Music Blog

All the music-related posts gathered together in one place.

Haken – Affinity

Haken Affinity Haken are one of the best of the current generation of progressive rock bands. They combine the required level of instrumental virtuosity with a degree of songcraft and compositional skills unmatched by most of their peers. The band came of age with their third album “The Mountain” when they transcended influences from Zappa to Gentle Giant to created a clear musical identity of their own. After the rather more experimental EP “Restoration”, they’re back with their fourth full-length album, “Affinity”, and it might just be the best thing they’ve done.

The album begins with clanking electronic effects building towards a barrage of percussion. Though it’s the album’s title track it’s more of an extended intro to the first song proper, the towering “Initiate” which combines pummelling progressive-metal riffery with delicate shimmering vocal sections. That sets the theme for this record; razor-sharp riffs combine with anthemic soaring vocal lines and gorgeous harmonies with the dynamics to make the disparate elements work together.

“1985″ more a more conventional prog-metal with its spiralling riff and parping keyboard solo, and “Lapse” even takes on something close to a dance feel at the beginning. The fifteen-minute The Architect, the longest track on the record, forms the centrepiece of the album, a multi-section prog-metal workout with staccato riffs, an atmospheric jazzy instrumental section and a huge anthemic climax. In contrast other songs display a less-is-more simplicity. The elegiac Red Giant is a stately thing of beauty, and the nine minutes of the dreamy slow-burning closer Bound By Gravity ends the album on another high point, based around simple repeating patterns that build in intensity into a vast sonic cathedral.

It’s perhaps not quite as eclectically varied as “The Mountain”, but as a consistent and coherent record it’s perhaps an even stronger work. There is slightly less emphasis on complex song structures and relatively few solos. It’s really the vocal harmonies that stand out on this record, with all the band contributing to the backing vocals.

The result is something that’s clearly identifiable as progressive rock, but reinvented for the twenty-first century rather than a reverential pastiche of the music from a generation ago. It’s the sort of thing that should appeal as much to those bought up on Muse or Elbow as to old-school fans of Pink Floyd or King Crimson. This is state of the art modern progressive rock at its best.

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RIP Prince

As with Bowie, I was never a huge fan, and don’t even own any of his records. But there was still a palpable sense of shock when I heard about his death in the queue outside the venue for The Heather Findlay Band at The Boston Music Rooms.

Prince, like Bowie, was one of the giants, and speaking to some band members after the gig made it clear he’s hugely respected by musicians regardless of the genres they work in. This quote from Chantel McGregor, who has frequently covered “Purple Rain” in her live shows says it all.

2016 has been an awful year; it’s almost as if The Grim Reaper has traded in the traditional scythe for a combine harvester.

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Panic Room launch live DVD crowd-funding campaign

Panic Room have announced a crowdfunding campaign for a Live DVD on PledgeMusic, which will be recorded at Islington Assembly Hall on June 18th.

Options range from £22 for the standard DVD though £45 for a signed deluxe editon of the DVD with your name in the credits to all sorts of exclusive extras.

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The Heather Findlay Band – Bilston Robin 2

Heather Findlay at Bilston Robin 2

Although she’s played the odd acoustic gig and made guest appearances with other artists, Heather Findlay’s short run of gigs promoting the excellent album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” is her first tour fronting a full band for three and a half years. So naturally there was a fair bit of excited anticipation, and the Sunday night show at Bilston Robin 2 at the mid-point of the tour drew a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

The evening began with a short but sweet solo set from harpist and singer Sarah Dean, including her spaghetti western interpretation of Dylan’s “Man in a Long Black Coat”, and ending with the stunning a capella “The Traveller’s Prayer”.

The special guests were Halo Blind, led by Chris Johnson. They’re a band with feet in both the progressive and indie-rock camps; the shimmering soundscapes, fragile melodies and spiralling psychedelic guitars having echoes of Radiohead and Anathema. The entire set came from their excellent second album “Occupying Forces”, a record Chris Johnson describe as being about being pissed off but trying to do something about it. The whole set was impressive, with the evocative “Downpour” a particular highlight.

Heather Findlay’s previous solo tours featured a slimmed-down all-guitar band, but “The Illusion’s Reckoning” needed an expanded band to do its layers and harmonies justice. So the core of rhythm section of Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher and multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson, all of whom were doing double duty with Halo Blind, were joined by Mostly Autumn’s Angela Gordon on keys, flute and backing vocals. Sarah Dean on vocals, harp and recorder, and progressive rock legend John Mitchell on lead guitar.

The set began with “The Illusion’s Reckoning” played in its entirety, and the new songs came over very powerfully live. “Veil of Ghosts” and “Mountain Spring” built from gentle beginnings into big walls of sound, “In a Dream” and “I’ve Seen Your Star” were dreamy and atmospheric, the Fleetwood Mac-like “Learning to be Light” featured some excellent lead playing from Chris Johnson, and the title track made an epic conclusion to the first half of the show.

It all had a very different feel to previous incarnations of The Heather Findlay band; with the keys and woodwinds there was something of the spirit of Mostly Autumn past about it, although the vibe was quite different from the current incarnation of that band. John Mitchell proved himself the ideal choice as lead guitarist from the way he nailed the solo in the opening number “Island” which Dave Kilminster had played on the record. And Alex Cromarty proved himself a man of many talents by taking the lead vocals on a couple of duets, and even playing harmonium at the front of the stage on “I’ve Seen Your Star”.

John Mitchell

The closing part of the set comprised a selection of well-chosen older songs, beginning with a superb “Carpe Diem” with Angela Gordon playing the intro on flute and that spectacular climax with Heather’s wordless vocal intertwining with John Michell’s guitar line. There was a splendidly rocked-up version of Odin Dragonfly’s “Magpie”, and a stunning “Why Do We Stay”, a duet taken from John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot. Perhaps the only moment that didn’t quite work was a rather flat version of “Mona Lisa” which didn’t take off and soar in the way the newer songs in the first half had done. The night ended with a spellbinding “Shrinking Violet”, with a musical box playing “Swan Lake” at the close. No encore, because anything following that would have been an anticlimax.

Heather Findlay has been away for a long time, but this tour represents a triumphant return. The bulk of the set was new material, with just a handful of standards from her days in Mostly Autumn. For those oldies this band kept far closer to the originals rather than the radical reworkings on earlier tours, but they were really a victory lap on a tour that looked forward rather than back.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Knifeworld - Bottled Out Of EdenThere is no other band quite like Knifeworld. Led by Cardiacs and Gong alumnus Kavus Torabi, the eight-piece band with their unique brand of horn-driven psychedelia with added bassoon has made a big impact on the festival circuit over the last couple of years.

“Bottled Out of Eden” is their third full-length album, following 2014′s excellent “The Unravelling”. As we have come to expect by now, it’s full of typical Knifeworld song titles like “I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait” and “Lowered Into Necromancy”, and combines dark and enigmatic lyrics with swirling kaleidoscopic instrumentation.

The album beings with chants and drones heralding “High/Aflame”, a rocker that might be familiar to those who have seen the band live in the past year. From then on it’s a blend of psychedelic rock workouts and slower and often sinister atmospheric numbers. Highlights include the dark and brooding “Foul Temple” with it’s haunting near-orchestral instrumental section, and “I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait” with its great interplay between Kavus Torabi’s growling guitar riff and the horn parts swirling around it. “A Dream About A Dream” is as dreamy as the title suggests, again with some evocative work by the horn section. Even the half-minute bridge between two songs, “Vision of the Bent Path” makes an impression, an instrumental featuring just the horn section playing in multi-part harmony.

Earlier albums emphasised Kavus Torabi’s psychedelic guitar and layered male/female vocal harmonies. While those elements are still present, this time they bring the horn section centre-stage and make them the focus of the record. The resulting arrangements recall Frank Zappa’s early 70s big band albums “The Grand Wazoo” and “Waka Jawaka”, with horn-driven instrumental passages taking the place of traditional solos. While it’s a logical progression from what has come before, by strengthening the most distinctive elements of their sound, Knifeworld take things to the next level with this record. And there is nobody else remotely like them.

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Wytch Hazel – Prelude

Wytch Hazel - Prelude Wytch Hazel are a band with an unashamedly retro sound. Their connection with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal goes beyond having a name that includes the word “Wytch”; vocalist and guitarist Colin Hendra has also done a stint with a recent incarnation of NWOBHM stalwarts Angelwitch.

Their sound reaches deep into to 70s with the folk-rock vibes of Jethro Tull and the twin-guitar harmonies of Wishbone Ash, as well as a foot in the camp of the more melodic end of NWOBHM. The feel is reminiscent in places of Praying Mantis and Demon, though in complete contrast to the latter’s dark lyrical themes we have medieval tales of kings, battles and heroism with a bit of Christian spirituality for good measure.

While it draws musical motifs from sources as varied as sacred church music and medieval French song structures as well as Iron Maiden style galloping triplets, it keeps entirely to classic rock instrumentation. So there are no cod-medieval affections like crumhorns, but there are plenty of vintage valve amps. The production by Purson’s Ed Turner certainly gives the guitars an authentic 70s feel, and the emphasises is always on songwriting with the soloing always tastefully restrained.

The opening hard rocker “Freedom Battle” sets the theme musically and lyrically, with it’s rollicking twin guitar riff and spiralling solo, and songs like “Mighty King” and “More That Conquerors” follow a similar vein. There’s a change of pace with the stately “Psalm” with it’s semi-acoustic verse and evocative solo it could easily be a lost track from Wishbone Ash’s “Argus”. The album ends in anthemic NWOBHM territory with “Wytch Hazel” and “We Will Be Strong”.

There are quite a few bands mining the rich seam of early 70s rock at the moment, such that some sources, like early Black Sabbath, are now getting pretty much much mined-out now. But by evoking the spirit of Wishbone Ash and Jethro Tull. Wytch Hazel have found a rich but previously untapped vein. They’re no derivative comfort-zone pastiche; they have succeeded in making a record that’s far more than the sum of its influences.

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The Heather Findlay Band confirmed for CRF

HFB CRF

The Cambridge Rock Festival have added The Heather Findlay band to Sunday’s main stage bill on 7th Augist. They join an already strong lineup including The Windmill, Purson, Curved Air and Mostly Autumn, as well as headliners Focus.

Tickets cost £105 for the full four days or £40 for the Sunday, and can be bought online from the Cambridge Rock Festival website.

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Ghost Community album pre-order

Goost Community, the supergroup formed of past and present members of The Reasoning, Also Eden and Crimson Sky are now taking pre-orders for their début album “Cycle of Life”.

Mixed by The Pineapple Thief’s Bruse Soord and apparently “sounding awesome”, the album can be pre-ordered from Ghost Community website.

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Marillion announce F E A R

F E A R

Marillion announce the name of teir new album, “F*** Everyone And Run”. As lead singer Steve Hogarth describe it:

What’s in a name?……

All worthwhile human impulses come from love. And all negative and destructive human impulses come from fear.

This album is called Fuck Everyone and Run or F.E.A.R.

This title is adopted not in anger or with any intention to shock. It is adopted and sung (in the song “New Kings”) tenderly, in sadness and resignation inspired by an England, and a world, which increasingly functions on an “Every man for himself” philosophy. I won’t bore you with examples, they’re all over the newspapers every day.

There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm. I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that my FEAR of what “seems” to be approaching is just that, and not FEAR of what “is” actually about to happen.

The album will be released on September 9th 2016, and the final date for pre-orders is 17th June. You can pre-order now on Pledge Music. You know you want to!

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Panic Room – Start the Sound

Panic Room hit The Flowerpot in Derby and Sound Control in Manchester for the third and fourth dates of their 2016 “Start the Sound” tour. Last year they supported themselves by starting the show with a semi-acoustic set promoting their mostly unplugged album “Essence”, but this time it’s all-electric, with two lengthy sets and a brief interval. Even with no support band there was more than two hours of music, and at Derby especially they pulled a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

For this run of gigs it was close to a greatest hits set, drawing heavily from their strongest album, “Skin” as well as obvious highlights from their other albums, with a focus on the harder-rocking side of the band’s music. “Song for Tomorrow” got the full electric treatment and made a dramatic opener, and the jazz-tinged “Chameleon” with the flute solo was an early highlight. The blues number “Denial” from “Essence” made an appearance, and there was also a welcome return for their imaginative reworking of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”. The highlight of the set on both nights was the absolutely stunning “Nocturnal”, a song not performed live for several years.

Dave Foster

With Dave Foster now well-enough established in the band it’s almost time to stop thinking of him as the new guitarist; much of his playing was spectacular. He’s starting to put his own stamp on the older songs, and it’s an amazing sight watching his hands fly up and down the fretboard during the solos, especially his shredding on songs like “Apocalypstick”.

After the two-day convention at The Robin 2 in Bilston in May, the band return for six more dates in June including a high-profile showcase gig at Islington Assembly in London. Then they’ll be heading into the studio to work on a new album for the rest of the year. They will be rehearsing a lot more material for the convention, so it’s entirely possible the June setlist will be different, but whatever they play, they’re on such great form at the moment that those gigs are not to be missed.

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