Like pretty much everyone else, I’ve struggled with 2020 in one way of another. In many ways, that struggle has manifested itself in the pile of albums I either started to review and failed to finish, or simply stared at with every intention of doing them, but never quite getting there.
I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks trying to make up for lost time.
City of Souls, Synaesthesia (Independent). This may not be the best debut album of all time, but it could one day find itself seriously in the conversation. Hailing from New Zealand, City of Souls was forced to endure an endless series of stops and starts before their album was able to see the light of day. In the end, it was worth the wait, for this is as good as melodic metal gets. The band slips right around the cliches associated with de-tuned guitars and bombastic rhythms to create four sides of sing-along heavy. Perhaps in time we will see how well this translates to the live stage. Chances are, it will work very well.
Porcupine Tree, In Absentia Deluxe Box Set (Kscope). Steven Wilson may be music’s greatest revisionist. With this box set, we are transported back to 2002 and the record that elevated Porcupine Tree from a (mostly) one-man experimental project to prog metal darlings, thanks to the additional talents of Richard Barbieri (keyboards), Colin Edwin (bass), and Gavin Harrison (drums). The new box offers a stereo remaster and 5.1 surround remix, along with discs of demos and bonus material. Combined with an also included documentary, we get a good look at how this music both came together and spelled the beginning of the end for Wilson’s vision of Porcupine Tree. Fans will be in paradise, while newcomers will find they have entered a fascinating new realm.
Rick Wakeman, The Red Planet (Madfish Music). When it comes to keyboard legend Rick Wakeman, what you see is pretty much what you get. So while it may sound negative to say there are no surprises on his latest solo excursion, rest assured his fans could not possibly be happier. In every tune, Wakeman reminds us of what made him one of prog’s standard bearers. His sound, whether subtle or epic, repeatedly takes listeners right where they’re dying to go. In this instance, predictability is reliability.
Stick Men, OWARI (MoonJune). A glorious testament to what could have been. While Tony Levin (Chapman Stick), Markus Reuter (U8 Touch Guitar), and Pat Mastelotto (drums and percussion) are more than capable of tearing through their original compositions and Prog rock classics on their own, their decisions to add a “designated fourth member” from time to time have proven most fruitful. In this case, it was prog legend Gary Husband on keyboards. The band was scheduled to tour parts of Asia earlier this year. Unfortunately, they were only able to play one show because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Lucky for us, that show (recorded in Nagoya, Japan) was recorded. The core band did what it does best: burning through challenging numbers with passion and precision. They also incorporate Husband’s sound into the mix like he had been there from Day One. OWARI translates from Japanese to English as “the end.” Here’s hoping that’s not true, where this band is concerned. Until then, we have evidence of unlimited potential.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell
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