Ars Nova - Fear & Anxiety. 1992 Japan

The all-female keyboard trio Ars Nova were a breath of fresh air that blew into the landscape in the early 90s. They proudly followed other such acts like Deja-Vu, Social Tension, Motoi Sakuraba, as well as the various acts that contributed to the Kings Boards compilation. It is this sampler where we find Naomi Miura's (Rosalia's keyboardist - Rosalia incidentally is an all-female progressive pop band) brilliant instrumental piece 'Corde Spirale'. This track, no doubt, provided the inspiration for Fear & Anxiety (Naomi is mentioned in the credits). Keyboardist Keiko Kumagai displays an enormous amount of talent and creativity as she composes all the songs and obviously directs the course of each track. Though she plays a myriad of modern day digital synthesizers, the centerpiece of her sound comes from those wonderful old analog machines - the Hammond organ and the Mini Moog. 'Dark Clouds' opens the album rather ominously with minimalist piano, and haunting synth voices. Then the rhythm section kicks in courtesy of the Saito sisters, Yumiko and Kyoko, and we're off into keyboard trio nirvana with '[dziha:d]' (I think something got lost in translation here...). Ars Nova consistently play with angst and passion! On 'House of Ben' Keiko produces a sound Black Sabbath would be proud of. 'Prominence' and the two part 'Fata Morgana' finish this work with a similar display of imagination and performance. Fear & Anxiety is strongly recommended for those into the aforementioned Japanese groups, legends such as ELP and Supersister, as well as anybody into innovative progressive rock.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Made in Japan

After waiting for some years for someone to upload the original CD cover, I finally did it myself yesterday on Discogs. I bought this CD upon release. The album was reissued in 1994, and that's the common cover you see (second scan).

Shiva - Firedance. 1982 England

I'm such a sucker for the older NWOBHM bands, before they felt compelled to be in lockstep with the "scene", and here they just sort of made things up as they went along. Very much like my favorite progressive rock bands of the early 70s. Has more of a Rush influence than usual for a UK band from this era. There's some commercial stuff here that keeps it from a higher rating (especially on Side 2), but it's still a great listen. It'll probably grow on me over time (and it has!). File this one in the innovative early metal category next to Legend (UK), Diamond Head, Sacred Blade, and Manilla Road.

Personal collection
CD: "British Steel" (Russia)

Damn. I fear I ended up with the bootleg. I got it on ebay from a US seller, and I'm convinced they would have had no idea. The only way you can tell it is unauthorized is by the matrix on the disc, or lack thereof. Oh well it didn't cost much, so it wasn't worth complaining about. I'll ditch it if and when I get a legit reissue.

Solis Lacus - s/t. 1975 Belgium

Solis Lacus' sole album is a mix of deep grooves and sweet melodies, which is the blueprint for the mid 70's instrumental jazz rock scene. One could easily see Solis Lacus operating as the 4th Placebo album. Though by 1975, some of the rougher edges have been smoothed over, and it's not ever going to win any underground awards. But it definitely serves well for 70's styled "gettin' in the mood" with plush coaches, wood paneled walls, and shag carpet. Trumpet and saxophone lead the solo parade, while band leader Michel Herr provides the Fender Rhodes and monophonic synthesizers. This is the right music for the right time.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Heavenly Sweetness (France)

The CD is housed in a fine tri-fold digipak using the original cover (scan 1). Comes with a history in English and French, and further on the band members each reflect back on the album, but this time only in French and Flemish. Also displays the two other album covers, as the LP was surprisingly reissued twice in the late 70s and early 80s by different labels (see scans 2 and 3)

Moonwagon - The Rule of Three. 2015 Finland

The Rule of Three, is appropriately enough, Moonwagon's 3rd album. Picking right up from Foyers of the Future, the album starts off more geared towards broad strokes and atmospheric space rock. This goes on for the opening 3 tracks, with 'The Infinite Pattern' being the highlight with its strong melodic content and various meter changes. 'Run to the Sun' recalls the 90s neo psych movement, and  is the only track to feature vocals (in English). 'Skylines at Night' seems almost like a homage to the late 70s French and German guitar oriented electronic scene, with soaring guitar leads, steady beats, and a heavy synthesizer presence, perhaps like Christian Boule's Photo Musik, for example. This leads to the final epic track, where we get the payoff for the time invested. Mostly an old school early 1970s Kosmische Kouriere trip with echoed electric piano, scattered drums, acid guitar leads, and moody synthesizers. The mid section follows - but more towards the jumpy Quantum Fantay variety of Ozric Tentacles, and finally finishes with an almost Zeuhl like bass riff with atmospheric Rhodes electric piano over the top. Not like anything else I've heard prior, though still quite familiar. Superb. A new direction for the band perhaps? We can hope.

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Presence

Moonwagon - Foyers of the Future. 2012 Finland

For their followup Foyers of the Future, it appears Moonwagon are consciously moving away from their Ozric Tentacles roots, and trying their hand at slower, more melodic music - citing perhaps the influence of a group such as the Future Kings of England. 'Elsewhere' opens the album with a Pink Floyd styled atmospheric rock number. This is followed by two rave-ups 'New World Warrior' and 'Dawnwind' that recall "Night Dust", and it would seem Moonwagon are off to the races. But from track 4 on, they put on the breaks and the focus is more on melody and atmosphere, rather than rhythms and pyrotechnics. I think I prefer the former style, but it will be interesting to see where Moonwagon goes from here.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Presence

Moonwagon - Night Dust. 2011 Finland

Moonwagon are yet another instrumental band from Finland that was smitten with the Ozric Tentacles sound, similar to Hidria Spacefolk, Taipuva Luotisuora, and Dasputnik. So where does Moonwagon fit in all of this? Beyond the usual guitar rave-ups and hyper rhythms, Moonwagon offer five distinct qualities that endear them to my tastes, at the very least: A concentration on melody; bluesy electric guitar solos; copious use of acoustic guitar; spatial keyboards/synthesizers (including some fat analog sounds); and a thick / woody bass guitar that drives the music forward. Music like this is timeless: Complex, memorable, energetic, and heck of a lot of fun. Can't go wrong here, especially if you're a fan of the prior bands mentioned.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Twilight Works

Gerard - Live in Marseille/Battle Triangle. 1998 Japan

Gerard had 7 studio albums prior to this, their first live album. All the tracks have been culled from their studio recordings, and there's an additional cover of a Banco del Mutuo Soccorso composition from Darwin. Generally live albums bore me, as they're nothing but a run-through of the studio material, but recorded in front of a live audience. That's not the case here. First of all, it's just the keyboard trio. As such, no vocals or guitars are present. Rather it's a non-stop blitzkrieg of Hammond fueled* instrumental workouts with fuzz bass and hyperactive drumming - and where each track has been turned up to "11". The album is just relentless in its intensity. Those looking for color or nuance will need to skip right over this one. Imagine the 1970 UK group Aardvark on a non-stop bender without vocals. Not for the fainthearted.

*This is absolutely the sound they obtain, but in reading the liner notes and the internet, it appears all the keyboards used were modern day Korg synthesizers run through Leslie pedals. If only other contemporary bands had adopted such a thick and meaty sound!

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Made in Japan

The first scan is the MIJ release and the second is from Musea. The album is titled Live in Marseille, subtitled Battle Triangle, and further it says "Ltd. Edition for Fan Club", as the indigenous release features one short bonus piece called 'Revenge', which sounds just as great as everything else on the album.

Wobbler - From Silence to Somewhere. 2017 Norway

For any number of legitimate reasons I can lay out, it wasn't until November that I heard my first new album of 2017. And that one album was Wobbler's 4th opus From Silence to Somewhere. But what a way to ring in the new year! 11 months belated perhaps, but it doesn't matter because I can say with a certain amount of confidence this will be album of the year for me. It's currently in the running for album of the decade. Of course not everyone will agree to such an assessment, but as I write this, it maintains the top spot on Gnosis, ProgArchives, and RYM (for the style progressive rock that is - only #42 overall, but impressive all the same). For the same reasons Anglagard finds themselves under the bus on occasion, so will Wobbler: It's an old sound brought forth. Oh my though - we're talking an album that goes toe to toe with the best of 1972. From Silence to Somewhere is Wobbler living up to their potential - and then some. I've been a fan since Hinterland first hit the shelves, and had no problem with its, and successor/predecessor Afterglow, obvious Anglagard/Sinkadus worship. Wobbler took an odd turn on Rites of Dawn, circling The Yes Album wagon and draining it completely of all its assets. Though one can't blame the band for taking advantage of Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo's strong resemblance to Jon Anderson.

But what of From Silence to Somewhere? Well it's pretty much progressive rock perfection, that's what. I've stated this phrase before, but it bears repeating: If you find yourself not enjoying this album, then it's time to reassess your love of classic progressive rock. At a bare minimum I can say this as a matter of fact, rather than opinion: This is what I look for when hearing progressive rock. At this stage of my life, it's rare I want to hear an album more than 2 times straight before moving on to the next one in the stack. With From Silence to Somewhere, it's all I wanted to hear for days on end. I came back to it in the same way I would revisit Close to the Edge as a young teenager. Each time the album would reveal more about itself. Like a John Le Carre novel, it twists and turns in various directions, keeping you guessing even though you already know the outcome. And the sound is so perfect. Thick and wedgy and luscious. You just want to bathe in it.

The 21 minute title track and the closer 'Foxlight' are just merely great. But it's within the depths of the album you find the 2 gems that are lifetime achievements. The moody introspective 'Rendered in Shades of Green' is the definition of a piano and mellotron soaked instrumental. The melancholic feel of a misty windswept Scottish countryside. Then blasting out of the gates comes the piece de resistance 'Fermented Hours' sounding every bit like Il Balletto di Bronzo tackling 'Gates of Delirium'. Every metal band worth their leather strap would love to create this kind of intensity, and yet it's done through an obvious progressive rock lens. Breathtaking.

After the album is finished, there's only one thing left to do. Hit Play again. And again.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Karisma

Agusa - s/t. 2017 Sweden

Agusa is back with their 3rd instrumental studio release, and continue on with their unique take on the 1973 Swedish landscape. No change in style, but the execution continues to accelerate in a  positive way. The songwriting is memorable, and the instrumentals more kinetic than even before. It's as if the Silence label just released the next Flasket Brinner album. The usual instrumentation of organ, psychedelic guitar, and flute continue to drive Agusa's sound. To my ears, this is Agusa's best album to date. It's a much welcome style, and one that isn't over copied. I can listen to this kind of music all day. Brilliant really.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Laser's Edge (USA)

Malady - s/t. 2015 Finland

One of the common complaints I often hear regarding the "retro prog" movement is that the various bands that attempt it either 1) use new instrumentation to emulate old sounds or 2) use newer production techniques, even if the instrumentation is authentic. I have no such qualms, but for those where 1) and 2) are a problem, then Malady is the remedy for your... (cough) malady. Hammond organ, flute, loud acid guitar, woody bass, vocals in Finnish... you know the drill by now.  This is an album that sounds like it was recorded and released in 1973. If groups with names like Tasavallan Presidentti, Kalevala, Nimbus, and Fantasia get your heart started, well then, do I have an album for you...

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Svart

Sideline - Sidesteps. 1979 Germany

The music on Sideline is a bit edgier and more melodic than your standard late 70s/early 80's breezy Kraut Fusion album. And it sounds like it was recorded a few years earlier when jazz musicians were still exploring the exciting possibilities of rock. Violin, as would be expected from a leader, is the dominant instrument (though the music is all composed by guitarist Hugo Vogel). Sometimes electric violin can be too flashy (Jean-Luc Ponty) or too hoedown like the Appalachian Americana influenced bands. Here the sound, style, and playing by Koehler is just perfect. If I had a preference though, I would have preferred the guitarist to go beyond the electric jazz tone here. If only he'd let 'er rip psychedelic style (as the violin will on occasion), then this album would've jumped a full 2 Gnosis points.

Interesting to note that the cover and spine credit the release as 7005, but the label itself says 7006. No legit reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

I sold my LP in January 2018. Couldn't justify keeping it for the price obtained.

Third Eye - s/t. 1976 Netherlands-Germany

On the surface, Third Eye would seem to be a typical mid to late 1970s kraut fusion album, of which there are dozens. That is, until you hear the mellotron being played like a flutist would play his solo (just check out 'Sound Circle' as an example)! It's really odd to hear this traditional symphonic prog / electronik musik instrument used in this context. As if Tangerine Dream, circa Phaedra, played the piano lounge at some swanky hotel. For this alone, Third Eye is worth seeking out. There's also a classically inspired romantic piece, cocktail piano, a drum solo, typical fusion runs. A somewhat bizarre mix, but quite good all the same.

No legit reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

I sold my LP in January 2018. Couldn't justify keeping it for the price obtained.

Andre Fertier - Clivage. 1977 France

Clivage is Andre Fertier's debut album. Here you will discover a very fine Indo Jazz album. Long spells of both Indian ragas (hand percussion and stringed instruments) and pure jazz with extended saxophone soloing, along with stand up bass. The copious violin use recalls L. Subramanian's works in a similar jazz setting. While I enjoyed Fertier's sophomore effort Mixtus Orbis a bit more, I do find the debut to be one of the better albums in the style it emulates.

Concerning the title - Regina Astris is a later appellation that was applied to the reissue after Mixtus Orbis had been released. Technically this is not a Clivage album, but rather it was released as a solo under Fertier's name.

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Gratte-Ciel

I do own the original which does not have the title Regina Astris. No legit reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Alcatraz - Live: Trockeneis zum Frühstück. 1980 Germany

Alcatraz were always an interesting lot, never staying in one musical place too long. By the time of this live album, the band had released a Krautrock classic (Vampire State Building) and a politrock album. So naturally this is a jazz fusion work... All new material, it is in effect a brand new studio release and the recording is stellar. Perhaps most extraordinary is how adept Alcatraz are at the style. Though it must be said that Vampire State Building had jazz qualities, it was nowhere near this obvious. There are two standout leads here: Rainier Hansen on sax and flute - and steady member Klaus Holst on guitar. Hansen, in general, has a very pleasing tone concerning his saxophone with a bit of the psychedelic similar to Xhol Caravan would deploy on occasion. At times he gets a little too loose, but pulls back just at the moment of annoyance. His flute playing is exemplary throughout. Best of all though is Holst, who apparently was completely unaware of any musical trends since 1971. You will have to look long and hard in 1980 for the kind of fiery psychedelic leads he lays down. It's really extraordinary, and reminds me of the second Moira album concerning the out-of-its-time sound. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a modern retro band that "gets it" like Holst does here. The songs are all well written and melodic and not just exercises in solo jamming. The latter enhances the former that is to say.

The cover itself is telling. While the band is sitting in the kitchen enjoying a meal of ice(?), there are albums perched up against the wall. Among them include Soft Machine Third, Bitches Brew, and Hendrix's Axis' Bold as Love. And there you have it.

A great album that is still largely unknown due to a lack of any quality reissue (limited edition home computer pressings of 20 CD-R's are not quality reissues).

Personal collection
LP: 1980 private

No legit reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

Andreas Aarflot - Det Rivna Pianot. 1978 Sweden

Andreas Aarflot's sole album is like a direct cross between National Health and Quebec's Contraction. Though the female vocals are in Swedish, the delivery is similar to Contraction's French. Meanwhile the music maintains a strong Canterbury structure, including some familiar melody lines. On Det Rivna Pianot you'll encounter a classical component (pipe organ, strings), sweet female vocals sung in Swedish, and wonderful flute solos. The album breaks down a bit on side 2, before gathering itself on the finale. Aarflot appeared to be quite the talent, and yet he pretty much disappeared without a trace after this. Too bad, as his one album is excellent.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Manifest

No legit reissues exist as I update this post from the CDRWL (with a fresh listen).

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...