Death is bewildering. Something beautiful, precious, is gone never to be seen again. Our cries of anguish, the wrenching pain of our dejection, the awful agony of our newly discovered and unwanted aloneness is a heartbroken call to anyone and to everyone to recognise the irreplaceable value of what has been lost. The abject removal of a uniquely familiar presence in our lives is the rending of everything that has been built together across a life time, no matter how short, and the loss of all the hopes and dreams, the plans and the anticipation for a happily shared future.
Joy Davidman is reported to have told C.S. Lewis shortly before her own death from cancer: “It is easier for the one who goes first”. Believe’s stunning sixth studio album, Seven Widows, is an exquisitely conceived and emotionally penetrating protest which carries the raw cry of bereavement directly from this smouldering heart of desolation. It speaks of the profound sadness and aching silences which remain with us forever. And it unflinchingly cherishes the suffering of a love that refuses to surrender or to be overcome by death.
We suffer because we love. We cry out in desperation because the pain of their absence is more real than any presence and the reality of their being gone is so much more tangible than their being alive once was. Mirek Gil’s brilliance in the writing of this album is in taking the stories of seven widows and creating musical narratives which tell the simple tale of the what was and now is not, and how this reverberates in the lives of those who are left behind.
In the process it marks a magnificent – even triumphant – return to form four years after the rather underwhelming The Warmest Sun in Winter. The seven stories translate into seven tracks, the shortest of which comes in at just over eight minutes, which in turn creates an invaluable sense of unhurried space. There is no rush to tell the story; the heart speaks in the way it needs to be heard and the music has a corresponding sense of organic development and natural timing.
What has changed is the return of Satomi’s inspirational violin playing, sadly marginalised in previous releases, but now serving as the textured, dynamic heart which beats so effusively at the thrumming centre of this new musical vision. It brings character, presence and voice to the sound stage and engages you with flashes of insights, perceptions and moods. It says ‘Come, look at this; over here, listen to this.’ The playing is delightfully suggestive, a muse and guide which gently shows us the way.
Gil’s guitar playing is mesmerising in the voice it gives to the empty pain of loss, to the tears of despair, to the lonely wail of isolation. Robert Kubajek’s drumming brings heart and vibrancy, breathing life into the tumultuous turmoil of emotions which ebb and flow throughout each story. It is the perfect mix with Przemysław Zawadzki’s bass playing that really speaks of the anger often associated with hurt, with the relentless circling of thoughts, the mind which cannot and will not switch itself off, each memory recalled a further stab of loss.
Throughout it all new band member Łukasz Ociepa provides the perfect vocal performance which rides the seas of grief from anguish to forlorn emptiness, from hollow hopes to heart aching resentment, self accusation and the keen sense of injustice. The album is an incredible vehicle for the melodic, at times symphonic, expression of the emotions, thoughts and feelings we go through at the end of a life. It is perfect in its construction, elegant in its execution and an absolute delight to listen to.
Above all else, however, Seven Widows does something even more important. For those who are left behind, it shows how music can redeem the memory of suffering, how it can preserve the meaning of what our lives have been and how, by telling musical stories of those whom we once loved and whom we still love, they continue to live in our hearts. This is a supremely beautiful album, with the potential to become an immensely important project, which works on so many levels to let those whom we mourn live again.
01. Widow I (10:49)
02. II (9:08)
03. III (8:12)
04. IV (11:42)
05. V (8:35)
06. VI (8:37)
07. VII (8:19)
Total Time – 65:22
Mirek Gil – Guitar
Robert ‘Qba’ Kubajek – Drums
Łukasz Ociepa – Vocals
Satomi – Violin, Keyboards
Przemysław Zawadzki – Bass
Record Label: Music and More Records
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 25th October 2017
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Iceland has been on a Prog map in the recent years, giving birth to some great bands (check our Scene Report on Iceland here). Ring of Gyges is a newcomer, who back in November 2017 launched their full-length debut album ‘Beyond the Night Sky,’ and according to what they showcase on it, it is certainly a band to look for in the coming years. Singer and guitatrist Helgi Jónsson spoke for Prog Sphere.
Define the mission of Ring of Gyges.
We strive to mix influences and create a unique mix of old prog and new. What motivates us to write music is simply our passion for music in general, and the prospect of one day making it a full-time job for all of us. Great music affects you in ways that nothing else truly can, and if we can affect anyone in the same way that music has affected us, it will all be worth it.
Tell me about the creative process that informed your debut album Beyond the Night Sky and the themes it captures.
The album was a long time in the making and lots of those songs had already existed for years before we ever entered the studio. Most of the songs were created in our own respective homes, where one of us made a demo and we checked them out at home and then met up at rehearsal to work on them together. However, each song is different and requires a different approach to the next one. Sometimes a song is completely written before the rest of the band is introduced to it, sometimes it requires a bit of group effort to decide how to proceed with it. Most of the songs were written by me and Guðjón [Sveinsson, guitars & vocals], but there’s also a song by Gísli [Þór Ingólfsson, keyboards & piano] on there and everyone brought something to the table. The album deals with themes such as escapism, addiction, and death. It was originally intended as a concept album with a storyline but eventually we scrapped that idea and decided to make a more thematic album instead, with various short stories that all relate to an overarching theme.
What is the message you are trying to give with Beyond the Night Sky?
That’s something we didn’t really discuss between us, but I guess what we’re trying to say is that no matter how bleak a situation is, there’s always someone willing to stand by your side. Escaping your problems is ultimately a temporary solution, and though it may be hard, it’s better to face them instead.
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
Like I mentioned before, every song requires a slightly different process. Most of the time we had demos at home, but I guess we mostly just documented the songs by learning them and rehearsing them collectively, adding onto them as we went along during rehearsals. We’d already played a lot of them live by the point we entered the studio, so obviously we knew them fairly well at that point. Other songs we weren’t so familiar with, so in those cases we usually had demos to work with.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
We really tried to make the album flow as well as we could, so it would feel as a whole experience and not merely a collection of songs. Some songs were written to flow well together, like the first two tracks and the last two. In other parts of the album it was a bit more of a puzzle, but I think in the end we settled on a structure that we all liked. If we did our job well, the album is best enjoyed when listened to in its entirety, just like all our favorite albums.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
Our guitarist Guðjón had enrolled in a music production course at Stúdíó Sýrland in Reykjavík where one of the assignments was to record a full album with a band, so of course we jumped on that wagon. We had some restrictions to deal with though, we had to record during hours when the studio was available so we had to record in a series of sessions of varying length. Some bands can just book a studio for a few weeks and dedicate that time to recording, we weren’t so lucky. Like when we recorded the drums we couldn’t leave the drum kit in the same place for more than one evening because a different recording session was scheduled the following day. We knew that if we had to reassemble the drum kit and the microphone setup sometime later, we couldn’t possibly make the drums sound the same between sessions. So instead we decided to record through the night in a single monster 17-hour session, poor Einar got so tired I think he still might be recovering! We didn’t get around to completely record the album before Guðjón‘s assignment was due, so luckily we had access to a smaller studio in Grindavík where we could put down the final touches. We also booked a session at the legendary Sundlaugin Studios, where we recorded a real Hammond organ and Mellotron.
How long Beyond the Night Sky was in the making?
The recording process was over in a matter of months, maybe two or three total. However, the processes before and after took much longer. Some of the songs were written up to two years before we ever started recording. The post-production was also a bit of a mess, we’re an unsigned independent band so we had to do a lot of the labour ourselves, Guðjón had to mix during his free time when he wasn’t working. We had a crowdfunding campaign to fund the mastering and release of the album and we reached our goal in the end. So I guess, depending on your definition, the total process must’ve been around three years. Releasing the album was a huge relief and the end of an era in our band’s history, while also being the start of another one.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
It’s hard to see where all of your influences come from, but here are some names: Opeth, Haken, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Mastodon, Caligula’s Horse, Leprous, Agent Fresco.
What is your view on technology in music?
We owe a lot of our success to technical advances in music production, and without it this album possibly wouldn’t have ever been made. Nowadays everyone has the capability to make demos in their bedroom, you can move ProTools sessions between studios and so on. However there’s a limit to how much some bands decide to over-produce their music, some even go as far as quantizing the guitars, auto-tuning vocals and using drum samples instead of actually having to learn your parts and play them properly. I believe no technology is inherently bad, what makes the difference is how you use it. Don’t alter the recordings beyond recognition in the studio and get confused when people boo at you onstage because you can’t play it properly. Keep it real.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
I don’t think so. Maybe it will help people deal with some stuff in their lives, but if it does it’s a fortunate side-effect rather than an inherent purpose. I believe music is the purest art form, it transcends language, culture, nationality and race and can be understood by anyone simply for what it is. Lyrics belong to the realm of poetry, but music itself is a universal language of its own.
What are your plans for the future?
Our plans are to tour, get management and try our very hardest to do music for a living. Right now it’s pretty undetermined what will happen. We’ll have to wait and see.
Follow Ring of Gyges on Facebook.
The third long-player from this gathering of Polish potheads is a bewitching listen that demands repeated tokes at regular intervals.
A moniker like Weedpecker automatically brings with it certain expectations of sound, style and the accompanying trappings. However, this 4-piece from Warszawa, Poland deftly manages to both thwart those expectations and assuredly deliver on them. By inhaling elements from a wide array of pot-centred music from the early ’70s they feature a more panoramic sound than is the norm for this genre. Their maturation has been swift as each release has dramatically expanded on the musical vocabulary of the one before.
The glittery guitars, trippy space-rock groove and lilting harmony vocals of guitarists Wyro and Bartek on opening cut Molecule immediately ingratiate. When it eventually gets heavy it manages to do so while maintaining the relaxed vibe, something less skilled bands have difficulty managing.
Embrace is a joy; a mixture of jangly psychedelic folk, Meddle-era Pink Floyd and in the dramatic instrumental mid-section, righteous tube-driven fury. It’s during this segment that some stylistic similarities appear between Weedpecker and Boston’s Elder, their label-mates on Stickman Records. Both groups have the ability to stretch out on long guitar features without ever sacrificing the song in the process.
Musically the album really hits a peak midway through first single Liquid Sky that it rides for the remainder of the album. The bass guitar-driven groove that begins right around the 3-minute mark is blissfully infectious and lays a hypnotic foundation for the guitars to build on. The jangly section in the coda a particular highlight.
From Mars To Mercury starts side two and it’s not only the longest cut on the album, but also its greatest achievement. Again, there’s a passing similarity here with Elder, especially in the heavy beginning and ending segments, but the gorgeous exploration during the mid-section is very distinctive and beautifully played by everyone involved. This is music that needs to be experienced with eyes closed and distractions shut out to really appreciate (herbal medicine optional).
Album-closer Lazy Boy And The Temple Of Wonders is a playful collision of ’60s psychedelia (later Beatles, Syd-era Floyd) and ’70s Zep guitar that ends things on a satisfying note. III is designed for LP, it clocks in at a brisk 42 minutes that splits perfectly onto two sides of vinyl. It’s refreshing to hear concise albums again! I think it’s better to leave the listener hungry for a little more.
I must also mention the production by Haldor Grunberg who recorded, mixed and mastered III. It’s a beautiful, organic sounding record, the mix really letting the layers of these compositions breathe.
01. Molecule (7:05)
02. Embrace (8:59)
03. Liquid Sky (6:33)
04. From Mars To Mercury (10:36)
05. Lazy Boy And The Temple Of Wonders (8:51)
Total Time – 42:03
Wyro – Guitar & Vocals
Bartek – Guitar & Vocals
Mroku – Bass
Falon – Drums
Record Label: Stickman Records
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 5th January 2018
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It was my turn on 101 Dimensions once again and I put some great electronic/ambient stuff to warm a cold winter’s night! Here’s what’s in store:
1. Trinity Ward – No Regrets; The New Sound Of London; Vita; Organs; Uplifter; and Curtains Of Clouds (from the album Echoes From Earth, 2011)
2. Jim Griffin – An Ocean Mind (from the album To A Far City, 2017)
3. whatsisname – Relax, Offsets; and Terraform (from the album Indefinite Articles, 2017)
4. Har – 2 am Vision Within The Mirror (from the album Obscura, 2010)
5. Goblin – Roller; Aquaman; Snip Snap; and Il Risveglio Del Serpente (from the album Roller, 1976)
6. Har – Amelia (from the album Obscura, 2010)
7. Andreas Vollenweider – Behind The Gardens, Behind The Wall, Under The Tree; Pyramid, In The Wood, In The Bright Light; Micro, Macro; and Skin And Skin (from the album Behind The Garden, Behind The Wall, Under The Tree, 1981)
I hope you enjoy!
The Shadows – F.B.I
Marillion – A Few Words For The Dead
Kompendium – Lost
KingBathmat – Lost Forever
Kino – The Dead Club
The Damned – Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow
Deacon Blue – Real Gone Kid
The Forty Days – Homeless
Django Django – Real Gone
The Pineapple Thief – Someone Here Is Missing
Genesis – Since I Lost You
The Urbane – Missing
Renaissance – Missing Person
Split Enz – Missing Person
Jack Arthurs – Missing