Tag Archives: Mantra Vega

Best Albums of 2016 – Part Two

We’re into the top ten now, and this time I’ve managed to rank the albums in order rather that just list them alphabetically. So with no further ado…

10: Rebecca Downes – Believe

Bebecca Downes BelieveDeserved winner of Best Female Vocalist and Best Breakthrough Artist at the British Blues Awards, Rebecca Downes has a great voice, with range and power as well as emotional depth, equally at home with soulful ballads as belting out hard rockers. When combined with her talented backing band result is a hugely varied record, combining blues with hard rock, funk and soul.

9: Tilt – Hinterland

Tilt HinterlandThe band including Fish alumni Steve Vantis, Robin Boult and Dave Stewart deliver a hard-rocking album. The layered sound and powerful bass grooves recall Porcupine Tree and Steve Vantsis’ work with Fish.

But Paul Dourley is a very different sort of singer; his soulful vocals have the occasional hints of Peter Gabriel and Lou Gramm, and if anything it’s his performance that lifts this record from a good one to a great one.

8: Ihsahn – Arktis

ihsahn-arktisThe fiendishly inventive Norwegian black metallers reign in the avant-garde experimentalism of 2013′s Das Seelenbrechen in favour of an album of more straightforward metal songs. But “straightforward” is a relative thing for a band like Ihsahn; there’s a lot of varied creativity on display here, balancing face-melting guitars with occasional moments of atmospheric beauty,

7: Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe collaboration between former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and Sound of Contact’s Dave Kerzner results in a record with a strong 70s vibe.

There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. It’s an impressive work that’s as good as anything either of them have done.

6: Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train - FolkloreBig Big Train continue to be better than anyone else at invoking the spirit of 1970s English pastoral progressive rock. Again the lyrics are steeped in English landscapes and socio-economic history.

The songs cover subjects from London’s lost rivers to World War 2 RAF pigeons, with music that sometimes evokes the mood of albums like Genesis’ “Trespass”, and at other times is closer to the electric folk-rock of bands like Steeleye Span.

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Heather Findlay announces additional Christmas show

Heather Findlay has added an additional hometown Christmas show in York on the 21st December, in addition to the Dutch tour in November and the acoustic support for Touchstone in December.

They’re also playing the Forever Young festival in York (today!), and a CRS gig at the Wesley Centre in Maltby on October 29th.

She’s promising one or two suprises in the setlist.

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What is your album of the year so far?

We’ve approaching the mid-point of the year.

2016 has been a terrible year for deaths, but it’s also been a tremendous year for new music. The underground progressive rock scene has produced many great albums from bands as diverse as Mantra Vega, Knifeworld, Haken, Iamthemorning, Purson, Frost* and Big Big Train. The mainstream has come up with some impressive prog-friendly records too, with David Bowie, Suede and Radiohead amongst them. And that’s before we even start on what’s come out of the world of metal.

So, what’s you record of the year so far? What other records have impressed a lot?

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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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David Bowie, Suede, Mantra Vega, Steven Wilson, Dream Theater, Megadeth. Can anyone remember so many high-profile releases in January?

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Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningMantra Vega is a collaboration between former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay and Sound of Contract keys man Dave Kerzner, with a supporting cast made up largely from members Heather’s own band, including Roger Waters’ guitarist Dave Kilminster, one-time Seahorse Stuart Fletcher, and two members shared with the current incarnation of Mostly Autumn, drummer Alex Cromarty and guitarist Chris Johnson.

Although Heather Findlay has guested on a number of projects over the last few years, most notably Rob Cottingham’s Captain Blue, this is the first record promoted as one of her own projects since 2012′s acoustic “Songs from the Old Kitchen“, and her first new material since “The Phoenix Suite” a year before that. A single taken from the album, “Island” appeared in the middle of last year and did a lot to whet the appetite for the eagerly-awaited album, two years in the making,

As that earlier single had suggested, this is a record with a strong 70s vibe. There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. In places it evokes a similar mood to “Songs from the Old Kitchen”, but the album as a whole feels closer to a logical progression from her work back in Mostly Autumn days than the more experimental direction of The Phoenix Suite. With the possible exception of the keyboard-led spoken word opener “Every Corner” and the epic title track, it’s perhaps more classic rock than progressive, but it’s an extremely varied record with feet in a lot of camps.

Heather herself is on superb form, and this record might just contain some of her best vocal performances to date, displaying all the warmth and emotional depth on which her reputation rests. Her lyrics are steeped in eastern spirituality, referencing Indian Yogiraj Gurunath Siddhanath, with the songs portraying a spiritual journey from darkness into light. Songs such as “Islands”, the ballad “Lake Sunday”, and the epic title track all feature gorgeous soaring melodies. The Zeppelinesque “Mountain Spring” is intense and passionate, while the dreamy acoustic “I’ve Seen Your Star” recalls the delicate beauty of Odin Dragonfly. “Veil of Ghosts” also features guest lead vocals from Angela Gordon, Nightwish’s Troy Donockley and Irene Jansen, younger sister of Floor.

Arrangements alternate between rich and layered, and pared-back simplicity. There’s more emphasis on guitars than on keys, and it’s only right at the very end that Dave Kerzner cuts loose with spiralling a synth wig-out; instrumental breaks more often take the form of swirling atmospherics than solos. Guitar virtuoso Dave Kilminster only actually appears on a few songs, though he makes his mark when he does, most notably his fluid melodic break on “Island”. Chris Johnson, though better known as a rhythm guitarist, ends up playing a fair bit of lead, with an understated but effective style, his lead flourishes on “Learning to be Light” are particularly impressive. Ayreon’s Arjen Lucassen also makes an appearance with some shredding guitar work on the title track.

The capable rhythm section shouldn’t forgotten; notable moments are Stu Fletcher’s hypnotic circular bass riff that forms the foundation of “Mountain Spring”, and Alex Cromarty going full John Bonham at the end of “Veil of Ghosts”. Last but definitely not least, a couple the acoustic numbers feature the evocative bansuri, the Indian bamboo flute played by Remko de Landmeter.

It’s been a long wait, but this album proves worth that wait. Dave Kerzner proves as excellent a co-writer and creative foil to Heather Findlay as she is at giving voice to his compositions. The result is a record that’s as good as anything either of them have done. For Heather in particular it embraces her musical legacy without being constrained by it.

The album is released on Monday 25th January, and is available from The Merch Desk.

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Heather Findlay Band to tour in 2016

John Mitchell and Heather FindlayHeather Findlay has announced a tour in April 2016, to support the album “The Illusion’s Reckoning.

Because Dave Ketzner and Dave Kilminster are both unavailable due to other commitments, the tour is billed as The Heather Findlay Band rather than Mantra Vega, though they’re promising that they’ll be playing the album in full along with a few selected older favourites.

For this tour it will be a six-piece band including Angela Gordon on keys and flute, and John Mitchell on lead guitar alongside Chris Johnson and the rhythm section of Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher.

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2015 Records of the Year – Not only but also…

My self-imposed rules for album of the year restricts the list to full-length albums of new material. That means it excludes live albums, unplugged records with new versions of existing songs, or EPs. So to keep you all waiting a bit longer for my Album of the Year, some mentions of records that my rules disqualify, but are too good to be ignored altogether.

Panic Room – Essence

Panic Room EssenceThe Kickstarter-funded unplugged album reworks favourites from the band’s first three albums into radically different forms, resulting in a beautiful record than emphasises Anne-Marie Helder’s remarkable vocal talent. Though it crosses the streams with the acoustic side-project Luna Rossa to some extent it’s still got more of a Panic Room vibe. It’s not entirely acoustic, since new guitarist Dave Foster cuts loose on electric a few times. There are a couple of new songs too, the classic Anne-Marie Helder ballad “Rain & Tears & Burgundy”, and “Denial”, the first time Panic Room have ever recorded a blues number.

Mostly Autumn – Box of Tears

Mostly Autumn Box of TearsA live recording of last year’s “Dressed in Voices”, an album regarded by many as their career defining masterpiece. Unlike their other recent live albums this one’s a single disk of the Dressed in Voices set rather than the whole show (Do we really need yet another live version of “Evergreen” or “Heroes”? I don’t think so). But like those other live albums it does capture the power and intensity of the Mostly Autumn’s live performances, the big sound of the seven-piece band at full tilt.

The Fierce and The Dead – Magnet

TFATD - MagnetMatt Stevens’ four-piece instrumental noise merchants could be described as a sort of punk version of King Crimson. Their latest EP sees a move away from the garage-rock feel of their last record. “Spooky Action”. Magnet is darker and denser, with more of a focus on the post-rock and electronica side of their music. Like all of their records, it has feet in many camps, defies simple categorisation, and makes a rewarding listen for anyone who wants to get out of their musical comfort zones.

Mantra Vega – Island

A taster from the forthcoming album “The Illusion’s Reckoning”, three songs with a strong 70s classic rock vibe with echoes of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. The lead song in particular is lovely, with Heather Findlay playing to her strengths as a vocalist, and features a short but very effective guitar break from Dave Kilminster.

Zero She Flies – The River

Zero She Flies - The RiverThe band formerly know as Mermaid Kiss return with a new singer in the shape of Maria Milewska and a new name. The four-track suite “The River” was originally slated to be part of a full-length album, but has mow been spun off as a separate EP on its own. It’s largely acoustic, piano and acoustic guitar based songs with woodwind and strings for colour, plus some touches of electronica, and Maria Milewska proves to be excellent singer. Highlights are the woodwinds meet trip-hop instrumental “The Undertow” and the gorgeously atmospheric closing number “Rivergirl”, but the whole EP is excellent.

Big Big Train – Wassail

Big Big Train WassailThis intermediate release filling the gap before their next full-length album eschews ambitious multi-part epics in favour of more straightforward songwriting. But most of the things we’ve come to expect from Big Big Train are present; big soaring melodies and rich layered arrangements that evoke the spirit of 70s pastoral progressive rock with lyrics steeped in English landscapes and history. The largely instrumental keyboard-heavy “Mudlarks” ticks a lot of classic prog-rock boxes, but with the woodwinds, violins and 12-string guitars there’s also an element of 70s electric folk-rock. It’s all delightfully retro in its use of vintage guitars and keyboard sounds, but that’s always been a major part of their appeal.

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Mantra Vega’s “The Illusion’s Reckoning” Pre-Order

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe long awaited album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” is finally available for pre- order from The Merch Desk. The album will ship on 25th January 2016.

As regular readers of this site ought to know, Mantra Vega is the collaboration between Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner, also featuring Alex Cromarty, Chris Johnson, Dave Kilminster and Stuart Fletcher. The album has been two years in the making, and if the single “Island” is anything to go by, it should be well worth the wait.

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Mantra Vega announce album release and launch party

Mantra Vega & Dave Kerzner Poster

Mantra Vega announce the release date of their long-awaited album “The Illusion’s Reckoning”

After almost 2 years in the making, Monday January 25th 2016 will see the release of The Illusion’s Reckoning from transatlantic project band, Mantra Vega co-founded by Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner  (Sound of Contact).

“The Illusion’s Reckoning album features lead vocals from Heather Findlay; keyboards and vocals from Dave Kerzner whilst at the band’s core is rhythm section Alex Cromarty on drums and bassist Stu Fletcher along with lead, rhythm and acoustic guitarists Chris Johnson (Halo Blind) and Dave Kilminster.

Joining the project for special guest appearances are Nightwish‘s Troy Donockley on vocals and lead guitar; Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) lead guitar; Irene Jansen (Star One/Ayreon) on vocals; Angela Gordon (Mostly Autumn/Odin Dragonfly) on recorders and vocals and Dutch woodwind player, Remko de Landmeter on Bansuri.

“The Illusion’s Reckoning is a concept album flowing more like a film score than a more typically linear piece. The album’s journey is painted with far reaching audio moodscapes which in their diversity, purposely echo thoughtful lyrical themes. The album is delivered in a predominantly progressive rock package, but at times takes on a hard rock, contemporary, retro, and even acoustic, folksy twist…”

And there is to be a “Moorland Gathering” the celebrate the launch

To celebrate the release, there will be a very special pre-release party gathering at The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge (spiritual home of many of the band’s musicians) on January Saturday 23rd January. There will only 60 tickets available which will include a meal, one off acoustic performance from Heather, Chris, Angela, Stu and Alex (and may also feature one or two very special guests!) Slightly ahead of the scheduled release date, this event will be a chance to buy and hear the album for the first time!

Making this event all the more special is the fact that this will be a one off for the now retired, legendary moorland venue too!

Tickets for the event will be just £20 and will go on sale on Monday 30th November at 9am from www.mantravega.co.uk

Depending on number wishing to travel via this option, there may be a coach/bus which will run from York across the North Yorkshire Moors and back for those wishing to travel from the nearest city.

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