Dukes Of The Orient: S/T (Frontiers Records)
Firstly can I just say that the band name is very clever if you know the membership of this band. Made up of American Erik Norlander (Lana Lane) and Englishman John Payne (Asia, GPS) the band is essentially John Payne's Asia under a new name. Payne formed his own version of Asia after Geoff Downes went on to reform the original line up of the band with the the recently and sadly deceased John Wetton on vocals and bass, it was the respect for Wetton and to avoid confusion with Downes version that resulted in the name change.
Payne's version of the group saw him on vocals and bass, Norlander on keys, Guthrie Govan on guitar and Jay Schellen on drums, both of whom featured in Payne's other band GPS, who still have one of my favourite Prog/AOR albums ever and both of whom contribute to this album as well along with guest guitarists Jeff Kollman, Moni Scaria and Bruce Bouillet (all three having replaced Govan in Payne's Asia) with Molly Rodgers providing strings.
So with GPS's album being a favourite of mine, Dukes Of Orient could either be brilliant or terrible, happily the former is the overwhelming feeling, it's a record full of shimmering West-Coast AOR but with 70's progressive changes driven by the beautiful soundscapes of Norlander and Payne's emotion inducing vocals, Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All for you non Latin speakers) is Payne giving it everything he's got on a piece that could be a hymn such is the phrasing and composition of the song, elsewhere Time Waits For No Man has the pulsing pop styling of Asia and Strange Days is dripping with prog.
When I played the album I was really impressed with the production and then after reading the notes around the album I saw that it had been recorded on analogue equipment and produced to audiophile standards, this brings a natural clarity to the record making sound as if pro tools never happened, add to this a cover designed by Rodney Matthews, Dukes Of The Orient is a retro feast for anyone that picked up the 1992 record Aqua (the first Asia album with Payne) or of course those that had been on the AOR/Prog train since they first heard Heat Of The Moment. With a plethora of homemade synths, the bass and vocals of Payne at the forefront and a record that balances both Englishness and Americanisms with deft hand and virtuoso performances. 9/10
Revertigo: S/T (Frontiers Records)
The second review of a Frontiers collab and this time it's 30 year friends Mats Levén (Candlemass) and Anders Wikström (Treat), together they've written a record that has some modern rock influences and lots of chunky melodic rock that of course sounds like Treat but also Eclipse, Pretty Maids and some of the more recent Avantasia music. Everything is so bold on this record with orchestrations, walls of guitars and Leven's gritty vocals at their peak. Sailing Stones gallops like prime Stallion, Symphony Of Fallen brings a electronic pulse, these two men play all the instruments other than the drums of Thomas Broman and they have made sure this collaboration is an artist expression of their two personalities, it's sometimes political, romantic and cinematic but it doesn't let you get too settled in to a certain style before changing the formula. A fist pumping rock record 30 years in the making and these two Swede's have struck melodic rock dynamite, it's not a reinvention of the wheel just a couple of friends doing what they do best. 7/10
Deathbell: With The Beyond (Self Released)
Are you ready for 37 minutes of France based doom metal? Good job Deathbell have released their debut album then. Like Welsh act Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard they are a slow, sludgy, ominous sounding metal band with the lowest rumbling fuzz drenched riffs possible, a track like They Still Wander has a repeating hypnotic riff as the trio of Bastien Commelongue (guitars/keys), Valentin Troï (bass) and Robin Draye (drums) beat out the aural abuse that will make you bang your head, slowly and deliberately. Due to the title track that opens the record you'd think that it was an instrumental record but the ethereal, mesmeric vocals of Lauren Gaynor (vocals & keys) creep in on Emerald Eyes Shine and remain there for the rest of the album adding a ghostly component to the record. With The Beyond is a pretty confident first shot from Deathbell occult fuzz that bludgeons you with noise and that's always a good thing. 7/10
The Dystopian Project: Paradigm (Self Released)
One that got away from last year The Dystopian Project are a Dublin based rock band with a lot of scope, this EP is far beyond what a lot of bands are producing at the moment, the multi-tracked cinematic quality of this music is very good indeed, it's progressive, ambitious and has wonderful vocals harmonies between the three singers Hytham Martin (vocals/guitar), Ivan O'Sullivan (vocals/bass) and Tess Olivia (vocals-who left after the record being replaced by Vonna Nolan and now Steph Butler). The beautiful layering of the vocals and substantial musical palette make this band stand out, they really add that extra sense of magic to the already haunting soundscapes, that are fortified by guest keyboards from Ewen Ferguson and the sound design of Raych V. Corcoran.
There's a measured approach to these songs nothing gets too over the top as is sometimes the case with prog, but with the simplicity comes the mastery, Paradigm envelopes you in deceptively complicated music. There's crunch from Hytham and Phil Dolan (guitar) and heavy groove from Ivan and Darrin Bell (drums) which anchor the more ambient textures of the record even when Dolan is shredding away like on The Cranberries sounding Death Leaves An Echo it's to fit in with the narrative of the song not to detract from it. At just four songs long you may think that this is a short EP with two tracks clocking in at over 7 minutes and the final song a full suite piece at over 19 minutes which ebbs and flows revealing beautiful musical journey it's difficult to call The Dystopian Project anything other than epic in every sense of the word.
Why I missed this record I don't know, it's astounding how good it is considering it's the band's sophomore release, for a band called The Dystopian Project I see a nothing to fear in their future, this what they can do now, imagine what they will do then. 9/10