Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Sea Within- The Sea Within

The Sea Within is a new progressive rock supergroup containing some of the best names in the business. We have Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Transatlantic, Agents of Mercy) on guitars, Tom Brislin (Yes, Renaissance, Spiraling) on Keyboards, Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation) on vocals, Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic) on Bass and Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, The Mute Gods) on drums with Casey McPherson (Flying Colors, Alpha Rev) performing vocals on several tracks as well as guest spots by notable musicians such as Jon Anderson, Jordan Rudess and Rob Townsend. With the bands mentioned above, you might feel that you can start to get an idea of what this project might sound like. However, to my ears, this album sounds completely fresh and not at all a carbon copy of the bands from the respective members. I think this is a remarkable feat. In the genre of progressive rock there are lots of supergroups and lots of musicians that share a lot of different bands with each other. The fear of this is that these bands can all start sounding similar and therefore somewhat predictable. I am happy to report, however, that this is not the case for the Sea Within.

There is a real sense of beauty and wonder throughout this record. It sounds to me like the band wanted to write very distinct songs with a clear focus. There aren't many extended instrumental workouts that don't fit the song. There are a few extended solos or jazzy interludes, but they don't feel like they overstay their welcome- they always stay in service to the song. Another thing that I think really benefits this record is that it is a total melting pot of different writers. These aren't all Roine Stolt songs that the band just came into the studio and played; each band member had a hand in writing different songs. This gives the band more of a unique identity and makes for a more refreshing collaboration where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

There are so many highlights throughout the album and every musician is at the top of their game. I want to point out the vocals, which I find completely magnificent. Daniel Gildenlow has always been one of my favorite prog rock vocalists, but he really shines throughout the album, sounding at times ethereal and hauntingly beautiful, but can bring in the power as well when the song is more fast-paced. Just listen to him in "They Know My Name" for more delicate, precise vocals, and then switch to "An Eye For An Eye For An Eye" for more hard hitting rock vocals to see an example of this contrast. Also excellent is Casey McPherson on the tracks he sings on. It almost seems unfair for one band to contain two of the genres best singers, but they both shine on their respective tracks and complement each other extremely well. "Goodbye" is a particularly great showcase of McPherson's soulful vocals. He has such a unique character and warmth to his voice that is always welcome to my ears.

The other musicians also get their moments to shine, such as Tom Brislin's excellent jazzy solo in the middle of "En Eye For An Eye For An Eye" or Stolt's achingly beautiful extended guitar solo at the end of "The Hiding of Truth". There is no shortage of beautiful instrumental moments. And that is what I love about the album. At its core, it is a melting pot of all of the influences of the musicians and the bands that they come from, but this results in something unique with its own singular identity.  Just to give an example of the variety, there is some harder edged almost progressive metal ("Ashes of Dawn"), some great jazzy instrumental workouts ("An Eye For An Eye For An Eye") and great powerhouse emotional ballads ("The Hiding of Truth"). I also have to mention "Broken Cord" as one of my favorite tracks (and probably my favorite song of the year so far). It is just a perfect example of all the things I've been mentioning in this review: both vocalists at the top of their form, different sections with multiple influences containing catchy pop hooks, atmospheric ambient rock moods, and bombastic proggy explosions.

As can be sensed throughout this review, I really love this record and think it will end up high on my list of best albums of the year. The only negative I really have is that I don't find the bonus disc that comes with the album as strong as the main album. I absolutely adore "The Roaring Silence" which I feel could easily be part of the main album, but the other three songs haven't grabbed me as of yet. This could just be down to my taste because I've seen other reviews mention some of these songs as highlights of the album for them. But, that aside, this album is really a fantastic achievement, especially considering that it is a debut for this set of musicians. Their experience and skill amongst their other bands is certainly a large key to this album's success. And despite the musicians all being in bands that could be considered similar, they have managed to produce an album that is unique and stands on its own merits. This album comes highly recommended to all prog lovers!

Rating: 4 Stars

Friday, June 8, 2018

Welcome Back!

I've decided after a long hiatus to try to revive my progressive rock music blog. Over the past several years I've struggled to keep up with it since I got married and then returned back to school. Life was fairly busy for a while, but I've missed writing and thought it would be the perfect time to get back into it. I just wanted to kind of re-introduce myself and what the purpose of this blog is. I'll begin by saying that I'm not a very critical person, and I don't enjoy writing negative things. What I like to do is write about the things that I love, so my purpose with this blog is to share music that I'm passionate about. So, don't expect any negative reviews- if I happen to not like an album, I prefer not to listen to it much and would therefore prefer not to write about it as well. But I'm hoping if anybody reads this, that they are maybe inspired by my reviews to check out some new music they might not have otherwise looked into.

I'm still not completely sure all the things that I want to do in this blog- I'm still deciding how ambitious I want to be. But, what I do know for sure is that I will be posting reviews of new albums that I come across that I love and that are within the Progressive Rock realm. I want to try to catch up on all the 2018 albums that I've really enjoyed and then by the end of the year, have a wrap-up post that highlights all my favorite music of the year.

I have decided on a simple 5 star rating system as well to give some idea of how I feel about each album. In summary:
1 Star: A bad album that is unlistenable to me
2 Stars: A mediocre album that may have a couple decent tracks or moments, but overall is meandering and uninteresting
3 Stars: A good album that is may be uneven in spots but has some highlights and is an enjoyable listen
4 Stars: A fantastic album that is solid from start to finish
5 Stars: A masterpiece; on the short-list of my favorite all-time albums

As I'm sure you could gather from my previous statement, there will most likely never be 1 or 2 star albums featured on this blog. I will mostly focus on the 3-star and above albums. I plan on a 5-star album to be a very rare thing, only reserved for the most special albums.

 So, I hope that anyone who might visit here finds something to enjoy and that you find my reviews interesting. I'll try my best to keep up with writing about all the latest and greatest albums I come across in the Progressive Rock world. Below is my first review after coming back for the excellent new Spock's Beard album, Noise Floor. Hopefully this gives you some idea of what to expect. Thanks, and have fun listening!

Spock's Beard- Noise Floor

Spock's Beard is well known in the Progressive Rock community. They can be considered pioneers of the modern prog revival and have been around for over twenty years. The have gone through many lineup changes throughout their history, but they always hold on to their signature sound even while forging new ground. "Noise Floor" is the band's 13th album, and is truly an amazing achievement for a band with such an extensive catalog of high quality progressive rock releases. The newest album blasts off with "To Breathe Another Day" which is a high energy rocker that sets an energetic pace for what is to come. There is a fantastic middle instrumental section that gives the whole band a chance to shine as Alan Morse's guitar and Ryo Okumoto's keyboards trade solos with the high octane rhythm section of Dave Meros on bass and Nick D'Virgilio on drums. Ted Leonard also sounds amazing on vocals throughout the track, bringing to mind Steve Walsh of Kansas fame.

From that solid opening, the band continues to really shine throughout the album. The musicianship is strong throughout, which is no surprise considering all those involved. The songs are really well thought out and are a joy to listen to. The band was clearly focusing on a more melodic approach to songwriting, which I think really makes for an enjoyable listen where every song is catchy in its own way and never outstays its welcome. "Somebody's Home" is a gem of a song, making use of the acoustic guitar interplay that the band is known for, but instead of being showy and needlessly complex, the focus is on the song and the emotional message in the words. It is a sweet song that really shines with beautiful strings and Ted Leonard giving a great impassioned vocal performance. It is certainly a highlight of the record.

 "Have We All Gone Crazy Yet" is a personal favorite of mine, and I'm sure will be a personal favorite for many long-term fans of the band. This is where some of the band's fun, quirky style comes into play in spectacular fashion. What drew me to the band in the first place is that first and foremost, the music is fun. I listen to music mostly to experience joy and excitement, and I feel that Spock's Beard embodies this. This track bounces around with some wonderful interplay from all the instruments, with some jazziness and twists and turns that keep the listener guessing as the track progresses. This is excellent prog to my ears. "So This Is Life" comes as a bit of a breather and is a great mash-up of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. I appreciate what the Beard are doing here, and this track sounds different from the tracks surrounding it, and frankly from most of the music in the Spock's Beard catalog. But this gives it a certain freshness and makes the track that much more interesting.

The final three tracks of the main album are all fantastic pieces of music that close the album strongly. "One So Wise" is another joyous expression of music from the band that calls back to some of the strongest pieces of the last couple Spock's Beard albums (both of the Ted Leonard era albums, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep and The Oblivion Particle). It is anthemic and has a Kansas vibe to it, especially Ted's incredible vocals. I love the bass-line and how the song moves along so seamlessly with some great keyboard work by Ryo Okumoto. This is modern Spock's at their finest. But, speaking of Ryo, he isn't done shining yet, as "Box Of Spiders" is purely a showcase of his talents as a writer and musician. This is maybe my favorite Spock's Beard instrumental ever. Up to this point, the focus has been on more melodic, catchy songs, but this is where the band just goes full on prog and the results are glorious. This piece goes through so many changes in time signatures, styles, and sounds. This is just an incredible work of crazy, progressive, complex and intricate art. I love this track. The album closes ironically with "Beginnings" which hearkens back to the classic Spock's Beard sound of the Neal Morse era of the band more than any of the other tracks, with some interesting vocal interplay between Alan Morse, Nick D'Virgilio and Ted Leonard. It is majestic and grandiose, which is a fantastic way to end an incredible album.

There is also a bonus disc called "From The Cutting Room Floor" with some additional tracks that are a great accompaniment to the album. I think there is some wisdom in separating out these tracks from the main disc. These tracks, although also great songs, don't quite fit in as much with the rest of the songs, and find a great home here on what can be considered a fantastic little EP. "Days We'll Remember" is a nostalgic ballad that has a strong sense of melody and a great sing-along chorus. "Bulletproof" is perhaps my favorite of the bonus disc songs with a very positive feel and some great pop sensibilities. Things slow down just slightly for the very pleasant "Vault" that is very influenced by Ted Leonard, sounding even like his other band, Enchant, at times and has a fantastic build up. This disc closes with the fabulous instrumental "Armegeddon Nervous" which moves along at a quick pace and allows for the band to shine one last time with some great instrumental interplay. 

"Noise Floor" is a remarkable achievement for a band that is on their 13th album. I am always so impressed with the band and how they adapt as they go through each lineup change. This time they lost Jimmy Keegan, but they were able to bring back Nick D'Virgilio in the studio to cover the drum parts. But, the band are still going strong and I hope above all other hopes that the band keeps going and keeps evolving. Everybody shines on this album, from the musicianship to the song writing and arranging, this is a beautiful album full of amazing compositions. I'm so impressed with the band and heartily recommend this album to all prog music lovers. They are indeed firing on all cylinders and I can't wait to hear more in the future. This album will be on heavy rotation for me for quite some time.

Rating: 4 Stars.


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: