THE MOOR – YEAR OF THE HUNGER

Out now on Lion Music

Following on from a 5 track EP released at the turn of the year, Italian metal outfit The Moor return for their full blown debut album and quite impressive it is too.

Possessing a sound a little left field for Lion Music this is still progressive metal but with a more organic texture yet with hints of death metal, doom, folk and 70s influences.  At its heaviest it reminds me a little of Opeth (who wrote the track from whom the band take their name) and at its more sedate Porcupine Tree or indeed labelmates Waterclime.  This has an original sound to it though.

Vocalist/guitarist Enrico Longhin delivers a vocal that is quite original (none of your LaBrie style wailings here) whilst the musicianship is first rate yet avoids all out shred, preferring to place emphasis on grooves and textures, once again the word organic comes into play, yet the band can riff with the best of them on the likes of “Liquid Memories”.

Over Year Of The Hunger is a fine mature sounding debut suggesting the band have a bright future ahead, well worth checking out.

Rating – 90%

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VARGTON PROJEKT – PROGXPRIMETAL

Out now on Lion Music

Vargton Projekt are an amalgamation of some of Sweden’s finest musical talent in guitarist Mats Hedberg, drummer Morgan Agren (Frank Zappa)and vocalist Bjorn Jansson (Ride The Sky / Tears Of Anger).

The debut album ‘ProgXpriMetal’ is an eclectic collection of material that was originally based around instrumental only origins, yet the thought to have Jansson’s distinctive vocals came as an afterthought.  As the vocal tracks don’t follow a normal set song structure, but serve up something free of restraint, and more about musical expression, something the album is brimming with.

Pretty much on every track there is something to absorb on repeated spins, and this isn’t a track that will win over the casual listener right away. But, there is an element of discovery that is often more rewarding with each passing listen and fans of progressive music from across the genres many styles will find much to enjoy.

Highlights to these ears come in ‘Jaipur’, the 3 part  ‘Birka Trilogy’ (with part 3 seeing a fast fret melting solo battle between Hedberg and lion label head Lars Eric Mattsson) and the slower tempo ‘Lvorna’ which it shades of fusion and classical prog sound.

Amongst the trio of musicians there are numerous other musicians that make the whole package an earthly experience, yet it’s the core performances of Hedberg and Agren that deserve the plaudits for their work is quite phenomenal.

If you want an album to see you entertained through the coming dark Autumn and Winter months ‘ProgXpriMetal’ may just be the ticket.  Unique and gifted sums up this release – don’t let the rather bland album cover put you off.

Rating – 90%

HAKEN – AQUARIUS (ARCHIVE)

 

Out now on Sensory Records

Haken are a rarity in that that are a virtuosic progressive rock/ metal band from England, normally us Brits go for stuff much more obvious and trend driven so its nice to be able to assess something from my homeland in one of my favourite genres.  Aquarius is the bands debut release –and as you might expect for a prog band its a 7 track 72 minute, larger than life conceptual sci-fi/fantasy work brought to us by the Sensory label.

Led by the enigmatic vocals of Ross Jennings, the music is heavy coming across as a mix of Vanden Plas and Symphony X in the heavier segments, with the more esoteric instrumental stylings of Transatlantic.  No doubt some critics will want to market the band as a UK Dream Theater but these would be quite wide of the mark to these ears as this features a much more diverse sound, one might say all encompassing with its jazz and fusion leanings in places. 

The opening trio of tracks all clock in over the 10 minute mark each so the band make their prog credententials known right from the off, luckily the music is enjoyable but quite often falls into the ‘where’s the song?’ category.  That said ‘Eternal Rain’ does come close with its more traditional song structure.   A little fine tuning, or perhaps critical appraisal from within the bands ranks of what is really needed in the songs overall would pay dividends if they wish to draw in the more casual listener, but prog fans as a whole should enjoy the barrage of musicality – if not the occasional grunted vocals. ‘Drowning In The Flood’ reminded me somewhat of the music on the Sphere Of Souls debut which is no bad thing either.

Sonically the album is one of the better efforts from the Sensory label of late, being mostly clear and mud free in the mix department – which is essential for maximum enjoyment in this genre.

Overall Haken have come up with a solid debut in ‘Aquarius’ and may just kick start a renaissance of original progressive music in the UK.  A nice start.

Rating -80%

SPOCK’S BEARD – X (REVIEW)

Out Now – Mascot
 
Shamefully I must confess to this being my first airing of Spock’s Beard. This is a band that has always been on my “check out” list but never made it into a shopping cart. So fortunately or not I am approaching the bands tenth album, the imaginatively titled “X”, with virgin fresh ears. Their label Mascot proclaim this as one of the bands best albums to date and I’ll take their word on it and amongst their admirers is none other than former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy.

First of this looks and smells like prog, classy artwork, inventive band name and the sound backs this up. Yet Spock’s Beard come across as the new breed of melodic prog rock with a few heavier moments this is all rather easily digestible and enjoyable – none of your bloated stodgy 70’s prog-isms here. The musicians sure know their way around their instruments yet don’t ram it down our throats at every opportunity. With just 7 songs and running time of over an hour the epic track length is here on the likes of 10 minute opener “Edge Of The Inbetween”, 17 minute “From The Darkness” and 16 minute closer “Jaws Of Heaven” yet there is also more palatable track lengths elsewhere. That said the epics do not have lag and are lovely compositions full stop with lush vocal melodies, strong guitar work and a nice rhythmic interplay all rounded out by a crisp and clear modern production.

With “X” Spock’s Beard appear to be in a very healthy state and I am eager to check out the back catalogue. Recommended for prog rock fans.

Rating – 87%