I wonder what would happen if everyone started trusting their ears rather than restricting their music listening to whatever has been validated by industry-appointed tastemakers? How many sections of the music biz would just collapse?

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Combine The Garden Bridge with the Edinburgh Tram Saga, and imagine the worst-case civic scenario: Boris Johnson as Mayor of Edinburgh. A chief executive with a love of grandiose but completely useless vanity projects leading an administration that can’t project manage itself out of a wet paper bag. What could possibly go wrong?

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Cripped Black Phoenix Woes

All is not well in the Crippled Black Phoenix camp. As posted on Justin Greaves’ Facebook page:

Attention CBP fans.

Unfortunately, after not turning up for the past shows, Karl Demata and Christian Heilmann have stolen MY band name. They are trying to stop me using MY band name as of the 1st Jan. Karl Demata has also, without my knowledge registered MY band name in HIS name as a trademark, he did this in December 2012, essentially steeling what is mine and has been for many years, and my own band name since 2004. 5 years before Karl joined. He has now taken down our CBP band facebook page.

I have good friends and people who are helping with this. Hopefully we can get it all back up and running soon.

Karl Demata is a scumbag coward thief.

Also to note. I tried calling Karl on the phone several times, to talk like grown ups… he won’t pick up, so i left messages for him, non-threatening but i told him what i think of him. He has now reported me to the Police, who called me today.

I say again, Karl Demata is a scumbag coward and WILL NOT get away with this.

If you see Crippled Black Phoenix anywhere being used without Justin Greaves, you know it is false, and a result of theft. Karl Demata has been planning this for a while, lying to me and his band mates, this is pure theft of what i have put my heart and soul into for many years.

Words ca not describe my utter sickness i feel. It is the lowest shitbag thing to do to anyone.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for the drama, i just want people to know about this guy…. PLEASE SHARE THIS AROUND… especially to CBP fans who might wonder what is going on.

White Light.

justin.

A later post on Twitter makes it clear that the band are not splitting:

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Get Your Sea Lions Off Our Lawn

The hashtag #MetalGate has spring up on Twitter over the past few days. Despite claims that “Social Justice Warriors” have declared war on metal, the only links being passed around are to a notorious MRA site I won’t link to, and to a sife called Death Metal Underground which blows the racist dog-whistle at heavy metal volumes.

Basically SJWs are complaining about how people who enjoy metal tend to be racist, misogynist, and homophobic the three favorite strawman attacks of the left and exclude those who are not white “cisgendered” males. As you know, the average white man in the West Virginian coal mines has much more prosperity and opportunity than the rest of the ethnic and gender groups in the country, so there is no reason that white men should have a right to have any pride in their ethnic identity or have anything unique that they can identify with.

The rather more reputable MetalSucks dismisses the whole thing as total hogwash.

But my ultimate problem with #metalgate is that it’s entirely manufactured. No one, or no group, is banding together to try and change metal in any one specific way — the threat is entirely imagined. Certain social values enter the metalsphere simply because those values are spreading throughout society as a whole — this idea that “SJWs” failed with #gamergate so they’re now moving on to a different cause is total bologna. They’re entirely separate people!

Precisely. Hack journalists have been writing poorly-researched articles riddled with lazy stereotypes about metal and metal fans for decades. And metal fans have been calling them out on it for just as long. You do occasionally hear people say “Metal is racist because metal fans are predominately white”, but nobody with the remotest of clues takes them seriously. And no, mentioning the fact that Varg Vikernes of Burzum is a neo-Nazi and a convicted murderer isn’t the same thing.

If you actually look at the #MetalGate tag on Twitter, it’s all the same people as #GamerGate. It doesn’t have much to with actual metal fandom. Please get your sea-lions off Metal’s lawn.

But it does make you wonder how the whole thing started. Today’s big story in metal is the sacking of Phil McSorley from Cobalt after a bigoted meltdown on Facebook, to the tune of “Good bloody riddance” from several prominent metal music writers.

The decision to go separate ways is not at all surprising. McSorley, the former vocalist of Cobalt and current force behind the raw black metal band Recluse, employed some colorful hate slurs while accusing a prominent metal journalist of trying to build a “USBM friendship scene,” and bringing a “liberal agenda” of political correctness and social awareness into metal.

Now, I have no idea if acolytes of McSorley have anything to do with the appearance of the MetalGate tag. But the timing does seem something of a coincidence.

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2014 Album of the Year

Most regular readers of this blog will probably have guessed by now that this would be the album of the year. In a year with so many great records one has to try to be objective and put personal favouritism aside. But in the end, there can only be one album of the year, and this record does deserve it.  What exactly is it about York that spawns so many great bands?

Mostly Autumn Dressed in Voices

Dressed in VoicesThe last few Mostly Autumn albums have had their moments, and have been enjoyable works, but all of them fell frustratingly short of the records the band seemed capable of making. With “Dressed in Voices” the band have finally created the career-defining masterpiece they’ve always had in them. Lyrically it’s a dark concept album about life, death and the consequences of violence, and musically it’s a distillation of the best elements of their past three or four albums, with the band’s three songwriters all on the same page.

There’s a similar heavy progressive vibe to 2005′s “Storms Over Still Waters”, with the occasional nod to the celtic-folk of their early days. It’s got that big, rich, and many-layered sound that needs a seven-piece band to reproduce live. There are emotive performances from Olivia Sparnenn, who’s grown tremendously as a vocalist over the past few years, plenty of classic Bryan Josh lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ all-enveloping keys providing the perfect instrumental foil, and some appearances of Anne-Marie Helder’s flute. This is the best record they’ve made for many years, and may even be the best of their career.

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2014 Albums of the Year, Part Four

And so we approach the end of the albums-of-the-year list. There are numbers 2 to 5, which means there is just the Album of the Year itself to go.

Again they’re listed alphabetically, because it’s too hard to rank them. In truth, any of these records would be worthy albums of the year, as would several others just outside the top five. It really has been that sort of the year.

Crippled Black PhoenixWhite Light Generator

Crippled Black Phoenix  - White Light Generator

A remarkable combination of progressive and alternative rock that sometimes sounds like Swans collaborating with Pink Floyd, with diversions via the pastoral folk-prog of The Decemberists and the high-octane space-rock of prime-time Hawkwind. Loud and dirty guitar riffs alternate with atmospheric soundscapes and spoken word pieces, such that you never quite know what’s coming next. It all makes for an intense and exhilarating listen, thought its depth and scope mean it’s a record that takes many listens to fully appreciate. It’s precisely the sort of record that proves post-70s progressive rock has evolved far beyond the template of 80s neo-prog.

OpethPale Communion

Opeth Pale CommunionMikhael Akerfeld and his men will disappoint anyone still hoping 2011′s “Heritage” might have been a one-off, for Pale Communion is not a return to their death-metal roots. Instead it develops its predecessor’s contemporary take on classic and more obscure 70s sounds, and if anything it’s “Meddle” to Heritage’s “Atom Heart Mother”. There are no cookie monsters, but the record does retain all of Opeth’s mastery of dynamics, and its dark intensity shows there can be other forms of heaviness than bludgeoning riffs. The dense and atmospheric record has a similar mood to Gazpacho’s “Demon”; while the execution is quite different both have a mood that suggests shadowy things in Scandinavian forests.

Panic RoomIncarnate

IncarnateWith a new guitarist in Adam O’Sullivan Panic Room’s fourth album feels like the start of a new chapter for the band, and shows that sometimes a change of lead guitarist can be as big a change as a new lead singer. It’s a step away from the rich wall of sound that characterised their last couple of albums in favour of a lighter, more pared-back feel, with a stronger emphasis on Anne-Marie Helder’s songwriting. O’Sullivan has quite a different style as a guitarist, with jazz and blues flourishes, though he demonstrates that he can still rock out when it’s needed. But it’s still unmistakably Panic Room, with that combination of rock, pop, jazz, folk and prog focussed on strong songwriting and Anne-Marie’s award-winning vocals.

The Pineapple ThiefMagnolia

Pineapple Thief - MagnoliaThe Pineapple Thief are one of those bands generally considered part of the progressive rock scene, but take a modern, streamlined approach to their music. Magnolia sees them combine many of the best elements of their previous three records to result in their most accessible album to date. There are touches of dance/electronica rhythms and of hard rock riffing, but the emphasis is on big soaring melodies. They’re another band who are worthy of mainstream crossover success.

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Bigelf at The Garage.

Damon Fox of Bigelf at The Garage

Bigelf returned to Britain after a long absence with a headlining appearance at the Resonance festival during the summer. In November they returned to these shores with their first tour since 2010, and drew a sizeable crowd when the tour came to The Garage in London.

As is quite common nowadays there was not one but two support acts. There is value in giving showcases to up-and-coming bands, and giving audiences value for money, But with more that one opening act you do wonder if it might have been better either to have had a longer set for the headliner, or perhaps a slightly earlier finish given that the gig was on a school night. The show began with Jolly, taking a modern approach to progressive rock with echoes of Haken and Muse, melodic in places and heavy in others, with an emphasis on angular riffs.

Bend Sinister were much more old-school, kicking off with a retro 70s rock’n'roll sound, with heavy use of Hammond organ sounds owing a heavy debt to the late Jon Lord. There was a point that sounded like Deep Purple covering Kula Shaker. They lost momentum later on with some rather less impressive ballads, but ended on a higher note with a cover of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song”.

Bigelf have undergone a few lineup changes of late, with frontman Damon Fox and bassist Duffy Snowhill the only members who appeared on the their most recent album. For this tour they’re joined by Damon’s son Baron Fox on drums, plus Porcupine Tree and Fish guitarist John Wesley.

Unlike too many progressive bands who shuffle on, play the songs, and shuffle off again, and you’re lucky if you get a few stereotypical rock shapes, Bigelf understand the art of showmanship.
Their set began with an intro tape of John Williams’ Imperial March from Star Wars, and Damon Fox placing Yoda on top of his Mellotron when he walked on stage. He cuts an dramatic figure on stage, dressed as a circus ringmaster in a top hat, standing between a battered vintage Hammond and a genuine Mellotron, playing one with each hand.

The title of their latest album “Into the Maelstrom” makes a very good description of their live sound, which owes a debt to bands as varied as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Queen. Damon’s swirling Hammond is central, giving a strong Uriah Heep feel at times, though Duffy Snowhill’s bass grooves also played an important role. Guitarist John Wesley, the quintessential unassuming sidesman best known for his role in Porcupine Tree, played more a supporting role, but did get the occasional moment in the spotlight.

The setlist drew heavily from “Into the Maelstrom” and the preceding album “Cheat the Gallows”, despite a lot of calls from the audience for the oldie “Disappear”, which prompted the band to tease by playing the opening bars. The anthemic “Money, It’s Pure Evil” turned into a singalong, and the 90 minute set passed in what seemed like no time at all, with the final encore of “Blackball” turning into an extended Doors-esque jam featuring some excellent soloing from Wesley.

This was one of those gigs that prompts the usage of words like “Progtastic”. But with their love of retro 70s sounds and vintage gear, and bombastic theatrical approach to performance, there is nobody else quite like Bigelf.

This review initially appeared in Trebuchet Magazine

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2014 Albums of the Year – Part Three

Part three of the end-of-year album countdown, and we’re into the top ten. These are from 10 to 6, again sorted alphabetically because I can’t sort these into any sort of order. They’re all equally good.

Cloud AtlasBeyond the Vale

Cloud Atlas - Beyond The Vale newYet another York-based band (Is there something in the water?), Cloud Atlas is the band put together by Heidi Widdop following the dissolution of Stolen Earth. Their impressive début album is big widescreen rock with an epic scope, with Heidi’s distinctive bluesy vocals setting them apart from many of their obvious peers. But this album’s sound is as much about Martin Ledger’s soaring melodic lead guitar, with strong echoes of Marillion’s Steve Rothery.

Gazpacho Demon

Gazpacho - DemonNorway’s Gazpacho have come up with one of the darkest and most sinister-sounding records of 2014. It’s what Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden might have sounded like if Mark Hollis had spent a lot of time listening to Black Sabbath. Sinister violin-led pastoral soundscapes with are intercut with bursts of hard rock, motifs recur across the album, and there’s even an irruption of accordion-led central European folk at one point. An ambitious album which is by no means an easy listen, but one where you can keep finding new layers after many listens.

Knifeworld The Unravelling

The UnravellingA major step forward for Kavus Torabi’s eight-piece band, and reflects their current live sound far more than any of their previous recordings. It’s a record that takes psychedelia, jazz, hard rock and all kinds of other things, and puts them in a blender to produce something that sounds quite unlike anyone else. Fans of the late, great Frank Zappa should find a lot to like about this record, as should anyone who thinks there should be more bassoons in rock.

Luna RossaSecrets and Lies

Luna Rossa Secrets & LiesLuna Rossa started out as a side-project from Panic Room emphasising the acoustic side of Anne-Marie Helder’s and Jon Edwards’ music, but seems to have taken on a life of it’s own. Their second album is a logical progression from the first; perhaps not quite as eclectic, but with a slightly clearer musical identity. Luna Rossa still defy easy genre pigeonholing, though the album does show occasional hints of artists as varied as Goldfrapp and Renaissance. There’s some very raw heart-on-sleeve emotion, with the music revolving around and complementing Anne-Marie’s always remarkable vocals.

Steve RotheryThe Ghosts of Pripyat

Steve Rothery - The Ghosts of PripyatThis Kickstarter-funded project is Steve Rothery’s first proper solo album in more than three decades as lead guitarist of Marillion. It’s an instrumental album with a band including Panic Room’s Yatim Halimi and Mr So and So’s Dave Foster, Rothery’s lyrical and emotional playing both soars and rocks, the numbers building in intensity from slow-burning beginnings. The whole thing shows just why Rothery is one of the best guitarists of his generation, one of the few players good enough to pull this sort of thing off without descending into self-indulgence.

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Luna Rossa – Secrets & Lies

Luna Rossa Secrets & Lies Luna Rossa started out as a Panic Room side project, showcasing the acoustic side of Anne-Marie Helder’s and Jon Edwards’ music, but in the manner of such things has taken on a life of it’s own, leading to a follow-up album and a tour to promote it.

As with their début, “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”, the emphasis is on Anne-Marie’s vocals and acoustic guitar, and Jon’s piano, supported with guests in the form of Sarah Dean on Celtic harp, Andy Coughlan on double bass and Tim Hamill on guitar. A string quartet also puts in an appearance, albeit rather more briefly than on the first album.

The album kicks off with “Aurora”, largely instrumental bar some wordless vocals towards the end, with Jon’s piano taking the lead. Then”Secrets and Lies” is a classic Anne-Marie Helder ballad in the vein of her 2004 EP “The Contact”. The bluesy “Disappointment” sees Jon switch to Fender Rhodes, and also features some excellent understated guitar from Tim Hamill, and even has a bass solo towards the end.

The shimmering “Flower In My Hair” quotes a very familiar traditional children’s song, but the following number has to be the strangest song on the album. “Happy Little Song” is the obvious successor to Panic Room’s “I Am A Cat”, sounding for all the world like the theme song from a surreal 1970s childrens’ TV show. This is a song that demands a surreal video.

“Tiny Demons” is the first of two covers on the album, and sees the return of Jon’s Fender Rhodes, giving a vibe reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”, and also sees an all-too-brief appearance of Anne-Marie’s flute towards the end. Straight after than comes an undoubted highlight, “Fly Away”, driven by Sarah Dean’s celtic harp. The rich layered sound with the interplay of harp, guitar and piano makes it the closest thing on the album to anything by Panic Room.

The second cover, “I’ve been wrong before”, isn’t quite as effective as the first. But if you cover Warren Zevon and it comes over as one of the weaker songs on the album, what does this say about the quality of your own writing? The album ends with the most emotionally powerful numbers on the record; “No Chords Left” is an achingly sad song, just Anne-Marie’s vocal and Jon’s melancholy piano.

It’s an album that feels like a logical progression from its predecessor; perhaps not quite as eclectic, but with a clearer musical identity. Again it defies easy genre pigeonholing, though it does show occasional hints of artists as varied as Goldfrapp and Renaissance. Luna Rossa increasingly feels not so much “Panic Room unplugged” as a separate parallel band in its own right. Yes, with Anne-Marie and Jon as the writers the music is coming from the same place, and there is a bit of musical overlap, but the presentation is quite different. Luna Rossa is stripped-down, with some very raw heart-on-sleeve emotion, with the music revolving around and complementing Anne-Marie’s always remarkable vocals.

Following on from Panic Room’s “Incarnate” at the beginning of the year, Anne-Marie and Jon have now delivered two excellent and very different albums in 2014.

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2014 Albums of the Year – Part Two

Part two of the end-of-year album rundown, here’s the other half of the alphabetically-sorted albums ranked between 11 and 25, going from H to Z.

Halo BlindOccupying Forces

Halo Blind Occupying Forces smHalo Blind is the project that used to be called Parade, led by York-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Johnson, currently part of Mostly Autumn. The long-awaited follow-up to 2009′s The Fabric is a little less eclectically-varied than it’s predecessor, but hangs together far more strongly as a coherent album. The blend of indie-rock guitars and progressive rock textures combined with strong songwriting ought to have a wide crossover appeal.

IQThe Road of Bones

IQ: The Road of BonesThe neo-prog veterans have never been prolific, but never disappoint. This double album sees them not afraid to experiment, with an abrasive industrial-metal edge alongside the more traditional neo-prog sounds. There is still plenty of what ought to be expected from any IQ album; lengthy kaleidoscopic songs, dark and melodramatic vocals and climactic guitar and keyboard solos.

Morpheus RisingEximus Humanus

Eximus HumanusThe York twin-guitar rockers raise their game significantly with their second album. It’s an old-school hard rock album recalling the early days of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, with a focus on songwriting and melody. Si Wright comes into his own as a lead singer with material written to take full advantage of his vocal range.

Robert PlantLullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar

Robert Plant Lullaby and the Ceaseless RoarThe veteran former Led Zeppelin frontman returns with his strongest record for many years. It’s a mix of English rock and folk with African and Middle Eastern sounds, and even the occasional blast of hard rock guitar, but there’s a fire to it that’s been missing from his last few records. It’s still a long way from the swaggering blues-rock of his early career, but like much of his recent output it’s music that suits an artist in his 60s rather than his 20s.

Polar BearIn Each and Every One

Polar Bear In Each and Every OneIt’s jazz, Jim, but not as we know it. Twin saxophones meet electronic soundscapes, with shades of Miles Davis meets Pink Floyd. One moment it’s melodic and atmospheric, the next it’s squawking cacophony. It can be a challenging listen at times; this is a record than imports elements of rock into jazz, but takes things in an altogether different direction from jazz-fusion.

Matt StevensLucid

Matt Stevens - LucidHaving taken his acoustic looping guitar thing as far as could go, Matt has made something far more eclectic, combining his loves of post-punk, progressive rock and extreme metal. While there are some delicate acoustic numbers, much of the album is electric, with a full band and and interesting array of guest performers. Proof that you can make an all-instrumental guitar album without it becoming a vehicle for endless soloing.

When Empires Fall

When Empires FallThe new project from former Breathing Space and Stolen Earth bassist Paul Teasdale is a very interesting blend of progressive rock atmospherics and Britpop-style songwriting. There are strong guest vocal performances by Aleksandra Koziol and Joanne Wallis, but Paul handles the majority of the lead vocals himself, and the soaring melodies prove him to be a fine vocalist as well as a songwriter.

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