“No Blank Drawn Here!” – ‘Anthology Of A Cave’ by About Blank

About Blank are an Italian heavy prog band which originally formed as a hard/alternative rock band in 2015. The members comprise of Marco Venturelli (vocals), Alessandro Ambrosio (guitars), Francesco Mazziotti (guitars), Enrico Scorzoni (bass) and Raul Zannoni (drums). Their latest release, ‘Anthology Of A Cave’ (2019), in their own words represents an experimentation with ‘a new sound, new subjects and a new genre’ as they successfully retain a heavy rock sound but within a progressive context. This new album ticks all the boxes: a psychological concept album featuring a range of soundscapes and textures that neatly balance the unrelenting heavier moments that make it a heavy prog delight.

The concept places the human being at the centre using ‘the cave’ as a metaphor. The protagonist embarks upon journeys in a world created by fairy tales including giants (‘Giants’), robots (‘Ro-Both’) and more; in each journey, he encounters the negative traits that make up a human being. These encounters force the protagonist to search inside himself, inside ‘The Cave’, where he finds a new world full of new questions and contradictions. The prospect of another journey to answer these questions is hinted at by the end. The album also features an extra song that is not part of the concept; ‘One More’ fits more with the hard/alternative side to their earlier musical sound as it features other artists that have injected their own musical styles into it. It is a complete contrast to the rest of the album, which is musically darker and conceptually complex – nevertheless it acts as a light relief, a real headbanger that shakes off the weighty subject matter previously explored. 

It may be a dark trip that uncovers some of our worst behaviours as human beings – but it is certainly worth it for the sound that goes with it! The band’s music can be likened to many famous names in the modern prog world, creating their own exciting modern sounds that refuse to hang onto the prog greats of the past. The most impressive focal point of the album is the reliance on the acoustic guitar; the band really explores the full scope of its sounds and uses. When I hear ‘Giants’, which opens the album, I instantly think of The Pineapple Thief, doubling a crushing guitar riff with an acoustic guitar to create a most interesting and powerful contrast. However in the same breath, ‘Giants’ also features a twin acoustic guitar section that creates a gentler soundscape. In ‘Orpheo’, the highlight of the album, a strummed acoustic guitar highlights the rich chord changes superbly by the fact that the opening is stripped to just acoustic guitar and vocals. The fast acoustic guitar licks at the end of each phrase adds a crisp edge to this gorgeous opening. The band contrasts this beautiful opening with moments of euphoria, such as the section beginning with a heartfelt guitar solo that builds into an ascending twin guitar climax (which reappears at the end of the piece). The return to an acoustic atmosphere reminds me of much of the acoustic work on Opeth’s ‘Damnation’ album – again, harmonically interesting and quite acrobatic in places. 

There are then the many heavier moments on the album that balance the lighter textures; ‘The Cave’ and ‘The Unnecessary’ take the listener on a journey in which light and dense textures are conflicted. When it is light, we hear the gorgeous three part vocal harmony that is prevalent on the album, often underscored by the acoustic guitar – these vocals are allowed to shine through. As a general observation, Venturelli’s voice has the same warm tone that Blackfield singer Aviv Geffen has – a compliment for sure. When the textures are dense, the guitars are distorted and the riffs are unrelenting; the drums, in particular the powerful bass drum, are impactful and up-front. The guitars consistently compliment each other in every sense, whether that be in the lighter acoustic sections or the heavier riff-based sections, making easy work of complex rhythms and changes in time signature. ‘Ro-Both’ is heavy the whole way through, but is occasionally underscored by sounds of industry and robotic synths to match with the protagonists meeting with a robot. The track preceding this, ‘Before It Was Done’ and the track ‘Birds’ are both entirely synth-based one minute pieces that add more interesting colours to the album. ‘Before It Was Done’ sounds very robotised, almost as if it’s trying to emulate a robot powering up for the first time; while still being very atmospheric, it has a harsher sound in contrast with ‘Birds’ which is much smoother and flowing, creating a gentler atmosphere in preparation for the awesomeness of ‘Orpheo’ that comes after. The band ends their concept with an uplifting acoustic guitar piece called ‘A Place For Time’ which is the song that marks the protagonist’s time of rest before he embarks on a new journey. The major tonality of the piece perhaps represents the protagonist’s new found wisdom and sense of strength that will guide him through many more future travels. A beautiful fingerpicked guitar part over the sound of a ticking clock calmly ends this whirlwind of a journey – the calm before the storm of a new journey!

About Blank have crafted some diverse sounds to match their thought-provoking concept. It is a concept that we live through on a day to day basis; life is one big journey of self-discovery in which we encounter those negative human behaviours. If this album teaches anything, it is to be aware of our own negative traits but to never give in to them. The band have taught this lesson in style; the conflicting textures and soundscapes, ranging from the gritty, the reflective and the ambient, keep up the momentum of the album throughout. I look forward to hearing how they develop even further with the new progressive sound they have opted for.

Written by Dominic Sanderson.

You can find About Blank on Facebook and Instagram. ‘Anthology Of A Cave’ is available on Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, Amazon Music and Deezer.

“Keeping Crimson Alive in 2020” – ‘Scarlet Hands’ by Shallow Green

Shallow Green are an American prog band from New Jersey which formed in 2018 when drummer John Bonacorso began to fulfil his desire to form a prog band by teaming up with guitarist and vocalist Jack Mangan. After holding auditions, Steve Riccobono was then picked to play the role of bass player in the band to complete the trio. A couple of the months down the line, spurred on by an impulse to find something new, saxophonist Owen Larocca became the fourth member of the band which completes their current lineup. The band describes their sound as ‘true to classic rock n roll’ but with a blend of progressive influences – these influences include Rush, Genesis and King Crimson. No where is this most accurate than on their debut single, ‘Scarlet Hands’, that blends rock, funk and jazz to create a progressive offering that can be classed as prog/jazz fusion.

The rhythm section introduces the song, a solid beginning comprising of a fat bass sound and a syncopated drum groove. The guitar parts are then layered in, first with a sustained three note part that outlines the chords which nicely contrasts a funky strummed part – some added wah wah to this strummed part gives it a neat edge. The vocals and sax then join in, as the sax doubles the vocal melody for the most part. So far the band are in-keeping with their ‘classic rock n roll’ sound as the first section of the piece is a 12-bar blues; they keep it tight and clean, refusing to complicate or deviate from its ‘true’ sound. However, the songs abrupt change of tone is where the fun begins, a change signalled by a well disciplined fast ascending figure in unison which then descends into chaos – Bonacorso’s awesome drum fill that precedes this is another hint that the song is about to let loose. Larocca’s sax really stands out at the beginning of this instrumental section, as he makes it scream and wail, intensified by a delay effect that creates the ‘wall of sound’ that the band describes of their music. With chromaticism featuring highly and Larocca and Mangan each taking turns to solo, the rhythm section does an excellent job of holding down the music and maintaining the tonality amid this mayhem. A short, tasteful guitar solo from Mangan brings the song back to its 12-bar blues structure, a much more energised version compared to its cleaner sound at the beginning – the guitars are crunchier, the drum groove is more driven and the vocals are angrier. carrying the momentum of the previous chaos. When the sax melody is played for the final time, Riccobono’s wah wah effect on the bass, which this time doubles the sax melody, showcases the melody at its best for the final time. The band finish their piece with the same flurry of notes that took them into the instrumental section, making for a crisp end to a song that fuses rock, funk, jazz and prog.

‘Scarlet Hands’ is a solid first release that will make you yearn to hear more of what they have got to offer. On YouTube, they have videos that showcase some of their other original material yet to be professionally recorded – but hopefully will be. A particular video of interest is one shot with ‘Bloom NJ’, a collective featuring artists from New Jersey, in which the band perform ‘Scarlet Hands’ and another original called ‘The Soldier’ live. They aim to grow their following and to release new music within the next year – I hope they can fulfil this aim and treat us to more of their distinctive sound.

Written by Dominic Sanderson.

You can find Shallow Green on Instagram and Facebook. ‘Scarlet Hands’ is available on Spotify, Youtube and Apple Music.

‘…The Journey Continues’ with Mal Hijo’s “So The Story Goes”

Two months after the release of their first single, Mal Hijo have graced their fans with the release of their second single; another contributing piece to their conceptual puzzle, ‘Superstar Crematorium’, which they began to shape in 2018 and have since recorded and mixed independently in bedrooms and flats! As a reminder, Mal Hijo are a 5 piece prog band formed in Liverpool in 2017, having met through their music course at university. The lineup consists of Mike Blue (main vocals, rhythm guitar), Billy Price (lead guitar), Jacob Hackett (drums, backing vocals), Tyler Swindley (bass) and the recent addition of Tristan Apperley (synth/keys). Having been established as a heavy prog band, Mal Hijo’s new single, titled ‘So The Story Goes’, is an even more ambitious offering; a six minute through-composed piece of music, meaning that nothing repeats but instead each new idea develops from the previous one, taking the listener on a musical journey.

As previously outlined, the concept revolves around the central character of Fenix who exists in two different musical points in time; in act 1 he exists in the late 70’s/early 80’s whereas in act 2 he exists in the modern day. Their first single, ‘Mal Hijo’, features in act 2 of the album, detailing Fenix’s sense of alienation existing in modern times and rejection of his musical style. ‘So The Story Goes’ takes us to the very beginning of the story before Fenix’s stardom in 1979; like many dreamers hoping to make it in the music industry, Fenix laments his youth and the way he was belittled by everybody around him for having unrealistic goals for the future. Despite everyones lack of faith, Fenix strives to turn his dreams into a reality and prove everyone wrong. Having released two singles so chronologically far apart certainly keeps listeners guessing as to how the story progresses from ‘So The Story Goes’ to ‘Mal Hijo’.

As this is a concept album, and in the true style of a concept album, the piece begins with the last chord of the first song on the album. However this chord has been reversed so that it crescendos into ‘So The Story Goes’ – a neat and cool way to tie these songs together. Once this crescendo has ended, the song truly begins; a journey full of light and shade, it inhibits influences of the classic hard rock greats such as Queen, as well as retaining the influence of Pink Floyd previously heard on ‘Mal Hijo’. And Pink Floyd is exactly what comes to mind initially; the piece begins as a ballad, Price playing a Gilmour-esque solo accompanied by Swindley’s gentle piano chords, some careful cymbal work from Hackett while Apperley’s hammond lingers in the background. Hackett and Price drop out to allow Blue’s vocals to take centre stage; Hackett also sings in this section, providing a harmony to Blue’s vocal line and Price even chips in with a tasteful falsetto line on the word ‘goodbye’. The vocal lines are a striking feature of this song throughout, whether it be unpredictable falsetto lines that succeed in taking the listener by surprise or Hackett’s higher vocal harmonies that, as I’ve previously mentioned, mingle very well with Blue’s voice. At around the 2.40s mark, we hear the song take a change of direction as the whole band now plays at its fullest, even featuring a cheeky violin part courtesy of the multi-talented Apperley. Price, again, displays his virtuosic guitar playing with another of his Petrucci-esque solos, shredding to his hearts content during this euphoric and uplifting section. Another change of direction as the song returns to a more sombre atmosphere, Swindley’s bass taking point, outlining a descending chord progression and underscored by Apperley’s subtle synth parts and a lilting 12-string acoustic guitar. This brief section quickly explodes into a violent and menacing chromatically descending section which constantly develops, especially through Apperley’s organ parts that evolve as this menacing section ruthlessly tears its way through the rest of the song. Price’s guitar parts are also ever changing – for me, the best bit is when he begins to play a repeating, crunching melodic riff under the chord progression. With the name of the track being shouted in the background and Hackett letting rip on the drum kit, his faultless and stylistic playing adding to the drama, the song makes its big climax before the dynamic is brought down once more for a final reflective section that sees the return of Swindley’s piano from the beginning. What sounds like a police siren finally brings this part of Fenix’s journey to a close.

Another great offering for listeners to immerse themselves in while eagerly awaiting the release of the full album that will outline how Fenix’s journey will continue from this epic beginning. It certainly requires more than one listen as there are many hidden nuances that reveal themselves as you become more familiar with the track – it just goes to show how talented and thoughtful these musicians are. My anticipation has now been heightened having heard this awesome track – I cannot wait!

Written by Dominic Sanderson

Listen to “So The Story Goes” on Spotify and Apple Music

Let us know what you think!

“An Epic Debut in the World of Prog” – ‘Empty Circles and Grains of Sand’ by Dominic Sanderson

“Empty Circles and Grains of Sand” is a single release from an upcoming debut EP from British progressive rock artist Dominic Sanderson. Recorded and mixed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanderson contributes an impressive level of musicianship similar to that of Steven Wilson in this track which includes him performing every instrument, writing and arranging the entire piece. 

This nearly 13 minute epic starts off slow and sweet with gentle synth layers and drones. An atmosphere of dreariness is established, giving a sense of mystery. Just before the two minute mark, a confident and bold electric guitar pierces into the song in a style similar to that of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour or even Steve Rothery of Marillion. Shortly after, a bass synthesizer and a riser leads us into the next part of the song, where the action begins.

Drums, electric bass, and rhythm guitar enter the song which builds tension and excitement that segues right into lead synth and guitar lines that are bursting with originality and musical flavour. Sandersons guitar playing lacks no skill in providing the lead melodic element that never fails to capture attention. A rhythmically synchronized passage carries the listener into yet another contrasting and captivating section.

Acoustic guitar, vocals and mellotron-like synths greatly define this section three in a fashion reminiscent of Steven Wilson and King Crimson. Added vocal harmonies add yet another layer of depth into the music, even musically referencing the likes of Gentle Giant on the line “make your choice, make it now”. The repetitive acoustic guitar motif and dramatic lyrics provide a strong foundation that builds momentum to yet another change to the songs form. Drums and bass blast back into the action along with another verse of lyrics sung by interesting and thoughtful melodies. All instruments soon drop out except synthesizer, harking back to the song’s introduction, indicating more variation in form, dynamics, and harmony. Polyphonic vocal melodies singing songs title distinctly along with the full gamut of instruments previously heard, and as a result, a dense texture of instruments and melodies is carefully created. A syncopated bass line marks the start of yet another section change.

Progressively layers are added in a canon style, then climaxing dynamically with an explosive organ line another with harmonized guitar and bass motifs harkening the steller and air-tight musicianship of that similar to King Crimson; more impressively, every part is written and played by Sanderson alone! After a series of complex synchronized melodic and rhythmic lines, the song’s intensity recedes into soft and contemplative mellotron and keyboard melodies. The piercing electric guitar, as heard earlier in the beginning of the track, boldly returns along with the title lyric harmonies, thus ending the song in a satisfying and full circle nature. The song concludes with the haunting repetition of the line “empty circles and grains of sand”, leaving the listener in shock at the utter brilliance of a carefully written and arranged epic composed by one sole individual. 

All in all, Sanderson provides a well crafted progressive rock epic that goes through leaps and bounds, leaving any admirer of prog well satisfied and hopefully a long time fan. For his first ever solo release, Dom excellently asserts his musical excellence and versatility, beginning his recorded music career with such strong momentum to which I can’t wait to see what he produces next. 

Written by Nik MacDonald

You can listen to Dominic’s music on Bandcamp and Soundcloud at:

https://dominicsanderson.bandcamp.com/releases

“Symphonically Creating Excellent Music! ” – ‘Return of the Foggy Logger’ by The Fat Turtles

The Fat Turtles is an American symphonic prog rock band from Iowa. The leader of this project is Luke Johnston, a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays the acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass and vocal parts on their songs as well as being the writer of all the music and the lyrics – a real labour of passion. Any electric guitar parts are played by Noah Carrell, whilst drum parts are played by Seth Strahan. The project formed as a metal band, however it has gradually strayed away from this and entered prog territory with releases such as ‘Six of Hearts’ (2019) and most recently ‘Return of the Foggy Logger’ (2020), demonstrating a symphonic prog sound reminiscent of early Genesis.

As the sole writer of the band, Johnston encapsulates the 70’s prog scene with flying colours – almost literally! The album covers are full of bright colours, playful and abstract, a testament to the masterful and highly detailed artwork of Stephen “Gus” Walsh – the next Roger Dean perhaps. Moreover, the lyrical content of their most recent EP ranges from philosophical explorations, such as the concept of time in ‘Hourglass’, to more story like tales in which 70s prog fantasy is given a modern day twist, such as the story of the foggy logger’s pursuits to save the environment in the title track. And of course – the music itself in ‘Return of the Foggy Logger’ is a very convincing nod to 70s prog. The EP begins with the title track, a very exuberant, carnivalesque offering. The first noticeable thing is the awesome bass sound that introduces the song before frantically playing ascending and descending arpeggios, a disorientating imitation of a fairground perhaps. The voices and claps that can be heard in the background of the vocal sections help to emphasise the theatrical circus-like nature of this section of the piece. A change of mood takes place at the half-way point in which the music becomes more tranquil, the guitar lightly underscoring the bass which takes on a melodic role. One great thing about this band is the important role of the bass, often playing parts that would usually be given to a guitarist. In ‘Through the Hills of Highland’ from their previous EP ‘Six of Hearts’, for example, the bass plays the main riff in the verse sections instead of the guitar – a refreshing change. The next song, ‘Hourglass’, lowers the previous songs energetic dynamic, beginning with a lilting 12 string guitar part – you can really hear the influence of early Genesis here. The addition of a three part vocal harmony adds to the relaxing atmosphere of the piece. From gentle beginnings, the song gradually increases in intensity; the piano emphasises the first beat of every bar while the synths serve to add purposeful dissonance to muddy the tonality of the piece, creating a darker and conflicting soundscape. The final track, ‘The Knight in Red Armour’, rejuvenates the energy of the EP, showcasing a descending chord progression on the mellotron which has been likened to King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. The reliance on the toms in the drum part succeeds in building the tension of the piece, foreboding a crescendo later on. The quieter section changes in chord progression, featuring mainly the guitar and mellotron with some tasteful Squire-esque melodic lines high up on the bass. This then erupts back into the main chord progression which feels more powerful and direct now. The ending is sublime; the sustained vocal notes along with the bass part that drives the song towards its conclusion makes for a euphoric end to the EP.

Since the band’s move away from metal, they have really anchored their symphonic sound firmly. With such clarity already established in their musical direction, it is no surprise that they have already begun working on a new album that they expect to release at the end of the year: I await their next release in excited anticipation. I hear they are looking for a keyboard player so don’t hesitate to contact them – if only I played the keys!

“Forging their Sound in the World of Prog” – Jolly Cobra’s ‘Chromium Hawk’

Jolly Cobra are a Norwegian band from Oslo formed in 2009 by Tom Daniel Reiersen (guitar, bass), Filip Watn (guitar), Fred Are Wolter (drums) and Steffen Johansen (vocals). The only changes in their current lineup are Tom Uglebakken (guitar) who replaced Watn in 2012, and the addition of Bjørn Viggo Andersen (bass) – both members of a Norwegian prog band called Gargamel. The original lineup began with the intention of creating stoner rock, with influences including the likes of Kyuss and Colour Haze. With new band members and their proggier influences being Rush and King Crimson, it is no surprise that their most recent release of their second album ‘Chromium Hawk’ in 2017 sees the beginning of a subtle shift from stoner rock to 70s influenced progressive rock. With this musical transition, Jolly Cobra have not abandoned their love and influence of stoner rock on their latest album, but but rather beginning to dip their feet into the world of prog – and it’s definitely working for them on this album!

Their debut release of ‘Tres Cobras’ in 2015 is everything a fan of hard blues based rock would want. A collection of energized headbangers suitable for a mosh pit in which the songs are heavily riff based; the distorted guitar sounds remind me of Black Sabbath’s sound – very fuzzy and growly which elevate these awesome riffs. ‘Let The Curtains Fall’ and ‘Kill The Headlights’ are great examples of this; driving, catchy and angry. Nevertheless, even their debut album began suggesting a possible shift in musical focus. ‘Albert Ross’ is more of an experimental piece that fits in more with the psychedelic/acid rock side to stoner rock. It features a very melodic guitar part over what I can only describe as a backdrop of chaos in a freeze frame. The distorted guitar that comes in delicate swells, coupled together with the menacing drone underneath completely juxtaposes the guitar part; it is light and playful with a major tonality. Such a fusion of moods really sparks the imagination which is why it fits in so well with the psychedelic side of stoner rock. Nevertheless, at the same time it lights the torch for the beginning of Jolly Cobra’s shift to the more progressive side of rock which is beginning to make appearances on their latest album.

Their 2017 release of ‘Chromium Hawk’ still carries the spirit of stoner rock but with shoots of prog beginning to sprout. Songs such as ‘Ain’t Got Nothing’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ best represent the spirit of stoner rock that still lives in their music. Uglebakken kicks off ‘Ain’t Got Nothing’ straight away with a catchy guitar riff that swiftly leads into the verse. On this song especially, Johansen’s powerful voice is reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne – which is a compliment! Many of the songs on this album, including this one, feature instrumental sections in which extended solos are played over previously used chord progressions. Uglebakken always keeps these solos tasteful so that they compliment the blues based soul of hard rock. I suppose this fits in more with the psychedelic side to prog rock and is perhaps the road that this band is heading down. The influence of space rock on this album highlights this point; throughout, the songs are peppered with spacey synth sounds, reverse delay effects and guitar effects. The start of ‘Greyhound Express’ features a lot of reverse delay on the guitar as well as a metallic synth sound that slides down an octave to kick the song off. ‘Chromium Hawk Part 1’ begins similarly with a synth based introduction that sounds very alien. The artwork for the album corresponds with the heavy space rock influence as the cover depicts a spaceship (which I’m assuming is the Chromium Hawk) being chased by a gigantic octopus on a green planet in space – crazy stuff! Despite this not being a full on progressive album, the song ‘Desert Storm’ shows the most promise. At almost 7 minutes, the song has a clearer sense of exploration compared to the other songs on the album; the middle section is a lengthier contrast to the main riff that occupies most of the song. The ending of the song brings back material from the middle section which has a very early Pink Floyd sound. There is a particular chord at the end that destabilises the tonality of the piece which is very obvious to hear before returning to the tonic chord – very fooling but also very cool! The most interesting piece for me is ‘Chromium Hawk Part 2’ which closes the album. It is the total opposite to its counterpart; a fully electronic piece that would easily fit on a Tangerine Dream album. It is a gorgeous piece of music, robotic in sound but increasing in beauty as layer after layer of sound is added to create a soundscape full of rich harmony. Not only a total contrast to its counterpart but also to the rest of the album – this is one of the moments where the album screams prog.

By the sounds of it, Jolly Cobra are aiming to create a more prog influenced sound on their next work which they have begun crafting. ‘Chromium Hawk’ is a solid album from a band still trying to figure out where they want their music to go. The beginnings of experimentation with synths, structures and musical ideas are engaging and promising to hear. They are definitely going in the right direction and hopefully their next album will go further in terms of experimentation as they can definitely make an effort to push the boundaries. I look forward to hearing the development of their progressive sound on their next offering.

You can find Jolly Cobra on social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, as well as through their record label Kung Fu Ninja Records

Written by Dominic Sanderson

“A taste of what’s to come” – Mal Hijo and their debut single

Mal Hijo are a 5 piece prog band formed in Liverpool in 2017, having met through their music course at university. The lineup consists of Mike Blue (vocals, rhythm guitar), Billy Price (lead guitar), Jacob Hackett (drums), Tyler Swindley (bass) and the recent addition of Tristan Apperley (synth/keys). They began crafting their debut album ‘Superstar Crematorium’ in 2018 and are now preparing to release their first single, ‘Mal Hijo’, which marks their first official release of original music. What is most remarkable about not only this single but the entire album, is the fact that it has been wholly recorded in the flats and bedrooms of the band members due to a lack of funds to go into the studio. It takes real passion and drive to take on such a gruelling task of playing, recording and mixing the album independently. However, their efforts have certainly paid off on ‘Mal Hijo’ which leans towards the heavier side of prog.

Mal Hijo have bravely set the bar high for their debut album, deciding to jump straight into the world of prog with a concept album split into 2 acts (this is what we like to hear!). The concept revolves around the central character of Fenix who exists in two different musical points in time; in act 1 he exists in the late 70’s/early 80’s whereas in act 2 he exists in the modern day. Without giving too much more away about the concept, ‘Mal Hijo’ – which features on act 2 – tells of how he is noticed for not fitting in with modern times and therefore being rejected for his musical style. Having listened to the new single, I will be very interested to see how this part of the jigsaw fits in with the rest of the concept.

It is no surprise then that, musically, ‘Mal Hijo’ adds to the heaviness of this concept by communicating Fenix’s supposed feelings of isolation, rejection and the inner turmoil of his own musicianship. The song takes no prisoners; it is constantly driving, fast paced and there is an abundance of musical ideas in just 5 minutes – so be prepared! The first half of the song has a clear 70s heavy rock feel reminding me of bands such as Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin. There is the main guitar riff, which itself is a rapid, note heavy beast that kicks off the song straight away before introducing the verse. Often this riff is treated to a twin guitar harmony which is always a guaranteed way to elevate the original sound of the riff – plus it sounds awesome! The chorus is infectious and you will end up singing it for the rest of the day so beware! I love how well Hackett’s backing vocals mingle with Blue’s main vocal line in the chorus; they have a similar vocal style that blends very well. The second half of the song is where it becomes more proggy as we dive into an instrumental section (which features a very cheeky excerpt from Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’). I particularly admire Hackett’s drumming in the transition that begins the instrumental section; it is extremely tight yet stylistic, successfully guiding the rest of the band towards the next musical idea. The 3 minute mark then provides the listener with some brief respite from the chaos that encapsulates the rest of the song, as a strumming acoustic guitar underscores some gentle vocal harmonies. This doesn’t last however; a euphoric ascending figure lifts the song back to the verse chord progression in which Price demonstrates his talent for the guitar with a raging solo, similar in style to the likes of John Petrucci (sweep picking and all). One final chorus and an incredibly high pitched ascending vocal figure ends this rollercoaster ride of a song.

For a song that has been played, recorded and mixed in flats and bedroom spaces, the sound quality on this is excellent, a real testament to the production expertise of Apperley. This is an energised track that shows a lot of promise for what the rest of the record will eventually sound like – and if it sounds like this then these clever musicians are onto a winner. I am very excited to hear the concept in its entirety and hearing this amazing track again in its context. 

Available to stream on all major streaming platforms from the 21st April.

Written by Prog Rock Review writer Dominic Sanderson

“A Band Very Much Ahead of Their Time” – Fightin’ Bob

Fightin’ Bob is a new up and coming prog rock band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What exact type of prog you may ask? All sorts is the answer, although a lot of their sounds are very blues, funk driven. Formed only in 2018, their current lineup is as follows: Jack Mackowski (drums, percussion), Saul Dinauer (bass), Jack Koshkin (keys, guitar), Rafael Gandre and Kathleen Westrup (vocals). The original lineup featured a different bassist, Kemet Gobel, who played on the debut album. What is particularly admirable about these remarkable musicians is their youth in such a stereotypically complex and demanding genre; they have entered the pond of progressive rock yet at the time of their formation they were between the ages of 14-16! But what an entrance they have made with their stunning self titled debut album: ‘Fightin’ Bob’. As well as the main blues and funk drive of the album, there are many moments where Fightin’ Bob inject various other musical influences such as psychedelia, folk and even some very welcoming classical moments.

The band has already made an excellent job at creating a name for themselves in only 2 years. They have had statewide success as finalists of Wisconsin’s 2018/19 Rockonsin competition. Moreover, they have had international success through the inclusion of ‘Nick the Rat’, from their debut album, on the free CD of issue 99 of the much loved and widely read ‘Prog Magazine’ – a real honour and a huge accomplishment for such a young and recently formed band. It is no surprise that they have already had these successes; their ability to perform, compose and arrange is exceptional. Koshkin’s role as both keys and guitar player, as well as Rafael and Saul’s multi-instrumental capabilities, are examples of this, and is certainly a challenge to flip from one instrumental medium to the other in live situations. Furthermore, the inclusion of both a male and female singer is refreshing but unfortunately not as common as it should be in the prog world – it’s one of the main reasons I like bands such as Mostly Autumn and Anathema. Their true love of prog is evident when watching their flawless live covers of prog greats such as Yes’ ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ and King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ but they are also very open-minded in regard to genre, doing covers of songs such as ‘U.S. Blues’ by Grateful Dead but with a prog spin. It is this open-mindedness that makes their debut album so musically varied and contrasting.  

Their debut displays the band’s ability to play multiple genres within a prog context. ‘Breadsticks’ eases the listener in with some chilled out jazz chords on the organ, quite similar to Snarky Puppy’s sound to a certain extent, at least for the first half of the song. The second section brings in some psychedelic influences, focusing on only two chords that the band jam on. The rhythm section successfully grounds the spacey, open sounds that Koshkin creates using much reverb and a glass slide on the guitar. The 60s Hammond sound further contributes to this psychedelic feel. This dreaminess is then suddenly interrupted by the charged ‘Nick the Rat’, best demonstrating their funk capabilities, kicking off straight away with an infectious bluesy guitar riff. It certainly sets the playful mood of the piece, as the bass neatly underscores Koshkin’s big bluesy chords with some fast bass licks in the verse (or what sounds like a verse). The punk-style chromatic idea before the piano section sounds super effective with the vocals singing in contrary motion and greatly contrasts the ascending middle section of the piece that again transitions into a new genre. Koshkin’s piano entrance almost sounds like something a 19th century romantic pianist could have composed – such a sharp change in mood is very prog! This waltz-like middle section then brings the listener back into the world of funk as Koshkin treats himself to an extended guitar solo (and quite rightly so). Fightin’ Bob made a good choice using this for the ‘Prog Magazine’ submission as it is arguably the strongest song on the album – it unites all the elements of their sound. ‘Sahara Burst’ is the longest track on the album, clocking in at a wonderful 10 minutes. Gandre’s spoken intro (more like an announcement) over Mackowski’s progressive version of a drum roll is very circus-like which is interesting considering how acrobatic the next section is. I must say my favourite part of this song is the awesome bass solo later on; any band that allows the bassist a solo gets my respect as again it’s not as common as it really should be. After the solo sections, the music becomes more symphonic, reminiscent of bands such as Yes and Genesis. Their cover of Scottish folk song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ breaks up the album nicely; it is Westrup who is centre stage on this song, her vocal technique suiting the folk style very convincingly. The mandolin is a nice addition that adds to the authenticity of the piece, whilst Gandre’s cello gives the piece a calming effect – an effective way to contrast the rest of the album. The final piece, ‘Molten Moonlight’ reminds me entirely of Pink Floyd and I imagine would fit nicely on ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. The extended guitar solo is epic, very soulful similar to that of Dave Gilmour or Steve Rothery; I much prefer this to the guitar shredders! The whole piece sounds like a euphoric climax and therefore is a great way to end the album.

As a debut album, this hits the jackpot. It unites a multitude of genres within their own progressive rock style. For their age, the complexity of the album is almost unbelievable, especially considering the many opportunities for improvisation that each musician is allowed – I am all for extended solos. If anyone wants to hear more of their material, there is a 30 minute piece on their Soundcloud called ‘Space Drums’ in which Mackowski puts most other drummers to shame as he showcases his talent for the drums. However, with the announcement on their social media of new material coming soon, it shouldn’t be too long to wait; I look forward to hearing what these clever musicians have to offer in the near future. Fightin’ Bob is truly a band ahead of their time.

Check out the band on all major social media platforms!

Here is a link to their debut album: https://fightinbob.bandcamp.com/releases

Let us know what your favorite track is!

Article written by Dominic Sanderson

Oddsfiche: Sirius or Serious? Either Way… They’re Out There!

Oddsfiche is a Canadian post-psychedelic progressive rock band founded in 2016 by guitarist Duke Gray. Gray began Oddsfiche as a solo project before acquiring bassist Hratch Keoshkerian in 2017 and drummer/percussionist Kent Paris in 2019 (after many drummer changes). Their latest live performance in Toronto’s The Hideout marks a defining moment in Oddsfiche’s musical journey, as it definitively solidifies their new lineup. Despite only being a trio, they succeed in creating a huge atmospheric sound that is rich with effects but also full of drive and purpose – the psychedelic version of Rush perhaps. 

It would be difficult to try and liken their sound to other bands as Oddsfiche has carefully been shaped so that today the end product is unique. From humble beginnings, Duke Gray began exploring the boundaries of sound; ‘Ninth Eyelid Atelier’ for me represents a collection of Gray’s sound experiments, presenting the listener with a widely mixed palette of new and ambiguous sounds. ‘Soundtracks for Cemeteries’ similarly aims to try and push these boundaries but on this album, songs are beginning to form from these weird but wonderful enigmas to the ear. The song ‘A Small Eardrum Civilisation’ from this album is one example of how Gray began to create more coherent ideas from his soundscapes and in the future would use this to form an even more coherent idea in the middle section of ‘Snoring With An Accent’ which opens their latest live album at The Hideout. What was clear from Gray’s first couple of experimental albums was the need for a rhythm section – his awesome sounds certainly deserved a supporting role. With the addition of Keoshkerian’s bass and Paris’ drums grounding the music into place, Gray’s crazy sounds, that he has been developing since 2016, have been allowed to flourish so that Oddsfiche’s current sound is both tight but also unpredictable.

Their recent live performance at The Hideout in Toronto could not emphasise this point any better. This is how they describe their sound at the moment: ‘If Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas did mushrooms and made a movie, we’d be the soundtrack to it.’ This is perfectly encapsulated in their The Hideout 2020 performance; I am gifted with the open spacey sounds I would associate with George Lucas and then they also produce more sinister and violent sounds that I would associate with Quentin Tarantino. Songs such as ‘The Other End of Yes’ and ‘The Right Amount of Chaos’ are the best examples of this. ‘The Other End of Yes’ begins with the most heavenly ascending figure on Gray’s heavily reverbed guitar that eventually settles onto a chilled out and catchy groove led by Keoshkerian’s bass. The drumming on this version, I believe, is superior to the drum parts played on the versions of this song on ‘Can’t Autograph a Snowball’ which featured a different drummer. Paris’ drum parts are more purposeful on this latest version and also provide a better fit for Keoshkerian’s addictive bass line – Paris brings the bass line to the surface. This is a reflection of their musical unity as Paris represents the missing piece of the Oddsfiche jigsaw that solidifies them as a musical unit. Midway through the song, this chilled out groove is replaced with a more driving section full of aggression before returning to the songs main groove. This is the sort of Lucas/Tarantino parallel that Oddsfiche successfully communicate. Of course there are some songs on this album that feature one heavily over the other. ‘Screaming Kangaroo Confederacy’ (as the name suggests) would best represent a ‘bad trip’ in the wonderful world of drugs associated with psychedelia. The minor second note intervals on the bass begin the piece ominously, which is echoed by the guitar’s sustained, overdriven sound. ‘Motion Sick Kisses’ follows a similar formula; a fast-paced, angry song that is relentless in nature. It is perhaps minimalist to a certain extent – its simple aim is to dizzy the listener, as outlined by the title ‘motion sick’. Whereas, a song such as ‘Not the End’ aims to represent a ‘good trip’; the bass is more or less constantly playing ascending figures which gives the piece an uplifting feel. What also helps to chill the listener out is Gray’s reverb effects (it sounds like TC Electronics Hall of Fame 2 shimmer effect but I may be wrong) which creates a relaxing shimmer effect. 

Overall, their recent 2020 performance at The Hideout is the best way for any new listeners to access their growing sound. Not only does it solidify their psychedelic sounds of the past that Gray began experimenting with in 2016, but it also foreshadows the continuing development of their sound with new drummer Kent Paris which I am excited to hear. For anybody wanting to go on a musical journey full of winds, turns, highs, lows, violence, beauty etc… then these crazy guys are worth checking out (with or without the drugs)!  

You can check out Oddsfiche on BandCamp here! Let us know what you think of their awesome sound.

https://oddsfiche.bandcamp.com/

Written by Dominic Sanderson

Moving Pictures: Moving Rush into the ‘Limelight’?

Moving Pictures’ was the eighth studio album released by Rush in 1981, a band that had thus far in their career created definitive prog epics such as ‘2112’ and ‘Hemispheres’. However, this is a vital record in the respect that it acted as a musical keystone; it fused their past silk kimono wearing, prog epic days with a new approach inspired by the ever changing musical context they were living in. Rush embraced the sounds made by New Wave bands such as XTC and The Police without compromising their own musicality displayed on their past records. The result was that ‘Moving Pictures’ became their most popular and commercial record, reaching #3 on the billboard charts. However, it could be argued that the music on this record does not always fit the ‘commercial’ tag it is labelled with. That would surely suggest that as musicians they have had to lower their own musical standards in order to make something more ‘friendly’ for easier listening. This certainly isn’t the case; a band such as Genesis, for example, took a much stronger commercial direction with albums such as ‘Duke’ and ‘Abacab’ released also in the early 80s. Unlike Genesis, Rush still retained its masterful prog sound, playing on top form as always to create a record that is more musically challenging than it first appears on the surface.

The songs on this record re-define Rush’s sound rather than completely changing the entire meaning of it. Many of the tracks including ‘Tom Sawyer’, ‘Witch Hunt’ and ‘Vital Signs’ used synthesisers that had been missing in past Rush records but adds a welcomed colour to their overall sound. This is already one example of how Rush was, not necessarily moving away from prog, but ’moving’ their own sound from the past into the present to match the digital sounds of the then modern New Wave sound. Perhaps in this respect it is fair to call this a ‘commercial’ record as Rush welcomed a key feature of the 80s pop sound into their own music. This is not to say that the synths cheapened the music; rather it makes the listener appreciate the power of the atmosphere they created. ‘Witch Hunt’ is a perfect example of this, in which the synths succeeded in creating a dark and eerie atmosphere at the start of the song, but then are also used to build the drama and intensity of the piece, in conjunction with Lifeson’s awesome guitar riffs and as a result a triumphant timbre is achieved. In fact Rush would go on to create records such as ‘Grace Under Pressure’ that were even more reliant on synthesisers. However on ‘Moving Pictures’, Rush finds a neat balance between the atmospheric synthesisers and the hard rock sound they were well known for creating. Lifeson’s guitar certainly doesn’t disappoint relying heavily on a classic rock sound at times. ‘Limelight’ is an example of this, beginning with a killer guitar intro that sounds like it could be the start of an AC/DC tune. Thinking about this album as a ‘commercial’ success, ‘Limelight’ certainly catered for the commercial market as it is extremely catchy, follows a typical verse-chorus structure and in the Rush catalogue, isn’t as musically challenging. Despite this, Peart always created interesting drum parts and ‘Limelight’ is no exception to this; the drums are lively, syncopated and still as fill heavy as ever. 

Yet, there are many moments on the album where the music does not match its ‘commercial’ label. ‘YYZ’ is an extremely complex instrumental piece that takes no prisoners. It throws the listener straight in with an introduction in 5/4 rather than the conventional 4/4 meter, demonstrating rhythmic complexity on a tritone interval which gives a dissonant, menacing sound. In fact the whole song requires a lot of discipline, especially during the call and response section before the guitar solo. Lee’s killer bass solos in the response sections are out of this world; it’s difficult to comprehend the skill required to make a bass guitar produce such a sound. Then there is the guitar solo which rejects the typical bluesy style of solo and instead revolves around the harmonic minor scale; this is a stark contrast to the style of playing in ‘Limelight’ which may be regarded as more ‘commercial’. ‘YYZ’ could easily be a song from ‘Hemispheres’, one of Rush’s most complex albums; it could be viewed as the twin of ‘La Villa Strangiato’. Yet here it appears on a ‘commercial’ record apparently! The other song that stands out as non-commercial is ‘The Camera Eye’ which is just over ten minutes long. Without even analysing the song, the fact that its ten minutes certainly doesn’t scream commercial. It’s a fast paced song that explores many musical ideas, of which some are musically interesting. The main theme of the song alternates by a semitone between a Db major chord and a C major chord which makes the overall tonality ambiguous. For a song that explores the cultural differences between the cities of New York and London, a changing tonality could perhaps represent those cultural differences. The repetition of this main theme allows Peart to show off his mastery on the drums, adding complex fills into the mix. Rush used this semitone chord progression frequently on this album: songs such as ‘YYZ’ and ‘Red Barchetta’ used this technique to great effect. ‘Witch Hunt’ is also harmonically interesting as it uses a hexatonic chord progression between the G minor and B minor in the verse; hexatonic meaning that the G minor and the B minor are an interval of a major third apart. This produces a strange yet highly interesting sound – certainly not a commercial approach to a chord progression. One last thing to notice is the profound and thoughtful subject matter – there are no commercial love songs for instance. In fact, Peart’s lyrics for ‘Tom Sawyer’ were inspired by Mark Twain’s 1876 novel ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, meanwhile ‘Red Barchetta’ was motivated by Richard Foster’s 1973 short story ‘A Nice Morning Drive’. Again, Peart refused to take a commercial approach to lyric writing as the subject matter was far from commercial. 
On the whole, Rush didn’t take a commercial approach with ‘Moving Pictures’. Instead Rush brought prog into the 80s but in order to adapt to a changing musical landscape, dominated by New Wave bands; they merged their prog style with a cleaner and technology inspired sound. The fact that they succeeded in doing this is a massive achievement, especially with the paradox of this album; It’s success is based upon its commerciality and radio friendly material but this isn’t truly a commercial album – in this respect this album is commercial prog (which is an uncomfortable oxymoron for prog fans). Rush’s mutually keen desire to record another album straight after the tour for ‘Permanent Waves’ showed their musical unity (which contrasts the relations between the members of other progressive rock bands during this time which wasn’t so unified) and that is why they were able to make this record so successful. Rush, a mere trio of musicians succeeded at the impossible and have deservedly been rewarded for it.

Written by Prog Rock Review writer Dominic Sanderson