“Uncovering The Secrets Behind The Cabinet Doors!” – ‘The Crimson Cabinet’ by Starfish64

Starfish64 are a German progressive rock band led by the versatile Dieter Hoffmann (guitar, vocals, keyboards, programming). Formed in 2006, Hoffman originally created Starfish64 as an outlet for his acoustic, singer-songwriter solo work but with progressive elements creeping into his sound, Hoffman inducted Henrik Kopp (drums), Dominik Suhl (guitar) and Martin Powell (bass, guitar, keyboard, vocals) into the band as permanent members in order to flesh out these ambitious elements. The first success’ of this new progressive outfit were 2016’s ‘An Altered State of Joy’ and 2018’s ‘The Future In Reverse’, the former boasting the 23 minute opener ‘Altered States’. Showcasing their ability to create atmospheric, dreamy art rock, Starfish64’s latest 2020 release ‘The Crimson Cabinet’ develops upon this same sound but with an overall sense of melancholia that will appeal to fans of Tim Bowness.

As well as hearing Tim Bowness, the compositional features bring Hogarth-era Marillion to mind; the lush soundscapes, the melodic bass lines and the most gorgeous clean guitar chords coupled together with heartfelt solos that often intermingle with Dietrich’s vocals – which conveniently don’t sound a million miles away from Steve Hogarth. Most importantly, the music refuses to be grandiose and overblown, opting for atmosphere over complexity and stark shifts in musical ideas that would disturb the album’s gentle flow – each track smoothly and delicately makes its way from beginning to end. All of these elements work together to create some of the most beautiful examples of catchy, melodic dream pop. 

The album opens with the ambiguous ‘In The Lobby’ – as it says on the tin, this short track centres around the sounds of a busy lobby, which assumedly houses the crimson cabinet and introduces a descending melody that crops up later in the album. This then segues smoothly into ‘Spindrift’, a sweet sounding, relaxed pop song that hooks you into its catchy chorus. It ends on a more sombre note as the bass and piano melodies intermingle underneath some narration from Hoffmann. ‘Lost & Found’ is similar in style but carries on this sense of melancholy to an even greater extent, the lyrics outlining an aimless road trip that seems to go on indefinitely. For any listeners feeling a little weighed down at this point, fear not, for relief comes in the form of ‘Future Perfect Tense’ and ‘Mr O’ Brayne’ which both feel more energised, driven and have a clearer groove to get the head nodding. The latter is particularly driven; the distorted guitars really stand out here and are responsible for giving this track more grit than any other track on the album. ‘Future Perfect Tense’ may not be as gritty, but it does have the most addictive groove in the chorus and, interestingly, features a children’s choir which is a rare choice of instrumentation. However, the real centrepiece of the album is the title track which returns to a feeling of melancholia and ambience. If you can remember the descending melody from ‘In The Lobby’, you’ll notice its prevalence here – you can’t go wrong with recurring motifs! If you’re like me and love euphoric endings, you will love the ending here complete with choir mellotron and a soulful guitar solo. The final two tracks of the album are again similar in style; ‘The Future In Reverse’ offers six and a half minutes of painful emotion felt in every note played and sung, before the music takes a sudden change in direction towards something more energised and uplifting. ‘Nowhere Bound’ revisits the theme of an aimless journey (as suggested by the title) previously outlined in ‘Lost And Found’. The music of course suits this bleak topic, the melancholia prevalent throughout the album lasting till the very end.

Once you enter the Crimson Cabinet, you never want to leave! This band really excel in creating beautiful sounds shrouded in uncertainty and melancholia. Could this perhaps be called prog pop? I’m sceptical of such a term but nevertheless I enjoy the straightforward, catchier moments just as much as the more ambiguous excerpts of music on the album. With a lengthy back-catalogue, there is plenty more to hear whilst we await more new music from this talented bunch in the future…that is if/when you can drag yourselves out of the Crimson Cabinet!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

You can find Starfish64 on Facebook and Instagram! ‘The Crimson Cabinet’ is available on all major streaming platforms!

“A Farewell to Rush (Almost!)” – How 2112 saved Rush’s Career!

It’s 1975 and Rush are in trouble. There was an initial feeling of pride permeating within the trio when they first listened back to their ambitious third studio album Caress of Steel. It was certainly a development from the straightforward rock imbued Fly By Night, as the band began experimenting with longer song forms, complex arrangements and darker themes – ‘The Fountain of Lamneth’ is a prime example. Unfortunately, such drastic changes in sound alienated their fan base, who struggled to understand what Rush were trying to communicate both musically and lyrically. The album ultimately flopped, the tour that followed was nicknamed the ‘Down The Tube’ tour and the Mercury record company were losing faith in the band. With one more album left on the contract before they could be dropped from the label, it was a make or break situation – thank god it wasn’t the latter! Deciding that they wanted to go out in flames, Rush defied the label’s desire for a commercial record and instead created an album that, not only saved their career, but has stood the test of time as a masterpiece deserving of a place in the canon of progressive rock – the victorious album in question is 2112!

Released in 1976, 2112 cemented the Rush sound that was evidently confused and ambiguous on Caress of Steel. It shared the same ambitious nature as Caress of Steel, boasting the epic 20 minute title track that entirely dominates side A of the record, but the difference is in the execution – 2112 is the opposite of confused. The title track is the obvious centrepiece of the album, split into seven sections that tell a story of a protagonist living on a planet devoid of creativity (a scary thought) and ruled by priests who reside in the Temple of Syrinx. The protagonist finds a neglected guitar in a cave and discovers music for the first time; unfortunately the priests are not as impressed with his discovery and destroy this precious source of individualism and creativity. Depressed that he will never be able to relish in the glory of creativity, he takes his own life and the song ends with a planetary war! Ayn Rand’s Anthem was the inspiration behind this powerful story – she is credited by lyrical genius Neil Peart in the albums liner notes. However, this did get them into a spot of bother with NME who pointed out Rand’s right wing views and tried to label Rush as fascists; a hinderance that Rush obviously resented, but not enough of a hinderance to prevent fans from indulging in Rush’s eventful fiction. 

How I envy those listeners hearing that eerie synthesised opening for the very first time, unaware of the journey they are about to embark upon – so long, but yet so memorable. It is effortless to recall each concise movement of the epic, neatly fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle with the blistering overture being the central piece that holds together the rest of the puzzle. Only after the overture does the story begin to unravel, the music perfectly communicating the action of the story. ‘III Discovery’ and ‘IV Presentation’ are perfect examples of this; the former tells of the significant moment in which the protagonist uncovers the creative secrets of the guitar, mirrored beautifully in Lifeson’s improvised guitar part that develops from out of tune open strings to fully formed chords and ideas – if only I had learnt to play the guitar so quickly! The fragility and sparseness of this movement completely contrasts the anger and grit of the next movement ‘IV Presentation’. Lee, singing gently as the protagonist in the previous movement, transforms into the ruthless priests, singing in a much higher range with an angry snarl in his voice and accompanied by Lifeson’s roaring, hearty guitar chords and Peart’s uncompromising drumming. The stark change of mood here is just one example of the rollercoaster ride ‘2112’ takes you on, and exemplifies the mature craftsmanship here that a song such as ‘The Fountain of Lamneth’ lacked.

And then we have side B which features the more commercial tracks but nevertheless they are just as important as the epic title track. The tracks on side B show that Rush are more than just a one-trick pony; as well as creating long, complex and challenging epics that appeal to prog rockers alike, they have the versatility to craft concise yet excellent rock songs. Whether it be the marijuana related ‘A Passage to Bangkok’ that outlines the places that grow the best weed, the album’s sombre ballad ‘Tears’ that is drenched in mellotron, or ‘The Twilight Zone’ influenced by – you guessed it – the stories of the 60s sci-fi programme The Twilight Zone, side B offers a different listening experience to the one on side A. ‘2112’ is much more serious and dramatic, requiring patience and concentration, whereas the songs on side B are purposefully light-hearted and fun.

It is this fusion that made 2112 so successful, offering something that would appeal to everyone whether they preferred prog rock or straightforward classic rock. Fortunately for Rush and for the fans, 2112 saved their musical career and set them up to create more masterpieces such as Hemispheres, Moving Pictures and many more. Thankfully, 2112 did not signal ‘a farewell to Rush’ but rather a farewell to the anxieties of the past that could finally be put behind them as they began to propel forward!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

“Blasting Their Way Into The Prog Universe!” – ‘Cosmos’ by Sunset Junkies

Sunset Junkies are a heavy prog band from Australia led by the creative impetus of Byron Short (guitar and vocals) and aided by the majestic vocals of Ellie Jane. Stefan Fuller (bass) and Daniel Trickett (drums) complete the lineup. Despite the impeding effects of covid on the live music scene, Sunset Junkies have much to be excited about; with the promise of a new album in 2021, the band are using the time they have before this release to properly celebrate their debut 2019 album ‘Cosmos’ that was prevented from being performed in the flesh. It is unsurprising that the band want to relaunch the album on vinyl and milk it for all it’s worth, as ‘Cosmos’ is a powerful musical statement that promises satisfying bluesy rock, that sometimes leans towards heavy metal, along with a more ambitious experimental flavour that arises near the end of the album.

It certainly packs a punch! The first half of the album in-particular, is all about grit, power and chunky riffs that stay true to a classic rock n roll sensibility. Nowhere is this better emphasised than in ‘Sunset Junkie’, a clear nod towards the greats of classic rock such as AC/DC. The song is energised, driven and has a clear purpose in that it does not attempt to be anything other than a classic rock n roll headbanger. The guitar solo in the interlude is hearty and honest, fitting well with the bluesy style of the song. The track previous to this ‘It’, takes this sensibility even further; structured around a 12-bar blues, the band stay true to the very roots of classic rock n roll. However, the playful piano interjections, that punctuate the quieter sections of the 12-bar blues with some very tasty notes, gives the rigid 12-bar blues structure some much needed fluidity and interest. The album opener ‘Inertia’, is probably the most powerful statement on the album and has the right lasting impact that any opener should have. It is also the heaviest track on the album, bringing to mind Dream Theater as opposed to a classic rock band. The anthemic vocals really stand out here, sounding as if they are being gloriously shouted from a high mountain top. There is certainly a sense of revolutionary anger in the way the vocal melodies are communicated, especially with the multiple layered backing vocals that succeed in giving this already powerful song a very full, chant-like sound. 

We then move on to the final two tracks of the album – things become a little more proggy here! The former of the two is the 9 minute title track that really slows things down. In contrast to the unrelenting power and drive that characterised most of the previous songs, ‘Cosmos’ begins as nothing more than an acoustic guitar and vocals underscored by subtle, spacey background noise that highlight the fragility of this opening. Repetition and development are the key here as the band take their time in constructing the piece from its humble beginnings, gradually layering in each instrument until the song sounds fuller, stronger and eventually reaches the point of its emotional climax. The final 13 minute track ‘The Spheres’ couldn’t differ more in the way it begins, coming alive instantly by enveloping the listener in a sudden and inescapable wall of noise. Much like ‘Inertia’, this piece is initially very heavy but differs in that the opening lends itself to a gothic sound that provokes a sense of dread and evil. Not that this lasts too long, as the piece is constantly evolving and transitioning into new and contrasting sections. The vocal polyphony that emerges from the dying wall of noise, for example, abandons the previous evil and menace and instead opts for something much more uplifting. The piece then makes its way towards the end and feels more purposeful, developing on a chord progression towards a powerful and euphoric ending. The final minute of the album is tricky to describe but trust me when I say that it brings the whole album to a mysteriously ambiguous close.

There is something here for lovers of classic rock and prog alike! It is a shame that the band haven’t had a proper chance to perform these songs live where they are bound to sound even more powerful. However we are glad to have contributed in celebrating this awesome debut album! Keep your eyes out for their next studio album out next year – I certainly will!

Written by Dominic Sanderson!

You can find Sunset Junkies on Facebook and Instagram. Their debut album ‘Cosmos’ is available on all major streaming platforms!

Guest Post: Bidi – ‘Dans Ma Bulle’ (2020) by Prog Loop!

“Bidi released his debut EP on the 2nd of December, 2020, after 6 years in the making. The EP contains elements of rock ‘n roll, such as distorted power-chord riffs on the guitar, electronic sounds establishing a mysterious atmosphere, prog metal runs, a 10-person vocal orchestra, and even orchestral or big band parts. The multi-faceted nature of such a record makes it hard to classify it as part of a single genre. His influences range from Dream Theater to alt rock band Nothing But Thieves. Apart from his obvious love of genre-bending, the EP’s main theme seems to be contemporary experimentation. For “cause perdue,” an emotional rollercoaster of a song that talks about rejection by a loved one, Bidi layered his interviews with people on top of the bridge of the song in order to augment the melancholic atmosphere. There is also a similar layering in “c’est un depart,” this time with real conversions from space missions since the song is about a space adventure. Oh, talking about space, the lyrics are very… unconventional. The 3rd track, “le gecko,” is about a gecko’s love life, while 2 tracks later tears roll down our cheeks because of the forlorn content of the lyrics. The EP, from start to finish, is full of surprises and small details that Bidi seems to have poured his years into.”

This is the introduction to a brilliant review of Bidi’s ‘Dans Ma Bulle’ published by our good friends over at Prog Loop. To read the whole article, click the link below:

https://www.theloopnet.work/post/bidi-dans-ma-bulle-2020

Interview with Kevin Storm: Fleetburner and Their Debut Album!

Fleetburner is the metal/rock project belonging to Dutch guitarist Kevin Storm. For the first time, Storm has allowed himself the complete creative freedoms to create his own untampered vision. The close bond Storm has with this project is evident on Fleetburner’s debut album; an emotional rollercoaster, you can clearly tell that Storm has written this from the soul. Storm has produced a solid debut that refuses to be belittled as simply a ‘metal album’ – it is so much more! While the album succeeds in creating a satisfying heavy sound, there are many other flavours and influences that are guaranteed to appeal. Handpicked by Storm to create this ambitious offering, the lineup features Ken Simply (vocals), Peter Iwers (bass), Tomas Myklebust (drums) and Veli-Matti Kananen (keys) as well as Storm himself on the guitar. I had a chat with Storm to learn all about it…

How did the band form and what was the initial goal?

I started the album by myself. It started as a project, a story that I really needed to get out of my system. As you figured out, I met Tomas on a tour with Vulture Industries where we were both session musicians. We ended that tour by saying “we should totally start a band”. Fleetburner became a very, very personal story that needed to be released from my system and to get this to a full band; I really ONLY wanted to work with people that I trusted. I knew that the people I toured with had their hearts in the right place. I have a very particular view on making music and a lot of it centers around the magic of people putting themselves in their instruments. I believe in music as catharsis.

You released your self-titled debut album in September. How would you describe it?

I’ve said this in other interviews as well. I describe it as “me, lifted by friends”.

Could you outline the concept in detail? What was the inspiration for the concept?

I believe it’s something universal. The fact that all these musicians gathered around this single totem pole that has been shaped into Fleetburner proves that a lot of people can connect to it. I believe a lot of people connect to it on very deep levels. For me it’s about leaving things behind. Building new worlds, murdering your past self and leaving behind everything that tried to drag you down. To Ken, our singer, it’s a different, but equally emotional ride. My version of the story, the album I wrote before the others came onboard is that of the young child that is surrounded by harmful people. The child needs to learn to navigate its own emotions, the world around it and how harmful it can be. That, for me, was a very long and arduous path and led me to a point where I have learned to come to terms with the fact that the world is simply not what I dream it to be. The young man will have to deal with this world, and fleeing is not always an option. The fleet will follow, hurt is inescapable. For some it’s unsurvivable, but to me one of the most important lines in the whole album is “eyes ahead, chin up, run”.

The debut is said to be a mix of heavy metal, thrash metal, prog and classic rock. What would you say are the most progressive moments on the album?

It’s been insane to see how much love the album is getting from the prog scene, but I never intended it to reach any market. I wrote this music from within, and I simply can’t stick within a single genre. I love what Marty Friedman said about his leaving Megadeth. He said music to him is a palet of colours, and he was getting tired of only painting with gunnery metal. He went on to create some of the most fantastically creative music after that. I believe in those words.

Which artists are you inspired by and why? Which songs from the album reflect these influences greatest?

I grew up with bands like My Dying Bride, Anathema, Metallica, but I love music like Kate Bush, Nick Cave, so much more. I have a broad love of music, as long as it’s dark, I guess. Or from the heart. I think a lot of Doom and black metal influence can be heard but that’s probably because I toured with so many bands in that genre.

What was the recording process like? Were there any areas that proved trickier to record than others?

I can’t remember anything from the recording. The original writing I did, happened in a timespan of roughly two months, and all I can remember from it is coming home and listening to the results every night. I really was in a different space in my head when I did all this. And no, I don’t do drugs, or drink. It was a very emotional period at the time and this story just HAD to come out. I’m still amazed at the orchestra’s I created, I never even knew I could do that.

You have certainly done the rounds in other bands. How does working in Fleetburner differ with other bands you’ve worked with?

Fleetburner is the first and only band I ever truly wrote without limitations. I’ve written concept albums before and worked with big bands on helping them write their albums, but never have I written this close to the heart. I didn’t have to cater to any ego’s and that was incredibly liberating.

You say the arrival of vocalist Ken Simerly was unexpected? How so? And how did his unexpected arrival change the sound of the band?

Ken was something we were hoping for. I was looking for a new singer after having spent 9 months with a different singer who had too many personal issues to be really able to commit to the album. Ken responded to a video I posted and that’s how he auditioned. I was looking for a singer who could sing in the style of Jeff Buckley and he was without a doubt the right match.

What impact has covid had on your work as musicians? Did this effect the recording or release of the new album?

The music was intercontinental already, I believe the recording process would not have been any different if the world had been the same as before. Of course we are unable to promote the album live and this definitely had an impact on sales, but we’re happy the music is out there and the rave reviews we have been getting.

What is the next step for the band? Are there any touring plans? Or is it too soon to think about live gigs at this point?

I already started writing the next album, since there are no tours and no clear sight of when the roads will open again. I will just work on building the band, getting it out to people, and trying to somehow gather a little bit of money to mix the next album. It’s nearly impossible with all the streaming platforms out there to actually make any money with a new band, but I have high hopes for when the roads do open.

What is your advice to those independent artists struggling due to the pandemic?

Quit struggling, get to work. We’re all in this, if you’re not writing music NOW, then you’ll never do it. Use the time to find your center, your core and write what you want to write. Pretend there is no audience and find new grounds. Because the live-scene will never be the same after this.

Wise words from a talented musician. You can find Fleetburner on Facebook and Instagram. Their debut album is available on all major streaming platforms!

Intro and Interviewer: Dominic Sanderson

“Rolling Around In The Glorious Mud” – ‘Quiet Days On Earth’ by Electric Mud

Electric Mud are a post-progressive duo from Germany comprising of Hagen Bretschneider and Nico Walser. I would usually attempt to give you an overview of the artist’s main sound but on this occasion I struggle as these guys refuse to be compartmentalised. Having heard of this studio-based duo and the original sounds emanating from their work, I was intrigued enough to give their 2018 album ‘The Deconstruction Of Light’ a listen. This dark offering lends itself to a heavy, distorted sound where chunky guitars riffs dominate and dissonance is prevalent – very Crimson-esque I’m sure you’ll agree. Such heavy moments are contrasted with ambient Tangerine Dream like soundscapes that are still darkly coloured but provide a different texture to relieve the more intense moments. I knew that they had a new album out this year titled ‘Quiet Days On Earth’, and expecting to hear more of what ‘The Deconstruction Of Light’ offered, I was excited to get my teeth into their new album!

‘Quiet Days On Earth’ is the perfect example of how this duo refuse to swear allegiance to a singular sound; whilst it is not a million miles away from their previous album, there is definitely a change in direction. We still have the Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno influenced soundscapes but on this album they serve a gentler, more cinematic purpose. Rather than provoking an overall dark feeling like on their previous album, ‘Quiet Days On Earth’ is all about creating a plethora of contrasting moods – some uplifting, some haunting and some just plain beautiful! It presents the listener with 15 dynamically varied pieces that often begin as delicate, subdued ideas but grow into something much more intense and climatic. The synth/keys, being the real star of the show throughout the album, contributes most in creating these calming atmospheres, helped along by delicate piano, lush strings, Gilmour-esque guitar, Hagen’s bass that grounds these vast soundscapes and many other interesting appearances. It is the subtle, barely noticeable swells, tinkles and playful melodies on these instruments, weaving in and out of each song, that makes this a highly detailed album – it requires careful and repeated listening. What really stands out for me, however, is the incredibly rich harmony; the use of extended chords and unusual chord changes keeps the music interesting and often adds such colour to these soundscapes – I can’t help but smile every time I hear an unexpected chord!

You can imagine the smile on my face then when I hear the gorgeous repeated chord progression on the strings in ‘silhouettes floating down a rain-slicked street’, preceding a most glorious, euphoric climax that would succeed in making any grown man shed a tear. Or perhaps you can envisage the huge, joyful grin on my face during ‘the loneliness of the somnambulist’ when the song suddenly becomes really static, with chords being sustained for what seems like forever and trapping the listener in a glorious wall of noise held together by a repeating heartbeat rhythm on the lower instruments. When the chord eventually changes, it is unexpected, surprising and joyously fulfilling! 

For the many moments of beauty, such as these, there are also the more sinister pieces that hearken back to the duo’s previous material. In particular, ‘wading through the waters of time’ starts off ominously as a drone underscores a haunting chord progression that at times clashes with this drone and muddies the overall tonality. The second half then introduces an evil distorted guitar that reminds me of the sort of gothic sound Black Sabbath were well known for. Similarly, ‘the absence of light’ lends itself to an identical gothic sound, especially with the organ in the background. The dread-provoking piano and the uncomfortably shrill wail that crops up from time to time serve to cause some real discomfort for the listener – this piece sounds like it could be from a horror movie. ‘The space between the shadows’ fools you with its ominous opening; a very low drone underscores a mellotron melody that muddies the tonality with clashing notes. However, the entrance of a lively acoustic guitar quickly sweeps the doom and gloom away and suddenly changes the entire mood of the piece. Everything feels happier, playful and as we approach the end, a lot more uplifting than what was initially set out. 

Just when you thought this album couldn’t be any more diverse, the duo incorporate some world music influences into a couple of the songs. The title track ‘quiet days on earth’ begins with a subtle nod to a flamenco style of playing on the acoustic guitars, adding a nice Spanish flavour to the album. In fact, this track features the guitar more prominently than elsewhere on the album, and I must mention the long, epic guitar solo that brings the song to a close – a really soulful and satisfying guitar solo. We then hear a more folk-inspired sound on ‘adventures in a liquid world’ with the de-tuned guitar, mandolin and percussive shakers nodding towards this country flavour. This has shown itself to be an incredibly versatile album – and there are more songs to delve into!

There is a whole lot more that can be said but I’ll let you discover its intricacies for yourself. Clocking in at 79 minutes, there isn’t one single bad minute on the album, each song a refreshing change from the last. These guys deserve a lot of credit considering the obvious amount of heart and soul that has gone into this creation – a gem in the prog world! I cannot wait to find out which path they take their music down on future releases.  

“The Tale Of Royer The Wizard!” – ‘Wizard At Work Part 1’ by Jeff Royer

Jeff Royer is a 28 year old solo artist from California, working away in his small cabin on Palomar Mountain in San Diego – this is where the magic happens! He is another one of those astounding musicians who love being entirely independent, writing, recording and producing all of his own material unaided. His 2019 debut album ‘A Portal To The Message’ marked his first independent effort; this piano and synth led offering evokes a heavy Supertramp influence that meets a space rock sound. Royer describes it as a “testing waters album” in which he wasn’t overly worried about complexity. Now that he is more comfortable in the realms of being a solo artist, Royer is beginning to musically challenge himself for the next album. His efforts have paid off on his new single ‘Wizard At Work Part 1’ that definitely sounds proggier, evoking a clear Yes influence. 

This six minute piece refuses to repeat itself, encompassing both symphonic and atmospheric elements, Royer neatly ties this piece together with multiple recurring motifs that solidify all of his amazing musical ideas. The introduction is purposeful, with the tonic being outlined in the lower parts and emphasised in the higher descending synth parts – the guitar doubles the synth later on. The last bar in each phrase is filled in with a tasteful keys lick to spice up this introductory section. A more symphonic section then follows, beginning with a rapid ascending figure on the guitars; in fact the guitars really take the lead here for this entire section, presenting the listener with some memorable melodies. The twin guitar melody, in-particular, that precedes a more ambient section, works really effectively at indicating that something significant is about to occur. And funnily enough, the next section introduces the main motif in the best possible way; a huge synth drone gives this part of the song a vastness that brings this motif to the forefront. The bass and drums do an excellent job of grounding the music and retaining the energy of the piece. An unexpected rapid descending figure on the guitars then brings us into a new section centred around just two chords that allow for some soloing opportunities. The guitar and synth are both let loose, producing similarly melodic and hearty solos, each solo separated by a repeat of the rapid descending figure. The music then builds towards the final section of the piece which sees the return of the huge synth drone and that all important motif – with no drums or bass grounding the music here, a weight feels like it has finally been lifted as the motif repeats until fade out. If you listen carefully, you can hear the rapid descending figure distantly in the background making its way down to the tonic where it unifies with the synth drone. This final section feels like something has been resolved!

With the album set for release in just one months time, this first taste of ‘Wizard At Work’ will whet your appetite. For those lovers of symphonic prog bands such as Yes and Camel, this will be of great appeal to you. If you still want to hear more of Royer before the album comes out, check out his first album – you won’t be disappointed by any of the music he has made so far!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

You can find Jeff Royer on Instagram. You can listen to the single ‘Wizard At Work Part 1’ on all major streaming platforms. His new album ‘Wizard At Work’ comes out in December 2020!

“Putting The ‘Solo’ In Solo Project!” – ‘Clair Obscur’ by Nicolas Willot

Nicolas Willot is a 22 year old solo artist from France who was introduced to music through learning the tuba, trumpet and piano. But at the age of 16, it was the guitar that Willot favoured initiating his interest in prog rock, in-particular Pink Floyd and the 60s psychedelic scene. In 2016 with his creativity sparked by these influences, Willot started to compose his own material; fast forward four years later and his debut EP ‘Clair Obscur’ is the end product, a home-made project composed, recorded, mixed and mastered entirely by Willot. Although entirely instrumental, the EP tells a story of a dream beginning at night time with ‘Prayer to The Moon’ and then finishing at the start of the day with ‘Dawn’ – Willot’s Gilmour-esque guitar takes the lead on this journey.

If you are in need of something soothing to calm you down, I’d suggest you go on this journey! Characterised by ambient rhythm guitar parts, drenched in delay and often flange/phase effects, and soulful, warm lead guitar interjections, the music perfectly encapsulates the dreamy concept. ‘Prayer to The Moon’, in true psychedelic fashion, jams on the same chord progression for its entirety, allowing Willot’s lead guitar to scream and wail over the mellow accompaniment. The opening to ‘Clouds From The Past’ communicates a similar mellow feeling with more lead guitar over the accompaniment. A bold acoustic guitar chord signals a modulation to a different key, with this new chord progression introducing some very interesting chord changes. The lead guitar plays with the harmonic minor scale in this section, adding a lovely Middle Eastern flavour. The final section of the piece is slightly more uplifting but still ambient in nature; the rhythm guitar is swamped in delay and includes a flanger effect to give this section a very spacey feel. The ten minute title track features some lovely fingerpicked guitar work: in the accompaniment at the start where we hear a crisp acoustic guitar solo, and then a very delicate fingerpicked guitar part later on at the halfway mark. Together with Willot’s lead guitar, this makes for a very sweet sounding moment in the piece. Its sweetness completely contrasts the dissonance and sense of foreboding in the preceding section which sounds like it is building towards something menacing when in actual fact we get the exact opposite. ‘Dawn’ is again mellow in sound, perhaps the most calming on the EP, initially flipping between just two chords as the lead guitar works its magic. This relaxed atmosphere doesn’t outstay its welcome as the final moments feel more energised, ending Willot’s EP on a euphoric note.

A promising start from a young composer utilising what he has at home to bring his creations to life. I hear that he is working on a second album that will be more blues influenced and will feature some vocals – so there is something to look forward to! It will be interesting to see how he develops his music, whether he sticks to being a fully independent solo artist, or receives help from fellow musicians and producers that may possibly further his music career – we shall see. A great start Nicolas!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

You can find Nicolas Willot on Facebook and Instagram! ‘Clair Obscur’ is available on all major streaming platforms!

“A Smooth Ascent In The World Of Prog!” – ‘Flown’ by Dim Gray

Dim Gray are a post-progressive trio from Norway consisting of Håkon Høiberg (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals), Oskar Holldorf (vocals, piano, synths) and Tom Ian Klungland (drum kit, percussion). With a sound that they describe as a “blend of Radiohead and Fleet Foxes”, Dim Gray combine a rich palette of mellow soundscapes with an indie folk influence that often has a dark edge. Their 2020 debut album ‘Flown’ is a testament to this unique sound; unafraid of sparse arrangements and ambitious instrumentation, the band create some of the most beautiful musical passages that, at times, reach deep into the soul of the listener, communicating the albums concept of loss and loneliness beautifully. These three multi-instrumentalists are destined for success in the prog world!

In fact, they’ve already been reaping the rewards from their debut album, receiving a host of glowing reviews from various sites and publications around the world. One of which, familiar to prog fans alike, is UK based Prog Magazine, who described them as “elegaic and beautifully dense post-prog” – what an honour! Other sites have commented on this being the best debut they’ve heard from a band in a long time, which as you can imagine, must be one of the most heart-warming compliments to receive as a musician. Such positive feedback is no surprise of course, as this has obviously taken a lot of planning and thought to conceive – the level of detail here is commendable!

It is that attention to detail and thoughtfulness that gives this album an edge in the saturated world of music. This is a band who aren’t afraid of the ‘less is more’ approach to songwriting and, even better, they execute it with flying colours. ‘Again’, for example, is a gentle yet haunting opening to the album, featuring only voice and keys initially that is then aided by a grand string accompaniment that adds an element of drama to the piece, reminding me of the string arrangements in Magenta’s new album ‘Masters of Illusion’. Both ‘Wandering’ and ‘Song for E’ are likewise sparse in arrangement, even more so for that matter, as the vocals in both these tracks are accompanied by only one instrument: a piano in ‘Wandering’ and a mandolin in ‘Song for E’. In doing this, the vocals have nowhere to hide in the mix and therefore we can hear every crisp detail of emotion in the voice, making these songs incredibly powerful. The band go one step further in the second half of ‘Ouroboros’, beginning with an isolated vocal; being able to hear the reverb so clearly, coupled together with the silences between phrases, makes this the most delicate and tense moment on the album. This tension is only resolved when another vocal is added and the strings, that dominated the first half of the piece, re-enter. I love how daring these musicians are: a completely string-led first half, in which the strings function as an element of beauty rather than drama, followed by the most gentle isolated vocal melody – this is probably my favourite piece on the album!

Beauty comes in different forms, whether it be the lush string arrangements or the more ambiguous, ambient pieces on the album, more specifically the shorter tracks ‘Flown’ and ‘Yore’. Both are calming to listen to; the fluidity and meditative qualities of each piece instil images of gentle seas and warm sunsets in my mind as I listen – very cinematic and utterly gorgeous! There are then the songs on the album that are a little more upbeat and energised; songs such as ‘The Wave We Thought We’d Ride Forever’ and ‘Closer’ are characterised by a larger, fuller sound and a clear Fleet Foxes folk influence. ‘Dreamers Disease’, in particular, is a highlight for me due to the gritty guitar sounds and the underlying menace that contrasts the beauty elsewhere. The second half of the piece is really chilling; the playful guitar melody and legato strings battling against an obtrusive, war-like siren sound creates an uncomfortable tension. However, we get the best of both worlds as the piece ends on a gentle note, just strings and piano relieve the previous turmoil as the song fades out – ‘Dreamers Disease’ showcases everything that is great about this album!

And there really are a lot of great things here! Whether it be the interesting arrangements that grab the listeners attention no matter how sparse, or the emotional rollercoaster that absorbs the listener in the concept, this album ticks all the right boxes. With the success they’ve already had since its release, I am confident that they will soon be reaping even bigger rewards from this ambitious debut. Hopefully they will keep this standard up for future releases – I’ll be on the lookout and you should be as well!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

You can find Dim Gray on Facebook and Instagram! ‘Flown’ is available on all major streaming platforms!

“Immerse Yourself…But Don’t Lose Yourself!” – ‘Vodälse’ by LEVT

LEVT is an ambient, post-rock project led by Sväro Stungett, a musician who, having previously felt restricted in band situations, is relishing in the creative freedoms available to him as a solo artist. LEVT’s debut release ‘Vodälse’, is symbolic of this change in Stungett’s career; the albums concept explores the journey of birth which, on a more personal note, mirrors the birth of a new musical chapter for Stungett. Influenced by the likes of Oceansize and Sigur Rós, LEVT specialises in creating unsettling soundscapes, often dream-like in style but with a subtle underlying menace which sometimes reveals itself in the form of distorted guitars that tear their way through the ambience – this truly is an immersive experience!

Due to the repetitive nature of this style of music, development is the key ingredient that grounds the listeners attention. LEVT expertly develop each of their songs by gradually adding new layers to the main idea of the piece until the idea has run its course or there is an obvious climax – this is achieved in contrasting ways. Nevertheless, a commonality prevalent throughout the album is the reliance on the guitar as a source of experimental sounds. Often, Stungett will add layer upon layer of guitar parts, drowned in reverb and delay, all playing different melodies. The result is epic; the polyphonic three part guitar introduction to ‘Stödangur’ creates an interesting soundscape of intertwining guitar melodies all fighting for dominance. This tension only then resolves when a distorted guitar makes clear the dominant force in this song – the addition of a choir gives the piece a huge sound as it builds toward a euphoric climax. Similarly, ‘Utryensrömmnum’, a more up-tempo track, features a battle between the left and right guitars as they develop throughout the piece; at times it feels like a call and response but then close to the end it turns into a power struggle as both parts play contrasting melodies high up on the fretboard. This struggle is underscored by a purposeful drum groove and, what sounds like, a very distant, mellow choir effect repeating a spooky three note pattern. A great example of the underlying menace I mentioned earlier, and to think that the song begins with a gentle and calming shimmering effect – unsettling is the word! The opening ten minute track ‘Havsjö’, again makes use of this twin guitar sound but at one point in the song, as the main guitar idea is played, Stungett adds some effects to a second guitar part that almost makes it sound like a keyboard instrument (if I am hearing it correctly). It makes you think about the real potential for experimentation that the guitar presents – I’m glad that Stungett has opened up this potential! 

In contrast, the third track more or less strays away from ambience and atmosphere and instead Stungett shows off the heavier side to his guitar playing. ‘Overägno’ almost borders on doom metal – yes that’s right, it almost sounds like a call to the Devil himself! The only ray of light is a delayed guitar part at the centre of the mix, adding some much needed treble to this bass heavy sound. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; the halfway point sees rid of the distorted guitars in place of a clean and quite jovial guitar melody. From there, the melody develops until we reach another euphoric climax. The final track, ‘Avxluta’, lends itself to a similar metal-inspired attitude in its second half. The first half is a slow burner, initially relying on a guitar melody countered by a banjo melody that develops for the first half of the song. A sort of ghostly effect weaves in and out of this section, at times being so intense that it feels obtrusive and uncomfortable. The sudden entrance of a gritty guitar melody aided by some chugging guitars, kicks off the second half of the song. The rest of the song stays at this sort of heavy dynamic, apart from a brief albeit chilling moment of quiet where we hear whispering voices – very spooky, but then again, if I was to sum this album up, the word spooky, along with unsettling, tense and atmospheric, would fit nicely!

What a journey! From gentle shimmering effects and majestic choirs to angry, distorted guitars and melodies fighting for dominance in these soundscapes where everything merges – each song is a journey in its own right, starting off as a bare idea that transforms into an uncontrollable beast! Stungett, whose identity remains concealed by an oryx mask, deserves much credit for composing and recording all of this by himself but he hopes to come together as band for live performances (when they can resume of course). If you want to hear more of LEVT, you can find their recent single called ‘Lifbrü’ that acts as an interim release between ‘Vodälse’ and a follow up album in 2021. And until then, I think I may repeat a few of those journeys!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

You can find LEVT on Instagram and Facebook. ‘Vodälse’ is available on all major streaming platforms!