ballet.

When I don't have new albums to review, I plan to spotlight bands, albums or even songs that I have been obsessed with lately that I feel are worth sharing. So, I hope you will continue to check this blog regularly for my insight into the extraordinary music of today. My promise to you is to bring regularly scheduled posts that will hopefully enlighten you on new music you can discover. I hope you stick around, because it should be a fun journey!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Magic Pie- The Suffering Joy

“The Suffering Joy” is the third album by Norwegian proggers, Magic Pie. The first two albums, “Motions of Desire” and “Circus of Life” had moments of brilliance, but oftentimes did not seem to have the same high quality throughout the entire album. But, when they were performing at the top of their abilities, they really played some fantastic music on those albums. With their third album, I feel they have taken the best of their previous two albums and created a truly consistent, great album that is among the best that modern symphonic prog has to offer, and is an early contender for album of the year.

The album kicks off with the powerhouse epic that is “A Life’s Work.” Following a similar structure that Neal Morse sometime employs, there is a soft intro introducing some of the lyrical themes of the album over some delicate keyboard washes, before the rocking overture kicks in, which really showcases how great this band is at playing their respective instruments. This moves into a slower section with some beautiful harmonies before finally getting to the meat of the epic where the musical themes from the overture can be heard to full effect. This epic has everything you could want from progressive rock: inventive keyboards, soaring guitars, stunning harmony vocals, and a great backbeat of powerful drum and bass work. There are even some female vocals that are used to great effect over some chugging guitar. If I have any criticism for this wonderful track, it is perhaps that it is a tad long and could use trimming a few minutes to keep it more interesting. But, that is really a minor complaint because by and large this is a fantastic epic that includes head bopping heavy prog moments that allow the keyboard and guitar to play off of each other and a huge sing-along style chorus. There is just a ton of fun to be had here.

The album continues with “Headlines,” which is another fun track. There is some great acoustic guitar, more harmony vocals, and a fun, almost bouncy melody that brings to mind early Queen at times. There is some great guitar work and very dramatic vocals. There are also some fast paced instrumental sections that are a lot of fun. “Endless Ocean” is a short ballad that is a nice break from the intensity of the tracks that precede it. There is some great acoustic guitar, piano, and once again, beautiful vocals over what sounds like strings. It is a beautiful shorter track, which is quite different for a band that is used to long-form progressive rock pieces.

Things get fun again with “Slightly Mad” which is one of my personal favorite tracks on the record. The opening is quite chaotic, which fits perfectly with the title and meaning of the song. Keyboards and guitar go crazy against a powerful rocking drumbeat. There is some impressive acoustic guitar that leads into the vocal section. This track is just pure fun to listen to and is really well done. One of my favorite sections of this song is where it breaks down into an almost funky and jazzy section complete with wah wah guitar. The guitar solo is very impressive here. This whole track is just a blast to listen to, and is amongst my favorites from their entire catalogue.

“Tired” took a while for me to warm up to. It is a fifteen minute epic that begins with some great majestic guitar and keyboards. There are some interesting keyboard sounds used here that are interesting to me. This track is a lot more laid back than the rest of the album for a good majority of the song length. I think that was why I was initially not excited by it. I had come to expect fast, heavy sections due to the previous songs. But, just because it is slower paced does not mean it is bad. It actually has a majestic beauty to it. About nine minutes into the song comes a typical fast paced, instrumental section that is a sort of trademark of the Magic Pie sound. In this section fast guitars and keyboards intricately play against one other. Once again, this is just so much fun to listen to and I enjoy it immensely. This track has gone from being a little overlong and boring to being one of my favorites on the record.

The album closes with “In Memoriam” which is actually kind of a somber note to end the album on. This one took some getting used to as well, but I like the almost eerie mood of the track. For me it is the mood and vocal performance that makes this track work. I like the ending that has a somewhat intense buildup that really works well. It is a fine closer to a really excellent album.

I love this album and consider it to be Magic Pie’s best album by far. They have really come into their own sound on this release. This album is one of the finest examples of modern Symphonic Prog. There is some great playing, the musicians seem to be having fun and the concept and lyrics are really good. I think this is a strong contender for best album of the year. Magic Pie has truly grown into a great band with this release and I look forward to see what they are capable of in the future. If they keep this up, I think they could become one of the leaders of Modern Symphonic Prog.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pallas- XXV

Pallas are a classic neo-prog band from the '80s. They were one of the founders of the genre along with such bands as Marillion, Pendragon and IQ. Their first full-length album, The Sentinel, is regarded by many as a masterpiece of the genre. This new album, titled XXV, is actually a sequel to that classic album. I admittedly have not heard The Sentinel, but I am trying to listen to all the major progressive rock releases of 2011 and this album came on my radar through various progressive rock sites. It is most certainly a concept album that follows the storyline from The Sentinel. I can't speak as to how it matches up conceptually and musically to The Sentinel since I haven't heard it, but I think that XXV can stand on its own and is a good concept album in its own right. I'll most likely try to take a listen to The Sentinel later and see if it in any way changes my opinion of this album. I predict that it will not, but you never know.

The album begins with creepy sound effects that instantly put you into the mood of this album. Things seem a little odd in the world the listener is being thrust into. Then, the band kicks in with the first track of the album, "Falling Down." It is a nice majestic rocker that gets the album started in fine form. I love the bass line that chugs along throughout the song. There is a great section that allows for the keyboardist to shine through a very unique solo that is one of my favorites through the record. It is a great way to start things off and to set the stage for what is about to unfold. "Crash and Burn" keeps things moving at a fast pace, and it happens to be one of my favorite tracks on the entire album. It starts off with more sound effects to keep up the dystopian mood that is present throughout this disc. Then things get going with a particularly fun groove that is almost funky in its execution. I love the keyboards here that blend really well with the soaring guitar. The drum work is really impressive on this song and keeps things going at a great pace. At the end of the song there is a really fun, frenetic breakdown that I think is really down well.

Things slow down quite a bit for the next track, "Something In The Deep." I'll admit that the first couple times I heard this song, I was a little bored. It moves at a snails pace with grand washes of keyboards. After listening to this a few more times, I see its value within the story. It really keeps the mood of the album and is a great showcase for the vocalist, Paul Mackie. There is a certain haunting quality about this song that is really interesting to me. I do love the ending of this track with the orchestral arrangement of strings and horns playing over a mechanical beat. The next track is "Monster" and it is a pleasant rocker, but somewhat below the quality of the three tracks that preceded it. I enjoy the feeling of paranoia that comes across through this song, which is perfect for the story. Once again, not a bad song, just not particularly memorable.

"The Alien Messiah" really gets the story going. I love the keyboard washes that start this song and how they evoke an alien feeling before getting into this rocker. For some reason I get an almost middle eastern feeling when listening to the track. I think the song might outstay its welcome just a bit, starting with the spoken word section in the middle of the track. Next we have "XXV (Part 1)" with a big, majestic feel, which is appropriate since this is the centerpiece of the album. I wish this track was maybe more fast-paced and varied, but I do love the sing-along chorus. "Young God" is fairly heavy, with some really metal guitar playing. Even Paul Mackie seems to be channeling the voice of an '80s hair band frontman. There are some interesting guitar and keyboard solos in the instrumental parts of the song, but overall I find this to be one of the weaker tracks.

"Sacrifice" is a more straight-forward rocker. I actually rather enjoy it and feel like it is the album getting back on track after a somewhat weak middle section. "Blackwood" is a great short instrumental track with beautiful strings and angelic vocalizations that leads really well into "Violet Sky." I love this moment on the album, it is really beautiful and continues to evoke that "otherworldly" feeling that is present throughout the album. "Violet Sky" is a beautiful track. It starts off with some acoustic guitar and an interesting, alien sounding keyboard sound. I think Paul Mackie's voice is excellent on this track. The track is both emotional and thought-provoking. It is surely one of my favorite tracks on the record. "XXV (Part II)" is the grand conclusion of the album and I think it is rather excellent. It perfectly evokes the apocalyptic feeling it is going for with some great sound effects before reprising "XXV (Part I)" in glorious fashion. I absolutely love the guitar solo at the end. It really soars before the plaintive vocals come in to close out the album.

This album has all the ingredients for a progressive rock masterpiece, but for some reason they don't completely combine perfectly. There seems to be something missing here. It is a real shame because I love the concept of the album and at times the album really soars to impressive heights. I feel the apocalyptic and alien mood that they are trying to convey here work perfectly. There is a very specific feel to this album that is constant throughout. I do find it interesting however that to my ears XXV tends to sound both like a retro-prog album from the '80s era, but also manages to have a futuristic sound. It is a strange blend, but somehow it works to convey the correct mood for the album. At times the album really works, at other times it can be boring or monotonous. So, I must conclude that XXV is a good album, but misses the mark from being an excellent progressive rock release. It is a shame really because there is a lot of potential here. Now I need to listen to some of their other releases, especially The Sentinel, and see if it at all changes my view of this album.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Decemberists- The King Is Dead

I really started to fall in love with The Decemberists about a year ago when I decided to pick up "Hazards of Love" due to many positive reviews. I was blown away. It was a concept album full of simple beauty and clever lyrics. Typically, the kind of music I like is much more complex and fits firmly into the progressive rock genre. Although they display certain characteristics of progressive rock at times, I don't think that The Decemberists could really be considered a progressive rock band. They are more Indie/Folk. But, this is definitely not a criticism. In fact, I'm really glad that "Hazards of Love" allowed me to expand my musical horizons and take me out of the prog box that I was putting myself into. I realized that music doesn't have to be incredibly intricate and complicated in order to be good. Music can be beautiful when stripped down and focused on the melody and lyrics.

Which leads me to the review for "The King Is Dead." I will admit, at first I was a little disappointed when I heard the album. The more progressive elements I enjoyed from "Hazards of Love" seemed completely absent. If possible, The Decemberists stipped down their sound even further to be even more simplistic. What appealed to me with "The Hazards of Love" was the concept and storytelling, and the new album seemed to be just a collection of songs. But, after repeatedly listening to the album, its beauty has been unfolded to me and I consider it to be a really good album. It doesn't quite reach the heights of "The Hazards of Love" or even "The Crane Wife" but there is a simple beauty here that I can't deny.

There is an interesting mix here between folk and country that is really pleasing to listen to. There is plenty of acoustic guitar, slide guitar, harmonica and even fiddle. At the center is the distinctive voice of Colin Meloy. I really like his voice. It is unlike any other voice I've heard and really gives The Decemberists an unmistakable sound. The lyrics are really interesting, each song is like a poem being delivered by an expert storyteller. The music, while not overly complex, really compliments the lyrics well. There is enough instrumentation on display that I'm never bored. The sound quality is really good and the instruments sound really crisp and clear to my ears.

So, what we have here is a collection of poetry set in a folk/country setting. There are moments throughout the album that are beautiful. I love "January Hymn," the simple arrangement with beautiful singing is perfect and really creates a perfect mood and feel. I just can't help but have a tear come to my ear at the beauty created here. "Dear Avery" is another beautiful track that has an almost haunting feel. The mixture of male and female vocals is perfect here and gives me goosebumps. Another favorite is "This Is Why We Fight" which is a little more upbeat, but the music really combines to create something special with a great sing-along chorus.

I love this album because it has allowed me to look at music in a completely new way. "The Hazards of Love" started this changing view, but "The King Is Dead" really solidifies it. Music does not have to be complex and played by virtuosic players to be good. A good songwriter can create beauty out of simplicity. The way that the instruments combine, the unique way the lyrics are written, and the passion from the musicians involved really create something special and beautiful. Once the beauty of this album became apparent to me on about my third listen, I couldn't help but tear up and feel that my whole listening experience has changed. This is a wonderful collection of beautifully written and played music. I am embarrassed that I almost dismissed this as an average country album. It is much more than that. I recommend it to all.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, January 7, 2011

Top Ten Albums Of 2010

This is my list of top ten albums of 2010. Just so you know, my favorite kind of music is progressive rock, thus all of the following albums are from that genre. They are not very well known albums, but each one is really brilliant and I highly recommend them. I feel that 2010 was a great year for music and introduced me to some fantastic albums. Music is a big passion of mine and discovering new albums is one of my favorite past-times. So, here is the big list!

10. Drama Rama- Agents of Mercy

This is a very pleasant album from one of my prog rock idols, Roine Stolt. The music is never very heavy, and they stay on the pastoral side of prog, but it makes for a very pleasant listen. The music is very much in the style of early Genesis and late Beatles, both of which I love. I was a little disappointed that Roine Stolt doesn't sing lead on any of the tracks, but Nad Sylvan has a great voice that really fits this style of music. There are some great moments throughout the album and certain tracks are really brilliant. I am very happy that I own this album and that Roine Stolt keeps putting out such high quality music.

9. Victims of the Modern Age- Star One

I always love Arjen Lucassen's work, and this album is no exception. This project focuses on the more metal aspect of Arjen's sound, so there are lots of heavy parts with crunchy guitars. Each song on the album is based on a different sci-fi movie or TV show. There is a cast of vocalists that trade off singing throughout the album and they are each world-class vocalists. The music is solid and there really isn't anything here to complain about. It is a joy to listen to and everything I've come to expect and love from Arjen.

8. Hybrid Child- District 97

This is an incredible debut album from a really talented group. They are unique due to their inclusion of a female lead singer who was an American Idol contestant, and a world class cellist. The band is quite eclectic and often sounds almost like King Crimson. There are some mainstream sensibilities on this album, but they definitely are not afraid to prog out. I especially love the multi track suite at the end of the album where all elements of the band are showcased. There are even some goosebump moments. I can't wait to see what this band does in the future.

7. In The Wake of Evolution- Kaipa

This is a fun and happy band on the same level as the Flower Kings. In fact, Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings was a founding member of this band. This album showcases the band at their best. It is pure symphonic prog. I love the opening track that showcases all the great elements of this band: a fantastic, unique keyboard player, both a male and female vocalist, pounding drums, and soaring guitar. I love their sound, and discovering this album led me to further explore the rest of their catalogue. Now this band sits comfortably among my favorites in my music collection.

6. The Great Escape- Seventh Wonder

This is my favorite progressive metal release of the year. I feel that they have topped themselves after an excellent concept album called "Mercy Falls." The new album has everything I love about the band. There is some incredible instrumentation from all the musicians. They have one of the best singers in Rock, in my opinion. They have an incredible catchy and fun song called "Alley Cat" that I just can't get out of my head. And there is a 30 minute epic to close out the album that is incredible. I love how they can go from a beautiful section of just vocal and piano, right into a hard rocking section with everybody playing at the top of their game. I can't wait to keep my eye out for this band and see what they will do next.

5. Mars Hollow- Mars Hollow

This is the number 1 debut album of the year. This band came out of nowhere and really blew me away. I gained a whole new level of appreciation of them after seeing them live in a club in L.A. They have a great progressive sound that brings to mind the old favorites (Yes, Genesis, ELP) and new bands that I cherish (Transatlantic, Spock's Beard). Their songs are catchy yet intricate. I really love the opening track on their record, titled "Wait For Me." It is everything great about this band in one track. Also, it helps that the band is extremely nice and friendly to their fans. I can't wait to hear what they come up with next in 2011. Based on this debut, it should be awesome!

4. Artificial- Unitopia

I really loved this album at the beginning of the year. I listened to it over and over again several times and never got tired of it. It is a concept album about the way that we as a society are becoming too artificial. It is really compact and well done. I love how the band does not sound too retro, but infuses some modern influences into their sound. It sets them apart from the other bands that I listen to. Their singer is especially incredible, he sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel and is able to put a lot of emotion into his voice. Another element I love about this band is their use of saxophone. There is a tendency to even stray into Jazz, which is used to great effect. This is a really great album.

3. If- Glass Hammer

I was pleasantly surprised by this album. Glass Hammer is a band that I have struggled to like in the past. I have always tried to like them because people who like the bands I like also really like them. I have been disappointed in the past but this album way exceeded my expectations. I feel they have finally found a singer that fits their sound. He sounds a lot like Jon Anderson from Yes, and I feel he lifts their music to a new level. Oftentimes they sound like what Yes wishes they sounded like today. Majestic, symphonic prog done extremely well. I especially love the epic closing track "If The Sun."

2. X- Spock's Beard

This was the album I was most excited to get throughout the year. I had been waiting quite some time for a new Spock's Beard album. Plus, my best friend bought me the super deluxe version, and my name was going to be sung in one of the songs! It was really exciting. I was very pleased to find out that this album is one of Spock's Beard's very best. I typically prefer their material with their previous front man, Neal Morse, but I think this album is up to the same quality as those earlier albums. Everything I love about this band is on full display here. Great melodies, expert musicianship, and tons of fun. I absolutely adore this album.

1. Lover's End- Moon Safari

This is by far my favorite album of the year. It is clearly a masterpiece to me. I absolutely adore the incredible vocal harmonies that are throughout this album. The instrumentation is great as well, with a focus on vintage progressive keyboard sounds, piano, and acoustic guitar. Every song is a highlight for me. There are no weak moments. I just can't describe the beauty of this album, I am just in awe each time I hear it. I never get tired of it. The first time I listened through this album I had tears in my eyes and thought that this music is what I was meant to listen to. This will be one of the most cherished albums in my entire CD collection.

Additional Music Experiences of 2010:

Best Album Not Included on The Top Ten: Aquarius- Haken
It was really hard to not be able to include this album in my top ten, so I thought I would mention it here. This is a fantastic album by a new prog band. There are brilliant instrumental passages that are amongst my favorite in progressive rock. The closing track of their album "Celestial Elixir" is particularly incredible, and is indeed one of the best tracks of the year. I can't wait to see where this young band goes next.

Best Song of the Year: The Dividing Line- Frost*
Although Frost* didn't release a new studio album this year, they released an incredible live album (The Philadelphia Experiment) with a brand new studio track. That track is The Dividing Line and it is a monster of a song. It is 17 minutes long and has everything I love about progressive rock. It is mind-blowingly awesome, moving seamlessly from some of the craziest stuff I've ever heard to sections of pure beauty. The track leaves me breathless, and certain sections are still hard for me to wrap my head around.

Best Live Experience Of The Year: Transatlantic
I had the privilege of seeing Transatlantic live in 2010 and it was a dream come true. It was the best concert I've ever attended by far. Transatlantic album released a live DVD/CD set called Whirld Tour 2010. Watching that DVD concert was like relieving the whole experience. I just couldn't help but tear up and just watch the screen in pure amazement. This DVD/CD live set is one of my favorite progressive rock items I have in my collection. Just awesome.

Best You-Tube Music Discovery: Project RNL
I am absolutely addicted to the videos Project RNL puts out. They do unique takes on old songs, and also have some originals. They have a very jazzy, eclectic sound and have an incredible vocalist that sings multiple parts in each video. In fact, there is an amazing purely a capella video where he sings every part. They are amazing musicians and are incredibly unique. Their music is pure ear candy. I will be first in line to buy an album of their music when it is released.

Best Non-Prog Album of the Year: New Morning- Alpha Rev
Yes, I like more music than just prog, even though prog is my favorite. This album is featured as Mike Portnoy's favorite album of 2010 so I thought I would give it a try. I really fell in love with it! It sounds a lot like Coldplay. There is a fantastic frontman and some really catchy melodies. I really love the album. And, the lead singer is joining Neal Morse, Steve Morse, Mike Portnoy and Dave LaRue for a project hopefully coming out by the end of 2011 that I am super excited for.

Honorable Mentions (albums that I liked but didn't quite make my year-end list):
Excavations of the Mind- Sky Architect
Pennies In The Karma Jar- Salem Hill
Rise- Resistor
Far Skies, Deep Time EP- Big Big Train
Nightmare- Avenged Sevenfold

It was an incredible year for music and I anticipate that 2011 will be even better. I can't wait!