Hadal Sherpa - s/t. 2017 Finland

Every once in awhile I'll receive a recommendation on a new album to try. But it's very rare for me to receive 3 strong recs from trusted advisers, and that's exactly what happened last year with Hadal Sherpa, a new space rock band from Finland. I purchased the CD last year, but as these things tend to go, I'm just now getting around to listening to it.

And the reason for all the buzz behind Hadal Sherpa becomes obvious upon listening. Anyone who knows me personally or has read my notes will know that I enjoy an excellent rendition of the sound that Ozric Tentacles (and Gong/Here&Now before them) created years ago. Especially the Finnish school. The album opens up surprisingly subdued with the 2 part 'Nautilus', a mid paced number with flute and melodic guitars. Things began to pick up considerably with 'Chafa Azeno' reminding me quite a bit of Ozric's 'Bizarre Bazaar' (from Strangeitude) without the silly bits. 'Ikaros' takes the baton and runs faster. It's here the album begins to draw you into its vortex. Then, as these albums tend to do, you get smacked with the 1-2 punch of awesomeness. 'Heracleion' is packed with ideas, with smoldering guitars, and Middle Eastern/Eastern Asian themes. A highly energetic piece, that never sits in one place too long. This leads to the album's piece de resisitance , the brilliant 'Marracech' where blazing bouzouki battles the dual guitars and synthesizers, all the while demonstrating even more ADD than the predecessor. Imagine Hidria Spacefolk covering Embryo's Steig Aus album, and you have an idea of the excellence found here. 'Abyss' slows things down a bit, bringing forth a 1969 Pink Floyd vibe, and then accelerates later on. 'Black Elk' is another rip roaring track, though by this time one is exhausted from burning too many calories air jamming. If I had a complaint, I would suggest a better production next time. The album sounds a bit thin at times. These kind of albums require a thick, meaty production.

If you're a fan of Hidria Spacefolk, Taipuva Luotisuora, Moonwagon, and Dasputnik, then it's hard to imagine Hadal Sherpa not registering in the red zone. Perhaps not an entirely new concept, but the execution is superb.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 private

The CD comes in a fine digi-pak. According to Discogs, there are 2 presses. The first was a run of only 300 followed by a repress of 500. This is a good sign, as it's nice to see CDs still selling on albums of quality.

Steve Tibbetts - Yr. 1980 USA

Minneapolis based guitarist Steve Tibbett's second album is quite a diversion from his debut, and as well for the ECM label that reissued this 8 years after the fact (with a new cover). Starting where 'How Do You Like My Buddha?' left off from the otherwise all-acoustic debut, Tibbetts gets straight to the point of the album at hand. The all instrumental Yr features Tibbetts on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards (including quite a bit of mellotron), and all sorts of stringed instruments. Accompanying him is a bassist, and no less than 4 credited percussion players. So while the album cannot help but feel tribal, especially looking eastward toward Asia, the album doesn't comfortably fit in genres such as World Fusion or New Age. Primarily this is due to Tibbett's decidedly psychedelic guitar style. There really is no album like Yr in the vast annals of musical history, that I'm aware of anyway. Including from Tibbetts himself who more or less began to adopt the ECM aesthetic going forward. Perhaps early David Torn provides a slight guidepost, but this is far more warm and alive. Even if you've heard other Tibbetts albums, I strongly encourage you to lend an ear to Yr (so to speak). It's a revelation.

Personal collection
CD: 1988 ECM (Germany)

I've had this on CD forever (second scan). My promo copy still has the instructions on what a CD even is.

Cast - Nimbus. 2004 Mexico

Nimbus is the 12th studio album from Mexico's Cast, and was released by Mylodon in Chile and Musea in France. At their beginning, Cast were heavily influenced by the neo prog marquee names such as Marillion, IQ, and Pendragon. They released an enormous amount of material in a short period of time, all characterized by the familiar NWOBPR sound, while singing in English. By the time of Nimbus, the band have become more confident with other styles of progressive rock, and are now utilizing their native language primarily. In addition to that, Cast has brought in more instrumentation, which allows for more tonal color, which was missing from their earlier releases. So even though this is their 12th album in a 10 year time frame, it's remarkably fresh and not stale at all. '911' recalls their earlier neo prog past, whereas 'Un Singlo de Invierno' dabbles in prog metal. But mostly this is classic European progressive rock, as might be found in Spain during the late 70s - a band like Crack for example. Make no mistake, Cast aren't retro in the slightest, and this is clearly a work of the 90s and 00's. As with most of the Cast albums I'm familiar with, the album is quite lengthy (the equivalent of 2 LPs), so it takes quite a bit of time to absorb all the material presented here. To be honest, I don't have much exposure to Cast past their Angels and Demons album, so I'm not sure where the band transformed their sound. Given the strength of Nimbus, I'm quite open to exploring more.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Musea (France)

According to my database, I bought this CD in 2005. Not sure why I didn't continue exploring the band further. Well it's never too late to start...

Lahost - Erotic Antiques. 1984-1985 England (archival)

Lahost are a very good example of the 1980's New Wave of British Progressive Rock scene. Tight, energetic, melodic, complex, and fun.

The above represented my scratch off notes from nearly a decade ago. And probably I need not say more, as that about covers it. But I will anyway... I first read about Lahost in the metal magazines of the middle 80s (like Kerrang for example), who dabbled with the much smaller ongoing progressive rock scene (many of the UK music writers in those days had prog backgrounds). But nothing really ever emerged from Lahost, originally known as The Host. Two cassettes were released, though neither are shown on Discogs as I write this. The 2 cassettes, plus a single, and a live recording make up Erotic Antiques.

It would be hard to find a more perfect definition of the NWOBPR movement than to play Erotic Antiques for someone. They definitely played to the commercial wing of said movement, and yet no matter how hard they tried, every track comes out very much a progressive rock composition. Only 'Just Breaking Away' comes across as one that panders to the masses. On the other side of the aisle sits 'The Drowning Pool', the only overt progressive rock track found here. They absolutely nail the ethos of the era. We're talking big puffy white shirts and poofy hair to go with it. It's Friday night in 1984, and we're headlining the Marquee club. So when I say "tight, energetic, melodic, complex, and fun", those adjectives cannot be escaped. Imagine a head-on collision between Saga's Heads or Tales and IQ's The Wake, with some early 80s Peter Gabriel solo era collateral damage, and you have found the sound of Lahost.

Lahost is the progressive rock definition of 1984 London, for better or worse. If you love the cassette culture of the era, as I do, then Erotic Antiques is an absolute must. For those where the word "commercial" makes you cringe, then you might want to give a wide berth around.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 UGUM (France)

Sadly this represents the entirety of Lahost's output, though no doubt any subsequent releases would have only become more slick and unbearable. The CD today has become quite hard to source.

Blood of the Sun - Burning on the Wings of Desire. 2012 USA

Burning on the Wings of Desire is the 4th album from Fort Worth, Texas' Blood of the Sun. The modus operandi of the band is to recreate the hard rock culture of 1974 to the smallest detail. And to that end, the band succeeds greatly. Band leader Dave Gryder is an unreconstructed 1970s fiend, and it's his Hammond Organ that's out front and center along with the raunchy hard rock (never metal) guitars. The vocals are of the "tough guy" variety and all the tracks are about a lovin' and a rockin' and good times had by all. Wide lapels and rose colored glasses - hair over the ears with a pornstache. It's Saturday night at Barney's Ballroom in Steeltown, Ohio. It's so dark, you need a miners hat to see, and you're sticking to the floors - and it's best not to know why.

Though Gryder has listed a Hohner Clavinet, Mellotron, and other fun analog toys, one only hears the organ on Burning on the Wings of Desire. Wino (yes, that Wino) sings on 'Good and Evil', an homage to the era's tendency to close an album with a more thoughtful number.

If you can't get enough of bands like Bloodrock, Grand Funk Railroad, Mountain, and other popular hard rockers from the good ole' USA, then Blood of the Sun gives you the extract version of that. Be mindful not to OD son.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Listenable (France)

Jewel case CD comes in a slipcase with a naked woman on both sides (of course it does...)

Candlemass - From the 13th Sun. 1999 Sweden

For whatever reason, I find myself more drawn to the Candlemass albums not featuring their marquee singers like Messiah Marcolin and Robert Lowe. Perhaps that's because the band needed to fill the disc with more creative music and less time buying a ticket and watching their gifted singers do what they do.

In particular I'm quite fond of their two late 90s albums, which musically speaking have scant resemblance to their trademarked name. Other than they are bonecrushingly heavy of course. For example, I quite like the use of synthesizers during this era of the band. From the 13th Sun deviates from its predecessor though, and the album is what everyone else says it is (including Candlemass themselves) - an homage to Black Sabbath. The album opens up perfectly with a catchy riff-ramic 'Droid' before launching into the album's masterpiece 'Tot'. Taking 'Black Sabbath' (the song) as a base, they move forward the concept to a whole new level. The bells sound like Notre Dame on Sunday morning, and the foreboding atmosphere is so thick and heavy, one can barely move. Then it bludgeons you deep into the ground over and over. And then about 2/3rds through, the track opens up into a frenzied pace with synthesizers panning side to side, for truly an awe inspiring experience. In my estimation, this is one of Candlemass' finest moments (and the band have quite a few). 'Elephant Star' follows and is a bit too straightforward to make note of. 'Blumma Apt' is another great and varied heavy track and then... ear fatigue sets in.

It's as if all their great ideas were front-loaded, and everything that follows is more or less the same. I tried to compartmentalize each track on its own, but the familiarity was too obvious to ignore. It's a problem most metal bands have, and unfortunately Candlemass fell victim as well. Even the promising looking 9+ minute 'Cyclo-F' disappoints once you've realized it's padded with a drum solo.

Overall, I still enjoy the heck out of this title, the disappointment only reflecting the auspicious opening. Worth the purchase for 'Tot' alone, but everything here is good, just not great.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Music for Nations (UK)

Alters - MILD. 2007 Poland

Alters are somewhat typical of modern progressive bands who do not blend their influences together as a cohesive whole, but rather attack each segment on their own. Or what I call "genre hopping". So there's no "brand identity" as it were. Just various parts and pieces pasted together. You'll hear everything from the usual prog suspects (Yes, KC, Genesis), to Miles Davis, Stockhausen, Polish stalwarts (SBB, Nieman), complex French prog, mid 70's Pink Floyd, etc... There are of course, as with any album like this, some really great parts to enjoy and savor. But once they've moved on, you won't hear anything like it again. It's an Around the World tour in... 52 minutes.

Last listen: August 7, 2017

Tuna Laguna - Ripples and Swells. 2007 Norway

Tuna Laguna are a modern Norwegian post rock band who have a clear connection with the US post rock scene similar to Tortoise for example. But there’s more here than insouciant mid paced jams to aid with your sleeping disorder. With the growling fuzz bass, wah wah guitars, filtered organs, and the occasional tempo change, it’s clear Tuna Laguna have a bit of 1970's instrumental European prog rock in them. And the 7 piece band collective, including 3 guitarists and 2 keyboardists, allow the group a multitude of options that really expand their sound. Add in the melodic content that is post rock’s greatest contribution to begin with, and you have a nice piece of music to drive the Interstate with.

Last listen: August 8, 2017

The Ebony Godfather (Joe Thomas) - Moog Fluting. 1974 USA

So imagine being an African American gentleman who plays the effeminate flute. You've played R&B, gospel, jazz, and everything in between. You have a dull name like Joe Thomas and you're pushing 40. And it's 1971. So what's a brother to do? Well duh, you pimp your look, sit next to a couple of hotties, and tell the world that you are - in fact - The Ebony Godfather. A little blaxploitation never hurt, eh? 3 years later, Thomas took it a step further and just called himself The Ebony Godfather. After this bit of silliness, and probably realizing he could have called himself The Black Tooth Fairy and no one would care, he took back his name... and, oh look, here comes disco.... and off Thomas went to make a few more bucks before calling it a career in the early 1980s.

But the moniker isn't the only curve ball here. Next up is the title. With a name like Moog Fluting, one would expect some Moog with your flute perhaps? Uh, no. In fact, I cannot for the life of me figure out the usage of the term Moog here. I've seen other reviews mention its use, but I don't hear it. Further, neither do the liner notes, which are old fashioned 60s styled jazz type back cover notes with much detail and hype quotes from media and industry veterans. In those notes, no mention of a Moog can be found. Maybe the name just sounded cool? I dunno.

And the music... well it's pretty much your regular instrumental jazz flute album with a rhythm section. Some originals, some cover tunes. On the same level as Herbie Mann and Hubert Laws, but this is no Chris Hinze album that's for sure. Certainly pleasant enough for the genre, with no real surprises, though 'Orcabessa' does open with promise.

No reissues exist as I write this entry.

Last listen: September 30, 2017

Pegauro - Vol. 1. 1982 Mexico

Such an interesting album this one is, coming from 1982 Mexico. The end tracks of each side are exactly what one would expect from an early 70s Italian prog rock album, with constant twists and turns, and an overall excitement and mystery that is rarely captured today. And the rest... (other than the very good 'Precasico')... is pedestrian rock with Spanish vocals. Not terrible mind you, but rather average across the board. This is just the kind of perfect album to be captured on a compilation somewhere. Grab those 3 tracks and run.

No legit reissues exist as I enter this post.

Last listen: November 7, 2017

Alice - Arretez le Monde. 1972 France

Alice were a French pop band experimenting with orchestrations and other trendy "progressive" ideas. In that way, they remind me of the Italian groups doing similar like Delirium's Dolce Acqua or The New Trolls Concerto Grosso No. 1. When Alice are strictly instrumental, they can be highly fascinating, and utilize a multitude of instruments (including mellotron). But they are pop singer songwriters at heart, and those moments are pretty hard to stomach, unless you're a fan of said style.

No legitimate reissues exists as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a recent listen).

Last listen: November 7, 2017

Murder in the Cathedral - s/t + Afraid Of... 1997/1999 France

Both albums by the French band Murder in the Cathedral are fine examples of the sort of neo psych Nick Saloman has been pushing all these years. But unlike The Bevis Frond, Murder in the Cathedral have little delusion that they are actual songwriters, and get down to psychedelic goodness quickly, with loads of superb fuzz tone melodic guitar. I give the nod to their debut but you can get both albums in full on the Long Hair CD, which comes recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Long Hair (Germany)

Last listen: November 13, 2017

Exsimio - Carbono 14. 2005 Chile

Chilean band Exsimio play in that style of guitar-centered, tightly played, aggressive instrumental rock that one can find in bands such as Philharmonie, Yang, or even some of Djam Karet’s work. And, by extension, the Court of King Fripp is what’s really behind this band’s mindset. Elements from Red to Discipline era KC can be picked up. Perhaps best of all is the psychedelic nature of the guitar solos, giving the overall proceedings an exotic and raw feel. Interesting to note that the tracks with Spanish narration remind me a bit of the Italians, somewhat like Latte e Miele or Pholas Dactylus in that way. All the same, the strict and narrow confines of the musical path chosen begins to become tiresome after awhile. Still a fine album, though the band said what they needed to say at the beginning. The rest was more of the same message.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Mylodon

Last listen: November 25, 2017

Ring of Fire - Lapse of Reality. 2004 USA

Ring of Fire is a band that features top talent, and they go out of their way to make sure you know that too. As such, much of the material found here lacks quality songcraft. If the technical aspects of music interest you, then Ring Of Fire provides lots of "activity" that will delight. I'm sure this is very difficult music to perform, but that really shouldn't be the point. Makes for good music theory study, not necessarily enjoyable listening. And when the band does try for something other than massive chops, they produce a track like 'You Were There', which sounds like every other banal mid 1980s AOR hair band trying desperately for a "screaming inner thigh sweat" moment. Certainly the album is good - and very professional - as one would expect from seasoned musicians such as these. I think the reviews that call out Planet X are on the right track. That's the oeuvre we're talking about here.

Traumwolf - Aussen. 1982 Germany

Traumwolf's sole album is primarily a straightforward Deutschrock album, with String Synthesizer, light guitar, plodding rhythms, and dual female/male vocals. Like early 80s Novalis and the host of bands they influenced in those days. To be honest it's a complete slog to get through for the most part. 'Junkie's Rock' is terrible. Not all is a loss though, as 'Nightmare' is a fine instrumental in the Camel tradition, whereas the album's sole prog rock track 'Ponski Stirbt' recalls Eden with the soft soprano female vocals, and powerful instrumental synthesizer and guitar breaks. 'Marionettenspieler' finishes nicely as well with some fine instrumental work. And 'Wir Alle' even breaks out the mellotron - wasted on a somewhat boring track mind you. I've seen some dealers pass this one off as an unknown Krautrock or symphonic prog album. Don't get taken on that ride.

Birdland - Darkness of Light. 1980 Serbia

Coming from Serbia, via Switzerland, Birdland debuted with quite a strong statement in the area of jazz fusion. Make no mistake, this one swings far to the jazz side of that equation. There's not much in the way of songwriting, the instrumentation isn't overly amplified, and mostly the compositions stay true to the jazz school. Still, the guitarist has quite the nimble fingers which he displays often. And the pianist is no slouch either. For certain Mahavishnu Orchestra were an influence here, as were many of the jazz masters, and the German MPS label practitioners. Jazz fans dabbling in rock forms will love this, but if looking for some more composition acumen, this isn't what Birdland were about. Closer 'Elements II' is the highlight of the short 4 track set.

Wacholder - Crystal Palace. 1978 Germany

If one were to stumble upon Wacholder's debut LP for the first time, they may think they'd unearthed some unknown Krautrock classic. With tracks like 'Marokko' and 'Känäbis', could it be the continuation of Agitation Free's Malesch? Ehh... no. In fact it's side 1 that is the more interesting since it's all instrumental. The first 3 tracks are jazz fusion with a prog rock slant. Nothing too radical, and in fact, it's a bit pedestrian for the era. 'Time of Your Life' is the peak of the entire album, and it's not going to excite much I'm afraid. Side 2 is the where the vocals come in - in the usual out-of-tune English we expect from this time and place. Here Wacholder are going for an Anglo styled progressive rock sound, and overall not too bad, especially on the two fetching titles as mentioned in the prelude. 'Tolstefanz' (named for a district in Germany) however is best skipped over.

Alain Bellaiche - Sea Flourescent. 1976 France

Alain Bellaïche's second album Sea Flourescent is a mix of mellow acoustic guitar soundscapes, light jazz fusion, and American styled funk with English lyrics. Not one of the highlights of the mid 70s French jazz rock scene, but not without its moments. Title track is quite nice in a stare-out-the-window kind of way.

Aera - Live. 1980 Germany

Aera's Live album, recorded in 5 different locations, starts off with a bang as Roman Bunka goes riffing mad. After this auspicious beginning, the band settles into its familiar funky jazz rock groove and mostly blows by without notice. Final track is a long improvised version of a Roman Bunka composition that was later released on Embryo's Reise as 'Lost Scooters', and is exceptionally better on that album than found here. A decent album, but never lives up to its initial promise.

Garolou - s/t. 1978 Canada

Garolou (name play loosely translated to Beware of the Wolf) were a Quebec based progressive folk group (entirely sung in French) similar to L’Engouvelent or Connivence. Originally known as Lougarou (Werewolf), the band were forced to change their name as it sounded too close to a more well known dancing troupe in Quebec. Garolou were more straightforward rocking than most groups in this genre. Side 1 is definitely the better side and peaks on the wonderful 'Je me suis habillé en plumes'. Starting with 'Alouette' the band moves to an almost pure folk sound. The epic closer 'Germaine' doesn't deliver the prog rock opus as expected, and is more a continuation of the above, but with rock elements. Overall Garolou aren't that far removed from the like minded efforts of Breton/Gallic groups such as Malicorne, Ys, Avaric, Tarentule, and many others.

Hadal Sherpa - s/t. 2017 Finland

Every once in awhile I'll receive a recommendation on a new album to try. But it's very rare for me to receive 3 strong recs from ...