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Friday, January 13, 2017

Esquire III - No Spare Planet

Formed in 1982, Esquire have released two studio albums from 1987 to 1997 with the sole self-titled debut and Coming Home. Last year, they have released their third and final album entitled, No Spare Planet. It features nine unreleased material that Nikki Squire (Chris Squire's first wife) and Nigel McLaren’s composition that were completed before Nigel’s passing in 2015 just as they were getting ready to mix and master the album.

This completes the Esquire trilogy and making the duo come in full circle. It’s Nigel’s swansong and saying goodbye as the music is a cross between art, symphonic, new wave, and progressive style of music. Now I’m very new to the band’s music. And listening to their last album, for me, it is an emotional farewell to say goodbye and the legacy of Esquire will live forever.

And five highlights on the album will bring the listener to be prepare to have the Kleenex box in toe. It’s again one of the most emotional and powerful goodbye’s I’ve listened to from beginning to the very end. Ministry of Life kicks things off. The composition is done in three movements as the piece changes through the passages of time.

It is an excellent introduction to start the album as it brings to mind between the harmonizing vocals of the Beatles and Nikki’s voice resembles the style of early Annie Lennox and she can sing amazingly well while the ‘80s New Wave of the Pop scene comes into the foreplay of Human Rhythm followed by a touch of the Momentary Lapse of Reason-era of Pink Floyd and elements of Freddie Mercury’s solo work by dealing with the chance to go back and rewrite history and Stay Low.

Nigel McLaren's vocals, gives a final warmth and knowing that the angels are waiting for him to give his final bow. The two tracks in which he sings on the album; Friends and Enemies and Heaven Blessed, puts the toes into the water of Peter Gabriel’s solo work letting listeners know that it is time to go. The opening of the gates of heaven, is showing the circle now is in full. And No Spare Planet is a remarkable farewell.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Mercy Fire - Undying Fire

It’s been seven years since I’ve done a review on a Female-fronted Symphonic Metal band that would make my ears perk up. Whether it would be early Within Temptation, Amberian Dawn, Stream of Passion, Ancient Bards, Edenbridge, Delain, After Forever, or Tarja’s debut album My Winter Storm. I still haven’t forgotten about these bands and writing a review on some of the albums can be hard or tricky and various listens I would sometimes buy their music on The Laser’s Edge website.

Now for me, I’ve always have a soft spot of the Symphonic Metal movement when it gets a classical and roaring epic taste with an orchestral vibration from the keyboards or a real orchestra and choir in which Within Temptation used on the Black Symphony live album recorded in their home of the Netherlands at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam at the time they were promoting their fourth studio album, The Heart of Everything. My brain is still waiting for the right Female Symphonic Metal band…. until now.

A band that is an American-Dutch band that launched back three years ago by vocalist Kassandra Novell after having some successful performances in Belgium at the acclaimed Metal Female Voices Festival. With a few EP’s under their belt, they have released their debut album entitled, Undying Fire which was released last year in late October which coincided their European premiere at Metal Female Voices Fest XIII.

Their debut album is an eruptive volcanic explosion that made my ears ring when I turned the volume as in the words in the back cover of David Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, “To Be Played at Maximum Volume.” And you might want to play it really, really, really loud! Stop, Kiss Me, the intro gives to mind Queen’s Son and Daughter before the guitars going into overdrive on the rhythms and riffs as Kassandra’s vocals and one of the sharing vocals delve deep on reconcile the love they had now in ruins before trying to start again.

The dynamic roaring guitars really sets the tension between the two with double guitars textures as if Arjen Anthony Lucassen was conducting both Metallica during the Kill ‘Em All-era and the British Steel-era of Judas Priest creating an orchestral finale. No One Will Save You is being trapped in your own prison and you’ve finally had knowing you will have to pay the price the vocals and Kassandra’s snarling vocals is crossover of the Beauty and the Beast.

This time, Beauty has transformed into a snarling beast and she’s not letting go. She can snarl perfectly. It’s a haunting and rising composition and the lyrics dealing with knowing that no one can help you, the character has come to a breaking point of being pushed too far. With help from Trillum’s Amanda Sommerville who was not just a producer on the album, but a vocal coach, she helps out by sharing a duet with Mercy Isle.

She and Kassandra work well together as Joop De Rooij sets this mourning piano melody with a Celtic Folk flute sound in the background dealing with how the world is now cruel and knowing that there’s no hope for peace as the song is telling it by Saying Goodbye to hope, love, peace, and joining hands without any chance that is now filled with hatred.

Kassandra brings her inner vision as if she’s Kate Bush on If I Could. It is a gentle piano, bass, and drum section filled with a thundering guitar climbing up that hill. The Celtic sounds on Jeroen Goossens’ flute and Brian May-sque licks, is a crossover as if he had produced Hounds of Love. I can imagine one day this song will be a live fan favorite for audiences to sing along while the opener Wake Up, which starts off with an alarm going off rises up to challenge both Delain’s Charlotte Wessles singing with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and After Forever.

I have listened to Mercy Isle’s Undying Fire about three times now. This is a revelation for me. Both going for my afternoon walks on a grey and blistery day and just being completely gobsmacked of how not just Kassandra but how Joop, bassist and vocalist Chad Novell, and drummer Ywe van der Pol and guests guitarist Sebas Honing worked well to give her a helping hand.

It is symphonic metal at it’s best with it’s epic roaring productions. So if you love Within Temptation, Edenbridge, After Forever, and Kate Bush, than I highly recommend you check out Mercy Isle’s Undying Isle. As Marvel’s own The Mighty Thor once said, “Waves are but water. Wind, but air. And though lightning be fire…yet it must answer thunder’s call!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tohpati Ethnomission - Mata Hati

It’s been six years since we’ve heard some music by Tohpati Ethnomission. The innovator and maestro himself has been very busy with his solo career, SimakDialog, and Bertiga. He knows right away that Ethnomission is always there right inside the back of his head and waiting for the right moment to return. It’s always a great chance to start the New Year with the release Tohpati Ethnomission’s new album entitled, Mata Hati released on the MoonJune label.

I’ve been a supporter of Tohpati’s work since 2013 when I received a few albums from the label to get me started by going on the Train of MoonJune to see what I was missing thanks to my introduction of the label from PROG Magazine to the first of the series of Romantic Warriors. Remember when I said “Whenever something in the mail comes in and it’s from MoonJune Records, I know my ears are ringing.” Well they are ringing more for Tohpati.

Recorded in February last year in Jakarta, Indonesia, it’s almost as if it’s a welcoming return for the band to be back in action. It’s the same line-up as before from their 2010 release, Save the Planet. And this time, featuring the Czech Symphony Orchestra to lend Tohpati a helping hand. With five centerpieces, it shows that he’s back in full force and no one there to stop him.

Reog offers a thumping rocker to styles of Mr. Bungle, Zappa, and Primus with a Funk-Rock connection. The midsection shows Tohpati delving with an experimental effect from the delay/reverb effect he brings both on the riffs and the lead sections. Opener, Janger is a journey back to his home in Indonesia thanks to the Czech Symphony Orchestra as he brings his own version in the styles of Autumn Leaves.

The melodies between his guitar and Suwarjiki’s Flute followed by the drums and percussion from Demas and Ramdan. Both of the rhythm sections give it the full energy and the heart and soul of not both progressive and jazz music, but world music. And they let the sun rise by making you feel the warm breeze and the tempos for a new day with Tanah Emas.

Indro’s bass improvisation shines throughout for a brief bit. I wish he had a little bit more on the track and I always imagine both he and Tohpati dueling for a bit on the arrangement while Rancak is a classical-acoustic world adventure of flamenco genre with a striking beauty that Tohpati makes you feel at home. But it’s not over yet.

Amarah is heading into the waters of Heavy Metal with a Progressive roar between Mastodon and King Crimson. It is an interesting twist, but it works. Tohpati himself grabs between the styles of rhythm and lead improvisations and heavy riffs with a backbone pulse and a sonic crunch. The six-year long gap, while it took long and waiting for Ethnomission’s return, it’s well worth the wait.

This is my fifth time listening to Mata Hati. Everything is on here. Jazz, Fusion, Progressive, Classical, and World Music and Tohpai Ethnomission’s return is a crown jewel that will keep growing and knowing that they are back. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis - The Stone House

As I’ve always said about MoonJune, “Whenever something shows up in the mail and MoonJune shows up, something magical happens.” Yesterday I received in the mail from MoonJune is perhaps one of the most innovative and challenging releases to start off the New Year with a big bang. It was Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis’ The Stone House. When I went out for my Morning workout at the Gym and listened to the entire album, I was completely taken aback and just in awe of the textures of how compelling these six tracks can take you on a whole new world.

Recorded at La Casa Murada Studio in Banyeres del Pandes, Spain on February 19, 2016, all four of them work together like a team creating these mysterious voyages between Space, Fusion, Trance, and Psychedelic music. And while the album cover has this strange homage between the movie posters of either the hammer horror films or something straight out of Italian Giallo films of the 1970s, the quartet delves into the looking glass.

Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Yaron Stavi, and Asaf Sirkis, work together as a team during those sessions. It felt at times listening to the entire album recalling the essence of the THRAK-era of King Crimson with a Holy Shit momentum. When this was announced last year, my first reaction was “This is a perfect team, perfect match, perfect combination, and perfect quartet.” And I was right on the money with this.

It felt as if they were breaking the doors down of Jazz with a gigantic bulldozer with some experimentation's they were doing in the studio. And the music itself is original, ominous, and eerie at its finest. Not to mention the feedback sounds in one of the tracks that shows them even more accomplished than ever! At times it feels that the quartet were writing a score for a film done by Fantastic Planet’s Rene Laoux and out of stories with designs done by the late great Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

After delving into the six tracks, Wingfield, Reuter, Stavi, and Sirkis keep the fires burning more. This is a spellbinding release that MoonJune Records released. I hope they continue to do more in 2017. And as I’ve mentioned this is a great introduction to start the New Year off with a big or even a bigger bang. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

King Crimson - THRAK (40th Anniversary Series)

In 1984 after the release of their tenth studio album, Three of a Perfect Pair the band finished their tour at Montreal’s Le Spectrum as the resurrection of King Crimson was no more as they went separate ways. Cut to six years later of the second half when Robert Fripp decided to bring the band together again. But done in the style of a “double trio”. This time containing two guitarists, two bassists, and two drummers.

That and the release of their eleventh album released 22 years ago entitled. Originally released on the Virgin label and reissued by Panegyric, this was Crimson at their best. Alongside Adrian, Robert, Bill, and Tony, they brought Pat Mastelotto (Naked Truth, Stick Men) on Percussion, and Trey Gunn on Stick and Warr Guitar. Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Studio, Real World, the band decided to go into a new sound previous from their ‘80s-era.

While Steven Wilson has done the previous Crimson albums from the sole self-titled debut to Three of a Perfect Pair, Jakko brings the clearness and vibration into this mix. It’s feels like a breath of fresh air from the textures and bringing it to life. During the making of this album, they brought back the Mellotron which was used during In The Court of the Crimson King back in 1969.

The two-parter, Inner Garden is a dooming yet dystopian ghostly composition as if Crimson were doing a different version of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan. Adrian’s stirring vocals as he sings “So many things have come undone/Like the leaves on the ground/And suddenly she begins to cry/But she doesn’t know why.” You can imagine the sadness and eerie Twilight Zone-scenery of the memories that was once found, now in peril.

VROOM starts with this ‘50s landscaping view of the future thanks to the Mellotron before a burst of an eruptive roar from Fripp’s guitar kicks the door down with a hardcore punch. The double trio get down to business with a beast-like sound and spooky midsections of Belew, Fripp and Levin creating the magic of opening up the doors to see what lies ahead.

Dinosaur is still a powerful composition. Not just because it kicks ass, but the melody and story structure of searching through the bad judgments and mistakes of what this person went through after being dead for many, many years. The song nails it as Belew sings through of what happened before going into the afterlife of being your own worst enemy.

Things go smooth as it delves into the styles of In The Wake of Poseidon-era as Fripp takes higher levels into the beauty and clean melodies with some backward moments of a jazz groove for a romantic beauty of Walking on Air while the nightmarish synths go into a musique-concrete nightmare as Bill and Pat do a drum duel between each other in combat on B’Boom.

They go bit by bit and crunch by crunch on the drumming as the patterns go from high and low places with slow and fast tempos as the beast is unleashed out of its cage to reign terror on the title-track. The guitars are in a fast mode and various frets while the double drums and keyboard sounds make you wonder where they will go next with some climatic boundaries between rhythm and virtuosity musicianship. And it’s a situation to be away from the Beast can be a tricky situation. All of a sudden, King Crimson lay down the funk touches a-la Red and Ladies of the Road style.

With Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, Adrian goes from a calming vocals into a shrieking nightmare through the leslie speakers as the band move into the mode of a haywire effect. When I say haywire effect, it delves with a chaotic moment that the instruments are in a full-scale assault then back into the bluesy-funk metallic punch. Don’t forget that Mellotron that appears a quick second in the last minute of the composition.

It comes back again with that lullaby sound as I call it the ‘50s sound of the future and then you can imagine a reprise of the opening instrumental. But this time roaring to the end with VROOM VROOM. Just when you think it’s over, guess again. It’s not. The double trio close it off with a gigantic bang and then with the coda it’s into this climbing terror a-la The Devil’s Triangle: Part III.

The 40th anniversary series in which I got as a post-Christmas/Hanukkah gift last year, is the CD/DVD release. The 16-page booklet contains sleeve notes by Sid Smith, an introduction about the group coming back together by Robert Fripp 20 years ago at DGM (Discipline Global Mobile) World Central, and pictures of the making of the album, including a performance in Buenos Aires at the Prix D’Ami Disco and concert tickets from Argentina before working on the album.

Along with a CD single of Sex Sleep Eat Dream and the Ampex tape of VROOM VROOM. The DVD contains the 5.1 mix and the original stereo mix for it’s 30th anniversary back in 2002. Now for the die-hard Crimson fan, you might want to save some money for the THRAK box set containing 12 CDs, 1 DVD, 1 DVD-Audio, and 2 Blu-Ray discs.

This is Crimson at their best to show they were back and in action and delivering an eruptive return back in the ‘90s. For me, it’s been one of my favorite albums and I’ve always wanted to check this out since I was in High School. And 15 years later, listening to this I always enjoy both the original and new mixes. Worth checking out!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Jody Grind - One Step On

Jody Grind may seem like a strange name for a band in the late 1960s during the psychedelic scene. They were a part of the underground scene in London. Now I remember hearing some of Jody Grind’s music 10 years ago both on Internet Radio and on a Podcast, and then I lost sight of them. It wasn’t until I remember five years ago buying Mark Powell’s book, Prophets and Sages: An Illustrated Guide to Underground and Progressive Rock 1967-1975.

His book made me opened my eyes and I championed the book here on Music from the Other Side of the Room where it was more to just the big names of the Progressive Rock movement. And he is a great expert when it comes to the underground scene and through looking the overlooked and underrated bands in which I would called them “Hidden Treasures” that Long John Silver had completely forgotten while on the shores through their telescopes.

But let’s get to Jody Grind. The band released their debut album in 1969 on the Transatlantic Records label and now reissued by Esoteric Recordings this year, the band which was launched out of the brainstorming mind of Tim Hinkley (Bo Street Runners) wanted to follow in the inspirations between the late Keith Emerson, Vincent Crane, and Steve Winwood. The band considered Ivan Zagni on Guitar, Barry Wilson on Drums, Louis Cennamo on Bass Guitar (Paint it Black, Rock & Roll Man) and David Palmer (Jethro Tull) handling the horn arrangements.

Recorded at Morgan Studios in the Summer of that year, it’s hard to understand why the album itself never charted well and while they were well received by the Music Press in the U.K, in my opinion, they just weren’t ready for Hinkley mind-blowing work he brought to Jody Grind. Rock n’ Roll Man is Hinkley’s tribute to his hero Chuck Berry. The song is like a rolling adventure done in the style of Johnny B. Goode with the fast 12-bar blues rock that Zagni takes it into the mountains with a maximum sound.

Night Today begins with a walking jazz turned soulful awakening between Tim’s Organ, Louis’ Bass, along with the clean melodic chords by Ivan and Barry’s gentle laid-back drumming. Tim heads down into the R&B groove throughout his Organ in the styles of Graham Bond. He just hits the notes on the keys as the members follow his route. It’s a nights out into the streets of Soul-Jazz Rock.

The cannon blast of Little Message brings Palmer’s brass arrangements and blistering roars into the highway as Hinkley and Zagni take the center stage and almost having a ride into the thunderstorms of electricity. It’s a real stunning track that comes to mind between Chicago and The Nice. The opening 18-minute title track that the two of them wrote together is a great introduction and a magnum opus.

I got to admit Zagni plays well throughout his guitar improvisation. It is a cross of Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, Martin Barre, and Frank Zappa. And then once they cover The Rolling Stones Paint It Black which closes the suite and after the ecstatic drum solo by Barry, it is a brilliant take of the song and full sonic force that the horn section adds the powers that be.

USA is a crunchy blues rock done in the styles of Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy-era. It is a dooming and haunting composition that you can imagine during the time period of what the States was going through. The two bonus tracks on the album contain an alternate version of Night Today and a single version of Rock n’ Roll Man.

The 16-page booklet contains liner notes about the history of the band done by Mark Powell along with psychedelic artwork which was the gatefold sleeve done by John Courage. While the artwork contains Hinkley paying homage to Arthur Brown wearing a wizard’s cape and hat by casting a spell in a dark-blue background, the music industry is not an easy place to be.

One Step On is a lost treasure and mind-blowing yet explosive album I’ve listened to. I have to give Esoteric a big amount of credit for reissuing this unearthed gem. The band would later do a follow-up which was their last album which will be reviewed either this year or in 2017 entitled, Far Canal. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Keep Progressive Rock Alive

(The first issue of Prog Magazine, 2009)

Today’s news can’t be any good. I received a bit of surprise when I read online that TeamRock which was home to publications such as Classic Rock Magazine, Metal Hammer, and one of my favorites Prog Magazine, the people who worked their butts off on their articles, reviews, and interviews with these amazing bands, artists, and some who were up-and-coming, were laid-off. To me, it’s a hard blow, because for me these were the magazines I would sometimes pick up either at Barnes and Noble or on eBay at times. And they showed what was happening both old and new.

I became a writer/blogger back eight years ago thanks to reading the magazines such as Classic Rock Magazine and Commerical Music Forum when I was taking back at Houston Community College in my degree in Jazz Studies. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. The course I took which was I have to write five concert reviews and I had a great time and that was where I knew where I would build up.

The blog site wouldn’t have gotten started if it wasn’t not just Houston Community College, but magazines such as Classic Rock Magazine and Prog Magazine which launched back in 2009. I admired writers including Geoff Barton, Malcolm Dome, Natasha Scharf, Jerry Ewing, Dave Ling, Jo Kendall, and my favorite Sid Smith. Who I consider the mastermind expert of King Crimson. I was originally going to consider him, the Sherlock Holmes of King Crimson, but that would be too much.

Prog Magazine was the magazine that introduced me to bands such as; Panic Room, Magenta, Blood Ceremony, ASTRA, Iamthemorning, Within Temptation, Purson, Pure Reason Revolution, and Crippled Black Phoenix to name a few. Not to mention Steven Wilson's debut as a solo artist with Insurgentes. And with the Progressive Music Awards and labels including MoonJune Records, Rise Above Records, and of course opening more of my eyes to the Cherry Red label, Esoteric Recordings which has been my favorite reissue label, it pushed opened the doors to Esoteric Antenna and Reactive.

I appeared in the magazine where I did a few things including asking a question for Carl Palmer, my top ten albums of 1974 in which I picked Gentle Giant's The Power and the Glory, and one of my top Kate Bush songs including the song Kite. It wasn't until I was asked by the magazine on Facebook to pick one of my favorite albums and I was spellbound at first. but I had to keep my fanboy distance away and it was hard to pick a favorite album, I picked one of my favorites from the Rock Progressivo Italiano scene of the 1970s which was Metamorfosi's second album based on Dante's The Divine Comedy or The Seven Deadly Sins of Hell, Inferno.

We need this music to keep the wheels and machine going to come and inspire newer generations who are going through their parents collection and delving into early Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Yes, Rush, and Pink Floyd that showed it will opened their eyes of real good music.  I still support up-and-coming bands and newer bands now. With admires of the Aaron Clift Experiment, Proud Peasant, Bent Knee, Knifeworld, Worhol, Sanguine Hum, The Fierce and the Dead, and La Coscienza Di Zeno. I still support the music whether people like it or not.

Progressive Rock still makes the lava flow when a volcano erupts at the right moments from the synthesizers, mellotrons, mind-blowing drums, bass, and guitar work. The music industry is sometimes cruel. It’s hard for them to make it and not make it to the big time. But I’m a little off-topic. Let me close it up.

Prog has been inside me for 11 years. Please show your massive support and buying the magazines as I’ve mentioned from Classic Rock Magazine, The Blues, and Metal Hammer to name a few. I will keep the music alive and show my support to the genre until the day I die. As Stan “The Man” Lee said, With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility.

Here’s this website to show your support with crowd-funding done by Orange Goblin's Ben Ward.