TesseracT: Sonder (Kscope)
TesseracT are surely one of those bands that defy both expectation and genre boundaries, their music has evolved from the early groove-laden djentisms, they have ridden the wave of ethereal ambient influences to create a sound now that will appeal to wider listenership, on fourth album Sonder they have taken this a step further again by fusing all these elements together for their most complete audio experience yet. It has all of the TesseracT stylistics you’d want with in demand singer Dan Tompkins again showing why he’s probably the best vocalist in the djent/modern prog metal scene at the moment, his ability to switch effortlessly between soaring emotional cleans and rasping but thankfully comprehensible harsh vocals.
As good as Tompkins is (make no mistake he is great behind the mic) he’s just one component of this musical machine with Jay Postones and Amos Williams carving out a rhythm heavy groove for Acle Kahney and James Monteith to both hook onto with riffs but also gives them space to add the atmospherics that have become their trademark. At just 8 tracks long the album is a strong from beginning to end, the shimmering opening of Luminary washes into heaviness juxtaposed by the sweetest vocal on the album and it segues nicely into the atmospheric density of King. The full length songs on the record are split by some electronic instrumentals that serve as both interludes and intros to tracks such as the epic Juno which is the hookiest song on the album. It's followed up by the bristling Beneath My Skin, which can be considered to be the midpoint of the record before the final part just lets you drift as this technical mastery envelops you in it's brilliance. Sonder is the nadir of TesseracT's career and is a must for any fans of heavy based atmospheric music. 9/10
Derek Smalls: Smalls Change - Meditations On Ageing (Twanky Records/BMG)
Derek Smalls AKA Harry Shearer is the bassist of real life fictional band Spinal Tap, possibly the most famous mockumentary film of all time it has been quote ad nauseum by every self-respecting rock fan in history. The film led to the creation of Spinal Tap as an actual real life touring band that has spawned three albums of their own music (as well as numerous records that have never existed) and they even played the Live Earth Concert in London. So with Spinal Tap now officially retired (probably) the erstwhile, cucumber hiding, bass player of The Tap has now released a solo album featuring numerous guest artists some of whom featured on 1992’s Break Like The Wind. These names are not limited to Peter Frampton on the memoir to life on the road It Don’t Get Old, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Larry Carlton Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who play on the familiar sounding Memo To Willie, Dweezil Zappa brings guitar bending to the weirdly metallic MRI.
The two best songs on the record are opener Rock N Roll Transplant which features Steve Lukather, Jim Keltner and Chad Smith and closing progger When Men Did Rock which has Michael League, Joe Satriani and Rick Wakeman. Other folks that make an appearance are Richard Thompson,Waddy Wachtel, Paul Shaffer, Steve Vai, Judith Owen and Jane Lynch but no amount of guest will detract from that the majority of these songs are poor even by Spinal Tap standards, yes they are satirical swipes at ageing rockstars but the vocals are dreadful and most of the songs rely on tired innuendo but it seems a little tame in comparison to the shocking Steel Panther. It seems that the magic of the Tap is when all three original members (and whatever drummer they have at the time) make music together. Not quite a shit sandwich but for completists only. 5/10
Dream The Electric Sleep: The Giants Newground (7Hz Productions)
DTES frontman Matt Page explains where this album came from “Over the years I thought about that album a lot. It haunted me a bit. The album meant so much to me on a personal level but I knew we had to move forward. In the summer of 2017 I realized it had almost been 10 years since that album came to fruition, this would be a great time to revisit the material and put together a 10th year anniversary release. It’s a way for the band to reflect on our origin and share that with all those who have supported us over the last decade.” The Giants Newground can be considered to be DTES’s ‘lost’ album, recorded by the duo of Matt Page and Joey Waters back in 2008, a year before DTES was even realised and it was the first instance of the two writing solely together with Page basing the lyrics around the Appalachian Jack novels that Page’s mother read to him as child.
The overwhelming theme of the album is drifting between one place and the next and that is something that suits the expressive, emotional progressive music that DTES have always been associated with. The record was revisited and they set about re-tracking guitars, bass, vocals, and drums while also mixing them with many of the original takes from 2008. So what does this celebration album sound like? Well it’s like the nucleus of what would grow into DTES when Chris Tackett joined on bass, there are some huge alternative rock riffs that echo the more recent instalments from the Foos but also there are lots of Floydian soundscapes (The River Current) with some Muse dynamism that have come from the DTES sound. A real insight into the men behind DTES before the band even came to fruition, the songs are incredibly well written for a first collaboration and the re-tracking means it’s in keeping the current DTES sound. With a new album due next year this is great celebration of their inception. 8/10
Emerald Sun: Under The Curse Of Silence (Fastball Music)
Emerald Sun play Teutonic sounding fantasy speed metal that is the bread and butter of Helloween but they come from the sunnier climes of Thessaloniki . There’s nothing to ground breaking here, it’s pretty standard speed metal, the production makes the drums tinny and the bass almost nonexistent, except on Blast but as is normal this sort of music is all about the guitars and vocals so they sit high in the mix so Johnnie and Paul can let the their fancy fretwork do the talking, speaking of talking Stelios’ is behind the mic using the raspier sounds of Deris rather than the constant highs of Kiske but with the music written at the heavier end with keys able to worm their way in it all works well.
Kill Or Be Killed is a pretty tough opening and much of the record is listenable with some tracks like Rebel Soul and Slaves To Addiction two of the better offerings. On the other hand there are a few low points that will drag it down, Carry On doesn't really go anywhere and Journey Of Life is an appalling ballad. Until some of the big hitters of the power metal genre start releasing later this year Under The Curse Of Silence will tide you over. Although the less said about the cover of Irene Cara's Fame the better! 7/10