If you know anything about European prog rock then you'll probably know the name of Roine Stolt he's the guitar/singer/writer of numerous bands including Transatlantic, Anderson/Stolt and more recently The Sea Within, here though he returns to The Flower King moniker that he's always been associated with, he has with him a host of Flower Kings collaborators in the shape of Jones Reingold, Hans Froberg & Michael Stolt, this is not a Flower King's album, if anything it's a Stolt solo album using the sounds that he has always created no matter what project he's been apart of. On Lost America the first 'proper' song brings once again those huge progressive soundscape in a song that moves between floating The Beatles-like psych and big riffing rock music.
Here Stolt takes the lead vocals like he did on the first The Flower Kings album (he's the main lead vocalist for most of the album) but he's backed by many of his buddies with additional musicians being Marco Minnemann, Max Lorentz, Zach Kamins, Rob Townsend & Nad Sylvan all of whom have worked with Stolt on other projects. So it's a menagerie of prog rock musicians making some complicated but brilliantly realised melodic prog music from the buzzing synths that start off the 10 minute plus High Road which builds up into some soaring guitar playing before the triumphant conclusion, to the primal, jazz percussion of Rio Grande, Manifesto Of An Alchemist is 70 minutes of music that incorporates what Roine Stolt has been crafting his entire career, if intelligent progressive music that looks back but stays relevant is your bag then you'll need this album. 8/10
Anneke Van Giersbergen: Symphonized - Live With Residentie Orkest (InsideOut) [Rich]
Anneke Van Giersbergen is easily one of the hardest working singers in music. She has a career spanning 25 years from her tenure fronting The Gathering to her Agua De Annique albums, her solo records to her countless collaborations with artists such as Arjen Lucassen, Devin Townsend and countless other bands. To commemorate those 25 years Anneke performed two shows alongside the prestigious Residentie Orkest The Hague one of the most renowned orchestras in Europe and this is the result a stunningly beautiful live album containing jaw dropping renditions of songs from throughout her career.
Unlike a lot of live albums of this type where you usually have the band playing alongside the orchestra the music is provided solely by the orchestra. Anneke worked alongside artistic director Sven Arne Tepl to create new renditions of her songs and the results absolutely speak for themselves. Material is drawn from her solo albums, The Gathering, VUUR and The Gentle Storm and it sounds simply magnificent. Songs such as Feel Alive, Amity, You WIll Never Change, Freedom - Rio and Shores Of India are elevated to new levels sounding both gentle and intimate and huge and bombastic. Pretty much the entire duration of this live album I have had my arm hairs standing on end. Anneke is easily one of my favourite singers and she sounds simply incredible throughout the album.
This is simply a must hear live album. It will have broad appeal to fans of many genres of music not just rock, metal or classical. The choice of songs is strong and a great representation of Anneke’s 25 year musical career. I hope the shows were filmed as it was be amazing to watch this concert on a DVD or Blu-Ray. 9/10
Jason Becker: Triumphant Hearts (Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group) [Matt]
I'm not a musician, I've said this before, I did used to sing in a metal band, but I know very little about playing an instrument. However having said this I like to think I understand musicians and the story of Jason Becker has always been one that I've followed quite closely. Becker was a child prodigy and rose to prominence as one half of Cacophony with Marty Friedman (who later joined Megadave), he also took over from Steve Vai as David Lee Roth's guitar player in his solo band. Right as his career was on the rise he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, this debilitating illness meant that Becker lost his ability to walk, talk, play the guitar and even breathe on his own. This was 29 years ago and his struggle was documented in the documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet which if you haven't seen it is both heartbreaking and inspirational as even though he has MND he still writes music, communicating through a series of eye movements with a system developed by his father, Jason spells out words as well as musical notes and chords, which in turn are notated by a computer for musicians to play.
So to the album and it's brilliant, Becker's knowledge of classical and orchestral compositions is on display throughout starting with the beautiful title track which has huge string swells from Glauco Bertagnin (violin) and cellist Hiyori Okuda with her husband Friedman contributing guitar playing at the end of this fantastic opening overture showing just how talented Becker is a musician. Friedman is not the only guest as Uli Jon Roth and Chris Broderick on Magic Woman, Joe Satriani and Guthrie Govan on River Of Longing all add their guitar talent along with Becker himself on Once Upon A Melody and We Are One (culled from old Cacophony tracks). it's not string wizards though he's also got the beautiful vocals of Codnay Holiday on the gospel-tinged Hold On To Love, Flypside singer Steve Knight on We Are One along with a Ukulele master and talented session crew bringing these dense cinematic compositions to life, this isn't a fret fest much of the music here is orchestral with the guitar used to embellish but it could be Becker's masterpiece. A thoroughly excellent album for any music fan to enjoy, the performances from everyone involved are at the very top of the class but it's the writing that makes it the fantastic album it really is. This has come late in 2018 but damn it may sneak on to some end of year lists. 9/10
Master's Call: Morbid Black Trinity (Self Released) [Matt]
The debut EP by Master's Call has been conjured up by some of the most experienced members of the extreme metal world. It's blackened death metal at its most ferocious as Shayan (Trivax) barks, growls and snarls his way through the unholy darkness of blistering drum blasts and frenetic tremolo picking all stuck together with the thump of death metal. It's only three tracks long but the vast darkness of this record is clear from the off, the EP "encompasses darkness of faith, body and spirit" and splits this across three excellent tracks. Opening with From Once Beneath The Cursed which tells of the manifestation the hate and evil in the world into a physical embodiment as a groove-infected death metal track.
The EP has great production finish to it and some progressive songwriting that twists these songs into gnarled Satanic death metal. They rally against dogmatic religion on The Spire Cranes which is the straight forward black metal rager Dave Powell and John Wilcox unleashing six string savagery while Adam Trickleback and James Williams unleash (un)holy hell with a pummelling rhythm section. The EP closes with the more gothic stylings of My Eyes Are The Night which is a triumphant way to finish this record, at just three songs it's a brief dalliance with what Master's Call are about but I hope they can conjure this evil again for a long player. 8/10