Showing posts with label Symphonic Prog Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Symphonic Prog Reviews. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Symphonic Prog Review: Oliver Wakeman-Collaborations

Release Date: April 11, 2022

Label: Elflock Records


While I have been aware of Oliver Wakeman for a long time, I have not listened to his music, but this changed a while back when I obtained a box set of 3 cds, Tales By Gaslight, which was a collaboration with Clive Nolan from the band, Arena. 

Now, I have been presented with another box set from Oliver, specifically called Collaborations which brings Oliver together with Steve Howe (Yes) with an album called The 3 Ages Of Magick, with Gordon Giltrap on an album called Ravens And Lullabies and a third disc, From A Stage, a live album, which pulls together music from Giltrap/Wakeman concerts.

The first disc, The 3 Ages of Magick, was originally released in 2001 and the Yes guitarist, Steve Howe worked together with Oliver. Oliver then joined Yes, I believe replacing his father, Rick, in the line-up, from 2008 to 2011. At that point, Oliver began working with another guitarist, Gordon Giltrap, resulting in the release of Ravens and Lullabies.

The 3 Ages of Magick contains 16 instrumental tracks with a total playing time of just over 74 min (74:04) with track 13, “Hy Breasail”, the longest at 8:36 min and track 12, “Through The Eyes of a Child”, the shortest at 2:13 min. 

The opening track on this album is “Ages Of Magick” (5:49) and starts with some very atmospheric keyboard swathes and great guitar work before some amazing violin work leads into a gothic style choir. The guitar and keyboards carry the track onwards, featuring some excellent piano work and a very melodic keyboard passage that moves the track towards the finale. The choir re-joins the proceedings and the guitar of Steve and the keyboards of Oliver merge to take the track out. An excellent opener which should draw the listener into the tracks that follow. 

Track number 10, “The Enchanter” (6:04) is another stunning track which again starts with the keyboards and there is a very classical feel to the music before the rest of the musicians join in. There is a keyboard passage which leads into a slow section where the guitar of Steve appears. From this point, the keyboard and guitar play little themed sections which should bring a little smile to the listener. This is the result of two excellent musicians being "in tune" with each other and enjoying themselves.

Ravens and Lullabies comprises 17 tracks with a running time of just over 71 minutes (71:13), with track 7, “Is This the Last Song That I Write?”, the longest at 10:02 min and track 12, “One For Billy”, the shortest at 2:11 min.

This album is very different from the first disc and although we have the same main instrumentation with keyboards and guitars, the feeling of the music varies. The opening track "Moneyfacturing” (4:10) begins with some excellent acoustic guitar from Gordon, soon to be joined by the rest of the band. This album also features Paul Manzi on vocals, and he possesses a very powerful, versatile voice. The lyrics themselves are very interesting and the track is filled with those little "hooks" that are not easily forgotten. One listen to this album and I guarantee that you will be singing along on the next play.

Track number 3, “From The Turn of a Card” (3:47), is another example of a piece of music littered with “hooks”, whether they be a repetitive lyric line or a little theme from the guitar or keyboard. It may be only 3:47 minutes in length, but it is a very enjoyable experience.

From A Stage has 15 live tracks with a total playing time of just over 68 min (68:06), with track 8, “Dodo’s Dream”, the longest at 8:09 min and track 4, “Glimmer of Light”, the shortest at 3:11 min.

Track number 14 from this album is one of the tracks from Ravens and Lullabies, “Ravens Will Fly Away” (4:51) and starts with some superb acoustic guitar from Gordon, soon to be joined by the voice of Paul Manzi. This is a very melodic track which has Oliver providing an “orchestral accompaniment” as the track approaches the four-minute mark and then flows onwards to the finale. 

The final track on the album is “Heartsong” (4:21) which comes from the album Perilous Journey by Gordon released in 1977 and is an excellent instrumental highlighting the musical skills of both Oliver and Gordon and is a fitting finale to the live album and indeed the Collaborations box set.

The Collaborations box set is a very good package, bringing together the musical skills of Oliver and Steve, Oliver and Gordon and a live Giltrap/Wakeman band retrospective. I will admit to enjoying the smooth melodic music produced across all 3 albums and suggest that people grab a listen to this release as it might well surprise people. 

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson

May 1,2022

Track Listing

The 3 Ages of Magick:

1. Ages Of Magick

2. Mind Over Matter

3. The Forgotten King

4. The Storyteller

5. The Whales Last Dance

6. Time Between Times

7. Flight Of The Condor

8. Lutey And The Mermaid

9. Standing Stones

10. The Enchanter

11. The Healer

12. Through The Eyes Of A Child

13. Hy Breasail

14. Hit 'n Myth

15. The Faerie Ring

16. Dream Weaver - (The Storyteller Demo)

Ravens & Lullabies:

1. Moneyfacturing

2. Fiona's Smile

3. From the Turn of a Card

4. LJW

5. Maybe Tomorrow

6. Wherever There Was Beauty

7. Is This the Last Song I Write?

8. A Mayfair Kiss

9. Anyone Can Fly

10. A Perfect Day

11. Credit Carnival

12. One For Billie

13. Ravens Will Fly Away

Bonus tracks

14. Praeludium (from the Well Tempered Clavier)

15. The Forgotten King

16. Roots

17. The Wedding Approaches (Instrumental version)

From a Stage:

1. Nature's Way

2. Wherever There Was Beauty 

3. Elizabethan Pirates

4. Glimmer of Light

5. Isabella's Wedding

6. Maybe Tomorrow

7. If You're Leaving

8. Dodo's Dream

9. Picture of a Lady

10. Anyone Can Fly

11. Lutey and the Mermaid

12. Roots

13. Mother's Ruin

14. Ravens Will Fly Away

15. Heartsong

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Symphonic Prog Review: The Flower Kings-By Royal Decree

Release Date: March 4th 2022 (2CD, 3LP + 2CD and Digital)

Label: Inside Out Music


The Flower Kings came into being in 1994 in Uppsala, Sweden, and apart from a 4- year hiatus from 2008 to 2012, they have played and recorded albums for over 20 years. The band have released 15 studio albums, from the debut in 1995, Back in The World of Adventure up to 2022, By Royal Decree, which is the album under review.

The band on this recent release had a total of 7 members, plus 4 guests. The band are Roine Stolt (vocals, guitar, ukulele, additional keyboards and orchestration), Hasse Froberg (vocals, 12 string guitar), Zach Kamins (organ, piano, synths and orchestration), Michael Stolt (bass, Moog Taurus and backing vocals), Jonas Reingold (fretted and fretless basses), Mirrko Demaio (drums and percussion) and Hasse Bruniusson (acoustic and electronic percussion).

By Royal Decree is a 2 CD release with a total playing time of just over 94 minutes and 18 tracks, 9 on each of the albums. The longest track on offer is found on disc 1, track 3 "Blinded" running for 7:52 minutes and the shortest track is to be found on disc 2, track 8, “Shrine” clocking in at 1:11 minutes.

For over 25 years now, The Flower Kings have been a constant in the world of modern prog but have retained the influence of the classic prog from the 70s, ensuring they produce music that appeals to prog fans globally.

The opening track, “The Great Pretender (6:59) is a perfect example of what The Flower Kings do very well. The basis of the sound is simple, drums, bass and guitar with a healthy scattering of organ, piano, Mellotron and Moog synths and the 2-pronged vocal attack provided by Roine and Hasse Froberg. The track is instantly recognizable as The Flower Kings, with the power of the bass and drums, the keyboards always there or thereabouts and the guitars adding just the right riffs at the right times. There are hooks throughout this opening track, which, in my opinion, is a superb introduction to the rest of the release.

Staying with disc 1, track 4, “A Million Stars Above” (7:19) moves to the ballad style of The Flower Kings and seems to be a plea for love, with its warm melodic style topped by the addition of a Roine Stolt ultra-smooth guitar solo which he throws into the mix with such ease. This track is a great example of the quieter side of The Flower Kings.

Still, on the first disc, Track 8, "Peacocks on Parade" (5:22) shifts the emphasis away from the vocals, i.e., it is an instrumental to all intents and purposes, which highlights the superb keyboard work of Zach Kamins above the guitar of Roine Stolt. This is another good example of the different facets shown by The Flower Kings.

By Royal Decree is an album that improves each time it is played as the hooks latch on inside the listeners’ heads. Double albums can sometimes be criticized for “filler” tracks and comments such as, “if only they had missed off the album, tracks X, Y and Z they would have made a killer single album”. The Flower Kings new album appears to have sidestepped these thoughts and while it is true there are no epic-length tracks as many previous albums have included, the band have made an extremely listenable, good album. I will concede that By Royal Decree is not the best Flower Kings album I have heard but I will never sit on the fence and heap praise on any release that falls below the levels I would expect from a particular band.

By Royal Decree is a great album, perhaps not quite deserving the use of stunning or superb, but these 18 tracks showcase a band that knows what they are good at, and I would ask people to give By Royal Decree a few listens, let it settle into your head, and I am sure many listeners will find a space for this album on their CD shelves.

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson
April 10, 2022

Tracks :                       
CD 1 (52:19)
1. The Great Pretender (6:59)
2. World Gone Crazy (5:07)
3. Blinded (7:52)
4. A Million Stars (7:20)
5. The Soldier (5:26)
6. The Darkness in You (5:17)
7. We Can Make It Work (2:53)
8. Peacock on Parade (5:22)
9. Revolution (6:03)

CD 2 (41:48)
1. Time the Great Healer (6:17)
2. Letter (2:26)
3. Evolution (4:50)
4. Silent Ways (5:04)
5. Moth (4:41)
6. The Big Funk (4:44)
7. Open Your Heart (5:20)
8. Shrine (1:11)
9. Funeral Pyres (7:15)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Symphonic Prog Review: Wobbler-Dwellers Of The Deep

Release Date: October 23, 2020

Label: Karisma


Wobbler originated in Honefoss, Norway in 1999, and with the release of this new album, Dwellers of the Deep, the band have now released 5 albums, since the debut, Hinterland, saw the light of day in 2005. I was fortunate enough to see this band in December 2019 when they headlined a mini-festival in Glasgow. The Prog Before Xmas (PB4X) is an annual one-day event featuring 4/5 bands with the proceeds going to named charities. This has been taking place for 5 years, but Covid-19 has caused this year’s festival to be cancelled. Last year, Wobbler played a set including many great tracks from their back catalogue, interspersed with music from the Dwellers of the Deep album and they simply “blew” the crowd away.

Dwellers of the Deep
is a 4 track album with a total time of just under 46 minutes and the final track, “Merry Macabre” is the longest on offer with a playing time of 19:00 minutes, and the penultimate track, “Naiad Dreams” is the shortest at 4:24 minutes.

The band on the album are Andreas Wettergreen Stromman Prestmo (vocals/guitar), Marius Halleland (guitar/backing vocals), Lars Frederik Froislie (keyboards), Kristian Karl Hultgren (bass) and Martin Nordrum Kneppen (drums), with Lars, Kristian and Martin original members of Wobbler. Kristian also guested on the Airbag current release, A Day At The Beach. Andreas was present in the band by album No 3, Rites At Dawn, in 2011 and Marius was onboard by album No 4 in 2017, From Silence To Somewhere.

The opening track, “By The Banks" (13:49), bursts into life with the band in full flow, soon to be joined by a bit of vocalization, then a simple keyboard and bass passage underpinned by excellent drumming. The bass and keyboards carry the track on before Andreas pitches in with his clear powerful vocals. The keyboards continue to "run" the track with those superb bass notes just in behind. The track builds and then gently subsides and the listener is both drawn in and carried along. At around the 5-minute mark, the piano has an excellent passage, very tranquil compared to what has gone before. Behind the vocals, the bass slowly builds and the guitar, drums and keyboards join the proceedings again. At the 9+ minute mark, there is a return to the tranquil style passage, and indeed, it is this contrasting switch that makes “By The Banks” an engrossing start to the album. Each member makes an amazing contribution to the sound, the clear vocals, the sweeping, soaring keyboards, the thundering, but so controlled bass, the subdued, but occasionally crunching guitar work and that superb drumming, both intense then very subtle at times.

The two shorter tracks are very different, with "Five Rooms" (8:28) being a close relative, musically speaking, to the opening track and "Naiad Dreams" (4:24), being a simply beautiful ballad with an excellent acoustic guitar start, showing the simpler, gentler side of the band. Both are excellent in their own way and set the listener up for the finale of the album.

The 19:00 minute "Merry Macabre" is a real tour-de-force, starting with a gentle introduction before the keyboards appear around the 1:00 minute point. As the vocals, bass, guitar and drums all add their presence, the band are off on a journey that encompasses all the areas that Wobbler have demonstrated throughout their back catalogue. Symphonic slices, eclectic sections and even a little jump in and out of the jazz world, appear and morph into one another, providing the listener with a stunning aural experience.

Each release has taken the band further and these 5 musicians know exactly what they want to do, and on Dwellers of the Deep, they have shown the world just what they are capable of. This is a superb album and should find a space on the
cd/vinyl shelves in all progressive music followers’ collections.

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson – Prog Rock Music Talk Staff
November 27, 2020


1. By The Banks (13:49)
2. Five Rooms (08:28)
3. Naiad Dreams (04:24)
4. Merry Macabre (19:00)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Symphonic Prog Review: Rick Wakeman-The Red Planet

Release Date: June 19 2020

Label: R +D Multimedia


Red Planet
is the newest release from The Caped Crusader, otherwise known as Rick Wakeman. Rick is probably one of the best known prog musicians and a pioneer in the use of electronic keyboards in rock music. As well as previously having been a member of The Strawbs, Yes and Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe (a Yes offshoot), not forgetting AWR (Anderson, Wakeman, and Rabin appearing as Yes), he has a list of session credits that almost stretch to the Red Planet. This list includes David Bowie, Elton John, Black Sabbath, Cat Stevens, Al Stewart, Lou Reed, and many more. Rick has also found time to release more than 100 solo albums across a swathe of genres.

The Red Planet is a return to the beginning, in that Rick has returned to the symphonic prog that appeared in many of his early albums, such as 6 Wives of Henry XIII, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table and No Earthly Connection.

The band on The Red Planet is Rick Wakeman (keyboards), Dave Colquhoun (guitars), Lee Pomeroy (bass), and Ash Soan (drums) and the other musicians are given the collective name of The English Rock Ensemble.

The Red Planet is an eight-track album with a total running time of just over 56 minutes (56:24), with track 4, “Olympus Mons” being the shortest at 5:20 minutes and the final track, “Valles Marineris” being the longest at just over 10 minutes (10:02).

The opening track, “Ascraeus Mons” (5:52) immediately puts the listener into a high plane of expectation with the superb swathe of swirling keyboards that ride over the top of that tight power unit of drums (Ash) and bass (Lee). Initially starting with a church-like organ passage, the drums and bass soon boost the sound before the excellent keyboard passages follow one another, revisiting earlier themes, but exuding first-class symphonic prog. A choral sound provides several passages before the guitar (Dave) gets a chance to shine. As an opening track, this is a very satisfying return to Rick’s symphonic prog areas and leaves the listener eager to sample the remaining seven tracks.

Track 5, “The North Plain” (6:53) has a spacey, quiet start with a piano theme, which gently builds in intensity until the drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards launch into the mix around the 1:30 minute point. A wonderful passage on keyboards follows while the powerhouse of drum and bass underpin everything so well. At 2:50 minutes, Rick’s keyboards start to soar above all else before a return to a similar passage to the start, which is very atmospheric and takes the track on past 4:40 minutes. Cue again another keyboard passage from the Caped Crusader himself, before a return to one of the earlier keyboard themes and a relaunching of another theme, but this time on guitar rather than keyboards which takes the track out.

“Pavonis Mons (7:13), track 6 starts with the band in unison before a nice passage from the keyboards, them a sudden change in tempo before returning to the opening theme. Superb keyboards over the solid rhythm section lead to a change of tack at the 2:00 minute mark, with a different keyboard theme before morphing into a piano passage and back into the keyboards. The track swings back into the earlier themes and changes tempo a couple of times as it starts to wind towards the finale. There is, however, still time for another flurry of keyboard work from Rick as we enter the last minute.

The Red Planet is an excellent example of keyboard-based symphonic progressive music played by one of the best, if not the best, keyboard players in the music environment. If you enjoy the earlier works by Rick, mentioned earlier in the review, this album is definitely for you and if you are new to Rick Wakeman, get this album as a superb example of a very skillful keyboard player at his very best.

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson – Prog Rock Music Talk Staff
October 12, 2020

1. Ascraeus Mons (5:52)
2. Tharsis Tholus (6:16)
3. Arsia Mons (6:10)
4. Olympus Mons (5:20)
5. The North Plain (6:53)
6. Pavonis Mons (7:13)
7. South Pole (7:35)
8. Valles Marineris (10:02)

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Symphonic Prog Review: Marco Bernard & Kimmo Pörsti (The Samurai Of Prog)-Gulliver

Release Date: January 25, 2020
Label: Seacrest Oy
This band was originally formed as a multi-national collaboration project in 2009, with Marco Bernard (bass), an Italian resident in Finland, Kimmo Porsti (drums), from Finland and an American multi-instrumentalist, Steve Unruh. The Samurai of Prog is this core trio plus guest musicians when required. The debut release appeared in 2011, Undercover, and the album now under review is No 8, Gulliver, a concept album released last month.

is based on the novel by Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), and deals with Gulliver’s adventures in 4 different lands.

 Only Marco and Kimmo from the core trio are fully involved in Gulliver as Kimmo explained to me that Steve was busy with another project and I think that it may be with United Progressive Fraternity (UPF). Steve does appear on some tracks and there are 21 guest musicians also involved with the release.

Gulliver is a 6-track album with track 2, “Lilliput Suite” running to just under 18 minutes and the final track, “Finale,” clocking in at just over 3 minutes. The total playing time is just over an hour (62 minutes).

As ever, a concept album makes picking out individual tracks difficult as the storyline continues through the album, but I will try to give a flavor of Gulliver.  A mention should also be made of the superb artwork on the 6 panel CD cover from none other than Ed Unitsky.

I always feel that the opening track is very important to “grab the listener by the ears” and set them up for what is to follow. “Overture XI” (7:42) is the opener and is an instrumental dominated by old-style key-boards and switches in tempo from thunderous keys to quiet, almost pastoral, sequences. This is symphonic prog at its best. A guitar appears to take the track onward before passing the baton onto Marek Arnold and his superb saxophone. As the track reaches its conclusion, the listener is presented with a dilemma, either to continue onto the following track or replaying that superb opening track. There is a difficult choice to be made.

The second track is the longest track on the album “Lilliput Suite” (17:53) and is split into 6 sections, namely I) The Voyage Of The Antelope, ii) Prisoner, ii) Inside The Emperor’s Palace, iv) Peculiar Tradi-tions, v) The Theft Of The Blefuscudian Fleet, vi) The departure, which sees more guest musicians em-ployed to add flute, violin, and trumpet. This is majestic music with the sweeping changes in sections, from full band involvement to moments of a more delicate nature linked by superb instrumental passages.

All in all, this is a superb release by two-thirds of the Samurai of Prog core trio and as the “Finale” ends, the listener should find themself marveling at the majestic swathes of keyboards, tight guitar passages and excellent flute/violin pastoral sections.

This is one of the best Samurai of Prog releases, and if you have not dipped into the Samurai of Prog music previously, then Gulliver is the one to start with. This is an album that should be found in any true symphonic prog fan’s CD collection.

Jim “ The Ancient One” Lawson – Prog Rock Music Talk Staff
March 3, 2020


 1. Overture XI (7:42)
2. Lilliput Suite (17:53)
3. The Giants (8:42)
4. The Land Of The Fools (14:30)
5. Gulliver’s Fourth Travel (10:17)
6. Finale (3:11)