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This news story was originally published here:

Why should you take any notice of a Nine Inch Nails Fanboy?

At the time of writing, I find myself at home, ironically busier with my day job than ever, because of the Coronavirus pandemic. This “review” is a special one from me, even more self-indulgent than all my other reviews. No self-imposed limit of a thousand words, but hey, what else are you doing right now? Might as well read it! I am writing it with my serious face on though, so in case you’re scanning the page and thinking “TLDR”, you can skip to this short version of the review (*).

Firstly, what is an article about Nine Inch Nails doing on a site called The Progressive Aspect?

To explain, I’ll give you some personal history and maybe this will tell you why I am such a big Nine Inch Nails fan – and why I would argue they are progressive rock. Strap yourself in, in case I turn this review over!

When I was younger, so much younger than today, the World seemed as naive as the eyes through which I viewed it. Arthur C. Clarke and Readers’ Digest suggested that we were heading for a future where we’d abolished suffering and war and computerised machines would free us and we’d have a life of leisure. There genuinely seemed endless things to look forward to. Finding out when these things might happen in this pre-Internet-instant-knowledge World made the sense of expectation intangible but, paradoxically, almost palpable. It was all a big adventure. I was so optimistic!

I would escape from a prevailing culture in which knowing nothing and caring less about football would make you a social pariah. I’d dive into my sci-fi and the beautiful but nonsensical music of bands like Yes. I’d try and be a drummer in bands with my equally misfitting friends. I’d visit book shops asking when the latest book in whatever series I was reading was due in. I had something to look forward to. The next Stephen Donaldson book (OK, they were dark), the follow up to Going for the One. And the next.
As I was already in town, I would use the opportunity to scour the used book and record stalls in Newport’s Victorian wrought iron and glass covered market. I stood in that heavy, warm stanky atmosphere, assaulted by aromas of fish and blood and disinfectant and sawdust and rodent droppings and life and then spin the question in my head about how I would pay for the good but used trinkets I had discovered in this place. (Maybe next week it will still be there…)

But life took me away from that. The bands I had grown to rely on began, by and large, to disappear, or let me down – just a little. A government came to power that seemed to treat citizens as resources, not people. The post-punk, post-progressive bands, who had become surrogates for the bands I had grown up with, started falling by the wayside. They joined the ranks of bands who’d once excited me. They were now gone, or worse, stale echoes of their original selves.

Time moves on. I started playing in a couple of bands; Pointy Byrds (a sort of jingly-jangly thing) and VOID. The latter was a visceral, somewhat nihilistic, pseudo-industrial but (initially) much less refined entity, influenced by Sabbath and Slayer, and Ministry, but we’d absorbed the tail end of the punk ethic – in that none of us could really play. Our performances were lapped up by a tiny core of fans who were just a little too young to know why we sounded like we did. But they followed us around. I had something to look forward to. The next gig. And the next!

But all good things come to an end, and some rather awful things too. Pointy Byrds had their zenith. VOID split. I say “split”… it didn’t so much split as fizzle out as the new century came in. I loved playing in these bands, I really did, but my lack of creative input in the former band and inability to express what was in my head in the other (though I had a lot more input there) was frustrating. I’d lost my way in the search for new music to listen to and escaped into a musical dead end.

I’d long since lost that youthful naivety. I’d moved on from Tales from Topographic Nonsense some time ago, I’d gone through my The Cure and Joy Division and Nirvana phases. Head Like A Hole had made a minor explosion in my musical underpants. It showed future echoes of what NIN (really, Trent Reznor) would go on to do, it appealed to me on an instinctive level. NIN’s apparent nihilism appealed to me.

Nine Inch Nails. Sometimes angry, sometimes disturbing, always powerful, NIN’s output is never dull, never resting on the laurels of past success, never really the same, not always good to hear! In fact, NIN can make songs that even I, the self-confessed NIN Fanboy, nay, NIN junky, will fast-forward. I’m thinking of the time when I started going off NIN, around about the time of Year Zero. Perhaps I was just getting bored. I found fewer songs that I enjoyed than on any of the other NIN Albums. Having said that, it has In This Twilight on it, which is absolutely beautiful. It’s as if Nine Inch Nails was due a reboot, with tracks appealing to old fans of the first four albums but trying to break out of their orbit with tracks that were, even to me, a bit… jarring.

Then Trent Reznor joined a different label and released his sixth NIN studio album, Ghosts I-IV. This was mostly unlike anything he’d done to date. Oh, there were the odd non-band, piano-based songs like The Downward Spiral‘s Hurt, but perhaps this was Trent Reznor sticking two fingers up at the people who would love to place him in a clearly labelled genre-wood box and hammer down the lid with his own nine-inch nails; perhaps it was a permanent farewell – perhaps it was part of an overall strategy.

Ghosts I-IV was very well received, even nominated for a Grammy! This was very new. The album’s production team included Atticus Ross (where have we heard that name?) and Alan Moulder. Other established artists contributed their considerable talents; artists such as Brian Viglione, Alessandro Cortini and Adrian Belew (and just where have we heard that name)?

But then… in July 2009 NIN sort of split! No more Nails! At least, no more Live Inch Nails. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were now working on film scores. I actually grieved a little! Not all, however, was lost. Atticus Ross became an integral part of Destroy All Angels, a band that had more than a passing resemblance to NIN. Almost NIN’s successor; I looked on their brief existence as if it were the proto-NIN MkII, and I still do.

Then NIN proper got its reboot. NIN is clearly Trent Reznor’s baby… his alter ego. But at the moment it is as much influenced by Atticus Ross as it is Trent Reznor, and long may this continue! Ross has blown the cobwebs away and injected new life into NIN. Mk II is a trio of Trent/Atticus/Studio. Considering the prevalence of electronic influences in NIN, there is also the organic element. Voices, bass guitar, guitar… it is a symbiotic relationship, like a kind of musical three-way Borg-orgy.

I once fell out of love with NIN. I’m still a bit… meh… about some of the newer stuff. But you never quite know what you are going to get. This means that, for me, resistance to these new offerings… is futile. In fact, I think there’d be something wrong with me (something ELSE wrong with me) if I blindly loved everything with the NIN brand name on it. It is, nevertheless, always worth a punt.

And this latest release is simply as beautiful and sublime as it is occasionally scary.

Musical themes from earlier works reprise themselves throughout Trent Reznor’s work. The sounds he uses are never the same and yet they are instantly recognisable. Even in the more recent work, where NIN is very much more a partnership between Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross than a vehicle for Reznor, there is very much an identity to the music of NIN running through it like that type of rock we would-be rock journalists keep referring to. And THIS, my patient reader, is why Nine Inch Nails is a progressive rock band.

So, then: What’s it like?

Ten years on from Ghosts I-IV and here we are with the next instalments. And as if to say, “Look guys, this is art”, they have released both recordings as free downloads. It’s as if the success in Hollywood has freed NIN up, like that film stuff is their day job – to which they are clearly dedicated and doing nothing less than their best – but they’re free to create the music they want to in their spare time, music that they really want to invest themselves in as artists. This is what Trent Reznor said in a tweet:

“Anybody out there? New Nine Inch Nails out now. Ghosts V–VI. Hours and hours of music. Free. Some of it kind of happy, some not so much.”

Happy? Hmmm…

And on the NIN Website:

“As the news seems to turn ever more grim by the hour, we’ve found ourselves vacillating wildly between feeling like there may be hope at times to utter despair — often changing minute to minute. Although each of us define ourselves as antisocial-types who prefer being on our own, this situation has really made us appreciate the power and need for CONNECTION.”

In the context of the current global situation, with us all living in such surreal times and experiencing unprecedented events, a very positive message!

Ghosts V: Together is replete with dark ambient sounds (a phrase coined by my colleague Roger Trenwith). Its sounds stem from the brilliant use of samples, electronic and acoustic sounds assembled in a studio, sometimes enhanced by orchestra, no less ambitious an addition to their sonic palette than being an Oscar-winning duo might suggest.

Ghosts VI: Locusts carries on where Ghosts V leaves off, and it seems clear to me that what we really have here is a double album. But Ghosts V, mildly unsettling though it is, seems like a mere appetiser when The Cursed Clock begins. And Trent and Atticus have pushed the boat out into occasional jazzy waters, as the recurring sound of muted trumpet first becomes audible through a sinister fog of ambient electronics and piano in Around Every Corner, popping its head above the waves again and again as a surreal anachronistic counterpoint to the modern disturbing electronica.

No words yet in any of the songs, your only tools for listening are your imagination and the song titles, themselves resonating with loss and tragedy and sadness and grief and mystery. The music is full of surprises. Just when I was going to point out that there are no drums on Ghosts V: Together, we get some programmed electronic percussion. I hear rhythm brimming with the ingenuity and seemingly unorthodox randomness that only comes from a non-drummer. Someone who is confined by the rhythmic prisons in which most drummers find themselves incarcerated would be more inclined to sneak in a four on the floor thang. Then this track morphs its way to a disturbing, ambient nightmare that makes Mick Gordon’s Djent-influenced Doom soundtracks feel like nursery rhymes. OK, it doesn’t. Not quite. Mick Gordon is brilliant and will scare the pants off you. But that sounded great when I read it off the page.

You can allow this (these) album(s) to wash over you. You need to afford it (them) the time. None of this instant gratification, big hit, instant smash, hit and grab, hook based fist-pumping crowd-pleasing stuff a la The Hand That Feeds. In the spirit of the Ghost series of albums, this is stuff that you should savour. You must trust the sound you’re hearing and let it wash through you. And you DO have the time!

You may be saying to yourself:
“Well this doesn’t tell me enough about the album”
“This is just a fan-boy review”

Well, NIN don’t really need my review for sales. They’re doing fine, that, and the album is free right now, so you have no excuse but to download it and give it a listen. Perhaps you’ll become fans. Perhaps not. But this is an album with huge artistic merit, whether or not I have undermined my credibility by admitting my fanossityism.

In the true spirit of progression, Trent Reznor has taken NIN through a transformation, and I have been fortunate to have been there for most of the trip. From an angry one-man outfit, through youthful nihilism, through Oscar-winning success to the more mature, introspective NIN we hear here, I don’t believe it will ever stop and I welcome it. I’ll put good money on the next release being completely different, and I may or may not like it. Now: That’s what I call adventure! (although I think that paddling a kayak up a piranha-infested tributary of the Amazon is arguably a bigger adventure). To me, THIS is truly progressive rock. I can’t lie, it has influenced my own musical output, though I have never intentionally copied it. Here we are, thirty-fucking-one years on from Head Like A Hole and I still love the music of NIN.

As I write, we’re patently not in a World where we’ve abolished suffering or war. Machines don’t give us the leisure-time we were promised, and that naivety has been burned off the surface revealing a corrupt orange and blonde swamp-like locked-down World. What, then, is there to look forward to?

Well, Nine Inch Nails, that’s what. The next NIN album. And the next!

(*) Yes. Free. Good. Get.

Ghosts V: Together

01. Letting Go While Holding On (9:39)
02. Together (10:03)
03. Out in the Open (5:15)
04. With Faith (9:40)
05. Apart (13:35)
06. Your Touch (4:27)
07. Hope We Can Again (7:26)
08. Still Right Here (10:11)

Total – 70:16

Ghosts VI: Locusts
01. The Cursed Clock (7:00)
02. Around Every Corner (10:52)
03. The Worriment Waltz (9:25)
04. Run Like Hell (5:37)
05. When It Happens (Don’t Mind Me) (2:55)
06. Another Crashed Car (2:23)
07. Temp Fix (1:46)
08. Trust Fades (3:12)
09. A Really Bad Night (4:53)
10. Your New Normal (3:45)
11. Just Breathe (7:00)
12. Right Behind You (1:42)
13. Turn This Off Please (13:08)
14. So Tired (3:44)
15. Almost Dwan (5:34)

Total – 82:56

Record Label: The Null Corporation
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 26the March 2020

Nine Inch Nails – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

So after listening to a Hungarian post-rock band, and thoroughly enjoying it, what next? Hmmm….how about a Hungarian post-rock band? Luckily, I think I chose to listen to the two bands whose albums I had for review in what turned out to be the best order, for after listening to Ghost Toast, I might have been underwhelmed by Ajna – and that would be unfair, as Ajna’s Rengeteg is a wonderful album. But if Rengeteg is wonderful, then Ghost Toast’s Shape Without Form is phenomenal! The album is well-named, for while the music fits into the shape of what we call post-rock, it does not have the familiar form. Indeed, so often does the music shift and chop and change, it never has the chance to take any one form. The music is as wispy and whimsical as the band’s name implies, and provides constant surprises, which are never less than enjoyable.

You might, however, be forgiven for wondering just what I am going on about when you hit play. The introduction to the opening number, Frankenstein’s, is a sumptuous and gorgeous piano piece. But when the guitars and drums kick in after a minute and a half, the contrast with the introductory gentleness really provides even greater ‘oomph’ to the first post-rock blast of the album than it already has. The piano comes back into play towards the end, and the track ends as beautifully as it began. Ghost Toast say they “love heavy, trippy music and movie scores as well, so we use these elements to create something that is special to us.” Frankenstein’s encapsulates this perfectly.

Eclipse, contrarily, begins quite brutally, but takes time out for some nice laidback passages. Over its eight minutes, it neatly and smoothly shifts between moods, and there are some very tasty jazz breaks in there. László Papp is a monster on the drums, whether he’s hitting hard and fast or lightly and deftly. Y13 lets János Pusker shine again, as his piano playing again leads us in. In fact, Pusker’s cello also features. This is a very cinematic piece, with that feel enhanced even more by the use of voice samples from film. It’s fairly laidback for the first four minutes or so before it picks up pace. As with the opening track, the piano finishes the track in a beautiful fashion. This is easily one of my favourite numbers on the album, surpassed only by the closing number, W.A.N.T.

Next up is Hunt of Life, which is, according to the Bandcamp page, a cover of an Icelandic folk song called Krummavísur. But don’t expect this to sound Scandinavian. It’s a full-on dub track, and the reggae vibe is really very cool. It’s too easy for a heavy band to sound cheesy, and very difficult to get right. I can think of only two other heavier bands who have succeeded as well as Ghost Toast do here – Blindspott and Trio. Of course, this being Ghost Toast, I’ve learnt by now that the band is unlikely to stick to one style within a song, and it changes towards the end. But, as always, it works. The song is also quite interesting for the lyrics to Krummavísur, along with the spoken introduction, are by Kelly Jenny, who the band appear to have found on YouTube. Intrigued, I couldn’t resist searching for Kelly Jenny’s YouTube video, and here it is, if you’re interested. (No offence intended to Kelly Jenny, but Ghost Toast really take her version to a whole new level of awesome!)

From the upbeat Hunt of Life, the melancholic Follow, uh, follows, sounding mystic and mysterious. A psychedelic and spacey treat with an Eastern vibe, almost reminiscent of Ozric Tentacles. And then the guitars pound in at approximately the two-minute mark. Wow! Once again, Ghost Toast know how to make an impact. The riffs are somewhat Black Sabbath-like, and there’s a wonderful disparity between the psychedelia and metal playing off against each other. The Eastern vibe continues with Before Anything Happens, at least within the introduction. This is the second shortest track on the album, but it manages to pack a heck of a lot into it, with some more gorgeous piano, and plenty of twists and turns.

The band leave the best until last, though, as I intimated earlier. The final track W.A.N.T. is simply amazing. A feast of samples, riffs and beats that I can’t begin to adequately describe. It’s aggressive. It’s melodic. It’s mesmerising. This one track is the entire album in microcosm, and it’s as brilliant as the whole. Quite simply, Shape Without Form is one of the most impressive and engaging post-rock albums I’ve heard. Wow! Just, wow!

01. Frankenstein’s (4:31)
02. Eclipse (8:16)
03. Y13 (7:11)
04. Hunt of Life (6:00)
05. Follow (6:54)
06. Before Anything Happens (5:06)
07. W.A.N.T. (8:10)

Total Time – 46:08

László Papp – Drums
János Stefán – Bass, Sound Effects, Samples
János Pusker – Keyboard, Cello
Bence Rózsavölgyi – Guitar

Record Label: Inverse Records
Country of Origin: Hungary
Date of Release: 3rd March 2020

Ghost Toast – Website | Facebook | YouTube | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

A few days ago, I found myself in possession of not one, but two forthcoming releases from two very different Hungarian post-rock bands. But apart from coming from Hungary, and being released on the same label, they couldn’t be more different. I started with aJna, because The Sound of Music told me to that starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start, and aJna begins with A, so…

aJna is a trio from Hungary who admit “We can’t describe our style and it’s good. All three of us are inspired by different musical backgrounds and these inspirations take just a small part of our music. We don’t listen to bands like us or who have similar themes to ours so we can only go after our own head while making a song. We make our own music”. And so they do. While I have described the band as post-rock, this is almost as a matter of convenience, for while the music of Rengetag, if I oversimplify, could be said to exist within a post-rock shell, as per their own words, aJna obviously doesn’t give a damn about any stylistic limitations in their music, and the album journeys between soft, melodic moments through heavy and driving riffs, taking in psychedelic, folk, jazz, and metal sounds along the way.

Beginning with birdsong foreshadowing the melodic beauty of the title track, Rengeteg eases the listener into the album, almost providing a false sense of security. For this is the most conventional post-rock you’ll hear – which is not to say it’s no good. Far from it, it’s a very groovy little number. The band have been together for a decade or so, and it shows. Everything is so tight! Indeed, were it not for the different style of sound, one could even make a comparison to another power trio who were similarly tight. Surprisingly, I hear notes of Rush (Signals-era or thereabouts) at times in aJna’s music, and certainly in this track. Those who are not fans of Geddy Lee’s singing will, of course, be happy to know there are no vocals.

A post on aJna’s Facebook page shows that the second song, and first single released from the album, B’ has been around for at least nine years now. It’s a far faster paced piece than the preceding number, and as much as I enjoy the swirling guitar floating on top, it’s the interplay of the rhythm section beneath that really holds my interest – as they did on the title track. But wait, around halfway through, the track shifts to an altogether heavier mood – almost reminiscent of Tool. The guitar is more minimal, and yet somehow more potent. And what a beautifully brutal and crushing finale.

Throughout the album, the guitar does feel secondary to the bass, and if Primus are not a big influence, I’ll be very surprised. aJna definitely come across as a bass-led band. However, the bass playing is not always reminiscent of Primus. The eerie introductory bass riff of third track Eta Carinae almost brings to mind the melancholy of The Doors, and the splashes of guitar in no way dissuade this notion. Overall, this track does seem to serve more as an interlude than a piece in its own right, but it’s entirely pleasant and not at all filler. It also leads very nicely into Spirál, with its furious drum and bass spiralling pattern. As with many of the tracks, the final moments of Spirál are superb!

Also superb are the band’s use of ambience and sound effects. Kept to a minimum, when they appear they add a real vibrancy to the sound of the album. I love the ambient and sound effect ridden intro to Nyergelt Táltos Kancacsikók. Then the music kicks in sounding like what I imagine Iron Maiden might if they were a post-rock band. Yes, I know how ludicrous that sounds, but it’s the feel I get from the music. Of course, the music shifts about three minutes in, and what scarce resemblance there was is gone. After another couple of minutes, it shifts again, and are back into Tool territory, for a very pleasing conclusion.

Hekate has an appropriately bewitching rhythm pulling us in, and maintains interest throughout with its changes. However, unlike other tracks, these are not stylistic changes, but variations upon a theme. What’s impressive is that despite the changes being minor, the effects are disproportionately large. The bass and guitar play off against each other, while the drums keep them both in line. The interplay from the three members of aJna really shines on this track.

Turbo begins similarly to Nyergelt Táltos Kancacsikók, with ambience and sound effects, but once the instruments begin, it takes a different turn, with a laidback jazzy feel. There is a real brightness to the piece. At least, until about three minutes in, when the tone turns ominous. A minute later, and it sounds more like we are in folk territory – albeit with frequent dark incursions threatening any pastoral tranquillity. This track dips and dives all over the place, yet somehow remains coherent the whole time.

Seiran is another track with an awesome introduction, again caught between jazz and folk. The bass is punchy, and predominates, although after a minute or so, the sound is almost that of the indie ‘80s (think The Smiths), and right at the tail another completely surprising and enjoyable finish. The album then comes to a close with Zsuzi Mozog, and even though it’s far too short for my liking, it’s a wonderful conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable album. It’s a shame it has taken ten years for aJna to reach a point where they can release this album to the world. Let’s hope it’s not another ten years before the next one!

01. Rengeteg (7:09)
02. B’ (4:15)
03. Eta Carinae (2:30)
04. Spirál (5:42)
05. Nyergelt Táltos Kancacsikók (8:24)
06. Hekate (6:40)
07. Turba (6:41)
08. Seiran (4:05)
09. Zsuzi Mozog (2:12)

Total Time – 45:38

Altmann János – Drums
Piller György – Bass
Uhljár Szabolcs – Guitar

Record Label: Inverse Records
Country of Origin: Hungary
Date of Release: 9the April 2020

aJna – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

Marillion’s debut album from 1983, Script for a Jester’s Tear, is the latest album from the band to get the deluxe edition reissue treatment (to be released in April 2020), and Mark Kelly recently spoke with TPA’s Leo Trimming about it. Mark talks about his memories of making the album, the split with Fish and Steve Hogarth joining, Kelly’s own long-planned solo album, his view on whether music and politics mix… and the rather non-musical reason which led to him leaving Chemical Alice to join Marillion!


Hi Mark. I’ve received the new Script for a Jester’s Tear deluxe edition and have to say it looks and sounds fantastic. What are your memories of recording the album?

Oh God! Funnily enough, it’s like your childhood memories in a way as it was so long ago, but for certain periods of your life you have very vivid memories of it because it’s the first time you do something or it’s a very exciting thing. I think the recording of Script… and that whole early period of the band falls into that category for me. I’ve got lots of very fond memories of those times. I was very excited about making an album in a real recording studio. The whole process was very enjoyable for me and I felt like we made an album we were proud of… so happy days really.

I’ll do my ‘fanboy’ bit now! I got that album the day it came out. In fact, I got the Market Square Heroes 12” around my 18th birthday, so you’ve been the soundtrack of my adult life almost literally. I was so excited when that album came out and there was such an excitement around the band. I’m sure you remember playing Top of the Pops on TV for the first time with Garden Party?

Oh Yeah!

That same night Marillion flew down to South Wales to play a gig late that night after appearing on Top of the Pops. Do you remember?

Erm… no, I don’t.

The gig didn’t start until about 11:00pm. You may not recall it as you were all clearly elated after your debut on Top of the Pops and I think you were all quite… ‘refreshed’ as I recall!

(Laughing) That’s one way of putting it!

… especially your drummer!

Really! If it was Garden Party it wasn’t Mick, was it? Mick had gone by then.

No, it was Andy Ward.

Well, being quite ‘refreshed’ was rather his problem at the time. I don’t know what he’s like these days.

I had heard similarly, but to be fair I have heard he’s OK these days.

To be fair, what I will say about Andy, at the time we were sort of horrified by the amount of drinking that he did, but if you scroll forward a few years he probably would have fitted right in! It’s certainly not a slur on his character to say he had a fondness for the drink because by the mid to late-’80s so did everybody in the band.

After being in a big band like Camel for a few years you could say he had a head start on you all.

I think that’s what it was – we were just at different stages in our careers – put it that way!

You started out in the band Chemical Alice. What attracted you to leave them for Marillion?

I’ve told this story a few times, but not sure I’ve told it in its entirety much before… because there was a personal reason. The Chemical Alice singer had recently split with his girlfriend and I was having a … a ‘thing’ with his ex-girlfriend. It was an awkward situation, shall we say?! He didn’t know about it, but it would have made the atmosphere between us very difficult cos it wasn’t a split he wanted. Just by chance, Marillion were supporting us at a gig. The Chemical Alice guitarist said that I should watch them because he thought I would like them. So I did, and ended up joining them. But it was like getting out of a situation, thinking ‘I could join Marillion instead’, and the girlfriend was encouraging me to get out of the scene because it was awkward for both of us. (Laughter)

So there you go, that’s the true story. I was really impressed with Marillion and their whole approach. They seemed so professional to me – they clearly wanted to be successful. Their jobs were really just to bring some money in, whereas the Chemical Alice guys had sort of careers – music wasn’t really something they were going to do as a career.

Looking back at Script… now – with this release I listened to it with fresh ears. To me, it clearly has that progressive slant, but hearing it again I was surprised to hear how ‘spiky’ and ‘edgy’ it sounded at times – there was quite an attitude to it. What do you think of it now?

Marillion - Script For A Jester’s Tear - Deluxe Edition

We felt that at the time, whilst people were comparing us to Genesis we felt we were quite different to those bands of the early ’70s because we had that influence of New Wave and the punk thing. We felt we had a bit more of an edge to us. Certainly the lyrics were more… real. Fish was singing about real lives. It wasn’t Tolkien and stuff – so we felt that set us apart. It’s more obvious now that we had a bit of that newer influence, and the producer Nick Tauber came from a punk/New Wave background, producing Stiff Little Fingers and Toyah Wilcox. At the time we thought of them almost as ‘pop’ acts, but there was certainly some of Nick [Tauber] and Simon’s [Hanhart] influence in the sound. Although in hindsight Steve Rothery was unhappy with the guitar sounds because they were a bit too spiky sounding and edgy for him. At that time we didn’t know as much about what we wanted. It was our first time really in a proper decent studio. Script… was the first time where we had a chance to make an album and we were finding our feet. I think looking back now it’s hard to listen with fresh ears, but it sounds ‘of its time’, as you would expect. For me, it’s got an atmosphere and a cohesiveness about it. It sounds like a complete work. At the time we were REALLY happy with it – very proud of it.

You should be. I think it’s stood the test of time and takes me right back to my late teenage years. Bringing it forward – In the band, Steve Rothery has his own band, Steve Hogarth has his solo shows and Pete Trewavas is in a few projects. You played on a Deexpus Project album [King of Number 33] in 2011. Do you have any other side projects or thoughts of a solo album?

I’ve been talking about it for many years but I’m actually quite far on with recording a solo album. I’ve pretty much finished writing and demoing with a bunch of musicians. I don’t want to say too much about it just yet but it’s definitely going to get done this year… so finally!

Mark Kelly in the studio

Is it a vocal or an instrumental album?

Very much a vocal album. I’ve got a really good singer, not known to anyone really but he’s a great find. He suits my music brilliantly. It’s a collection of songs – not really a concept album, although lyrically the songs are quite linked. It’s going to be two or three longer tracks of 10 to 15 minutes and two or three shorter tracks. It sounds a bit ‘Marillion-ish’ in places, as you’d expect, and at other times it doesn’t. Very much ‘songs’ and quite melodic.

Do you ever feel restricted being in a band?

I like it. I don’t like working alone which is why it’s taken me so long to get to this point with a solo album. It was just by chance that I started working with a couple of people that I found – bouncing ideas off other people is how I work best. I’m good at coming up with ideas in the initial creative stage, going ‘Hey, what about this?’ and knocking out something to then be worked on. The problem if I’m left to my own devices is that I start off something and think ‘This is good’ and then within a few hours or days I’m thinking ‘Nah, it’s not really that good, is it? I’ll ditch that and start something else.’ That was my solo album working modus operandi for the last 20 years! (Laughing) Working with other people I send ideas to the singer or the guitar player. They’ll do a bit of work on it and send it back to me and we’ll develop it together. That’s how those ideas have actually been developed into finished songs, which is great… and that’s how it works with Marillion. We go in the studio and jam. I come up with ideas and the band and the producer Mike (Hunter) take these ideas and help develop them into finished songs. I need the feedback of other people to help me get past the doubts of the ‘it’s not very good’ stage.

What’s the difference between the writing and recording processes for Script… and now?

You have to remember that half those Script… songs I had very little to do with in writing them. I sort of forget that myself as I’ve been involved with them so much over many years. Forgotten Sons, Garden Party, The Web, and He Knows, You Know were all pretty much written. They changed in the studio but not hugely. They were still the same songs. My involvement in those songs was more about arrangements, and very little of that on Forgotten Sons and The Web. For Chelsea Monday and Script for a Jester’s Tear I was very much involved in the writing. The thing I see now about those songs is how simple they are. For example, Chelsea Monday has got four chords that just go round and round, and then we move the key with the same four chords around and round and round – guitar solo, and then we drop back down again. It’s literally the same four chords with a modulation in the middle. We would never do something as simple as that now. I don’t know why? (Laughing)

One Fine Day [from 1997’s This Strange Engine], for example, sounds very simple but the chord changes and chord progressions are different throughout. It’s like a complete ‘Chordfest’! For something more recent like The New Kings [from F.E.A.R., 2016] there’s a lot of different moves and changes. We try not to make it sound complicated, but the underlying music is actually a lot more complicated than the early Marillion stuff. I suppose that’s the biggest difference.

That’s the thing about Marillion, I find. I’ve recently done quite an in-depth review of the recent Afraid of Sunlight deluxe edition [for Progradar – other review sites are available!]. There’s a song on there that had passed me by a bit previously, Out of this World. Looking into it, I realised there’s so much to this song with an interesting structure. It sort of emerges from the depths with watery synths, and then it breaks through the surface with Steve’s guitar solo, and then after the accident vocal clips it sinks back down – a reflection of the story really. Sometimes you don’t get all that’s going on initially. As you say, the band are doing something rather complex but it doesn’t sound complicated, which is a clever thing to do – to tell that story musically, but not in a ‘showy’ way.

Yeah, you don’t want the complexity of the music to get in the way of what you’re trying to say. You want the music to tell the story and I think Out of this World is a good example. I think that’s something you learn to do more easily as you get older. I think in the early days of Marillion we would just come up with the music, Fish would come up with the lyrics and we would slam the two together. Being quite naïve musically, Fish would attempt to sing the lyrics over the music presented to him which I think in some ways worked really well because you’d end up with some novel, different approaches that you wouldn’t otherwise get. I think the rift with Fish was partly driven by his frustration with not having any control over what happened to the music, and wanting to have some control, and with us, quite frankly, being dismissive of his musical ideas. At the time we felt he wasn’t a musician and didn’t deserve respect in that area. It was quite arrogant of us and him to be so uncompromising with each other, but that’s where we got to and we ended up splitting.

You were all headstrong young men.

That’s the truth – but it’s quite interesting working on my solo project because I’ve got a singer who’s very good at coming up with vocal melodies. I’ve got a lyricist who’s writing some really interesting lyrics, and we’re putting the music and these lyrics together, and the singer is willing to have a go. So it’s almost like what used to happen with Fish. He would just go ‘OK, I’ll make this work’ and I’d go ‘That’s a difficult bit of music with some difficult lyrics… and you come up with a great vocal melody to go over it – fantastic’. That’s exciting for me because then it doesn’t sound like a ‘normal’ song, but it’s still musical and listenable. You can write something that’s really ‘original’ but if it’s not listenable, not enjoyable then what’s the point?

I know you’ve probably been asked this a million times, but what was it like when Fish left?

I think the ‘Headstrong’ and ‘slightly arrogant young men’ thing applied in the sense that we thought ‘Good riddance, we can manage without you’ and he was thinking ‘Screw you lot. I can go solo and I’ll be as big if not bigger than Marillion. I don’t need you’ and we felt that we didn’t need him. That was how we parted really. Of course, some of it was a difficult time. Looking back now it certainly doesn’t feel like a bad choice for us.

After Afraid of Sunlight [1995], the EMI deal ended [except for live Made Again in 1996] and then you had a deal with Castle for three albums – I think that was a pretty low time. Was there ever a time when you thought ‘we’ve really blown this?’ and thought about giving up?

No, no – the low point came at the end of the Castle deal. Around about the album, maybe before that in ’97/’98. It certainly felt like things were going down, and didn’t show any signs of stopping. Coming up with the crowdfunding idea was a turning point really. We were lucky how it all converged at a time when the internet was starting to happen. We were lucky that the fans we had remaining were willing to support the band to get behind the idea of a pre-order.

That was a remarkably prescient idea Mark, at the time, in terms of utilising your fan base and use the internet. That was well ahead of its time and I think it was your idea?

They say necessity is the mother of invention. It definitely applied in our case. We were in a difficult situation, but we didn’t think about quitting. We may well have been forced to at some point, but at that point we didn’t think we had reached that point yet.

I have heard you call yourself a ‘risk taker’. I suppose that was one of those risks you took?

I’m always up for trying new things, and I don’t mind a bit of risk. As we get older I think we become more risk averse, but at that time it seemed like an exciting idea. I won’t say I had to drag the rest of the band with me, but there was certainly some scepticism about how it all might work. There were understandable concerns about what it all might mean having fans pre-ordering the album. Would they expect to have some influence over what sort of music we would make? What if we didn’t manage to finish it or deliver it on time? There were a lot of unknowns. Nobody had ever done it before. We didn’t know what sort of take up there would be from the fans.

You must have been delighted with the response as it was such a successful way to work. In terms of Steve Hogarth, what drew the band to recruit him?

He sort of found us really. We’d been searching for about 3 or 4 months. Fish left us in September ’88 and Steve ‘H’ joined us in January ’89. We’d been looking for a while. We tried out various people with about ten auditions but didn’t find anyone that felt quite right.

Funnily enough, I’ve spoken to one of your ‘auditionees’ – Stuart Nicholson.

Ah Yeah, the guy from Galahad.

He’s got a good voice, but with no disrespect, I couldn’t see him quite fitting with Marillion.

I do remember Stuart. The issue with him was that we felt he was trying to be like Fish too much. We wanted someone who wasn’t trying to imitate Fish. Maybe that’s what Stuart felt we wanted but it wasn’t.

Steve Hogarth circa 1989Steve is certainly nothing like Fish in terms of his singing.

He makes a point of telling people that he didn’t really know Marillion, and wasn’t really that interested in joining. It’s certainly true that he didn’t jump at the chance when we offered him the gig. He said he’d think about it. It took about a week to come back to us with his decision.

I’m glad he made the right decision.

Yeah – I think he was just nervous about it. At that time we were a well-known band, but I think he was wondering what would be his role creatively within this outfit. Would he just be the singer and be told what to do?

He must have felt like the ‘junior member’ for a while?

Well, we still call him the ‘New Boy’ now!


There are older fans who still struggle with it! … Moving on… Marillion have songs like Gaza, The New Kings, or going back songs like Season’s End or even Forgotten Sons – they’re all songs with a political edge or social commentary. The band has never been afraid of such songs with views about the wider world. What do you say to people that say politics and music shouldn’t mix?

Politics is part of life, isn’t it? If you’re writing songs nothing should be off-limits – that’s what I would say. Everything is fair game to be written about, and should be – we live in a country with free speech. If people just want music to switch off to, without having to think about anything else apart from having fun, there is music for that, but we don’t make that sort of music and people know that. When we did Gaza we did have some people say things. It’s funny that it seemed not to be Israelis that got upset about it but some Americans who had never been to Israel or Gaza. We’re not trying to be critical or take sides. As Steve ‘H’ has always said about Gaza, the lyric was trying to be sensitive to what’s actually going on there. He took the trouble of speaking to people in Gaza over skype, both Israelis and Palestinians, and was trying to write a lyric from a human point of view.

It feels more humanitarian than political. He’s trying to understand experiences on both sides.

Yeah, it’s hard to say something about a difficult situation without upsetting somebody.

Moving on to your last album – F.E.A.R., I was taken aback by it and it’s been massively successful with 5-Star reviews in the Guardian, and the band selling out the Royal Albert Hall very quickly indeed. Was that something that took you by surprise or were you expecting that response?

No, we weren’t expecting it. If you work for as long on something as we did on that it’s hard to get a perspective on it. You think it’s really good, or think it could be really good, but you’re not sure. You know that you liked it when you wrote it. That’s one of those things when you work on an album for months and months or even years – you have to remember how you felt when you first got excited by it because after you’ve heard it a hundred or a thousand times that feeling disappears or dwindles, and you could be thinking ‘Actually this isn’t really that good’ and start again. To be honest, we weren’t sure. We felt like it was good. I suppose Brave [1994] was a similar experience because we’d done something that was challenging and difficult, but we thought it was really good… and some people agreed and some people didn’t. In the case of F.E.A.R., that was more universally liked, certainly by people who liked our style of music. We got a lot of positive reviews and a lot of positive feedback from the fans. Our audiences at shows increased.

Mark Kelly, Marillion - photo by Alan Jones, Web UK

I think the context of the times really helped the album – with Brexit and the rise of Trump. It just felt like a timely, ‘Zeitgeist’ album.

Yeah, fortunate timing helped. We have been very lucky with timing. There have been a few things over the last few years, such as the Coronavirus situation this year. We’d already decided not to do any touring this year, apart from Cruise the Edge [which was subsequently cancelled after this interview was recorded]. We’re looking at what’s going on thinking ‘Jesus Christ. We dodged a bullet there!’. Similarly, there was the collapse of Pledge Music – we did F.E.A.R. with Pledge Music, and then a year later they went under losing millions of pounds. I just hope our luck continues.

We’re coming to the end now, Mark. What three Marillion albums are you most proud of? The ones where you think ‘Yeah, we really hit the spot’.

Erm… Marble, This Strange Engine and… F.E.A.R. – how about that? They’ve got some of my favourite Marillion songs. I would also like to give an honourable mention to Afraid of Sunlight. It was the surprise album for me in the sense that at the time I wasn’t really enjoying how it was going for us, but looking back I think it’s one of our best put together albums.

I think it’s a stunning album… and on the other side of the coin, which album do you think is the most underrated or misunderstood?

Oh God! I don’t know – I think they’re all under-rated!


How modest! I’ve read of your disappointment about the reaction to Somewhere Else [2007]?

Less so from me, but for our producer Mike (Hunter). I think he was very disappointed. There was a backlash against him from some fans. It really hurt him. It was a bit of an experiment sonically, and it didn’t go down too well in some quarters.

I think it was also in the shadow of Marbles [2004] which had been well-liked and successful.

Yeah. I think that’s probably why Afraid of Sunlight, a completely different album to Brave but in some ways stronger I think, felt like such a nice surprise.

Marillion 2019

Are you working on the new album?

Yes, we are – this year is the album, and hope to finish it by the end of the year.

Is there anything you can tell me about it yet?

At this stage it’s very much at the writing stage. There really isn’t much to tell you right now, but we’re getting on with it. We’re just at the stage where we’re bringing stuff together. It’s early days, but we’ve got the rest of the year.

Mark, thank you very much for your time.  Good luck with the re-release of Script… and all the best for your new album next year.

Marillion – Website | Facebook | Twitter

TPA would like to thank:
Mark Kelly for the studio photos
Alan Jones for the live photo
Pete Flatt of PPR Publicity for arranging the interview

This news story was originally published here:

First things first. The opening of this album is simply incredible, and unbelievably engaging. I have never been so immediately entranced by an album’s opening number. Over some appropriate ambient and atmospheric music and noise, a quote from one of the two bards this album is dedicated to is beautifully read, describing the wartime experience of C.S. Lewis. The quote ends with a sentence containing the words “this is war”, which are repeated by many different voices before the song kicks in with full effect. Instrumentally, it is suitably menacing, though over the top a lighter motif plays. A staccato drumbeat plays out like bullets, and the trenches go quiet. Distorted vocals sound strangely beautiful before the music comes back in with a stately and decidedly melancholy military march, underscored by the sounds of war. Honestly, I couldn’t be more in love with this song, and then the vocals are finally sung at about the sixth minute and the mood is broken for me. Or, at least, it was the first couple of times I listened to this album.

Now, I realise I’m going to receive some grief for this. While a new band in a way, this is apparently more a renaming for an established act who have taken on the name The Bardic Depths for an absolutely wonderful concept album concerning the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but I had no familiarity with the artists concerned, and the vocals therefore came to me as a bit of a shock. There’s actually nothing wrong with them at all. In fact, I really like them. But they don’t at all, for me, fit the music. Dave Bandana has a voice that reminds me of the Johns that might be giants. Now I love TMBG, but obviously, with that similarity playing in my head (and I realise that others may not hear this at all – we do, after all, all hear differently), I find it hard to equate the seriousness of the instrumentation and lyrics with a vocal style I associate with frivolity (admittedly very clever and enjoyable frivolity, but frivolity nevertheless).

It’s taken many listens to get over this. I can enjoy music in spite of a vocalist I don’t like (e.g. I like Yes, but not Jon Anderson’s voice, and I like Smashing Pumpkins, but not Billy Corgan’s voice), but this isn’t quite the same. As, in this case, I like the music and the voice, but I struggled to manage them together. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be alone in this, so I’m going to try and avoid commenting any further on the vocals. I have no problem with them at all now, but I wanted to address this, on the odd chance that someone listens to this album and is initially put off by the vocals. Don’t be! This album is awesome! So, that out of the way…

I absolutely love The Trenches. It’s a perfect introduction to the album. As far as I’m aware, Lewis and Tolkien never came across each other in the war, but that’s one of the things I particularly like about the way the story of their friendship is played out over this album. The album begins before they meet, and ends by reviewing their legacies, once their friendship has dissipated. The following song, Biting Coals, therefore is where we first meet both our protagonists, again with an incredibly evocative instrumental introduction. Honestly, musically this album is simply amazing. I think it would have made an amazing instrumental album, or even an album similar to Nordic Giants’ Amplify Human Vibration, where spoken word is used to incredible effect.

The Kolbitars were an informal group founded by Tolkien, dedicated to reading Icelandic and Norse sagas (thus named because coal biters sit so close to the fire they virtually bite the coals). This should explain the spoken word samples you hear within Biting Coals. Lewis joined the Kolbitars, and from this group the society of Inklings as the members began trying their hand at forging their own myths. It was Lewis now, rather than Tolkien, who led the group, as the members read aloud to each other, in weekly instalments, lines from their epic works in progress. The Inklings were bards – storytellers, and entertainers – but mainly for themselves. As such, Biting Coals has a quite introspective vibe. And speaking of vibes, I absolutely adore the marimba on this track. (I like the vibraphone, but I love the marimba.) Again, the sung vocals don’t come in until about halfway through the track, but as they are low-key (almost Floydian), they have never bothered me as much on this track as the preceding one.

Depths of Time is reminiscent of the opening track, and perhaps refers to how their shared experiences deepened their friendship over time. Neither Tolkien nor Lewis wrote a war memoir in the traditional sense, but the fictional worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia reveal much about their experiences and thoughts on the theology of war. Lewis’s and Tolkien’s mythologies do more than reflect the realities of war. Their characters teach readers how to respond to great conflict. Whether hobbits in Middle Earth or the Pevensie’s children in Narnia, it’s often the weak or powerless who, in the end, humble and defeat the mighty. The music of this track is suitably humble, until at just shy of five minutes it becomes upbeat, and some nifty sax accompanies Bandana’s vocals. Lewis and Tolkien both expressed a dissatisfaction with literature, and Tolkien’s letters recount that Lewis said to him that “If they won’t write the kinds of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.” And so they wrote. And they fought. Tolkien and Lewis didn’t see eye to eye on matters of literary taste. But they fought as friends. They had a rivalry, but at this stage, it was a friendly rivalry, and each found the others arguments constructive and instructive. Hence, despite lyrics describing fighting, the music of Depths of Time remains upbeat and happy. But, this is a song of three thirds, and so the music for the final four minutes or so is more sedate. Given the theme of time, I like to assume this might represent the differing writing paces of Lewis and Tolkien. While Tolkien wrestled over The Lord of the Rings for almost two decades, Lewis composed the entire seven-part Narnia series of novels in less than one.

Depths of Imagination, to me, seems to recall the Christian aspect of Lewis and Tolkien’S friendship. It may come as a surprise for many, who know of Lewis via the obviously Christian tales from Narnia, that he was an avowed atheist before meeting Tolkien. Indeed, Lewis credits Tolkien for showing him the light. Lewis believed, erroneously as many still do, that all myths are lies. Tolkien argued that myths need not be lies and that while the story of Christ may be a myth, just like the Scandinavian myths they had loved and had celebrated as Kolbitars, there was one crucial difference: The Christian myth was true. Now, as an atheist myself, I don’t buy that. But almost all of the products from the depths of the imaginations of our two bards (their ‘Bardic Depths’) come from this one basic premise. I will admit that like much of the works of Lewis and Tolkien (which I do enjoy), this song drags a little. It is easily my least favourite track, but it is thankfully short.

Depths of Soul, which follows, is far more satisfying (and I do often skip straight from Depths of Time to Depths of Soul). I’m afraid I’ve never been one for paying much attention to lyrics, and there are usually only odd lines that stand out to me. So it is entirely possible (probable, even) that some of my interpretations of the songs from this album are wrong. But for me, Depths of Soul represents where it all starts to go wrong for the friendship. Despite having convinced Lewis to give up his atheism, Tolkien was somewhat dismayed to find Lewis choose to join the Anglican church (Tolkien was Catholic). The lyrics are clearly based upon the writings of the bible, as I can recognise bible quotes among them, so I don’t think I can be too far wrong in my impressions.

And so we reach The End. The end of the friendship, and eventually the end of the lives of the two bards, who were never reconciled. The music is suitably melancholic. Tolkien had helped Lewis see the light and join him as a Christian, but Lewis’ fame and celebrity, which arrived soon after, while Tolkien still struggled on with his novel, was at odds with Tolkien’s quiet and devout ways. As their friendship waned, the two saw less and less of each other – and less still after Lewis married a divorcee. The friendship faded away, and was never rekindled. This song has that same feeling of finality, and could easily have been the final song of the album. It definitely has the feel of a closing number.

But, just as we began the album before the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien, we end it afterwards, with their Legacies. This final song explores why their friendship left a legacy that neither Lewis nor Tolkien could have possibly created on their own, despite all their differences, and despite their friendship not lasting the distance. It brings together all the moods and sounds (including the marimba) into a triumphant and rousing epic closing number. Lewis and Tolkien are gone, but their mythologies live on, and if you are Christian then that mythology lives on, too.

This is one of the greatest concept albums I have ever heard. But even if the narrative wasn’t so clear and easy to follow, it would still be great. Bookended by probably the two best tracks (my two favourites, anyway), it is almost impossible not to be carried away with the expressiveness of the music. You owe it to yourself to give this a listen.

01. The Trenches (8:35)
02. Biting Coals (7:50)
03. Depths of Time (12:35)
04. Depths of Imagination (5:01)
05. Depths of Soul (6:40)
06. The End (7:37)
07. Legacies (9:28)

Total Time – 57:46

Dave Bandana – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Bass, Percussion, Flute, Harmonica
Brad Birzer – Spoken Word
~ With:
Robin Armstrong – Guitar, Keyboards, Samples, Drum Programming, Backing Vocals, Whistling
Glen Codere – Backing Vocals
Gareth Cole – Guitar
Tim Gehrt – Drums
Peter Jones – Saxophone, Vocals, Spoken Word
Paolo Limoli – Keyboards
Kevin McCormick – Guitar
Lilly Miller – Spoken Word
Mike Warren – Cello
John William Francis – Marimba

Record Label: Gravity Dream
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20the March 2020

The Bardic Depths – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

So the burnin’ question on your lips must be, “Do we need another BÖC live album?” That was my first thought too, and the answer is “Yes, probably!”

I guess the first thing to say is the obvious really, but this release is only of interest to fans, rather than the casual listener. That said, there is much to enjoy here for fans of classic rock. The band’s catalogue really does contain myriad gems, including many relatively unknown songs, and this live set includes some of the less well-known ones alongside the must-play classics. For a gonzoid American metal band, they always had a degree of subtlety and an intelligence that set them apart, and a sense of humour that made their music far more acceptable than some of their contemporaries.

So let’s look at the plus side of our ledger and see why a fan might want to partake of this album. Well, the performance is top-notch. The band are well drilled and play what is required with panache. Stalwart stars Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma recruited great musicians for this incarnation of the band; Jules Radino on drums, Richie Castellano on guitar and keyboards, and Kasim Sulton on bass. They had been together long enough to become a tight unit by the time of this recording, and so the performance is spot on technically.

Of more interest to fans will be the setlist, which contains some nice surprises that make this album quite desirable for someone like me. These diamonds include a couple of songs from Spectres, the under-rated follow up to the breakthrough Agents of Fortune, namely Golden Age of Leather, and the sublime I Love the Night. I’ve always loved Golden Age of Leather, and its undercurrent of the camaraderie of the biker fraternity and the ‘death or glory’ attitude. It’s full of wonderful imagery, and I’m surprised they don’t play it more often. I Love the Night is a beautiful and atmospheric song from Roeser, every bit as good as Reaper in my book. We also get an unusual choice from Secret Treaties in Career of Evil, a typically dark BÖC rocker. The Vigil was the best song from the rather disappointing Mirrors, and is another very welcome inclusion with its slightly proggy structure and interesting twists. Perhaps most surprising is Shooting Shark which I never much rated, to be honest, but which is transformed here into a superb showcase, with Kasim Sulton excelling with his funky silky bassline driving the piece, and Roeser’s fluid lead guitar.

It must be said that Donald ’Buck Dharma’ Roeser must have needed hosing down after this show, so hot is his playing throughout the set. There is no better example than on the breathtakingly epic version of Then Came the Last Days of May, with an extended guitar work out mid-song which builds and builds relentlessly. If there was going to be a man of the match, it’s Roeser. However, Eric Bloom is a focal point out front, and he still puts in a commanding performance as main singer and frontman. He hams it up as well as ever on such favourites as Godzilla, Black Blade and Cities on Flame, and it’s hard to imagine the band carrying on without him quite frankly.

So there’s some reasons to want to hear this album, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The quality of the recording is fine and clear on the whole, although some parts sound a bit muffled, and the opener OD’d on Life Itself had me a little worried, and isn’t the best sound-wise. This issue crops up again here and there, but it’s not a major problem.

I’d also have to say that some of the versions of the older songs simply don’t have the raw excitement of the previous versions on their first live album, On Your Feet or On Your Knees, and such songs as ME262, Hot Rails to Hell and Buck’s Boogie suffer a bit from this. Finally on the negatives, Godzilla is too long! There’s nothing awful about the bass solo, drum solo and noodling from Roeser, it just goes on a bit! Mind you, when his noodling finally breaks into the intro to (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, the crowd go wild and all is forgiven.

So for me, on balance, this is a worthwhile and enjoyable recording of a superb and legendary band. Not their best, or the definitive line-up, but still a darn sight better than many bands can manage, and having seen them live a couple of times in recent years, I know they can still cut it live. So if you’re a big fan, check it out. The less committed might be content with their dog-eared copies of On Your Feet and Some Enchanted Evening, but they’ll be missing out on some gems.

Blue Öyster Cult

01. Od’d on Life Itself (4:47)
02. The Red and the Black (5:15)
03. Golden Age of Leather (6:01)
04. Burnin’ for You (4:56)
05. Career of Evil (3:59)
06. Shooting Shark (9:01)
07. The Vigil (7:05)
08. ME262 (3:19)
09. Buck’s Boogie (7:22)
10. Black Blade (6:14)
11. Then Came the Last Days of May (10:12)
12. Godzilla (12:56)
13. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (7:10)
14. Harvester of Eyes (4:06)
15. I Love the Night (6:47)
16. Hot Rails to Hell (4:50)
17. Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll (6:52)

Total Time – 110:52

Eric Bloom – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Donald ’Buck Dharma’ Roeser – Guitar, Vocals
Richie Castellano – Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Jules Radino – Drums, Percussion
Kasim Sulton – Bass, Vocals

Record Label: Frontiers Music SRL
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 24th January 2020

Blue Öyster Cult – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

Latest Prog News from across the progressive music spectrum & updated throughout April 2020.

01/04/2020: Devin Townsend Announces Empath – The Ultimate Edition for 5th June 2020 Release

Devin Townsend has announced the forthcoming release of Empath – The Ultimate Edition on 5th June 2020. This comprehensive version of the 2019 album contains the original record and bonus discs across 2 CDs, plus 2 Blu-Ray discs. The first blu-ray contains the 5.1 Surround Sound mix by Devin, with visuals for the full record, plus a stereo visualiser. The second blu-ray contains a raft of bonus material, including Acoustically Inclined – Live in Leeds, a recording from his April 2019 acoustic tour where he performed tracks including ‘Love?’, ‘Deadhead’, ‘Thing Beyond Things’ & more.

It also features the full Empath Documentary, a ‘Genesis 5.1 Mixing Lesson’, a full album commentary & more. The four discs sit inside an art-book that contains new liner notes and images from the making of the album.

Devin comments: “On a technical level, I guess I have always been dissatisfied with the basic ‘stereo’ format in which the type of music I make gets presented in. Whether its headphones, computer speakers, stereos (or basically anything currently), I have had to figure out ways to get the work to function through TWO speakers. I hear things in a particularly orchestrated way, and with the amount of information that typically gets recorded per song, the result has been the dubious ‘wall of sound’ that I keep ending up with. But my intention has never been to make an oppressive experience, but rather something that is immersive and vast.

Making it work in two speakers just simply doesn’t quite work for the vision. Although I’ve managed to get the point across, (to varying degrees), things always have to compromise to make it all fit. Making the drums speak at the same time as orchestra, cymbals, guitars, choirs, synths etc.…all with my voice on top, ends up with every conceivable frequency fighting for breathing space between those two speakers.

Therefore, I asked the powers that be in my business world, to tolerate one more ‘kick at the can’ when it came to Empath. I wanted to attempt a surround mix and follow the original vision of it being an immersive, multimedia experience for people in the ways I could best achieve at this stage. And although it’s still pretty ‘dense’, with four more sources for the sound to come from, I feel its significantly closer to the original vision here.

2020 European Tour Dates
04.06.2020 Sweden Rock Festival – Solvesborg (SE)
05.-07.06.2020 Rock Im Park – Nürnberg (DE)
05.-07.06.2020 Rock Am Ring – Mendig (DE)
10.06.2020 Majestic Music Club – Bratislava (SVK)
10.06.2020 Mystic Festival – Krakow (PL)
11.06.2020 Nova Rock – Nickelsdorf, (AT)
13.06.2020 The Roman Arenas -Bucharest (ROU)
14.06.2020 Mixtape 5 -Sofia (BGR)
15.06.2020 A38 – Budapest (HU)
18.06.2020 Copenhell – Copenhagen (DK)
20.06.2020 Graspop Metal Meeting – Dessel (BE)
21.06.2020 Hellfest – Clisson (FR)
23.06.2020 Rockhal – Esch-sur-alzette (LUX) Co-Headline with Meshuggah
24.06.2020 Xtra – Zurich (CHE) Co-Headline with Meshuggah
26.06.2020 Rock The Night Festival – Rivas-Vaciamadrid (ES) – CANCELLED
28.06.2020 Tuska – Helsinki (FI)
29.07.2020 MetalDays, Tolmin (SLO)
30.07.2020 Wacken Open Air – Wacken (DE)
05.08.2020 Brutal Assault Festival – Jaromer (CZE)
07.08.2020 Bloodstock Open Air – Walton-On-Trent (UK)
09.08.2020 Into The Grave – Leeuwarden (NL)
12.08.2020 Summer Breeze, Dinkelsbuhl (DE)

Source: For The Lost PR

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This news story was originally published here:

Here at TPA we have a decent, but not quite incestuous relationship with Bad Elephant Music, who send us their releases, a good proportion of which we have reviewed over the years. A fine label who promote independent music in all its many forms, with an obvious leaning towards the vaguely progressive. Nowt wrong with that, it’s what we’re here for, after all.

For some time, and quite sensibly in order to keep costs down, the review copies have been download only, so you can imagine my surprise when I was told I would be receiving an advance hard copy of Matt Stevens’ new solo album, The Stratford Tapes. You can never have enough CDs… well, you can, I have far too many. Anyway, it was a nice gesture, I thought.

David Elliott, who runs Bad Elephant Music like a bad-tempered secondary school teacher (only kidding, Dave!), has always had an irrational fear of vinyl, so I thought that the fact that the email came from “Bad Elephant Records”, rather than “Bad Elephant Music” was just his dig at me for making a genuine mistake in my online music quiz the other day, heavens forfend!

Well, crush the air out of me with a boa constrictor! The package delivered to my door, left there while the postie backs off the regulation two metres, looked just like a record in packaging. Recognising the label logo, I was grinning somewhat by now, but I was also a trifle bemused. I picked up the package, took it into the music room, and carefully opened it, and lo and behold, Matt’s new album is… a vinyl record!!! There was a note inside, that read thus:

“Dear Roger
I have come to the conclusion that your errant and oft-repeated assertion that, and I quote ‘… the vinyl LP is the true aesthetic physical expression of music as an art form’, is in actual fact nothing of the sort. It has taken me a good few years of wrestling with my conscience, and I hope you forgive me, to realise that you are in fact completely correct. My awakening happened while opening the six-panel foldout sleeve of Space Hymns by Ramases on the Vertigo spiral label, given to me by Simon Godfrey as a going away present, the cheeky fecker. It has taken me years to open it, but here we are. I believe you were a record collector? In which case you need no further explanation.

Therefore, in what I would have deemed only days ago as an utterly counter-intuitive move, I have set up Bad Elephant Records as a boutique offshoot for our bands and artists who wish to have very (I stress the ‘very’, I have not gone completely insane) limited pressings of their work on the true epitome of musical expression, the LP in all its appealing glory. You will notice with our first release that special attention has been paid to the cover art, and the lyrics are printed inside the gatefold as indeed they should be.

I look forward to your review.

Yours humbly – David Elliott – Bad Elephant Records”

As for the record, well, Matt tells me it is a compilation of tunes composed and recorded over the years after the infamous curry sessions out there in East London, where Mr Elliott holds court like a benevolent uncle (it’s his time out from being a grumpy schoolmaster). Some of the ditties sound suitably oiled, and I’ve never heard Matt sing before. Crikey! That baritone could knock Pavarotti over at ten paces. He’s been hiding that, hasn’t he?!

The first track is It Shone A Light, based on an almost Dylanesque chord sequence, the lyric obviously a relaying of the tale of David’s vinyl epiphany. And no, it didn’t happen in Soho, what were you thinking?!

There could be hit singles on here, if such things still existed. Matt’s cover of You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) with David adding his gruff tones to the chorus is a hoot, and will have you dancing ’round your cell… sorry, living room, like a pensioner in a hazmat suit.

Matt charges through musical styles with an inebriated gusto, and my favourite track has to be the thunderous layered guitars of Thirty-Three & A Third Kinds of Love, with David doing his best Gene Simmons impression on bass and backing vocals. I’m told they both wore tutus and make up for this one to get in the groove, and the result is tremendous fun.

Limited to a pressing of only 15 copies, all proceeds are going to David’s new charity, Vinyl Verisimilitude. Pre-order it now on Bad Elephant Records. And remember it could be an illusion.

Wash your hands!

Side One:

01. It Shone A Light (4:45)
02. Last Bus Out (of Stratford) (4:19)
03. You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) (2:58)
04. Gargamel’s Lament (6:66)
Side Two:
05. Thirty-Three & A Third Kinds of Love (12:01)
06. Weasels Stripped My Gretsch (0:03)
07. The Lights Burn Low in Rushden Too-nite (5:17)
08. Take on Me (1:00)

Total Time – 37:29

Matt Stevens – Guitars, Loops, Guitar Loops, Looped Guitars, Guitars, Baritone Lead Vocals & Guitars, Chicken (track 8)
~ With:
David Elliott – Backing Vocals, Bass & ‘Demon’ Facepaint (track 5)
Charlie Cawood – Spoons (track 6)
The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra – Triangle (tracks 2,4 & 7)

Record Label: Bad Elephant Records
Catalogue#: BER-VV 001
Date of Release: 1st April 2020

Matt Stevens – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

Lazuli have, over the last decade and more, become one of the finest live bands in the world, thrilling audiences across Europe with their dazzling and accessible mix of melodic prog, industrial tones and ethnic musical influences. It’s a melting pot that provides a unique experience, and on stage is where they really shine, their enthusiasm and raw talent brimming over for all to see. But take away the thrill of the live show and their albums to date – excellent though they undoubtedly are – have fallen short in conveying the full Lazuli experience.

This might also be true of their ninth album, Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm, but it is, without doubt, their finest release so far.

It’s a concept piece split into six parts, but it remains concise and to the point. The idea arose from a concert where the band spotted a member of the audience so completely lost in the music that he seemed to be in a trance-like world of his own. I don’t know whether the name is real or fictionalised, but that person is the Dieter Böhm of the story. The album describes the musicians pouring their crafted sounds into bottles and casting them into the sea, hoping that some will fall into the hands of someone like Dieter, who will allow the songs in to make their world better, to allow the individual to fly on new-found wings. It’s a lovely idea, many of us will understand the power of such an awakening, and I think it underlines one of the things that is so special about Lazuli, their enthusiasm for making other people’s lives better with their music.

The story’s prologue has an industrial and brooding feel to it, possibly referring to the world before the creation of the music. The sound suddenly getting more intense and bursting out as Dominique Leonetti’s majestic voice rises to its highest registers. The music swells with keys and soaring guitars in the act of creation. It’s a breathtaking opener, leading into the first part of the story where the songs are released, like messages in bottles cast into the sea. Les chansons sont des bouteilles à la mer starts with a beautiful and sparsely supported vocal, the music gradually building with stabs of piano melody breaking through. It’s stately and well-directed, the Léode solo from Claude Leonetti a confident statement of intent for what is to come. I haven’t seen a translation of the words as yet but it seems to me that Mers lacrymales might take in the treacherous and often fraught journey that these songs have to undertake to make it through to their audience. It’s an epic piece with a real edge to it, gilded by Gédéric Byar’s angular soloing.

There’s a pause before the next Act starts, the ‘bottle’ arriving with Dieter far away, on a wave of Léode and guitar. It’s punchy and direct with a relentless drive, the breakdown and re-establishment of momentum at the end of the song underlining this. To Dieter, the song is like a balm, Baume describing that feeling in soothing tones with twinkling sounds and with a beautiful piano interlude from Romain Thorel towards the end that moves effortlessly into the dreamy tones of Un visage lunaire, the music growing in intensity, again epic in the chorus. It’s a wonderful tour de force, shot through with the unique sound of the Léode, the band’s delicate and heavier inclinations beautifully delivered as the music takes hold of Dieter’s soul.

L’envol (‘The Flight’) opens the final act on the back of the previous track as Dieter’s feet gradually leave the ground. There’s a sense of expectation that builds into a rocking instrumental interlude, you can feel the wide-eyed excitement as the music itself starts to fly. Finally, Dieter is gracefully soaring through the air in an airy piece of almost orchestral sounds, light and breezy but packed with intent, as always delivered to perfection by Dominique. The song is now ‘In the Hands of Dieter’ and enhancing his world, as the makers had hoped would happen to someone, somewhere.

It’s an uplifting end to a quite thrilling album. It might not have the jaw-dropping visual side of the band’s live performances, but it ticks all the boxes as far as a listening experience goes. The confidence displayed on this album is wonderful, and Lazuli have clearly moved to the next level. Bien fait et bien mérité!

In troubled times we could all do with music of this quality to take us somewhere better.

01. Sol (4:27)
Acte 1:
02. Les chansons sont des bouteilles à la mer (6:13)
03. Mers lacrymales (5:04)
Acte 2:
04: Dieter Böhm (5:33)
05. Baume (3:31)
Acte 3:
06. Un visage lunaire (4:15)
Acte 4:
07. L’envol (2:25)
08. L’homme volant (5:37)
09. Dans les mains de Dieter (5:37)

Total Time – 42:42

Vincent Barnavol – Drums, Percussion, Marimba
Gédéric Byar – Guitar
Claude Leonetti – Léode
Dominique Leonetti – Lead Vocals, 6 & 12-string Guitars
Romain Thorel – Keyboards, French Horn

Record Label: L’Abeille Rôde
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 14th February 2020

Lazuli – Website | Facebook | YouTube

This news story was originally published here:

There’s an expression a lot of my musicals friends use that explains well what happens when one is introduced to something new: ‘the rabbit hole’. For when you first find yourself listening to something new and exciting, it’s only natural to want to hear more, or similar, and so you find yourself falling down that rabbit hole. I recently found a rabbit hole of my own, after a sponsored post on Facebook led me to listen to French fusion band Daïda. Now, the thing about a rabbit hole is that it is but one entrance to a huge sprawling warren, with many paths to follow. My path led me to Tao Ehrlich, as on searching for a YouTube video to accompany my A Different Aspect review for Daïda, that which I found featured Ehrlich.

‘Who was Tao Ehrlich?’, I wondered – and so my wander through the warren of French fusion began. I had no idea that the Parisian fusion scene was so vibrant, but it most certainly is, and Tao Ehrlich appears to be a star of the scene. Although it would be an exaggeration to say he is omnipresent, he certainly has played with many different acts over time. Ehrlich is a product of musical nature and nurture. Due to his musician father, Ehrlich grew up in a musical environment and from a very young age was on stages, learning from and playing with many musicians.

I began my tour of the Parisian fusion scene with Panam Panic, which Ehrlich also plays for, and listened to many other varied and wonderful bands (including Bordelophone, 4dB, Chromatik, Aldorand, Camarão Orkestra, and Chlorine Free), before arriving at Ishkero. The band has self-released two EPs, and their third is due for release in April on Chuwanaga. Brume is easily the best release yet from Ishkero. It’s an absolute joy to listen to!

Ishkero is a group of five experienced and enthusiastic musicians who have been playing together for a while now, and it shows. But with all due respect to the other musicians in the band, from the off, it’s Tao Ehrlich’s drumming that stands out. In fact, it is appropriate that in French we would probably be describing his battery, as Ehrlich provides an explosive energy, the shockwave of which radiates underneath the remainder of the band. The band feed off this energy, and the resulting music is a joy to listen to – and it sounds as if the band finds it a joy to play.

So we have guitarist Victor Gasq, who is clearly as comfortable in rhythm as he is soloing. Some very nifty riffs from Gasq. Adrien Dutertre is on the flute, managing to impose quite some presence and personality with his instrument. He also adds texture with percussion. Antoine Vidal plays the bass, sometimes modestly, sometimes mischievously. I have always had an affinity for the bass, and Vidal’s playing definitely tickles my fancy. Finally, on keys, Arnaud Forestier adds a tableau of poetic prettiness. With some gorgeous saxophone from guest musician Jeff Mercadié on two of the tracks, the recipe is complete. And the end result is most definitely delicious!

Brian Eno once said, “There were three great beats in the ’70s: Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, James Brown’s funk, and Klaus Dinger’s Neu!-beat.” It sounds to me that Tao Ehrlich seeks to integrate all three into his playing. The first track from Brume, Triple B, is certainly full of ’70s funk influences, and it’s an absolute blast. I dare anyone to listen to this, and not at least tap their feet. Me? I was dancing around the kitchen with my second youngest child. By the time you’ve reached the end of this too short release, you’re definitely more in Afrobeat territory – in particular, Gnawa rhythms.

I love the introduction to second track Tonik Gin which sounds as laid-back as you might expect. Ehrlich comes in with the beat, and we’re away. The flute, guitar and keys trade licks in a delightful way, building and building until everything falls away at about the three-minute mark. I love the minimalist, almost ambient soundscape that is left, before being built up once more to a glorious finale. This track may not be as immediately gratifying as Triple B, but repeated listens really show it’s many layers. Also, I love that final chord.

Brume comes in quietly like the mist its title implies, the gentle sounds washing over the listener before the track kicks in after about a minute. I say kicks in, but the title track is the gentlest on the EP. That’s not to say it’s boring, though. It’s actually incredibly evocative of a misty day, with the music sounding suitably hazy (it’s described as “warm and hazy” on the Bandcamp page). The beat picks up in the final moment, which is actually for me the most disappointing moment of the EP, as I was thoroughly enjoying the mood of the piece before then. But I’m quite sure a lot of people will like this quite dramatic coda to the piece. (NB: I don’t dislike it at all, but it just feels out of place.)

Gate de l’Ouest is an impressive closing number. The EP is definitely structured with the bigger, bolder pieces as bookends, with the more intricate and layered pieces providing a softer centre. As aforementioned, this track is a jazzy take on Gnawa rhythms, or at least, that’s how it seems to me. In Gnawa music, one phrase or beat is repeated over and over, as the music is spiritual, and designed to help provoke a trance. That one phrase or beat can be approached from many angles, and that’s what Gard de l’Ouest seems to do. It’s too easy to get lost in the music, and thoroughly frustrating when it ends so soon. If any track could have gone on (and on), it would be this one. I suspect played live, it possibly does, and the length of the track on this EP is more down to keeping consistent the lengths of the two sides of the vinyl release.

In short, I guess my only complaint about this EP is that it is just that – short. I can’t wait to hear a full-length release from Ishkero, and I hope one is forthcoming. I am so happy I fell down this rabbit hole. My thanks to Daïda for giving me the push.

01. Triple B (3:09)
02. Tonik Gin (5:48)
03. Brume (6:00)
04. Gare de l’Ouest (4:53)

Tao Ehrlich – Drums & percussion
Antoine Vidal – Bass
Adrien “Dridri” Duterte – Flute, Percussion
Victor Gasq – Guitar, Upright Piano (on Gare de l’Ouest)
Arnaud Forestier – Keyboards
~ With:
Jeff Mercadié – Tenor Saxophone (on Triple B and Gare de l’Ouest)

Record Label: Chuwanaga
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 20the April 2020

Ishkero – Facebook | YouTube | Bandcamp (for their first two EP releases) | Bandcamp (for Brume)