Titles are arranged alphabetically with recent additions highlighted in yellow.
A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-T | U-Z
New Jersey prog band 3rdegree first appeared with a 1993 cassette release, followed by their first CD in 1996. They disbanded in 1997 but reformed more recently. Ones and Zeros Volume 1 (2015, digisleeve) is 3rdegree’s first full-fledged concept album, released in time for the band’s first-ever European tour beginning in September 2015, culminating with an appearance at the UK Summer’s End festival. With Ones and Zeros Volume 1, 3rdegree have taken the next step beyond their 2012 album The Long Division (digisleeve), itself a great album that exceeds 3rdegree’s earlier work. The music is drawn from 1970s influences such as City Boy, Genesis, Crack the Sky, Greenslade, and Utopia. It belongs in the same camp as Echolyn and IZZ and is on the same level. There are touches of jazz here and there as was common during the 70s, and 3rdegree really honed their vocal arrangements, which include those high-pitched harmony vocals that were outlawed after the 70s. The recording and arrangements follow the aesthetic of leaving space in the mix such that listening to the music is actually pleasurable rather than fatiguing. 3rdegree have come a long way from their beginnings and are now firmly among the top few U.S. prog bands, and vocally they are doing things that none of the others are. If you haven’t got on board with 3rdegree yet, it is time. Read the Progarchy and Prog Archives reviews of Ones and Zeros Volume 1. Watch the video for The Best & Brightest.
Narrow-Caster (2008, digisleeve) is a contemporary-sounding prog rock record, with some similarities to Echolyn or IZZ. While lead singer George Dobbs has a voice that reminds us of Dave Lawson of Greenslade (though Dobbs is a better singer), 3rdegree’s greatest strength may be their Yes-like harmony vocals. The result is sometimes similar to the band Ring of Myth -- 3rdegree use more keyboards and are more melodic but lack the Howe-like guitar. Read reviews at DPRP, Sea of Tranquility, USA Progressive Music, and Rock Report.
Human Interest Story (1996, 72-minutes) is also an excellent album of Ameri-prog, sounding like a cross between Rush and Echolyn. This is the last of the original jewel case edition.
3rdegree played their first live shows in over ten years at the New Jersey Proghouse in 2007. The Reunion Concerts double DVD (NTSC, all-region, digisleeve) contains 3rdegree’s traditional electric show plus an unplugged show. The show was recorded in 1080i HD (downres’d for the DVD). The discs are DVD-Rs. Included are five songs that do not appear on any other CD or DVD plus covers of Gentle Giant’s Peel the Paint and Sarah McLachlan’s Elsewhere. Bonuses include behind-the-scenes and interview footage.
Still Looking for the Answers (2011, digipack) is the debut for California’s 41point9. As the label says, 41point9 falls somewhere on the pop side of the prog world and features performances by Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard), Dave Weckl (acclaimed fusion drummer), Brian Cline (original Enchant singer/bassist), Bob Madsen (recording bassist/engineer/producer for Enchant and Xen), and a new guy named Kenny Steel. There are some similarities to Enchant, but none of the metal that eventually intruded in Enchant. Some tracks are a blend of AOR and progressive rock, while there are some stellar tracks roughly in the Kansas or Spock’s Beard styles, with that slight folk influence that makes for prog-Americana. There are hints of Hogarth-era Marillion, more so songs such as Easter that have folk-song aspects. Among our favorites are the instrumental Surface Tension with its prominent bass, and the song One in a Bar, driven by acoustic guitar and frosted with string arrangements. Violin is also used elsewhere, not a lot, but it does reinforce any notions of Kansas. Overall the album feels like a throwback to an earlier time, before there was the chasm between pop and music with integrity that exists today, when you could almost imagine a band such as 41point9 on the radio.
Steve Adams is an American guitarist who recorded and performed with the late Peter Bardens (Camel) and was a member of Mirage, the band comprised of ex-Camel and Caravan musicians who toured and released two live CDs. Camera Obscura (2004) is his third and best CD, featuring ten instrumentals and two vocal numbers. The music here could be described as a combination of Camel, Steve Hackett, and the American guitar-hero style, the latter being busier, heavier, and less symphonic. The album includes a great cover of Hackett’s Jacuzzi. Click on the mp3 icon above for more info.
His first CD Maiden Voyage (1998) is a mostly solo affair, with help from a couple other musicians, but it sounds very close to a full band. You can hear the Camel influence right from the start, also a little Hackett and Hillage, but Adams puts his own stamp on things.
New York-based guitarist Joe Nardulli’s debut CD inspired and intrigued a bunch of local progressive rock musos. After jamming with a few, Joe finally found the right keyboardist, bassist and drummer for his live band who have now become Ad Astra. Their 2008 debut CD takes the style of Nardulli’s solo album to another level, with the compositional contributions of the other musicians and a full band recording. This is top-notch guitar-led symphonic prog with touches of fusion, featuring a fluid, thematic playing style and soaring, uplifting melodies. Nardulli is also guitarist in prog rock band Celestial O’euvre.
This is the same New Jersey-based progressive rock band whose self-titled 1997 CD was released on Mellow Records. Advent’s second release Cantus Firmus (2006, 69-minutes) improves on their debut in just about every way. The band is heavily influenced by Gentle Giant, which is apparent within the first few seconds, even more so on this album than on their debut. But while Advent have some of the medieval feel and similar-sounding vocals, Gentle Giant isn’t the end of the story. There is some Genesis influence present, maybe a little Yes as well, so Advent’s style is often more majestic and regal than Gentle Giant. The album features wonderfully elaborate arrangements, beautiful guitar work (including a substantial amount of classical and acoustic guitar), and tight vocal interplay. The CD also includes previously unreleased 24-track recordings of two songs from the band’s debut CD as bonus tracks. As explained in the liner notes, Advent recorded 24-track versions of five songs in 1992, but due to various constraints, only one received a proper mix and appeared on their debut CD. The other four songs from those sessions ended up on the album in their original four-track cassette versions. So as you can imagine, the improvement in the 24-track versions is immense, and one of the bonus tracks also had new drumming added.
After a long silence, Advent returned in 2015 with the remarkable Silent Sentinel (digipack, 78-minutes), picking up right where they left off but with larger arrangements and expanded instrumentation that includes a real choir. Certainly Gentle Giant remains the dominant influence, and maybe However should be added to the reference list, but Advent have used such influences as a springboard to a personal style, and you’ll be hard pressed to find another band today that sounds like this. Just listen to Voices from California on YouTube. “I really can’t exaggerate or overstate how much Silent Sentinel grabs and intrigues me. It’s the kind of release that makes me not only proud to be a prog fan, but it actually makes me proud to be alive, to live at a time that produces such artists. This is the equal of Big Big Train and The Tangent in terms of quality, innovation, and beauty... Silent Sentinel is something truly special.” Read the full Progarchy review.
Aethellis is a Baltimore-area progressive rock band, though the self-titled debut CD was recorded solo circa 2003 by bandleader Ellsworth Hall, the band assembled afterwards. This is the 2008 remastered edition of the debut, which sounds like the album Tony Banks should have made after A Curious Feeling. In fact a lot of this would fit well on Genesis’ 1980s albums as proggier pieces. The Aethellis album is keyboard-dominated (though there is electric guitar), and there is some Banksian playing and chord progressions, but like Banks’ albums, the emphasis is more on songwriting. And Hall is a decent singer. Whereas Banks headed off in a pure pop direction, Aethellis maintains a good balance between pop songwriting and progressive rock. All but one track exceeds seven minutes, and the nearly 12-minute Final Affinity is darker and requires no qualifiers; it’s just prog rock. The CD comes in a cardboard sleeve and counts as only one-half CD for shipping. Read reviews.
The follow-up Northumbria (2011) was recorded by the full band: four core members (keys/vocals, guitar/vocals, bass, drums) and two auxiliary members (guitar/vocals, sax). The result is a band-oriented version of the styles of the first Aethellis CD. There is no-apologies prog sporting ELP, Genesis, and Camel influences with odd meters and extended instrumental sections; some Asia, Saga, or later Kayak style pomp; and some softer/streamlined pieces suggesting 1980s Genesis or The Alan Parsons Project. The final track is an exhilarating fusion-y romp. It all shares an optimistic feel that makes the music sound as if it belongs to an earlier time (the early 80s?) when people were apparently less miserable, dark and melancholy. As Ellsworth says, the breadth of styles either represents his wide tastes, or an inability to focus.
Connecticut’s After the Fall, who formed in 1986, have perfected their craft with their fourth CD Knowledge (2005). Clocking in at 78-minutes and with three suites in the 20-minute range, this is an ambitious work primarily in the classic 1970s prog styles. Glass Hammer may be the best reference. Keyboardist Ken Archer has the dominant role, and he often plays in a Keith Emerson style. While there is some ELP influence instrumentally, the vocal sections sound more like Kansas, with those typical American-style vocal harmonies. There are other influences, certainly Yes, also Rush, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, and a wee bit of fusion. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
Their previous CD The Living Drum (2001, 74-minutes) is similar. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
In a Safe Place (71-minutes) is from 1997.
Seattle’s Ajalon was ‘discovered’ by Rick Wakeman, who released Ajalon’s first album on his own indie label. On the Threshold of Eternity (2005) is Ajalon’s second, and Rick contributes keyboard solos to two tracks, while Neal Morse contributes vocals to the title track and Phil Keaggy guests on another. If you’ve noticed what all these musicians have in common, then you may have guessed that Ajalon’s lyrics are Christian-oriented. Their music is very professional, most influenced by Yes but with an American style that also relates to Kansas, Ambrosia, and Glass Hammer, with tight harmony vocals. The shorter songs have elements of pop and AOR and are sometimes simply grand arrangements of acoustic folk ballads. The epic tracks are pure melodic progressive rock. The 16-minute title track especially will leave no doubt that this is a first-rate progressive rock band. This 69-minute CD contains a bonus track, a cover of The Moody Blues’ You and Me.
This Good Place (2009, 60-minutes) is their third, and a new high-water mark for the band. This is the classic American take on symphonic prog, executed with proficiency and class by seasoned musicians. Highlights include the instrumental Abstract Malady, on which Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer) guests, and the 19-minute Redemption.
Akacia are a Boston-area band whose 2003 debut An Other Life shows an accomplished quartet of musicians playing progressive rock solidly in the 1970s style, with influences of Yes, Rush, and others. Four long tracks with strong vocals, often favoring organ and a jazz-guitar tone, reinforcing the 70s feel. Akacia’s lyrics are Christian-oriented, but the music speaks for itself. This is the band’s original pressing; the French label Musea also issued An Other Life with a different cover.
Akacia’s following CDs were released only on the Musea label. On The Brass Serpent (2005), Akacia expanded to a quintet. This album again deals with Christian themes and comprises four pieces spanning 58-minutes; one track is 36-minutes long. Aside from touches of prog-metal in one song, the music is firmly rooted in 1970s progressive rock, Yes, Kansas, and Genesis foremost among their apparent influences. The vocals naturally sound American and bring the music close to some of the obscure American prog bands of the 70s. (OK, virtually all the American 70s prog bands were obscure.)
Akacia’s third CD This Fading Time (2006), graced with Paul Whitehead artwork, shows a definite progression... backwards in time. Akacia now sound virtually indistinguishable from an early-1970s British progressive band, though which prog band they resemble varies. Some of the music is symphonic, some is in the early-70s hard progressive style, and some has that freer, slightly jazzy, slightly spacey vibe. Their new keyboardist adds a freer, atmospheric quality to many of the tracks, and the guitar tones and keyboard sounds are always early-70s.
Inner Firmaments Decay (2010) is the debut CD by All Over Everywhere, a musical collective based around the collaborative songwriting of Trinna Kesner and Dan Britton (Deluge Grander, Birds and Buildings). Inner Firmaments Decay is a themed collection of songs featuring the vocals of Megan Wheatley (who also sings in Birds and Buildings) and a large ensemble of classical and rock musicians who float in and out of the songs. There’s flute, 12-string guitar, electric guitar, violin, viola, cello, hammered dulcimer, zither, piano, accordion, oboe, clarinet, vibes, bass, drums and percussion, and then there are Dan Britton’s keyboards, featuring loads of Mellotron. There is some similarity then to the British band Karda Estra, who also blend rock and classical instruments and use female vocals. Look upon All Over Everywhere as the marriage of dream-pop and symphonic rock. The first seven songs range from three to seven minutes in length, with the female vocals heavily-reverbed, the textures mostly acoustic apart from Britton’s symphonic keys. The mood is somewhat sad, languorous and dreamy. The final track Gratitude (10:35) begins in the same style but morphs seamlessly into majestic symphonic rock and a joyful mood, and may be the only piece of music that transitions from Cocteau Twins or various Projekt label bands into Genesis. Read the DPRP review.
Alpha Wave Movement has been the solo vehicle for electronic musician Gregory Kyryluk, and the Alpha Wave Movement CDs until now have been electronic music works. On The Mystic and the Machine (2007), Kyryluk shifts to progressive rock and is assisted by British musician Steve Hillman on electric guitar and “vintage authenticity”. Hillman himself is well-known for working in both the electronic music and progressive rock genres. Kyryluk describes this CD thus: “...melds the beautiful melodic orchestrations of classic prog giants such as Genesis, Camel, ELP with a sprinkle of cosmic rock by virtue of synthesizers, samplers and a tasteful splash of electric guitar. The Mystic & the Machine is a sonic road-trip into the fairytale land where melodic progressive rock instrumentals meet modern day electronica.” It’s a great crossover work that carves out a unique niche, like a blend of the ethereal side of early Genesis with Tangerine Dream, with touches of the aforementioned Camel and ELP. See our Electronic Music page for some of the other Alpha Wave Movement CDs, along with the related Thought Guild CDs.
This double-CD on Friday Music’s Relayer label reissues the first two Ambrosia albums, recently remastered from the original 20th Century Fox Records tapes. Ambrosia are a band from the Los Angeles area whose 1975 self-titled debut is not only their classic, but one of the great American prog albums. Alan Parsons, who mixed the first album, was producer and engineer on Ambrosia’s second album Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled (1976), which features some orchestrations, and while it’s a bit uneven compared to their debut, it’s still an excellent album. It seems that Parsons decided his own ‘Project’ should sound like Ambrosia, and in fact the Ambrosia members played on APP’s debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Ambrosia signed to Warner for their third album, leading to a string of chart hits in the sanitized soft-rock style associated with Los Angeles in the late 70s and early 80s, songs easily mistaken for the work of Air Supply. But Ambrosia returned to their roots on their final album Road Island. More recently, Ambrosia have been active as a live band, having played Rosfest 2008, and they are focused purely on their progressive side again. How many times have you seen a band with a catalog of Top 40 hits perform live and play none of them? (OK, they did play the Floydian Holdin’ On to Yesterday, a fine song from the first album that happened to chart.)
Aaron Goldich, keyboardist for prog band The Source, formed a newer band called Ampledeed. A Is for Ampledeed (2013, digisleeve) retains some of the sound of The Source but goes for greater complexity while maintaining accessibility, shifting toward a Canterbury style. “This is indeed a very good album, a uniquely creative and energetic piece, very hard to describe but very easy to listen to even though this is not the most digestible platter I have come across. No, this is quite an exercise in complexity and I wouldn’t want it any other way... While the ’70s influence is strong -- I hear bands like Caravan, The Beatles, Gentle Giant, and Happy the Man -- there are also modern elements to be found. Accessibility and complexity do not often go hand in hand, but Ampledeed have found a way to make it work. I for one cannot wait to hear what they come out with next.” Read the full Sea of Tranquility review and the Exposé review.
BYOB (2016, digisleeve) is their outstanding follow-up, with everything sounding more polished than on their debut. Ampledeed are accessible and song-oriented one moment, then the next moment head off in unexpected directions, the music full of twists and turns. Think of a marriage of Happy the Man, Echolyn, and Thieves’ Kitchen, then think some more. It would be hard for this album to be any proggier, so if Ampledeed were somewhat overlooked before, that won’t continue after BYOB. Read the Music from the Other Side of the Room review. (Each CD counts as only one-half CD for shipping.)
The Anabasis is a prog rock project headed by American multi-instrumentalist and composer Barry Thompson and featuring Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard) as full-time keyboardist and arranger. The band is rounded out by Per Fredrik “PelleK” Åsly (Damnation Angels) on lead vocals, Gerald “Mully” Mulligan (The Lee Abraham Band) on drums, Lee Abraham himself on bass, Gordon Tittsworth (Images of Eden, All Too Human) on lead and backing vocals, Stefan Artwin (Relocator) and Brick Williams (Hourglass) on lead guitar, plus several guest musicians. Lee Abraham also served as producer and mixer. The lyrics on Back from Being Gone (2011) are by professional author George Andrade, whose sociopolitical narrative is based on three ancient civilizations: Roman, Norse, and Egyptian. Read the Sea of Tranquility and Rocktopia reviews.
The American band Ancient Vision released two Jethro Tull-influenced CDs in the early 1990s. After 15 years, the band resurfaced with the original lineup and a new CD Lost at Sea (2008). This work is much more eclectic and diverse. The Tull influence can still be heard at times, but there are also similarities to Camel, Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator, and Kansas. All of these are just approximations though. While the music remains faithful to the 1970s progressive rock aesthetic, it is not a retro album. The use of plucked sounds, Celtic folk, and ethereal female voice may suggest Clannad; in any event, such touches take the music into more original territory. This is Ancient Vision’s best and most mature album.
ARZ are a progressive rock band from Portland, Oregon who emerged from a Yes tribute band called All Good People. Turn of the Tide (2011, 75-minutes, digipack) is their first CD for Unicorn Digital. In addition to Yes, ARZ’s influences include ELP, Jethro Tull, and Rush. The music belongs to classic prog but generally has a more aggressive, modern sound. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Atavism of Twilight is a Los Angeles instrumental symphonic prog/fusion band that released only this 1992 album. “One of the best bands to emerge in 1992. The music owes equal debt to the symphonic and fusion realms. In fact, AoT reminds me of a cross between two excellent bands, Änglagård (symphonic) and Djam Karet (fusion)... Audion described Atavism of Twilight’s music as an amalgam of Italian progressive, King Crimson, and Mahavishnu Orchestra with flute ala Camel and Solaris, which is pretty accurate. Certainly, the flute playing is very melodic, standing out nicely against washes of Mellotron. The melodic lines often sound pastoral, belying the rhythm section that is always ready to burn and constantly hinting at the barnstormer that could burst forth at any moment. When the rhythm section does finally kick into overdrive, just watch out. The guitar scorches, the flute becomes frantic, the Mellotron sings forth and the whole band explodes in dynamic fury.” [Mike Taylor, Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock]
“An instrumental five piece consisting of flute, guitar, keys, bass and drums, this is the best new band I’ve heard since Änglagård. An amalgam of fusion and symphonic styles, they draw from bands such as Camel, Jethro Tull, Focus, Kenso, Mirthrandir, and many, many others... They combine sophisticated writing skill with knock-out, fiery playing. The compositions are upbeat without sounding campy. Atavism consists of ever-changing motifs and leads, avoiding the repetition trap that all too many instrumental bands fall into. Each musician is considerably skilled and all contribute equally to lead and rhythm parts... Unlike many bands that play complex music, Atavism of Twilight never become too esoteric or academic. They remain listenable and have a universal appeal. I think most prog-heads will like this album, and I recommend it very highly - this is brilliant material.” [Mike Borella, Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock]
Avalon Rising, from the San Francisco Bay area, play progressive Anglo-Celtic folk-rock with some medieval music and world fusion. They use male & female vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, electric & acoustic violin, flute, Celtic harp, recorder, mandolin, bass, and drums. The arrangements are complex, the rhythm section powerful, and there is plenty of high-energy instrumental content and impressive musicianship. They have the big, expansive sound of a progressive rock band as opposed to the smaller sound of a folk band. Storming Heaven (2004, 74-minutes) and Elbows & Antlers (2011, 77-minutes) are recommended to fans of Tempest, Wolfstone, Loreena McKennitt, Pentangle, Blackmore’s Night, Horslips, the folky side of Jethro Tull, Azigza (also from San Francisco) and, if it means anything to you, Pyewackett. We might also mention Breton bands such as Sonerien Du, but then we’d probably have lost you. Start with Elbows & Antlers, just take the Peter Tosh song that opens the CD with a grain of salt. It’s the finest American album we’ve heard in this genre.
For Genesis fans, this is as essential as they come. This is the CD reissue of the sole studio album, released on LP in 1978, from a U.S. progressive band that is the best clone ever of 70s Genesis. If originality didn’t count, this could be the best symphonic prog album by a U.S. band. (Since originality does count, Happy the Man wins, crafty hands down.) The sound quality has been dramatically improved over the LP.
Joe Bergamini became the drummer for Happy the Man in 2003, but he was internationally recognized before that, performing clinics for Tama, Sabian, Evans, and others; authoring two books and writing a column for Modern Drummer magazine, and spending 11 years as the drummer for Rush tribute band Power Windows. 4Front is his world-class, instrumental prog-rock/fusion band, with Zak Rizvi on guitars & keyboards and Frank LaPlaca on bass and frequent help from other musicians. Though Arrival (1996) is under Bergamini’s name, it is the first 4Front album as the lineup is the same, and it’s at least as good. This is instrumental progressive rock and fusion in the no-nonsense American style, symphonic and melodic and very well-recorded.
Emily Bezar’s music is breathtaking, magical, and defies categorization. As Exposé magazine said, “Bezar is a genre unto herself”. Emily is a northern Californian who spent time living in Europe. It’s impossible not to think of Kate Bush when hearing Emily sing. She is a classically-trained pianist, and her virtuoso piano playing is at the center of her music along with her incredible voice, which has similarities to Kate’s but is more operatic. While Emily’s music flirts with pop, it is much more progressive and less pop-oriented than Kate’s. But each of her albums is distinct, making it difficult to generalize about them. Her 1993 debut Grandmother’s Tea Leaves (out-of-print) was her most intimate and, at times, experimental, but the style established here is at the core of all her following albums. Emily formed a band (adding guitar/bass/drums) to record Moon in Grenadine (1996) and Four Walls Bending (1999). Her bandmates are also stellar players. Of her first four albums, Four Walls Bending is the most (progressive) rock-oriented.
Angels’ Abacus (2004) is a long one at 73-minutes. Here she uses a varying lineup of musicians rather than the fixed band of the previous two albums, and there are more electronic textures. While it isn’t as rock-oriented as the previous album, Angels’ Abacus is more sophisticated and ambitious. As Emily describes it, “This is music as architecture, as crystalline objects in time, with no agenda but its own sensual and complex beauty.” Is it progressive rock? To our way of thinking it is, but every genre from fusion to cabaret to rock will undoubtedly want to claim Emily as their own. The production and recording quality are exceptional, and this CD as well as Four Walls Bending are HDCD-encoded.
Patience pays off, as Emily’s 2008 album Exchange (72-minutes) is stunning, merging all aspects of her previous work into her most progressive album and perhaps the most live-sounding. On this CD, Emily again has a more than capable band with her, including saxes, trumpet, trombone, violin, and cello in addition to guitar, bass, and drums. There is a lot of jazz influence in the sophisticated harmonic vocabulary, but the result is closer to Hatfield and the North than jazz per se. Emotionally these songs have a depth and intimacy that reminds one of Peter Gabriel, but with feminine rather than masculine energy. Kate Bush is the better pop songstress, but Emily’s work is musically more intricate and challenging. Read the Exposé review.
Deluge Grander sprung from the ashes of Baltimore progressive band Cerebus Effect. It was the addition of keyboardist Dan Britton that made the final Cerebus Effect CD their most symphonic, and on their 2006 debut August in the Urals, Deluge Grander continue in that same direction, more symphonic and, well, grander. Britton is the primary composer here, and he is a tremendous keyboardist. The pieces vary from long to really long, so that only five tracks comprise the 71-minute CD. No one will be able to digest this music in one go. It is complex symphonic prog in a 1970s style, with some vocals but no attempts at songs per se, as instrumental content clearly dominates. The 27-minute first track is the closest to Cerebus Effect, the most angular and dissonant of the pieces, though the dissonance is used more for contrast than as the sole style. The other tracks are more melodic and symphonic. There are many possible reference points, including Änglagård, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Fireballet, Genesis, and Yes, but the music rarely suggests any one band for long. There are times when Britton’s piano playing suggests John Tout and Renaissance, times when his organ playing suggests Rick Wakeman, and lots of times when he uses Mellotron strings. This album has turned a lot of heads among the fan base for classic progressive rock.
Birds and Buildings is Dan Britton’s other band and is fairly similar. The two bands also share a bass player. Bantam to Behemoth (2008, 69-minutes) has some vocals by Britton and a female singer on one track, but they are so buried in the mix that this still feels like an instrumental CD. The major difference between this and the first Deluge Grander is the presence of a woodwinds (sax, flute, clarinet) player. The flute tends to be used in the gentler, pastoral passages, while the sax is used in the more energetic passages. The sax style is similar to David Jackson or Mel Collins, ranging from melodic to frenzied. The presence of sax leads to comparisons with King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, and Gong, and there is more of a Canterbury influence here than in Deluge Grander. There are still gobs of Mellotron strings and choir, and highly-skilled ensemble playing. The production is a little bass-shy, but overall this is a tremendous CD in the tradition of the complex side of British symphonic progressive.
Bantam to Behemoth was recorded between the two Deluge Grander CDs, and the second Deluge Grander CD The Form of the Good (2009) seems to have more in common with Bantam to Behemoth than August in the Urals, perhaps not surprising given that B&B’s woodwind player guests here. The Form of the Good is entirely instrumental and has more of the sonic maelstrom approach of the French band Clearlight. Here the core quartet of keys/guitar/bass/drums in augmented by a large number of guests contributing clarinet, flute, sax, violin, cello, trumpet, trombone, and oboe. Clearlight had Didier Malherbe’s woodwinds and either David Cross’s or Didier Lockwood’s violin, so Deluge Grander usually have a sonic counterpart to those in the mix here. As with B&B, this is blended with a more symphonic style highlighted by Mellotron.
2013 and it’s Birds and Buildings’ turn again, with Multipurpose Trap (63-minutes). The lineup has changed but the instrumentation still includes violin, sax, flute, and clarinet. In the band’s words, B&B “play a mixture of intense jazz-rock (often bordering on zeulh), complex symphonic music, and occasional avant-garde heaviness”. The band says that every song has up to six people singing, but only for a minute or less on most songs, mainly to confound ‘instrumental’ versus ‘vocal’ classification. Read the Exposé reviews. Check above for the related band All Over Everywhere.
That’s how Cerebus Effect spell their name, even though the three-headed watchdog Cerberus appears on the traycard of Acts of Deception (2005), the second studio CD for this Baltimore-area instrumental band. There is a small amount of “vocals”, but it is not singing as we understand it, and the vocals are very low in the mix. With the addition of keyboardist Dan Britton, Acts of Deception contains a unique blend of symphonic progressive and heavy fusion. Cerebus Effect like to play it fast and furious and in odd time signatures. They’ve been listening to their progressive rock, and you can catch influences of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Djam Karet, Volaré, Happy the Man, Kultivator, Van der Graaf Generator, Magma, and Genesis, to name just a few. Actually, the Genesis and Magma occur in the same song, which is typical of their eclecticism. The tracks that won’t allow you to catch your breath are broken up by a few more peaceful tracks, one suggestive of Steve Hackett’s acoustic pieces and another of Happy the Man’s slower tracks. There are enough bands that impress with technical skills while making for a fatiguing listen, but Cerebus Effect blend in enough structure and symphonic textures to make this an album to return to.
Two years after his God Sex Money album, 1994 saw the release of the sole album by Michael West’s progressive rock quartet Black September, featuring West on keyboards; Jason Harper on violin, bass and lead vocals; Jon Wilson on drums; and Freddy Lutz on sax, bass and backing vocals. Bill Berends again produced. “The music on the six compositions (between 6 and 13 minutes) is often bombastic, featuring dazzling keyboard runs and a dynamic, very propulsive rhythm section. My highlights are Floodgates (Emerson/Wakeman-inspired keyboard flights and a fiery saxophone solo) and Beast in Plain View (super-bombastic climate delivering swirling electric violin play and an ELP/Ars Nova atmosphere with amazing keyboard work). Despite the obvious hints of ELP and Ars Nova, the sound from Black September is modern, but at some moments a bit too focused on the sensational keyboards and power rhythm section. But in general this album contains lots of exciting, keyboard-driven prog rock.” [Erik Neuteboom] Check below for Michael West’s solo CD.
CD reissue of a 1987 American album that bridges the gap between pomp and progressive rock. Debut at Dusk recalls the first Asia album in the very full-sounding arrangements and harmony vocals, a huge wall-of-prog sound with soaring vocals and thunderous rhythm section combining with the lead guitars/synths and vast backdrops. The synths have the edge over the guitars, there’s some nice up-front bass guitar, and the songs work as songs in their own right but really spark thanks to the wall of sound production, with emotive synth solos recalling classic 1970s bands. Here is a RealAudio excerpt from the track The Seed Has Been Sown.
Yes, this is the same Blue Shift that released Not the Future I Ordered in 1997. The only lineup change on Levels of Undo (2015) is at singer, with Denise Chandler replacing Stewart Meredith. Meredith was a high tenor, so not much of a change, and as Yes remains Blue Shift’s primary influence, the vocals in Jon Anderson’s range work well. There is one track of solo jazz guitar and one track that sounds like Hawkwind. The rest, especially the two epic tracks, is 1970s style prog in the Yes vein with forays into ELP, King Crimson, and fusion territory. For Yes fans, Drivetime (10:25) and the title track (20:41) are as good as anything you’re likely to hear this year (or ever again from Yes). After listening to a lot of modern and neo-prog, it’s refreshing to hear the undiluted product again. Progressive rock is not a flavor nor cousin of metal or pop or alt-rock; ideally it stands above and apart with no mistaking the difference. If a reminder of that is needed, Levels of Undo should do it.
Bolt is an instrumental prog rock trio of guitar/bass/drums with members also adding synths and loops. They play precise and intricate but at the same time fun and melodic rock that owes some debt to post-1980 King Crimson and to the Summers/Fripp collaborations. But Bolt cover a wider range than that, mashing a lot of influences into something original: a touch of metal here and jazz there, some atmospherics, generally staying bright and energetic. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
This is the only existing recording of a previously-unknown American progressive duo from Michigan. Allen Bondar played Hammond B3 & C3, ARP 2600, and bass pedals, while Bob Wise played drums. The music of Bondar & Wise is instrumental and very ELP-influenced, with just as big a sound. This CD is of an early-1970s concert that was originally recorded on reel-to-reel tape. The band spent 60 hours of studio time restoring it, and the sound is now quite good. This is wild, virtuosic progressive keyboard rock that, like the hair styles pictured in the booklet, is not likely to come back.
Box of Shamans is a Los Angeles prog band closely related to Heliopolis. Box of Shamans are led by multi-instrumentist Michael Matier (Heliopolis, Ten Jinn), with singer Scott Jones (Heliopolis); the two have been writing together for many years. Drummer Jerry Beller (Heliopolis, Mars Hollow) joins them for their debut Belief and Illusion (2015, digipack). As you might expect from members of Heliopolis and Mars Hollow, the music comes closest to Yes, but with a distinct style. It balances complexity and accessibility, angularity and melody. It is an extrapolation of 1970s progressive rock that does not follow the paths of neo-prog, metal-prog, or other problematic paths prog has since gone down. Or as we wrote about the Blue Shift album that preceded this by a couple months, it sure is good to hear the real thing now and again. We’d file this alongside Perfect Beings, if only to demonstrate how Los Angeles currently leads the Yes division of progressive rock. Read the Progradar review.
Denver Guitarist Charles Brown plays instrumental symphonic progressive that combines hard rock riffs (think Ritchie Blackmore) with soaring guitar synth melodies and lush, acoustic and classical guitar textures and interludes. Few guitarists make progressive rock as lushly orchestrated and epic as this, as the synths and guitar are actually of equal weight here, and it even gets bombastic (just the way prog fans love it). Brown has seven albums to his credit; Journey in a New Land is from 2007 and Thru the Flames is from 2003. Start with Journey in a New Land. Note these are CD-Rs with inkjet-printed booklets/inlays.
Few musicians blend AOR and progressive rock as well as Jeff Cannata. He was a founding member of the progressive rock band Jasper Wrath, which was active from 1969-1976. The 1983 album by his band Arc Angel was a hit in Europe, and the albums Images of Forever and Watching the World under the name Cannata followed in 1988 and 1993, respectively.
The 60-minute Mysterium Magnum (2006) can comfortably be called AOR-flavored symphonic prog. There is no more AOR here than in 1980s Yes, Conspiracy, World Trade, the first Asia album, or Robert Berry, all of which Cannata’s music resembles at times, and it occasionally gets even proggier than that. Two of the tracks are reworkings of Arc Angel songs. Gorgeous tri-fold digipack with 16-page full-color booklet.
American progressive rock band Canvas debuted in 2002 with the double-CD Avenues (currently available as digital download only), about which we wrote: The band has a quintessential American 1970s style, sometimes close to the U.S. Now or Under the Big Tree, though there are also occasional similarities to early Camel. You might even call some of this an American Canterbury style, in that it is slightly jazz inflected, has a generally relaxed vibe, and eschews bombast and drama. There is also a folk element in the vocal tracks, especially where acoustic guitar is prominent, probably owing something to both America and Kansas. Not all of the songs are out-and-out progressive, but at worst they are an intelligent, non-commercial pop with quality vocals, some reminiscent of the band Café Jacques. When Canvas do play out-and-out prog, the results are very good, especially during instrumental passages. Perhaps if Steely Dan or Phish decided to play progressive rock, the result would sound something like this.
Digital Pigeon (2007) is a stronger sophomore effort, with more overt progressive stylings, though the essential style is the same, a blend of symphonic prog and a 1970s pop/rock aesthetic. The Alan Parsons Project is a good reference point on some tracks. The band is strengthened by the presence of Greg Lounsberry (Laserdogs) on several tracks, contributing both vocals and guitar, and the addition of brass on a few tracks. The album is 77 minutes long, and of the 14 tracks, one is a cover of Saga’s Catwalk and one a cover of Jaco Pastorius’s Teen Town.
Carpe Nota are a hard-rocking instrumental prog quartet from the Philadelphia area led by keyboardist Dan Pluta. Their impressive debut CD (2012, 68-minutes) has guitars and keys sharing the workload in music that is intense but reasonably melodic, flirting with but generally not crossing the line into prog-metal. Pluta uses a large arsenal of synths both ancient and modern (including software synths) and plays as many lead lines as chords and pianistic parts. He’s not only familiar with and influenced by the obvious keyboard giants from progressive rock and fusion, he’s also familiar with the likes of Erik Norlander, Motoi Sakaruba (Deja Vu and solo), Toshio Egawa (Gerard), Keiko Kumagai (Ars Nova), and Gennady Ilyin (Little Tragedies). The rest of the Carpe Nota guys are all veteran musicians, so the music is rooted in classic prog but is more modern and hard-edged. Not to imply that these are jams, because the music is structured and composed, but the balance is tipped strongly toward playing and chops as opposed to songwriting or heart energy. If Derek Sherinian / Planet X toned down the metal but not the energy, the result might sound something like Carpe Nota. Along those lines, Liquid Tension Experiment should also be mentioned, but Carpe Nota have more classic prog influences (UK, Camel, ELP, King Crimson, etc.) and a more symphonic sound. Read reviews at Prog Archives and JerryLucky.com.
Boston’s (the city, not the band) Rich Casey has quietly been producing some stellar keyboard-dominated symphonic prog CDs, and making steady progress with each release. No Way Out, Casey’s 2006 debut, divides its time between progressive rock and symphonic/melodic/rhythmic synth music. Apart from a drummer who plays on three tracks, a female singer on one track and a soprano sax player on another, this is Casey’s show. While it’s a keyboard-dominated album, Casey also plays electric guitar on nearly half the tracks. His primary influence is Tony Banks, and even the synth music tracks often sound like Tony Banks doing solo synth music. 69-minutes.
House of Cards (2007, 59-minutes) is a keyboard-centric progressive rock album and is more band-oriented than his first CD. Casey still handles keys and electric guitar but has brought in a drummer on seven of the tracks, a female singer on five tracks, a male singer on one, and a guest guitarist. 1970s Genesis/Tony Banks remains the dominant influence, while a few tracks have more of a Goblin or Il Balletto di Bronzo feel.
Shadowblack (2008, digipack) is Casey’s best to date. There are two tracks with vocals by Gabrielle Agachiko; the rest is instrumental. His other guests are Walter Stickle (guitar solos, sax solo) and Tony Caliendo (drums) from Pink Floyd tribute band Pink Voyd. The aforementioned influences are also present on this album, along with one excellent Tangerine Dream-ish track. Some beautiful Mellotron strings and choir on this one. “Dark, atmospheric explorations is the name of the game here. Symphonic layers with a focus on mood exploration in mostly slow-paced compositions is the main feature throughout, more often than not setting up multiple layered pompous sonic tapestries with one dominant and one or two additional underscoring melodic layers. Bass and drums provide rhythms, acoustic and electric guitars are added sparingly; the latter mostly in the form of atmospheric guitar soloing. Nothing really complex on this production, but fans of symphonic rock inspired by Genesis of old, and in particular those enjoying music in this style at its most lush and mellow, may find this one intriguing, especially if dark, melancholic moods are of general interest.” [Prog Archives]
Castle Canyon are an unknown early-1970s American instrumental progressive rock band. Two short tracks on Gods of 1973 (2009) actually were recorded in 1973-74. Four were composed in 1973-74 but not recorded until 2008, and three are new but sound consistent with the others. There is some guitar, but this is keyboard-dominated symphonic prog using vintage sounds. While ELP is the most frequently-heard influence and Trace is often a good reference point, the music ranges wider than that and is fairly original, including some excellent impressionistic soundscapes. Close your eyes and imagine it’s a lost classic from 1973, because in a way it is.
Criteria Obsession (2015, digipack) is the second Castle Canyon CD, again emphasizing 1970s-style vintage keyboard dominated prog instrumentals. The trio of keyboards, guitars, and drums has the assistance of different bass players on different tracks, and a guest saxophonist on one. There are two short ARP 2600 solo works recorded in 1974, while the band’s 1972 tour de force Criteria Obsession / The Mushroom Song (14:35) finally sees the light of day in 2015. (There are brief vocals on this track.) The 13-minute Disaster is a studio recording of a piece the band used to play live; it juxtaposes carefully composed elements with sections of wild abandon, showing a fusion side to Castle Canyon. Though you might never guess, My Lady Carey is a rock arrangement of one of the earliest surviving renaissance musical pieces. They just don’t make albums like this anymore.
Stained Glass Stories, released on LP independently in 1978, is generally considered to be one of the top American progressive rock albums of all time. This CD reissue is from 1991. This Cathedral was influenced by Yes, King Crimson, and maybe Genesis. They use lots of Mellotron, and their sound is close to that of Änglagård, who came along much later. Read the review at Progressive Ears.
From the New York City area, Celestial O’euvre’s name may not roll off the tongue, but they are a progressive rock band and are not trying to hide it. Taking cues from Yes, ELP, and other 1970s bands, their sound is huge and full of pomp, sometimes with an AOR flavor, but don’t worry, this isn’t Styx. The lead guitarist of the band is Joe Nardulli, who has a CD under his own name and one by his own band Ad Astra. Singer Joe Acaba reminds us of the singer for Isopoda, though we’re pretty sure Acaba has never fronted a Belgian progressive rock band. Keyboardist Jose Damien and drummer Hector Lopez are also superb musicians. The core members of Celestial O’euvre have been writing and playing progressive rock since the mid-1970s, and the band’s aesthetic is of that era, full of Yes-like positivity.
Second Chance (2005) is their debut, released by the band. It caught the attention of Montreal’s Unicorn Digital label, who released the band’s second CD This Mortal Coil (2009). Sadly, Jose Damien passed away in 2007, which would explain the title of the second album. But as the band had been working on the second album for some time, Damien still plays all the keyboards and bass and has several writing credits.
Chain was a German band that existed briefly circa 1994 but released no albums during that period. Their band leader Henning Pauly, also responsible for the Frameshift albums and who relocated to the U.S., rediscovered Chain’s material on tapes recorded during a rehearsal and decided to produce the album in 2002 using an American singer. Chain is a band that does play progressive metal at times, but there is so much pure prog rock on their albums that it would be unfair to saddle them with the prog-metal tag. Their 2002 debut Reconstruct (79-minutes) features lines from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy throughout, and in fact the album is dedicated to Adams. The album is a powerful prog-rock/prog-metal blend that also strikes us as being very clever, recommended especially to fans of Ayreon. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
On their debut, A Tapestry of Afterthoughts (1999), Chaos Code can be thought of as the American Landberk. This is 55-minutes of generally melancholy, medium-tempo, early-1970s style progressive rock using vintage sounds (including flute), with debts to King Crimson and Pink Floyd. As with the Scandinavian prog bands, heavy, dissonant passages contrast with pastoral, symphonic sections. Their second, The Tragedy of Leaps and Bounds (2002), still sounds like an album straight out of the early 1970s, but with a new and improved rhythm section, the melancholy gives way to bolder, more dynamic progressive rock. King Crimson and Pink Floyd are still there among a host of 70s progressive and heavy rock influences. 60-minutes with a number of long tracks.
Chaos Code’s third CD Propaganda (2005) sees some minor lineup changes, losing their keyboardist but adding a sax player and guests on trumpet and harmony vocals. While bandleader Cliff Phelps adds some keys and flute, he is primarily the guitarist, and so this album is light on keyboards. This is the most King Crimson influenced of their albums, with elements of Pink Floyd and Van der Graaf Generator also present.
Return (2015, digipack) and Counterpoint (2016, digipack) are the first two CDs for U.S. prog band Circuline. “This is a fantastic album from the first note to the last. It was a pleasure to listen to and absorb. I felt so much appreciation and wonder for what I was hearing. It hit my sweet spot and reminded me how alive and well progressive rock is. I think it is safe to say we have been experiencing the golden age of the genre and although the 70s was crucial and fondly remembered, it is the last several years that have helped the music grow in popularity like it never has before. Bands like Circuline will be remembered for their contributions and Counterpoint as one of the best releases of 2016.” Read the full Sea of Tranquility review, also the Progradar review of Counterpoint. Read reviews of both CDs on Circuline’s site.
Cirrus Bay is led by American multi-instrumentalist Bill Gillham. Gillham’s biggest influences are Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Jade Warrior, and Bo Hansson. We can state this confidently because it says as much in the booklet of their first CD. Among newer bands, he mentions a fondness for Big Big Train, The Flower Kings, and The Watch. Overall we’re reminded of Canadian Ken Baird.
After their somewhat tentative 2008 debut Slipping of a Day, the second Cirrus Bay CD A Step Into Elsewhere (2009) is the CD they really wanted to make, a significant improvement over Slipping... and a cohesive musical statement. It’s female vocals only on this one, from two singers, and the easiest way to describe the album is a blend of Genesis circa Wind and Wuthering and Renaissance. Renaissance because the vocals are in an Annie Haslam style, and there is that breezy folkiness blended with classical piano. Genesis because Gillham is a musician who gets what Tony Banks does. It isn’t about how fast one can play scales, it’s about the chord progressions. There is plenty of electric and acoustic guitar in addition to keyboards, so it sounds closer to Genesis than a Tony Banks solo album, and there are influences of other progressive artists as well. Instrumentally, the appeal of this album is similar to the Willowglass albums, on top of which you get the beautiful vocals. “Had Genesis replaced Peter Gabriel with Annie Haslam instead of Phil Collins in 1975, the band might have sounded something like this. Cirrus Bay... so closely echoes the crisp prog sound of Wind and Wuthering-era Genesis it could double as a tribute band... Most tracks feature lush keyboard swells, delicate guitar-and-flute passages, strong soprano vocal melodies, tricky meter changes and classically-inspired instrumental breaks that would give Tony Banks and Steve Hackett a run for their money.” [Progression] Read the Prognaut review.
Whimsical Weather (2012) picks up where A Step Into Elsewhere left off and further develops the Cirrus Bay style, essentially a combination of the breezy Renaissance style with beautiful female vocals and instrumental Genesis/Hackett style symphonic/pastoral prog. It’s a beautiful album with its soul in the early-to-mid 1970s, standing in stark contrast to the “sound and fury signifying nothing” of much modern music.
The Search for Joy (2014) features guest performances by Amy Darby and Phil Mercy of Thieves’ Kitchen, while classically-trained viola player Sarah Sanderson has signed on. Bill says the album has “more key changes than a drunken locksmith”. Watch the videos for Song of the Wind, Waking Wild, Learning to Fly, and Cotton Skies.
Places Unseen (2016) is Cirrus Bay’s latest and greatest. Watch the video for the title track and listen to Horseback to Hanssonland.
No relation to the Belgian band, this Cos is a pseudonym for Mark Costoso, who handles nearly everything himself on this 2002 CD. And as one man sounding like a full band, this ranks up there with the best of them, as there is almost nothing in the music that gives away the fact this is not a band. Costoso lists his influences as Yes, Kansas, Genesis, King Crimson, UK, Gentle Giant, and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, but it is the Rundgren and Utopia influence that dominates this album. While some of this is very derivative of Rundgren and Utopia, consider that the other bands mentioned have been mimicked ad nauseam, whereas there have been few Utopia imitators, despite their very recognizable sound. Like a Utopia album, you get Rundgren-esque ballads, a few rockers, and a lot of proggy material incorporating strong pop songwriting. The CD is 72-minutes long so there’s room for it all. Costoso is a more than capable singer, and there are those lush, Utopia-trademark harmony vocals as well.
Keyboardist David Cosgrove was the main force behind the band Makkiwhipdies. On Space Toucan (2012, pro CD-R), he plays keyboards, electronic drums/percussion, and some guitar and bass, assisted on some tracks by a bass player, guitarist, and singers. Granted none of the singers are likely to become your favorite, but the album is predominantly instrumental and varies from layered Genesis-style keyboards to electro-rock to tracks where acoustic guitar is prominent. The vast majority of it falls under the progressive rock umbrella, but it is an original style, with a rhythmic feel defined by the programmed percussion. It’s less eccentric than the Makkiwhipdies album, but some of that has carried over, and several of the tracks are strangely addictive. Read the Sea of Tranquility, Hollywoodworx (Grady Stuart), Hollywoodworx (Jerry Lucky), and Mike Korn reviews.
Gift of Time (2008, pro CD-R) is one of the best electronic music CDs we’ve heard in recent years, much of it better labeled ‘electronic rock’ because of the drums. It is melodic, rhythmic, high-energy synth music for wide awake listening, great in the car player for nighttime driving. The CD comes in a cardboard sleeve and counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
This 1992 CD is intense 70s-style keyboard-driven instrumental progressive rock, the work of Texan Dave Gryder, who plays drums as well as keys. Bill Pohl (The Underground Railroad) guests on guitar and bass. ELP is a big influence, though there is no Greg Lake here to balance the Emerson/Palmer. The playing is flashy, the music dense and rhythmically complex and filled with (mostly) vintage keyboards. A bit one-dimensional perhaps as most one-man projects are, but generally it works.
The second Crucible CD Curtains (2001) is a worthy successor to their 1997 debut Tall Tales, both of which should please a wide range of prog lovers. Tall Tales is the superior album, but it has been unavailable for many years and there is no indication it will ever get re-released. Both are neo-prog albums that rely heavily on the vintage keyboard sounds of early Genesis or Kansas. Factor in the vocals and it’s now apparent that Crucible are the new Kansas, that is, the early, progressive Kansas -- only the violin is missing. There are also similarities to Iluvatar, though that has a lot to do with singer Bill Esposito’s voice, which is similar to Glenn McLaughlin’s. Crucible may transport you back to the days of Song for America. Curtains contains a top-notch cover of Crack the Sky’s Nuclear Apathy (listen to it on YouTube). Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Jennifer Cutting led the English-style folk-rock band The New St. George, which broke up circa 1995. Ocean Orchestra is her current ensemble, and Ocean (2004) heads off in a slightly different direction. Seven years in the making, Ocean features an all-star cast including Maddy Prior and Peter Knight (Steeleye Span), Troy Donockley (Iona), Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, Tull), Polly Bolton (Dando Shaft, Albion Band), Gabriel Yacoub (Malicorne), and many others. Jennifer is the composer and arranger and plays keyboards and squeezeboxes, while four female lead singers are employed, all with beautiful voices. This is a rather novel blend of traditional Celtic/British Isles music with symphonic rock, new age, and some electronic effects, loops, and samples. A Bulgarian women’s singing group adds a world music flavor to one track, while a string quartet plays on two others. Another track is a rearrangement of one of Steve Morse’s baroque instrumentals (Sleep, from The Dixie Dregs’ Freefall), using piano, violin, and low whistle. Gustav Holst and J.S. Bach get in on the act too. The whole album serves as a metaphor for a mid-life transformation, and the tri-fold digipack with 16-page booklet is one of the most elaborate you will see. Ocean impressed Strawbs’ Dave Cousins enough to license it for his Witchwood label. “…The quality is staggering as the sheer emotion and beauty of the songs stands head and shoulders above anything else in this vein, with tracks that could have fitted in anything from Titanic through Lord of the Rings to Robin Of Sherwood - you get the drift? Yes, this is an album that makes the likes of Clannad sound like second-raters, so incredibly constructed, played and arranged that forty-four minutes goes by in the blink of an eye, while all you’re left with at the end is an overwhelming desire to put the whole thing on again. Transcending any categorisation, this is symphonic-orchestral-folk-olde worlde music and song at a wide-eyed quality level that you simply can’t fault. No matter what you’re into - prog, electronic, folk, Heavenly Vocals, whatever – if you want something where songs and female voices and rich arrangements and gorgeously melodic instrumentation stand side by side in shining splendour, you simply have to get this album!” [Andy Garibaldi, CD Services]
Song of Solstice (2010, digipack) is a more intimate and smaller-scale work. It contains a mix of originals and arrangements of traditional French, English, and Scottish songs around the theme of midwinter and Christmas, though it belongs to all spiritual traditions. The tracks are generally in an Anglo-Celtic folk and new age vein, with quite varied instrumentation. However, four of the 12 tracks feature a rock rhythm section, with electric guitar on three of those. Green Man is in the Blackmore’s Night style but with male vocals, and Summer Will Come ’Round Again in a modern Fairport Convention style, with the most memorable melodies on the album. The haunting Time to Remember the Poor is fairly proggy, while the most symphonic song and the star attraction is Fall Leaves Fall, sung by Annie Haslam of Renaissance. The song even has some unintentional Mike Oldfield flavoring; Annie is an Oldfield fan, so it all ties together. This album has authenticity and depth that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in another holiday music album.
During their existence, they were the best British-style electric-folk/ folk-rock band in America. Akin to a more progressive Steeleye Span, with greater diversity of material and instrumentation, Washington DC’s The New St. George combined superb male and female vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, melodeon, accordion, synthesizers, tin whistle, bass, and drums. Most of the material is from the English tradition, arranged in a thoroughly modern way, with a good mix of vocal tracks and instrumentals. Keyboardist/composer/arranger Jennifer Cutting was weaned on progressive rock keyboardists like Emerson and Wakeman, and it shows in her arrangements. For the progressive rock fan who has yet to sample British electric-folk, High Tea may be the best place to start. Here are lo-fi RealAudio excerpts from the tracks The False Bride, When a Man’s in Love, and All the Tea in India.
The self-titled album is the 2007 debut CD (56-minutes, digipack) by Days Between Stations, a Los Angeles band formed by guitarist Sepand Samzadeh and keyboardist Oscar Fuentes, with a large number of other musicians assisting. The music on the first CD is instrumental (with some wordless vocals), certainly influenced by mid-period Pink Floyd but more surreal, ambient, and cinematic. Some of the material could be compared to post rock bands such as Godspeed You Black Emperor, and there are many other progressive elements as well. The lush soundscapes and rich sonic detail reveal an uncommon talent. Read the Proggnosis and Sea of Tranquility reviews, or just see this compilation of reviews.
In Extremis (2013, 70-minutes, digipack) includes contributions from the late Peter Banks (Yes), the estimable Tony Levin, Colin Moulding (XTC), Billy Sherwood, and Rick Wakeman. The artwork is by Paul Whitehead (Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator, etc.). There are some vocals on this one courtesy of Sherwood and Moulding, and it is altogether a superior, more stirring and less somber album, more symphonic, varied, and energetic. The band’s expectations have been raised in the intervening years, as they employ a full orchestra on the opening overture and a string quartet on another track, while veteran engineers were hired for both recording and mastering. This could be called the new American classic prog (meaning no metal or alternative for miles around), with some help from the Brits. Watch the short video trailer. Read the Something Else! review.
Awaken the Man (2007, 61-minutes) is the debut CD by an American symphonic prog band that has elicited comparisons to Spock’s Beard, mainly because that’s the easy reference these days when a variety of British progressive rock influences are run through an American filter. It’s not a bad reference though, as Din Within have that same huge symphonic rock sound, technical skills, and crisp production married to catchy melodies. Kansas is also a good reference, Rocket Scientists to some extent, and the one reviewers below a certain age may miss, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (more so vocally and in the ballads). In addition to the Yes and ELP influences, Din Within have more of a Genesis influence than Spock’s Beard, while one song is quite Floydian. There are loads of instrumental passages. Din Within’s singer is not on a par with a Neal Morse when the lead vocals go it alone, but when backing vocals have been added, it produces the Utopia effect of average singers combining to create powerful ensemble vocals.
Check our DVDs page for Discipline’s Live 1995 DVD. Discipline have rightly been hailed as the American Van der Graaf Generator. Unfolded Like Staircase (1997, 65-minutes) is the second and superior of the first two Discipline studio CDs, boasting three nearly 15-minute songs including the brilliant Canto IV (Limbo) as well as the 22-minute epic Into the Dream. Majestic and dramatic, it varies from soft and brooding to confident and aggressive, a classic of 1990s progressive rock. This is the 2011 digipack edition (same data, different packaging).
While Unfolded Like Staircase is their (first) masterpiece, Push & Profit (1993) is no slouch. In addition to the nascent Hammill/Van der Graaf influence, there are elements of Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Caravan. Discipline manage to sound British without it sounding like an affectation and without cloning anyone’s style.
Live Days (2010) is a superb double live set. The Cyclops label went through Discipline’s collection of live concerts to choose the best performances, which include all their classics along with rare versions and tracks never recorded in the studio (at least to that point). All are taken from top quality recordings and mastered for excellent sound quality. Highlights include Mickey Mouse Man, which was regularly played live but never recorded in the studio; the nearly 20-minute Before the Storm; Circuitry, another lost track; the epic Canto IV; the unreleased Homegrown; a rarely-played live version of Systems; the unreleased Wrists, which shows Discipline did listen to early Genesis; the tour de force Into the Dream; another unreleased track Diminished and several more, over 150 minutes total. The detailed booklet contains many unreleased photos. For those not familiar with Discipline, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction.
To Shatter All Accord (digipack) is Discipline’s 2011 studio CD, featuring the same lineup that recorded Unfolded Like Staircase. Just five tracks span 57-minutes. “For a band to return after 10+ years with an effort this strong is a rarity. To find a band firing on all cylinders, almost like they never broke up, is nothing short of amazing. To Shatter All Accord not only matches the band’s previous effort, but with Parmenter’s engineering skills improving substantially since Horror Express in 2008, this may be Discipline’s greatest statement yet.” [Examiner.com]
Chaos Out of Order (1988/2013, digipack) is the 25th anniversary reissue of a 1988 album that we didn’t know existed and which must have gone out-of-print shortly after its initial release. This recording was Discipline’s first full-length release, a concept album that “presents an emergent rock artist experimenting with its sound and musical influences”. This CD includes the original songs remastered and an extra 10-minute track recorded by the same lineup in 1987.
Matthew Parmenter is known for his narrative songwriting and costumed performances as leader and front-man of Discipline, earning him the title of the American Peter Hammill. The first album under his own name, Astray (2004, 68-minutes) is decidedly psychedelic in atmosphere and striking in its early 1970s British vibe. Parmenter’s voice is smoother than Hammill’s, and Astray is much more of a progressive rock album than nearly any Hammill solo album. Parmenter was the main creative force in Discipline and came to dominate the band more and more, so in all important respects, this is the third Discipline studio album. Parmenter shows he is quite capable of handling the guitar and drums in addition to all the instruments he covered in Discipline. Discipline bassist Mathew Kennedy appears throughout the CD, the sole guest musician. Parmenter is modestly credited with “vocals, et cetera”, which includes piano, guitar, drums, saxophone, violin, organ, synthesizers, marimba, Theremin, and Mellotron. While Van der Graaf is the dominant influence, especially on the magnificent 21-minute finale Modern Times, there is also a substantial Pink Floyd influence as well as King Crimson circa 1973.
Parmenter handles everything on Horror Express (2008, 63-minutes): keyboards, violin, cello, guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, and of course vocals. The result is again very much like a full band and more suggestive of Peter Hammill than ever before. But while voice and piano are often at the core of the songs -- Parmenter plays an 1880 Steinway piano throughout -- this is like a Peter Hammill solo album with all Van der Graaf Generator musicians playing on it. As with Astray, Horror Express is much more of a progressive rock album, much more orchestrated than most Hammill albums. A world-class work. Read the DPRP review.
As the press release suggests, Parmenter’s third solo album All Our Yesterdays (2016, digipack, not named after a Star Trek episode) is best experienced as a single, all-encompassing musical odyssey. Each track can be taken on its own merit, but the full, immersive effect is most evident when they’re all heard in succession. The listener is transported on an allegorical journey and emerges transformed at the close of the album. Paul Dzendzel of Discipline guests on drums, while Parmenter sings and plays all other instruments. Like Parmenter’s previous albums, this has the feel of a full band, and the title ‘The American Peter Hammill’ has never been more deserved. All Our Yesterdays was mixed by Terry Brown (Rush, Fates Warning) and mastered by Grammy winning engineer Peter Moore. Read the Music from the Other Side of the Room review.
Those words are Latin, but Dissonati are from the Seattle area, not ancient Rome. This is their 2012 debut. They use vocals, keyboards, guitar, guitar synth, sax and other woodwinds, bass and drums. They are 1970s oriented, their major influence King Crimson, though one can hear Gentle Giant, Yes, Genesis, and fusion at various times. There are some vocals but no real songs. Rather these are long tracks that sometimes dip into Genesis-style sonorities but quickly revert to edgier, slightly dissonant Crimson territory. The band name translates to ‘different’, not ‘dissonant’, and Dissonati are just quirky enough to make their music distinctive without it becoming inaccessible. Read reviews at Prognaut, The Sound of Fighting Cats, and Dangerdog.
This Distinguished Panel of Experts is an instrumental prog band formed by some familiar names from the progressive rock world: Guy LeBlanc (Nathan Mahl, Camel) on keyboards, Shawn Persinger (Boud Deun, Prester John) on guitars, Mike Sary (French TV) on bass, and Chris Vincent (French TV) on drums. Trans-indulgent (2009, digipack) is their debut CD, which contains an amalgam of the Nathan Mahl, French TV, and Persinger’s styles, that is if one considers only Nathan Mahl’s fusion-tinged instrumental style as found on their Shadows Unbound album. Overall, the music is not as convoluted as French TV; rather it’s more of a progressive jam band album with Persinger’s guitar the main feature.
Hybrid Child (2010) is the debut by a Chicago prog band whose female lead singer was an American Idol finalist (that’s probably the last time the words ‘American Idol’ appear on this site). They also feature a cellist from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The ‘hybrid’ in the title may refer to the fact that the core of the band had been an instrumental prog-metal band before adding vocals and moving in a more expansive, expressive direction. So District 97 play a lot of impressive, first-rate progressive rock, though they undermine it by switching to prog-metal mode every so often and the usual rat-a-tat-a-tat riffing. It is not a blend of prog and metal; at any moment the music is pretty clearly one or the other. There is great sophistication to their progressive work, nearly reaching the majesty of Yes (a definite influence) at times, while our favorite vocal passages and vocal harmonies recall Barbara Gaskin. Read the Sea of Tranquility reviews.
Trouble With Machines (2012) is their second and features a cameo vocal by former King Crimson singer/bassist John Wetton. Read reviews at Sea of Tranquility and Dangerdog.
In Vaults (2015) is District 97’s third studio album. Read the Prog Metal Zone review.
Based on their 2001 album The American Standard, Dreadnaught’s music earned the tag progabilly (“King Crimson at a hoedown”, “Zappa meets Yes at Willie Nelson’s BBQ”) for their mix of progressive rock and Americana, vaguely along the lines of The Dixie Dregs. But Dreadnaught have made a habit of not making the same album twice, covering more stylistic ground between two albums than some bands cover in a career. Musica en Flagrante (2004) is their fourth, a 54-minute album of sophisticated instrumental progressive marking a further expansion of the band’s musical palette with the addition of orchestral strings and brass, electronics, and loops. There’s still some of the progified rock & roll that has made them such a fun and energetic act, but a wide range of other influences also come into play: modern classical, jazz-rock, you-name-it, giving the album a more serious and cinematic feel. With skills born of extensive gigging, they do it all well.
High Heat & Chin Music (2007) is a 28-track double-CD compilation covering the albums Dreadnaught (1998), Una Vez Mas (2000), The American Standard (2001), Musica en Flagrante (2004), and Live at Mojo (2005) and adding four previously-unreleased studio tracks. Read the Progressive Ears review.
Dream the Electric Sleep, or DTES for short, are a modern prog band from Kentucky who debuted in 2011 with Lost and Gone Forever (77-minutes, digipack) and followed up with Heretics (2014, 73-minutes, digipack). DTES belong to that cadre of modern prog bands typified by Oceansize whose only strong connection to classic prog is to Pink Floyd, though DTES also mention Genesis and King Crimson as influences. This is music composed by guitarists, and they build up a big sound by layering guitars with different tones, while keyboards play a very minor role. OK, that last bit also describes some of Rush, and Rush is part of the DTES sound. There are also aspects of post rock, modern Marillion, and Americana flavors (banjo is used sparingly). Within that framework, it is all quite ambitious and accomplished.
“[Lost and Gone Forever] gets an easy 5 out of 5 stars -- did I say epic? One of the best albums of the year and one of the best debuts I have heard in a while.” Read the entire Sea of Tranquility review. “Swollen with ambition, Lost and Gone Forever is a precocious first effort from a band who have clearly embraced four decades of progressive rock in their convoluted entirety. The main reference points here are more recent sonic explorers like Radiohead and Cave In, but there are flashes of everything from It Bites-style pomp right back to Floyd-esque space blues floating around in this colorful quagmire. First and foremost, DTES deal in huge melodies and arena-filling crescendos, and from the opening track onwards this album exudes a dogged desire to stir the soul and tug the heartstrings. The finest moments are simply beautiful.” [Prog magazine] Read the Sea of Tranquility and Background Magazine reviews of Heretics.
After two self-produced, independently-released CDs, Beneath the Dark Wide Sky (2016, digipack) sees DTES moving up in the music world, now with a label and a producer. Watch the album trailer and the videos for Flight and Let the Light Flood In.
Hidden behind the Dyonisos moniker is American musician Dan Cowan, who handles all instruments and sings. The 74-minute self-titled CD was released in 2005, though it isn’t certain when the music was recorded. An Incidental Collection (61-minutes) was recorded between 2003-2006 and released in 2007. The music is firmly in the spacey Pink Floyd style circa Dark Side of the Moon. Cowan’s Gilmour-esque lead guitar is the highlight, the keys are expertly layered and provide all the necessary textures, the songs are well-written, and the production is good. The vocals sound a bit like Camel’s vocals up through Moonmadness. The drums are programmed, but as the songs mostly stick to standard Pink Floyd tempo, the drums aren’t as important as they might be. Fans of early-to-mid 1970s Pink Floyd owe it to themselves to check out Dyonisos. Listen to When Silence Has Spoken from An Incidental Collection and Sunset on the Ridge from the self-titled CD.
Easter Island returned after a hiatus of about 22 years to make this 1999 CD. They released one of the great American progressive rock albums in the late 1970s. (The 1991 CD reissue is out-of-print.) Now they’re down to a trio, the Mellotron is gone, and their sound is more contemporary, but they still make convincing prog rock, much of it similar to 1990s Yes.
Attack of the Martians is the debut CD for Massachusetts four-piece Eccentric Orbit, originally released in 2004, but it had been out-of-print for years. With the band active again, it made sense to re-release it. Behind the not-terribly-attractive cover lies a very good instrumental progressive rock album based around vintage analog keyboards (or samples thereof), especially Hammond and Mellotron, also Rhodes, clavinet, etc. On this album, Eccentric Orbit feature keyboards, MIDI wind-controlled synths, bass, and drums. Their members have appeared on albums by Pye Fyte, A Triggering Myth, and two Gentle Giant tribute CDs. Some of the tracks on Attack of the Martians sport an ELP influence, while others suggest King Crimson, some of the Italian 1970s bands, and a bit of Happy the Man. It’s retro enough that it may fool people into thinking they’ve found a lost early-70s album. This 2014 edition comes in a jewel case and adds a 10-minute track, taking the total playing time to 56-minutes. The new song was written back in 2004 but only recorded recently by the current line-up. Listen to the tracks Star Power and Sputnik on YouTube. Read the Sea of Tranquility review of the first edition.
Creation of the Humanoids (2014, digipack) is Eccentric Orbit’s second CD, and it’s significantly more powerful and accomplished. The current lineup has new member Tom Benson on violin, guitar synth, and MandoBot (an electric MIDI mandolin!); Rick Landwehr on drums; Bill Noland on bass; and Madeleine Noland on wind synth and keyboards. It’s again a retro-sounding album, it’s just that there may never have been a band that sounded exactly like this back in the 1970s, or ever. The band’s stock-in-trade Mellotron and other vintage keys still play a big role, but the sound is more aggressive, along the lines of 1970s King Crimson what with the violin and muscular bass, balanced by Eccentric Orbit’s more symphonic tendencies. Fans of Crimso-style instrumental prog will be very happy.
See our DVDs page for Echolyn’s Stars and Gardens DVD. Echolyn are undoubtedly one of America’s premiere progressive rock bands. I Heard You Listening (digipack) is the 2015 Echolyn studio CD, their first in three years. For those of us who were Echolyn fans from the beginning, their early material is hard to displace as favorites. Echolyn say that for I Heard You Listening, they went back to their musical roots and resurrected the original sound that made them famous, now with better production values, writing, vocal melodies, and musicianship. Listen to Different Days and watch the interview video.
Echolyn’s 1991 first CD was self-titled, but the self-titled 2CD above isn’t that. It’s their 2012 studio work, a double CD (digipack) for a single CD price. Though seven years had passed since The End Is Beautiful, the band lineup remains the same, here augmented by a string quartet, sax player, and backing vocalist. The most significant change in Echolyn’s style was with Cowboy Poems Free (which came after another long break), and Echolyn 2012 does fit the style of the second half of their career. But it may be the definitive example of the class, integrity, and know-it-when-you-hear-it quality that has always characterized this band. Read the DPRP reviews.
The End Is Beautiful (digipack) is Echolyn’s 2005 studio CD. As the band says: “This begins a new chapter in Echolyn history. All the dynamics of what make this band so unique are here, however the album was written mainly around driving rhythms laid down by drummer Paul Ramsey, giving the songs an apparent extra dose of power. Blaring organ leads, acrobatic guitar melodies and multi-part harmonies also abound. This album also marks the return of bass player Tom Hyatt as a full-time member.” Echolyn’s current style is harder-edged and more urban in keeping with the times, but all their trademarks are easily recognizable: the vocal harmonies, the Gentle Giant-like counterpoint, the slight Beatles influence, the complexity so well integrated into a modern rock framework, and the great melodies. Echolyn being Echolyn, everything sounds like it was done with great conviction. This is more accessible than Mei and is another milestone for the band.
A Little Nonsense Now and Then is a beautiful 3CD set that includes remastered versions of the Echolyn albums that had been unavailable for some time and it empties the Echolyn vaults. Disc One contains their fully remastered 1991 self-titled debut release. Disc Two contains the fully remixed and remastered 1993 EP And Every Blossom plus the fully remixed and remastered 1996 album When the Sweet Turns Sour. Disc Three contains The Edge Of Wonder (aka E-Rad Glitch), a remixed 1989 track that was never commercially released; year 2000 remixes of the tracks Suffocating the Bloom, As the World, Shades, and Carpe Diem; and live versions of three songs from Cowboy Poems Free. (Counts as 1.5 CDs for shipping.)
Mei (2002) is one continuous 50-minute piece of music, with the band augmented by two violins, cello, flute, clarinet, and two percussionists. Overall the sound is hard-edged though, with keyboardist Chris Buzby favoring organ. A bit overwhelming at first, and less accessible than most of their earlier work, Mei requires several listens to absorb it all.
Cowboy Poems Free (59-minutes) is Echolyn’s 2000 comeback CD, which focuses on Americana of the first half of the 20th century. This is the 2008 digipack edition, which was completely remixed and remastered and features all new artwork. When it was first released, this album was everything one could hope for, a superb album that reasserted Echolyn’s identity. Their music had not stood still, yet recognizable elements of their earlier style are here. The music is progressive through and through, but it has a very contemporary energy to it.
As the World is the 2005 re-release of Echolyn’s 1995 CD on Sony/Epic Records, which had been out-of-print for a while. Yes, a major label briefly flirted with progressive rock in 1995 before dumping Echolyn shortly thereafter. This album is many fans’ favorite Echolyn release and has been called one of the most important progressive releases of the 1990s. This re-release includes the original 1995 CD recording plus a DVD of Echolyn performing the music from As the World in Michigan at The Ritz, filmed just two days prior to the release of As the World in 1995. The discs are housed in a fat digipack with all new artwork.
Suffocating the Bloom (71-minutes) is the remastered reissue of their 1992 second CD. This had long been our favorite Echolyn album, though that has a lot to do with the excitement of being in on Echolyn early on. Suffocating the Bloom is for many the high water mark of 1990s American progressive rock.
Brett Kull is Echolyn’s guitarist/vocalist. He has continually honed his songwriting, production, and engineering skills, all of which are on display on his solo albums. They are songwriter’s albums, more personal and intimate than Echolyn but sharing a similar character. Orange-ish Blue (2002) was his first, on which Kull had help from Echolyn’s Chris Buzby and Paul Ramsey, among others. It starts out very Beatles-influenced, then gets more modern and progressive, though the spirit of The Beatles is usually lurking nearby. Overall a very nice CD, sort of a folksier, friendlier Echolyn and perhaps an album to listen to right after Mei to balance things out.
Land of Chocolate is the youngest member of the Echolyn family tree, led by keyboardist/singer Jonn Buzby, ex-Finneus Gauge and brother of Chris Buzby of Echolyn. Not surprisingly, Land of Chocolate has elements of both Echolyn and Finneus Gauge. While they don’t have the jazz aspects of Finneus Gauge, they apply the same intricacy, dexterity, and generally busy arrangements to more purely rock-based music. While Jonn’s lead vocals bear a slight resemblance to Gary Chandler of Jadis, the frequent harmony vocals owe a clear debt to Echolyn.
Regaining the Feel (2004) is Land of Chocolate’s second CD, with three new musicians joining Buzby, including guitarist John Covach. The music still seems to occupy a middle ground between Echolyn and Finneus Gauge, with a sophisticated harmonic vocabulary and no shortage of chord changes. Buzby does a good job fitting vocal lines over the complex chord progressions, and the band introduces more subtlety and atmosphere into the busy arrangements.
One Inch of the Fall (1999) is the second of two albums from Echolyn keyboardist Chris Buzby’s band that existed during Echolyn’s hiatus. This is a complex blend of fusion and progressive rock, with female lead vocals and the Holdsworth-like guitar of Scott McGill. This has hints of the first Bruford album. You will not want for chord changes!
New York City’s Edensong debuted in 2008 with The Fruit Fallen, which had a surprisingly early-1970s British progressive sound with nods to Van der Graaf Generator, Yes, Jethro Tull and others, but overall the music is darker, more melancholy and pastoral. It goes without saying that Edensong’s songwriting is not on the level of those classic bands, but the appeal is to those looking for long, dense tracks with that magical sound, or to those missing Anglagard. The keyboards here generally stick to piano and organ, there is a lot of flute, some violin and cello. A small amount of metal lowers the tenor a bit and disrupts the early-70s illusion, but it isn’t prog-metal.
Echoes of Edensong (2010) contains a mix of studio and live tracks. There are three live renditions of tracks from The Fruit Fallen, the studio version of Lorelai (previously released on The Haiti Projekt), a remastered version of a song originally intended for inclusion on The Fruit Fallen, and a new arrangement and recording of Beneath the Tide, a song that dates to 1999 and Edensong’s predecessor band Echoes of Eden. The CD comes in a printed cardboard sleeve and counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
Edensong’s ambitious 70+ minute follow-up is Years in the Garden of Years (2016, digipack). Watch the album trailer and the video for Cold City.
Edison’s Children is Marillion’s Pete Trewavas and American musician Eric Blackwood. Their 2011 debut In The Last Waking Moments (71-minutes) includes guest appearances by Mark Kelly, Ian Mosley, Steve Rothery, Steve Hogarth, Andy Ditchfield (DeeExpus), and Robin Boult (Fish). The music is closer to Porcupine Tree than Marillion, darker and more psychedelic, with Pink Floyd the dominant influence. Vocals are somewhat low-key but are an important part of the music. This is very much music composed by guitarists, with keyboards/synths used only for texture, but what a difference those textures make. The album builds to the long penultimate track, which is majestic in that Floydian way and is probably the one that remains in memory after the disc has finished spinning; the short final track is an aftermath and wind-down. Pink Floyd’s melancholic and dystopian view seems more in line with the current zeitgeist than the utopian view of Yes or the more positive energy of the other classic prog bands; In The Last Waking Moments is another example of that, and an excellent album in its own right.
A Million Miles Away (2012) is a limited-edition 29-minute, 7-song CD-EP. The title track and one other are from the In The Last Waking Moments album, and there is also a single edit of the title track. The main attraction here is four new songs, all mixed and/or mastered by John Mitchell. The CD comes in a cardboard jacket and counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
The Final Breath Before November (2013, digisleeve, 79-minutes) is Edison’s Children’s very impressive second full-length album, which no one is able to describe without using the word “haunting”. Henry Rogers (Touchstone, DeeExpus, Final Conflict) is the drummer. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Edison’s Children’s third album Somewhere Between Here and There (2015, digisleeve) features seven new tracks, then the 80-minute CD is maxed out with several alternate mixes of other songs plus a live track. The celebrity mixers include Jakko M Jakszyk, John Mitchell, and Robin Boult. Among the guests are Chris Mack (Iluvatar) on drums and the son of Neil Armstrong (yes, that Neil Armstrong) on guitar. Not a giant leap for Edison’s Children, but a sizeable step.
On their 1998 debut Frames of Mind, Electrum used instrumental Rush as the departure point for their instrumental progressive rock. Their second, Standard Deviation (2002), represents a major leap forward. Having shed most of the Rush influence, this is now first-rate instrumental progressive, with keyboards and melody playing a much larger role than on their debut. The band navigates frequent tempo and time signature changes without drawing attention to them, and the album culminates in a 14-minute piece representing their most symphonic work to date. Read the AllMusic review.
Electrum band leader Gino Foti has since turned his attention to world fusion music. All these CDs are 2006 releases. Foti plays bass and keyboards and adds loops and samples. Guest musicians are used on only a small number of tracks. Here are Foti’s descriptions:
Sphere of Influence (67:11) - Centered around the universal “Union of Opposites” concept, the compositions contain a dynamic balance of rhythm, melody, and harmony by integrating ethnic sonorities into a jazz-rock palette. Merging diffractive musical arrangements with cohesive ensemble playing, dense percussive layers with ethereal instrumental textures, this release is imbued with both vibrancy and sensitivity, all spearheaded by Foti’s bass guitars.
Orbis Terrarum (66:10) - Exploring the relationships between diverse musical traditions and the dichotomy of rhythm and melody of the bass guitar, this aural travelogue blends intricate ethnic rhythms, spacious melodies, and flowing solos with the passion, intensity, romanticism, and introspection usually associated with first-generation jazz-rock and world fusion artists.
Bhavachakra (68:45) - Inspired by the Buddhist “Wheel of Life”, this collection of ambient soundscapes, acoustic and electric textures with Asian and Indian influences and synthesized exotic atmospheres is meant to direct the listener through all the guideposts of transmigratory existence, evoking myriad memories and emotions along the way.
Vedic Mantras (64:57) - Traditional Vedic chanting is combined with modern instrumentation and elements of jazz, rock, and European classical music in a variant of East-meets-West fusion. Featuring the Taittiriya Upanishad, one of the most important writings of ancient Indian philosophy, the arrangements were carefully constructed to retain the devotional mood and integrity of the sacred texts while creating a multi-genre sonic palette.
Home Away from Home (2013, digipack) is the debut for Vermont’s Elephants of Scotland, a quartet of keys/guitar/bass/drums, with the keyboardist on lead vocals and two others on backing vocals. They play symphonic prog with slight nods to ELP and Yes, but like many American prog bands, they eschew melodrama in favor of a more direct, Rush-like approach. Only on some tracks does the music actually resemble Rush, but as the keyboardist’s brother is in the Rush tribute band Blame Canada, it’s a genetic predisposition. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Elephants of Scotland’s second CD Execute and Breathe (2014, digipack) is all around a more powerful album, the natural result of the band’s greater experience in all facets of music creation and recording. “In sum, Execute and Breathe is a great sophomore release from a band who never stray from a songwriting mantra. They write prog with hooks and flavors, songs with loose thematic connections that can stand alone while still contributing to the whole. This is a solid album that will grow on you with subsequent listens.” [The Phantom Tollbooth] Read reviews at Prog Archives.
The Perfect Map (2016, digipack) is Elephants of Scotland’s third studio CD. “Elephants of Scotland have really struck gold on their third album, the mix of strong word play and musical mastery quite something. Elephants of Scotland have been a well-kept secret for too long. With The Perfect Map in their hand, there’s no doubt they’ve found the route to success, and with a fair wind at their back, hopefully a seat at the top table of the prog world.” Read the full Sea of Tranquility review, also the Progradar review.
The Good Morning, Gettysburg DVD+CD (2015, digipack) is Elephants of Scotland live at Rosfest 2014. The entire 13 song set was shot in high definition and mixed from the 24-bit digital multi-track recording. So while the DVD (NTSC, all-region) is necessarily standard def, the band have cleverly included the HD video on the DVD as an mp4 file. Now there are only 14 songs total on Elephants of Scotland’s first two studio CDs, and the only song not performed live is on the DVD as a bonus track with a new 2015 studio mix (with video of the drum tracking session). So this is sort of the complete and unabridged Elephants of Scotland as of 2015.
Mirage (2009) is the third CD by a U.S. prog band from New York State who get high marks for keeping melody and songcraft to the fore and for not going down the same well-beaten prog paths. There are a variety of influences at work here. The more energetic numbers come first, often resembling Rush with more keyboards and a (multi-tracked) Moody Blues vocal style, while a Yes influence is more apparent on some tracks. The latter part of the disc is more peaceful and mystical, with more acoustic textures, including a cover of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood and a traditional Irish instrumental. A late-1960s psychedelic vibe appears with the use of electric sitar within a song framework (as opposed to a rambling raga). But the album doesn’t sound retro, rather a creative modern work where different threads from earlier eras are woven into a compelling tapestry. Read reviews at Ytsejam.com and Sea of Tranquility.
The Great Divide (2012) ratchets the Rush influence up several notches while still using keyboards (as Rush did during their prime). Elf Project’s current power trio lineup exactly mirrors Rush in that it’s the bass player who sings and adds the keys. Watch the video of the song Reach Out.
This band from the San Francisco Bay area began as a neo-prog band, releasing their first album in 1995 while generally operating in Jadis, Rush, and later Kansas territory. They later added prog-metal elements and moved toward Dream Theater and Fates Warning. The Great Divide (2014) is Enchant’s first album in ten years. This single CD edition comes in a jewel case and has one bonus track.
Blink of an Eye (2002) is their sixth CD.
All the Waters of This World is the 2002 debut album from Seattle-based keyboardist-vocalist Aaron English. Hard to do this justice in words. It is fairly vocal-heavy; fortunately English not only has a very good voice but his lyrics are outstanding. The music is progressive at its core, with elements of folk and ethno-prog a la Peter Gabriel. English handles vocals, piano, electronics, and various ethnic instruments. He is joined by a four-piece supporting band (guitar, violin, bass, drums), with guest appearances by thirteen other musicians from seven different countries. The scope of the album is epic, featuring at various times full string orchestrations, Middle Eastern and West African drum ensembles, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy or didgeridoo layered with electronics. Consistent with his name, the music sounds more English than American. In English’s words, these are songs from the sea. They’re also night songs: dark, sultry, dreamlike, and burning with a ghostly light… a full moon hanging over the sea.
2003 prog-metal CD on InsideOut, now out-of-print. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
Burdened Hands (2004, 66-minutes) is the debut by a Michigan-based quartet led by vocalist/keyboardist/composer Ryan Parmenter. If that last name looks familiar, Ryan is the nephew of Matthew Parmenter, and Eyestrings’ bassist and drummer have both been members of Discipline. This is an impressive debut, as the band have taken influences from the Beatles to the prog rock giants (Genesis, King Crimson, Yes) through to Tears for Fears and Radiohead and made it all their own. There is a great deal of variety here, yet the band pulls off the difficult trick of making it all sound cohesive. And it is all prog. Probably the closest reference is Echolyn with a little Discipline blended in (and more explicit Genesis references), especially in the way the band can be simultaneously retro and modern, and in the level of chops on display. Read the Progressor and Sea of Tranquility reviews.
For all the computer-generated imagery and the Star Trek connotation of their name, South Carolina-based Farpoint actually have quite an organic sound, a blend of folky art-rock and mellow prog. Their first two CDs appeared in 2002 and 2003. For the first incarnation of the band, it all comes together best on their third CD, the 65-minute From Dreaming to Dreaming (2004). The band’s first live performance was at Yescamp ’98, where they played several Yes covers. There is an early, pastoral Yes influence present at times and an overall positive vibe, but it would be misleading to make too much of that. The lineup has changed since then, and Farpoint’s music is too diverse. There is both an American as well as a British Isles folk influence present, and their instrumentation includes the standard rock instruments (electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drums, keys) augmented by classical guitar, mandolin, flute, and various types of percussion. They have a male singer with a voice like Ritchie Havens and a female singer with an angelic voice, an interesting contrast. Kansas and the first edition of Renaissance are probably better references.
Farpoint had actually disbanded late in 2005 but put things back together soon after with several personnel changes. Their fourth studio CD Cold Star Quiet Star (2008) was the result and it is their best and most progressive CD to date, appealing from start to finish, with quite a bit of instrumental content. The Yes style is there at times, but Farpoint still display a much wider range of influences, and the result is that they don’t sound like anyone else.
After the disappointing Kindred in 2011, Farpoint return in a big way with the much stronger, much proggier Paint the Dark (2014). The press release nails it: “Farpoint have taken everything that makes their unique blend of uplifting and positive symphonic-flavored prog, folk, and hard rock, and applied it on a more expansive canvas, creating the most layered and compositionally mature record of their career. Long-time fans will instantly recognize the band’s signature style while appreciating the more adventurous and atmospheric territories that the band explores on this release.” A guest violinist broadens their sound. Farpoint may currently be the most “American-sounding” prog band, sort of South Carolina’s answer to Kansas (the band), though musically distinct, and Paint the Dark best showcases the unique style Farpoint have created.
Fernwood is the duo of Gayle Ellett of Djam Karet and Todd Montgomery, playing contemporary instrumental acoustic world music. The instruments are all made of wood and are from the Irish, Greek, Chinese, Moroccan, Indian, and Balinese traditions. Despite all the exotic instruments, the music is often conventionally western and therefore familiar, sometimes even suggesting Anthony Phillips. Overall the music is haunting and strongly cinematic. Almeria is from 2008, Sangita (digipack) from 2009. Read the DPRP reviews of Almeria and Sangita.
We’ve all been waiting for these for so long that many had lost hope, but these are the first legitimate CD issues of the two albums from Fireballet, one of the very best American prog bands ever. (We always give the top spot to Happy the Man for their staggering originality, but after HtM, Fireballet are right up there.) Both of these CDs are digipacks with embossed covers and bonus track(s), the albums remastered by Larry Fast (Synergy). Night on Bald Mountain (1975) has a previously unheard studio track and a live version of King Crimson’s Pictures of a City. Two, Too (1976) has a previously unheard live track. If you can only afford one, Night on Bald Mountain is the better album. Ian McDonald (somewhere in between King Crimson and Foreigner) produced and added some flute and sax. Early King Crimson is a major influence, also ELP, Yes, and Genesis. One track is pure pastoral Trespass-era Genesis, probably the best take on that unique style by an American artist. Fireballet had two keyboardists, and so there is Mellotron and Hammond and pipe organ and ARP and all that is good and holy.
Two, Too is wordplay on tutu, the ballet costume. With the benefit of hindsight, the original LP cover featuring all the band members dressed as ballerinas has been replaced by the quasi-naked ballerina lifted out of the Night on Bald Mountain cover. One has to wonder whether the Two, Too LP cover isn’t half the reason the album is not regarded as highly as it should be. It may also have something to do with the band overreaching on some of the Yes-inspired vocal arrangements. There is a bit of the same change in direction you find from the first to second Ambrosia album, where there is at times a sort of cabaret or theatrical bent. It actually shows more originality and experimentation than the first album, even if not everything works. Whatever, we still like it a whole lot.
This 1989 album was the first of two released by Fire Merchants, a trio of John Goodsall (Brand X) on guitar, Chester Thompson (Genesis, Weather Report) on drums, and bassist/percussionist Doug Lunn. The music is rock-fusion, like a heavier, more aggressive and rock-oriented Brand X. This is the 2014 edition on Gonzo, which includes three bonus tracks.
In an era when it is nearly impossible to produce an original style of rock music, Chris Fournier carved out a unique style and sound under the Fonya banner. Call it (mostly-)instrumental sci-fi symphonic progressive electronic space rock, the marriage of progressive rock’s energy and sophistication with a wall of spacey synth sounds. Driving bass runs over dreamy keyboard washes alternate with intense electric guitar-propelled sympho-space-rock. Eddie Jobson hinted at this on his solo works, but Fonya mastered it. The first five Fonya CDs were released on the Kinesis label. The first four are out-of-print: Wanderers of the Neverending Night (1992), Soul Travels (1993), In Flux (1995), and Earth Shaper (1999).
After the artistic and critical success of Earth Shaper, one had to wonder whether Chris Fournier could continue to improve upon the Fonya formula. Perfect Cosmological Principle (1998, 71-minutes) makes it clear that he did. The music is instantly-recognizable as Fonya: the prominent bass guitar propelling the music forward, the lush synthetic/symphonic sound, and the best MIDI drumming in the business. But now there are lots more of those soaring electric guitar leads that take the music out of orbit, plus the use of acoustic guitar to give greater warmth to the mix. The compositions demonstrate great complexity and nuance. As icing on the cake, there’s a remarkable version of portions of Yes’s Gates of Delirium. Read review quotes.
Upper Level Open Space (1999) sees a further refinement of the Fonya style, broadening the timbral palette to include more electric and acoustic guitar while also experimenting with some more obviously electronic sounds. Anyone still skeptical of programmed drums owes it to themselves to listen to this album, as the drums are nothing short of amazing. No matter how active and intense it gets, a relaxed vibe permeates the music, making this perfect for late-night listening. Read reviews.
Sunset Cliffs (2000) is the first Fonya album since the debut to feature vocals, this time by Chris Fournier himself. As with many space-rock bands, the vocals are not the focus and are kept low in the mix and heavily reverbed. Instrumentally, the gradual shift toward a more guitar-oriented sound continues, though of course there are still plenty of synths.
Chris Fournier continued the Fonya legacy with his Centric Jones project.
Jack Foster III’s third CD Tame Until Hungry (2007, digipack, 61-minutes) is billed as “Jack Foster III with Trent Gardner and Robert Berry”. Trent Gardner is of course Magellan’s mastermind, and Robert Berry should be well-known from his stint with Emerson and Palmer in the short-lived 3, his solo albums, and working with most of the acts on the Magna Carta label during the 1990s. These three musicians are of like mind, and although Foster is firmly in control here, the result will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Magellan and Robert Berry, and probably Spock’s Beard as well. Tame Until Hungry also suggests a John Wetton who had been born later; Foster’s music is more contemporary and higher energy than Wetton’s, with far fewer ballads. There is a serious singing and songwriting talent at work here, and fortunately for us, Foster frames his songs in adventurous arrangements. There is a strong pop/rock sensibility, surrounded by plenty of symphonic prog elements. Read the DPRP review.
Gardner also produced, arranged, and played on (keys, vocals, percussion) all of Foster’s first album Evolution of JazzRaptor (2004). It was recorded at Robert Berry’s studio, and Berry plays on almost every track (bass, drums, guitar). Ignore the word “jazz” in the title. It’s a very good album that covers a lot of territory and integrates it all into a proggy whole. As with Tame..., Spock’s Beard fans as well as Magellan fans will probably enjoy this album a lot. This is the Musea edition.
On Raptorgnosis (2005, 62-minutes), Foster again gets a lot of help from Trent Gardner and Robert Berry. This one comes closest to 1990s Rush, with a bit of early Chicago here, a bit of Queen there, that sort of thing. As you’d expect from these guys, it’s very professional and competent, though more of an energetic AOR album than a symphonic prog one.
Jack Foster III’s 2008 CD JazzRaptor’s Secret again features Robert Berry on every track and Trent Gardner on all but two tracks. This one is as good as contemporary American-style progressive rock gets. Think of Echolyn with some latter-day Yes stirred in and you’ll be very close. Many prog fans will pass on albums that are under an individual’s name while snapping up albums by, say, Magellan, though Magellan is no more and no less a band than Jack Foster III is. And this album sounds every bit as much like a band as Echolyn does. So at this stage, prog fans ignore Jack Foster III at their own peril. What else can we say, JazzRaptor’s Secret is really good!
Apple Jack Magic (2014) again features Robert Berry on bass, drums, keys, backing vocals, and a couple co-writing credits, while several other musicians also contribute. Jack says: “A lot of the music is more drama-oriented than in past albums. I was working on various versions of a rock opera which never materialized. Some of the music comes from that effort: Guinevere’s Dead, Beyond the Blue, Take a Little Time... all might have been part of a big Broadway production!” Except that this album sounds nothing like what “rock opera” usually implies. There are no histrionic vocals, nor does the instrumental work suggest a stage production. It just sounds like quality songs: some rockers, some with touches of Americana, the majority more symphonic with an understated majesty that sometimes suggests an American (latter-day) Marillion, or Neal Morse (minus the religion). The CD comes in a simple printed sleeve and counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
Toward the Mysterium (2008, 60-minutes) is the debut by The Fractured Dimension, an American band of musical mad scientists, playing intricate instrumental progressive rock and symphonic fusion on the avant-garde side. The musicianship is high caliber, with synths and piano to the fore, giving the band a symphonic sound. It’s not only the playing that is dazzling in its complexity, but the compositions themselves, which are highly structured and influenced by contemporary classical. As the band describe themselves: “not technical for the sake of being technical, but extremely musical for the sake of transcending normality”. Frank Zappa would be impressed. Note there may have once been a CD-R version of this, but this is a replicated CD. Read the Proggnosis review.
North Carolina’s Freehand formed in 1985 and were active until 1990. They reunited briefly in 2004 to play a few concerts. and several members went on to form the band Smokin’ Granny. Thinking Out Loud was recorded in 1988 but not released on CD until 1997 on a now defunct label. It was later reissued by the band and that also sold out. This current version is a professionally duplicated CD-R with a downsized booklet and a lower price. Freehand used to play Happy the Man, UK, and King Crimson covers, and these influences show in their songs. The album is mostly instrumental and combines a hefty 1980s King Crimson influence with some fusion a la Shadowfax or Brand X. 65-minutes.
This is the 2CD deluxe edition of French TV’s 10th album I Forgive You for All My Unhappiness (2010). The second disc contains French TV’s 2009 ProgDay concert, professionally recorded and mixed. The French TV lineup for both the studio album and live concert includes new members Shawn Persinger (Boud Deun) and Steve Katsikas (Little Atlas). Read reviews at Astounded by Sound! and Progressor.
French TV is a band from Louisville, Kentucky that has been around in various incarnations for quite some time now; their self-titled debut album was released on vinyl in 1984. Their music is complex, blending Canterbury-ish progressive rock, fusion, and avant-rock stylings. The core lineup of guitar, keys, bass and drums is usually augmented by additional musicians on woodwinds, violin, and what not. The music is usually all-instrumental, except 4 has some vocals. On The Case Against Art (2002), the balance between symphonic progressive and avant-rock sounds just right, and the music is more fully-orchestrated than before. The 70-minute live CD, released in 1997, gives a great overview of the material from their first four albums. Intestinal Fortitude (1995, 71-minutes) includes a Van der Graaf Generator cover. Virtue in Futility is from 1994. All are recommended to fans of Grits, However, A Triggering Myth, and The Muffins, American bands of a similar persuasion, not to mention Frank Zappa, Samlas Mammas Manna, and Univers Zero.
The musicians in this enigmatic U.S. band, led by Mr. Fright Pig himself, all use pseudonyms. This is one of the most exciting new bands we’ve heard in some time, and their debut CD Out of the Barnyard (2013, digipack) never lets you catch your breath, nor can you anticipate what’s coming next. Mr. Fright Pig is keyboardist and main composer, and it’s refreshing to hear someone who can really play (keyboardists being in short supply these days), most often in ELP mode but Yes and Genesis influences are also present. Yet it’s a modern record in terms of the energy and that there is also a lot of guitar, some of which is metal-ish but usually at breakneck speed rather than the plodding dreck. The vocals are strong, while the album seems about half-instrumental. Artwork by Ed Unitsky. Read the Prog Archives and Sea of Tranquility reviews.
Frogg Café - Bateless Edge ($12.99)
The third studio release from New York quintet Frogg Café, Fortunate Observer of Time (2005, 62-minutes) expands on the musical textures and styles of their previous two albums. It seems to find the middle ground between their more fusion-based debut and the more symphonic progressive Creatures. Because violin plays an important role, you might say that much of the music lies between Kansas and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Two of the eight tracks are instrumentals, the rest feature vocals. Frogg Café also infuse their brand of progressive rock with jam band improvisation, classical counterpoint, and a bit of the canonical vocal style that most associate with Gentle Giant. Frank Zappa’s percussionist Ed Mann guests on the 15-minute Abyss of Dissension, while the album was mastered by Grammy winning engineer Andreas Meyer.
“The second release from New York’s Frogg Café, Creatures is a major step forward for the band, and a big move into classy progressive rock territory. While hints of the more fusion-based sound that flowed throughout the band’s debut album still pop up, this new recording is a complex and symphonic affair, filled with tons of offbeat melodies and instrumental brilliance. Members Nick Lieto (vocals, keyboards, trumpet), Frank Camiola (guitars), Bill Ayasse (violin, mandolin), Andrew Sussman (bass) and James Guarnieri (drums) show once again that prog rock can be challenging and fun at the same time.” [Sea of Tranquility]
Up until 2004, the first Frogg Café CD (2001) had only been available as a CD-R with inkjet-printed booklet and inlay. It has now been remastered for greatly improved sound and pressed as a CD with professionally-printed materials and an 8-minute live bonus track added. This CD is more fusion-based, with lots of violin and some trumpet, about half-instrumental and half-vocal, a blend of Gentle Giant, Dixie Dregs, Frank Zappa, Hands, and Mahavishnu Orchestra.
The Safenzee Diaries (2007) is a live double-CD in a digipack. Frogg Café is one of the few U.S. prog bands that gigs a lot, and all that live experience is on display here. These tracks represent the best from hundreds of hours of live shows and live-in-the-studio jams. Three of the 14 songs are previously-unreleased.
Bateless Edge (2010, 77-minutes) is Frogg Café’s fourth studio release. As on their previous studio album, there is a mix of vocal and instrumental numbers, with the vocal passages tending to show off the melodic side of the band, while the instrumental sections are some of the darkest and most intense musical statements made thus far by this ever-evolving band. Here Frogg Café explore new textures and tone colors that expand their contemporary jazz-rock sound, incorporating detailed orchestration by way of violin, viola, trombones, trumpet, flugelhorn, clarinets, mandolin, cello, glockenspiel, marimba, xylophone, flute, Indian Slide guitar, tamboura, tabla, and saxophones. Some of the music has taken a step in the direction of Univers Zero and Present, while other influences include Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant. Read reviews of all CDs.
Gekko Projekt is the new band of guitarist Peter Matuchniak, who while living in London in the 1980s was a member of neo-prog bands Mach One and Janysium. Kudos to you if you remember those bands -- Mach One managed only one vinyl release along with a couple cassettes, while their alter-ego Janysium had only two cassette releases. Matuchniak has been living in southern California for some time and was last heard from in 2008 with his band Evolve IV. Electric Forest (2012, digipack) is an upgrade over the Evolve IV album, one reason being the presence of a keyboardist in Vance Gloster, who wrote at least half the songs. Seven of the ten tracks are instrumentals. The music falls in the latter-day Camel and Steve Hackett camps. Read the Background Magazine, DPRP, and Dangerdog reviews.
From the Steve Hackett, Andrew Latimer, Steve Howe, and David Gilmour school of guitar (believed to be located in Surrey), guitarist Peter Matuchniak’s bio begins above. Uncover Me (2012, digipack) was released almost simultaneously with the Gekko Projekt CD. Gekko Projekt’s keyboardist did a lot of the composing on that CD, so here Matuchniak realizes some of the many songs he’d been stockpiling. It’s a more eclectic mix with progressive rock the unifying thread. And these are songs, not guitar solos. Drummer Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) appears throughout, and there are keyboards, bass, male and female vocals, flute and sax. Read the Background Magazine, DPRP, Jerry Lucky, and ThisIsNotAScene reviews.
Ghost Circus is a collaboration between Dutch musician Ronald Wahle (guitars, keys, drums) and American Chris Brown (vocals, guitars, bass, keys). Cycles (2006, 56-minutes) is an intelligent and impressive debut with a full-band sound. It is melodic modern progressive rock with touches of prog-metal and sophisticated pop/alternative. Brown has a slightly gruff voice that is very much in-vogue, while the instrumental passages are unmistakably symphonic prog. If you crossed Marillion’s Marbles with Riverside, you’d probably end up pretty close to Ghost Circus.
Across the Line (2008, 70-minutes) is their more fully-realized follow-up, a concept album “following one man’s path from death to the hereafter”. Wahle and Brown again prove that distance is no impediment to producing an album that sounds the same as a full band. Aside from a little metal, this is creative symphonic prog with a contemporary edge and a melodic sense that is not so common these days. They use modern music technology to full advantage. The ten-minute title track that concludes the album may be the highlight, as it builds to a Mellotron-and-all climax.
“Glass, the Northwest U.S. progressive rock/symphonic rock trio, has been around since the very early 70s, the very heyday of progressive rock. In that time, we’ve seen the term ‘progressive’ applied to an awful lot of bands who do little more than parrot their favorite bands. Not Glass. They have had a distinct and identifiable sound all their own for more than 40 years. It’s difficult to put into words, but driving rhythms, anthemic grandeur, and a vast array of moods and sounds all play a part. Multi-keyboardist and composer Greg Sherman writes some of the most beautiful yet surprising tonal progressions you’ll find anywhere. His brother Jeff Sherman on bass provides the rock bottom foundation and, on Spectrum Principle (2010), also a welcome return of his classical guitar stylings. Rounding out the trio -- and the star of this new disc -- is drummer Jerry Cook, who produced and conceived this album as a coherent whole. Jerry’s always been the visionary in the group, with his huge drum kit and percussion array and even more grandiose ideas. On Spectrum Principle, the Sherman brothers gave him free rein to let his imagination run wild. The result is an album that moves seamlessly between progressive rock (featuring Mellotron, Hammond organ, electric piano, synthesizers and bass guitar) and out-of-this-world collages of tape loops, whale and dolphin sounds, percussion workouts and occasionally cryptic spoken passages by Jerry which puzzle as well as inspire the listener. Spectrum Principle pushes the envelope, sounding at once like both a logical continuation of Glass’s trademark sound and a radical new expansion of possibilities. It is an album that requires several listens to grasp, a journey with several views of the horizon. In a world where nothing much new has happened in music for decades, it is a reminder that progressive rock should always progress.” [Robert Carlberg]
Illuminations is their 2005 studio album, 63 minutes of flowing keyboard instrumentals emphasizing organ, piano, and Mellotron (in that order). It’s definitely 1970s styled, but closer to the Canterbury style than to ELP. There is also a psychedelic or experimental element present in several tracks. Soloing is kept to a minimum and the instrumental arrangements, while not overtly complex, focus on a rich sound canvas. Hugh Hopper guests on the track Isle Of Dyslexia, while Gaia features Richard Sinclair and Phil Miller. This is the MALS edition, produced under license from Musea.
Live at Progman Cometh (2007) features live recordings from the first and second Progman Cometh festivals in Seattle in 2002 and 2003, plus a bonus track from Baja Prog 2002, 66-minutes total. Among the guests are Elton Dean on sax, Hugh Hopper on bass, Richard Sinclair (vocals), and Bill and Paul Kopecky on bass and snare drum, respectively. Read the Sea of Tranquility and DPRP reviews.
Palindrome (2014) contains Glass’s characteristic mix of Canterbury (specifically Soft Machine), classical-rock, space-rock, and experimental noodling. Read the Aural Innovations review.
Check our DVDs page for Glass Hammer’s Lex Live DVD. Glass Hammer specialize in glorious symphonic prog epics heavy on the keyboards, with loads of Hammond, Moog, and Mellotron. Their music is full of Yes-like positive energy, and the band does borrow heavily from Yes (vocally and instrumentally) as well as ELP and Kansas, with many other influences cropping up along the way (Camel, Focus, etc.). Most of their early CDs are concept albums telling a story, most often of a fantasy nature. After debuting in 1993 with Journey of the Dunadan (out-of-print), Perelandra followed in 1995, On to Evermore (out-of-print) in 1998, and Chronometree in 2000.
Lex Rex (2002) and Shadowlands (2004) were both high-water marks for Glass Hammer. Shadowlands opens with three long tracks which are unremarkable only in the sense that Glass Hammer had set the bar so high with Lex Rex. The fourth track, Longer, is a treat, a radical 10-minute rearrangement of Dan Fogelberg’s 1979 hit. You read that correctly. Glass Hammer have done with this song what Yes did with Paul Simon’s America. The fifth and final track is the centerpiece of the album, the 20-minute Behind the Great Beyond, which may be Glass Hammer’s finest (one-third) hour to date. Note this is the 2010 re-edition of Shadowlands which adds a bonus track: a 2006 live performance of Eiger Dreams and Run Lisette.
The Compilations 1996-2004 contains Glass Hammer tracks not on the other official Glass Hammer CDs. Three tracks from 1997-98 are previously unreleased. One track is live at Progday 1997, one is a 2006 live track, one track appeared on the Camel tribute album Harbour of Joy, one track was recorded for the CPR Volume II CD in 2004, and one appears on The Odyssey 3CD on Musea.
No epic is too epic in scope for the epic lads of Glass Hammer, and they pulled out all the stops on their 2005 double-CD The Inconsolable Secret. This is the 2013 3CD Deluxe Edition, which adds a disc of remixed tracks mastered by audiophile Bob Katz and featuring new performances by Jon Davison (Yes, Glass Hammer), Alan Shikoh, David Wallimann, and other names familiar to GH fans. The remixes include all four of the epic length tracks plus one sensible length track. The core of the band has always been Fred Schendel (keys, guitars, vocals) and Steve Babb (keys, bass, vocals), this time with the classic lineup of Walter Moore and Susie Bogdanowicz on vocals and Matt Mendians on drums. This album features a lot of guest musicians including a symphony orchestra, a string trio, and a choir. While the first disc stays pretty much in Glass Hammer’s familiar ELP-meets-Yes style, things really open up on the second disc where Glass Hammer explore new territory, including some dark orchestral material, and make good use of the choir. Roger Dean provided the artwork. Counts as 1.5 CDs for shipping.
Culture of Ascent (2007, digipack) is the 10th Glass Hammer album (not counting Live at NEARfest). It’s hard to believe the band could top the last few CDs, but this is the strongest Glass Hammer lineup yet. Joining Fred Schendel, Steve Babb, and Matt Mendians are French guitarist David Wallimann, the best guitarist GH have had, and Carl Groves (Salem Hill) on lead and backing vocals. Susie Bogdanowicz also supplies lead and backing vocals, and the band is augmented by a string trio. Guests provide backing vocals and acoustic guitar. One of these guests is Jon Anderson, who sings on two tracks. The CD opens with a cover of Yes’ South Side of the Sky. Rather than a pointless clone, this is a beautiful new arrangement featuring a trip-hop loop in some sections. The effect of arranging a Yes track seems to have carried over into some of the other tracks, which show a lot of Yes influence, nothing new for GH, but more work than ever seems to have gone into the vocal arrangements. More often though the music is closer to Song for America-era Kansas, especially when violin is in the mix. While we’re unlikely to ever say that any modern band is on the same level as classic Yes, we do feel comfortable saying that this album is on the same level as the best Kansas, and more consistent than any Kansas album. Six tracks span 69-minutes, with fully-professional production and mastering.
After a string of albums each more grandiose and a bigger production than the last, Glass Hammer had temporarily exhausted their epic style and would most likely have repeated themselves had they not changed things up. So on Three Cheers for the Brokenhearted (2009), they concentrate on songwriting and sensible-length songs, with Susie Bogdanowicz handling most of the lead vocals. Glass Hammer are hopelessly good at this style too, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s not entirely new for them, especially if one includes the U I Blue album. All the familiar GH elements are still present. There’s a neo-Beatles style on some tracks, while others rock hard. The lighter songs often bring to mind Stewart & Gaskin, which is meant as a high compliment. There are 10 originals plus a cover of The Zombies’ A Rose for Emily.
Glass Hammer’s 2010 studio CD IF marks a return to their epic symphonic prog style, with six tracks spanning 66-minutes. Founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have put together a new lineup with a new singer, new guitarist (with a jazz-rock background) and new drummer, ensuring that IF is not a mere rehash of past Glass Hammer albums. Read the DPRP reviews.
Cor Cordium is Glass Hammer’s 2011 follow-up to the highly acclaimed IF. Singer Jon Davison and guitarist Alan Shikoh returned with Glass Hammer co-founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel to create the band’s 14th studio album. “We never set out to make IF Volume 2,” reveals Babb. “But we are definitely heading in the same direction musically. Fans that loved IF are going to be equally excited about Cor Cordium.” Read the DPRP reviews.
Perilous (2012) continues on the trajectory established by IF and Cor Cordium. Steve Babb says: “We have never done a concept album like Perilous. It is essentially one unified vision, one musical idea in thirteen parts or movements. The emotions and ideas expressed in the lyrics ebb and flow with the music, but they have a definite story to tell with a beginning, middle, and climactic end... We set out to make something epic and something that is distinctly Glass Hammer, never afraid to show our influences, while developing a sound that is undeniably ours alone.” Perilous is a very ambitious album even for Glass Hammer, whose ambition sometimes seems unbounded. Glass Hammer’s singer Jon Davison used his time as the new Yes singer to introduce a new legion of fans to Glass Hammer, so Perilous arrives at the perfect time.
All of Glass Hammer’s full-time singers past and present appear on Ode to Echo (2014), including Jon Davison (Yes), Susie Bogdanowicz, Carl Groves (Salem Hill), Walter Moore, and Michelle Young. Guests include guitarist Randy Jackson (Zebra), keyboardist Rob Reed (Magenta), and violinist David Ragsdale (Kansas). Watch the album trailer and the video for the song Crowbone.
The Breaking of the World (2015) is Glass Hammer’s 17th studio album. (That’s what it says on Glass Hammer’s site; we lost count a long time ago.) This one features Carl Groves, Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, Susie Bogdanowicz, Kamran Alan Shikoh, and Aaron Raulston, with mastering by Bob Katz. The ubiquitous Steve Unruh guests on violin and flute. Watch the album trailer. Read the Progarchy review.
Recorded at RoSFest 2015, Glass Hammer’s Double Live is the band’s first live album in over ten years. Prog Magazine declared Glass Hammer’s RoSfest 2015 performance “…the boldest set of the weekend. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have always succeeded in creating an ensemble that fully complements their sense of musical grandeur.” This 3-disc set comes in a fat jewel case (counts as 1.5 CDs for shipping). The seven long tracks spanning Perelandra to The Breaking of the World are spread across two CDs, while the DVD (NTSC, all-region) contains the 90-minute video of the concert with Dolby Digital surround audio. Watch the trailer.
Valkyrie (2016) is an epic concept album, not a new thing for Glass Hammer, but this one’s new! The unchanging core of the band Steve Babb and Fred Schendel handle more vocal duties these days, but singer Susie Bogdanowicz is front and center. Guitarist Alan Shikoh and drummer Aaron Raulson complete the lineup. In an effort to have some of their live energy translate to the studio recording, the band rehearsed this album for months as if it were to be a live concert before recording the basic tracks. “A widescreen masterclass example of current progressive music that perfectly fuses vintage and modern sounds with an equally on-point balance of subtlety and bombast, Glass Hammer have completely set the symphonic-prog standard of the year with Valkyrie, their most ambitious, mature, grandiose, vocally exquisite and instrumentally rich work to date. Long-time fans will absolutely adore it but also likely be very surprised as well, and newcomers to the group could not pick a better place to start exploring their wondrous music. Crackling with warmth, variety, inspiration and overall progressive music excellence, it is very possibly the greatest musical statement of Glass Hammer’s near 25-year career so far, but indisputably one of the finest and most essential prog discs of 2016.” Read the full Prog Archives review, also the Progarchy and Progradar reviews. Watch the album trailer.
Glass Moon was a band from Raleigh, North Carolina that may have begun as a progressive rock band, but by the time they got a record deal, they had become a proggy AOR band. Their 1980 debut is their best, containing really catchy songs, and the band’s progressive heritage is easy to hear. The prog fans who bought this LP probably did so to hear Glass Moon’s cover of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. Glass Moon followed with 1981’s Growing in the Dark, which is somewhat more pop-oriented, closer to the likes of Toto. Glass Moon / Growing in the Dark is a 71-minute CD on Renaissance Records that reissues both albums on one CD. The first edition of this was a CD-R mastered at the wrong speed -- the 71:32 album was stretched to 77:24! Renaissance corrected this in 2007 with a replicated CD at the correct speed, so finally the first two Glass Moon albums are available on CD in their entirety with decent sound.
Bandleader Dave Adams has remastered some of the Glass Moon tracks to digital on the 79-minute Moon Hits & More CD, and the audio quality here is still superior to the Renaissance Records CD. This compilation covers more than the first two Glass Moon albums. There was a third Glass Moon entitled Sympathetic Vibration (1984), followed in 1986 by Dave Adam’s solo album Dancing In My Sleep, which features some of the Glass Moon members. The Moon Hits & More CD features tracks from all four of these albums plus four previously-unreleased tracks. Well, the 1984 and 1986 albums didn’t get any more progressive, but they are still clever, catchy, keyboard-dominated pop songs that have more of an eighties sound. We can’t really fault the song selection, as the songs taken from the first two albums are the best ones (Solsbury Hill is included), but of course we would have liked more songs from the first album and fewer from the later ones. So the Glass Moon fan needs both CDs, one to get the complete first two albums, and the other to get the best songs sounding their best, plus the rarities. At least both CDs are very long and not expensive.
Shaun, a Los Angeles native, passed away in 2003. He was an accomplished drummer (at one point, he was to be Rocket Scientists’ drummer) but also a powerful vocalist and skilled keyboardist and composer. These talents were visible as lead vocalist and second drummer for the Genesis tribute band Cinema Show. This ensemble focused on the Gabriel-era of Genesis and counted Paul Whitehead and Armando Gallo as fans. After a three-year stint playing to large and appreciative audiences, Guerin decided the time was right to focus on his own original progressive compositions and consequently began work on his first solo album By the Dark of Light (2002). Besides singing and playing drums and keyboards, Guerin also plays guitar and flute. His voice resembles Peter Gabriel’s in a natural, unforced way. Primary influences include Peter Gabriel and Genesis, of course, but also King Crimson, Yes, Hatfield and the North, and other 1970s progressive stalwarts. While all these artists exert an influence, this writing is original and progressive without being overly derivative, music that contributes to the progressive canon rather than copying it. Don’t overlook this album because it’s under an individual’s name -- this is better than what many full bands are capable of. Here are mp3s of This Is Not My World and Run to Fall.
On the second Shaun Guerin album The Epic Quality of Life (2003), Shaun is joined by three other musicians adding guitars, keys, vocals, and bass. It continues in the same vein as his first but is perhaps even stronger. In addition to the 52-minutes of music, the CD contains a video of a 2002 live performance. Paul Whitehead contributed the cover art for all Guerin’s albums.
Like Jimi Hendrix and Eva Cassidy, Shaun Guerin is proving more prolific after his death than before. 2005 saw the release of Archives (digisleeve), a 78-minute CD containing an assortment of previously unreleased material. But this is no collection of outtakes and substandard material. This is a powerful progressive rock album that, if anything, better showcases Guerin’s songwriting ability than his other albums. The audio quality is uniformly superb. In addition to the originals, there are masterful renditions of Genesis’s Back in New York City and The Colony of Slippermen, ELP’s Karn Evil #9, and Roger Waters’ In the Flesh (featuring Mark McCrite from Rocket Scientists on guitar).
The Esoteric team have newly remastered the first two Happy the Man albums on these 2012 editions which feature booklets with fully restored original album artwork and a new essay. In our estimable estimation, Happy the Man is the finest band the United States has produced, and Crafty Hands the finest album. Their self-titled debut is from 1977, Crafty Hands 1978. Though one can hear Genesis influence in archival recordings that predate the first album, by the time of their first studio album Happy the Man had achieved a level of originality that seems almost impossible today. If you don’t know the Happy the Man story, you could do worse than read this (old) article. Check below for Oblivion Sun, the successor to Happy the Man.
City of the Sun is the 2014 debut CD for Los Angeles based Heliopolis, a band made up of former members of Mars Hollow, Shaun Guerin’s band, Ten Jinn, and Genesis tribute band Gabble Ratchet. Half of Mars Hollow is here, and of those bands, Mars Hollow is who Heliopolis most closely resemble, actually surpassing them. Heliopolis play classic prog with Yes as the major influence, followed by Genesis and King Crimson. “These days there seems to be a disproportionate emphasis on darkness,” says bassist Kerry Chicoine. “We find exploring the balance between despair and optimism a more challenging and creatively satisfying approach.” Well said. These are mostly long tracks that take the listener on a journey, with the melodies, intricacies, and musicianship expected of classic prog, featuring vocal passages (some with four-part harmony) combined with sophisticated instrumental excursions. This album belongs in the (British-inspired) American progressive rock canon that also includes the likes of Cathedral, Mirthrandir, Lift, Pentwater, Netherworld, Starcastle, etc. One of our favorites of the year. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Epic at the Majestic (2016, digipack), released by the British label Bad Elephant, is Heliopolis recorded live at their 2015 RoSFest performance. They play their entire City of the Sun album but in extended versions. The venerable Mike Potter did the recording, while the mastering was done at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, ensuring excellent sound.
See the related band Box of Shamans.
Ed Macan is the author of Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, the definitive scholarly tome on progressive rock, and Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He also has his band Hermetic Science, who released their first three CDs between 1997-2001. Macan’s biggest influence has to be Keith Emerson, especially harmonically.
These Fragments... (2008) is the first Hermetic Science studio album since En Route in 2001. Paul Whitehead provided the cover art. Here Macan divides his time between piano, Hammond, mallet percussion, and synths, with Jason Hoopes on bass and six-string guitars and Angelique Curry on drums. The music is sophisticated classical rock, with ELP still the closest reference. The difference is in the execution and feel. ELP sound like a rock band when they play classical-rock, whereas Hermetic Science perform it more in the manner of classical music, with a feel closer to that of a chamber ensemble. “All of the pieces here are multi-part suites and have an ever-changing quality that puts this music on par with the very best instrumental progressive rock.” Read the full Exposé review.
One of America’s great symphonic prog bands, Holding Pattern originally released their four-song, 29-minute debut album on vinyl in 1981, back when you could get away with calling that a full-length album. This is a classic instrumental symphonic prog album. The first two tracks are heavily influenced by Genesis (Mellotron and all), the third by Camel, and the fourth by Happy the Man. More great music in a half hour here than on most of today’s 70-minute CDs.
Holding Pattern reunited for Breaking the Silence (2007) with original members Tony Spada (guitars), Tony Castellano (bass, keys), and Mark Tannenbaum (keys), plus drummer Rob Gottfried, who played on Spada’s The Human Element. Original drummer Robert Hutchinson appears on the bonus live version of Honor Before Glory from the first Holding Pattern album, this version recorded live in Japan in 2005. Breaking the Silence is a more symphonic development of the style of The Human Element. It is instrumental and sounds like the Dixie Dregs at their most symphonic, and every bit as good. Some influences of 70s King Crimson and Happy the Man are also present. Essential instrumental progressive rock. Paul Whitehead provided the cover art.
The two However CDs were first released on the Kinesis label in 1994 and 1995. The band reissued them circa 2010 with additional mastering and expanded liner notes. They added one track to Calling but dropped the bonus track No Cows that appeared on the Kinesis edition of Sudden Dusk. However were a Washington DC area band that blended Happy the Man, Gentle Giant, Hatfield and the North, National Health, King Crimson, Henry Cow, and Frank Zappa. The musicianship and compositional skills on display here set a standard not many contemporary prog bands reach. They are one of America’s best and most undeservedly unknown bands.
Sudden Dusk was released on LP in 1981 and remains However’s finest hour. Calling followed in 1985, still featuring sudden tempo and time signature changes, very imaginative writing and inspired playing, but also more vocals and song-form structures than on their debut, and a more pastoral feel. Kit Watkins of Happy the Man guests. Calling was extensively reworked and remastered for the CD release and includes many previously unreleased tracks. Read review quotes for both albums.
Life’s Mystery (2010) is the solo CD from However bandleader Peter Princiotto. There are several However pieces included, most previously unreleased, and the CD features most if not all of the musicians who appeared on the However albums. Read reviews.
Human Factor is a project masterminded by Blake Althen, a former student of Peter Prince of However. Guesting on the album is another former Prince student, bassist Michael Manring. This 2002 CD-R comes in a DVD case with a color wraparound cover and a color DVD-size booklet inside. It includes all of the 2001 Human Factor debut EP plus five new tracks, as well as videos (playable on a computer) of the track Keeper of Our Souls and a documentary. The music is modern prog and prog-pop. Sharing the spotlight with Althen is Paula Bellenoit, a quality singer who gives some of the tunes a 21st-century Stewart/Gaskin feel. Despite a very brief bit of rap and silly scratchy noises, every track is solid, with a wealth of details in the mix. As with most modern prog, Human Factor have appeal beyond the prog rock audience, but the music is undeniably progressive, hi-tech, and not a rehash of the same old stuff.
I and Thou is the project of Jason Hart, who is currently one of the two keyboardists in Renaissance. Assisting Hart on Speak (2012, digisleeve) are John Galgano (IZZ), Matt Johnson (Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright), Jack Petruzzelli (the Fab Faux, Patti Smith), and guests Steve Hogarth (Marillion), Keren Ann, and Laura Meade. IZZ guitarist Paul Bremner contributes a couple of soaring guitar solos. The cover painting is by Annie Haslam. There is some Renaissance influence but even more Genesis/Tony Banks, while Hart’s vocals are soft and understated. This is an album Tony Banks should have made, as apart from his classical work, it is less pop-influenced than any of Banks’ solo albums. It is beautiful symphonic prog emphasizing mood and atmosphere, four epic tracks plus a Rufus Wainwright cover, the latter the song Hogarth sings on. “Fans of Genesis, IZZ, or Hogarth are going to be in seventh heaven. And for me? Well, yet another American prog CD has made it into my top ten (it’s too good a year to just have a top 5). It truly is a great time to be a fan of progressive rock music, don’t you think?” Read the full DPRP review. Counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
This 2004 CD is the debut from The Illustrated Band from Austin, Texas. They have a very American sound palette similar to Phish and the other jam bands, but they aren’t a jam band. Well, on one track at least they are, but the rest of the album is highly composed. Their music is littered with progressivisms, with touches of Rush, Genesis, and Yes (more so the acoustic side of the last two) here and there. There is a pop/rock element, but the same can be said of Echolyn, whose style they sometimes brush up against. There are some psychedelic flavors, and above all, well-defined melodies. It’s all a very creative mix that draws the listener in and doesn’t let go.
We’ll venture that the majority of visitors to this site are familiar with American band Iluvatar, as they were the best-selling band on the Kinesis label when there was such a thing. So like us, you’ve been waiting since 1999’s A Story Two Days Wide for a new Iluvatar CD. After a period of time acclimating to the new millennium, Iluvatar, with their lineup unchanged, present From the Silence (2014) on 10t Records, the long wait referred to not only by the title but by some of the subject matter that deals with “embracing the aging process, and all that goes with it”. If we may crib from the press release: “Featuring all of the signature elements that fans expect, this new release proves that Iluvatar have lost none of the epic grandeur that made them a modern prog legend!”
Narcotica (2008, 70-minutes), the second album from this New York State duo, is a big step forward from their debut. There is only a little metal here and the music, while dark, is not relentlessly so. It’s an impressive symphonic prog album with somewhat of a psychedelic rock opera feel. There is a wealth of detail in the music, layer upon layer it. The lack of a human drummer sometimes holds the music back just a little, but also gives it a modern feel, and this is definitely a modern progressive record. Magellan having an hallucination may be the best reference.
Check our DVDs page for IZZ’s Live DVD. Sliver of a Sun (1999) is a great American prog album. Imagine a heavier and more complex version of Ambrosia during their progressive phase (first two albums). IZZ combine that whimsy, playfulness, and constant invention with some serious chops, on a par with Echolyn and Spock’s Beard. IZZ have a keen melodic sense and are capable songwriters, yet their songs twist and turn in unexpected directions. Over the album’s 59 minutes, there is quite a bit of diversity. Elements of Yes and Genesis crop up without IZZ ever coming close to being copyists. Excellent vocals too. Note Sliver of a Sun is currently out-of-print.
IZZ show a lot of growth on I Move (2002, 73-minutes). They still produce a lot of melodic Ameri-prog, the song-oriented material having moved closer to the Echolyn sound of this same timeframe, often with acoustic textures balancing the electric. But the playfulness of their debut has given way to a more serious and ambitious sound. While this CD begins very song-oriented, that gives way to intense instrumentals and majestic symphonic rock workouts with superb playing all around. The final series of linked songs is particularly impressive and should erase any doubts that IZZ are one of the top progressive bands around.
Ampersand (2004, 56-minutes) is somewhat of an interim album for IZZ, though it’s every bit as good as their others. As the band says: “The songs contained in this album span virtually IZZ’s entire career. A few have been with the band almost from the beginning, often in a dramatically different form. Others have been recorded during or between sessions from Sliver of a Sun, I Move, and IZZ’s next studio album. In short, these songs have all shared the common bond of homelessness. With this release, they have now found their home.” Ampersand also includes the first live tracks from IZZ.
It’s hard to say enough good things about My River Flows (2005, 66-minutes). Each IZZ album so far has been more ambitious than the last. While some of this album overlaps with the current styles of Echolyn and Spock’s Beard, IZZ demonstrate that they are more of a classic symphonic prog band than either of the others is now. There are more elements of IZZ’s style that relate to Genesis and Yes, but as has been the case all along, IZZ don’t come close to being derivative. They now have two female vocalists in the band, though they don’t appear together on the same song until the incredible 22-minute Deafening Silence suite that concludes the album, where the harmonies are sometimes similar to The Northettes of Hatfield and the North. Should be on every Top Ten list for the year.
Live at NEARfest (digipack) is IZZ’s first live CD, recorded June 2007 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracks are drawn from Sliver of a Sun, I Move, and My River Flows. This is IZZ’s seven-person lineup including Laura Meade and Anmarie Byrnes on vocals. Read the DPRP review. Now out-of-print, supply is drying up.
The Darkened Room is their 2009 studio CD. IZZ have their own quite original style, and if anyone still wants to compare them to other contemporary bands, we’ll take IZZ. Instrumentally, IZZ have become so sophisticated that the more mainstream end of the prog fan base is in danger of not keeping up. Yet IZZ balance their challenging side with their strongly melodic side, so their music remains accessible. The piano work that is the foundation of many sections is particularly impressive, incorporating jazz and contemporary classical influences that elude many of their prog peers.
And in their bid to be named America’s top current progressive band, IZZ submit for your consideration Crush of Night (2012, 55-minutes), which features a guest appearance by Gary Green of Gentle Giant on two tracks. Considered the second part of a three album series that began with The Darkened Room, Crush of Night continues in a similar style, a style that lies closer to the likes of Discipline than IZZ’s more accessible early works. Not that IZZ sound particularly like Discipline, but the music is similarly nuanced and epic, requiring multiple listens to absorb.
Everlasting Instant (2015) concludes the three-part series of albums that began with The Darkened Room and continued with Crush of Night, “with a fresh palette of sounds all the while maintaining the sharp and memorable melodies that have become a hallmark of the band”. The band regards Everlasting Instant as the culmination of the musical themes presented on the two preceding albums: “Many of the melodies, rhythms, and lyrics on Everlasting Instant began as seeds on the two previous albums and have come to fruition on this release. Listeners will recognize these subtle variations on prior themes and will also be presented with an exciting new collection of musical ideas.” Watch the video for Can’t Feel the Earth, Part IV.
Ampersand Vol. 2 (2016) contains 12 brand new studio tracks. As with the first volume of Ampersand, these are orphaned IZZ tracks, tracks that haven’t found a home on a previous IZZ album or were recorded in between album sessions. If you’ve heard the first Ampersand then you know the quality is at IZZ’s usual high level. Watch the video for Fine. The CD comes in a simple printed jacket with no booklet, but you can download the booklet in PDF form. Counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
Paul Bremner is IZZ’s guitarist. His first solo CD Wombsong (2004) was a mellow affair, but his second The Witness (2016, digipack) is much more energetic. IZZ’s Tom Galgano, who sings lead vocals on several tracks and who engineered and co-produced the album with Bremner notes, “Every song on this album is different and yet they are all connected by Paul’s unique guitar sound and songwriting. It’s been an absolute pleasure working on this album – in fact in many ways it’s been like working on an ‘alternate’ IZZ record.” Yes, an alternate-universe IZZ is a fair description, as Bremner has written or co-written a number of IZZ songs. IZZ’s female vocalists Anmarie Byrnes and Laura Meade each get a song to sing lead on, while IZZ drummers Brian Coralian and Greg DiMiceli play on several tracks. The final track Last Exit Before Toll exceeds 20 minutes and features all of Bremner’s IZZ bandmates, taking the listener on a journey while encompassing the full range of Bremner’s style. Watch the promo video and listen to excerpts from Are You Ooh Yah? and Pilot Fish.
Real Life Is Meeting (2012, digipack) is the first solo album by IZZ leader John Galgano, here assisted by IZZ members Laura Meade (vocals) and Paul Bremner (electric guitar solos) plus six other musicians, while John handles bass, vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, and keyboards. John has been one of IZZ’s primary songwriters, and Real Life Is Meeting is every bit as proggy as IZZ, but with a more personal feel, more warmth and heart energy. Hard to imagine an IZZ fan that wouldn’t cherish this album too, since it seems to be the soul of IZZ that is on display. We wouldn’t change a thing about it. Listen to the songs Bigger on the Inside, Lucky for Me, and 1000. Read the Progarchy review.
This is a 5 song, 15-minute CD-EP from singer/songwriter Laura Meade. Meade made her songwriting debut on IZZ’s Ampersand CD in 2004 and was featured prominently on their 2005 CD My River Flows. Meade multitracks her vocals and plays piano and is backed by IZZ’s Paul Bremner on electric guitar, Brian Coralian on drums, and John Galgano on bass & acoustic guitar. This is warm, beautiful, intelligent and sensitive female-vocal pop, with some progressive flavoring via the instrumentalists. It’s as good as anything in this genre on a major label, somewhat suggestive of recent Kate Bush.
Jack O’ The Clock are a band from Oakland, California who, like many of the Bay Area bands, are adventurous and outside the mainstream. Like most truly inventive bands, Jack O’ The Clock are difficult to describe, but there is something special going on here. Their third album All My Friends (2013) is nominally artsy-prog-folk, and though it could be called avant or experimental, there is none of the cacophony that suggests. Jack O’ The Clock are pushing their music in new directions, but this album remains dedicated to songcraft, and their music has warmth. They “take us on a journey away from the three minute pop song to a nirvana of freeform yet relaxed musical complexity.” [Bluesbunny, Glasgow] Their sound has elicited comparisons to Sufjan Stevens, Henry Cow/Art Bears, Gentle Giant, and Frank Zappa. We’re sometimes reminded of However’s gentler songs, or even an American counterpart to Stormy Six circa L’Apprendista. The thirteen pieces on All My Friends showcase the band’s core of voices, violin, guitar, hammer dulcimer, bassoon, bass, and drums, plus an expanded woodwind/brass section (eight guest musicians) and found objects such as wine glasses, corrugated pipes, heating grates, and more. “Jack O’ The Clock are an unbelievably great band, Damon Waitkus is an extraordinarily courageous composer... some of the freshest and most surprising music I’ve heard.” [Fred Frith] “The perfect album for the discerning listener looking for something different yet not alienating.” [Prognaut] Read the Exposé, Progulator, and Sea of Tranquility reviews.
Night Loops (2014) is noticeably darker and less folky, striking a good balance between RIO-style chamber music and progressive songs with soothing vocals. As the title suggests, this album is dominated by a nighttime mood, while All My Friends has more of a daytime feel. “This is some of the most stunningly original music that one is likely to hear, on this world or any other.” [Exposé] Read the Progulator review.
Maybe Jack O’ The Clock’s appearance at ProgDay 2015 had something to do with Repetitions of the Old City - I (2016) being a more conventionally progressive album, one that will be accessible to more mainstream prog fans without losing anything of their old style. Actually though these are the songs that have formed the backbone of Jack O’ The Clock’s live sets over the previous six years or so. Since then, they’ve been refining the mixes, doing overdubs, and bringing in some wonderful guest musicians including Fred Frith. The band says: “We are making a deliberate effort this time around to capture the intensity and immediacy of the live Jack O’ The Clock. This doesn’t mean there is absolutely no production, but there is a crisp, concise core and a unity to the sound that is true to all five of us and sounds more like the band than ever before. It took a few years and a lot of experimentation to find this sound, but we’ve learned how to put all the funny pieces together, how to make this unruly beast sing. This is our main sequence, our bright, rich, fully-cooked state.” It’s an outstanding album, and the fact there is a ‘I’ in the title means a second new album should be upon us soon. Listen to .22, or Denny Takes One for the Team on YouTube.
These two CDs are distant collaborations between American Jeremy Morris, known for his Pilgrim’s Journey and Celestial City CDs on the Kinesis label, and Progressor, aka Vitaly Menshikov of Uzbekistan. Vitaly is a member of the band X Religion and the guy who runs the Progressor website, which reviews progressive rock. The artwork for Searching for the Son (2013, 78-minutes) is misleading, suggesting late-60s bubblegum psych-pop, which this isn’t. Unlike its predecessor, Searching for the Son features vocals from Jeremy, whose singing voice resembles John Lennon’s. Guests include keyboardists John “Rabbit”' Bundrick (Jethro Tull, The Who) and Albert Khalmurzayev (X Religion, From.uz) as well as X Religion drummer Valery Vorobiov plus two American multi-instrumentalists. This is arguably the most progressive work to carry Jeremy’s name. The tracks are long and adventurous, with extended instrumental sections, and show a variety of prog styles such that the music doesn’t sound much like anyone other than the two guys whose names are on the CD, but goes beyond that as well. Those familiar with both Jeremy’s enormous body of work and with X Religion can probably sort the music according to who created it. The dark stuff can reliably be assigned to Progressor since Jeremy’s own output is rarely dark. There is a spacey element that runs through many of the tracks, sometimes similar to the spacey parts of Celestial City, sometimes another type of space-prog entirely. There is some Mellotron strings and flute. One track features sophisticated ambient-prog with trumpet in the mix, another resembles the medieval prog of Minimum Vital. There is some of the heavy, dark, classically-influenced X Religion style, not surprising given that all three of the X Religion musicians appear on those tracks, while many of the vocal passages have psychedelic undertones (or is it overtones?), due in part to the John Lennon resemblance.
The Pearl of Great Price (2005, 68-minutes) also features contributions from Brian Hirsch, which is a clue that this music was at least begun several years earlier because Hirsch passed away several years earlier. It is instrumental symphonic space rock and is fairly clearly a Jeremy CD, with the others in a contributing role. It is also the best thing Jeremy has released since his Kinesis-label CDs. Menshikov adds keyboards, bass, and percussion to three of the album’s seven tracks, and Hirsch contributes keys and drums. Jeremy plays guitar, bass, drums, and keys. It is Jeremy’s recognizable electric guitar leads that steal the show. His style is his own, a melodic and lyrical style that is what you might get if you blended Steve Hackett and Brian May (Queen). While you can call this space rock, it has little to do with Hawkwind, and while there is an influence of Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, the electronics are in a supporting role rather than being the main event. Jeremy’s Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett influences are usually evident. While three of the tracks are in the 10-11 minute range, the final track The Journey Home is a 21-minute epic that sounds like the final chapter of Pilgrim’s Journey. Note this CD is out-of-print, last copies.
Pilgrim’s Journey (1995) is a tour de force by American guitarist/keyboardist Jeremy, in a progressive rock style that was for long the exclusive province of the British. This is 74 minutes of instrumental symphonic rock that will bring smiles to the faces of fans of Anthony Phillips, Steve Hackett, Mike Oldfield, and Gordon Giltrap. The album mixes shorter pieces heavy on vintage synths, somewhat reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ 1984, with two tracks of epic proportions including the 25-minute title suite. Here Jeremy demonstrates a melodic sense akin to Oldfield’s, stating and restating themes in elegant arrangements. Throughout, Jeremy’s electric guitar has the expressiveness of Steve Hackett’s, while the acoustic 6- and 12-string guitar adds a pastoral flavor often missing from modern prog. Read review quotes.
Salt the Planet, Jeremy’s 1999 album for the long-defunct Moonchild label, is a bit of a departure from his Kinesis albums in that there is very little guitar on it, though there is a lot of guitar synth. This is Jeremy’s ‘heavy-synth’ style, which can be heard in spots on his Kinesis albums, and is a style he does very well. This is structured, melodic, rhythmic, rock-based synth music, not too far from the power-synth styles of Mark Shreeve and Andy Pickford.
With his album Kingdom Come (2002), Jeremy completes the trilogy of instrumental progressive albums begun with Pilgrim’s Journey and Celestial City. (Celestial City is out-of-print.) This 73-minute album includes the 35-minute title track. Since Jeremy’s long tracks are comprised of many short themes, they flow by effortlessly. The first half of the album is more spacey, electronic, and ambient than the other two albums, with loads of analog synths and backwards tape effects (a lost art). Jeremy’s electronic style is probably closest to Michael Garrison’s. This is blended with acoustic guitar-dominated passages that are generally peaceful and uplifting, contrasting nicely with the darker, slightly sinister electronics. Jeremy’s electric guitar asserts itself in the album’s second half, the music somewhat reminiscent of Anthony Phillips, early Mike Oldfield, Gordon Giltrap, and Gandalf. The 11-minute Meadows is a pastiche of themes from Pilgrim’s Journey and Celestial City, providing a fitting conclusion to the trilogy.
While Jeremy Morris is best known to prog fans for Pilgrim’s Journey and Celestial City, he has released many other albums, most with vocals, his main styles other than prog being psychedelic rock, space rock, and power pop. Jeremy’s vocals are reminiscent of John Lennon’s. On From the Dust to the Stars (2012, 72-minutes), Jeremy as usual plays most everything, assisted by a drummer on each track, plus guest Guillermo Cazenave on one song. The album combines a lot of Jeremy’s styles but is dominated by his psychedelic rock style, which feels rooted in the late 1960s (The Byrds’ Eight Miles High comes to mind). But Jeremy’s trademark guitar leads are usually from the progressive era, and there are elements of Hawkwind style space rock (Mellotron too), electronics, the rock side of Strawbs, and many proggy elements. The 15-minute track For Chosen Ones that concludes the CD is the highlight. Read the Something Else! review.
Across its 77 minutes, Not of This World (2015) covers most of Jeremy’s styles, concentrating on his progressive and late-60s psychedelic rock styles. The CD features mostly long tracks, both vocal and instrumental, concluding with the 17-minute progressive highlight The Other World. The most pop-sounding material suggests an alternate universe where The Monkees got a Mellotron and started to go prog. Read the Something Else! review. Listen to mp3s of What Planet Are We From?, The Other World, and Clouds are Lifting.
Jupiter is one of the Progressive Music Management family of bands (Leger de Main, RH Factor, Gratto, etc.). An instrumental quartet of guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums, Jupiter is dominated by Paul Bryson’s guitar playing. This is by no means a guitar hero album though, as this set of flowing, melodic instrumentals is always tasteful. The sound is full, as Bryson overdubs clean and lead sounds simultaneously, while keyboards support with both symphonic and spacey textures.
This is the 1989 first album by an American symphonic prog band from Utah. Along with the U.S. bands Now and (later) Under the Big Tree, Kalaban were helping to define a U.S. west coast progressive style of that time, borrowing from the British 70s melodic prog bands but with an added accessibility, playfulness, and generally American character. Don’t Panic contains two vocal tracks and four instrumentals.
Kinetic Element is a classic prog band out of Richmond, Virginia, let by keyboardist Mike Visaggio. Their debut Powered by Light (2009, 69-minutes) is pure 1970s-style symphonic prog that sits right alongside the work of Kansas, Lift, Pentwater, Ethos, and various other American 70s prog bands, and is on the same level. Like those bands, Kinetic Element have absorbed the influences of Yes, Genesis, ELP, and other first-tier progressive bands. (Refugee is actually a better reference than ELP here.) Significantly, the music is composed by a keyboardist. Contrast that with the “modern prog” bands whose music is typically written by a guitarist, the band fortunate to have a skilled keyboardist at all. Visaggio is not someone trying to recreate the sound of an era that predates him; he’s old enough that he was there when progressive rock first emerged. Read reviews.
Travelog (2015, 70-minutes) is Kinetic Element’s even better second album, with just five long tracks. Yes is arguably the dominant influence now, and Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of Glass Hammer mixed and mastered, which reminds us to mention Glass Hammer as a good reference point. This is true symphonic prog in all its glory. Read the Prog Archives and Power of Prog reviews.
Starship Universe is Mike Visaggio’s 2006 solo CD, on which he has help from a drummer on three tracks. The style is largely the same, epic prog influenced by ELP, Yes, and Rick Wakeman. Read the Prognaut review.
Dave Kulju was the guitarist of the band Electrum. Notes in the Margin (2010, digisleeve) is one of the best progressive rock CDs we heard that year. Kulju handles most of the instruments here, with Frank Basile taking care of the drums throughout and Ian Cameron on electric and acoustic violin on one track. The album opens with a rousing space-prog instrumental that sounds like Rush covering an Ozric Tentacles piece, and this style does reappear later. But the centerpiece of the album is the half-hour suite A Poet’s Talespin, which features the beautiful vocals of Annie Oya. This is sophisticated symphonic prog featuring classically-influenced piano, contrasting subtle, refined passages with powerful riffs, surely Kulju’s finest composition. It’s as close to Squonk Opera as it is to Rush. There are guitarists who dabble with keyboards but are generally limited to playing pads behind their guitar work, because after all, holding down three keys isn’t all that difficult. But that isn’t the case here, as keyboards play an important role, and they sound like they’re played by a keyboardist. This is a mature progressive rock album incorporating classical and jazz influences, and it’s always satisfying to see a musician grow from a youngster who thought progressive rock is Rush and Dream Theater to the level Kulju is at now. Here are mp3s of A Poet’s Talespin Part ii: Soft Collisions, A Poet’s Talespin Part iii: The Bridge, and Know Again. Read the DPRP and Sea of Tranquility reviews. “Notes in the Margin is a labor of love that is surprisingly strong and bears repeated, joyous listening.” [Progression #60]
Abstract Expression (2007, digipack) is an instrumental progressive rock album, and if it was advertised as the third Electrum album, none would be the wiser. While Kulju plays electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drums, guitar synth, keyboards, and programming, a number of talented guest musicians contribute drums, organ, theremin, and violin. Guitar has most of the lead work, but there are a lot of keyboards adding symphonic and spacey textures. In this way, the music is similar to Rush during their prime, though Rush is only one of several influences. This album is more imaginative than most guitarist’s CDs, more richly textured and symphonic. In fact, forget it’s a guitarist’s CD and just think of it as a very enjoyable instrumental prog album. Here is an 5:20 mp3 sampler of the whole album. Read the DPRP and USA Progressive Music reviews.
Sadly, Dave passed away of a sudden heart attack in December 2013, only 43 years old.
The Lower Depths (2005), the sixth Lands End album, is a 2CD set of new studio work with a couple of reworked tracks that have not appeared on any previous Lands End release. This is by far the best thing Lands End have done, and a lot of that has to do with the guest musicians on Disc One. Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) supplies guitar and vocals on two tracks, Steve Anderson (Sphere3, Grey Lady Down) plays guitar on one track, and Cathy Alexander of folk-prog band The Morrigan lends her wonderful lead vocals to the two epic-length tracks. The usual Lands End style is here, but the guest musicians have added new dimensions to the music. Disc One is dominated by the two epic-length tracks (14:22 and 24:29) that provide the framework for the usual Lands End instrumental workouts. Disc Two is made up of four tracks by the original nucleus of Fred Hunter, Mark Lavellee, Jeff McFarland, and Francisco Neto, plus one track with guest guitarist Steve Anderson originally intended for the first disc had space allowed it. The main piece on the second disc is the 53-minute(!) Acquiesce to the Martinets Precept (catchy). This one is a flowing, mind-expanding, spacey progressive track in the typical Lands End style, and as you might expect, it goes through a fair number of changes over its length. All in all, brilliant symphonic prog from a band that, even if they weren’t ever in the same room for this record, persevered long enough to produce their masterwork. Check below for the related band Transience.
Keyboardist/composer Lisa LaRue is a Native American, Cherokee to be specific. On this 2009 CD, she assembled some notable talent, including John Payne (Asia, GPS) on vocals, Jo DeBoeck (Belgian band Beyond the Labyrinth) on vocals, Steve Adams (ARZ) on guitar, Chris Brown (Ghost Circus, Roswell Six) on bass, Svetlan Raket (Pär Lindh Project, Zello) on drums, plus numerous guests including David Mark Pearce of The Oliver Wakeman Band and Quebec’s Claire Vezina. The album is a mix of instrumentals and vocal songs. As is often the case, the vocal songs tend to sound more mainstream, while the instrumentals are full of proggy goodness. LaRue’s playing is not demonstrative like an Emerson or Wakeman but rather more sensitive and evocative. This is excellent melodic prog with an appropriate balance between keys and guitar (something many modern prog bands don’t achieve because keyboardists like LaRue are in short supply). Read the Sea of Tranquility, USA Progressive Music and DPRP reviews. Here are mp3s of the tracks In Camera, Copper Edge, Kituwa, and Two A.M.
Legacy are a U.S. symphonic progressive band out of North Carolina with a fine 2000 debut. We’re reminded of early North Star especially in the vocal department, while instrumentally it leans more toward Yes, with lots of symphonic textures. Other good reference points might be Alaska and Glass Hammer in the same time frame.
Leger de Main is an American progressive band with a rare ability to mix high energy and great complexity without sacrificing melody and without degenerating into metal. Much of Leger de Main could be described as a more symphonic, intricate, and frenetic Rush with female vocals that are, ironically, lower in pitch than Geddy Lee’s. Though some of the vocal lines integrate well with the music, many tend to meander over the instrumentation without stating any memorable melodies (this is endemic to many modern bands), thus LdM are at their best during the many instrumental sections. The value-priced 2CD set A Lasting Impression reissues Leger de Main’s two albums The Concept of Our Reality (1995) and Second First Impression (1997), plus two bonus tracks which are recently-recorded acoustic versions of songs from the first album. It’s all been remixed and remastered by an experienced engineer for much improved sound. The complex, layered music really benefits from the added detail and clarity. Read the DPRP review.
RH Factor is essentially Leger de Main with a male vocalist. It’s a bit more accessible and song-oriented than LdM, still quite progressive and still in the hyper-Rush vein, and the vocals are better integrated.
With a reputation in the jazz and guitarist worlds, the Scott Lindenmuth Group should be equally well-known to prog rockers. These incredible instrumental albums exist somewhere between fusion and progressive rock. As a reference point, they are more melodic, more rock, less improvisational, and higher-energy than, say, Allan Holdsworth. Scott Lindenmuth is a major guitar talent, taking Pat Metheny’s melodic stylings into more aggressive territory.
Little Atlas are a Miami-based progressive rock band. On their first couple albums, their lineage is Genesis, Yes, or Kansas, but they aren’t retro. Their songs on these early albums seemingly are built up around a core of piano and voice, giving the music that organic, natural sound of the 1970s prog bands. Songcraft is one of Little Atlas’s strong points. Surface Serene (2003) is an engaging musical journey that harkens back to those classic progressive songs, but with lots of new twists and energy. Wanderlust (2005) represents a more adventurous and mature work than Surface Serene, which was already quite a good prog CD. All the songs on Wanderlust were fully co-written by the four band members, the compositions filled with vocal-driven melodic passages punctuated by thrilling instrumental flights. If Surface Serene led some to dub Little Atlas as “Spock’s Beard Jr.”, then Wanderlust puts the two bands on an equal footing. Frogg Cafe’s Bill Ayasse contributes violin to the final track.
Hollow (2007) was Little Atlas’s breakthrough album. Their sound has evolved significantly. While the music still resembles Spock’s Beard or Echolyn at times, here it is more intense and moody. And yet the dark passages are in perfect balance with the uplifting passages, and the contemporary prog style is balanced by classic prog stylings and vintage keyboard sounds. An exceptional record.
Automatic Day (2013) is their fourth, the music having gone almost completely over to the dark side. The music has evolved tremendously from Little Atlas’s beginning ten years previous, now closer to Porcupine Tree and classic Anekdoten, and having little to do with Spock’s Beard or Kansas. Yet there is still some classic prog grandeur that sets Little Atlas apart from other modern-style prog bands. As for other references, King Crimson deserve a mention, there are lots of passages featuring acoustic guitar that evoke a more pensive Genesis, and other songs with Yes elements, but again darker. Mellotron strings or choir are blended with dark, moody, more aggressive prog to great effect, and the production quality has improved with each CD. All told, this is Little Atlas’s masterpiece. Watch the official videos for the tracks Automatic Day, Oort, and Apathy.
See the related band Strattman below.
Little King, from El Paso, Texas, is a Rush-influenced band who really have their own distinct style. They do have the Rush trio format, and Rush remains the major influence, but vocally the feel is usually different, and they add different instrumental textures and styles. Their fourth CD Legacy of Fools (2008) features guests that add backing vocals, keyboards, violin and cello, making this their most satisfying release to date. Virus Divine (2005, 36-minutes) is their self-released third CD (later licensed to Unicorn), which was mixed by Terry Brown.
On My Hands (1996) is the second album by an American band playing sophisticated progressive rock influenced by Gentle Giant and Yes. This is the 2010 mini-LP edition released by the MALS label under license from Musea, which comes in a heavyweight cardboard sleeve.
This is the special edition of Magellan’s Impossible Figures (2003), which comes in the hardcover digibook format and includes the bonus track Hallucination. Sure it gets overblown at times, but it wouldn’t be Magellan if it didn’t. By now most prog fans should know what to expect, heavy symphonic rock along the lines of a heavier and more bombastic Kansas.
On Innocent God (2007), Trent and Wayne Gardner are joined by Robert Berry throughout. Trent states that Innocent God is a transitional album and that Magellan is in the process of moving out of traditional 1970s-style progressive rock. But have no fear; this is still very obviously a symphonic prog album. The only thing they’ve done is keep the song lengths under 10 minutes and moderate the heavy, overblown style of their past. It works, as Magellan’s ideas were sometimes overstretched on their longer tracks, and now the song ideas are better developed. This is the Musea edition.
Majestic is the band lead by American multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel. The mini-LP editions of Ataraxia (2010, 78-minutes) and Arrival (2009, 77-minutes) are released on the Moscow-based MALS label under license. They come in heavyweight cardboard sleeves, gatefold for Ataraxia. The discs in the jewel box editions of Ataraxia and Arrival are pro CD-Rs; these are released by the band. Whereas the first Majestic CD Descension suffered from weak vocals courtesy of Hamel himself, he brought in singer Jessica Rasche for Arrival, which is part of the reason Arrival is a huge improvement. The Sea of Tranquility reviews will tell you what you need to know, in particular “Arrival does not feel like a one man band in the slightest. The sound is so rich and full it is hard to believe this is the work of one man.” There isn’t just a single prog style here. With the slight metal influence, the overall feel is of a modern progressive rock album, and the Majestic press kit does mention Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Dream Theater, and Ayreon (Stream of Passion should also be tossed in there). But the classic prog content is also impressive, with a lot of Pink Floyd, a little Genesis and Yes, even Tangerine Dream style electronics are employed. Here is an mp3 of excerpts from Arrival.
As for Ataraxia, “This is easily one of the best albums of 2010... Last time round I suggested that the sound of Majestic sat somewhere between Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, but with Ataraxia, I would suggest that Majestic have moved further into the classic era of prog, with the whole album having a more seventies feel, but somehow this is all done without sounding in any way retro... With Arrival, Majestic suggested that they were a band destined for great things, and here, only one album down the line and they’ve only gone and bloody well proved it! Absolutely stunning!” [Sea of Tranquility] “Ataraxia is a whole new thing in a whole new quality level when compared to Majestic’s previous works.” [Proggnosis] Read the full Sea of Tranquility and Proggnosis reviews.
V.O.Z. (2012) was the breakthrough album for Majestic, an ambitious double-CD on which Hamel employs four vocalists, both male and female, though the album is heavily instrumental. Mike Kosacek handles drums, and as usual, Hamel handles guitars and keys. Majestic have not changed style -- there are still elements of hard/heavy rock present -- but the attention to detail and atmosphere has been taken to the next level. Read the Sea of Tranquility and DPRP reviews.
Majestic have taken a significant stride forward with each album, and that trend continues with Epsilon 1 (2014, digipack). Epsilon 2 (digipack) was promised to follow later in 2014, and the band delivered. Majestic can now be called the American Ayreon in that the music falls in the heavy symphonic space prog vein, different singers are used on different songs, and the album concept is in the sci-fi realm. Most of the V.O.Z. vocalists return here, with the new guy being Marc Atkinson (Riversea, Nine Stones Close, Mandalaband). Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Makkiwhipdies is a five-piece band whose debut His Name is nnnnn (1996, 70-minutes) begins as lunatic music performance art, with recurring musical fragments deftly interspersed with found vocals and other samples. The humor gradually gives way to some fantastic instrumental progressive rock, so that by the end of the disc, you’ve forgotten all about the silly bits. The music is often like a more complex and progressive Seventh Wave, or a keyboard-heavy Jethro Tull, with doses of Zappa, Rush, ELP, and Steve Hackett thrown in for good measure. It is keyboard-dominated with spice provided by mandolin and other atypical instruments. Well-produced, modern, and nothing else quite like it. Read the AllMusic and Sea of Tranquility reviews. Check above for solo CDs by bandleader David Cosgrove.
Man on Fire improved significantly over their debut album with The Undefined Design (2003), their sophomore effort. Featuring guest David Ragsdale (ex-Kansas) on violin on three tracks, The Undefined Design is a fresh and innovative take on modern progressive rock. With a wide range of influences, the Man on Fire sound crosses several musical genres, combining melodic vocals, fluent fretless bass, layered keyboards, polyrhythmic grooves, heavy guitar soundscapes, and a dose of something resembling funk into a cohesive whole, fully utilizing the latest studio production techniques. The songs are accessible, the complexity often coming from the many layers of sound. There are moments of aggressive guitar, but always in small bursts. Eric Sands’ fretless bass work is exceptional, while Ragsdale’s violin provides much needed grounding, as the Man on Fire sound on this CD is otherwise rather synthetic and hard-edged. This complex approach to what are essentially melodic rock/pop songs makes Man on Fire’s brand of modern prog unique.
Habitat (2005) is a 69-minute concept album that again features David Ragsdale on violin and a new contributor, Adrian Belew on guitar. Not just a guest spot, Belew is the primary guitarist on this album and plays on most of the tracks. Man on Fire continue to make great strides with each album. Ragsdale is utilized even more on this one, and the tracks he plays on are again the standouts. To their credit, Man on Fire avoid any obvious influences, and there are some great hooks on this album.
After a long hiatus during which members of the band got the 10T Records label up and running, Man on Fire returned with Chrysalis (2011, digipack). The label says: “Chrysalis sees Man on Fire significantly stretching their sound, which has always been described as refreshingly free of obvious influences. For Chrysalis, the band has expanded to a six-piece. In addition to founding member Eric Sands, once again providing his signature and distinctive elastic fretless bass and dynamic guitar work, and vocalist/keyboardist Jeff Hodges on grand piano, vintage organs, synths and samples, the new line-up features the soulful voice of Elise Testone on co-lead and backing vocals, percussion phenom Quentin Ravenel on drums, internationally renown trumpeter Cameron Harder Handel, and classically-trained virtuoso violinist Jenny Hough. Together they create a sound that is more natural, yet ornate, organic and darkly cinematic than previous Man on Fire releases.”
If guitar virtuoso Eric Mantel is not well known outside Chicago, it’s hard to imagine he can remain that way much longer. On The Unstruck Melody (2006), Mantel’s band includes keyboards, bass, drums, and various backing vocalists. A number of the songs on this CD have vocals from Eric, who sounds rather like Phil Collins and likewise has a flair for songwriting. And versatility? It’s as if Mantel is showing he can cover the style of any other guitar god, whether it be the Satriani/Johnson/Vai camp, Steve Morse, Pat Metheny, Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, and more. By varying the style, this disc’s generous 79-minutes fly right by, not something you’d expect from a guitarist’s album. The real reason for that is not simply the variety but the writing ability and melodic sense of Mantel. He’s been at this since the late 1970s, and all that experience shines through. And his tone is like butter.
It’s probably safe to say that Mark 1 sound like no other current American prog rock band. They incorporate an eccentricity, humor, and whimsy normally associated with British bands such as City Boy or The Cardiacs. Their second, The Criminal Element, though a short album at 36:13, is the one to start with as it has a bigger, more symphonic sound than their debut. You know the band is intimately familiar with Genesis; perhaps a cross between Radiohead and Genesis is an accurate description. Consistently inventive and always melodic.
Paranoise are the Deep Forest of heavy progressive rock. On eight of Private Power’s (1999) twelve tracks, the vocals are sampled artists from third-world cultures. Paranoise have reharmonized and rearranged these for western ears, and of course added aggressive rock timbres and rhythms. They also throw some ethnic instruments into the mix, creating one of the first progressive world rock albums. The prog rock underlying it all stands on its own, solid and infectious, dominated by guitar and violin and owing a debt to King Crimson. It’s the ever-present violin that elevates it from the ordinary to the extraordinary. All in all, a great idea that works, and unlikely to sound quite like anything you’ve heard before.
Ishq (2001) perfects the style established on Private Power. This one is simply astounding, as the band take traditional songs from Morocco, Afghanistan, Kenya, Bulgaria, and elsewhere and turn them into powerful progressive rock. In addition to the sampled vocals, Paranoise add their own vocals, including an appearance by a Slavic singing group from Yale. Several guest musicians on various percussion instruments shift some of the tracks into rhythmic overdrive. Even if you have no interest in “world music” per se, keep in mind that Paranoise is to world music as progressive rock is to ordinary rock.
Paranoise is now Mawwal. Black Flies (2007) is a further development of Paranoise, not as heavy but just as energetic, and probably more melodic. The ethnic percussion is stronger, but the major addition is the ensemble female vocals. Percy Jones (Brand X) plays bass on most of the tracks. For fans of Peter Gabriel’s brand of world music, Mawwal should be the next step, as this is the most advanced fusion of Middle Eastern and western progressive music we’ve heard.
Percy Jones also appears on several tracks on the second Mawwal CD This Is All There Is, There Is No Other Place (2008), which continues the trend toward more acoustic timbres, ethnic percussion and vocals, at the expense of the rock side which was more dominant in Paranoise. 17 musicians participate on Sight Up (2011), which continues in the same direction as the previous CD. Read the Sea of Tranquility review. More info at Jim Matus’ site.
High Hills in the Creaving Road (2012) continues to advance Mawwal’s brand of world fusion. Percy Jones is again among the guests. Read the Valley Advocate review.
Maximum Coherence (who thankfully shortened their name on their second CD) comfortably straddle the worlds of pop, progressive rock, and psychedelic/space rock. On their 2004 album Portal, this five-piece band isn’t making it any easier to describe them, as they meld a number of styles in a unique way, retro at one moment and modern the next. There is a pop aspect to their music, as the prevailing mood on Portal is light and upbeat, with the lovely female vocals playing a greater role than on previous albums, and there is little of the space rock that is heard on their early material. MaxCo is nothing if not musically savvy, carrying on like a small rock orchestra and managing to incorporate classical, folk, jazz, and a half dozen other influences as well. They have a good balance of guitars and keyboards, augmented by many other instruments, and both male and female vocals. Read the Aural Innovations review.
Maxwell’s Demon are a U.S. instrumental band who debuted in 2001 with Prometheus, coming very close to the Änglagård sound and style and while adding a slightly more avant-garde flavor a la Univers Zero. Diablo (2009) is the follow-up. While retaining the King Crimson (think Providence, but composed rather than improvised) and Änglagård appeal, Diablo is more challenging. Much of the album is very dissonant, with all the tritones the band can muster, consciously avoiding major thirds. Yet the album culminates in more tonal, less diabolical, nearly happy music, so with patience even Diablo resolves. As the band says: “This album was made by the band, for the band, and the few remaining fans of authentic progressive rock who want to be challenged and are willing to explore this difficult yet rewarding music over many undistracted listenings. You know who you are”.
Maybe all you need to know about this San Francisco-area band is that Metaphor spent two years as a classic-era Genesis tribute band. Their second CD Entertaining Thanatos (2004, 57-minutes) is a finely-crafted 1970s-style symphonic prog album with Genesis as the primary influence, replete with vintage keyboards (including Mellotron) and long dramatic tracks. Relative to their out-of-print debut Starfooted, the music incorporates a wider range of proggy influences (Gentle Giant, for one), expanding beyond the Genesis base. Fans of the Ad Infinitum CD especially should take note.
Metaphor’s 2007 third CD The Sparrow is a 71-minute rock opera about the first Jesuit mission to another planet, based on the best-selling novel by Mary Doria Russell and with the author’s cooperation. The music continues within the territory mapped out by the previous two CDs, with an even stronger individual identity emerging. Read reviews. See the related band Mind Furniture below.
Marc Spooner, keyboardist for Metaphor, has recorded an all-synthesizer (and some Mellotron) version of Stravinsky’s masterpiece in time for the 100th anniversary of the famous riotous premiere of the ballet. “I’ve always been a huge fan of the Wendy Carlos, Tomita, and Synergy albums, and no one had ever done an electronic version of the entire score of The Rite, so I figured I’d do it myself! It was created with a collection of vintage Moog, ARP, and Roland synths with a dash of a modern Kurzweil plus a generous helping of Mellotron.” 2013, digipack.
Originally formed at the University of Maryland, Might Could is an instrumental group of three crafty acoustic guitarists and a bassist, the latter being Luis Nasser of Sonus Umbra. The title of their 2005 debut CD All Intertwined (51-minutes, digipack) gives away their style, and 2007’s Wood Knot (49-minutes, digipack) is in the same style. 1980s King Crimson’s interlocking guitars style may come to mind, but Might Could’s approach is more classically-influenced, emotional, melodic, and bounteous, less of a mathematical exercise and not confined to pentatonic scales. There is a rock sensibility to it even if it isn’t rock. We’re reminded of Swiss guitarist Thomas Diethelm, but since that’s probably not much help, just rest assured that this is about as exciting as acoustic guitar music gets, and a sure bet for fans of California Guitar Trio.
This 2013 CD is part of Cleopatra / Purple Pyramid’s series of all-star CDs organized by Billy Sherwood and assembled in his studio, this time 11 covers of Steve Miller Band songs, all classics having received lots of airplay in the day. The participants are mostly from the world of prog and in addition to Sherwood include Tony Kaye, Peter Banks, John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Geoff Downes, Sonja Kristina (Curved Air), John Wesley, Steve Morse, Rod Argent, Steve Hillage, Nektar, Jordan Rudess, Derek Sherinian, Colin Moulding (XTC), Fee Waybill (The Tubes), Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow), Steve Stevens, and Martin Turner (Wishbone Ash). If you came of age during the 1970s and had the radio on, then these songs are part of your DNA, and hearing them again interpreted by these musicians is great entertainment.
Mind Furniture are a progressive rock quintet from the San Francisco bay area that share members John Mabry (vocals, guitar) and Greg Miller (drums) with the band Metaphor, and lead guitarist Christopher Scott Cooper with the band New Sun. Rounding out the band are Brett Barnett (keys, vocals) and Michael “Doc” Ray (bass). Hoop of Flame (2007) is their second album, following the self-released The End of Days (2000). Hoop of Flame consists of two long suites (23:25 and 29:40) of generally 1970s-style prog with some Marillion influence. Mind Furniture’s sound is similar to Metaphor’s but shifted slightly toward Kansas or Jethro Tull, not surprising given that Mind Furniture and Metaphor have the same singer and Hoop of Flame was recorded in the same studio using the same engineer as Metaphor’s The Sparrow and Entertaining Thanatos. Add Mind Furniture to the first tier of current U.S. progressive bands. Read the Exposé review.
Mirthrandir was another American 1970s symphonic prog band that released only one LP. For You the Old Women was released independently in 1976 and is one of the classic U.S. progressive albums. All the U.S. prog bands of that era were influenced by the British prog giants, but Mirthrandir absorbed those influences to create a more original style than most. Lots of reviews at Prog Archives.
Four O’Clock and Hysteria (2007, 64-minutes) is the first solo release by Spock’s Beard’s lead guitarist. Alan’s brother Neal plays keyboards and acoustic guitar on the album, all recent Spock’s Beard members make an appearance, and Jerry Goodman plays electric violin on two tracks. It’s a very fine album of expertly-played instrumental guitar fusion (more rock than jazz), varying from fast and furious to melodic and symphonic. Several tracks call to mind Jeff Beck’s brand of fusion, some verge on Mahavishnu Orchestra style, while the more melodic tracks overlap with Daryl Stuermer’s style. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
After leaving Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse established a solo career with Christian-themed albums. While he has a large discography, his progressive rock albums for the most part are Testimony 2 (2011), Lifeline (2008), Sola Scriptura (2007), ? (2005), One (2004), and Testimony (2003). This special edition of One comes in a slipcase and adds a 39-minute second disc containing three more songs from the same sessions, one alternate version, and four new covers of songs by The Who, George Harrison, and others. Prog Archives is a good resource for reviews of these CDs.
“Nearly a decade earlier, Neal Morse released his landmark autobiographical progressive rock epic, Testimony. In 2011 he returned with an extraordinary cast of musicians to tell the rest of the story in Testimony 2. And he saved the best for last. On this sequel, he dives deeper into unchartered musical and lyrical territory. Incorporating legendary drummer Mike Portnoy and brilliant bassist Randy George, this breathtaking album is a prog epic with breadth that dazzles and melodies that reach into the soul.” The first disc is autobiographical and picks up where the first Testimony left off, in the mid-1990s when Spock’s Beard begin to experience unexpected success. Neal sings about their glory days in Time Changer, with the original band members joining in for a vocal extravaganza in their classic style. The second disc includes a 25-minute prog rock epic featuring Steve Morse. “It really is an amazing story and the music that is found on this recording is equal to the task of telling the tale... CD 2 holds three tracks and it’s the highlight of the set, all three emotionally power-packed tracks. This is Morse and his band at their very best, pumping out prog rock classics Absolute Beginner, Supernatural, and the nearly 25-minute tour de force Seeds of Gold to wrap up the session. This set is fantastic and similar to the kind of music and presentation that Neal is accustomed to in recording with Transatlantic. Neal Morse has made the musical and spiritual statement of his life and career with Testimony Two.” Read the full review at Progressive World. Check our DVDs page for Neal Morse DVDs and Blu-rays.
Tim Morse wrote the Yes biography Yesstories and the book Classic Rock Stories, and also plays keyboards in the northern California Yes tribute band Parallels. Tim recorded his first album Transformation (2005, 64-minutes) with multi-instrumentalist Mark Dean (guitars, bass, drums, backing vocals), with lead vocals shared between Morse and Richie Zeller. There are also several guest musicians. Given Morse’s background, one might assume this album would be very Yes-influenced, and while there is some Yes influence, it isn’t dominant. In fact, there is more ELP influence. Transformation is a more modern prog album though, and as such veers close to Magellan, Robert Berry, Spock’s Beard, and Jadis, and is on a par with the output of those artists. This is an excellent symphonic prog album with superb production. Read reviews.
Palindrome is the 2010 studio CD from America’s Canterbury band. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
This is the CD reissue of Netherworld’s 1981 In the Following Half-Light LP, with the addition of a suite of three instrumental bonus tracks. A highly-collectible LP and for good reason, this is among the best U.S. progressive rock albums, inspired primarily by Genesis but with a high degree of originality. Lead vocalist Denny Gorden sounds similar at times to Geoff Mann, at other times more Gabrielesque. Read the Sea of Tranquility, AllMusic, and Prog Archives reviews. (There is an mp3 at Prog Archives.) More info at the Netherworld website. This is the MALS label edition.
Never Wasn’t is a U.S. symphonic prog band made up of seasoned musicians, debuting in 2008 with this self-titled 67-minute CD. Their primary influence is Yes, to which they add some AOR flavoring as American prog bands have usually been inclined to do. Guitarist Mike Matier was formerly in Ten Jinn. Singer Ronny Lapine has a powerful voice which is more typical of rock singers of eras past, and he is a huge Yes and Jon Anderson fan. The best tracks here are the most Yes-like, along with the more Tull-ish Leprechaun. Overall an excellent progressive rock CD oriented toward the late 1970s into the early 1980s, and further evidence that Yes had the greatest impact in the U.S. of any progressive rock band. (ELP was close, but Genesis received no substantial airplay in the U.S. until Follow You Follow Me, at which point it was too late.)
Anyman (2004, 64-minutes) is the debut CD by New Eden Orchestra, at that time a quintet from Pittsburgh led by composer Michael Lunn. The band’s core members had already been together for over 25 years, spending eight years (on and off) bringing Anyman to fruition. This is a melodic prog rock concept album, to quote the band, “in the style of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, The Wall, or Tommy”. You can’t question their ambition. Overall, the music gravitates more toward Kansas and Yes, though there is a fairly wide variety of musical styles present (but all within the boundaries of progressive rock). Glass Hammer and Salem Hill may be the best references. The vocal sections pull the album toward the mainstream, while (not surprisingly) the instrumental sections contain the real proggy stuff. Quality male vocals with a guest female vocalist on one track.
Michael Lunn passed away in 2009. Mike had written the music for and begun recording what were to be two CDs: Vikings and Anytown. The NEO band members, eight other musicians in total, spent their time and energy completing Mike’s work, merging some compositions originally intended for Anytown into the CD Vikings (2012, 58-minutes). Mike’s main influences were the big ones: Yes, Genesis, ELP, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, and others, and he left still more compositions that will hopefully be recorded by NEO in the future. Vikings is stronger than Anyman, with the feel of one of Glass Hammer’s early ‘storytelling’ albums. The instrumental tracks and segments show a stronger ELP and Kansas influence, in a Song for America meets Pirates kind of way, but the vocal tracks here are just as important, with female vocals dominating.
Illumine is a progressive rock opera originally released in 2005 by the band, now available in this 2007 Renaissance Records edition. No Nation are three Americans augmented by many guests. Keyboardist Stevie Roseman is best known for his recordings with Journey and Neal Schon. Drummer John Hernandez has worked with Journey, Yes, Peter Gabriel, and Neal Schon. Singer Ed Ulibarri had a major label release in 1977 with the band Alexis and has been a studio musician for years. Among the guests are Jon Anderson (vocals), Mike Pinder (narration), and Ross Valory of Journey (bass), plus others on guitars, violin, and some Japanese and Chinese instruments (the kind made of wood, not Korgs and Yamahas). Vaguely in a Kansas or Americanized-Yes style, the approach is a little more streamlined but never goes too far to the ballad side before being pulled back by proggy instrumental sections. Overall it is a finely-crafted work sharing Jon Anderson’s optimistic worldview.
Erik Norlander is known as the keyboardist for Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane, and the John Payne version of Asia, not to mention numerous albums under his own name. Surreal (2016, digipack) is the follow-up to 2009’s The Galactic Collective album, a full-band, high-energy rock album with Norlander’s keyboards to the fore. While The Galactic Collective contained re-recorded existing compositions, Surreal is new material: five instrumental tracks plus one track with vocals by Lana Lane. The rhythm section is the same as on The Galactic Collective: Mark Matthews on bass and Nick LePar on drums. Another familiar face is percussionist Greg Ellis, who played on three other Norlander solo albums including his 1997 debut Threshold. Rocket Scientists members Don Schiff (cello, NS/Stick) and Mark McCrite (acoustic guitar) guest. Surreal also highlights the guitar work of Alastair Greene and Jeff Kollman, two of Los Angeles’ finest axemen and stellar musicians that Norlander has worked with on other projects.
Erik Norlander and The Galactic Collective - Live in Gettysburg is a DVD+2CD set released on Gonzo Multimedia in the UK. This is the band’s complete performance at Rosfest 2011, which includes the entire Galactic Collective album, the Into the Sunset Suite, and the Norlander-penned Lana Lane songs Capture the Sun and Secrets of Astrology creatively woven into medleys, with guest vocals by (who else) Lana Lane. Also included is Garden of the Moon from a performance in Cleveland. Erik’s Modular Moog synthesizer was used extensively at this concert, and the band was introduced by Michelle Moog-Koussa. The full color, large-format booklet includes photos from the concert, liner notes by Erik’s synth tech -- former Moog Music designer and ELP keyboard tech August Worley, and an article written by Erik especially for this release. The DVD (NTSC, all-region) runs over two hours and includes 5.1 surround audio. Watch videos at YouTube. Counts as 1.5 CDs for shipping.
The Galactic Collective studio album (79-minutes) originally appeared in 2010 as a single CD-R. This 2012 definitive edition released by Gonzo Multimedia is a 2CD+DVD set, a companion to the Live in Gettysburg set. The Galactic Collective is a new take on the best of Erik’s many instrumental compositions written for Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane, and his own solo albums over the years, including the epic 20-minute suite The Dark Water. This CD was recorded on an impressive arsenal of classic analog synthesizers (including six Moog instruments), Hammond organ, and a Steinway model B grand piano. The rest of the collective is bassist Mark Matthews, drummer Nick LePar, choral vocal sections by Lana Lane and John Payne, plus a bevy of guest guitarists including John Payne, Mitch Perry, Mark McCrite, Ron Redfield and Freddy DeMarco. There are several tracks that originally appeared on Erik’s first solo CD Threshold (first released on the derelict Kinesis label), but all the versions here are bigger, bolder, heavier, and very different from the originals. It sounds like these band-oriented arrangements are the way Erik always wanted the songs to sound. The second CD contains 46-minutes of well-crafted (not filler!) unreleased alternate versions and a new recording of Erik’s arrangement of the Space: 1999 theme. There is a 16-page, full color, large format booklet. The DVD (NTSC, all-region,113-minutes) contains the complete in-studio video shot during the actual sessions, plus interviews. Counts as 1.5 CDs for shipping. See our bargain page for Erik Norlander and Lana Lane CDs at reduced prices.
North Star are an American band that existed during the darkest days of U.S. progressive rock, releasing a self-titled 3-track EP in 1982 and the albums Triskelion and Feel the Cold in 1984 and 1985. North Star managed to get back together long enough to release Power in 1991 but were dormant again until Tempest (2000). The band’s two major influences are Genesis and ELP, with Kevin Leonard’s keyboards the highlight.
This is the MALS label edition of Extremes (2005, 62-minutes), an album that is much truer to North Star’s early work than Tempest, and that’s because most of the basic material on Extremes was developed in the late 1970s, with the lyrics reworked in the early 90s, and finally recorded this millennium. While Tempest had the feel of fleshed-out solo compositions, the band is back intact for Extremes, with singer Joe Newnam actually present. The band really go for it on several of these songs, and Kevin Leonard’s signature organ sounds and solos are everywhere. Easily their best since Triskelion and Feel the Cold and arguably their best period.
Everything Is Different Now (1986) is the second CD by the U.S. Now, not to be confused with the Belgian band Now. “The music is well within the domain of mid-1970s progressive rock, and is quite comparable to other reissues of U.S. bands such as Easter Island, with long, keyboard/guitar/drums interludes and non-standard time signatures. The vocalist has a style that is reminiscent of Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant, though the music is more structured a la Genesis. Despite the virtuosic style of the music, the lyrics are light and humorous enough to show that the band did not take themselves too seriously.” [Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock]
“This band sounds somewhat like a cross between the Grateful Dead, Yes, and King Crimson. Three of the members write and all three have vastly different styles, so the result contains an extreme diversity of material. Everything is Different Now seems to be the most popular [of their albums], and it’s also the most progressive in the traditional sense. The band is rhythmically tighter than many other ‘undiscovered’ progressive groups, and all the members are competent musicians.” [Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock]
Oblivion Sun is the continuation of Frank Wyatt and Stan Whitaker’s Pedal Giant Animals project. Wyatt and Whitaker were the core of Happy the Man. On Oblivion Sun’s 2007 self-titled debut CD, the band is headed up by Wyatt (keys, sax) and Whitaker (guitar, vocals), with Chris Mack (Iluvatar, Puppet Show) on drums, bassist Dave DeMarco and keyboardist Bill Plummer. On their second CD The High Places (2013), the band is a quartet with a new bassist and drummer. The music on both CDs is close enough to Happy the Man that they could have slapped “HTM” on the cover, and only the other Happy the Man members would have complained. The title track of The High Places is a 22-minute multi-part suite that Wyatt had been working on for many years.
October Tree is sort of an alter-ego of the current lineup of American prog band Canvas. The Fairy’s Wing (2012, digipack) is based on a short story by Greg Lounsberry and features wife Tammy on lead vocals. Greg is the current Canvas singer and Tammy is singing on the forthcoming Canvas album. This is Greg and Tammy’s baby, but they brought in three of the four remaining Canvas members to complete the band. The music does have similarities to Canvas, a relatively easy-going and straightforward brand of prog that generally sounds like it comes from the early 1970s. Not as complex nor as symphonic as Genesis, Yes, ELP, etc., think more along the lines of the first edition of Renaissance (Illusion), Barclay James Harvest, or Alan Parsons Project. Very nice. Read the review at Something Else!.
Two bundles are offered here with a CD from either of Lounsberry’s earlier projects: Laserdogs - Frankenclown or The Rocket4357 Project - Flower Pot Hat, only $3 more (+ shipping) for a second CD. Information and audio samples for these CDs are on our Bargain page, where you can buy the CDs separately if you wish.
Transformation (2009, digipack) is the second CD for guitarist/singer/songwriter John Orr Franklin from Austin, Texas. Franklin also adds keyboards and bass and is assisted by other musicians on bass, drums, and backing vocals. His guitar style is close to David Gilmour’s, and Transformation is a melodic progressive rock album that may remind listeners of Gilmour’s solo albums at times, with a predominance of songs rather than instrumentals, the work of a guitarist more interested in establishing himself as a songwriter. The Gilmour style is blended with something resembling The Alan Parsons Project or Duncan Browne, that end-of-the-1970s aesthetic (though there are modern elements), rhythmically straightforward but with world class songwriting. Many of the songs here have exceptional choruses, and the two instrumentals are gorgeous, concise symphonic rock pieces. The production is excellent. There are prog fans who won’t give consideration to a CD under an individual’s name unless the individual is from a well-known band, regardless of how an album was actually recorded; in this case it’s their loss.
The Other Side are a Colorado instrumental progressive trio led by composer/keyboardist/saxophonist Alan Mallery, who is also a member of the fusion band Zed. The other members of The Other Side play bass and drums, so this is classic keyboard progressive rock. The first song blends Egg and Happy the Man. The second song is Genesis style, joyous and bombastic. Later tracks introduce an American fusion-tinged style, a little ELP, a little heaviness, and so it goes. The final track is dedicated to Peter Bardens and has a strong Camel feel. The Genesis symphonic style is probably the strongest of the various influences. Mallery uses piano, organ and Mellotron, but doesn’t restrict himself to retro sounds -- the variety of keyboard sounds is one of the album’s strong points. The sax is used sparingly but is always played melodically. Certainly a contender for best keyboard prog album of 2008.
Parallel Mind is an American (Milwaukee-based) instrumental progressive rock trio whose compositions are intense and complex, yet still accessible and powerfully melodic. Well, that’s what the press release says, and we can’t argue with it. This is an exceptional album of instrumental symphonic prog. Parallel Mind consists of three outstanding instrumentalists: drum prodigy Joe Babiak (who also plays trumpet and flugelhorn), keyboard wiz (and recording engineer) Nibandh Nadkarni, and always in-demand bassist William Kopecky (Kopecky, Pär Lindh Project, etc). Guest musicians add guitar, mandolin, cello, violin, choir and Indian classical vocals. Because this trio is built around keys rather than guitar, we’re spared another pseudo-prog guitarist’s album. But Parallel Mind also avoid the too-sterile sound of many keyboard-centric projects. Released in 2005 on Unicorn Digital, home of the band Spaced Out, Parallel Mind sometimes sound like a more rock, less fusion-oriented Spaced Out. Or how about Planet X with more prog and no metal? More so than either of those two bands, Parallel Mind also know how to slow things down and inject some majesty into their music. 62-minutes.
Ryan Parmenter is the leader of the band Eyestrings. One can hear songwriting chops and a melodic sense underlying Eyestrings’ dark, brooding progressive rock that is absent in many prog bands, and on The Noble Knave (2007), Parmenter makes that songwriting ability abundantly clear. The Noble Knave is a wonderful progressive pop album, a collection of songs written by Parmenter over the previous ten years. There is a strong Beatles influence, songs reminiscent of City Boy, some Beach Boys-level vocal harmonies, and much more. It is lively, fun, and very English. How a guy from Michigan can make such English-sounding music is a mystery. It’s all very clever and carried off with an obvious progressive sensibility, and the album is not as self-consciously retro nor as derivative as some other modern attempts at bringing the spirit of The Beatles forward. Read the Sea of Tranquility reviews.
These are the 2013 Esoteric editions of these oft-issued CDs, newly remastered with a booklet that fully restores the original album artwork and includes a new essay. Pavlov’s Dog is an American band from St. Louis that released two classic albums of Mellotron-drenched, song-oriented progressive rock: Pampered Menial (1975) and At the Sound of the Bell (1976), plus several later albums of lesser interest. Principal songwriter and singer David Surkamp surely has one of the most unique voices ever to grace a rock record, somewhere between Geddy Lee and Tiny Tim, with a wide vibrato on the high notes. Pampered Menial is usually considered Pavlov’s Dog best album, with Of Once and Future Kings, the mini-epic that closes the album, maybe the best thing they ever recorded. The seven-man lineup included a violinist and a flute/Mellotron player. At the Sound of the Bell is not far behind Pampered Menial in quality. Bill Bruford was brought in to play the drums, while the numerous guest musicians include Andy Mackay and Michael Brecker. These first two albums are musts for Mellotron fanatics.
All the CDs in this group are the editions released by the German Rockville label with the full cooperation of David Surkamp. 1990 saw the unexpected release of the fourth Pavlov’s Dog album after 13 years of silence, with two original members plus two others guesting. Lost in America is much more of an AOR album than the earlier albums. Ironically, it is this album that now sounds dated, with what are largely 1980s arena rock production values, whereas the 1970s albums sound timeless. In addition to the 10 original tracks, this 2007 edition contains eight bonus tracks of rare and unreleased live recordings from the period 1990-2006 that take the CD length up to 79:23.
Echo & Boo (2010, 52-minutes, digipack) is the first Pavlov’s Dog album in 20 years. Like Barclay James Harvest, Saga, and David Hasselhoff, Pavlov’s Dog are more popular in Germany than in their home country, and their CDs have been released on a German label. Still softly symphonic, the Dog are folkier and mellower now, but with David Surkamp singing, their sound can never be too different from the old days. Surkamp sings in a lower key these days, so his voice is less polarizing. The other original member is drummer Mike Safron, while the rest of the band consists of new (and we’ll wager younger) members on guitar, keyboards, bass, and violin. Violin features prominently on this album.
Live and Unleashed (2010, 78-minutes, digipack) is the first official Pavlov’s Dog live album, and you only had to wait 36 years for it. It features 16 tracks recorded live in Europe in 2009, covering every Pavlov’s Dog album through Echo & Boo, Surkamp’s most recent solo album, and an obscure track from Surkamp’s 1980s band HiFi. Pavlov’s Dog had been touring Europe regularly since 2004 with a seven-piece lineup, and they are heavier live than on the studio albums.
David Surkamp released a solo album Roaring with Light in 2001 and returned in 2007 with his second solo album Dancing on the Edge of a Teacup, which is subtitled The Pavlov’s Dog Trinity Sessions; all that really means is that Surkamp is the custodian of the Pavlov’s Dog brand name. Teacup is a nice blend of progressive and pop and sounds quite similar to Pavlov’s Dog, who after all were on the pop side of progressive rock. The songs are essentially folky pop songs that could have been written 30+ years earlier, but Surkamp still likes big arrangements and a lush sound, with loads of keyboards pulling the result to the progressive side.
American prog semi-legends Pentwater, who formed in 1970, resurfaced in 2007 with Ab-Dul (digipack, 60-minutes), a mix of new material, newly recorded versions of vintage songs, and recently restored/remastered unreleased songs from the 1970s. If you can find a better old-school progressive rock (Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP) album released in 2007, buy it.
Out of the Abyss was released on CD in 1990, consisting of tracks recorded between 1973-1976. Read reviews.
Victor Peraino was the American keyboard player for Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come. Following that band’s final album Journey, Peraino returned to the states and, with the assistance of numerous musicians on guitar, bass, drums, flute, and vocals, recorded the album No Man’s Land (1975). Details are sketchy, but according to legend, only 100 copies were pressed, making the LP a major rarity. A 1981 EP We’re Next was recorded containing four tracks including a new version of the big Arthur Brown hit Fire. Both the LP and the EP tracks appear on this 2010 CD on the Black Widow label. Peraino plays Hammond B3, VCS-3, ARP and Moog, but it’s his Mellotron that commands attention, not just strings and choir but also cellos and brass are all over this album.
Moth Vellum’s debut CD (2008, digipack) introduces a Los Angeles-based symphonic prog quartet heavily influenced by Yes and committed to classic 1970s progressive aesthetics, albeit with modern production. They resemble Yes both vocally and instrumentally, often using similar guitar and bass tones as Howe and Squire, and generally staying near the Wakeman keyboard style, Mellotron washes included. There’s enough room in the Yes universe to fit several bands heavily influenced by Yes that sound little like each other, as for example no one will confuse Moth Vellum with Starcastle. There’s also a little Genesis in Moth Vellum’s style.
Moth Vellum disbanded, but bandleader Johannes Luley released his first solo CD Tales from Sheepfather’s Grove (digipack) in 2013. As you might guess from the cover art, the Yes influence is dominant. Because Luley uses a lot of acoustic instruments and a vast array of hand percussion in lieu of drum kit, Sheepfather’s is suggestive of Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow, with a similar tribal/spiritual/enchanting vibe. The keyboard sounds are vintage, and the album is meant to be heard as a continuous piece of music, or at least a Side 1 and Side 2 of a continuous piece of music. But the occasional electric guitar sounds like Steve Howe, so you’ll have to conflate Olias and Beginnings in your mind. Read reviews.
Perfect Beings is the new prog band assembled by Luley. Perfect Beings I is their 2014 debut, while Perfect Beings II is their 2015 second CD; both are digipacks. Yes is still the dominant influence, but it is less overt than in Moth Vellum or on Sheepfather’s, as Perfect Beings have a more original and unique style. The soothing vocals establish a serene baseline from which the music expands in symphonic splendor or bursts out in intricate instrumental passages. Read reviews.
Pyre of Dreams (2007, 71-minutes) is the fourth CD of female-fronted progressive rock for western Pennsylvania’s Persephone’s Dream. In addition to vocalists Colleen Gray and Heidi Engel, DC Cooper (Silent Force, Royal Hunt) sings lead on two songs and backing vocals on several others, the first use of male vocals for the band. The female vocals range from beautiful to sultry to powerful, while the music is contemporary-sounding progressive with gothic overtones, with some proggy organ tying it to the past. This is prog with crossover appeal to rock and metal, but it is very arty, with a luxuriant sound and themes inspired by fantasy, sci-fi, and mythology, mainly Once and Future King stuff. (In addition to Cornwall and Brittany, Pittsburgh now lays claim to the King Arthur legend.)
After several changes in personnel, Persephone’s Dream return in 2010 with their most ambitious work yet, Pan: An Urban Pastoral. Their sound is noticeably different here, and the changes are all for the better as Pan is progressive throughout, Persephone’s Dream’s finest hour (69 minutes actually). Female and male vocals complement each other now, with Ashley Peer responsible for the former and keyboardist Jim Waugaman the latter. Waugaman has an excellent voice; one wonders why he’s only now adding vocals. The music is inventive and surprising, and if a comparison to another band is suggested during one piece, it won’t apply for long. There is more proggy organ, also a little classical piano that, in combination with the female vocals, might suggest Pittsburgh’s other prog band, Squonk Opera. There are more modern synth sounds as well, a convincing harp sample for instance. Pan is an excellent example of adhering to the original prog aesthetic (1970s prog) without sounding retro or nostalgic and without repeating what has already been done better. And there’s probably some object lesson here when a band whose origins trace to 1993 release their breakthrough album 17 years later. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
The Los Angeles band Phideaux is led by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Phideaux Xavier. Their first album Fiendish (2004) is an intoxicating blend of progressive and psychedelic-folk, with an organic sound from an earlier era. Think of a more proggy/spacey Polyphonic Spree. Xavier’s lead vocals are supported by female backing vocals. In addition to Xavier’s guitar and keyboards, drummer Richard Hutchins is the other constant, while a large number of other musicians contribute vocals, bass, cello, Theremin, oboe, English horn, harpsichord and more. There are elements of The Moody Blues, early Floyd, David Bowie, trippy English folk, and baroque music (Amazing Blondel perhaps?).
Ghost Story (2004) makes it clear that Phideaux are not going to make the same album twice. The female vocals are absent here, the music is darker and rocks harder, with a bigger sound. There is still an Englishness to the more serene numbers, and they still have that mesmerizing psychedelic quality. The rockier numbers sometimes suggest a progressive version of David Bowie. An excellent album from a band that can’t be pigeonholed.
Chupacabras (2005) is a no-holds-barred, Mellotrons-and-all progressive album highlighted by the 21-minute title suite, a true prog rock epic. The effect is often that of David Bowie singing for Van der Graaf Generator with some Floydian spaciness and psychedelia added.
313 followed in 2006, with more immediate, shorter songs. Phideaux’s essential psychedelic progressive style is intact, in which songs can somehow be simultaneously haunting and playful. It’s amazing how this U.S. band can sound so (early 70s) British sometimes, but one can’t call this retro, as Phideaux include later styles in their very creative blend. This is the 2010 remastered version.
The Great Leap (2006) is more vocal-heavy and guitar-oriented, though there are about a dozen musicians involved and there are all manner of keyboards, Theremin, violin, cello, flute, recorder, brass, hammer dulcimer, sitar and more. Of the previous albums, it is closest to Ghost Story. It sounds like David Bowie’s version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and fans of Roger Waters will likely love this album.
The Great Leap is part of a conceptual trilogy, of which Doomsday Afternoon (2007) is part two and is Phideaux’s first masterpiece. As the band says, Doomsday Afternoon is the yin to The Great Leap’s yang. The Great Leap is an art-rock album, while Doomsday Afternoon is a 67-minute symphonic rock epic, essentially one long song cycle divided into two acts, and includes the instrumental sections missing from The Great Leap. The album features a small chamber orchestra drawn from members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Among the guests are Martin Orford (IQ), Matthew Parmenter (Discipline), and Matthew Kennedy (Eyestrings). The booklet is gorgeous too. Comparisons to earlier progressive rock bands are possible but seem unnecessary at this point. There aren’t many artists today who could make this album, and now the bar has been set very high.
As for Number Seven (2009, 63-minutes), Phideaux says: “This album is a continuation of the long form compositions found on Doomsday Afternoon and Chupacabras. It represents another foray into progressive rock, with perhaps a good dollop of chamber jazz and classic rock. For this release, we stayed completely in-house, inviting no outside musicians to contribute. We wanted to see what we could cook up with our live band. I think you will be surprised!” We dare say Number Seven is the best Phideaux yet. The sound is organic in the same way the classic early-1970s prog bands were. The keyboards are dominated by classically-influenced piano, there is a lot of acoustic guitar, and there is a folk influence throughout, though the music is never folk per se. Both male and female vocals convey this epic tale. When the lyrics switch briefly to Italian, you’ll think you’re listening to a classic Italian prog band. The music is about as original as one can be today and still remain true to the ideals of progressive rock, and there is a craftsmanship and maturity here that stand in stark contrast to all the half-metal, half-prog bands littering the landscape.
Snowtorch is Phideaux’s 2011 studio CD, which comes in a heavyweight gatefold mini-LP sleeve. All the Phideaux albums are distinct from each other, but the quality is consistent, and the musical ambition of this band is incredible. Read reviews of all at Prog Archives.
Crossing the Sound (1998) is Phreeworld’s one and only studio album. This is a wonderful vocal prog rock album mixing Yes, Saga, and FM with some Hackett-style guitar work. The lead vocals often remind us of Chris Squire’s voice, and there are plenty of majestic vocal harmonies, with all four band members singing. Phreeworld demonstrate that they can be heavy or complex when they want to, but it is the songwriting and arrangements that elevate them above the mass of neo-prog bands. Read reviews at AllMusic and Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock.
The other titles are mp3.com CDs, from the time when there was such a thing. They are professionally-duplicated CD-Rs with additional CD-ROM content. There isn’t a lot of info in the booklets. The live album is self-explanatory, while the others consist of demos and alternate versions. The sound is decent but not studio quality. These are long out-of-print, and we have only one copy of each remaining.
Planet P Project is Tony Carey, one-time keyboardist for Rainbow, with help here and there from other musicians. While recording more commercial albums under his own name, he reserved the Planet P Project name for his progressive output, and his two Planet P Project albums in the 1980s resulted in some chart success. This CD edition of the self-titled 1983 Planet P Project debut includes four bonus tracks, alternate versions of album tracks. “Their eponymous 1983 debut was defined by the synthesizer-laden style of the day with a nod to the progressive rock of the prior decade.” [All Music Guide] Pink World (1984), the second, was originally a double-LP and was often compared to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. These are the Renaissance Records editions.
1931, released in 2005, is the first part of a trilogy entitled Go Out Dancing. While some of the recording for this album dates back as early as 1992, it is a product of the 2000s in terms of music technology. The subject matter of 1931 is the radical right, from the rise of Nazism to present conditions in the U.S. This is the ProgRock Records edition. Levittown (2008, 66-minutes) is Part 2, which uses post-WWII America as its departure point. These conceptual works will draw comparisons to Pink Floyd and Roger Waters’ work from The Wall on. They also exhibit a Peter Gabriel or Francis Dunnery flavor. Levittown in particular is an exceptional work that has been somewhat overlooked.
Presto Ballet is led by Kurdt Vanderhoof, the guitarist of Metal Church, which we’re going to guess is a metal band. But Peace Among the Ruins (2005) is old-school progressive rock, with only a wee bit of metal influence poking through, manifesting more as a touch of stadium rock rather than metal. The band has consciously gone for the classic 1970s feel, as the album is full of analog synths, Hammond organ, Mellotron, tasteful guitar, and rich harmony vocals. And it is an analog recording. Presto Ballet’s main influences are probably Kansas and Yes, plus a little ELP or Deep Purple. Vanderhoof summarizes his new band as “a modern 70s progressive/rock band”. Sounds about right.
After their very successful debut, Kurdt Vanderhoof and Presto Ballet returned in 2008 with their second CD, full of the same analog synths and everything else as the first album. The Lost Art of Time Travel is an even stronger album though, most influenced by Yes, but with an American approach that naturally suggests Kansas. There are again touches of ELP and Deep Purple, and this time a little pastoral Genesis. If the time travel referred to by the album title is back to the 1970s, then the lost art may be lush-sounding symphonic prog such as this. Read the DPRP review.
Presto Ballet’s third CD Invisible Places (2011) features a new line-up, but you’ll hardly notice as this is another album of high-quality, 1970s-style sympho-prog. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Kurdt may be calling Love What You’ve Done With the Place (2011, digipack) an EP, but the playing time is 40:42. Given how utterly convincing this is as a classic 1970s album and the fact a whole lot of classic albums come in under 40 minutes, there’s no way we’re calling this an EP. Just the same, Kurdt’s giving a break on the price. This one has some 1970s hard rock, in particular a cover of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s The Faith Healer (listed as a ‘bonus’ track). The CD is mostly a continuation of the symphonic prog of Invisible Places, and Presto Ballet are doing that better than ever. The music sounds completely British now, with Yes the dominant influence, also Genesis and other 70s prog bands, plus the aforementioned 70s hard rock. Love what they’ve done with this CD.
Relic of the Modern World is Presto Ballet’s 2012 studio CD. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
Product is primarily the work of Arman Christoff Boyles (vocals, guitar, keys), with help from Scott Rader (drums, bass) and guests. Their first CD On Water (2000) tells a surreal story from the viewpoint of a drowning young sailor, set against the backdrop of the American Revolution. The level of originality is high; the closest comparisons are No-Man, Porcupine Tree, and Hogarth-era Marillion, specifically their moodier tracks. Boyles has a deep, unique voice. Songs usually start off in acoustic singer-songwriter mode, with dry, close-miked vocals, then blossom into lush, majestic progressive rock. A wealth of subtle production effects warrants repeated listens.
Product’s 2003 second CD Aire is currently out-of-print. Their third CD The Fire (2005, 63-minutes), released by the British Cyclops label, is based on the life of Nero and restores some of the fire that was missing from Aire. This album sounds like a meeting of Hogarth-era Marillion and Pink Floyd with touches of King Crimson, generally quite dark and moody.
Product completed their water/air/fire/earth tetralogy in grand style with Earth (2008, 67-minutes), their most fully-realized work to date. Earth is based on the life of Nikola Tesla and reflects on our relationship with technology. Read the DPRP review.
Product return in 2014 with Aether (77-minutes), based on the life of Harry Houdini and his interaction with the spiritualist movement. All the hallmarks of the Product style are present, with Mellotron strings used often to add grandeur. This one is even better than Earth, and even more difficult to compare to anyone else.
What do you get when you combine Slychosis and Majestic? It’s Proximal Distance of course. Proximal Distance began as a collaboration between Gregg Johns and Jeff Hamel, the masterminds of Slychosis and Majestic, respectively. Majestic’s Jessica Rasche was brought in to handle the vocals, while Jeremy Mitchell and Todd Sears from the Slychosis camp play drums/percussion. The band says: “Taking from both Gregg and Jeff’s progressive influences, the Proximal Distance sound is along the lines of Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Saga, and many more 70s-style influences and should please even the most hardcore progressive rock listeners.” Those influences are present, with Pink Floyd dominant (and we might add early Nektar), but the overall feel is more contemporary than that might suggest. For one, there is a slight metal influence. Not surprisingly, the album sounds like a blend of Majestic and Slychosis, except that the Genesis influence heard on Slychedelia is downplayed. There is a wealth of sonic details in the quieter sections. With a playing time of 74-minutes, there is a lot to absorb here, and it’s difficult to sum it all up in a few words. Ultimately, their sound may be defined most by the fact the composers are both principally guitarists, and guitarists and keyboardists tend to write and arrange differently, particularly when it comes to classical music influences. Since guitarists have come to greatly outnumber true keyboardists in modern prog, that is one reason Proximal Distance sound contemporary even though the music draws heavily from classic prog. Beautiful artwork throughout the booklet from Russian artist Vladimir Moldavsky.
At the time of the first couple The Psychedelic Ensemble (TPE) CDs, we wrote that this is the best American symphonic prog by an artist you’ve never heard of. Each TPE CD has improved on the previous and garnered a larger audience, so by now the word is out. The band name is a misnomer as the music is symphonic prog, not psych. The noun ‘psyche’ is a better word than ‘psychedelic’ as far as the album concepts go, since it’s the human psyche that is often being examined. Essentially a solo artist, you’d never guess that was the case because the music sounds like a large ensemble. The man behind it all doesn’t reveal his identity and we’ll respect that, though we can say he has a career in contemporary classical music and a long composition resume. Maybe he doesn’t want his classical peers or his academic colleagues to learn he has an alternate life as a progger.
The debut The Art of Madness (2009, 54-minutes) was released on the Musea label and is slightly different than what follows. The dominant influence on this album is DSotM-era Pink Floyd, though somewhat more introspective and brooding -- if you know the band Product, we’re reminded of their approach. But Pink Floyd is far from the only style here. There are instrumental passages that have nothing to do with Pink Floyd, fast-tempo and adventurous, while there is room for classical chamber music, prog-folk, ELP-style and more. There is great attention to detail, an uncommonly intricate sonic tapestry, all told quite an original and impressive work.
On the following albums: The Myth of Dying (2010, 58-minutes), The Dream of the Magic Jongleur (2011, 64-minutes), and The Tale of the Golden King (2013, 72-minutes), Yes becomes the dominant influence while the Pink Floyd influence drops off. ELP/UK and Gentle Giant are also influences, but the music is generally darker and busier than those bands. The Tale of the Golden King features vocalist Ann Caren and an orchestra on some tracks. All the albums are more instrumental than vocal. Read reviews of all; see Prog Archives for more reviews.
The fifth TPE album The Sunstone (2015, 62-minutes) is another concept album. It includes an orchestra on several tracks, a string quartet, an electric violinist, vocalist Ann Caren, and a guest appearance by Michael Wilk of Steppenwolf on Hammond B3. The music logically follows on from The Tale of the Golden King while exploring some darker, more dissonant harmonies.
Since their emergence in the mid-1990s, Quarkspace have been among the best U.S. space rock bands ever. Their music is built upon layers of synths and guitar, supported by bass and drums. They tend to emphasize textures and moods and favor slow to mid-tempos, avoiding the sort of raw, primitive space rock that bands like Hawkwind have been known to crank out, instead integrating influences of Pink Floyd, Gong, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Porcupine Tree, Clearlight, and everything in between.
Their long running Spacefolds series contains their improvised music, not all that different from their other albums except that no overdubs are allowed. Spacefolds 6 (2000) and Spacefolds 7 (2001) each run over 70-minutes and are wonderful synth-dominated slices of instrumental space rock. These come in printed cardboard sleeves and count as only one-half CD for shipping. Read the AllMusic reviews of Spacefolds 6 and Spacefolds 7. Spacefolds 6 is now out-of-print, last copies.
Church of Hed is a Quarkspace spin-off, the work of Paul Williams. It’s as good as Quarkspace and has similar appeal, a bit more modern and incorporating even more influences. The CD comes in a printed cardboard sleeve and counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
Quill was an American prog trio modeled on ELP (Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition), though they also had some of Rick Wakeman’s melodic approach. They shared ELP’s penchant for pompous and epic tracks, with Hammond and Moog featured prominently. There are some vocals but the album is primarily instrumental. Sursum Corda was released only as a vinyl test pressing in 1977. It is their only album, though there was an unreleased 1978 second album. The first CD edition of this came in an LP-size sleeve; this is the jewel box edition.
Tesseract & Monuments (1992, 57-minutes) is an unjustly overlooked, mostly-instrumental CD from a Canterbury-style American band. Radio Piece III are often close to Egg or National Health, favoring the same harmonies and sonorities as Dave Stewart, especially the combination of organ and electric piano, and staying on the melodic side of things. They also add touches of Frank Zappa. Check below for the related band Sonic Music.
Rare Blend is a band from Cleveland playing killer instrumental fusion, very rock-oriented and frequently spilling over into progressive rock territory. A good clue to their music is their list of influences, which includes Tribal Tech, Santana, Steely Dan, Yes, and Genesis. Cinefusion (1995) and Infinity (2000) were first, followed by Evolution Theory (2002), featuring a guitars/keys/bass/drums lineup, fusing symphonic prog with jazz-rock.
Stops Along the Way (2006, 60-minutes) is generally comparable to Evolution Theory. There are three live-in-the-studio improvisations in which Rare Blend come across as a progressive jam band. There are two tracks with (female) vocals from Bobbi Holt. These vocals are of the soulful/bluesy variety, so these two tracks are probably not going to be the highlight for prog fans. Rare Blend keep the tracks on this CD at six minutes or under, so even the improvs are not long-winded or rambling, making for an entertaining disc that can hit a lot of styles in its 13 tracks.
Rare Blend’s fifth CD Sessions (2009) is a 14-track disc of live instrumental recordings from stage and studio. Unlike their previous CDs, Sessions highlights Rare Blend’s ‘one takes’ and ‘in the moment’ jam-fusion instrumentals. It features new songs and improvisations from shows in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Baltimore, and studio improvs recorded at Odyssey Studios in Cleveland. Also included are selections from a taping for the Crooked River Groove television program as well as performances during their 2008 Bridging the Gap music/film series against the backdrop of such classic films as Phantom of the Opera and Metropolis. “Sessions varies from tasty fusion to spacey improv and occasional symphonic prog flourishes... While Samalot’s guitar shows occasional bite, these tracks exhibit the band’s knack for agreeable pacing and smart use of breathing space. In competently mining the heady realms of Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc., Rare Blend joins exclusive company.” [Progression] Also read the Prognaut review.
Razor Wire Shrine is the most recent permutation of the Leger de Main / Mythologic / RH Factor family, featuring as it does Chris Rodler on rhythm guitar and bass, Brett Rodler on drums, and Mike Ohm on lead guitar. It is similar to the aforementioned bands minus any keys or vocals, but it is definitely heavier, a very technical prog-metal. It is all too much for our decidedly non-metallic tastes, but as it comes in a printed sleeve rather than a jewel box, it doesn’t take up much space (and counts as only one-half CD for shipping). If the music you like is described with words such as onslaught, merciless, scorched, and blistering, have at it.
This 1992 album by an American band is very Yes influenced (during Yes’ prime period), with a singer who sounds very close to Jon Anderson.
Resistor is the electric band formed by Steve Unruh; the self-titled CD is their 2008 debut. Steve calls Resistor his “high-energy rock/prog/jam band”, and it’s where much of his musical energy has been going lately. Resistor is a quartet of two guitarists, bass and drums. Unruh sings lead and also adds flute and violin. Not surprisingly, the tracks with flute or violin are the most progressive, the flute tracks sounding like Jethro Tull with louder guitar (one such track is named Jethro Fran). Otherwise the first CD is guitar and more guitar, often with a grungy sound, though some tracks use cleaner jazz tones. If you’ve heard Steve Unruh’s solo albums, then some of the Resistor style will sound familiar. Some of it has a Rush La Villa Strangiato thing going on. Read the DPRP review.
Rise (2010), the second Resistor CD, is markedly proggier and for many will be their favorite of Steve Unruh’s now large catalog. Here is a full-length mp3 of the 16-minute song Mimosa. You might think that’s giving away a large part of the CD (albeit in lo-fi), but Rise runs 79-minutes, and Mimosa is not the longest track by a wide margin! That distinction belongs to the 10-part, 39:22 The Land of No Groove. Busy customers who can’t take time to listen for themselves always want the music summed up in a few words, so how about this: a merger of Umphrey’s McGee, Jethro Tull, Rush, and Nektar (specifically their jamming Sounds Like This style), with Ric Sanders guesting (had to get the fiddle in there somehow). Read the DPRP review.
Live at RoSfest (79-minutes) is Resistor live at the 2012 Rites of Spring prog festival, with excellent sound. Listen to the 3:46 audio trailer for the CD.
To the Stars (2014, digipack) is Resistor’s latest studio CD. “Resistor fit within the sphere of current American progressive rock groups well, and fans of Phideaux, Discipline, and Echolyn amongst others would get a lot out of this release. It would be a crying shame if an album this exceptional slips under the radar and doesn’t get the attention that many of its contemporaries experience... Easily my favourite release of the first quarter of 2014.” [DPRP] Read the full DPRP and Progarchy reviews. Listen to the 3-minute audio trailer and the complete title track.
These are progressive folk-rock albums from multi-instrumentalist/singer Steve Unruh. We don’t use the term progressive here lightly. The rock passages are high energy, and Unruh favors epic length tracks. Believe? (1997), his first, consists of two continuous suites, while most of the other albums are full of very long tracks. Unruh’s music is highly orchestrated and full of changes, and he’ll readily admit to being a major Yes and Dream Theater fan. While Unruh’s main instruments are acoustic guitar and drums, he also adds bass, violin, mandolin, flute, and percussion. His lyrics are insightful, intelligent, and entertaining. The dynamic range on these albums approaches that of classical music, a refreshing change from today’s overcompressed pop and rock music. There are few artists working in this style; we’d mention Guy Manning, Kevin Gilbert, and perhaps Neal Morse as reference points.
Prog fans should especially be drawn to Two Little Awakenings (TLA), sonically the densest of his albums, some of the pieces recorded on 48 tracks. Two Little Awakenings was originally released in 2001 as a handmade double CD-R. In 2005, Unruh edited TLA down to a single CD, remixed and remastered it using technology and experience he lacked in 2001, and had it professionally duplicated. So consider this the “TLA official edition”. The tracks that Unruh has left off were the assorted short songs and the lengthy improvisations, yielding a much more cohesive album containing some of Unruh’s best work.
Invisible Symphony (2002) is a slight departure from the others in that it is instrumental and less aggressive. Here Unruh emphasizes his “secondary” instruments more, especially the violin. It’s his warmest album, blending American folk melodies (themselves descended from Scottish and Irish folk music) with his progressive approach. This is the 2009 remastered and expanded edition, which adds four tracks.
Out of the Ashes (2004) is simultaneously Unruh’s most rock-oriented and most personal disc to date, very fiery, with a more aggressive tone than the others. We’re again reminded of Guy Manning, though Out of the Ashes is more guitar-oriented. Here Unruh focuses on acoustic, electric, classical, and electric classical guitars, electric bass and drum kit, with flute and violin in secondary roles, and just a bit of synth and electronic percussion. And vocals of course. With the guitar orientation, some of this crosses over into modern rock territory, except that they don’t allow 40-minute suites there, and Out of the Ashes is just too challenging and progressive. This is the 2009 remastered edition, which adds a 6:21 bonus track.
Unruh’s describes Song to the Sky (2005, 62-minutes) stylistically as a cross between The Beginning of a New Day (1998) and Invisible Symphony. Aside from electric bass, the textures here are all acoustic. The album is less angry and more reflective than Out of the Ashes, and Unruh’s production skills are at their peak. Read ProgressiveWorld.net reviews of Song to the Sky, Out of the Ashes, Invisible Symphony, Two Little Awakenings, and The Beginning of a New Day.
The Great Divide (2007, 59-minutes) is now our favorite of Unruh’s albums, solidly progressive and yet, acoustic! This album may change your perception of what acoustic music can be. There are bass and drums, the music is complex and powerful, even heavy at times. Call it heavy wood. Unruh plays everything with consummate skill: steel and nylon-string acoustic guitar, violin, drum kit, 4 and 5-string bass, flutes, mandolin and percussion, but this in no way sounds like a solo project. At times, this album suggests an American equivalent of Jethro Tull (maybe it was the flute that made this apparent), substituting Americana for Tull’s Englishness and whimsy. The centerpiece of the album is the 36-minute title suite. As Unruh says in the liner notes: “I love odd time signatures, uncommon scales and harmonies, and ambitious subject material. I tried to make The Great Divide an album that people like me would love.” There’s an entire free, downloadable sampler CD here which includes one track from The Great Divide.
Challenging Gravity (2010, 51-minutes) continues the style of The Great Divide in a more song-oriented direction (no 36-minute suites), though there are still only two tracks under 5:30. The electric bass gets a waiver, otherwise it’s all acoustic: vocals, acoustic guitars, violin, flute, and drum kit. It is again acoustic progressive rock with strong singer-songwriter and American folk aspects, and weighty lyrics. The album has Unruh’s trademark dynamics shifts and odd time signatures, the sound so big during the high-energy passages that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to acoustic instruments. Here is a 3:28 mp3 album sampler.
Ring of Myth’s 1996 debut CD Unbound was released on the Kinesis label and is now mid-line priced. One can’t discuss Ring of Myth without mentioning Yes. Guitarist George Picado sounds like an accomplished disciple of Steve Howe, while adding his own stylings. Singer/bassist Danny Flores’ voice is in Jon Anderson’s range and adds Chris Squire-like bass. Drummer Rick Striker is a great admirer of Bill Bruford. But what makes Ring of Myth unique among Yes-influenced bands is that they harken all the way back to Time and a Word, The Yes Album, and Fragile, and pull it off without a full-time keyboardist. The lush vocal harmonies and Picado’s outstanding fretwork provide the necessary textures, while keyboards are used in spots for coloration. Fans of Rush who wish that band was a lot more adventurous should give Unbound (1996) a listen. Read extensive review quotes.
The follow-up Weeds (2005) was released on the Canadian Unicorn Digital label. As one reviewer of Unbound described the band: “When considered simplistically, Ring of Myth are sort of the perfect marriage of Yes and Rush, merging the classical symphonic sound of Yes into the trio format of Rush.” This still holds true for Weeds, though Ring of Myth have pushed their sound into a slightly more experimental and cacophonous direction. While one can still recognize the early Yes element in their style (Peter Banks’ band Flash is probably an even better comparison), Ring of Myth can hardly be called a Yes clone now. There probably isn’t another band around that sounds like them. They still use keyboards only in spots and in a supporting role; they are primarily a guitar/bass/drums trio with Danny Flores’ vocals still sounding like Jon Anderson, and improved since Unbound. They get an amazingly full sound, and much of the credit for that must go to guitarist George Picado. The drummer on Weeds is Scott Rader, who is also involved with the band Product. Read the Sea of Tranquility, Aural Innovations, and Progressor reviews.
The self-titled Ring of Myth CD is actually their third, from 2011, with the band on their third prog label, this time the French Musea label. Read the Sea of Tranquility review. Listen to Closer on YouTube.
The American prog band Rocket Scientists, led by keyboardist Erik Norlander, debuted in 1993 with the CD Earthbound, and first gained international recognition with their 1995 CD Brutal Architecture, which was released on the Kinesis label. After a live CD, the heavier Oblivion Days appeared in 1999, but all three of these studio CDs had gone out-of-print. The beautiful Looking Backward boxset (2008) remedies this in a big way. It contains 2007 remastered editions of Earthbound, Brutal Architecture, and Oblivion Days. Oblivion Days contains both the Japanese edition bonus track and the two European edition bonus tracks. Brutal Architecture contains the Japanese edition bonus track, and Earthbound contains one previously-unreleased bonus track. But wait, there’s more! There is a fourth CD entitled The 2007 Sessions (76-minutes), which contains new recordings of classic Rocket Scientists songs reinterpreted by the band live in the studio in 2007, including some unreleased material. Now how much would you pay for this set? Before you answer, the set also includes the Looking Backward DVD (NTSC, all-region). The main feature is video of the 2007 sessions (102-minutes). There is also a 25-minute featurette An Afternoon with Emmett Chapman, and 21-minutes of A Brief History of Rocket Science, which includes studio footage from 1993-2007. The main feature was recorded by an HD video crew (down-res’d of course for the DVD). The DVD includes 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround audio. All of the original artwork is included in the package as part of an enormous 64-page full-color 5x7" booklet. Counts as 3 CDs for shipping. Read review quotes for Brutal Architecture.
The double-CD Revolution Road (2006) had been thought to be extinct, but the band got a box of returns and decided to lower the price. It’s the best thing Rocket Scientists had done to date. Founding members Mark McCrite (guitar, vocals), Erik Norlander (keyboards), and Don Schiff (NS/Stick) are joined by drummer Gregg Bissonette and second lead vocalist David McBee. While Oblivion Days verged on prog-metal at times, Revolution Road’s heaviness is more of the hard rock variety. So the music blends progressive hard rock with the Beatles and pop influences that have always been present in Rocket Scientists’ music, with Norlander’s symphonic keyboards at the center. Norlander does it all, from fast Wakeman-esque leads to early-70s prog organ to Mellotron pads to his own signature lead lines. Rocket Scientists have really polished the pop aspect of their songwriting, within arrangements that are always proggy. The many standout tracks include a cover of The Moody Blues’ Gypsy (of a Strange and Distant Time).
Supernatural Highways (2014, digipack) is the first new CD from Rocket Scientists since 2007. It is all-instrumental with a playing time of 30:13, dominated by the 26-minute, seven-part Traveler on the Supernatural Highways. The other track is an arrangement of the John Barry composition On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, written for the Bond film. It is the first of two 2014 CDs, the other being Refuel, the result of the band having written too much material for a single CD. The core of Rocket Scientists remains Mark McCrite (guitars), Erik Norlander (keyboards), and Don Schiff (NS/Sticks, cello), here joined by Gregg Bissonette (drums), Greg Ellis (percussion), Lana Lane (vocal pads), plus a trumpet player and a trombone player handling the Bond brass parts. This is Rocket Scientists at their (instrumental) best. The Bond piece is, like Rocket Scientists’ Space 1999 theme, much more fun than the original. The epic suite has much that is familiar to RS fans but sees the band stretching in new directions. Paramount is the integration of electronics. Norlander has already proven himself an excellent electronic musician, and here he incorporates sequencers and electronic sounds into driving progressive rock, something that a few have done (Ozric Tentacles, obviously) but that could be explored/exploited further. Other parts of the suite get fusion-y, and one has the feeling that, with a different mix, sections could be used as epic and thrilling Hollywood movie soundtrack material.
After the all-instrumental Supernatural Highways, Refuel (2014, 61-minutes, digipack) is a more traditional Rocket Scientists album mixing vocal and instrumental tracks in the band’s characteristic style. Gregg Bissonette is again the drummer. The guest vocalists include Lana Lane, Kelly Keeling, and Emily McCrite, while the brass players featured on Supernatural Highways return. Refuel is probably the band’s most collaborative work, with Don Schiff penning two of the songs. In addition to Stick and bass, Schiff plays contrabass, cello, and viola throughout the album. Mark McCrite remains the primary vocalist, but Erik Norlander sings some lead, something that was an important element on the first two Rocket Scientists albums. Watch the video for She’s Getting Hysterical.
This is the second album by American Kurt Rongey, begun in 1991 but not released until 1998 by the Italian Mellow label. This is the predecessor to The Underground Railroad, with guitarist Bill Pohl making large contributions. It’s an ambitious 70-minute concept album with music that mixes Echolyn with Canterbury and other influences.
Released on the same label as Chris Squire’s band The Syn, Dreamer (2007) is the first album by Dutch-born American Anton Roolaart. He wrote, engineered, and produced this album, handling guitar, keys, vocals, and programming. While this is Anton’s baby, he wisely brought in other musicians including a bass player and keyboardist Rave Tesar of Renaissance. Drum duties are split between two drummers, one of whom is Rich Berends of Mastermind. It is a meticulously crafted symphonic rock album in which one can spot various influences, certainly Yes and Pink Floyd. Many of the songs were written years earlier, and Anton’s main sources of inspiration are the 1970s masters of the genre, but the Internet radio station he runs exposed him to newer progressive artists who have had an influence on his style. The album lacks the spark or energy of a band playing together, but if thought of in the same terms as, say, Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow and similar multi-layered works, Dreamer is an impressive achievement. Read reviews.
Anton’s superior second CD The Plight of Lady Oona (2014) was recorded in the U.S. and The Netherlands over the past few years. It features Annie Haslam singing on the title track, while Rave Tesar co-produced and adds keyboard parts. Several other musicians handle bass, drums, and additional keyboards. Read reviews at The Aquarian, Prog Archives, and Lady Obscure.
Roswell Six is not so much a band as a brand name. The first Roswell Six CD Beyond the Horizon (2009) was largely the work of Erik Norlander and featured many other musicians following the Ayreon model of bombastic prog and metal. It was meant to accompany a fantasy novel by author Kevin J. Anderson, who co-wrote the lyrics. The second Roswell Six CD A Line in the Sand (2010) has Henning Pauly (Frameshift, Chain, Shadows Mignon) at the helm. Vocals are by Steve Walsh (Kansas), Michael Sadler (Saga), Sass Jordan (Album Rock’s Female Vocalist of the Year), Alex Froese (Frameshift), and Nick Storr (The Third Ending), with guest appearances by Charlie Dominici, Juan Roos, and Arjen A. Lucassen. As with the first CD, Anderson co-wrote all of the lyrics with his wife, bestselling author Rebecca Moesta, while two of the songs are co-written by Janis Ian.
Check our DVDs page for Salem Hill’s Mystery Loves Company DVD. Salem Hill must be counted among the top few American progressive bands now. The Unseen Cord (2014, 70-minutes) is their ninth studio album. The CD actually has two titles and two covers, the other being Thicker Than Water. Presumably the bandmembers couldn’t agree on a name or cover and so there are two. Bandleader Carl Groves says that this is their most poignant record since 1998’s The Robbery of Murder and adds: “If you loved the debut and/or Different Worlds for their quirkiness, you’ll groove on this one. I give you Happy Hands, an instrumental in 7 with Hammond, grungy bass and...VIBES! If you liked Catatonia and The Robbery of Murder for the stories and the emotional impact, you’ll groove on this one. We’re dealing with some pretty weighty issues on a couple of tracks, one of them clocking in at 28 minutes. If you like the pomposity of Not Everybody’s Gold, we flex our prog chops on, well, every flippin’ track on this album. There are some particularly gnarly sections in a song called Sing On and in the aforementioned epic. You like the bite of Be? Crunch guitar carries the 8-minute rocker This May Hurt More. Pining for the lush keyboard flavoring of Mimi’s Magic Moment? We gotcha. A beautiful Yamaha C7 acoustic grand piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, and Mellotron prominently flavor the song Float. You want the thick vocals and enchanting melodies of Pennies in the Karma Jar? We deliver. Every song. If we sound braggadocious, it’s only because this one is special.”
Pennies in the Karma Jar (2010) is their eighth studio album and ninth overall. Read the Rocktopia and Prognaut reviews.
Mimi’s Magic Moment (2005) contains just four epic tracks spanning 63-minutes that find Salem Hill once again exploring new ground. Rather than continuing in the direction of their previous album Be, Salem Hill returned to the more symphonic and traditional progressive style of 2000’s Not Everybody’s Gold, resulting in what is probably their best work to date. Their sound comes closest to Kansas, with guest David Ragsdale featuring prominently on violin, but by now Salem Hill have a recognizable style of their own. Other guests include Neal Morse and Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer).
On Be (2003), Salem Hill pushed their sound much closer to Echolyn and, to a lesser extent, Porcupine Tree. It is their most “modern” sounding album, with a harder edge and more emphasis on guitar, but it still maintains continuity with their more symphonic past, a very impressive and ambitious 71-minute work.
These are the newly-remastered 2014 Esoteric Recordings editions. Forest of Feelings has one bonus track; both have booklets with fully restored artwork and new liner notes. Keyboardist/guitarist David Sancious was still a teenager when he joined Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. He became an in-demand session and touring musician, and some prog fans may only know him for his work for Peter Gabriel beginning with Passion, or for playing a big role on Jon Anderson’s Animation. But Sancious’ true legacy is his own records, and Forest of Feelings (1975) and Transformation (The Speed of Love) (1976) are arguably his two best. While Transformation is credited to his band Tone, that’s a mere formality as the same musicians appear on Forest of Feelings. Fortunately the music has nothing to do with Springsteen; it has more in common with Yes, Genesis, and ELP. It is a unique blend of symphonic fusion and progressive rock. Sancious learned classical piano at an early age, and he uses a large arsenal of keyboards on these records, records that are essential in any serious progressive rock library. “Forest of Feelings is an auspicious debut that delivers not only a mastery of various musical genres, but a holistic view of them. Just as the whole fusion thang was moving toward an increasingly irrelevant technician’s language devoid of any cultural connection other than its own, this culturally advanced, spiritually open set hit the shelves. This music sounds as refreshing and life-affirming in the 21st century as it did in 1975.” “As an album, Transformation (The Speed of Love) is awe-inspiring, a work of progged-out jazz-rock that’s as iconic as Birds of Fire, Blow by Blow, or Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, yet stands alone for its artful ambition and emotional commitment.” Click the mp3 icons above to read the full AllMusic reviews.
This heavy prog band from Milwaukee describe themselves as Tool meets Porcupine Tree. Their guitarist is Joe Kopecky from the band Kopecky. Dark Reflections from the Water’s Edge (2011, digipack) is their debut.
Welcome to the Freakroom is the debut by a New York City band who go for a classic 1970s progressive rock sound (Yes, Rush, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Led Zep) with a somewhat more contemporary guitar style and energy. Vocalist David Bobick has a degree in musical theater and brings some of that feel to these songs. The first five tracks are more vocal-heavy, but the album culminates with the 12-minute Journey of Everyman suite, which is the progressive tour de force and is loaded with instrumental fireworks. There is something similar in Shadow Circus’s approach to that of Puppet Show, the way both bands have absorbed mostly British 70s progressive influences but add a contemporary energy and American flavor. Other modern reference points might be Transatlantic and The Tangent. This album was first released on CD by the band in February 2007, but this second edition on ProgRock Records has been remixed and is a significant sonic upgrade.
Whispers and Screams (2009, 61-minutes) is even better. It begins with the 33-minute Project Blue suite, a roller-coaster ride of classic rock and progressive rock influences, always keeping the listener guessing what comes next. There is a greater American flavor to parts of this CD. The best is saved for the last three tracks (two of which are long ones), which are full of classic symphonic prog with Yes and Kansas as likely influences, and a guest cellist making important contributions. The final track could almost be The Enid. Keyboards and guitar share the spotlight throughout the album, something that is becoming less and less common in what passes for progressive rock, as quality keyboardists seem to be an endangered species. Fortunately, Shadow Circus understand the importance of symphonic tone colors. Read the DPRP review.
On a Dark and Stormy Night (2012, 58-minutes) is their third and best, as Shadow Circus continue to take huge strides forward with each CD. Read reviews at Prog Sphere and Prog Archives.
The Tunnel (2014, digipack) is the debut for this Philadelphia prog quartet influenced by Rush and Kansas. Read the Rocktopia and Background Magazine reviews.
Whether with his band Planet X or under his own name, ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian makes some of the best heavy instrumental keyboard rock and fusion you’ll hear, with virtuosos on each instrument. As always, Sherinian recruited a number of name musicians for his sixth album Molecular Heinosity (2009, digipack), namely Virgil Donati (Planet X), Tony Franklin (Whitesnake), Brian Tichy (Foreigner, Billy Idol), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), and some new talent.
The guests on Sherinian’s fifth album Blood of the Snake (2006, digipack) include John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony Franklin, Simon Phillips, Jerry Goodman, Billy Idol, and others. This is fusion-prog-metal because it says so on the sticker on the cover. The emphasis is usually on demonstrative playing, but Sherinian does slow things down on several tracks for some sensitive and melodic music. There are two vocal songs, which won’t be the highlight for prog fans, but the instrumentals more than make up for them.
Black Utopia (2003, digipack) features Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Al DiMeola, Jerry Goodman, Tony Franklin, Simon Phillips, and Billy Sheehan.
Slychosis is a progressive rock band from Mississippi led by Gregg Johns. On their 2006 self-titled debut, they displayed many of their influences, including Genesis, Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Hawkwind, and 1970s hard rock. Slychedelia (2008, 62-minutes, digipack) is a significant step up in both music and production and, unlike its predecessor, doesn’t sound like a 1970s record. There is still a strong classic prog feel and some 70s hard rock, but the heavier, more aggressive guitar is from the modern era, and modern technology is employed, for example, the Vocaloid Miriam software, which allows Miriam Stockley (Adiemus) to sing on one’s record without her knowledge. On the latter tracks, the heavy guitar disappears and the Genesis influence becomes dominant, sounding something like the Banks/Rutherford/Collins lineup producing an instrumental progressive track (which they did all too infrequently). Instrumentals dominate over vocals, though the vocals are respectable. All the Slychosis CD packages are beautiful, featuring the artwork and design of Russian artist Vladimir Moldavsky.
The third Slychosis CD Mental Hygiene (2010, 53-minutes) features guests Jeff Hamel of Majestic and Proximal Distance on guitar and keyboards, Bones Joshua Theriot of Abigail’s Ghost on guitar, Bridget Shield on vocals, and Mike Fortenberry on trumpet. There is greater emphasis on vocals on this album, with both a bluesy female voice and the somewhat Gabriel-esque male vocals. The band say they added “dark and heavy undertones to the melodic prog layers associated with Slychosis”, meaning that the Genesis-like symphonic rock is interrupted now and again by something cruder.
The fourth CD Fractured Eye (2012, digipack) is probably the best Slychosis album to that point. The band is a trio here with Gregg Johns (keys, guitar, bass) still at the helm, plus Tony White (lead vocals, guitar) and drummer Shannon Goree. Though the latter two are new members, the three grew up playing together in prog and classic rock cover bands. The CD has the best production yet for a Slychosis CD, and the new lineup adds a welcome freshness. This album doesn’t stray into the prog metal and hard rock that disrupted the previous album. There are still hard rock elements -- it’s an integral part of the Slychosis style -- but they are integrated into the symphonic rock. Bones Joshua Theriot of Abigail’s Ghost guests. Watch the album montage video.
The fifth Slychosis CD is “V” on the cover and “5” on the digipack spine. Either way, guitarist John Goodsall (Brand X, Fire Merchants) guests.
American composer and multi-instrumentalist Sigmund Snopek III began his professional music career in the late 1960s and has numerous albums to his name. Most of his work from 1968-1975 qualifies as progressive rock even if it wasn’t called that until later, before being pushed toward pop by the market forces of the late 70s. But he returned to prog rock with Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein (1982), which is divided into three pieces, the longest of which is a 12-part suite lasting nearly half an hour. Snopek has done some wacky, humorous stuff, but he doesn’t fool around on this album (at least until near the end). This may be his most consistently enjoyable album, with lots of sophisticated, mostly-instrumental prog rock from a full-band lineup. “The first piece is Ride in the Dark, a multi-part suite of symphonic music very reminiscent of Frank Zappa, including the use of high-speed ‘gnat notes’, unexpected eruptions of triplets, a maniacal Queen-like overdubbed chorale section, and the use of horn and woodwinds (though these might be synthesizers in this case). If you’re a Zappa fan or a modern classical music fan, you should have no trouble liking this composition, with its intricate counterpoint, rock fugues and recurring themes. Just an amazing piece of compositional and technical virtuosity, but with a distinct sense of humor. You don’t get the impression that Snopek takes himself all that seriously, despite the clearly ‘classically trained’ sound. [The second piece] Roy Rogers Meets Albert Einstein is also quite Zappa-like, this time with the help of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, though the orchestra is used only for some sections.” [New Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock] The mini-LP version is the 2010 limited edition released by the MALS label under license from Musea, which comes in a heavyweight cardboard sleeve.
Sonic Music is the work of Larry Benigno, formerly of the band Radio Piece III. The Prisoner (2006, 68-minutes) exceeds the work of his old band, and as a one-man project, it’s on the same level as Shaun Guerin, sounding virtually indistinguishable from a full band. It’s a very inventive symphonic prog album with excellent vocals, covering Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant territory and a lot more. Keyboards are in the fore and are often reminiscent of Kit Watkins’ work with Happy the Man, also of Tony Banks, plus a lot of Benigno’s own style. One track is in the early Synergy style. The disc is packed with great melodies, a pop sensibility incorporated into virtuoso progressive rock. “Composed, performed, and produced by Connecticut piano tuner Larry Benigno, The Prisoner is an epic, old-school prog rock treat. Soaring, virtuosic synth work is everywhere on this disc, courtesy of Larry’s Minimoog, Moog Sonic Six, and Prophet-5. Unlike certain proggers though, the man behind Sonic Music always plays in service of the song, choosing tasteful licks and atmospherics over gratuitous wankage. Such musical maturity is also readily apparent in Larry’s songwriting and harmonic choices.” [Keyboard] Also read the Progressor and Gibraltar reviews.
Sonus Umbra is a band whose incarnations have followed bandleader/composer/bassist Luis Nasser, from the band’s roots in Mexico City (the band then called Radio Silence), on to Maryland and now Chicago. Consequently the Sonus Umbra lineup on Winter Soulstice (2013, 71-minutes, digipack), the first CD for the Chicago edition, has only Nasser and drummer Andy Tillotson in common with the Maryland band, the rest of the band consisting of Rich Poston (electric guitar), Tim McCaskey (acoustic guitar), Brian Harris (keys), Steve Royce (flute/vocals), and Roey Ben-Yoseph on lead vocals. There’s also a guest cellist. Winter Soulstice is the best Sonus Umbra CD to date. The band even call it a departure from their previous work, but the characteristic Sonus Umbra mood is present, as well as the acoustic moments that are a highlight of the early albums. This is clearly the best lineup Sonus Umbra have had. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Beyond the Panopticon (2015, digipack) is the second CD for the Chicago edition of Sonus Umbra and features an expanded lineup, with Brittany Moffitt sharing lead vocal duties, and guest spots for both cello and clarinet. Watch the album trailer and the video for Grotesquerie.
Sonus Umbra’s debut CD Snapshots from Limbo was very well received, eventually getting re-released by Musea. Spiritual Vertigo (2004) is their second. Here Sonus Umbra produce a melancholy and brooding progressive rock with slight psychedelic or space-rock overtones, leaning towards dark and mysterious without sacrificing melody. Guitars have the edge over keyboards, but the liberal use of acoustic guitar keeps things sounding warm. Andres Aullet’s vocals have a slightly surreal quality to them, and he is aided briefly by guest vocalist Lisa Francis of Kurgan’s Bane. They have their own style; at different times you hear traces of Pink Floyd, Rush, and a host of other 1970s progressives. This is the MALS label edition; the U.S. edition is out-of-print.
All Along This Land is the 2006 debut CD by The Source, a Los Angeles prog band whose surprising sound is in many ways very early-1970s retro, with elements that include early Yes, The Beatles, a little Pink Floyd and dreamy psychedelia. But beyond that, they don’t sound much like anyone else today. Much of their sound derives from the low-distortion jazz and country tones favored by guitarist Harrison Leonard, similar to Peter Banks and Steve Howe. Vocalist, principal songwriter, and keyboardist Aaron Goldich favors grand piano, with some Hammond and analog synth sounds. There’s a good balance of vocal and instrumental passages, and like any good prog album, there’s a five-part suite. Read the DPRP and Sea of Tranquility reviews.
All Along This Land was a good start, but Prickly Pear (2009) is a significantly proggier and more ambitious album, with three epic length compositions. The Source’s sound is still early-70s, with more Hammond and more electric guitar leads this time, everything taken up a couple notches. Amazing that this record came out of Los Angeles in 2009. Read the DPRP review. Check above for the related band Ampledeed.
American guitarist Tony Spada is known to prog fans for his band Holding Pattern but also for his 1993 album Balance of Power. The first edition of Balance of Power was on the Art Sublime label but had been out-of-print for a long time. This 2007 edition on the Cypher Arts label comes in a wide-format, fold-open cardboard sleeve. The album is instrumental except for one vocal track. Spada is backed here by most of the members of the final incarnation of Holding Pattern, most notably bassist/keyboardist Tony Castellano. It is an excellent album of guitar-oriented progressive rock, with nods to Steve Hackett and Steve Morse.
Spada returned in 2005 with The Human Element, which features Tony on guitars and guitar synth, ace session man Rob Gottfried on drums, and Tony Castellano on bass and keys. This could pass for a prime period Dixie Dregs album. The violin and bluegrass are absent, but otherwise Spada covers every style you’d find on a Dregs album and a bit more. Spada has played quite a few shows with Steve Morse, and includes one Morse composition on this album.
Speechless is an Atlanta-based instrumental quartet (guitar, keys, bass, drums) playing a typically American style of progressive rock that is a melting pot of many different influences. Their debut Time Out of Mind (2006) eschews drama in favor of a groove-oriented, flowing style, always melodic and emphasizing ensemble playing rather than soloing. They have the sound palette of a jam band, but everything is highly-structured. There are flashes of Yes, ELP, Dixie Dregs, Rush, and a healthy dose of fusion. Think of Djam Karet at their most melodic and when they aren’t making it up as they go along.
With Clearlight leader Cyrille Verdeaux living in California now for a long time, a collaboration with California space collective Spirits Burning was a natural. There are at least 35 musicians on Healthy Music in Large Doses (2013), including Daevid Allen, Robert Rich, and members past and present of Hawkwind, High Tide, Gong, Universal Totem Orchestra, The Muffins, Thinking Plague, Cartoon, and others. Watch the album preview video. Read the Sea of Tranquility and Aural Innovations reviews. See our French page for the Clearlight CDs.
The Spock’s Beard - Live double-CD was recorded live in The Netherlands in 2007 and includes the tracks: On a Perfect Day, In the Mouth of Madness, Crack the Big Sky, The Slow Crash Landing Man, Return to Whatever, Surfing Down the Avalanche, Thoughts (Part 2), Drum Duel, Skeletons at the Feast, Walking on the Wind, Hereafter (Ryo solo), As Far as the Mind Can See (Dreaming in the Age of Answers, Here’s a Man, They Know We Know, Stream of Unconsciousness), Rearranged, and The Water / Go the Way You Go medley.
Feel Euphoria (2003) and Octane (2005) are Spock’s Beard’s first two albums after the departure of Neal Morse, with Nick D’Virgilio on vocals. The band sound confident and their brand of progressive rock continues to develop.
The double-CD Gluttons for Punishment is the first live album for the post-Neal Morse version of the band, recorded during the European leg of their 2005 Octane tour. The material dates back to the first Spock’s Beard album but concentrates on songs from Octane and Feel Euphoria.
These are the Special Editions on Radiant Records of the Neal Morse-era Spock’s Beard CDs: the double-CD Snow (2002), V (2000), Day for Night (1999), The Kindness of Strangers (1998), and Beware of Darkness (1996). Beware of Darkness was remastered for this edition. All come in slipcases, contain bonus tracks, and have expanded booklets with new liner notes by Neal Morse.
Pneumatica (2014, digipack) is the ninth CD but first purely instrumental album for Squonk Opera, and Squonk Opera may be even more alluring to prog fans as an instrumental band than they are with their usual female vocals. Take a minute and 26 seconds to watch this glimpse of Squonk’s fabulous Pneumatica show. You’ll see that Steve O’Hearn has a new toy: MIDI (electronic) bagpipes from Asturian piper and instrument maker Hevia. This adds a new dimension to Squonk Opera’s sound. You can find bands featuring pipes that play rock or add programmed beats, but none of them play in odd time signatures or have symphonic arrangements like this, none of them play progressive rock.
This amazing Pittsburgh ensemble have created a unique and contemporary progressive rock style. Even more impressive are their big-budget, highly-imaginative stage shows, perhaps the best fusion of art-rock and performance art there is. Many reviewers have tried in vain to describe Squonk Opera’s music. One of our early attempts was “a collision between However, Clearlight, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Kate Bush, and Laurie Anderson”, though today that could be as misleading as it is helpful. Squonk Opera feature piano, synth and accordion; wind synth, flute and sax; female vocals; electric & double bass; drums & percussion; and electric & acoustic guitar. The music is full of odd meters and often a dark ambience, with Jackie Dempsey’s classical piano usually at the center of things. The woodwinds sometimes play Celtic flavored melodies, while the female voice is often used as another instrument. There is a sense of humor at play that is more obvious in their shows but does come through subtly on their CDs.
Go (2012, digipack) is the studio CD to accompany Squonk Opera’s Go Roadshow and to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Squonk Opera go through singers like Spinal Tap went through drummers (“bizarre gardening accident”), so you have to get used to a different female voice on each album. If you’ve followed Squonk Opera for a long time, it’s noticeable how their musicianship and ensemble playing continues to advance. It sounds effortless on this album, which has a higher energy level than past albums, serious chops balanced by serious wackiness.
On Mayhem and Majesty (2010, digipack), Squonk Opera shift effortlessly from adventurous to majestic to quirky to serenely beautiful, in a style all their own. Watch show highlights 1 and highlights 2.
You Are Here (2006, digipack) is the soundtrack to both touring series (put your hometown’s name here): The Opera and You Are Here. The same lineup that recorded Rodeo Smackdown is augmented by a guitarist (electric & acoustic), further broadening their sound. You Are Here improves even on Rodeo Smackdown, with a grand symphonic feel to some of the music.
Inferno (2002) is the music from an earlier production that applies Danté’s Inferno to the coal town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, where a mine fire simmers underground to this day.
Check our DVDs page for Squonk Opera’s Astro-rama DVD.
Static are a New York City band based around drummer David Penna and guitarist Mike Fortin, with other musicians lending a hand on bass and keys. Penna is also the drummer in Ad Astra. In Static’s own words, they play “heavy instrumental progressive rock fusion”. Keyboards play only a minor role; this is a guitar-god album in which the drummer gets equal billing. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know, this DPRP review will.
Stencil Forest is an American progressive band originally from Indiana and now in Colorado. They have an tremendous singer in Doug Andersen, whose voice is similar to Barry Palmer (Triumvirat). Opening Act was originally released on LP in 1983, then remixed and remastered in 2004 for this CD. It is instantly-likeable symphonic prog with some pomp rock and AOR, suggesting Starcastle, Kansas, and early Ambrosia. Two bonus tracks (only one is listed). Read reviews at Prog Archives.
The Lie of the Beholder (2014) is the work of Roy Strattman, guitarist and co-composer of the band Little Atlas, here teamed with Nick D'Virgilio on drums and Little Atlas mates Ricardo Bigai on bass and Steve Katsikas on piano and cajon. Strattman’s writing process for this album began during the writing and recording of Little Atlas’s 2013 album Automatic Day. That album represented a shift to darker, more aggressive and more modern prog, and The Lie of the Beholder continues along that trajectory, deep into Porcupine Tree territory. As such, the music contrasts the dark and menacing with the serene and beautiful. Of course much depends on the degree to which the mood of the album resonates with the listener, but if it does, you’re likely to find this a very impressive work. “The album as a whole might satisfy those who long for a new Porcupine Tree [album], although it should be said that although the influence can be heard, this is by no means a direct clone.” [Ytsejam] Read the Sea of Tranquility and Rate Your Music reviews. Watch the promo video for the track A Candle in the Sun.
Daryl Stuermer is known for being Genesis’ live guitarist following the departure of Steve Hackett, also as a member of Phil Collins’ band since 1982, and a member of Jean-Luc Ponty’s band from 1975-78. Rewired is a compilation of Daryl’s personal favorites from his own back catalog, newly edited and completely remastered. These are great guitar-centric rock/fusion instrumentals, all on the melodic progressive side of things. Other musicians are used on keyboards, bass, and drums. The keyboards in particular often show an 80s/90s Genesis/Tony Banks influence.
Go is Stuermer’s 2007 release and one of his best, full of feel-good fusion, heavy on the rock, melody, and energy. Bass duties are split between Leland Sklar and Eric Harvey, John Colarco handles the drums, and Kostia plays keys. One can hear influences of Stuermer’s time with Jean-Luc Ponty, with Phil Collins, and the smooth jazz underpinnings of Stuermer’s past work.
The other titles are from Stuermer’s back catalog: Retrofit (2004), Waiting in the Wings (2001), Another Side of Genesis (2000), and Live and Learn (1998). Sweetbottom was Stuermer’s 1970s fusion band and a legend in his hometown of Milwaukee. The Sweetbottom Live CD was recorded at their December 2002 reunion gigs with the 1970s lineup plus keyboardist Kostia. This is top-notch melodic/symphonic fusion.
Another Side of Genesis contains instrumental versions of Genesis songs from the 1978-1992 era when Stuermer was with the band. Needless to say, these arrangements are quite different from the originals and cast new light on the compositions, which is the point of recording someone else’s songs, but it is clear that Stuermer loves and respects the songs. Stuermer jokes that this is his only album that ever made money. His solo albums demonstrate that he deserves much better.
This is the second release for Glassville Records, the label run by Rob Palmen, who has been tour manager for The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, Riverside, Pain of Salvation, Paatos, Knight Area, Anekdoten, and Ritual, and so knows his way around the mainstream prog scene. Sun Domingo are an American band from Georgia who played support at the first North American Marillion Weekend in Montreal in 2009. Their CD Songs for End Times (2011, digipack) was co-produced and mixed by Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) and features performances by Soord, Steve Hogarth (Marillion), Adrian Belew (King Crimson), and John Wesley (Porcupine Tree). After an opening track of modern pop-rock, the album is proggy and covers an admirable stylistic range that does include Marillion, Porcupine Tree (or Pink Floyd) and The Pineapple Thief, also Rush, a bit of classic prog, art-pop (XTC?), and a track of beautiful instrumental music centered on finger-picked acoustic guitar. For the most part, you could think of Sun Domingo as playing the modern prog style without all the melancholy, more toward the bright energy of Kino and Frost. Excellent musicianship married to warm and catchy songs is a tried and true formula.
Touch the Sky Volume II (2014) is the much superior second CD for symphonic Ameri-prog band Supernal Endgame, who have joined the 10T Records roster as the label starts to corner the market on quality American prog bands (Iluvatar, Little Atlas, etc.). We were lukewarm about Volume I, which came out in 2010, but for Touch the Sky Volume II, drummer and lead vocalist Rob Price says “we’ve pushed much further into prog/art rock territory, without sacrificing our commitment to making thoroughly melodic music. Although there are significantly more purely instrumental passages on this album, we hope that listeners will spend time pondering the project’s lyrical content.” Special guests include Dave Bainbridge (Iona) and Carl Baldasarre (Syzygy). Think vintage Kansas.
Cleveland, Ohio-based Syzygy released their outstanding debut Cosmos and Chaos in 1993 under then band name Witsend. It is one of the classiest American prog albums. These guys have chops that aren’t common these days in prog. Probably influenced most by Yes and ELP, maybe early Ambrosia with a bit of Steve Hackett thrown in, this mostly-instrumental music is nevertheless quite contemporary in sound and execution. This is the reworked 20th anniversary edition, which comes in a digipack with new artwork and liner notes. It includes four previously-unreleased bonus tracks. Two are from 1984 and the Witsend Quartet, which predates Witsend. Two are contemporary live renditions of Witsend pieces that were originally instrumental, now with vocals by current singer Mark Boals. The 12 original Witsend tracks have been gently remastered. Two solo piano parts were re-performed in order to replace the original Yamaha CP70 with acoustic grand piano, as well as to allow for reinterpretation. Finally, the track order was rearranged, resulting in a more satisfying whole.
After taking time out to raise families, 2003’s The Allegory of Light (63-minutes) vaulted Syzygy right back near the top of the American prog rock heap. This is complex, clever, heavily-instrumental prog rock played by top-notch musicians, mixing the old and the new. Influences and reference points include ELP, UK, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Transatlantic,... you get the picture.
Realms of Eternity (2009) was originally going to be a double-CD but was released as a no-filler 77-minute single CD. Syzygy expanded to a quartet with the promotion of bassist & backing vocalist Al Rolik to full-time status, and brought in veteran session singer Mark Boals as guest lead vocalist, as there is a greater emphasis on lyrics on this album. The vocals, so often the shortcoming of indie prog bands, are completely professional, and yet instrumental content still dominates. There are loads of leave-you-speechless instrumental fireworks, but also acoustic, pastoral passages worthy of Tull and Genesis. Syzygy sound more British than ever (and to be quite frank, none of the current generation British bands appear capable of a work like this). With excellent production, this is not only Syzygy’s best and most ambitious album, it may be the prog album of 2009. Steve Hackett said: “It’s beautifully written and recorded and easily the best I’d ever been given to listen to... I usually hope for a masterpiece every time I play an unknown quantity (to me), but this is the the only time the dream has been fully delivered.”
A Glorious Disturbance (2012, digipack) is the live extravaganza Syzygy had been promising for some time. More than a live DVD, it is a historical perspective of the band to this point. The set contains two DVDs (NTSC, all-region) and a CD. The first DVD contains two concerts in 5.1 surround, nearly two hours from the 2009 3RP festival and 2010 Day of Prog, with covers of UK’s In the Dead of Night and Deep Purple’s Burn as encores. The CD omits the encores and one other track due to the shorter playing time of a CD. The second DVD runs 1 hour 35 minutes and contains interviews and a featurette The Writing of Realms. The interviews contain lots of footage dating as far back as 30 years. Counts as 1.5 CDs for shipping.
This 1999 album is a spellbinding work of intimate progressive music by an American artist, probably most similar to the work of Peter Hammill, though Taylor’s voice also recalls Geoff Mann or Ian Anderson. Taylor is assisted by several other musicians and, despite four instrumental pieces, the album’s character derives primarily from his warm vocals and quality lyrics. Its uniqueness stems from the combination of electric/electronic and acoustic instruments. Taylor mostly plays synths, while the acoustic guitar, fiddle, cello, mandolin, accordion, and clarinet add folk and classical elements and much beauty and warmth. It all has a somewhat understated, dreamlike feel and late-night ambience, mesmerizing and atmospheric, but with enough going on instrumentally to engage the listener on a fully-conscious level. Read the Gibraltar and Aural Innovations reviews.
TCP, short for Temporal Chaos Project, is a U.S. prog band, a collaboration between several musicians with a number of guests helping out on The Way (2009), their 74-minute debut. The music draws primarily from classic early 1970s symphonic prog but doesn’t strongly resemble any one band. The dark, slightly Gabriel-esque vocals are one element that suggests early Genesis, and the keyboard sounds (mainly organ, piano, Mellotron strings) tend to be of that vintage. The music features extended instrumental passages with layers of keys and guitars over shifting and complex rhythms. OK, we cribbed some of that last sentence from the press release, but it’s accurate. The Way could be grouped with the first Deluge Grander CD.
Fantastic Dreamer (2011, 61-minutes) is TCP’s second. The album opens with a short and heavy track combining King Crimson and Black Sabbath, after which TCP stick to their true style, which is sort of an amalgam of Genesis, Renaissance (lots of piano on this album), Marillion, and various other prog influences, not quite as refined as those bands, but then who is? The music is also darker and a bit heavier, so the one contemporary band that sounds closest to TCP may be Carptree (on their later albums), especially given the similarities in the singers’ voices. “Fantastic Dreamer is easily an early candidate for Prog Album of 2011, so make sure to dig in deep to what this exquisite banquet has to offer.” [Sea of Tranquility]
After a five year episode of life-gets-in-the-way, TCP enthusiastically returned with their third release, Temporal Chaos (2016), an album filled with the band’s penchant for drama, twisted melodies, double-meaning lyrics, and the marriage of old and new. “This is an absolutely great follow up to Fantastic Dreamer; although that did have the powerful and inspirationally epic ending of the title track, each song here is stronger. The power has been spread throughout the album, rather than concentrated at the end. Everything I was hoping for and more is here. Get this album and enjoy one of prog’s most innovative bands.” Read the full The Progressive Aspect review. Read more reviews of all the TCP albums. Watch TCP’s videos.
With their albums from 1996 on released on the Magna Carta label, most prog fans are familiar with Tempest, a folk-rock band led by Norwegian-American Lief Sorbye. They have similarities to Fairport Convention but are heavier, draw more on Celtic material, and benefit from better production courtesy of Robert Berry that gives them a bigger, proggier sound. Berry usually adds keyboards too. Tempest also come close to the folky side of Jethro Tull, though Tempest frequently arrange traditional songs, something Ian Anderson consciously avoided. The Los Angeles bagpipes/didgeridoo/drums band Wicked Tinkers guests on The Double-Cross (2006), leading to some rousing bagpipe rock. The CD includes a bonus video In the Studio With Tempest.
Another Dawn (2010) is their 12th studio album. Click the mp3 link above to read Lief’s song-by-song notes.
Ten Jinn was an American band led by keyboardist/singer John Paul Strauss. After a debut of more commercial rock, Ten Jinn returned in 1999 with As on a Darkling Plain (72-minutes), the album they really wanted to make. Although Ten Jinn don’t sound much like Spock’s Beard, there were similarities between the two as they existed in 1999. Besides being Los Angeles bands, both were led by a confident front man on keyboards and lead vocals. Ten Jinn have fewer pop and more dramatic elements than Spock’s Beard, as well as more of a Genesis and Jethro Tull slant. Other influences they cite are Rush and ELP. The many instrumentals are particularly impressive, and Stan Whitaker (Happy the Man) guests on the album.
Minneapolis-based Terramara are a progressive pop band that, on their second album Four Blocks to Hennepin (2005), sounded like the second coming of Steely Dan blended with Sting. Terramara returned in 2008 with Dust & Fiction (digipack), which shifts away from the Steely Dan style and toward XTC. At times Terramara could be the American equivalent to older English progressive pop bands such as Stackridge, 10cc, or City Boy, with their quirky art-pop of Beatles lineage. With Terramara, the progressive aspect comes from the keyboard-centric arrangements, the clever harmonic twists and turns, lush harmonies and layered sound. Simultaneously intelligent and incredibly catchy, they might just single-handedly save pop music.
This is a short CD at 31:37, hence the low price. The first three tracks (12-minutes) of the CD are why this is here. John “Rabbit” Bundrick, keyboardist of The Who, plays on seven tracks on this CD, but his presence is felt most strongly on the first three. He plays Mellotron on the first track Mystic Slide, which is a Mellotron wet dream and will startle those old enough to remember the days of bands such as Spring and Fantasy. It sounds like something from 1970, from the period when psychedelic pop was becoming progressive rock. Slathered with powerful Mellotron strings, it’s a style you probably thought you’d heard the last of. The next two tracks Bag of Boxes and DJ are almost as good. The rest of the CD is power pop, a modern, high-energy take on The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Who. If only the whole CD had stayed in the British proto-prog style, we’d be talking retro masterpiece. If you have an affinity for the power pop style too, then this is a no-brainer.
This Austin, Texas quartet was formed in the late 1990s and released a promising demo in 2002. Welcome, Humans (2005) is their first CD, and they are the brightest star to appear on the U.S. progressive scene since IZZ, who are not a bad comparison. But Thirteen of Everything are more of a classic 1970s-style progressive band than IZZ. They blend a Genesis influence with the more complex and angular Gentle Giant and Yes styles, but a couple shades darker than any of them. This 73-minute album includes a 26-minute suite and three other tracks around the 10-minute mark. Instrumental passages are prominent here, with many syncopated rhythms and shifts in dynamics, but also moments of pure lyricism and beautiful melodies. This is the MALS label edition.
Musea says: “American band Time Zero is centered around guitarist David Quicho, drummer Mane Cabrales, and bassist Andrea Mastrigli. Time Zero perform instrumental progressive rock strongly influenced by metal but also by current jazz-rock trends. The result is Outcasts of Civilization (2010), an explosive and colorful album somewhere between Liquid Tension Experiment and Attention Deficit. Guests include keyboardists Matt Guillory (Dali’s Dilemma, James LaBrie) and Alex Argento (Vivien Lalu, Joop Wolters); the keyboards are prominent in the mix. The cast is completed by guitarists Brett Garsed (Derek Sherinian), Ty Tabor (Kings X), and T.J. Helmerich (Zappa Plays Zappa).” Read the Sea of Tranquility review. Listen to the album teaser and Conflagration on YouTube.
The Problem of Pain: Part 1 (2007) is the third CD by this U.S. band, consisting of five suites. Torman Maxt were initially influenced by Rush circa 2112, but like Rush themselves, they refined their music into a more sophisticated progressive rock. Though Rush remains the dominant influence, Torman Maxt diverged from Rush, adding some Yes influence and making good use of acoustic guitar. The vocals are in the mid-to-high range, with a passing resemblance to Geddy Lee. The vibe is positive, and the musicianship is sensitive rather than technical. Though the arrangements are complex, there is plenty of melody.
Transatlantic is the prog rock supergroup of one-time Spock’s Beard leader Neal Morse, The Flower Kings’ Roine Stolt, Marillion’s Pete Trewavas, and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater). The Whirlwind (2009) is Transatlantic’s third studio album. The 2CD Special Edition comes in a digipack and includes the 77-minute The Whirlwind on disc 1 and a 56-minute second disc containing four new Transatlantic studio tracks and four new studio covers: The Return of the Giant Hogweed (Genesis), A Salty Dog (Procol Harum), I Need You (America / The Beatles), Soul Sacrifice (Santana).
SMPT:e (2000) is the album that started it all for Transatlantic. This is the Radiant Records / Metal Blade edition.
Transience is the side project of Lands End keyboard player Fred Hunter, though in practice there isn’t much difference between a Lands End and a Transience album. Sliding (1997, 66-minutes) began as Fred Hunter’s solo project but ended up as an unofficial follow-up to Natural Selection, as the other three band members all make significant contributions. The sound and style are very much Lands End, a moderate tempo, atmospheric symphonic prog often with a Pink Floyd vibe. Long tracks leave plenty of room for instrumental work.
On Primordial (2003), the similarity to Lands End is more pronounced than ever, as many of the tracks were recorded at the studio sessions for their forthcoming album. All the other Lands End members play significant parts on this recording, with Jeff McFarland contributing three compositions and co-writing two others. Guitarist Francisco Neto supplies some of his most melodic work to date, while Jeff McFarland’s vocal delivery is the perfect vehicle for his lyrics. Mark Lavallee’s drum work compliments Fred’s great keyboard textures and bass work. Long expansive tracks with lots of instrumental work give the guys time to work their own special brand of symphonic prog. Not only is there over an hour of Transience music here, there is also over 70 minutes of mp3s of live recordings, alternate versions, and tracks initially intended for this album but eventually replaced. Both CDs now deleted, last copies.
Tristan Park were an American prog band who released three studio CDs during the 1990s, of which A Place Inside (1995) is the second. They played a typical 90s American take on Marillion-style neo-prog, in the same vein as contemporaries Enchant and the 90s Cathedral (the one on the Kinesis label). Now deleted, last copies.
The core of U I Blue is singer Laura Lindstrom, who has an angelic voice, and Jon Paul Davis, who plays primarily acoustic guitar and adds occasional vocals. While Lindstrom sings in English, Davis’s lead vocals are in French. Assisting are Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of Glass Hammer, plus Terry Clouse of Somnambulist on bass. The Glass Hammer guys handle keyboards, electric guitar, and drums, including lots of Mellotron, and guest musicians include a female string trio. The result on Songbird’s Cry (2005) is a unique blend of folk and symphonic prog, more European than American in flavor. The only comparison that springs to mind is the Gandalf & Galadriel album from 1986, though Songbird’s Cry is more progressive and powerful. With the usual professional production of Schendel and Babb, this one is intoxicating. Read the Musical Discoveries and Sea of Tranquility reviews. You can find a couple videos on the U I Blue site under “media”.
Chicago’s Umphrey’s McGee are well-known in jam band circles, yet here they are far more of a progressive rock band than a jam band, with a much greater connection to King Crimson, The Dixie Dregs, and Frank Zappa than to The Grateful Dead. Mantis (2009) is their most progressive album to date. Improvisation plays only a minor role, as it is mostly composed. Try to imagine Steely Dan as a progressive rock band and you’ll have a good idea of the sound of Umphrey’s McGee. They have the requisite rhythmic complexity, instrumental virtuosity, and flair for the dramatic. This is the 2CD edition released on the British Freeworld label. The second disc contains 7 live tracks plus 3 studio tracks taken from Safety in Numbers and Anchors Drops.
“Chicago’s finest progressive jam band concentrates on its progressive side with this sixth studio release, leaving behind the formless jams (see their Live at the Murat). Instead, they jump head-on into the old progressive rock style of Yes, King Crimson, and early Genesis, with gargantuan multi-part songs featuring seriously ambitious arrangements. As the lead single Made to Measure might suggest, their songwriting has progressed as much as their ambitions. In that sense, Mantis might arguably be the group’s most commercial effort even though, ironically, the band is challenging its fan base and risking commercial suicide. For pure prog rock bliss, check the super-catchy 7/8 time guitar-keyboard riff in Cemetery Walk.” [Prefix]
Ex-Episode keyboardist Nick Peck is joined by 11 other musicians (including Episode’s rhythm section) for a thoroughly enjoyable album of progressive rock with a touch of psychedelia that surpasses the work of his old band. From 1997, this is a large-scale album of 12 interconnected songs, dominated by Peck’s piano and featuring lots of flute, guitar, solo & harmony vocals. There’s a mixture of progressive styles - certainly Genesis is here - but the whole thing emerges as what could be called a U.S. west coast style of prog rock. Those who’ve heard the U.S. band Now will be in familiar territory (Now’s Gary Morrell co-produced).
Under the Sun is known for their 2000 debut on Magna Carta. They play an accessible, hard progressive rock that occupies the middle ground between Kansas and Rush. The 71-minute Schematism: On Stage With Under the Sun is a live album recorded at NEARfest 2001 and mixed by producer/engineer Brad Aaron (of Kansas fame). It includes the previously-unreleased 13-minute epic track Souljourner. The producer makes a point of how the album was mixed: “This recording is unlike any other stereo live disc you’ve heard before. The stereo imaging of the traditionally-recorded live setting has been reversed. This album is not one of those live CDs that puts you in the crowd, away from the stage. This CD is different. There is much more stereo detail here, all the detail of being onstage with the band.” Well, that goal could have been accomplished much more effectively in a surround format such as DVD-Audio or SACD. Nevertheless, this is a great sounding live recording and features original cover art by Kerry Livgren (Kansas).
Unified Past describe themselves as a “power prog” band. Shifting the Equilibrium (2015, digipack) features Phil Naro (Druckfarben) on vocals.
Collective Spirit (2010, 31:26) is the fifth CD from American progressive hard rock band Visual Cliff, now a quintet with a new lineup including keyboardist Mike Florio (Vertical Alignment). The lyrics are Christian-oriented, however, five of the eight tracks are instrumentals and are where the band is at its most progressive, expanding into flowing, atmospheric, slightly fusion-y realms. The CD comes in a printed cardboard sleeve and counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
The Battle of Ego (2010, 57-minutes) is the debut CD for Vonassi, a young American band playing the typical modern style of prog, that is, guitar-oriented, lacking in classical influence, not a million miles away far from alternative, grunge, and metal. We probably have Porcupine Tree to thank for this. “Possibly the foremost characteristic is Vonassi’s efficient use of complexity in their compositions. Excepting the last song Coiled, all the songs time at less than five minutes, most around four. However, the textures Vonassi pump into those short periods is quite remarkable. While songs can alternate between heaviness (The Drudge) and melodic subtlety (Posing for the Cold), they are deep with impressive bass lines, eccentric rhythms, provocative drumming, and graceful, less ostentatious fret work. Many of these arrangements are made more clever and evocative from Vonassi’s use of ambient to progressive keyboard work... While progressive may be the overarching motif here, there is plenty of natural accessibility here, almost with an alternative rock feel... Overall, Vonassi’s The Battle of Ego is a singular and distinctive work demonstrating this trio’s immense talent and creativity for melodic progressive rock with an modern alt rock feel.” [DangerDog] Also read the Sea of Tranquility review.
Yup, it’s a rock opera. Avery is the 2007 creation of Carlton Walker from Tennessee, who assembled a full band to realize this 74-minute CD, the instrumentation including keyboards, electric & acoustic guitars, bass, drums, flute, violin, viola, cello and mandolin. Walker lists his influences succinctly as Peter Gabriel, Genesis, and The Who, and given that Walker’s singing voice is fairly Gabriel-esque, it’s easy to feel the Gabriel/Genesis influence. But Avery is executed differently, with the strings and other acoustic instruments having a big impact on the sound and style, perhaps Genesis in an alternate (less British, for one) reality. As Walker puts it, “Take one disc from Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and one disc from The Who’s Quadrophenia and shuffle them. I wore out several copies of both those albums and they’re still rotating in my brain.” No one is suggesting that Avery is the equal of those albums, but you get the idea. The Who influence manifests on a couple tracks where you can hear those characteristic power chords. The Avery story is a self-referential one, about a guy who writes a rock opera (based on the medieval morality play Everyman).
David Wallimann began a stint as Glass Hammer’s guitarist in 2005. However, he was born and raised in France, the son of a French father and an American mother, and the musicians on his 2006 debut CD Deep Inside the Mind appear to all be French. They contribute guitar, bass, and drums, while Wallimann handles lead guitar, synths, and vocals. This is a concept album with heavy Christian content. Musically, this is no ordinary guitarist album. While there is a strong Steve Vai style hard rock element, this is much more progressive and arty than most guitarist CDs. The album is mostly instrumental; the storyline is executed with spoken word, often of a dramatic nature, a bit reminiscent of Utopia’s Singring and the Glass Guitar from the Ra album what with the occasional helium voices. Regardless of how one feels about the narrative, this is musically very creative, a unique blend of prog and guitar rock.
The Winter Tree is the return of Magus under a new name, owing to the fact there are too many other bands with ‘Magus’ in their name, but there is also a shift in style. The name ‘The Winter Tree’ is taken from the Renaissance song. The self-titled CD (2011, digipack) is the debut, and it shows that Andrew Laitres’ songwriting skills have matured a lot in the past nine years. (Andrew Laitres and Andrew Robinson are the same person, all names being subject to change with this band.) The Steve Hillage-like space-rock style that was a major component of the Magus sound is present here in one of the instrumental tracks but is otherwise used more as coloration. This is lush, understated, song-oriented symphonic prog with an affinity for the likes of later Camel and Colin Bass, Ken Baird, Maestoso, Mandalaband, and the Alan Parsons Project. Listen to Guardian Angel and A Twilight in Middle March on YouTube. Read the Sea of Tranquility and ProgressiveWorld reviews.
Guardians (2012, digipack) is proggier than the first CD, but we’ll keep the list of reference bands mostly the same, just throw Genesis and Pink Floyd in there now. The Winter Tree have their own style, but it’s clear that Laitres’ loves are the first-generation British melodic prog bands, tending toward the softer side of the genre. Guardians is a beautiful prog album that doesn’t sound retro, but on the other hand ignores the direction taken by what is usually considered the modern prog movement, a direction that generally runs counter to most of the bands mentioned here. Read the Sea of Tranquility and DPRP reviews. Watch the video for Beautiful World.
Twilight of the Magicians (2013, digipack) is a mostly-instrumental album performed by Laitres with the assistance of several guests. The nine songs were inspired by the late Rudolf Steiner’s writings about the lost continent of Atlantis. It’s distinct from the first two The Winter Tree CDs, representing a return to the Magus style to some degree. The music varies from semi-relaxed, rhythmic, groove-oriented space rock to more overtly symphonic tracks to synthetic soundscapes, all exceptionally well executed. Watch the video for the title track.
In contrast to the mostly-instrumental Twilight of the Magicians, Earth Below (2015, digipack) contains all vocal songs, returning to the style of the first two The Winter Tree albums, and also sees guitarist/vocalist Mark Bond return to the fold. Earth Below features Mattias Olsson (White Willow, Änglagård) on all the drums, while Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel) mixed the album and added some guitar and keyboards. Latvian Baiba Kranate contributes some backing vocals.
Lucid Dreamer (2005, 77-minutes) contains the original Traveller album the way Andrew Robinson intended it, now remastered with much improved sound. Traveller was the second album from Vermont’s Magus, originally released in 1997 but out-of-print for years. Also included is the entire Highway 375 EP as well as two previously-unreleased live tracks from 2000. Highway 375 was a 1998 EP in the relaxed space-rock style Magus is known for, but all instrumental.
The Green Earth (2001, out-of-print) was Magus’ breakthrough album. The upbeat tracks are groove-based prog rock with thunderous bass, while the more peaceful tracks combine a Genesis or Jade Warrior pastoral flavor with spacier textures, using more acoustic instruments than before. The Garden (2002) continues to develop the style of The Green Earth, with eight musicians helping bandleader Andrew Robinson, including the late Gary Strater of Starcastle and Tomas Hjort of Cross. Both albums feature electronic and exotic touches and soothing vocals that remind us a bit of Tim Blake. Andrew Robinson plays several instruments and sings, while several other musicians contribute, notably on flute and violin. Imagine Jade Warrior joining forces with Ozric Tentacles and using a more melodic, symphonic, and structured approach, not to mention vocals. Magus have carved out a progressive style not directly comparable to anyone. Read the Sea of Tranquility review.
The mostly-instrumental 74-minute Echoes from the Edge of the Millennium contains remixes of tracks from the first three Magus CDs (spanning 1987-1999) plus four previously-unreleased tracks. Some tracks bear a Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree mark, while others recall the spacier tracks of 1980s and 1990s King Crimson. A lot of quality music here, all sharing a spacey vibe that Steve Hillage would recognize. Watch the video for Sandman.
The Best of Magus & The Winter Tree 1988-2013 (digipack) is an anthology. This nice-price CD is full, containing 50 minutes of revised/remixed Magus songs plus 30 minutes of the best of the first three The Winter Tree albums. It’s a different selection of Magus songs than Echoes from the Edge of the Millennium apart from ...and the River Joins the Sea... and the Gong-inspired Rif, but this CD includes the full revised/remixed/remastered editions whereas Echoes... contains only edited versions. Some of the Magus tracks here have had new bass, drums, and/or textures added before being remixed and remastered.
Andrew Laitres is the man behind the bands The Winter Tree and Magus. Singularity (2015, digipack) is his first album of pure ambient electronic music: instrumental, atmospheric, and meditative.
Boris is the legendary first album by this remarkable Chicago-area U.S. band, recorded in 1975 with a 1976 bonus track. Originally only 300 LPs were pressed, making this one of the most sought-after U.S. prog albums. Yezda Urfa are very Gentle Giant-influenced, with Yes as a secondary influence. Their two albums are full of dazzling musicianship, the band navigating complex arrangements with seeming ease. Their sound on Boris is a bit more acoustic than on their second album Sacred Baboon (1976), but both albums stand alongside the best U.S. prog albums.
Yoke Shire are a Boston-based progressive rock band that are difficult to describe because, for the most part, they sound like no one else. They are 1970s-oriented in style and have an organic sound. They only sound like Jethro Tull on a few tracks, but overall they are similar in that they blend 1970s hard rock and instruments such as flute, mandolin, and acoustic guitar into their prog rock. Singer Craig Herlihy has a unique lower-register voice, and there are some great vocal harmonies somewhat in the style of the British band Haze.
The Witching Hour (2007) is a double-CD and is Yoke Shire’s most accomplished work, not only the culmination of many years of work, but the product of a band that gigs relentlessly. While there is no major change in style, the compositions are Yoke Shire’s most ambitious, the acoustic and electric instruments are integrated better than before, and the vocal harmonies have been perfected. Also the audio fidelity is very high. This comes in the old-style double-wide case with a 16-page full-color booklet and counts as two CDs for shipping.
A Seer in the Midst (2002) is a 58-minute retrospective of sorts, though there is no overlap with their previous CD Masque of Shadows. Seer... contains two new 2002 studio tracks, an expanded half-hour live version of the Maiden Voyage trilogy from Masque of Shadows with excellent sound, and remastered versions of the four songs from their 1995 first EP, which has been out of print for years. Notably, the 20-minute live version of The Brook, the Mirror and the Maiden is very different from the 9-minute studio version on Masque. The live version is full of virtuosic piano that turns it into a progressive epic, probably the best thing Yoke Shire had done to date.
After a short proggy intro, the first song of Masque of Shadows (1999) is a mix of 1970s hard rock and Santana. But halfway through the next song, the prog rock kicks in and doesn’t let up for the rest of the album. Two tracks are reminiscent of Jethro Tull, one because of the use of mandolin, the other flute. They succeed in creating atmospheres to match the album’s imagery, and shift effortlessly from hard rocking songs to delicate medieval folk.
The Colorado-based fusion quartet Zed includes guitarist Scott Cleland, also a member of prog band Singularity, saxophonist/keyboardist Alan Mallery, also a member of The Other Side, bassist Jeff Smith and drummer Ian Keldin. You Are Here (2008, digisleeve) is Zed’s debut, on which they play Weather Report-style fusion. Counts as only one-half CD for shipping.
Hailing from the northeastern U.S., Zen Carnival debuted in 1999 with Inheritance, instantly-likeable 1970s-style prog in a Genesis/Camel direction. Zen Carnival’s second CD Bardo (67-minutes) is a much more mature and original work, and one of the best modern prog albums of 2006. While Inheritance was a more traditional progressive rock album, Bardo took a step in the direction of Porcupine Tree, and sounds quite contemporary. There is a suggestion of later Marillion, which has a lot to do with singer Ken Pfeifer’s voice, but there is also that sensuousness. There is also a jazzy ambience at times, overall a greater breadth than on their debut, with fewer stylistic limits. The constants are the excellent songwriting, the rich sound palette, and the exciting instrumental excursions. Read the Sea of Tranquility and Prog Archives reviews.
Writing for Lucid Dreamer (2015, digipack) commenced shortly after Bardo was released, and recording began in 2010. So though a long time has passed, Lucid Dreamer picks up where Bardo left off, carving out territory not too far from IZZ. The fusion-y instrumental work that appears in many songs is one of Zen Carnival’s trademarks, as they deftly incorporate it into a set of art-rock songs. A proggier Sting or Steely Dan may come to mind. The great instrumental Medieval Suite could be Dixie Dregs (minus the bluegrass), while Lullaby is the song that comes closest to later Marillion, with Ken Pfeifer sounding similar to Steve Hogarth here. If there is such a thing as adult contemporary prog, Lucid Dreamer should reach the top of that chart.
End of the Age (2002) is the debut CD from Zen Rock and Roll, composed and recorded in the spirit of the British symphonic rock movement of the early 1970s. It reminds us a bit of the American band Netherworld, who were similarly inspired. There are just three long tracks spanning the album’s 45-minute length, but Zen Rock and Roll are able to sustain interest throughout the compositions, with plenty of twists and turns and good instrumental interplay, while themes are well developed and pleasant melodies recur. It’s full of Mellotron and flute and the usual symphonic goodies. The Birthright Circle (2004) is another fine CD in the same vein, with only four tracks spanning 45-minutes, culminating in the 23-minute Circle.
Finally 2011 sees the third Zen Rock and Roll CD Undone. Composer Jonathan Saunders sticks mostly to normal length songs here, and his old-school pop songwriting skills are in evidence right off the bat -- the tracks are really catchy and display his love of English 1970s prog. The keyboards suggest Tony Banks, while the harmony vocals and some of the more pop-oriented sections remind one of Todd Rundgren and Utopia. There is an epic though, the 14:42 instrumental Concerto for the Original Sinners, which has several distinct sections, leading into the final song Lament, almost a lullaby and a perfect close to an album that is more personal than the first two, has stronger vocals and invites repeated listens (imagine that!).