Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian Live (Review)

Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian Live (Review)

by Joel Barrios

The 1980s were a special decade for metal, where the genre was specially more open-minded and inventive. Acts such as Queensrÿche and Crimson Glory took metal to realms it was completely new to, and their sound was very influential for many modern musicians. As a logical consequence of that evolution, other bands seized the roots of that metal-esque songwriting and delved further into what their forefathers did, adding some uniqueness and searching deeper for a less accessible sound. That was the dawn of the sub-genre we all know now as progressive-metal.

Thirty years ago, one album saw the light of day: “Awaken the Guardian”. It showed a band not only creating their own sound, but stepping outside the boundaries of their time. A monumental execution of a brilliant musical idea crafted in an outlandish way, it became not only a milestone in the band’s career, but also a good definition of “unique”. Its main goal was to be different, which it was successful in doing and, despite being overshadowed at the time of its release by the unveiling of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”, Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”, Megadeth’s “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?” and Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere in Time” to name a few, it continues to be exceptionally appreciated as a complex, esoteric, and I’d dare to say arcane masterpiece.

On April 28th, 2017, Fates Warning will officially release “Awaken the Guardian Live”, a celebration of that legendary album which ironically holds the honor as the band’s very first release to debut on the Billboard chart and at the same time marked the end of the Arch’s era. Fates Warning’s mastermind and main songwriter Jim Mattheos reassembled the “Awaken The Guardian” era lineup with John Arch at the mic, bassist Joe DiBiase, drummer Steve Zimmerman, and guitarist Frank Aresti for two special festival appearances last year: Keep It True XIX in Lauda-Konigshofen, Germany and ProgPower USA XVII in Atlanta, Georgia. At both shows Fates Warning performed the “Awaken the Guardian” in its entirety. The German show, directed and edited by Oliver “Bomber” Barth, also included “The Apparition”, “Damnation”, “Night On Brocken”, and “Epitaph” as bonuses, meanwhile at ProgPower USA, “Damnation”, “The Apparition”, “Kyrie Eleison” and “Epitaph” were added to the performance of their milestone album. The sound recording and video editing of the US show were in the capable hands of Kent Smith. Both shows were mixed and mastered by Bill Metoyer.

After three decades, the most impending question for many fans was whether the band could do justice to such unwavering and demanding set of songs. I was fortunate enough to be amongst the ones in attendance at ProgPower USA XVII last September, and all I can remember is myself asking “How the heck are they pulling this off?”. I have now seen the Germany show as well, and I can assure you are in for a treat. Hearing the album in its original form is a true marvelous experience, but watching it live adds an additional taste that’s just as wonderfully pleasant as one could ever hope for. The band is firing on all cylinders, blasting energy and rapture in all directions. The haunting, yet melodious acoustic intros, the unconventional riffs, the very strange time signatures, the thrashy sections, the choruses… these veterans outdo themselves in front of two packed-to-the-roof venues, filled with euphoric and captivated spectators. I wasn’t really expecting this synergy, considering how many years had passed since they performed together for the last time, but the majesty of such a decisive record is highly palpable; topped off by Arch’s mind-blowing and masterful vocal melodies. How he can hit the same intricate high notes in passages like “I’m a fire without a flame, helpless child without a name with broken wings”, while keeping his truly charismatic tone throughout the entire set is, and probably will ever, be a mystery.

The camera work and video editing is outstanding for both sets, being the ProgPower USA show slightly more enjoyable in my opinion: the band showcases a higher-degree of confidence on-stage and the sound packs an overall punchier, heavier tone. But fear not, both presentations have their own distinct flavor and freshness, turning the whole set into a visual experience of tremendous caliber. “Awaken the Guardian Live” also features art direction, design, and artwork by famed Greek-born artist Ioannis (www.dangerousage.com) who also created the original album cover.

Even when Fates Warning would become a fully progressive-metal band with their next album “No Exit”, “Awaken the Guardian” was the watershed release for them, that killer album any metalhead can turn to for an unrelenting display of guitar prowess. The feeling it evokes, the mystical, otherworldly hum that seems to rise-up from its music, is astoundingly brought back to life and documented like never-before in this fantastic live release, which we recommend as a great testimony of the evolution of the genre.

The set is available at http://metalblade.com/fateswarning

Released on April 28th, 2017

Live at Keep It True XIX
01. The Sorceress
02. Valley of the Dolls
03. Fata Morgana
04. Guardian
05. Prelude to Ruin
06. Giant’s Lore (Heart of Winter)
07. Time Long Past
08. Exodus
09. The Apparition
10. Damnation
11. Night on Brocken
12. Epitaph

Live at ProgPower XVII
01. The Sorceress
02. Valley of the Dolls
03. Fata Morgana
04. Guardian
05. Prelude to Ruin
06. Giant’s Lore (Heart of Winter)
07. Time Long Past
08. Exodus
09. Damnation
10. The Apparition
11. Kyrie Eleison
12. Epitaph

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Nad Sylvan – “The Quartermaster” (Official Video)

Nad Sylvan – “The Quartermaster” (Official Video)

Nad Sylvan, vocalist with Steve Hackett and Agents Of Mercy, has announced the release of his new solo album ‘The Bride Said No’ for May 26th, 2017. The album sees Nad joined by a myriad of guests including Roine Stolt, Steve Hackett, Guthrie Govan, Tony Levin, Jonas Reingold, Nick D’Virgilio, Doane Perry & more.

You can now watch the official video for his latest single ‘The Quartermaster’ here:

Nad comments: “Let me introduce the Vampirate’s drinking buddy!
But is it wine or blood they’re having? Who cares.
The roaring sea takes us to an undiscovered desert island where the next chapter begins…”

The album is available on special edition CD digipak, gatefold 2LP vinyl + CD & digital download. Pre-order digitally at iTunes & Amazon MP3 from tomorrow and receive ‘The Quartermaster’ immediately.

The full track-listing for the album is as follows:
1. Bridesmaids
2. The Quartermaster
3. When The Music Dies
4. The White Crown
5. What Have You Done
6. Crime Of Passion
7. A French Kiss In An Italian Café
8. The Bride Said No

In 2015, Nad Sylan impressed everyone with his fine conceptual solo album ‘Courting The Widow’. A vampiric tale wrapped in a 17th century atmosphere, this definitively marked out the talented Swede as a surging star in the progressive rock world.

Now, Sylvan is back with ‘The Bride Said No’, an album that continues the fascinating plot, albeit with a far more extravagant musical palette. “I didn’t originally have the idea of going on with this story on the new album. But what happened was that I revisited a song called ‘The Bride Said No’, which I began to write in 1989. I kept a few of the early ideas I had for the verses and also that title, but the rest of the song is brand new. However, the title itself got me thinking that it made sense if this were used in relation to the vampirate character from ‘Courting The Widow’. And the whole thing developed from there.”

On the creative side, what the new album does is to expand Sylvan’s horizons, as he explains. “Musically, the previous record was very much located in the 1970s, and you can still hear a little of that here. But this one is a lot more modern sounding and diverse. In fact, I would say it’s closer to musical theatre than anything else.”

‘The Bride Said No’ takes what Sylvan has done before and elevates it with a new creative sensibility. He has plans for a final chronicle of this ‘vampirate’ trilogy. But that’s for the future. Right now, we can all revel in the delights of this eight track masterpiece.
“I set out to take things even further than before. I believe I have succeeded.”

Nad has most recently been seen performing alongside the legendary Steve Hackett as part of his Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett tour, which continues across the world during 2017.

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Cruise to the Edge lineup taking shape

Cruise to the Edge lineup taking shape

On the last day of the most recent Cruise to the Edge, this past February, it was announce that Marillion, Yes, Saga, and a handful of other bands were already committed for the next excursion in 2018. Over the last couple of months, more bands have been announced, and as of April 25th, the lineup now includes 20 bands. Among those that were recently added are Adrian Belew, Carl Palmer, Haken, and a new unknown supergroup that features Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian. The cruise is from Feb 3-8, 2018 and again leaves out of Tampa, Fl making stops in Belize and Costa Maya. For more info visit: cruisetotheedge.com

The full lineup is:

Carl Palmer
Martin Barre
Glass Hammer
Adrian Belew
Stick Men
Sound of Contact
Moon Safari
Io Earth
Thank You Scientist
Bad Dreams

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Big Big Train – Grimspound (Album Review)

Big Big Train – Grimspound (Album Review)

The resurgence of progressive rock has been undeniable in recent years, whether it is through music cruises, Prog magazines and websites, award shows or festivals. It has been seen in the appreciation of music from the past, such as Yes and Rush getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But when it comes to new bands, it has largely found success in bands that incorporate metal or electronica (or both), attempts to be avant-garde or mysterious, or often relishing in melancholy. And then there is the outlier, Big Big Train, who in the most unlikely of ways and in the most unlikely of times, have seen their popularity continue to grow, decades into their career, with members who are far past their 20s, and with no inkling of metal or electronica. Rather, their sound is the truest celebration of classic Prog as established by groups like Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, and Genesis, and with no apologies. But their approach is authentic, and not derivative in any way. It is this authenticity, along with the masterful musicianship and skilled storytelling, that have built this band into one of the most important prog groups of the last 10 years. With their latest album, the magnificent Grimspound, they continue to cement themselves among the Prog elite.

It is hard to write a review of this band without sounding like an adoring fan. Most reviewers of this band are. To get the music, it sometimes helps. However, it is not difficult to find things to love about this bands music. There is just nothing like it. It hits you at your core, makes you think, makes you read the lyrics and figure out the stories behind each song. It demands patience and repeat listens. You don’t check Facebook during a listen, or look at the clock. This mentality might be what brought to group to make this album, which was originally intended to be a companion EP to their 2016 album ‘Folklore’, a brilliant album that stood true to its title, with the songs all telling tales and the music acting as the soundtrack. A few leftover songs from ‘Folklore’ evolved into a full album of 8 songs, 3 of which are over 10 minutes long. These songs needed to be written and the stories needed to be told. That is how we arrive at Grimspound.

“Brave Captain” is immediately captivating, with a brief intro the song erupts on the wings of one of the most direct and rocking themes the band has ever composed. Where the last album featured celtic sounds from the start, this one starts with a rock approach. The song is listed as a 4 parter that tells the story of Captain Albert Ball, who died a war hero in 1973. The song is told through the eyes of a boy who recalls the story his dad told to him about the Captain. Musically, this is one of the strongest on the album and an early favorite for song of the year, from the epic guitar and strings, to the build at the end, this song has everything.

The second track “On the Racing Line” continues the story of racer John Cobb, the subject of the track “Brookland” on the last album. This instrumental, oddly placed as the second track, has a bit of a jazzy fusion influence, something new for the group. Nick D’Virgilio lets loose on this one and shows why he is still one of the best drummers in the world. This is a mammoth instrumental.

The other highlights on the album are the 3rd track, and recent single, “Experimental Gentlemen”, which has a more familiar sound and structure to older BBT tracks, and the title track, which starts as a beautiful ballad but has a one of the standout moments on the album with the middle section where the music picks up. The transition is surprising and, as a change on on earlier theme, it’s so simple, but so brilliant.

The album’s longest track is “A Mead Hall in Winter” which is as Proggy a song as you will find. The song shifts through a number of themes and melodies over the course of 15 minutes. Halfway through it seems as though the song is finished but there is so much more to behold. Another more upbeat, rocking track, the song finds the band again taking a more direct, organic approach. David Longdon takes this song over, along with the group’s signature background vocals. Throughout the album, as on this track, the guitars are much more prominent than in some of their work. There are fewer brass instruments, flutes and heavy orchestration as before. So while the group have their style, there is a change in feel and vibe overall.

The album closes on the somber “As the Crow Flies”, a sparsely produced track, with an acoustic guitar and D’Virgilio’s precise drumming carrying the song. It is a bit of an odd choice to close what is largely an uplifting album, but it is indeed a Big Big Train song through and through. It is no wonder the band were so intent on pushing out this new album only one year after ‘Folklore’. The band is as in synch as they have ever been. They are in that rare space that some bands get in, where everything they do is good. As Longdon sings on the final track, “All Here Is Good”. Indeed it is.

Big Big Train are the reincarnation of all the good elements of classic 70s Prog, done in their own unique way. If you never liked Big Big Train at all this is an album that might stand a chance to covert you to a degree. If you were already a fan, you should adore this album. Grimspound is a treasure, containing some of the best this genre has to offer, from a band that right now can do no wrong.

Released on April 28th, 2017

Key Tracks: Brave Captain, Grimspound, A Mead Hall in Winter

1-Brave Captain 12:37
2-On The Racing Line 5:12
3-Experimental Gentlemen 10:01
4-Meadowland 3:36
5-Grimspound 6:56
6-The Ivy Gate 7:27
7-A Mead Hall In Winter 15:20
8-As The Crow Flies 6:44

Andy Poole – guitars, bass, keyboards
Greg Spawton – bass, backing vocals, guitars, keyboards
Nick D’Virgilio – drums, backing vocals, percussion
David Longdon – lead vocals, flute, keyboards, guitars
Dave Gregory – guitars
Danny Manners – keyboards, double bass
Rachel Hall – violin, backing vocals
Rikard Sjöblom – guitars, keyboards, backing vocals

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Ayreon – The Source (Album Review)

Ayreon – The Source (Album Review)

by Craig Ellis Bacon

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Ayreon returns with ‘The Source’. For those who know and love Ayreon already, this mere statement of fact will probably suffice for a review. Indeed, everything great about past Ayreon albums is here on ‘The Source’, except that it’s bigger and more. For you newcomers to the Ayreon universe, welcome! You’re going to enjoy your time here.

Like past Ayreon albums, ‘The Source’ is a huge musical-theatre-meets-progressive-metal production. The plot is a relatively straightforward sci-fi extravaganza that serves as prequel to ‘01011001′ and includes several connections to that album, including references to “Liquid Eternity” and the “Age Of Shadows,” as well as lyrics sung in binary code. However, the story is self-contained, recounting how a worldwide computer tasked with sustaining human life on the planet Alpha decides to extinguish human life instead, whilst a small team of people escape to the distant ocean Planet Y to propagate the species there. The team escapes the dark death of a ‘Sea Of Machines’ for a dark life as an ‘Aquatic Race’; thematically, this is a basic sci-fi take on the cyclical futility of technological progress and ‘The Human Compulsion’ to repeat our worst mistakes.

Musically, long-time Lucassen collaborator Ed Warby leads the charge with his nearly relentless powerhouse drumming across bombastic musical numbers influenced by best of mid-70’s to mid-80’s heavy metal, hard rock, prog, AOR, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and of course Lucassen’s own vast catalogue. There’s a lot going on here, but Warby is front and center in an incredibly clear mix that respects both vocal and instrumental separation. Chalk that up also to Lucassen’s superb arrangements that coordinate thirteen vocalists and a plethora of instrumental flourishes in such a way that everything sounds exactly in its place. Opening track “The Day That The World Breaks Down” encapsulates the album’s musical synthesis with its introduction of most of the featured vocalists, progressive textures of Canterbury-inspired flute and Kansas-esque violin, almost industrial riffs and synth swells, Hammond vamps, and blues grooves. Just when the epic begins to wind down, Floor Jansen’s soul-shaking vocal sounds the Reveille.

Again, the album as a whole sounds like the best of Ayreon’s past, but more guitar-oriented and with even more musical texture. “Everybody Dies” invokes Webber in its big cast vocal workout—including growls—and is such heavy fun that one might suspect Lucassen of a bit of mischief in making this description of worldwide death and destruction such an upbeat sing-along track. “All That Was” quiets down a little to allow the characters a bit of emotional reminiscing before the full-on gallop of “Run! Apocalypse! Run!” offers its glimpse of an alternate musical world in which Rick Wakeman joined Iron Maiden for ‘Powerslave’. As the small remnant of humanity escapes destruction, “Deathcry Of A Race” combines the heavier moments of Jethro Tull with Mediterranean string sounds and evocative Arabic vocals. “Into The Ocean” deftly weaves together classic Deep Purple Hammond organ and Dio-inspired vocals, while the proper closing of the story on “Journey To Forever” takes Rabin-era Yes vocals and guitars for its musical framing.

‘The Source’ is more than a sum of musical influences, of course; the album sounds less like a pastiche than it does like Lucassen had a ton of fun working little tributes into his own distinctive idiom. This sense of fun and bombast, augmented by the precision of the arrangements and virtuosity of the performances, lifts ‘The Source’ above the confines of its conventional storyline. The number of guests that contribute outstanding performances are almost too many to count including the likes of James Labrie, Tommy Rogers, Russell Allen, Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan and man, many others. There’s just so much here to satisfy a listener, and this reviewer has played the album on repeat for weeks. It’s unlikely that 2017 will see another release this expansive, energetic, varied, and fun. While many anticipated releases remain on the calendar, just see whether ‘The Source’ doesn’t spend more time in your car than any other album this year.

Check out our recent interview with Arjen Lucassen here.

Released April 28, 2017 on Mascot Label Group

Key Tracks: The Day That The World Breaks Down, Everybody Dies, Run! Apocalypse! Run!, Deathcry Of A Race, Into The Ocean, The Source Will Flow

Disc One
1. The Day That The World Breaks Down 12:32
2. Sea Of Machines 5:08
3. Everybody Dies 4:42
4. Star Of Sirrah 7:03
5. All That Was 3:36
6. Run! Apocalypse! Run! 4:52
7. Condemned To Live 6:14
Disc Two
1. Aquatic Race 6:46
2. The Dream Dissolves 6:11
3. Deathcry Of A Race 4:43
4. Into The Ocean 4:53
5. Bay Of Dreams 4:24
6. Planet Y Is Alive! 6:02
7. The Source Will Flow 4:13
8. Journey To Forever 3:19
9. The Human Compulsion 2:15
10. March Of The Machines 1:40

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