Tag Archives: IQ

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.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The Road Of Bones

The official video for the title track of IQ’s new album “The Road Of Bones”.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Comments Off

IQ New Album Promo

IQ have released a trailer for their forthcoming album “The Road of Bones”, due in May. They’re taking pre-orders now, on Giant Electric Pea. If you like their brand of dark swirling neo-prog, IQ are a band who never disappoint.

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Comments Off

Top Albums of 2009 – Yet another subjective list.

Yes, another top ten list.  This isn’t intended is a list of what I think are the most ‘important’ or ‘influential’ releases of 2009, and certainly bears no resemblance to those awful lists compiled by committees of groupthinking music journalists you’ll read in major newspapers which seem to be filled with albums of social-commentary lyrics or drug-addled personal angst with some hastily thrown-together music tacked on as an afterthought. Which is not my kind of thing at all.

This is all about my music – my personal soundtrack for 2009.  In the end, I couldn’t cut down my shortlist to just ten, so I chickened out, and went for 15.

  • 15: The Mars Volta – Octohedron
    Although this album doesn’t have the energy level or sheer bonkersosity of their incendiary first album, this is still the best thing they done since Francis the Mute. They’ve gone and done an album full of actual songs, with tunes. Alhough some people might decry this as a dreadful sell-out, the compelling “Twilight is my Guide” is worth the price of admission alone.
  • 14: UFO – The Visitor
    There’s still life in Phil Mogg’s veteran hard rockers yet. The Visitor sees Mogg team up with American guitarist Vinnie Moore.  I’d known Moore’s playing from mid 80s shred-metal albums on Shrapnel Records.  Now an older and wiser Moore has abandoned high-speed shredding in favour of a bluesy style that’s the perfect foil for Mogg’s songwriting and often underrated hard-boiled lyrics.
  • 13: Pure Reason Revolution – Amor Vincit Omnia
    PRR take a major left turn with their second album. Their debut “The Dark Third” came over as a sort of prog Darkness.  Anyone expecing more of the same was in for a very rude shock, as they’ve gone all electro, swapping the Pink Floyd inflence for Depeche Mode.  It’s actually a very good album, especially when the guitars return a couple of songs in, harder-edged and more abrasive than their hypnotic debut, but filled with memorable songs.
  • 12: Parade – The Fabric
    Parade is the brainchild of Fish guitarist and former Mostly Autumn keyboard player Chris Johnson, with the collaboration of Anne-Marie Helder, Gavin Griffiths, Patrick Berry and Simon Snaize. It took me a few listens for this one to click; on the surface it’s an indie-sounding album with it’s sparse chiming guitars and clattering drums; but listen more closely and there’s some real musical depth there.
  • 11: The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
    I bought this album on the basis of a luke-warm review by The Guardian’s Alexis Petredis, where he said “What we have here is a terrible infestation of Jethro Tull”. From the opening organ chords it’s obvious that while marketed as ‘indie’, this is a prog album, with a classic 70s prog appoach to melody.  There’s even a Hammond B3 wig-out at one point that reminds me of Uriah Heep.
  • 10: Mastodon – Crack the Skye
    For some reason, the hipster crowd seem to have picked up on Mastodon despite the fact that this is full-blown no-holds-barred prog-metal. Perhaps it’s the sludgy 70s-style production that makes it more accessible to that demographic than someone like Opeth. Saying that, it’s still a greatly entertaining album, with the 12-minute epic “The Czar” as the high point, with everything from a galloping Sabbath-like riff to an utterly over the top solo.
  • 9: Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know
    Heaven and Hell is, of course, the reunion of the early 80s incarnation of Black Sabbath with Ronnie Dio on vocals and Vinnie Appice on drums.  Such reunions of veteran artists have a mixed track record, but on this occasion they’ve delivered the goods with great slice of the sort of epic operatic-tinged metal we got in Ronnie Dio’s previous stint with the band. Who’s have thought they’d have such a good album in them this late in their career?
  • 8: Touchstone – Wintercoast
    Jeromy Irons’ spoken word introduction opens Touchstone’s powerful second album, which fuses melodic hard rock with prog to great effect to produce a hugely varied and entertaining album. It marks a major step forward from their debut and makes them a force to be reckoned with in the growing British female-fronted prog scene.
  • 7: Dream Theater – Black Clouds and Silver Linings
    Prog-metal giants Dream Theater were a major band for me in the 1990s, with albums such as the intense Awake or the majestic Metropolis II. Their noughties output has been uneven; some strong individual songs, but sometimes self-indulgent soloing and instrumental virtuosity for it’s own sake seemed to take precidence over composition. Despite some lenghy epic songs, Black Clouds and Silver Linings is a major improvement in that regard, and is probably the best overall album they’ve produced in the decade.
  • 6: Porcupine Tree – The Incident
    Steve Wilson’s band take a step back from the metal-orientated recent albums towards the atmospheric progressive rock that characterised earlier albums. Although made up of separare songs, it’s intended to be listened to as a single continuous piece of music.  High spot is “Time Flies”, with is musical quoting of Pink Floyd’s “Dogs”.
  • 5: IQ – Frequency
    80s veterans IQ may wear their influences on their sleeve, especially Gabriel-era Genesis, but unlike some other neo-prog outfits of the 80s and 90s, they do it well enough to become far more than a simple pastiche of older and better bands.  Frequency sees them as good as they’ve ever been, possibly even topping 2004′s Dark Matter. If you like swirly keyboards, strange time signatures and melodramatic vocals, this one’s for you.
  • 4: Mostly Autumn – Live 2009
    This one’s cheating a little bit, since they released what is effectively a double live album as two single albums; I’m treating it as one album for the purposes of this list.  Previous Mostly Autumn live albums have been very disappointing; some of them have been little better than bootleg-quality recordings that have failed to do a great live band justice. This one, recorded on various dates from the 2009 spring tour, blows every previous MA live album out of the water, and really captures what it’s like to be in the front row at one of their gigs. The 2009 incarnation of the band with Iain Jennings on keys and Gavin Griffiths on drums is the best MA live lineup I’ve seen, and they were on fire this spring.
  • 3: Muse – The Resistance
    It’s not often I buy the number one album in the charts; the last time was, well, the previous Muse album Black Holes and Revelations. Sometimes you just want something bombastically over the top, and Muse deliver that in spades; fans of twee indie hate them with a passion. There’s something great about seeing a band who aren’t ashamed to be influenced by prog selling out major venues. Muse’s best to date?  Possibly.  They’re the band The Darkness would love to have been, if only they had the talent.
  • 2: Panic Room – Satellite
    Panic Room’s debut, Visionary Position was a complex multi-layered affair composed in the studio, and gave the band some headaches when trying to work out how on earth they were going to reproduce it all live. In contrast, many of the songs from their follow-up had been performed live long before the band went into the studio to record them.  The end result is an album of simpler, more direct songs.  The very different musical backgrounds of the five members combine in an alchemical mix which results in far more than the sum of the parts.  Elements of hard rock, prog, pop, folk and jazz contribute to a sound that defies easy pigeonholing, with some very thought provoking lyrics from Anne-Marie Helder.
  • 1: Breathing Space – Below the Radar
    Many people wondered how York’s Breathing Space would be able to follow 2007′s excellent Coming Up for Air, especially after the departure of guitarist Mark Rowen.  But Breathing Space’s third album, recorded with Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davidson standing in on guitar, emerged even stronger that it’s predecessor.  Without Mark Rowen or saxophonist John Hart they’ve lost the jazzier elements of their sound in favour of a harder-edged rock approach, which mixes hard rock numbers with atmospheric and emotionally moving ballads.  Iain Jenning’s production and keyboard playing is superb, and Olivia Sparnenn’s soaring vocals just get better and better. Yes I know I’m probably too close to the band to really be able to judge their music objectively any more, but as I said at the very beginning, this is a personal list.
Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Four Gigs

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been to quite a few gigs, and have been most remiss in reviewing them.  This post is an attempt to rectify that.

Kim Seviour
Kim Serviour of Touchstone

First up was Touchstone, promoted by the Classic Rock Society in The Wesley Centre in Maltby, just outside Rotherham, the latest of my “lets stay in a cheap B&B to see a great prog band play a small town in the middle of nowhere”,weekends. The venue is a quite small but modern hall; standing at the front, tiered seating at the back, with a capacity of I guess about 150 people. Wasn’t full, but the CRS are better at pulling in the punters than one or two other ‘promoters’, so there was a decent crowd.

Support was six-piece Dee Expus, who I’m managed to miss on one of the smaller stages at the Cambridge Rock Festival, but who played a great set of modern-sounding streamlined guitar prog. Hats off to their bassist for doing the gig despite suffering from a hernia (did he try to lift a Mellotron?).

A couple of months before they’d rocked the Cambridge Rock Festival main stage, and tonight Touchstone gave another demonstration of just how much they’ve improved since I first saw them support The Reasoning two years ago. Kim Seviour has matured from a shy girl who was little more than a backing singer to a self-confident frontwoman who dominates the stage. Their blend of melodic hard rock and prog manages just the right combination of tightness and energy level; their instrumental virtuosity sufficiently restrained that solos never outstay they welcome.  With a headline-length set they played almost all of Wintercoast plus a few highlights from their debut, lovely to hear songs like Kim’s very moving ‘Solace’ played live.  They ended with a prog-disco version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. On the evidence of this, they’re well on the road to world domination; in a year’s time I’m sure they’ll be playing far bigger venues than this one.

After all this prog, The Bad Shepherds on Wednesday night at the newly-reopened Band On The Wall are a bit of a change of pace. I’d had tickets for a couple of dates on their tour this time last year, with Mostly Autumn supporting. But that all went pear-shaped when the promoter ran off with more than just the money days before the start of the tour, leaving those who’s purchased tickets with no refunds.

The Band On The Wall is another new venue for me, since I’d never been before it closed for refurbishment a couple of years ago. Even though everything is new and shiny it’s got a character that featureless boxes like Manchester Academy can never hope to emulate.

The Bad Shepherds play celtic folk arrangements of 70s punk and new wave songs. They’re made up from former Young One Ade Edmundson on lead vocals and “Thrash Mandolin”, Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes and various other celtic instruments with funny names, and Andy Dinan on fiddle. The original limeup also had Fairport Convention’s Maartin Allcock on bass, but too many other commitments forced him to drop out, to be replaced on this tour by Brad Lang.

After a short but sweet set from Ade Edmondson’s daughter Ella, The Bad Shepherds hit the stage with “I Fought the Law, and the Law Won”. Much of the set came from their album Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Methera!; their covers of standards by the likes of The Clash, The Jam and The Stanglers were often unrecognisable until the vocals started, and sound quite different with added fiddle solos. Highlight was probably Kraftwerk’s “The Model” played on Uilleann pipes. A hugely entertaining live band, even if you don’t particularly like the original songs.

Three days later it’s over to The Met Theater in Bury to see neo-prog veterans IQ.

IQ play old-fashioned prog. It’s all swirling keyboards, liquid guitar solos and strange time signatures you can’t dance to, and they may wear some influences on their sleeves, particularly Peter Gabriel era Genesis.  But their distinct approach to melody and composition sets then well apart from just about any of their competitors.

It’s almost three years since I last saw IQ live, and I’d forgotten just how good they are. They’re both intense and impeccably tight, the complexities of the albums reproduced perfectly, the virtuosity of the band providing the perfect foil to Peter Nicholls’ theatrical delivery as frontman. It typical prog fashion, they started by playing the latest album, “Frequency” in it’s entirety, followed by just four older songs taking up the second half of the set, ending with the 20-minute epic “Narrow Margin” from their 1997 album “Subterranea“. Two encores, ending with a superb rendition of “The Wake” took the show to two and a half hours, playing (I think) exactly one song from every album featuring Peter Nicholls.

IQ don’t gig very often, but when they do, they’re well worth seeing.

The following Wednesday saw me return to The Band on the Wall for yet more prog, this time from legends The Enid, a band I hadn’t seen since The Reading Festival in 1982(!).  They’ve gone through many, many lineup changes over the years, but the central figure has always been the charismatic Robert John Godfrey.

With so many years since I last saw them live, I had no real idea of what to expect, but The Enid proved they can still very much cut it live. Ably supported by a band including a bass player doubling up on Timpani, Robert John Godfrey entertained us with an hour and a half of what can best be described as classical music played on rock instrumentation, interspersed with a lot of banter between songs. Not owning much of their back catalogue I couldn’t name many of the pieces they played, although I did recognise “In the Region of the Summer Stars” quite early on. Sadly they no longer play things like “The Dambusters March” or “Land of Hope and Glory”; as Robert John Godfrey say, he doesn’t want to be mistaken for a Tory nowadays.  While most their largely instrumental orchestral pomp isn’t really rock and roll, the powerful groove of last number of the main set rocked an absolute bastard. Naturally they got called back for several encores, RJG responding to someone’s shout of “Play some Chopin” by playing some Chopin, and they ended with “Something Wicked The Way Comes”.

With Progressive Nation 2009 two days later, that makes five gigs in thirteen days.

Posted in Live Reviews, Music | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

IQ – Frequency

“Frequency” is the latest album by old-school prog veterans IQ. While they’ve never been very prolific, this being only their ninth album in a career that stretches back more than a quarter of century, everything they’ve released in recent years has been consistently good.

From the opening Mellotron chords of the title track onwards,  the sound is still quintessential IQ; pure 80s neo-prog, ten-minute songs in strange time signatures featuring swirling keyboards, lengthy solos, melodramatic vocals and often impenetrable lyrics. While their fusion of Gabriel-era Genesis with bits of Pink Floyd, Van der Graaf Generator and King Crimson has never been spectacularly original, over the course of 25 years and nine albums they’ve honed their big near-symphonic sound to perfection, and this album is at least as good as anything they’ve ever done.

One thing you can’t accuse them of is a lack of tunes; even though the lengthy songs often lack conventional hooks or choruses Peter Nicholls has a great gift for hauntingly memorable melodies. And this being prog, the instrumentalists are just as important as the singer – new keyboard player Mark Westworth proves himself more than capable of filling the shoes of the recently-departed Martin Orford, and guitarist Mike Holmes contributes some superbly fluid solos.

As with most prog albums, this is a complex work that takes many listens to fully appreciate. The title track and the poverfully intense “Ryker Skies” make the most immediate impact, but after repeated plays the lengthy “The Province” emerges as the album highlight.

“Frequency” doesn’t break any new ground, but I don’t think anybody really expects or wants them to at this stage in their career. And if they’re not very original, they do what they do so well that it doesn’t matter.

Posted in Music, Record Reviews | Tagged , | 2 Comments

IQ – Dark Matter

Unlike their contemporaries Marillion, IQ have never moved their sound very far away from the 80s British neo-prog template of Gabriel-era Genesis crossed with mid-70s Pink Floyd. What makes them worth a listen is Peter Nicholls’ distinctive melodies, and the fact that while what they do isn’t terribly original, they do it very well indeed.

Dark Matter, the band’s eighth studio album, doesn’t really break any new ground, merely honing their sound to near perfection. On first listening, it has the feel of their early albums, a sound dominated by layers of swirling keyboards and guitar topped by Nicholl’s vaguely menacing vocals and darkly obscure lyrics. What’s improved from their early work is far better arrangements that leave some of their older material sounding vaguely half-formed by comparison.

Keyboardist Martin Orford shines on this album right from the very beginning, the synthesised orchestral intro that heralds the 11 minute opener “Sacred Sound”, and the dramatic church organ in the middle section. If that wasn’t enough it follows straight into swirling mellotron backing the guitar solo. Then there’s the wonderful organ work on the ballad “Red Dust Shadow”.

Meanwhile, the more aggressive “You Never Will” is Peter Nicholls at his darkest.

Now as the shadows fall on Allhallows Eve
We spin our tangled web, learn to deceive
I keep on hoping that you’ll do something real
Give in to influence but you never will

“Born Brilliant” instrumentation recalls Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine”, but the lyrics are something else. It’s a matter of opinion who they’re supposed to be about.

My catalogue of failures
Is etched upon my lips
The baggage that I carry
Would sink a thousand ships
My motives are uncertain
Intentions not altogether pure
So don’t you want me beside you
Just like it was before

The album closes with the 24 minute epic “Harvest of Souls”. Even though some of the instrumentation sounds just a little too like “Foxtrot” era Genesis for their own good, it’s still is the standout song of the album, a perfectly structured six-part epic. Each section flows seamlessly into the next, and contains some of Nicholl’s best melodies. There’s one short instrumental passage that’s is such a direct lift from the “Apocalypse 9/8″ section of “Supper’s Ready” I’m sure it’s a deliberate quotation.

This is an album that gets better and better with each listen. On the first couple of listens it was clearly a vast improvement on the slightly disappointing predecessor “Seventh House”. After a few more spins I’m beginning to think this might just be the best album IQ have ever made.

Posted in Music, Record Reviews | Tagged , | 2 Comments