Band: Iris Divine
Album: The Static and the Noise
Available: October 6, 2017
Two years ago Iris Divine made a huge splash on my radar with their debut album Karma Sown. I named them my newcomer of the year, guitarist Navid Rashid my guitarist of the year, and my third overall album of the year, a sentiment I still agree with two years later. Following up Karma Sown was going to be a tall task, and I believe that The Static and The Noise accomplishes this without sounding like Karma Sown part two.
If you are not familiar with the band, Iris Divine is a three piece outfit consisting of guitarist/vocalist Navid Rashid, Kris Combs on drums, keys, and programming, and Brian Dobbs on bass. As with many three piece bands, their sound is very well constructed and cohesive, which I attribute to avoiding the “too many cooks in the kitchen” metaphor. I would classify the band as a heavier progressive metal band, and their metal backgrounds really shine through.
Their debut album had a bright sound and generally left me in a good mood, which I feel like it fits the album title and artwork. The Static and The Noise title and artwork also forebodes the feel of the album, and takes on a darker and angrier tone, while addressing those topics that we sometimes want to shy from in casual conversation. I was taken off guard on my first listen because even though I was prepared for this tone based on Kickstarter updates, there was no hiding from it in parts. But that’s what great art and literature do sometimes – throw issues in your face that aren’t the most pleasant to address. The aggressive tone starts from the first note and doesn’t let up anywhere through its 46 minute run time. However I don’t leave the album in an angry mood, but a contemplative one. After the initial shock, The Static and The Noise took over my listening time. I received the promo the same day three other albums arrived at my door, and two weeks later I still haven’t gotten around to listening to two of those albums from established artists I like because I keep coming back to this one. Every few listens, my favorite track seems to change. I had high praise for Navid’s guitar work on the first album, and those talents certainly returned on this album. In addition I think his singing and song writing talents are very much on display on this album. Kris’s contributions in drumming and rounding out the sound with keys are even more impressive when taken into consideration he lives practically on the other side of the country. The darker feel of the album would be hard to achieve without the tone and driving bass lines that Brian achieved. Nothing on the album feels forced, and it sounds like this is the album the band really wanted to make, everything on the album just seems to exude feeling; the bass is heavy, the screams are angsty, the vocals are emotive, and the lyrics don’t require liner notes to get the message. Perhaps most importantly the music perfectly compliments the theme of every song.
The lyrics of “Like Glass” ask you to “Swallow the bitter medicine, open your eyes”. That might be the best advice for approaching this album, your first listen might catch you off guard, but this album will, given enough time heal what ails you, and it will reward you immensely when you open your eyes. There is still time to get in on near the ground floor for this band that really deserves to break through the underground scene. I can’t see this not being an album raking in some end of year awards from myself and others.
Mason’s grade: A
Available: April 28, 2017 via Inner Wound Recordings
Reviewer (Text): Mason
Reviewer (Audio): Nick
Five and a half years and a name change ago I pledged money on Kickstarter for the first MindMaze album, Mask of Lies, and honestly had no idea what to expect from an unsigned band that had what I thought was a modest funding goal. At worst I figured I would have a unique reminder of obscure metal history as this was my first ever backing on Kickstarter (feel free to follow me there, but be warned most of the projects I back are not music related). However, myself and the other backers were treated to an album that far exceeded expectations, and helped MindMaze attract enough attention from Inner Wound Recordings to sign them before the release of their second album Back From the Edge, which demonstrated growth as musicians, songwriters, and on the production front, as well as increasing the notoriety of the band as they were able to secure the guest services of Symphony X’s Mike LePond on bass. Heading into their third album, my expectations were high. Let’s see how it fares…
Resolve is the third album from Allentown based band, MindMaze. Unlike its predecessors, Resolve is a concept album and it is clear that the band’s message in this album comes from within and is more personal than their previous work.
The cornerstone of the band continues to be guitarist Jeff Teets and his sister, vocalist Sarah Teets. Jeff continues to showcase impressive solos and catchy riffs, and demonstrates a commitment to his craft, as this album is the most diverse musically for the band up to this point, exploring more subdued and softer tones as the story of the album requires. Sarah provides her talents again, and like Jeff continues to find new ground to explore, while sounding as powerful as ever and maintaining her unique qualities among female metal vocalists by rarely going to the soprano range where many of her female colleagues tend to reside. Rich Pasqualone returns as the bass player, resuming his duties from the first album. His talents are more evident this time around as the bass sound is more pronounced on this album than the debut album. The drumming is ably performed by a combination of new member Mark Bennett, as well as Jeff, and their work on the skins is a big reason the album comes together nicely.
While everyone individually performs well, this album is best described as gestalt, and is much greater than the sum of its parts. Where Resolve really separates itself from its predecessors is from the quality and sophistication of the production. Resolve is the richest, most polished sound the band has put out to this point. This album makes the most of layering tracks and creates the richest sound up to this point. The album sees have added notes of spice using production effects sparingly, but at appropriate times on Sarah’s vocals. Gang vocals are also used well for emphasis at times. Another strength of the album is that it is hard to pick standout tracks because the difference between my favorite track and least favorite track is quite small. The album engages the listener from start to finish, with no low point in to speak of in terms of overall enjoyment. As stated earlier, Resolve is also the most musically diverse and exploratory album; it features the band’s most notable ballad, the widest range of musical styles, and the most emotive lyrics the band has put forth to date.
The easy short review of this album is that is their best yet, and that’s not a small feat in of itself. If this album were released in any previous year, it would be a top five album for certain, and if it doesn’t end up in my top five this year then we will have experienced the greatest year of releases in recent memory. If you would have told me in 2011 that an unsigned band trying to release its first album would six years later be releasing an album on the same day as Ayreon, and legitimately be its equal, I would have been skeptical. After playing Resolve over 20 times, I would say Ayreon, along with several other bands, will be gunning to release an album this good on April 28th.
Mason’s grade: A
Disclaimer: Guitarist Jeff Teets of MindMaze is the former co-host of When Prog and Power Unite, however this review has not been influenced or altered due to this fact.
01. Reverie (Instrumental)
02. Fight the Future
03. In This Void (Instrumental)
04. Drown Me
05. Sign of Life
07. Sanity’s Collapse (Instrumental)
08. One More Moment
09. Twisted Dream
10. True Reflection
11. Shattered Self
13. The Path to Perseverance
Band: Pain of Salvation
Album: In the Passing Light of Day
Available: January 13th, 2017 via InsideOut
In the Passing Light of Day: A Surprising Masterpiece in the Wake of Changed Lives
In the Passing Light of Day is quite the milestone record, being the first new Pain of Salvation album in 6 years. It’s also the first proper album with the “new band” following major lineup changes through 2011 and 2012, the first album since Daniel Gildenlow‘s recovery from a near-fatal illness in 2014, and the first album in several offerings where – at least it seems – Daniel Gildenlow is not the primary songwriter on every track. What further cements its significance is the return to the stylistic parameters nearing “progressive metal” that we haven’t heard from the band since 2004’s Be (or, some might say 2002’s Remedy Lane). And, perhaps most importantly, this album is one of Pain of Salvation‘s finest offerings.
The first several songs are some of the most energetic, frenetic, and well composed songs in the Pain of Salvation discography. The album opens with “On a Tuesday”, a 10-minute juggernaut that hardly feels as long as it is. The track seems to deal heavily with Gildenlow‘s near death experience, and while dark subject matter has often occupied space in Pain of Salvation‘s discography, this time it stings with a biting honesty and authenticity. “I close my hands, not in prayer, not in prayer, but in fists,” Gildenlow whisper-sings, just before the song erupts in anger. Overall, “On a Tuesday” is a very well-balanced composition that hits a perfect balance between driven, energetic parts, and softer, more pensive sections.
“Tongue of God” follows with the fake-out. What initially postures as a soft piano ballad i.e., Road Salt, morphs into one of the band’s most potent short anthems; something that takes the Remedy Lane sound and infuses it with the grunge, dirt, and gravel of the Road Salt albums. That formula turns out to be where the album is most effective – it’s not a rehash of Pain of Salvation‘s early days as much as it’s a natural evolution of everything the band have done before. This development continues with next track, “Meaningless”, which is another haunting rocker that manages to carry on this aesthetic despite being a reworked version of a song from guitarist Ragnar Zolberg‘s previous band, Sign.
We get a break from what amounts to 20 minutes of grungy metal via “Silent Gold”, a piano-driven ballad that features very well-performed and emotive vocals from Gildenlow. But the calm doesn’t last long, as the energy level ramps back up with “Full Throttle Tribe”, another long epic.
Fans will immediately recognize “Full Throttle Tribes’” Remedy Lane type rhythm and feel, and the callbacks to The Perfect Element style rapping vocals. Unlike the first long song thus far, “On a Tuesday”, “Full Throttle Tribe” does overstay its welcome by a few minutes. The vocals and instrumental feel a bit disjointed, and the song lacks the glue that would otherwise help keep other songs on the album cohesive. But the chorus is solid, featuring an infectious melody and vocals layered sweetly in a way that Gildenlow pulls off so well.
Subsequently, “Reasons” kicks in with one of the heaviest riffs on the album, though it is ironically one of the album’s more progressive and theatrical tracks. Once again, we hear Gildenlow‘s rap-vocals over odd time signatures and heavy riffs, but this time more reminiscent of Be. It’s an intense track, and as uncomfortable as the unwanted epiphany that the lyrics describe.
The pace and general feel of the album changes somewhat here, as the songs become softer for the remainder of the album. “Angels of Broken Things” is a more somber, down-tempo, and haunting number, but its atmosphere slowly builds and coalesces into one of Pain of Salvation‘s most impressive guitar solos yet. “The Taming of a Beast” is overall a livelier track, but akin to Road Salt in terms of an arrangement, with fuzzed out guitars and a vintage-sounding electric piano driving the song. Gildenlow vocally channels Leonard Cohen here, and it works, as should be no surprise to anyone who has heard Pain of Salvation’s cover of “Hallelujah” on Ending Themes. The next song “If This is the End”, is an acoustic ballad that eventually builds into an incredibly concentrated outburst of violence, but it feels somewhat like a prelude to the album’s closer, “The Passing Light of Day”.
Once again, the album takes a turn back to the subject of mortality and Gildenlow‘s illness. A large portion of the song is dominated by a low, soft singing over a minimalist, clean guitar. The mood is nostalgic and remorseful, rather than angsty or angry, and change of pace fits perfectly. “Some candles last an hour/and others one full day/but I want to be like the sun/that steady flame that burns all along”, Gildenlow muses. As the simultaneous admission of ego and one’s own mortality brings the album thematically full circle, the guitars swell into a burst. What follows is almost reminiscent of Devin Townsend Project; Gildenlow‘s voice sores as he delivers lines expounding on the lessons learned from overcoming great personal adversity; a wall of driven guitars scream underneath.
In the Passing Light of Day may have been billed as a return to Pain of Salvation‘s progressive metal roots – and it is – but the album is more of an evolutionary jump forward. The elements that made up albums such as Be, Scarsick and Road Salt are still present, but this time woven back into a more traditional Pain of Salvation format. Additionally, the trauma Gildenlow underwent with his illness is inevitably on full display; changing the music and lyrical themes just as it undeniably changed Gildenlow‘s life. This combo of factors is why In the Passing Light of Day is such a rewarding listen. It manages to push Pain of Salvation forward into new unexplored territory, but fans will be relieved to hear that the music is recognizably Pain of Salvation.
Joe’s Grade: A
Another year, another retrospective. When it comes to music this year it’s easy to stew over what we lost. Iconic names like Prince, Lemmy, and David Bowie all left us over the course of the last twelve months. But, as with pretty much any year, there is much to look back fondly on, and so we reflect back on our favorites of 2016. Of all the albums heard this year only two of them made the top 10 lists of all three contributors to the program. The consensus runner up this year is Haken‘s fourth full length album, Affinity, which also spawned a wide range of individual awards. But, there can be only one album of the year, and so…
This year’s consensus choice as When Prog and Power Unite‘s album of the year is Theories of Flight from Fates Warning! This modern progressive metal masterpiece from one of the genre’s earliest applicants completely floored us, coming in at #1, #2, and #7 on our three lists. In addition the album spawned one nod to Jim Matheos for composer of the year, two nods to Ray Alder as vocalist of the year, and a nod to “The Light and Shade of Things” as epic of the year.
During the course of our the podcast you can listen as Nick explains all his picks in detail, and follow-up with an ill and congested Joe running through his top ten of the year. Additionally, if you wish to hear Mason‘s picks explained you can do so here. Be forewarned, due to some current technical limitations on his end the audio is somewhat muddy and choppy, but it’s still always good to hear his take!
A big thanks as always to everyone who tuned in during this past year, and we look forward to the new year in a big way as, on the first Wednesday of the year, January 4th, we kick off 2017 with our year-end wrap up spectacular. This show will be extended, as always, and will run from 4pm-10pm EST. That’s 9pm-3am UTC. As always we will be playing a lot of the music discussed here, as well as so much more. If you only tune in for one show next year, that’s the one you want!
Top 10 Albums of 2016
10. Avantasia – Ghostlights
9. Rikard Sjoblum – The Unbendable Sleep
8. Edge of Reality – Vicious Circle
7. The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude of a Dream
6. Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail
5. Headspace – All That You Fear is Gone
4. Dream the Electric Sleep – Beneath the Dark Wide Sky
3. Big Big Train – Folklore
2. Haken – Affinity
1. Fates Warning – Theories of Flight
10. Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution
9. Karmakanic – Dot
8. Anciients – Voice In The Void
7. Evergrey – The Storm Within
6. Haken – Affinity
5. Redemption – The Art of Loss
4. Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
3. Dream the Electric Sleep – Beneath the Dark Wide Sky
2. Fates Warning – Theories of Flight
1. Avantasia – Ghostlights
10. Headspace – All That You Fear is Gone
9. Circus Maximus – Havoc
8. Iamthemorning – Lighthouse
7. Fates Warning – Theories of Flight
6. Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge
5. Haken – Affinity
4. Alcest – Kodama
3. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
2. Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Songwriter/Composer of the Year
Nick: Jim Matheos (Fates Warning)
Mason: Matt Page (Dream The Electric Sleep)
Joe: Neige (Alcest)
Vocalist of the Year
Nick: Ray Alder (Fates Warning, Redemption)
Mason: Ray Alder (Fates Warning, Redemption)
Joe: Ross Jennings (Haken)
Guitarist of the Year
Nick: Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band, Eric Gillette)
Mason: Nick Van Dyk (Redemption)
Joe: Devin Townsend (Devin Townsend Project)
Bassist of the Year
Nick: Connor Green (Haken, Eric Gillette)
Mason: Jonas Reingold (Karmakanic, The Fringe)
Joe: Anton Dang (O’Brother)
Keyboardist of the Year
Nick: Adam Wakeman (Headspace)
Mason: Sigurd Sheie (Hammers of Misfortune)
Joe: Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater)
Drummer of the Year
Nick: Ray Hearne (Haken)
Mason: Josh Mathis (Cyborg Octopus)
Joe: Ray Hearne (Haken)
Song of the Year (Song Under 10 Minutes)
Nick: The Lamb, The Badger & the Bee (Kyros)
Mason: Let The Light Flood In (Dream The Electric Sleep)
Joe: Stormbending (Devin Townsend Project)
Epic of the Year (Song Over 10 Minutes)
Nick: The Light and Shade of Things (Fates Warning)
Mason: Let The Storm Descend Upon You (Avantasia)
Joe: Knowing (Anderson/Stolt)
Disappointment of the Year
Nick: The Astonishing (Dream Theater)
Mason: The Astonishing (Dream Theater)
Joe: Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional (The Dear Hunter)
Comeback Album of the Year
Nick: The Prelude Implicit (Kansas)
Mason: Creatures Watching Over The Dead (Charred Walls of the Damned)
Joe: Kodama (Alcest)
Newcomer of the Year
Nick: Vicious Circle (Edge of Reality)
Mason: Learning To Breathe (Cyborg Octopus)
Joe: Stranger Heads Prevail (Thank You Scientist)
Album Cover/Artwork of the Year
Nick: The Seasons Turn (Lee Abraham)
Mason: Codex Atlanticus (Serenity)
Joe: Kodama (Alcest)
Top 3 Shows/Tours of the Year
3. Avantasia (New York City, NY)
2. ProgPowerUSA (Atlanta, GA)
1. Haken & Thank You Scientist (Various)
3. Epica (House of Blues Orlando, February show)
2. Weird Al Yankovic (Lakeland Center, Lakeland, FL)
1. Avantasia (PlayStation Theater, NYC)
3. Jesu & Sun Kil Moon (Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA)
2. Explosions in the Sky (The Fillmore, Philadelphia, PA)
1. Sigur Ros (Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA)
Top Concert Video of the Year
Nick: The Theater Equation (Ayreon)
Mason: Welcome to Atlanta Live (Seventh Wonder)
Most Anticipated Releases in 2017
Nick: Ayreon, Flying Colors, MindMaze
Mason: Ayreon, Byzantine, Enchant, Iris Divine, Jolly, MindMaze, Odin’s Court, Once Human, Pain of Salvation, Seventh Wonder
Joe: Sigur Ros, Pain of Salvation, Flying Colors, Anathema
Album: Falling Satellites
Genre: Progressive Rock
There are few bands that have developed such a devoted fan base on the basis of their first two albums as Frost* has. Their debut album, Milliontown, is frequently recommended to progressive music neophytes, and deservedly so. It has been ten years since its release, and myself and others consider it a classic. Fans have been on edge waiting for this third studio album from Jem Godfrey and company for eight years, with the promise of third album starting back in 2011. The wait has been accompanied by many alternating statements such as, “The band is no more” and “I’m working on the third album” via social media; leading many, including myself to adopt the mindset of I’ll believe it when I have the album in my hands. I don’t believe many bands could survive this “will he or won’t he” game for as long as Frost* has if it weren’t for the simple fact that there is not a suitable replacement for what Frost* does musically.
Jem and longtime friend and collaborator/guitarist/vocalist John Mitchell have developed a great chemistry in creating a guitar and synthesizer based sound with their feet planted in both progressive rock and pop music backgrounds. The rhythm section sees the return of Nathan King on bass from the previous album Experiments in Mass Appeal, as well as a new drummer, Craig Blundell, who is a certainly game for the job, as he was the touring drummer for Steven Wilson’s US tour last year. Seeing that this is Jem’s baby though, it should not come to anyone’s surprise the heaviness of the keyboards and synthesizers on the album. Jem really puts the various keyboard leads high in the mix, which has always been of importance to the signature Frost* soundscape. The rest of the band complements the keyboards admirably in a supporting role. Musically, the sound is closer to Milliontown than EIMA, and the song lengths and structures are closer to EIMA than their debut, providing a balance between the two while still providing something that is familiar, but not too familiar. John Mitchell has retaken the vocalist position for this album after singing on Milliontown and yielding that position to Dec Burke on EIMA, and while I enjoy Dec in his other bands and solo work, I think John’s naturally deeper voice is a much better fit for the sound of Frost* because it contrasts more with the often bright tones of the music. When needed, those high vocals are still there when appropriate, like in the song “Numbers”. The other area where I think John’s strengths as a vocalist are utilized is that he is capable of delivering different styles within one song, which helps goes a long way in helping the album not sound homogenous.
Where I feel Falling Satellites really shines, particularly in comparison to their previous output, is in the lyric department. This is the first time I felt like I really connected with the lyrics and song meanings, particularly “Signs” and “Heartstrings”. “Signs” will end up among my favorite songs by the band, in large part because I see parallels in the subject matter of the song and just the brutal honesty of the song, and I applaud Jem for writing it, even though I privately hope no one else relates to the song’s lyrics. “Signs” camouflages the sad nature of the lyrics by juxtaposing it with an upbeat tempo, a major key signature, and bright shiny instrumentation in the chorus.
Falling Satellites is going to scratch that itch that Frost* fans have had for the past eight years waiting for their third album. I was originally just lukewarm on the album, as I quickly connected with “Signs” and “Heartstrings” and not much else. It was only after several listens that I started appreciating some of the other songs a little more. Overall, I like the return to the musical style of Milliontown, and I think that this is easily their strongest album lyrically to date. Furthermore, I found subsequent listens more enjoyable, which means there I’m finding more each listen. My biggest complaint of this album is the same one that I have with EIMA, which is that outside of the two tracks I mentioned, not much else on the album grabs my attention. The last six tracks make up a suite, but I really don’t feel the connections between the tracks, and again nothing is drawing me in after “Heartstrings”. All in all, Falling Satellites is a solid effort, and one that fans will surely be happy to have. It will harken back to their fabulous debut album at times musically and in one of the song titles, but whereas the debut had five excellent tracks out of six (the last being good), this album just has two. Hopefully the bonus tracks I have yet to hear can help that percentage, as well as having the lyrics to read as I listen if they are included in the physical copy.
Mason’s grade: B
Albums: Pretending 2 Run
Available: April 15th, 2016 via Laser’s Edge
Tiles has always seemed to be one band where the expression “your mileage may vary” seems to apply. Those of you that follow the show know that I’ve always been a huge fan of the band, and they are one the first bands I will suggest to someone when they are ready to look beyond the established names – particularly if they show an interest in Rush. Their sound can be very Rush like at times, and they’ve got some other contributing factors as well. We’ve seen Alex Lifeson throwing down a guest spot on Fly Paper, Hugh Syme doing the cover art for the fourth straight album, and having Terry Brown producing his third straight Tiles album. But there is enough differentiation from Rush for Tiles for them carve out their own piece of the prog pie.
If you are already familiar with Tiles and like them, then Pretending 2 Run is likely going to be a welcome addition to your collection, as their signature style is all over the album, with a few new welcome additions. If you’re not familiar with them, and my word isn’t good enough for you, I will name-drop a list of musicians who have agreed to lend their talents to this album: Ian Anderson, Mike Portnoy, Colin Edwin, Adam Holzman, Kim Mitchell, Matthew Parmenter, and Mike Stern – and if that last name doesn’t mean much to you now, I’ll explain later.
Pretending 2 Run is Tiles first album of original material since 2008, and given the amount of time that has passed since Fly Paper was released, they generated enough material to release a double album. If you’ve never listened to a Tiles album before, here is what you can expect – well controlled higher pitched vocals that possess a satisfying smoothness by Paul Rarick; catchy guitar riffs provided by Chris Herin; and a rhythm section that has crunchy bass and some well-timed keyboard work provided by Jeff Whittle, and solid work on the skins by Mike Evans. Another hallmark of the Tiles formula is the large number of instrumental tracks compared to other bands that have a vocalist. While those all hold true for Pretending 2 Run, the band has done some tinkering with the formula for this album, including some jazz instrumental sections, utilizing guests such as Mike Stern, who was Miles Davis’s guitarist. The band also used a string section on many songs, providing another new dimension not previously found in their sound.
Pretending 2 Run is a nice new extension in the Tiles catalog. It brings back a familiar sound to those who waited eight long years like I have, and it has the potential to get a neophyte to explore their back catalog. My biggest kudo is that this is the most diverse sounding and most exploratory album by the band yet, without losing sight of their signature sound. My biggest complaint is probably an obvious one, and that is the length. While I would have a hard time pinpointing as individual song as a weak spot, I have found that my interest wanes on disc 2 when listened back to back, yet if I start at disc 2, it is a much more enjoyable listen. I’m sure I could make some cuts to the track list without a huge loss, but seeing as the price is the same as a single album, I don’t think complaining about the extra material is fair. A second nitpick is that while I don’t think the album has any weak points, with 21 tracks total, there are only 3 that really shine, those being “Shelter In Place”, “Drops of Rain”, and stashed away in the middle of disc 2, “The Disappearing Floor”.
While I’m pleased with this album and have already preordered it, I’m also quite aware of where is stands in both their catalog and my catalog as a whole. It’s a nice, solid offering that is enjoyable, but probably isn’t going to send anyone over the moon.
Mason’s Grade: B
Available: April 29th via InsideOut Music
It doesn’t seem that long ago that a close friend from across the pond sent me the demo of his brother’s band, Haken. Pete Jones would leave the band before they released their debut album, but it was due to his brother that I became aware of an amazing young band. I continued to promote Haken through the release of Aquarius in 2010, and was thrilled when they won the album of the year poll amongst our listeners. In the six years since, the band has seen a meteoric rise in popularity amongst progressive metal listeners, going from obscurity to festival headliners in only a few albums.
The band’s greatest success came with the release of The Mountain in 2013, and given what it did for the band I would have found it difficult to blame them for sticking close to that style when working on their newest album, Affinity. It took only one listen to discover that the band had no interest in playing things safe. Although you might not find any songs as eccentric as “Cockroach King” on this album, as a whole it is brighter and more upbeat than its predecessor. Once the appropriately titled intro track, “Affinity.exe” wraps up, “Initiate” kicks into gear and immediately sets the tone for the album. It’s heavy, but also atmospheric, and serves as a statement that Haken won’t be repeating themselves, no matter the intensity level of the music. The current tone of the band is strongly set by the first song.
“1985” is, understandably, the biggest nod to the 80’s music that inspired parts of this record. Although Diego Tejeida’s keyboards certainly play close to that era throughout the record, it is definitely most notable during this track. In nine minutes you meander through a Yes opening, some rockier verses, some instrumental parts, and finally a more typical anthemic Haken chorus. And then there is what can only be called… that part. That glorious moment in the song that sounds like the mix of music from a 1980’s montage scene sprinkled with sounds from the 1990’s video game adaptation of that same movie. Make no mistake, you’ll know when you get to it. The next track, “Lapse” offers a strong vocal performance and guitar solo, but doesn’t rise to quite the same heights as the rest of the album.
On my first listen to Affinity, I had turned my attention away from my computer screens for a while, and heard an ominous intro, and thought, “this has to be the big one”. Sure enough, a quick check told me I had moved onto the 15+ minutes of “The Architect”. Haken have thrown a longer song onto every studio album, including the Restoration EP, and so this song will naturally draw comparisons to its contemporaries. It is probably both more reserved and yet more experimental than the other epics. Chorus aside, it does lack the bigger hooks of some of the other long songs, but it hits on genres and styles outside of what we’ve seen with Haken to date. This genre push, though usually minor in its use, includes post-rock, dubstep, electronica, and some corners of metal the band has never before explored. Einar Solberg from Leprous has a short guest appearance in the song, providing expertly performed harsh vocals, but much like the rougher vocals on Aquarius, I found them to be an unnecessary addition. The band’s full time vocalist, Ross Jennings gives one of his best performances on this track. Through this song, and on the album as a whole he sounds fantastic, but on some tracks he’s pushed to a style with such a high tone that enunciation can become an issue. When it’s all said and done “The Architect” promises to be just as rewarding as its peers, even if I think it’ll take people a few extra listens to come to that conclusion.
After the length and density of “The Architect” it seems we are treated to an intentionally placed, and short poppy track in “Earthrise”. Given its ease of listen, and the fact it’s one of the shorter tracks, I’d be shocked if it isn’t used to help promote the album. But do not fret when I use the words short and poppy, as this is a great track, showcasing a lot of what this latest offering is all about in a compact wrapper. The opening verse features guitar parts from Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths have a clean and joyful electric tone to them that were a treat to hear added to the Haken sound. Speaking of the axe wielding duo, their contributions to the album can best be described as well blended. The incredible leads are there, but often lowered in the mix by Jens Bogren, given the compositions a beautiful wholeness. While there are not too many solos or 6-to-7 string acrobatics screaming for attention, but thoughtfully crafted songs certainly do not fail to draw your attention.
“Red Giant” takes a break from the bulk of the albums 80’s look-back approach and infuses many of the genre-expanding influences I mentioned earlier. While it is six minutes of the most experimental music on the album, it can get lost amongst the catchiness of the previous track, and the stellar next track, “The Endless Knot”, which is one of the best songs on the album. ”The Endless Knot” begins with a guitar and keyboard led intro, and then drummer Ray Hearne takes things over, offering a tom and bass driven bounce that sets the tone for the rest of the track. About midway through the song we are treated to a dubstep-adjacent section that manages to keep the groove wonderfully, and then exits into a fantastic bit of guitar work. “The Endless Knot” clocks in at 6 minutes, and is one favorite Haken songs to date.
The final track, “Bound By Gravity”, is a touching outro to the album, and perhaps the track that most closely resembles the softer sections of Affinity’s full-length predecessor. The vocals are soft and soothing throughout, as is the music for the most part. Light chimes (or at least their keyboard counterpart) aid the calm early on, and when the music picks up in the latter portion of the track, they change to tubular bells, making an epic ending to the song and the album.
This album has songs that stand apart from one another, and from their past works, propelling the band into the next chapter of their career. While Affinity may have very slight lulls in “Lapse” and “Red Giant”, every other song is memorable and top of the line, forming a great album. The stylistic changes are refreshing and brilliantly executed.
Through all of this I’ve failed to mention the newcomer and sole American in the band, bassist Conner Green. Affinity was his first chance to appear on brand new Haken material, and the results were similar to the Restoration EP. A tone that is warm, clear, and mixed incredibly well, while his playing glues the songs together. While it may not pop out at you at instantly, anyone who pays attention to his playing will have plenty to be excited about for Haken’s low-end future. As good as he was, however, the standout star on this album is clearly Diego Tejeida, who took the demands of the 80’s style, as well as the more experimental new styles and brought amazing tones and play to each challenge. Whether the keyboards are aggressive or atmospheric, they are always impressive throughout this album, and help make it a fantastic part of Haken’s discography. I don’t know if it quite climbs to The Mountain top as my favorite album, but Affinity comes very close.
Nick’s Grade: A
Album: All That You Fear is Gone
Available: February 26th via InsideOut Music
Although we don’t always agree on the how or why, there is no doubt that progress is being made over the years. In the music industry one of the major steps forward I’ve noticed is the ability of bands to put out stellar debut albums. I’m not talking about in the songwriting department, as there are stellar first works from all decades of recorded music. What I’m referencing is the growing ability for anyone, or any band to produce sonically wonderful works thanks to advancements in technology. Because of that, when Headspace released I Am Anonymous in 2012, it was not only beautifully constructed, but sonically amazing. Gone are the days of needing to rent out studios full of equipment for weeks, with a large financial investment needed for a top quality product. Now, bands like Headspace can record piecemeal, in different locations, at different times, and make fantastic sounding albums without a monocle wearing executive backing them.
That brings us to the new release, All That You Fear is Gone, which shares in the debut’s excellent production values. This is likely in no small part due to the return of Jens Bogren for the mixing of the album. All that said, a clean recording does not make an album a masterpiece, and there are of course many other factors at play. The songwriting is very similar to the debut, yet still manages to find some new musical ground to explore, rather than staying within the confines of their debut album. Adam Wakeman’s amazing piano and keyboard work follows a similar pattern, as does Pete Rinaldi’s excellent guitar work and Damian Wilson’s highly emotive vocals, and yet they come together in a new fashion. The one change in the band is the drumming of Adam Falkner, replacing Richard Brook, but one might not even notice. The drumming, while not in any way poor, remains the least impactful on the music as a whole. Lee Pomeroy, on bass, continues to use any downtime the other players give him to insert a great bass melody, while providing a strong backbone the rest of the time.
Headspace continue to explore a special ground, throwing in elements of progressive metal of course, but focusing on open and imaginative arrangements and instrumentation. Wakeman continues to excel in using a plethora of well-planned sounds within each song. Within the heavier section of the opening track, “Road to Supremacy” you can hear nearly half a dozen shifts in the keyboards, as the music around them remains more relatively constant. Rinaldi’s electric guitar only occasionally sees anything that approaches a traditional riff, most often staying as loose and moving as the rest of the music. Even a song like “Semaphore”, which tricks you into thinking it’s going to be a straight ahead rocker from start to finish, takes a sharp left turn back into traditional Headspace territory half way through.
All in all I can’t find many bad things to say about All That You Fear is Gone, other than it’s not I Am Anonymous. The band came out of the gates with such a strong punch that it would be hard to follow up, and indeed there is a certain “it” factor that seems to be missing this time around. “Your Life Will Change”, the lead single from the album, does a fantastic job at bridging the gap between the last album and what to expect on the new one. “Polluted Alcohol” and the title track continue to show what the band can do when stripped back. “The Science Within Us” shows the band can still do a fantastic 10+ minute piece. And yet, across the board, everything seems dialed one small step back.
I don’t think anyone who is just getting into Headspace will be disappointed with All That You Fear is Gone. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they still have such a unique identity and special delivery that any new fan should immediately take note. Returning fans will likely experience a slight disappointment, but only because they are coming off the heels of one of the truly special debut albums of this decade. It’s hard to describe what the debut had, that this album lacked, but it lies somewhere in the realm of the merging heavier elements with the unique aspects of the band. And while All That You Fear is Gone manages to have both those elements, they don’t meet and kick into that extra gear quite as often, or as well. It should come as no surprise what a man named Wakeman can do with a keyboard, but you can’t teach imagination and creativity as easily, and Adam brings both in spades. Add to that the fact that for his myriad of projects over the years, this is the one that best utilizes Damian Wilson’s voice, and you have a one-two punch that should make Headspace a band to watch for years to come.
Nick’s Grade: A-
Nick took care of the music by in large, but I would like to comment that Damien and Adam have a real mojo together musically, as this is the second album released in 2016 that features them working together – and I believe Adam is also on Damien’s forthcoming solo album as well. One of the great things about both Headspace albums is that both have overarching themes. I loved the stories of personal strife that made up I Am Anonymous, and I like that the band decided to do another album with one overall theme. I think part of the reason I am finding All That You Fear Is Gone just a slight step down is that its theme of trying to control an individual is less relatable in some ways. I can put myself in the shoes of the characters from the debut and experience their reality, whereas it is not possible to do that when songs deal with more abstract ideas.
The other reason I find myself being less wowed by the new album is strictly a matter of my personal taste. All You Fear Is Gone has several softer ballads, varied in structure and sound, so it is not a matter of repetition; I just personally gravitate to heavier elements. Because the sound on this album is more varied, I think it will be a grower for some people. My opinion of it after 10 spins is certainly higher than it was after my first and second one, and even in listening it to it now to write this I am still finding new bits that catch my ear right. My standout tracks are “Kill You With Kindness”, “The Science Within Us”, “The Day You Return”, the second half of “All You Fear Is Gone”, and “Secular Souls”.
Mason’s Grade: A-
Band: Steven Wilson
Album: 4 ½
Over the last several years, the world of progressive rock has been dominated by the sound and vision of Steven Wilson. Not only has he created some of the most compelling progressive music over the last decade, but he has also been one of the genre’s most prolific artists, churning out four studio albums, two live albums, and three EPs over the last seven years – and that’s not counting all the material Wilson has mixed, produced, or worked with outside the confines of his solo band. 4 1/2, the latest Steven Wilson release, is an album-length EP that is meant to be a bridge between the project’s fourth and fifth albums, while reaching for material from his third and fourth albums.
Unlike prior Steven Wilson EP’s, 4 1/2 is mostly comprised of music that has not been heard before. This is in contrast to the last EP, Drive Home, which felt more like a single enriched by a b-side and a generous supply of live recordings. 4 1/2 also features music recorded both before and after the Hand. Cannot. Erase. session, with one song being a “The Raven That Refused to Sing” leftover, and others being newer compositions that feature members of Wilson’s current touring band on record for the first time.
The EP will certainly be enjoyable for Wilson’s most ardent fans, as the majority of these compositions would have been nice contributions to their corresponding albums. The EP’s first song, “My Book of Regrets” is a poppy-yet-proggy near-epic detailing the lonely observations of someone living in the city, and harkens back to the thematic subject matter of Hand. Cannot. Erase. in more ways than one. The third song, “Happiness III”, is another song recorded during the Hand. Cannot. Erase. sessions, though it denied my early expectations that it would be a work similar to that album’s “Happy Returns”. Instead, “Happiness III” almost sounds like Porcupine Tree – it’s the type of simple and catchy alt-rock flavored short song that wouldn’t be out of place on Lightbulb Sun.
If there’s a shortcoming, it’s that this EP is really more of a collection of leftovers than a cohesive work in its own right, and being such, some of the instrumental tracks lack the sort of context that may have made them more enjoyable. For example, “Year of the Plague” is a gorgeous throwback to the haunting, jazz-inspired themes of Raven, but standing on its own, between lighter H.C.E. tracks, I can’t help but feeling like it loses some impact. The same is true for the other instrumentals which, while nice, still feel like out-of-place atmosphere-setters that didn’t make the cut on their home albums.
That leaves us with “Don’t Hate Me”, a rerecording of a Porcupine Tree song based on a live version recently played by Wilson’s solo band. It’s a nice… interpretive cover… but again, the type of thing that is nice to have for documentation’s sake, while remaining somewhat inessential, since I do not think many listeners will prefer this new version of the song to the original.
After several EPs and iterative releases over the years, we’ve rarely seen Wilson make a focused effort at creating a cohesive and enjoyable short work, rather than just a collection of leftover songs and oddities. It’s a good release that many fans will be thrilled to hear, but a little bit more glue might have turned this EP of unrelated works into cohesive whole.
Joe’s grade: B+
As 2015 comes to a close, we look back as we always do at our favorites from the year. There are a few changes in how things have ran the past few years however. First, contributor Joseph Tingle will be joining Nick and Mason in adding choices to the yearly list. Secondly, instead of the three of us recording audio separately, we will be presenting discussion style, going over our picks together.
In this post you will see the image of Steven Wilson, whose latest album, Hand. Cannot. Erase., earned a bronze, silver, and gold amongst the three judges this year. This makes it the highest consensus pick amongst the staff, and the overall When Prog and Power Unite album of the year. I’d like to think this is the most prestigious award that this exceptionally obscure and young artist has ever received. Congratulations Steven!
If viewing on the web, head to the end of this post you will find the play button to hear the 96 minute discussion as we discuss our picks, as well as several that didn’t make the lists. We hope you all enjoyed 2015 as much as we did, and look forward to spreading the joy in 2016!
Top 10 Albums of 2015
10. Exovex – Radio Silence
9. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
8. The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise
7. Queensryche – Condition Human
6. The Gentle Storm – The Diary
5. Von Hertzen Brothers – New Day Rising
4. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld II
3. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
2. Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine
1. Beardfish – +4626- ComfortZone
10. Arena – The Unquiet Sky
9. Mystery – Delusion Rain
8. Magic Pie – King For a Day
7. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
6. Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime
5. The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise
4. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
3. Iris Divine – Karma Sown
2. Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine
1. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
10. Not a Good Sign – From a Distance
9. The Aristrocrats – Tres Caballeros
8. Nordic Giants – A Séance of Dark Delusions
7. Beardfish – +4626- ComfortZone
6. The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise
5. Puscifer – Money Shot
4. Caspian – Dust and Disquiet
3. Foxing – Dealer
2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
1. Vennart – The Demon Joke
Songwriter/Composer of the Year
Nick: Casey Crescenzo (The Dear Hunter)
Mason: Steven Wilson (Steven Wilson)
Joe: Maynard James Keenan (Puscifer)
Vocalist of the Year
Nick: Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
Mason: Casey Crescenzo (The Dear Hunter)
Joe: Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
Guitarist of the Year
Nick: Eric Gillette (The Neal Morse Band)
Mason: Navid Rashid (Iris Divine)
Joe: Guthrie Govan (Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats)
Bassist of the Year
Nick: Billy Sheehan (The Winery Dogs)
Mason: Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson)
Joe: Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson)
Keyboardist of the Year
Nick: Michal Lapaj (Riverside)
Mason: David Bertok (Subsignal)
Joe: Rikard Sjöblom (Beardfish)
Drummer of the Year
Nick: Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats)
Mason: Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats)
Joe: Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats)
Song of the Year (Song Under 10 Minutes)
Nick: Hand Cannot Erase (Steven Wilson)
Mason: Happy Returns (Steven Wilson)
Joe: Vennart (Amends)
Epic of the Year (Song Over 10 Minutes)
Nick: Alive Again (Neal Morse Band)
Mason: Empire of the Clouds (Iron Maiden)
Joe: If We Must Be Apart (Beardfish)
Ballad of the Year
Nick: Time Travelers (Riverside)
Mason: Time Travelers (Riverside)
Joe: Glass Coughs (Foxing)
Disappointment of the Year
Nick: District 97 – In Vaults
Mason: Leprous – The Congregation
Joe: Intervals – The Colour of Sound
Comeback Album of the Year
Nick: Queensryche – Condition Human
Mason: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Joe: The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise
Newcomer of the Year
Nick: Exovex – Radio Silence
Mason: Iris Divine – Karma Sown
Joe: Nordic Giants – A Séance of Dark Delusions
Album Cover/Artwork of the Year
Nick: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Mason: Native Construct – Quiet World
Joe: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Top 3 Shows/Tours of the Year
3. Evergrey, Voyager, Borealis, and MindMaze in Baltimore
2. Rush in Newark
1. Steven Wilson in Glenside
3. Blind Guardian in Orlando
2. Steven Wilson in Glenside
1. RoSFest in Gettysburg
3. Steven Wilson in New York City
2. Enslaved in Philadelphia
1. Blind Guardian in Philadelphia
Top Concert Video of the Year
Nick: Rush – R40 Live
Mason: Flying Colors – Second Flight: Live at the Z7
Most Anticipated Releases in 2016
Mason: Dream Theater, Haken, Redemption, and Circus Maximus