Friday 31 January 2014

The Pride (Martigan, 2002)

"The Pride" opens the German band Martigan's "Man of The Moment" album, released in 2002. Some say - turning up their nose - this is neo-prog. I call it good prog. It's a highly creative and also enjoyable music, exploiting the very good Kai Marckwordt's voice and a series of rythmic gmmicks, mixing up traditional and programmed drumming.

This was the third Martigan's album.

The vocals play the leading role, that's true, but the rest of the band do their best to improve this song's impact, adding some rock here and there. Each instrument find its own moment of glory, after all, but the inner and passionate side of the song finds its topping with the excellent final guitar solo. Nothing too bombastic here, nothing pretentious neither... just good music, excellent song writing and strong feelings. Isn't it enough for you?

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Circus of Life (Magic Pie, 2007)

A suite lasting some 45 minutes... and if you think such a long listening will be tiring, well, yhou're wrong! This Norwegian band succeeded in building up a complex and ever changing musical architecture, including all kinds of prog rock and perfectly balanced, fit to catch your curiosity.  Ethereal atmospheres, heavy rock riffs, keyboard fast progressions, distorted guitars, floydian chords, beautiful sung themes, effective vocal harmonies à la Flower Kings... all is there. Nonetheless, this is not a mere succession of tracks, a miscellaneous display of sounds.

This album features the long title track and two more songs.

This is a suite, a real, coherent one. Those guys arrange very well the electric and acoustic moments and play even better with recurring themes and riffs. All those elements fit perfectly together and they all have the band's original trademark, made of airy melodies and transparent sounds, where vintage and up-to-date flow together. I liked their first album, but this title track from their second one definitely persuaded me that Magic Pie are worth their name: they're magic and, yes, they're a treat!

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Good Days, Bad Days (Kenso, 1989)

Taken from "Sparta", the Japanese band's fourth studio album, "Good Days, Bad Days" is a very varied track. The first 2 minutes and a half are a dreaming guitar piece, slow and pensive, not far from Steve Hackett's style. Then the tempo rises up and we enjoy a short intricated prog-rock passage. The third theme is a slightly Oriental one, with a good amount of jazz inside, something Kenso used to like, and followed by a series of almost improvised guitar solos. Here I also appreciate the piano, leading the rythm section.

The album title is in Ancient Greek. Cool.
The finale is mostly an accelerated reprise of the first theme and the dreaming guitar finally comes back. This is a beautifully arranged instrumental track, with lots of tempo changes and several different moods and even different genres. The musicians' performance is really good, showing a strong, solid fusion taste, but also a pleasant melody skill, so that even those not liking jazz so much - that's my case - can enjoy such a rich composition.

Monday 27 January 2014

The Great Gig in The Sky (Pink Floyd, 1973)

Who could possibly forget this track closing the A-side of "Dark Side of The Moon"? Clare Torry's vocal performance is simply stunning and the spacey atmosphere of the song takes the listener away from the Earthly world. The starting Rick Wright's chord progression opens the gates of another universe, then the soft, waving vocals begin. Clare Torry's performance had an interesting lawsuit, as the singer sued the band a royalty sharing, being his vocals a free improvisation and therefore kind of an instant writing. An agreement was reached between the counterparts and Clare features today as a co-author of "The Great Gig in The Sky".


Clare Torry in 1973 and in 2003.

That said, this is one of the most moving Pink Floyd's songs and surely Clare Torry's contribution is essential. But the Hammond organ is also very effective, while the rythm section (drums and bass together, then only the bass guitar) dictates the flowing pace of the music. I also like the piano, appearing in the final and whispering section. Being strictly linked to the previous song "Time", that was about the shortness of life, "The Great Gig in The Sky" deals with life's end, that is death or better, after-life. Never listened to a sweeter depiction of such matters.

Sunday 26 January 2014

One Small Step (Saga, 1995)

This Canadian band, whose main quality is the eclectic approach to prog music, tried many times to release a fully enjoyable album and finally succeeded in 1995 with "The 13th Generation" intricated concept. This song, in particular, perfectly shows the group's rich and varied musical palette. The rock opera mood of this mini-suite including three movements is clear and underlined by emphatic vocals, very good guitar riffs and a variety of orchestral arrangements.

This concept album features 18 chapters.

Like in a film soundtrack, many different atmospheres follow one another, but the recurring themes and a clever architecture give to the track a merry and coherent personality. The vocal harmonies are also good as well as the always changing rythm. An unusual song, even for the unpredictable prog rock scene, but a very good one I appreciate more and more.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Miragem (Bacamarte, 1983)

This beautiful instrumental track belongs to “Depois do fim”, the only album of the Brazilian band Bacamarte, and a higly rated record by the International progfans core. This “Miragem” features virtually all the main points  of traditional symphonic rock: blazing keyboards, dreaming guitars, a creative rhythm section and – a welcome bonus – even an Arabic taste.
Bacamarte were born in 1974, but their sole record
was released ten years later.
The musicians’ performance is excellent and the band’s intricated plots and multiple interplays are simply stunning. There’s a scent of PFM and a taste of Yes, but also a vague and pleasant Southern colour, adding life and sun to the music. Last but not least, this track is a living testimony of the surprising and persistent worldwide diffusion of prog rock.

Friday 24 January 2014

The Crucifixion (Aragon, 1987)

This 15:39 minutes epic by the Australian band Aragon is a beautiful specimen from the '80s so called neo-prog scene and one of the very few from Southern emisphere. Strongly influenced by the British models of its period, the song - taken from the debut album "Don't Bring The Rain" - has nonetheless its own character, combining in the opening section syncopated drumming reminiscent of IQ with passionate vocals à la Fish and lots of good musical ideas with no specific inspiration. The central part of "The Crucifixion", featuring a rarefied atmosphere and suggestive vocals is maybe my favourite one.

This was the first of six studio albums by Aragon.

Les Dougan really cries out its soul here, and Tom Behrsing's keyboards create a magic universe I still like, with a hint of lost childhood inside. The sound quality isn't perfect (oh, not at all...), but I get the feeling nonetheless and the final sorrowful instrumental brings on the typical kick inside good prog always gives to me. Later in their career, Aragon will grow a more personal style, but I'm grateful to those musicians for this early, easy, bittersweet song.

Monday 20 January 2014

White Mountain (Genesis, 1970)

This is probably one of the first fully Genesis songs, featuring the magic, foggy, suspended atmosphere that will caracterize the band's best down tempo tracks. Sure, the 12 string guitars are essential in this early era, as well as Anthony Phillips' contribution to "Trespass", the first "real" Genesis album. The lyrics of "White Mountain" are about a young wolf breaking his tribe's taboo forbidding any member of the group apart the king to touch the sacred sceptre and crown. For his trespass the culprit will die in a snowy and bleak landscape.

This was the first Paul Whitehead's covers for Genesis.

The music is perfect for this subject, timeless and arcane, muffled and profound. Peter Gabriel's vocals are deeply stressed and often reinforced by the rythm section and several good harmonies. Being the fruit of a band of teenagers, in spite of some unavoidable naiveties, this song is surprisingly mature and still today is a source of inspiration for hundreds of bands worldwide. Yes, Fang, son of Great Fang, shines on.

Sunday 19 January 2014

De Profundis (After Crying, 1996)

Coming from this Hungarian band's fourth studio album, "De Profundis", an eleven and half minutes suite divided in three movements, is one of their best achievements, IMHO. There's nothing derivative or trivial here and all the solutions are highly creative. Sure, the morn and down tempo mood of the song is somewhat linked to some of the greatest bands of the '70s (especially King Crimson, I'd say), but you'll hardly find in it a direct reference to any of their songs.

A really good album I highly recommend
...if you're not into metal prog, that's to say.

"De Profundis" is a really emotional track, featuring a classical and rich orchestration, based on keyboards and a killing touch of viola, violin, flute and bassoon. And when these acoustic instruments come in together, in the long instrumental section of the song, emotion rises up even more, sadness fades into sweetness and I actually touch the sky. Another special mention goes to the strong and sensitive vocal performance (in the band's native tongue, something I always like) adding an inner feeling to the big picture. In short, "De Profundis" is a precious experience for any prog lover. And for the rest of the world too.

Friday 17 January 2014

World without A Heart (The Flower Kings, 2001)

The Flower Kings like long and intricated epics, so that you won't find in their discography many traditionally written songs, but this is the case with the gentle song "World without A Heart", taken from the album "The Rainmaker". Of course, this is a Flower Kings' track, meaning that arrangements, sounds and architecture aren't so plain as they seem to be in the first place.

I like this dark artwork very much.

So, there are verse and chorus, but also an instrumental bridge full of original solutions; there's a catchy melody (especially in the chorus), but each minute of this song features clever interplays involving all the instruments and the vocal harmonies enhance Roine Stolt's mighty performance.A ballad, yes, but a prog one, with a beautiful atmosphere and a rich range of instruments and a good balance between acoustic and electric sounds. And the epics? Next time, my friends, let me enjoy this relaxing song once more...

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Peaches en Regalia (Frank Zappa, 1969)

I admit I'm not enough musically cultivated to appreciate most of Frank Zappa's flushing and diversified production. Nonetheless, I like this less than 4 minutes instrumental track very much and I see it as one of the most anticipating proto-prog songs. Taken from the "Hot Rats" album, it explores the same thick and classically inspired stuff King Crimson will develop in the following years.

A funny image of Frank Zappa, a true rossover musician.

"Peaches en Regalia" offers a warm, winding and rich wall of sound, in which all instruments (winds, keys and guitars) play around a lively and ever changing rythm section. You'll find here many prog-rock basic features, including a pair of keyboard progressions, a constant overlap of keys and winds  and intricated bass / guitar interplays. Obviously, this prog side isn't the only interest of such a track, where Zappa delights his listener's ears mixing up genres as different as vaudeville and free jazz. A wonderful freak show and a brilliant display of genius...

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Ghost of Durtal (Galahad, 1985)

There are two different versions of this Galahad's beautiful epic. The first one comes from the very early years of the band and was included in their first self produced tape, titled "Studio 95 Demo" and released in 1985, while the second one was re-recorded for the first Galahad's proper album "In A Moment of Madness" re-issue of 1993 and re-titled "In A Moment of Complete Madness". This more recent version is surely far better in sound quality than the original one. Anyway, if you want to listen to the historical recording, you can dowload it via the band's official website.

This is the cover art of the 1993 re-issue of the first Galahad's album.
Here they included three bonus tracks, including a new version of our song.

This song is about an impossible love story involving the British singer and a French ghost and despite the unavoidable debuting naiveties, really is a lovely, mysterious and nocturnal song I still listen to with great pleasure. It begins with a lunar melody, very well sung by Stuart Nicholson, and goes on mid-tempo until the halfway scary instrumental section, including a French / English bilingual message to the female ghost and a pipe organ. The ending section is also very good, with a dreaming electric guitar and a rising tempo underlined by a martial drumming. I can't say I like all Galahad's discography, but this track is one of my favourite essays of the '80s neo-prog era.

Sunday 12 January 2014

House of The King (Focus, 1970)

In just 2:20 minutes this Focus' song managed to become a cult. True, this instrumental track from the album "In And Out of Focus" was lucky enough to be chosen as a signature tune in a pair of British TV and Radio programs, but I think the main reason of its durable success is its catchy and well arranged melody. Yes, it's similar to some Jethro Tull's songs, but "House of The King" has its own features, especially the pleasant medieval taste (more like Gryphon than like Jethro Tull) and the perfect mix of acoustic guitar, flute and handclappings, not to mention the electric guitar solo acting as an interlude. 

Here are the 7" single covers of both versions of this song.

Be as it may, this short instrumental is irresistible today as it was in 1970: simple as it appears, it's a cleverly set up piece of music introducing the prog world to Thijs van Leer's flute. The band's guitarist Jan Akkerman, who actually wrote the song, also released it as a single taken from his first solo album, "Tabernakel", in 1974. Here you'll find a full orchestra but - alas! - no flute. Both the versions of "House of The King" entered the Dutch Charts. Not surprising, I daresay.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Sudden Winter (Verbal Delirium, 2013)

I didn't know this Greek prog rock band, and when I discovered them, thanks to George Eleftheriou, a real progmaster (thank you, George!) I was immediately taken by this sombre, slow track, coming from the second album of Verbal Delirium, titled "From The Small Hours of Weakness". Nostalgy and somewhat nocturnal, this song conjures up a suspended world reminiscent of both Nordic and Mediterranean atmospheres.

I'll follow these guys. Definitely.

Modern post-prog waves mix with Old symphonic winds, something like VDDG meet Paatos (with a bonus early King Crimson whiff) and the final result is simply disarming. Jargon's voice is sad and sensual and his keyboards fill the space around you with shrouds of gloom and sweetness and when Nikitas Kissonas's mandolin comes in the magic is complete.

Friday 10 January 2014

Terrapin Station Part 1 (Grateful Dead, 1977)

Grateful Dead are not exactly what you could expect in my blog, but after all they released a prog album and, more than this, a prog suite, just the one. And it happens to be a very good one, so here I go. As you know, Grateful Dead are a very original band, so no surprise if they decided to do some prog when it was no way fashionable and they created a complex, richly arranged 16 minutes suite titled "Terrapin Station Part 1" even if a second part doesn't exist. Finally, if you consider how late this track comes in the golden era of the genre, it's also strange how proto-prog it sounds.

Some old GD's fans didn't like "Terrapin Station". I did and still do.

The suite begins with a catchy and well written mid tempo ballad, not so far from the band's usual material, but then the orchestra comes in and everything gets strangely trick for Jerry Garcia and his friends. The long instrumental passage marking the middle section of the song is progger than prog, really, with the group and orchestra interplays, a dramatic choir à la "Atom Heart Mother" and even a pinch of baroque'n'roll. The band seem to have the time of their lives mixing acid guitars and piano, classical music and New Mexico. Please don't waste your time and listen to this: it's surely better than I can explain. And far more surprising.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Owner of A Lonely Heart (Yes, 1983)

This is maybe the most successful song by a prog band and it's astonishing how it remains popular today and as actual as it was in 1983. Sure, "Owner of A Lonely Heart" isn't a typical fully progressive Yes song, I'd say it's one of the first examples of prog-pop track, a model many will follow but only a few (Genesis, mostly) will reach in terms of sales and quality. In fact, I think this is a great song, progressive in a way, because it's so full of ideas, so flushing in its sound solutions that each time I listen to it I find something new. After all, the original Trevor Rabin's composition was widely enriched by Jon Anderson's and Chris Squire's contributions. In its final version, it opened the 90125 album, the first Yes album of the "Rabin era".
The single version of the song was shorter than the album version.
It peaked at # 1 in US Billboard single charts.

The Yes brand is recognizable in the syncopated rythm, in Chris Squire's excellent performance, in Jon Anderson's inimitable voice and in the clever arcitecture of the the track. Probably the band knew they were working on a virtual hit, but they avoided any unnecessary repetition of their catchy tune and put in good variations, instrumental interludes and a final fading bridge. But they won all the same and if the early fans turned up their noses, the song is still there, across many years and generations. Listen: another radio DJ is broadcasting "Owner"!

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Illusions (Grendel, 2008)

When I firts listened to "The Helpless", Grendel's only album to date, I had mixed feelings about it. It sounded to me like pop meets neo-prog and I couldn't decide wheter I liked it or not. But after the last track "Illusions", I definitely made up my mind: yes, I liked this easy but never trivial prog music. This track is a 11:53 minutes always changing composition, full of good ideas and effective sounds. There's almost everything in it, from metal guitars to mellow keyboards and from electronic sound to acoustic phases. Nevertheless, a clever distribution of the sung themes and a nostalgic background give to "Illusions" an inner coherence, despite some abrupt tempo and style changes.

This album is about human despair and sorrow.

Sebastian Kowgier's voice strangely reminds me Mark David Hollis (do you remember Talk Talk?), while Urszula Świder's keyboards and Kowgier's electric guitar are more on the band's notable Marillion side. Some sections of this track are beautiful, like the piano ballad starting  circa at minute 8:30 and the following electric guitar solo, but all the melodies here are pleasant. The whole song is a sensitive, sorrowful epic about human sad condition. Not happy, true, but beautiful if you're searching a less intricate prog for a change. Such a pity they stopped their career after this record...

Monday 6 January 2014

Recuerdos de mi tierra (Mezquita, 1979)

This prog jewel comes from Spain and from "Recuerdos de mi tierra" (meaning "Memories of My Land"),  the first and best album by Mezquita, a short living Spanish band. You'll find in this title track all the main features of British Prog mixed with some Spanish flamenco, especially when, in the second part of the song, José Rafa's vocals - the typical cante hondo - and guitars come in, let alone the cicadas singing.

An apocalyptic cover art for Mezquita's masterpiece.

Roscka's keyboards provide the International sound and the inner coherence of the track, while the rythm section adds a skillful, energetic, Mediterranean pace and a range of complex tempos. There are also a strong classical influence and an Arabic flavour, but the thing I love here are the easy, natural passages from distressed moments to dramatic moods, usually enhanced by Spanish and electric guitars. It's a highly emotional music, as the performers employ all their skills to strengthen the emotional side of their song. And this, they know how to do very well.

Sunday 5 January 2014

Hole in The Sky (RPWL, 2000)

A  splendid trance prog track, with strong Floydian influences (and after all RPWL were a Pink Floyd cover band) and a lot of beautiful atmosphere. But there's more than this: the slow sung ballad, well performed by Yogi Lang - has an effective melody and the three parts of the song form a coherent and never tiring set. Those sections are separated in two different sections along the band's first CD "God Has Failed": the first two parts - alled "Fly" and "Crawl to You" - open the album, while part 3 - "The Promise" - stands alone as the ninth track of the record.

The album cover by Stefan Wittmann with photos by Birgit Bittermann.

The insrumental section ("Crawl to You") features a stunning Gilmour-esque electric guitar solo, but with a warmer feeling and a fully melodic touch, getting even more heartbreaking in the last section. Later in their career, RPWL will find a more original sound - you'll read something about this elsewhere in this blog - but the old dreaming and pleasant style will never bore me.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Gaza (Marillion, 2012)

In 2012 Marillion were back to epic songs in their "Sounds That Can't Be Made" album and this is the longer track they released then, a genuine prog rock suite. It's a track I love, so varied and strong, both in music and lyrics. Not an easy topic for sure, because this is about Israel / Palestine conflict and tries to describe the daily life in Gaza strip. A risky task, I daresay. Steve Hogarth interviewed both Israeli and Palestinian people in order to provide a neutral narration with no offence for anyone. It's up to you to decide if he succeeded, but certainly he gives an impressing picture of life conditions in that restless enclave, adopting the childrens' point of view and thus avoiding all political comments. 

"Sounds That Can't Be made" is an album I like very much.
I think it brilliantly mixes old and new Marillion's sounds.

Back to music, now. There are - obviously - strong, heavy passages, but also sweet and pensive ones, a kaleidoscope of moods and emotions, all plug in a coherent frame. Some of the melodies are excellent and all the musicians contribute to the big picture. I can't choose one section of this suite as my favourite one, but the mostly sung part between minutes 11:45 and 14:30, including a Steve Rothery's electric guitar solo, is simply moving. After all, when a 17 minutes track flows away in what seems to me 5 minutes, I bet there's something good in it.

Friday 3 January 2014

La casa de la mente (Espiritu, 1975)

There's more good in Argentina you can imagine, old and new prog, I mean. This track, for example, is the opening one of Espiritu's first album, "Crisálida", released in 1975. The song begins with a long, atmospheric, almost spacey keyoard intro, then a devilish electric guitar comes in and the tempo jumps up. Soon after, here's the sung section (in Spanih), accompanied by acoustic guitars and some piano effects.

This cover reminds me of some American SF magazines of old.

It's a lively ballad with a 2 minutes central instrumental interlude including good guitar / keyboard interplays and a choral touch. There's a strong taste of the '70s in "La casa de la mente" (meaning "Mind's Home"), but the sound is rather original, close maybe to some Italian bands like PFM, but with its own distincive feel. I recommend this song to anyone liking rich, diversified and well balanced compositions. Like me.

Thursday 2 January 2014

The Banishment (Ayreon, 1995)

This is taken from the First Act of "The Final Experiment", the first rock opera credited to the label-band "Ayreon", created by Dutch guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. It's a bombastic, flushing suite divided in six parts, lasting some 12 minutes and developing a turning point of the intricate sci-f and medieval album concept. If the first half of "The Banishment" is a good example of rock opera, including two good lead singers and a choir, the second one is definitely prog.

The tenth anniversary special edition of this rock opera
also features semi-acoustic versions of the best tracks.

And what a boiling, intricate, up-tempo prog it is. Keyboards and guitars duel while the rythm section accelerates the tempo and underlines the dramatic mood of the lyrics, telling the main character Ayreon's trial and condemnation by a crowd of enraged villagers. There's a strong pathos in this song and a highly dynamic architecture, leading the listener through different emotions and musical worlds. Colourful and lively, but never too noisy, this is one of the best Lucassen's achievements. IMHO.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

When It's The Season (Taï Phong, 1976)

Jean-Jacques Goldman is one of the most popular French singers and songwriters and his long and successful career in pop music somewhat wiped out its early years in the progressive band Taï Phong, along with the Vietnamese brothers Kahn and Taï Ho Tong and a bunch of other good musicians. It's a shame: they released two good albums at least and their second one, "Windows", is the best IMHO. Here, Goldman wrote the opening track, the excellent "When It's The Season".

After "Windows" Taï Phong came back in 1979 and in 2000,
but they couldn't cope with this album (at least, IMHO).

The first part of the song is an instrumental, changing section of more than 5 minutes, starting with an effective electric guitar riff and a heavy rock-like vocal performance. Then, a beautiful and unusual electric / acoustic guitars interplay supported by pastoral keyboards followed by a dreaming, slightly acid guitar solo and a final keyboards progression fading away. The second part is completely different: a slow, nostalgic, acoustic ballad in the style of Barcay James Harvest. The melody is excellent and so is the accompanying piano. A relaxing and pensive finale for a gorgeous track. If you don't know Taï Phong this is the perfect starter for you, if you do, that's a good chance to run through their music once again.