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SPOCK'S BEARD Albums Ranked

Spock’s Beard, the American band with the most catchy/clever/lame name, has been prog-rocking it out all over the world for over 25 years now. However, especially after the departure of their main songwriter and prog icon Neal Morse, they were or maybe still are struggling make ends meet, both financially and musically. With the help of outside songwriters they continued to release new albums on a regular basis, but failed to maintain the momentum and success of previous works. Before the making of 2013’s Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, their singer and drummer Nick D’Virgilio left the band to pursue a more lucrative job, but the band quickly filled the vacancy with their tour drummer Jimmy Keegan and Enchant-singer Ted Leonard.

Spock’s Beard has produced twelve studio albums. We took on the band’s discography and ranked their albums below. Let us know your opinions in the comments below.

12. Feel Euphoria (2003)

Could Spock’s Beard survive the departure of its now born-again Christian lead singer and main songwriter? Well, they did manage to put together a new album in decent time, but it is not an impressive opus, to say the least. Then again, the group’s music was on a path leading it away from its progressive rock beginnings and toward a tighter, harder-edged, more commercial sound ever since 1999′s Day for Night, so it would be unfair to put all the weight of this new leap on Neal Morse‘s absent shoulders.

Nick D’Virgilio, who stepped out from behind the drums to take the lead singer’s microphone, lacks the charisma, that trembling something in the voice that endeared Morse to the group’s early fans. But most of all it is the writing that suffers. If “The Bottom Line” and “East of Eden, West of Memphis” make convincing art rockers, “Onomatopoeia” and the title track are weak, lacking the rate of ideas by the minute the group was capable of back in the days. The obligatory ballads (“Shining Star” and “Ghosts of Autumn”) are enjoyable, but that kind of number, especially when given a hard rock edge, has never been the group’s forte. As for the suite “A Guy Named Sid,” it ranks among the group’s weakest attempts at epic writing.

The themes don’t gel well, the plot is thin, and how many times must listeners be reminded that “this is the story of a guy named Sid“? It has its moments, especially in the last two parts, but it is a far cry from “Flow” or “The Healing Colors of Sound.” The debate still rages on between fans of Genesis as to whether the departure of Peter Gabriel back in 1975 has been a curse or a blessing. It looks like fans of Spock’s Beard will have something to argue over for a while too.

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11. Day for Night (1999)

By the end of the millennium Spock’s Beard had become one of the hottest names in the reemerging Progressive Rock scene. The band’s popularity had increased that much to lead the group to a double set of live albums, released in 1998, The Beard is Out There and Live at The Whisky and NEARFest. But at the same time the recording sessions never stopped and in the spring of 1999 the band returns with a fourth studio album, Day for Night, released in the USA, Europe and Japan by Metal Blade, Inside Out and Avalon labels respectively.

While the fundamentals of old Progressive Rock were still the band’s driving force, Neal Morse decided that the band should take a turn towards more dense and short tunes, which remain fairly intricate, bombastic and complex, but also contain a heavier dash of pop. Genesis, Gentle Giant and King Crimson are again among the biggest influences and there is some incredible Hammond organ, Mellotron and electric piano moves to be found in the album. On the other hand there is not a single piece exceeding the 10-minute mark and actually most of them are about 3-5 minutes long, half of this set is closer to a mixture of Progressive/Art Rock and Pop with joyful tunes, sharp electric guitars, analog and modern keyboards and more conventional songwriting. There is still some nice music playing in the background, but that’s not exactly what Spock’s Beard. The epic atmospheres, emphatic breaks and rhythm changes are still in the menu along with a retro atmosphere and an intelligent display of modern instrumentation and production. It’s just that the vocals now sound too sweet and poppy placed in such kind of arrangements. Cuts like the title-track, “Crack the Big Sky” or “The Gypsy” though belong among the goodies of the band, these guys offered here a monumental delivery of full-blown Prog with some Beatles-que tunes.

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10. Octane (2005)

The first seven tracks of Octane comprise a conceptual suite entitled “A Flash Before My Eyes,” based on a story by John Boegehold. It’s about the experiences of a man in the process of experiencing a car wreck as it happens and watching his life flash before him as it passes out of him. He recalls everything from his parents’ separation on Christmas, to high school football games and meeting his wife and creating a life with her. It all ends at the end of the flash. The overture, “Prelude to the Past,” is all big prog symphonic rock former frontman and guitarist Neal Morse‘s gigantic presence is still missed, but the ambition here is sweeping. Nonetheless, drummer and frontman Nick D’Virgilio is putting forth the effort and he has a compelling presence as a singer, but his lyrics aren’t yet there, they still tell more than show. The contrast between Boegehold‘s narrative passages and the song lyrics that illustrate them is harsh. The music, while more “accessible” than in the past and harder in its rock-ist intentions, still has plenty of flair and verve, though one does miss the wonderfully labyrinthine passages and surprises of yore.

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09. Spock’s Beard (2006)

Spock’s Beard, the third effort by a group that was forced to start over after their main songwriter, Neal Morse, departed in 2002, brings with it surprising consistency—one element which had been missing from the previous two efforts. Feel Euphoria and Octane had plenty of good music between them, with a combination of new ideas and old-style Spock’s Beard homages, but I don’t feel that the band had yet found any uniform sound or identity.

There’s a polish, sheen, and tight feel in every facet of this record—the songwriting, musicianship, and production—that hasn’t been captured since V. There’s a lot to love here, and, despite its length, it’s all very listenable from beginning to end.

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08. Beware of Darkness (1996)

Beware of Darkness, the follow-up to debut, The Light, is a complete exercise in MORE. Using George Harrison‘s beautiful song (but Leon Russell‘s version of it) as a take-off point, the band uses a full-blown choir, thundering guitars, and Neal Morse‘s growling vocal to create another valid and moving version of the tune. Beware of Darkness as an album is more “song-oriented” than its predecessor. It contains eight tunes instead of four and the longest, the closing “Time Has Come,” is a mere 16 minutes, while the shortest, “Chatauqua,” is a mere 2:49!

In addition, the band’s scope widened here; aside from references to Yes, King Crimson, and early Genesis, listeners can also hear elements of Gentle Giant, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pat Metheny in the mix, too. However, all of them are subservient to Spock’s Beard‘s tough, aggressively driven rock & roll approach. In many ways it goes beyond The Light, particularly because of its construction-like songwriting approach on “The Doorway,” a tune written before anything on the band’s debut album, where classically precise pianos give way to monstrously plodding basslines and knotty little synth riffs introduce those propulsive guitars and huge organ swells with a delicate vocal floating above it all.

The overall feel of the disc is more abrupt and shape-shifting than violently dreamy like The Light, and it works without a hitch. While the sheer wildness of The Light may be preferable to this set, the overall sophistication in composition and the recording quality are quite noteworthy. This might not be the place to start with Spock’s Beard, but it is certainly a place to go once the introduction has been made.

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07. The Kindness of Strangers (1998)

1998′s The Kindness of Strangers sees Spock’s Beard returning to the more “suite” oriented format of their debut The Light, issued back in 1995. There, the set kicks off with “The Good Don’t Last,” a three-part ride that serves as Neal Morse‘s indictment of popular culture —though his lyrics are pure pop culture tripe. His screed belittles his wonderfully accessible and labyrinthine music; too bad. Things look up on “In the Mouth of Madness,” with its Mellotron and heavy guitars complemented beautifully by Nick D’Virgilio‘s drum thud.

The disc also features “June,” one of Spock’s most popular songs in a live setting. And it is easily the most accessible and pleasant thing the overly technical and cerebral Morse ever wrote, with its lilting vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars, which give way to the rollicking metallic prog of “Strange World.” The track “Harm’s Way” features organist Ryo Okumoto prominently, as well as Al Morse‘s squealing guitar. The set closes with the three-parter “The Flow,” which is carried by a knotty, guitar-driven assault that is accented by various keyboards and moved forward ever more insistently by D’Virgilio‘s amazing drumming. This elegy for the end of times is one of Morse‘s better jobs lyrically. There is real poetry in his tome, and as piano and electric guitar solos and fills weave in and out, it becomes ominous, an elegy, and a dark meditation on the current era. This is a solid date, one that feels focused and true and full of strong songwriting with typically excellent performances and is well advised for those seeking an introduction to this fine band.

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06. The Oblivion Particle (2015)

The Oblivion Particle is a solid progressive rock album with occasional metal elements. There are some really good vocal lines and guitar work laying ground for relaxing, entertaining and curious tunes, accompanied by the weird keyboard partitions as usual. The album features both “direct” tunes like “Get Out While You Can” and mixed pieces of progressive rock, psychedelic keyboard tunes and piano performances like “A Better Way to Fly” with a nice, flowing vocal outro. Instrumentation and “showing off” is like a mandatory flaw of progressive music in general. Most bands don’t know how to be subtle and bore you to death with melodies, but Spock’s Beard is different. These gentlemen can shock you with their talent but they do it gently. The Oblivion Particle is full of instrumental high-end performances that never bore you or make you vomit. You find the album flowing even in long pieces. That is a very important part of making quality music in my book.

David Ragsdale from Kansas also makes an appearance on the closing track, “Disappear,” which is arguably one of the best tracks on the album with its slow pace (with occasional Yes-ish keyboard arrangements popping out).

The Oblivion Particle may not be the defining moment of a new era in progressive music, but it is a solid example of how things can be achieved well and solid.

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05. X (2010)

Against all odds, Spock’s Beard have really hit their stride with a superb modern symphonic prog album. In fact, a fair amount of the material here is as good, as inspired as much of what they did in the Morse era. Their tenth album X is easily the strongest of the four albums the Beards made since multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter and creative leader Neal Morse quit the band in 2002, taking their classic sound with him. Expectations were not high, but against the odds, they succeeded. X is a winner on all fronts. It’s truly a triumph and a further validation of their post-Morse configuration. Spock’s Beard had rediscovered the spark that had made them so great before: every song is carefully elaborated and flows very well. It seems the band have revealed their true songwriting skills, which probably were pushed aside when Neal was still on the lead and writing stuff continuously.

With X, Spock’s Beard have finally cleared the shadow of Neal Morse and set down their own canvas.

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04. Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (2013)

Spock’s Beard has always seemed to be a band that took pride in looking while moving forward. But, since the departure of Neal Morse, the band seemed to struggle to know which direction it was headed. The band “pulled a Genesis” and his vocal duties were handed to drummer, Nick D’Virgilio. While fans rejoiced that the band would continue, it would be several years, and another personnel change, before the band would find its voice again.

From the opening bars of “Hiding Out” it is clear that the addition of new bandmates, singer Ted Leonard, and drummer Jimmy Keegan, has breathed new life into a band. It’s a song that could have fit comfortably on the band’s first release, The Light. The fact that the opening track was penned by the new singer, proved his abilities to both write and perform, finally filling Neal’s shoes. “I Know Your Secret” starts off with a nice, ‘70s-style groove, but picks up pace a minute in, filled with Pink Floyd-like keyboards, and a rumbling bassline that would have make Chris Squire proud. For the chorus, the band switches tempo again, and lets the keyboards shine. “A Treasure Abandoned” features an introduction reminiscent of “The Emperor’s Clothes” leading into a King Crimson-esqe anthem that Tom Cruise could fly jets to, serving to bookend the track. While being notable as the return of Neal Morse as a co-writer for the band, it lacks the same hooks that made the previous tracks shine. The track “Submerged” has the distinction of being one of the few singles released by the band, and is clearly a showcase for their new vocalist. And shine through he does.

This is one of the few tracks that look back towards the more radio-friendly songs produced during Nick tenure fronting of the band. “Afterthoughts” can be best summed up as “Ted channels Neal Morse while covering Gentle Giant”. A second track co-written by Neal himself is clearly a throwback to the Thoughts vocal performances that used to be a large part of Beard repertoire. “Something Very Strange,” indeed, opens with a very Floyd-ish machine voice, before kicking into a very keyboard/bass driven rhythm. The middle section contains a signature-sounding instrumental that deserves a spot on any progressive fan’s play-list. The last song on the album proper, “Waiting for Me,” sounds like the track is announcing itself to the audience. Indeed, this is the track Beard fans have been waiting for. Written by the Morse brothers, the track is a true Beard track in every sense. If you’ve ever wondered what it might sound like if David Gilmour, Steve Howe and Tony Banks played an instrumental section together, look no further. Featuring interesting tempo changes, and an incredible instrumental section, the band has chosen to close its album with the best the Beard has to offer.

Truly, the album stands as a return to form, yet invigorated, and new. Innovation, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery after all.

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03. Snow (2002)

On Snow, a double-CD concept album, Spock’s Beard go for broke. Creatively, this is a new direction for the band in the sense that carrying out a sustained narrative of this magnitude stretches all compositional notion, as well as those surrounding production, arrangement, and consistency of voice. There is so much weight placed on each track to move a story forward, either expressionistically or narratively, that getting bogged down in it is always a risk. Happily, that is not the case here.

Spock’s Beard have taken all of their strengths instrumentally, lyrically, and vocally, and concentrated them in this effort about an albino boy on a noble, if idiosyncratic, quest. While concept albums have been done on much loftier notions, they seem to falter under their own weight, or the light of actual history. Here, Neal and Alan Morse, and their bandmates, use a much more subjective fantasy story, and create a spiritual, physical, ideological, and emotional set of circumstances that follow their protagonist through 26 songs.

Musically, Snow is a wonder, it’s full of nuance and texture, taut dynamics and lush arrangements, that are all, seemingly, of a piece. While some Spock’s Beard fans might have a hard time with the softer, gentler side of the band that is evidenced here, it would be tough to argue that this change of direction was both necessary and warranted. Spock’s Beard has been pushing at their own boundaries for a while now, and with Snow, they shattered them and entered into the very promise of what progressive rock is always supposed to deliver: discovering some heretofore unknown sonic territory via the individual and collective focus of creating through the applied effort of one’s best musical efforts.

Snow is an allegory, it is an archetypal story that is ambitious in scope and redemptive in result, and is a thoroughly rewarding listen.

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02. The Light (1995)

One has to understand that The Light is nothing at all akin to anything being done in the mid-’90s. Yes hadn’t yet made their full comeback, and the memories of Genesis with Peter Gabriel faded ever more pervasively form view with each subsequent Phil Collins solo release.

Here are four sprawling, knotty, syncopated tunes, two of them, the title track and “The Water,” are multiple-part suites that encompass no less than 48 minutes of the album’s 67 minutes. In addition, this album was self-financed. (What “responsible” multi-national recording conglomerate during Nirvana-mania would give them a record deal after all?). There are wonderfully referenced elements here in these massive and yes, overblown constructions—but that’s what prog’s delight is—it’s overblown and confoundingly complex. There’s the great King Crimson “21st Century Schizoid Man” reference in “One Man,” and the flamenco-cum-near-gothic metal of the “Return of the Catfish Man,” near the end of The Light. The layered keyboards and backing chorus in “Go the Way You Go” reminds one of Yes at their knottiest, before slipping expertly into an altered universe dynamically and becoming a poetic and romantic elegy. And “The Water’s” labyrinthine, apocalyptic, maze-like compositional journey that may not sound like punk, but certainly reflects many of its sentiments, is an anomaly in any kind of music that espouses this M.O.

The dodgy (but not substandard) recording makes it sound like classic- ’70s vintage, and the music is out of time and space. Fans of this genre have long regarded it as a classic.

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01. V (2000)

Spock’s Beard is a band that often gets lumped under the modern definition of progressive rock, which seems to be flailing keyboard solos with virtuoso guitar leads and a high-pitched singer, all thanks to a certain band named Dream Theater. While there are clearly exceptions to every stereotype and rule, Porcupine Tree tended to be the only modern progressive rock band that people often look to when attempting to find something different. But other bands are around, and not all of them make a strong effort to stay far away from what is deemed “mainstream” music. Spock’s Beard could best be defined as a “pop-tinged progressive rock” band, drawing more heavily from commercial sounds than virtuoso efforts or spacey effects. The band’s fifth album, aptly titled V, would end up being the peak in the band’s career before frontman Neal Morse’s departure in 2002, and rightfully so.

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During their recent show in Bucharest, Romania, Dream Theater paid tribute to late Chris Cornell with a piano-driven rendition of Soundgarden classic “Black Hole Sun.”

At one point, however, James LaBrie made a bit of an embarrassing gaffe by forgetting a portion of lyrics right before the chorus kicks in.

I forgot the fucking words,” he sang in line with the tune’s melody.

You can watch the footage below.

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(via Ultimate Guitar)

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CAMEL Albums Ranked

Formed by Andrew Latimer, Doug Ferguson, Andy Ward and Peter Bardens in 1971, Camel was an essential part of the ‘70s progressive movement, although not one of its more famous components. Overshadowed by the likes of Genesis, King Crimson and Yes, the group was nevertheless extraordinarily talented and most definitely unique in the genre. With their first and finest formation, they would release a streak of four outstanding albums before moving on with different line-ups and creating mostly inferior works. The latter three of these albums, Mirage, The Snow Goose and Moonmadness, are regarded as the real Camel classics, but their 1973 debut is almost as compelling.

What makes Camel stand out next to their contemporaries is their style of playing and composing. Latimer leads the band with his distinctive guitar sound: choosing mood and emotion over showmanship, his very melodic riffs are as powerful as they are meaningful. This also had a direct influence of the band’s manner of writing. Despite composing songs that could range up to 12 minutes in length, Camel was never as stubbornly avant-garde as King Crimson, overambitious as Yes, or strongly theatrical like Genesis. While keeping the ground rules of progressive rock intact, the songs that this group produced were far more focused, which also makes them far more accessible. Latimer and his company really tell a story with their music, and such is Camel’s greatest strength.

We have revisited the band’s discography and ranked their 14 albums. More about it below.

14. The Single Factor (1982)

Following the ambitious song cycle Nude, Camel attempted their version of an Alan Parsons Project album with The Single Factor. Considering that Parsons was having hits that year with songs like “Eye in the Sky,” it’s not surprising that Camel tried to capture the same audience, yet their talent didn’t lay with pop music—it lay with atmospheric instrumentals and creating detailed soundscapes. Consequently, The Single Factor sounds a little forced and often fails to capture the group’s magic, even though there a few strong moments on the record.

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13. I Can See Your House from Here (1979)

Another round of lineup changes leads to another shift in Camel‘s sound. The departure of Richard Sinclair halted the jazzy Canterbury dabblings of the previous two albums, whilst Peter Bardens‘ leaving might have deprived the band of one of the talents who had made their early albums so essential, but at least meant the band could proceed without clashes over musical direction between Latimer and Bardens compromising the recording process.

The arrival of Happy the Man‘s Kit Watkins on keyboards results in the presence of “Eye of the Storm”—and if it sounds like a leftover Happy the Man track, that’s because it is—but otherwise the album sees Camel continuing its quest for an accessible, commercial style unhindered by Canterbury affectations or qualms from Bardens about the new direction. I wouldn’t necessarily mind this if it resulted in a high-quality pop album, but as it is the pop songs on here are rather soulless soft rock affairs with little to recommend them. The closing “Ice” brings the prog back but doesn’t hold a candle to the band’s illustrious past, and on the whole the album finds Camel a creatively bankrupt force.

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12. Stationary Traveller (1982)

Although Stationary Traveller is a concept album, it musically falls into line with its predecessor The Single Factor, which found Camel trying to refashion themselves as the Alan Parsons Project. Where The Single Factor suffered from Camel‘s attempts to write pop hooks, Stationary Traveller finds the band breaking down the barriers, opening up their relatively concise songs with long, atmospheric instrumental passages. The album’s lyrics, which were written by Susan Hoover, is about the divided Berlin and its political, emotional and physical divides. Often, the lyrics and music—which work as individual entities—don’t quite work together, since they follow different emotional directions, yet the record remains a worthwhile listen, especially since it features Andy Latimer on pan flute.

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11. Breathless (1978)

With Rain Dances, Camel began exploring shorter, more concise songs, but it wasn’t until its follow-up, Breathless, that they truly made a stab at writing pop songs. Although they didn’t completely abandon improvisational prog rock—there are several fine, jazzy interludes—most of the record is comprised of shorter songs designed for radio play. While the group didn’t quite achieve that goal, Breathless is nevertheless a more accessible record than Camel‘s other albums, which tend to focus on instrumentals. Here, they try to be a straightforward prog rock band, and while the results are occasionally a little muddled, it is on the whole surprisingly successful.

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10. Nude (1981)

Based on a true story, the idea behind Nude can be a bit exhausting with all the little touches thrown upon the album’s central theme. It’s interesting to say the least, with lead guitarist/lead vocalist (and Camel founder) Andy Latimer’s delicate music building a fitting atmosphere to accompany it. The tracks are best if not separated, but rather left to fade into each other and let the story flow freely. This isn’t to say that the entire album consists of key moments though, as there are definitely some standouts and some not so special tracks.

Opening with one of it’s high-notes, Nude begins with “City Life,” which lyrically appears as sort of an epilogue for the album’s story. Here we find the main character speaking of adjustment to the New World around him and how he is different from those around him. This one’s nice because it’s packed with a lot of vocal harmonies and a lush arrangement of keyboards, saxophones, and multi-tracked guitar lines; given these qualities, the song retains a rather upbeat sound throughout. Nude uses smaller tracks (ranging from 22 seconds to 2 and a half minutes) to bridge spaces between tracks, much in the tradition of the concept album. After the aforementioned 22 second “Nude,” the story switches to the past, with “Drafted” and the feelings of “Nude” (the characters name) about his upcoming experiences and what he’ll be leaving behind when going to war. The story continues from this point to “Nude’s” rescue from the island.

The first couple tracks on the album really set the tone musically for the rest of the record, though not all songs have the same quality and replay value. Still, the general musical theme remains ever present and much of the guitar, keyboard, bass and drum tones stay their respective courses. The ‘80s sound plays a role here, but it’s not strong enough to become over the top or annoyingly synthed-out. There’s almost an ethereal feeling to the record, though the sound is still forceful enough to make a statement. It’s almost as if Andy Latimer has tried to synch the album’s story with the instrumentation put forth to support it.

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09. Dust and Dreams (1991)

Camel packed up their bags and moved to California, with the dust of a seven-years span of quiet on their backs, and the dream of creative freedom through their own label, Camel Productions, ahead of them. Inspired by the John Steinbeck novel “The Grapes of Wrath” (and one can only hope that Camel‘s westward move went smoother), Dust and Dreams is exactly the sort of labor of love that makes a private label worth having. Elegiac, literate, largely instrumental in spots, this stuff would make most label executives’ eyes glaze over. It’s also the sort of finely wrought music that will delight Camel fans who still fondly imagine their band in the Nude.

Despite the long absence since Stationary Traveller, many familiar faces return to Camel‘s ranks: Susan Hoover, Ton Scherpenzeel, Colin Bass, David Paton, and Paul Burgess. Andy Latimer, of course, remains the pivotal figure, writing the songs, taking the vocal leads (his sleepy, deep delivery suggesting a Watersed-down version of Pink Floyd), driving the music with his masterful guitar work. This last point is worth resting at a moment, since Latimer‘s guitar has grown audibly since we last heard him. While some of the guitar passages are classic Camel (e.g., “Cotton Camp”), Latimer is just as likely to invoke the image of David Gilmour (“End of the Line”) and Steve Hackett (“Broken Banks,” “Hopeless Anger”).

Like Nude, Dust and Dreams initially divides its time between songs and instrumentals before ceding halfway through to purely instrumental music. The 18 tracks are interconnected, separated only by a four-second delay before “End of the Line,” effectively marking a first and second act. The introductory “Dust Bowl” is a quiet overture reminiscent of Brian Eno, the closing “Whispers in the Rain” is actually an epilogue (the real curtain comes crashing down on “Hopeless Anger”). If it all sounds like a structured play, that’s because Dust and Dreams is. The disc exists as a single work broken into two sections, inextricably bound together in the composer’s mind (themes return, specific points of action take place). In retrospect, it’s probably a wonder that Nude ever got off the ground, and few studios would have taken a flyer on the equally ambitious Dust and Dreams. Thank goodness Andy Latimer had the fortitude to see this through to completion; it is the mature work of an indomitable dreamer, if a little downbeat. It lacks the immediate melodies of Nude (which many would concede is the better album), but the victories here are harder won and thus to be prized by fans who were still scanning the horizon for the shadow of Camel‘s tall spirit.

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08. Rain Dances (1977)

1977’s Rain Dances, is a record often hailed by critics as a reformation of the band’s early sound, with a more commercially accepted tinge. Not long into the album’s opener, “First Light,” the jazzy, free-flowing compositions of the band’s first pair of releases can be heard. It’s unfortunate that the prog-rockers didn’t let the spirits of music past dominate the overall scope of the recording—the addition of Caravan bassist Richard Sinclair and former King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins could’ve seen limitless potential. Instead, while striving for radio acceptance, Camel seems to lack elements of their classic sound, further forgoing a progressive jazzy sound for prog-tinged rock numbers. In a sad twist for the unit, Rain Dances did little for Camel’s commercial appeal, and continued the band down a path of alienation of their early fan-base.

Beginning the disc with a pair of instrumental tracks isn’t the best way to help a band receive more air-play; though these songs are probably the most reminiscent of Camel’s past, they don’t do much in terms of kicking off the record. The songs are fun to listen to and littered with little bits of trademark Camel, but the lack of cohesion between them makes for a scattered listen. This trend continues with the third track, similarly instrumentally rooted, with minimal vocals added. By this point, however, the meandering tendencies of Rain Dances start to grow a little frustrating. The record does have a handful of good songs—hear “Highways of the Sun” and “Uneven Song.” These are probably the most reminiscent of the band’s early work, as well as crafting themselves with radio-playability. It’s a shame that the lack of focus on the rest of Rain Dances clouds the disc’s potential. Songs like “Elke” and “Skylines” throw off any bid at accessibility, while the disc’s title-track is a decent throwback, but a little too short to come off as memorable. The closer feels a little bit like a rip-off, taking the form of a single-version of “Highways of the Sun.” While the band tried to capitalise off the tracks hooks, the revamped version comes up stale in comparison to the original.

Camel’s attempt at a commercial record unfortunately fall pretty flat with Rain Dances, continuing a string of albums that seem to lie short of the output of Camel and Mirage. The wandering ways of the album make for a confusing feel for radio-play, leaving front-man Andrew Latimer’s motives a little unclear. There are definitely good tracks here, but the album yields nothing special enough to leave a lasting impression on the listener. Considering the band’s past and future output, a few hiccups in their discography is forgivable, and Rain Dances can undoubtedly still find praise amongst Camel’s fan-base.

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07. Harbour of Tears (1996)

It would be fair to say that Camel had a rather tough time of it after the arrival of the punk rock scene and the onset of the 1980s. The band kept plugging away in a world that had turned generally hostile towards the dinosaurs of the ‘70s prog movement and although they have to be admired for their stoicism their albums from the ‘80s were by far the weakest of their discography and found them unsuccessfully trying to incorporate the musical sensibilities of the times. At the start of the ‘90s however Camel had recovered some of their integrity and came out with Dust and Dreams which marked a partial return to former glories. After a subsequent hiatus of five years they released Harbour of Tears.

This is a concept album based upon the imagined experiences of an Irish family emigrating to the USA to start a new life. Without even listening to the album one might suppose that the music would be influenced by Celtic folk melodies and this is indeed the case. “Irish Air/Irish Air (instrumental)” sets the scene for what is to come with some delicate female cappella vocals and Latimer’s trademark melodic lead guitar lines backed by flute, oboe and strings. The title track itself is a beautiful slow folky number with Latimer’s tasteful tone carrying the song to it’s conclusion. As with the classic Snow Goose the structure takes the form of more substantial pieces syncopated with small musical interludes.

“Send Home the Slates” is composed as a letter home from an Irish immigrant working for the railway company and conjures up images of the protagonist swinging his pick on the line with his work crew. The Irish folk influence manifests itself most prominently on “Eyes of Ireland” which takes the form of a simple acoustic folk song lightly touched with Camel’s trademark sound. One of the real highlights is one of the more progressive pieces, an instrumental “Running From Paradise” which recalls Camel‘s past glories with its meandering structure. Album closer “Coming of Age” is also reminiscent of ‘70s Camel and does away with much of the Celtic folk influence prevalent throughout the album. There is really not a weak track on the whole album. However, sampling this music in small doses really doesn’t do it justice. Just like the classic Snow Goose from all those years before this is an album to be enjoyed in it’s entirety without any interruptions from start to finish.

This was their best release since Moonmadness way back in ’76 and finally wiped away the memory of the forgettable and sometimes cringeworthy material that the band had put out in the ‘80s. If you are a fan of early period Camel there is a good chance you will take to this album. The infusion of Celtic folk melodies lend the music a beautifully ethereal air. An album to savour.

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06. Rajaz (1999)

Rajaz gets my vote as the second-strongest Camel record since the 1970s. After a string of instrumentally-dominated concept albums and poppier “’80s sounding” releases, it largely represents a return to the band’s original symphonic prog sound. There’s still an overarching “concept” here in that many of the tracks feature Andy Latimer’s so-called “walking metre” (as well as a vaguely Middle-Eastern vibe), but Rajaz is a collection of independent tracks with no symphonic interludes. So if you’re a fan of classic ‘70s prog in the vein of Mirage or Moonmadness, Rajaz might be the best place to start with latter-day Camel. I will add that guitar playing here is absolutely gorgeous—amongst the most gorgeous of Mr. Latimer’s storied career.

The one caveat with here is that Rajaz is an almost uniformly subdued release. All of the vocal melodies are of the dreamy, understated variety, while many of the tracks drift into extended laid-back instrumentals. If you’re looking for “punchier” symph prog with complexly-layered arrangements, you might find this record a bit tame. As with many Camel albums, Rajaz is far greater than the sum of its parts and is best listened to in its entirety.

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05. A Nod and a Wink (2002)

A Nod and a Wink has absolutely nothing to do with camels/Egyptian mysticism/concepts based around novels at all, as many of the band’s albums have done. Instead, and this is purely justified by the magical music and excellently written lyrics, the concept here is based around a boy who one day travels via a magic carpet to various places (“Fox Hill” and “Squigely Fair”), and meets up with a very brief character called “The Miller.” Just knowing this automatically tells everyone that Camel have tried to make everyone interested in their presence, and it’s certainly worked.

Musically, every song here, bar the awkward monotonousness of melancholic tracks “Simple Pleasures” and “The Miller’s Tale,” goes off in every single direction possible. This is most notable on the title track, which, even in it’s first minute, develops into something truly magnificent. The sounds of tweeting birds, whistling trains and breezy winds give way to sparkling keyboards that wouldn’t sound out of place on a children’s TV programme. That’s not all. Andrew Latimer has brought the flute back where it belongs, and on “A Nod and a Wink,” I couldn’t welcome it any more if I tried. In particular the flute solos are placed here, there and everywhere throughout each of the album’s songs, and every time it makes the songs themselves come to life-so much, that lyrics aren’t even needed, thus giving off the effect that the music actually speaks for itself. So far all this has happened and not even five minutes has passed. What’s that you say? Camel couldn’t possibly make music this inspiring at their age? How very, very wrong you are indeed.

To go on and look at the title track from every perspective and explain every one of its little details would take the length of an English dictionary. The two other similarly experimental tracks, “Fox Hill” and “Squigely Fair,” also take the listener on a wishful journey full of surprises nobody could even imagine. “Fox Hill” in particular presents the more exciting, perky side of Camel’s modern sound, and as flutes, keyboards, guitars, vocals that could have been spoken by a rural villager from Yorkshire, it almost makes you want to repeat the song again just to make sure you haven’t missed a second. Granted, some may be put off slightly by the way that Latimer’s voice is so different from his sweet, soft tones, but you probably wouldn’t be surprised if you looked at the nature of the lyrics. Even the drums, which admittedly aren’t used that much on the album for any sort of effect, have their own brief bit of stardom, as midway through the song a drum solo occurs and eventually becomes as rapid as that of John Bonham on “Moby Dick.” The progression of the guitar and bass work also become part of the magical atmosphere created, as solos and rumbling bass lines manage to keep up with the perky pace of the band’s collective sounds. “Squigely Fair,” whilst it’s overall impression isn’t one as enticing as “Fox Hill” or indeed the title track, it still develops into something naturally and differently progressive. In particular the transitions from soft, melancholic music to fast-paced, rhythmic structures are pretty much spot on, as each instrument never seems to overstay its welcome. It is an instrumental song, but with actual lyrics you can’t help but feel that the magical effect of the music might be taken away. There is a brief narrative spoken by Latimer, but this, once again, contributes to how natural and pastoral the concept of the album is.

However, not everything here is as good or indeed unmistakeably talented as it seems. As mentioned before, the so-so symphonic boredom of “Simple Pleasures” and “The Miller’s tale” really cut the flow of the album’s natural significance, and although this isn’t that big an issue, as the album’s two shorter songs, they really should have been cut from the album had the band any intentions of making A Nod and a Wink the best album ever of their career. As well as this, and perhaps not as frustratingly obvious, is the absence of the lyrical content. At times, the music seems to go on forever, and then, just as you think the song is going to be an instrumental one, Latimer sings in a slightly weak voice (although not ignoring his major health problems either). Mind you, what he slightly lacks in vocals, he much more than makes up for in the use of flutes, keyboards and guitar work.

Apparently this album was dedicated to the untimely death of Peter Bardens, which happened six months before this album’s release. If indeed it was dedicated to him, he most definitely will be nodding in appreciation.

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04. Camel (1973)

Though underdeveloped as many debuts are, the band’s first album gives a strong hint of what’s to come with seven very worthy tracks. If you compare it to Camel’s three classics, something immediately notable is how confident the boys became from Mirage onwards. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing for the album, which sound positively laid-back and welcoming; don’t expect anything of the “Freefall” calibre (if you’ve heard Mirage). The hard-rocking closer “Arubaluba” is the only real moment you’ll find to the band going all out, more of these energetic moments being spread throughout the record in only a modest sense.

“Slow Yourself Down” is pretty indicative of the album’s main sound. Going through several mood changes, it first welcomes you with Latimer’s relaxed vocals (he’s a far better guitar player than he is a singer, but luckily seemed aware of this and used his voice little but effectively), but progresses into a brilliant instrumental display that leaves no doubt to the talents of the musicians that stand behind Latimer. Especially Bardens proves his mastery of the organ, bearing no shame to the Jon Lords of his generation, and Ferguson’s bass and Ward’s drums have absolutely no intention of going by unheard either.

“Separation” and “Curiosity” feature similar moments of such energetic virtuosity, but “Mystic Queen” and “Six Ate” float along like a pleasant dream. The real highlight of the album comes with “Never Let Go,” which acoustic opening was actually the basis for Opeth’s “Benighted” (Camel being one of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s major influences). Latimer’s vocals are at his strongest here, the instrumentation is beautifully moody, and the song concludes with an excellent guitar solo. A track that best shows the enormous potential Camel had in 1973.

Because yes, in the three years that followed, the band would release their three most acclaimed albums, realizing that potential they had going. This debut is not just another example of a stepping stone, but an accomplished work in its own right. While not as good as the group’s later albums, it is a most excellent start and an essential Camel release, as well as a very good starting point to get into their wonderful music.

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03. The Snow Goose (1975)

Possibly the most appealing quality of this record is the amorphous atmosphere and use of themes. Throughout the record, the moods change very often and still retain the same overall ambience, one of nature, all her seasons, and all the fog, wind, and oak that goes with it. The atmosphere is able to do this because the band implements a lot of woodwind instruments and, thankfully, restrain from doing any senseless prog jams. There’s hardly any room to do so what with each song being no less than two to five minutes, hence the sixteen tracks. The use of themes is also important to this conception because, like any good concept piece, the multiple themes are malleable enough to be used more than once and employ alterations of how the theme is emotionally presented as illustrated by the mad happiness of “Rhyadar” compared to “Rhyadar Alone.”

Because the album is based on a book, you will find no lyrics whatsoever. This instrumental record does contain a very small handful of vocals but are merely performing na na na’s, and truthfully this record would be terrible with vocals as the music does a breathtakingly good job at storytelling, which works well since you can either read the book or create your own story. The title track is a good example of how the album paints images with incredibly inspired guitar leads and dual drawbar organs, and soon enough you will be questioning whether Koji Kondo was inspired by this record due to tracks like “Friendship” (Kolkiri Forest soundtrack anyone?). It flows straight into “Migration,” probably the one “progressive” sounding track with poppy organ chords and freeform jazz drums. “Flight Of The Snow Goose” defines layers with fast piano movements, very upbeat drums, octave guitar leads, “Dunkirk” shines above the rest with its characteristic composition with walking basses, prominent horns, a signature guitar line, and marching snares acting as a crescendo with the organ’s volume, and “Epitaph’s” drone of strange percussive sounds and low rumbles flows seamlessly into the beautiful piano solo of “Fritha Alone.” The album covers so many sounds it’s ridiculous.

With the grand closing of “La Princesse Perdue” and “The Great Marsh,” within the frantically excited violins a nostalgic organ solo preceding a slower tempo for a bittersweet, almost orchestral finale and the surprisingly dark texture to silence the record, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer audacity and creativity you have just been subjected to, but honestly there’s no real way of describing this record in words. Words are the biggest barrier in the world, and because of this I can only implore that you let the album speak for itself.

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02. Moonmadness (1976)

Camel’s fourth LP Moonmadness closely rivals their second one Mirage: they are similar in the fact that they both feature some of the most energetic, original and awe-inspiring compositions the group ever created, and of course both appear in their classic era. Despite the obvious similarity in the overall vibe though, Moonmadness is also quite different. Mirage contained three vocal tracks, two of which were epics, woven around two instrumentals. This album is spread out a great deal more, the average song length being about five and a half minutes, and that makes it a smoother experience altogether.

The short “Aristillus” will, as is the sworn duty of any good opener, grab your attention immediately. The bumpy tune is heavy on synthesizers, creating a spacey sound that works very well and shows a new side of Camel; one that shows throughout the rest of the album as well. Another feature that starkly contrasts Mirage is the inclusion of several gorgeous melancholic tracks. The soothing flute and voice of the first part of “Song Within a Song”; the short and mystical “Spirit of the Water”; the floating atmosphere of “Air Born”: Camel once again takes you places.

For those looking for the more vibrant type of progressive, however, worry not. “Chord Change” is another classic Camel mood-changer (as its title already implies), and goes through some rockin’ passages. “Another Night” is even better, featuring a main riff closely bordering on hard rock, some of the best vocals on the album, and, top really top things off, both a guitar and organ solo near the end of the track. The best moment is however the instrumental closer “Lunar Sea” (also known as “Lunacy”), using whacky synthesizers, aggressive bass playing and the sound of blowing wind in its last minute to wrap things up in a truly unique manner.

Without a doubt, Moonmadness is one hell of an essential progressive album, very closely rivalling Mirage for Camel’s magnum opus. The group’s sound is not a bit outdated, still able to amaze the ears of new listeners today. The record has a strong sense of energy, melancholy, and a unique atmosphere that truly makes it stand out, not only amongst the band’s own other works, but the works of other artists in general.

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01. Mirage (1974)

Probably Camel’s most popular album and their best work, the group’s second effort Mirage both expanded and improved upon their self-titled début. Having truly found their sound and gained incredible confidence and daring in their writing and playing, this progressive classic opens strong and ends even stronger. “Freefall,” with its booming opening, outstanding guitar lines, seemingly effortless mood –and tempo changes and fitting vocals, is a definite statement about what Camel could unleash. Which, when listening to Mirage, was something quite astounding.

Split between the three vocal tracks that make up the beginning, middle and end of the album are two superb instrumentals. The shorter, more laid-back and playful “Supertwister” features a first appearance of Latimer’s abilities on the flute, introducing a new element that would play a part in Camel’s sound on many subsequent albums. The longer “Earthrise” is a free-flowing jam that features some fantastic interplay abilities between the quartet and is a perfect example of their strong chemistry.

Mirage’s most compelling moments are however its two epics. The middle track “Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider,” is once again full of signature Camel moments: Latimer’s gorgeous melodic guitar lines, relaxed vocals, Ferguson’s typical deep bass sound, and a smooth flow that makes it seem shorter than the nine minutes it actually takes. The group’s storytelling ability is most prominent here. Latimer wrote the song about the Gandalf character from The Lord of the Rings (those fantastical kind of themes were really hip among the rock bands of the era, after all), which is easily derived from the lyrics: “Once he wore grey/he fell and slipped away/From everybody’s sight/The wizard of them all/came back from his fall/This time wearing white.”

In traditional manner, the best epic is of course saved for last. Lady Fantasy, written together by the entire band (most of the band’s compositions were written by Latimer and Bardens), is one of the true highlights of Camel’s career. The lyrical content may actually be a little cheesy, but flows wonderfully with the music. Each section is extremely well though-out and Latimer’s playing, especially his highly emotional lead that recurs throughout the song, is to die for. These 12 minutes top off the accomplishment that is this record with proud determination, and are a reminder why it is held in such high regard. Mirage is a definite progressive classic, and should be owned by anyone who pronounces himself a fan of the genre.

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This news story was originally published here:
Monolithic Elephant

Milan-based psychedelic/progressive rock trio Monolithic Elephant debuted in March with their self-titled album, a six-track epic journey through the unknown. In a new interview for Prog Sphere, the Milanese band introduces our readers to their world.

Define the mission of Monolithic Elephant.

Playing as much as we can to make people feel good and enjoy our music

Tell me about the creative process that informed your self-titled debut album and the themes it captures.

We didn’t have any idea in mind once we started jamming. You can hear what came from individual taste and different musical identities. Describing our flow is not easy; you can see there’s a lot of dynamic variations that brought us to complete some songs in a strange way. Playing with a lot of musical freedom brings many moods inside the same song.

Themes really depend on listener, everyone can get a specific vision, there’s a lot of interpretative effort and that’s because of the compositional freedom we felt during creation process.

Also titles, they’re linked to a sensation we got from single songs. Talking about rhythms, melodies and ambients.

Monolithic Elephant album cover

What is the message you are trying to give with Monolithic Elephant?

We hope people can get lost in music, in a positive way. There’s no particular message besides generating sensations and feelings.

Generally speaking we like the exchange between music and audience in which song’s meaning find its completeness.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Just some private recordings and written notes.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Not intentionally. There’s no significant input to achieve a straight result. At the end we only got some pieces and linked them together but we already felt what could be good as and ensemble or not.

Obviously the result is nothing expected even for us.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

The creation process was purely freedom. The recording process was quite the opposite in the meaning that we put a lot of effort into details and performance to get a specific technical result. Practically we refined every aspect; of course you can still experiment something but the final result has to sound good.

How long the album was in the making? 

As a trio we only play together since 2 years and started immediately to put together ideas you actually can hear in the album. Then we recorded it in different sessions between may and September 2016.

Monolithic Elephant

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

A mix between Pink Floyd‘s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Led Zeppelin‘s Physical Graffiti. Obviously each one of us has a different musical background and let the personal influences bring something to the final product, from alternative rock to movie soundtracks.

What is your view on technology in music?

Technology nowadays helps bands connecting with a wide audience but it can also be damaging because having too much musical choice ends up with a shallow listening sometimes.

Also physical supports are important when you think about contents that go beyond pure musical purpose.

If we talk about musical instruments and gear, we used both vintage and contemporary. Technology can be a nice help to fix some gaps between ideas and a specific result but only if you know how to handle it.

Some sounds you can only achieve with specific tools.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

Hope it’s not a simple listening but that people may have changes in their mood even as a vent.

What are your plans for the future?

Play a lot, we love playing music and won’t absolutely have a stop.

Monolithic Elephant is out now and is available from Bandcamp. Follow the band on Facebook for future updates.

This news story was originally published here:
The Duckworth Lewis Method

Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh’s (aka The Duckworth Lewis Method) second cricket-themed album, Sticky Wickets, is even better than the first, self-tiled eponymous release, which appeared just before the 2009 Ashes.

Opening track “Sticky Wickets” seems to take its inspiration from Sticky Fingers, and Keith Richards’ syncopated guitar rhythms in particular. It also boasts copious helpings of cowbell to enhance that swampy feel, and a pseudo Jagger falsetto.

But the album as a whole is rich in British pop and even music hall tradition. The scent of Jeff Lynne is all over “It’s Just Not Cricket” and “Third Man,” while the production on “Line And Length” shares the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach of ABC, Robbie Williams and Frankie Goes To Hollywood producer Trevor Horn, whirring and blinking all over the place.

There is some beautifully crafted adult prog pop here, such as “Out In The Middle,” which seems to have been snatched from the gentlest imaginings of Crowded House’s frontman Neil Finn. “Chin Music,” meanwhile, is all pastoral French whimsy, a musical curtsy and cute kiss with the merest hint of the bawdy.

The song with the most overt cricket reference is “Third Man,” on which the scamps return to sumptuous ELO territory, coming across as mildly smug at the level of technical competence being displayed. It is a synthesised stylistic treat; if there is only the merest hint of some substance somewhere beneath the surface, these songs capture the essence of British summer like strawberries and cream–for those who enjoy that sort of sugary dairy delight.

Sticky Wickets

This news story was originally published here:
Interview with Lasse Hoile

It could be said for a Danish artist Lasse Hoile that his art marked a small part of history in the last 25 years. He is most known for designing album art for Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, for whom he also worked on a few videos and live video recordings. 

In a new interview for Prog Sphere, Lasse talks about his work and connection with Wilson, but he also reflects on struggles artists experience today, the work of Hipgnosis, gear, and future.

I am free to say that your art and designs adorn many great releases that were put out in last 20-25 years. How does it feel to be involved in something that epic?

Well, first of all thank you for such big words, it humbles me a lot. Not sure what makes an “epic” to be honest, other than massive sales of course, but in that case I’m not sure I’ve been involved in such. I’d say I’ve been involved in very big visual releases that have required tons of time and lots of personal sacrifice for the greater good of making best possible art, packaging and of course tying it together with live shows.

There is a popular saying “don’t judge book by the cover.” If we change book for an album sleeve that you designed, this statement actually looses its value. I haven’t come into an album with your design which music I didn’t like. What is the thing that is crucial for you in order to start working on a project? Do you need to hear music before you start your work on design?

I’d, sadly, say that you can indeed judge an album by its cover—some for good, mostly for the bad. In that I mean most people in certain genres just want the same old shit over and over again, and if it works on a t-shirt it’s even better, especially for the management and label, as they sell merch more than albums these days—it’s sad really. Most don’t really think about artwork and packaging until the very end and that’s when you end up with all these so called “special editions” with no thought and mostly same old image used over and over again, because there is no content or idea behind it and somehow you need to make these special editions to actually sell a physical product. Most are not doing anyone any favours since 98% of them are waste of time and effort not to mention that they are not worth the paper it’s printed on so I’ve always been very adamant in trying to work with people who feel the same way about having a strong visual impact that will coincide with the music. Or you are simply wasting time and using up valuable trees to make atrocities that shouldn’t be made in the first place.

Of course I have to like the music to be able to work, I’m not in this to make cash or just do what ever comes along—maybe a bad business decision and why I’m still only one step away from ending on the street [laughs]—but I simply cannot waste my time on something I don’t believe in. It would not only waste my time but everyone else’s and time is precious, there are already too many  people doing the same shit over and over again. It has to be worth the while or there is no point… for me at least.

Steven Wilson, 2010. © Lasse Hoile

Steven Wilson, 2010. © Lasse Hoile

You have been working with Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson for many years now. How did your collaboration start in the first place?

I simply wrote SW after having seen Porcupine Tree playing to about 18 people at a little club in Denmark around 2000, I think it was. It was me and two friends driving down to see this amazing band only we knew. We thought the place would be packed but it was empty and we couldn’t understand it—I think we probably experienced one of the best shows ever—and I just said I had to do something, this can’t happen, these guys need to be seen and heard. I just offered my help to Steven and he replied and the rest is history, as they say. It’s been a long and hard trip, it still is. I quit my day job, which in hind sight might not also have been the best idea, but if you don’t step into unknown territory once in a while you never progress, I think… I don’t regret anything, although it hasn’t been easy with a few near-death experiences, but the adventures make up for it and the people you meet along the way and stories… It’s all worth it.

Which of your works that you did for Steven Wilson—solo or Porcupine Tree—are you most proud of? Which one was the most challenging to work on?

Gosh, very hard question. I love em all, they are all very different—different approach, style, direction, themes, use of materials etc. Each and every one has been a new ground, and just trying to get to the essence of it can sometimes be hard, but that’s also what makes it so interesting; you constantly learn and have to reinvent, what keeps you on your toes. Also with each release something has always happened in my personal life—death, break-ups, depression, hospitals… you name it—so you can say blood, sweat and tears have certainly gone into each of the works. But the end goal is what keeps you going, and luckily having a friend such as Steven who really wants the same as me in terms of quality and makes just something special each time, it just gives you the energy to keep pushing on, pushing me. So I really can’t say, but I’m certainly proud of Insurgentes as it really was our first attempt and then Grace For Drowning. But I have equal measures for all of them, I think we did something no one else has done in the same way, and certainly Hand. Cannot. Erase, which is something I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone else has come close too.

Porcupine Tree - In Absentia, 2001 © Lasse Hoile

Porcupine Tree – In Absentia, 2001 © Lasse Hoile

Let’s talk about your work on Steven’s upcoming, fifth studio album To the Bone. What was your approach to this one?

Since Hand. Cannot. Erase. was such a massive thing, I think myself and especially Steve were not trying to “beat” the previous release, but just make To the Bone different. There was simply no point in trying to repeat ourselves, and the fact that Steve’s new album is also different type of album than before—of course I can’t give anything away—I think you will understand when you see the new editions and hear the music why we did what we did this time. It’s no less ambitious by any means, on the contrary, but it’s just different and that’s a very good thing in my book. No point in doing the same old crap all over again, like a lot of others sadly do simply because they feel the need to do that way without having any interesting content.

The album cover for To the Bone is rather simple, but then again it sort of feels that it has a very deep meaning. How does the album art reflect on the music and the opposite?

I’d say it’s because it’s much more personal. Again, I really can’t give anything away, but I’d say when you hold it in your hands and go though the book and listen to the music, I think it will make perfect sense.

To The Bone (deluxe hard back book edition)

To The Bone (deluxe hard back book edition)

You and Carl Glover have actually released a book which illustrates your work with Steven, particularly the period from Porcupine Tree’s 2002 album In Absentia up to Hand. Cannot. Erase. What does it include?

We certainly have and it’s called Index—it mainly features outtakes and a bunch of unseen works from Porcupine Tree and all of Steve’s solo projects and other stuff he has been involved with over the years. But since both Carl and I do around a few thousands pics for each release, there is simply no place to put them all, so some are featured in this book and some will be featured in a few more books we are working on, although these are “solo” works both from Carl and me. I’m very excited about these and hopefully some more info will come out soon.

Index book

Which artists did inspire your work in the first place? As an artist who is mostly associated with Prog bands and musicians, what is your opinion on the art of the Hipgnosis studio and Roger Dean?

To be honest I was never into the whole “prog” thing until I met SW properly, still not into much of it, but I do love many of the Hipgnosis works. It’s classic and iconic, and even if you don’t know the music you surely have seen the images one way or the other. I’ve always been super fascinated with the very first Black Sabbath cover and what Marcus Keef (aka Keith McMillan who sadly passed away in 2012 with no mention, and sadly forgotten) did in the ‘70s. I love much of his stuff—he made simple yet captivating pictures. Personally, I think a photograph done right is just 100 times more potent than any silly drawing or paint job. Keef almost always had a person or people in his images, and one thing we humans relate mostly too is other humans. He also had a sense of making his images look out of place or from some parallel universe, not quite here in this time or place, but just askew enough to draw you in and think… And you remember them when you see them for sure, they do something to you what no graphical or silly symbol work can ever do!

I don’t really have any connection with Roger Dean, I know a few of his covers, but to me they all look the same. Yes never did much for me anyways, I love some of their tunes but cannot listen to a whole album… I think it’s from a time where spacey things were the shit, and you had to do cosmic and that kind of stuff.

I think that Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell made album covers into an art form which sadly seems to be forgotten, especially in these days with streaming music and images the size of postage stamp… I think it’s a damn shame and sad, but if you are not on fucking Spotify, you don’t exist in this day and age… I just hope that maybe places like Spotify and Apple music—if they love music as much as they proclaim—would also start to take note of the artwork and include credits etc. How hard can that be? Maybe some of thousands of jobs in this industry could come back… Because, damn, there is tons of shit out there and people don’t really seem to care about it… Of course I’m biased being my work, but I moan for the industry mostly. There are luckily still people who gives a damn.

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Beside doing graphic design you are also in videography. Does film give you a greater opportunity to tell a story?

I don’t do graphic design, I leave that up to the pros such as Carl Glover. I started as an autodidact artist since I couldn’t get in any art school, nor film school. So what do you do? You keep on doing what you love the most, which for me is making art and taking pictures and try and see if you can get through the noise somehow. Since film is also a big passion of mine I find merging the two together only natural… But been working on super low budgets ever since, keeps you inventive but also hard to really show what you can when not given the budgets. But hopefully someday… It’s a constant fight since a lot of people are “afraid” of someone who hasn’t attended a proper art school or film school. You must have a paper to show that you are an artist or a filmmaker, but keep on trucking is what I know… It’s not always like trying to tell a story, it’s also to convey the emotions of the song though simple things or just create the right atmosphere without going over the top.

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You’ve done both music and concert videos. I am sure that many people would love to know what kind of gear do you use for recording and editing

Well, it’s a bit difficult because all my stuff is bought on online instant loans and most projects don’t pay well so I always end up having to sell my gear again and try to not end up in debt. Just keeping a silly license nowadays alive and up to date is damn costly. I think I’ve sold all my gear about four times now, even my bed on two occasions and most of my inventory at home. But it’s only things… Things are not important, creating is for me and making things that make me happy is most important. Right now I only have a MacBook laptop and working in an old version of Photoshop—CS6, I edit sometimes in Premier Pro (CS6) and Final Cut Pro (6 or 7). I should upgrade soon… I do have a Nikon D800 which I just paid off but I’m still paying off my laptop and a few other things. Not sure I’ve ever owned much of my own gear. Obviously if there is a budget I rent some decent gear and try and employ some help to make it work. Gotta be inventive. Keeping on your toes.

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Do you think that album sleeves today are way too digitalized? There are not that many of them nowadays that go that far like having a picture of a cow on an album cover. Do you think that the album sleeve art was bolder in the past?

Yes, and that’s a big yes! Seems like it’s the easiest solution and everyone with a camera and a computer can somehow whip up something, and a lot of people think they are suddenly directors or photographers or artists, when most of time they are just simply camera owners and nothing more. But it’s so easy with the tech that helps you not make mistakes to do something that looks nice… But is nice good enough? I don’t think so! 98% of what I see is so damn forgettable and atrocious I simply have no words, but then again a lot of people simply don’t give a damn! And of course people are used to so much banal stuff that it seems to be a norm today, and with social media people are afraid to speak their minds unless they hide in forums with fake names and then it’s the opposite. [laughs] I just think there is very, very little thought behind covers and content so why even bother? Maybe bands put so much time and effort into making their art which is very personal for them. Many also think because they might be good at music they know a lot about how a cover should be, but in many cases they don’t and it just falls flat on their feet, sad to say… I’m certainly not impressed with the output these days and it’s not getting better either.

From a perspective of an artist (designer, photographer, videographer) is there something that you are aiming to achieve? What are your goals?

Not to end on the streets, seriously! Also I would like to do more exhibitions as I’m an artist at heart and lot of what I do is actually personal stuff which just ended up on album covers… I have to get expenses covered somehow, right?

Visit Lasse Hoile’s official Facebook page and YouTube channel.

This news story was originally published here:
Strangers Descent lyric video

Aarhus, Denmark based progressive metal quintet Theory and Prog Sphere teamed up for an exclusive premiere of the band’s new lyric video for “Strangers Descent” taken from their excellent full-length debut The Art of Evil. The video, inspired by and coinciding with the premiere of new film in the Alien franchise, Covenant, can be seen below.

The song features keyboardist extraordinaire Derek Sherinian who performs a solo. Asked about how the collaboration with Sherinian came about, drummer Martin Kilic commented: “The collaboration between Derek Sherinian and THEORY went both flawlessly and extremely fast which underlines not only the skills, but also the professionalism of Sherinian. It took less than 24 hours from the initial contact to the final result. We are very proud to have him playing on our album, as he is one of our favorite keyboard players. And besides this you don’t just get a man of his caliber to do session work for you; he actually decides whether he wants to get involved in a project. So that was a compliment in itself, plus he even asked us if he should play on the whole album, which we decided not to pursue. But anyway, I mean, how many bands can say they have a guy playing on their DEBUT album who also used to play in Dream Theater?

About the meaning of the song and its lyrics Kilic said: “The song is about a hostile intrusion from an ancient alien race that is coming back to earth to reclaim what they consider theirs, our planet and our lives. To their surprise the human race has evolved and is not willingly giving up without a fight, although all really seems hopeless. They use our bodies as hosts like parasites and incubate new breeds inside of us controlled by their queen. The song starts with an eerie intro made by Odin and I, which is supposed to give the listener a sensation of sci-fi and mysterious ancient times before the song kicks in at an aggressive high pace and has its highlight with the introduction of our special guest.

Watch a lyric video for “Strangers Descent” below. The Art of Evil is available from Bandcamp.

Theory line-up:

Odin L. Madsen – Lead guitar
Esben D. Nørgaard – Guitar
Martin Kilic – Drums
Kim Mikkelsen – Bass
Nicklas Sonne – Vocals

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The Art of Evil