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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Magenta – We Are Legend (Album Review)

Magenta – We Are Legend (Album Review)

by Prog Nick

I openly admit that I am a Magenta fanatic – I have loved this leading Welsh Prog band for years. Having made that statement (but no apology for it), I am tasked with giving an objective analysis of Magenta’s long-awaited new album, “We Are Legend”.

Magenta officially comprises keyboard virtuoso/producer/composer Rob Reed, massively underrated guitarist Chris Fry, and award-winning vocalist Christina Booth. On this album, they are joined by regular live bassist Dan Nelson, and respected new drummer Jon ‘Jiffy’ Griffiths. Rob’s brother Steve contributes the lyrics.

Something that first attracted me to Magenta, particularly 2004‘s sophomore release “Seven” (one of my all-time favourite albums), was their ability to conjure Yes-like mindscapes, and make me feel the same sense of musical wonder that Yes created in the early 70’s. This was true Classic Prog, 21st Century style, with a stunning female vocalist. In Reed’s own words “Current prog bands are always scared and shy about admitting the influences of the great bands of the 70’s, and I wanted to…admit and celebrate those influences, and hopefully create something as worthwhile as those classic bands”. This he did, and we loved it.

One aspect that remained constant in Magenta’s earlier work was the extant presence of melody in every song. Melody emphasized by the unique combination of Reed’s composition and keyboard chops, Fry’s six-string excellence and Booth’s magnificent voice.

But after “Seven”, a few of the band’s releases variously displayed Reed’s penchant for wanting to “try something different”. This need, which was perfectly understandable for a musician of Reed’s stature, has, at times, resulted in varied responses, particularly when tougher or darker sounds were created (for example on 2008‘s “Metamorphosis”). There were, of course, many excellent moments on every album the band recorded, but the consistency of melody to be found on “Seven” was at times elusive. This matter was clearly and firmly addressed with Magenta’s 2013 release, “The Twenty-seven Club”. The latter was a clarion call, announcing that the classic sound of Magenta had returned. Very few people had a negative word to say about that album.

Which brings us to 2017, and guess what? When the new release was announced, Magenta’s eager fans were again informed that Reed was going to “try something different”. “Why,” I asked myself, “after the brilliance of The Twenty-Seven Club, would this great band want to change a thing?” I anticipated this release with a little trepidation, because I did not want the band that produced “Seven” and “The Twenty-Seven Club” to change. And honestly, I did not think that 2013’s masterful release could be bettered.

Well, dear Reader, you will be happy to know that my paranoia was completely unfounded. Change can indeed be good, and Mr Reed and his cohorts have just proved it. While this album is neither a repeat of “Seven” or “The Twenty Seven Club”, and it is in parts, even a departure from the Magenta of old, it is nonetheless brilliant in a different, yet still familiar way. While innovative and modern, it somehow remains faithful to the band’s classic roots, and is immensely fulfilling.

“We Are Legend” is comprised of one 27-minute epic and two shorter songs. Does this sound familiar? Well, you will be pleased to know that while Magenta have referenced their 70’s influences where necessary, they have also proceeded to innovate without compromise where they felt the need to do so, and the result is spectacular.

“Trojan” is a dystopian sci-fi story of war against machines attacking mankind from the ocean. A 27 minute journey, with several distinct parts, it starts with eerie keyboard sounds and a gentle melody that explodes into a heavy guitar passage – Magenta mean business. Early on, forceful new recruit Griffiths makes his presence felt, and while Reed and Fry call the instrumental shots, Nelson and Griffiths admirably complete an already formidable attack. We are under way, and Booth’s magnificent voice is introduced in one of the most powerful, driving verses that Magenta have created. A superb middle section, presenting the melody in gentler fashion, gives way to a stylish Fry solo at the sixth minute, after which Booth and the rest of the band play call-and-answer in a manner familiar to Magenta fans, but this time with a sci-fi twist.

There is a clear intention on this piece to give each performer a chance to shine, and this is in every manner successful. Above all, the song has every perspective you would desire in a Prog epic. Expect tenderness and anger, weight and light, dizzying mixed imagery, theatrical delivery, distinctly different parts stitched together into a common theme, and a strong pull at every one of your emotions.

The band is in top form and precision is the order of the day. Griffiths’ fills are perfectly worked out often to be exactly what Fry and Nelson are playing – it’s a considered performance, with every stroke carefully prepared, one believes, under Reed’s guidance. Fry’s guitar work, as always, is staggering. He performs jazz progressions with deceptive ease, and his interludes of acoustic picking are particularly tasteful. Of course his electric solos are, without exception, astounding. One also feels that Nelson, who despite his regular live appearances, recorded with Magenta for the first time here, has hit his stride with great precision and an immense sound. It goes without saying that Booth and Reed are magnificent performers, and deliver to the highest levels, as they always have.

With a song this length, the band is given room to breathe, and the composition goes through many peaks, valleys and everything in between. The main guitar solo is pure Floyd, and will unashamedly entice any Gilmour devotee. The gentle middle interlude gives Booth the scope to sound like an angel, with lyrics like ‘I look around in disbelief, our history is what brings me back to you.’ Her versatile voice goes from anguished wail to gentle caress, and reminds us that she more than deserves her numerous awards and accolades. Griffiths provides a roto-tom-like solo that is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Time”, which leads into a section where Reed syncopates new-age keyboard effects with Griffiths’ double bass drum (possibly intended to conjure the huge robots marching forward). This in turn leads into a guitar riff that is pure Magenta and could have been on “Seven”. Finally, a gargantuan modern rock passage leads to an ending of consolation and peace. Are you getting the picture? It’s classic Magenta mixed with “something new”.

“Trojan” stands up with the best that Reed has delivered. Technical wizardry and copious instrumental dexterity are there, but they are never allowed to stand without reference to melody, which always commands the composition.

If there is a criticism to be made, it might be that sometimes Steve Reed’s lyrics can be stylistically repetitive. (For example he often to starts a line with a present participle such as ‘hoping’ or ‘thinking’, or an infinitive such as “to grow’ or ‘to live’.) This can become noticeable in its regularity, but a lyricist so prolific can be forgiven this foible.

Second song “Colours” is about Vincent van Gogh. It starts with what sounds like the music from a child’s toy or musical box, before exploding into a veritable layer cake of tortured progressive sound – as tortured as the man it describes. If the song is about the palette of a genius, the musical colours painted by the band conjure just that. Booth almost spits out the lyrics when adopting van Gogh’s persona, and she perfectly evokes his madness. The middle section once again features Fry in full Gilmour mode and Reed channeling Rick Wright. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The toy music returns to usher in an anguished build-up on organ, guitar and vocals, all counterpointing magically. Griffiths’ precision and tightness again display why he is the right choice for the Magenta drum throne. As van Gogh’s life reaches its tormented end, the band keep pace with the theme in a slow whirlwind of calculated musical madness, ending in quiet resignation. “Colours” is a great song that shows Magenta at their startling best.

“Legend” is a driving behemoth of a song about the last survivors on Earth, starting in 7/4 timing. Angular and pointed in its attack, melody is again not forgotten in the verses and choruses which are a perfect vehicle for Booth’s emotive range. Lots of modern sci-fi sound effects, created by studio artifice, are woven into the tapestry of the song (another “something new” for Magenta), but again, Booth’s melodious voice saves the song from the ordinary or the artificial. Fry’s solo is immense, and Booth’s refrain of “Its Over” will move you to tears. The final passage, a pastoral then triumphant slow-march to bliss, reminds us of the 70’s Yes influence that made us fall in love with Magenta to begin with. The closing of this passage ends the album on a massive tympanic climax.

The album’s excellent artwork has a dystopian sci-fi combat look that reflects the central themes in the music.

Despite challenges posed by Booth’s recent illness and some personnel changes, Magenta have never gone away. They are here to stay, and while there might be a new flavour, new members and some new sounds, the bedrock of tasteful 70’s Prog that is classic Magenta has also not gone away. It just has a new twist.

I could easily have been disappointed by this release, because “The Twenty Seven Club” created very high expectations for me. But that is not even mildly the case. Magenta have once again extended themselves beyond what any reasonable fan can expect, and have delivered something classic that will appease diehard fans, but also something new that might just conjure a new audience.

On the strength of this album, I remain a Magenta fanatic, and once again, make no apology for that.

Released on April 27th, 2017

Tracklisting:
1-Trojan 26:09
2-Colours 10:47
3-Legend 11:33

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Big Big Train – “Experimental Gentlemen” Pt.2 (Official Video)

Big Big Train – “Experimental Gentlemen” Pt.2 (Official Video)

Big Big Train are set to release their latest album, Grimspound, on April 28th. The album is a full collection of 8 tracks, originally intended as a companion album to Folklore, but instead evolved into its own full album. Here the band present a new video for one of the longer tracks on the album “Experimental Gentlemen”, however, this is just the middle section of the song, which is actually 10 minutes in length. The video is 6 minutes.

The post Big Big Train – “Experimental Gentlemen” Pt.2 (Official Video) appeared first on The Prog Report.

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Bent Knee announce new album and label

Bent Knee announce new album and label

Avant-garde prog, rock, pop group, announce their new album ‘Land Animal’ their first for InsideOutMusic/Sony, released on June 23, 2017. It offers a suite of songs full of addictive hooks, lush melodies and enthralling twists and turns that capture the reality of life in the 21st Century-a reality of people and nations in the midst of tumultuous change. It also communicates a ray of hope and desire for listeners to embrace the fact that they’re not alone in their struggles.

Watch the beautiful, provocative video for “Land Animal” directed by Greg Bowan, here:

Bent Knee formed in 2009 as a democratic collective determined to push the boundaries of pop and rock. Lead singer and keyboardist Courtney Swain’s soaring vocals are instantly arresting. Guitarist Ben Levin is one of the most dynamic and versatile guitarists around, shifting between the raging and raucous to the sublime and meditative. Bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth combine into an enthralling rhythm section that’s equal parts powerhouse and nuance. Violinist Chris Baum’s kinetic violin work provides drama, grace and intrigue. World-class producer and live sound designer Vince Welch weaves it all together with a captivating, expert touch.

The band has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Its last two albums, 2016’s Say Soand 2014’s Shiny Eyed Babies, were hailed as significant art-rock achievements. The group has performed hundreds of shows across the world to date. During the fall of 2016, the band played for ecstatic audiences as an opener for the U.S. leg of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s farewell tour ahead of signing with InsideOutMusic/Sony.

“We’re very excited to be working with InsideOutMusic/Sony,” said Swain. “It’s wonderful to have our music reach a lot of new ears across the globe through them. It’s an honor to join their roster of prestigious artists and we look forward to a long relationship with the label.”

The band is now on tour in America. During April and May, it opens for the expansive rock act Thank You Scientist, known for its combination of progressive and jazz influences. Bent Knee then continues in June with a headlining tour. See full routing below, and PRESS HERE for more information.

Bent Knee Tour Dates:
*supporting Thank You Scientist
^with Great Caesar

4/18 Detroit, MI @ The Shelter*
4/19 Lansing, MI @ Mac’s Bar*
4/20 Milwaukee, WI @ Shank Hall*
4/21 Dekalb, IL @ The House*
4/22 Iowa City, IA @ Blue Moose Taphouse*
4/23 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck*
4/27 Boston, MA @ Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum*
5/6 Buffalo, NY @ Waiting Room*
5/7 Ithaca, NY @ The Haunt*
5/9 Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar*
5/10 Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon Club*
5/11 Richmond, VA @ Canal Club *
5/12 Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall*
5/19 Victoriaville, Canada @ Festival International Musique Actuelle, Colisee B
6/1 Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade NYC^
6/3 New Haven, CT @ Café Nine^
6/5 Boston, MA @ Great Scott
6/6 Philadelphia, PA @ Kung-Fu Necktie
6/7 Pittsburgh, PA @ The Fun House/Mr. Smalls
6/8 Washington DC @ Black Cat
6/9 Milwaukee, WI @ Shank Hall
6/11 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
6/12 Chicago, IL @ Schubas

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Anathema release North American tour dates

Anathema release North American tour dates

Anathema, who recently revealed the new song “Sprinfield”, from the band’s forthcoming album, The Optimist (June 9, Kscope), are now thrilled to announce their first North American dates since 2014.

The nine dates, which kick off on Aug. 16 in Baltimore, include stops in New York, Chicago and a trio of Canadian dates.

“Touring the U.S. and Canada is always a fantastic privilege,” said guitar player Daniel Cavanagh. “These countries have been the birthplace of some of the most revered recording artists of all time. We are delighted to visit the east coast and we promise to visit the west coast, following up soon. Our new album, The Optimist, is set in America. It will be a blast! ”

Tour dates:
August 16 Baltimore, MD Soundstage
August 17 New York, NY Gramercy Theater
August 18 Boston, MA Brighton Music Hall
August 19 Quebec, QC Saile Multi
August 20 Montreal, QC Astral
August 21 Toronto, ON Opera House
August 23 Chicago, IL Bottom Lounge
August 24 Cleveland, OH House of Blues
August 25 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts

Tickets are available this Friday, April 21, for more details please visit facebook.com/anathemamusic.

Anathema, led by brothers Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh, along with drummer John Douglas, singer Lee Douglas, bassist Jamie Cavanagh and drummer/keyboardist Daniel Cardoso began recording The Optimist in the winter of 2016 at Attica Audio in Donegal, Ireland and then finished at Castle Of Doom studios in Glasgow with producer Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Super Furry Animals) at the helm and was mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.

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