The Omnific, Escapades (Wild Thing Records 2021)

The Omnific lays out an amazing array of heavy instrumental prog on Escapades.

The Australian trio The Omnific is Matthew Fackrell (bass), Toby Peterson-Stewart (bass), and Jerome Lematua (drums). That’s right. Two bass players. I’ve been saying for years, “You know what you never see? Two basses in a band.” I am going to have to retire that one from my altered-state repertoire. They play instrumental progressive music across a range of styles from metal to rock to jazz and pretty much everything around and in between.

Expect the unexpected. Seriously. The bass lines are breathtaking; sometimes difficult to believe they are real. I love Les Claypool and he is clearly one of the best, most accomplished bassist in the history of modern rock – I bet Les would on board with these constructions and also be impressed.

In every style that emerges, the progressive lines elbow in and, rather than overpowering the demonstrated course, they join with it to create a synergistic time-lapse garden of music. The sharp pops of the bass, heavy syncopation, and a pulsing, turbulent energy are massively compelling forces.

And then there are songs like “Dwam” that are soft, melodic, beautifully enchanting. “Ne Plus Ultra” could be the soundtrack to a roving spaceship that may or may not be lost in the farthest reaches of the universe. The possibilities undulate with an aura limitlessness.

The closer is “Posterity.” When I think of the title to mean all and everything that comes next, the music fits right in. The lyricism of the keys seem at first to be in contrast with the punchiness of the rhythm, but as with the other pieces it all flows together and, while I wouldn’t call it linear, it does coalesce into meaning that is at once obvious and profound. Recommended.

Escapades is out on Friday, October 8th and can be picked up at Wild Thing Records or Bandcamp.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://theomnific.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/theomnific

Wild Thing Records, https://www.wildthingrecords.com/collections/the-omnific

The Omnific, Escapades (Wild Thing Records 2021)

Boss Keloid, Family The Smiling Thrush (Ripple Music 2021)

The soundscape presented by the new Boss Keloid album Family The Smiling Thrush rivals the stirring of primordial oceans.

Going back more than ten years, Boss Keloid has been creating some of the most interesting and sweepingly original heavy music on the planet. They have a way of translating musical complexity and quirkiness into a common language that everyone can hear. The band is Paul Swarbrick (guitar), Alex Hurst (vocals and guitar), Ste Arands (drums), and Liam Pendlebury-Green (bass).

Sometimes sounding a bit like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer while at other times moving more in a Zappa vein and then suddenly shouldering a hard turn into the inexplicable, Boss Keloid’s music cannot be predicted. Family The Smiling Thrush opens with the nine minute track “Orang of Noyn.” The song defies succinct description. Heavy prog rock is a functional label but it leaves a lot out. The music takes you over and you quickly lose track of how long you have been listening. If another song hadn’t started after, I am not sure how long it would have taken me to realize the first track had ended.

“Gentle Clovis” is up second and it has a reassuring anthropological feel to it. You get transported back to the 1970s with the keys and guitars in the lines, riffs, and echoes. There is a battering drama at the end that is entirely appropriate and it runs right on into the next piece, “Hats The Mandrill.” If you are not feeling the scope of the musical vision at this point then you should start the album over and try again because by now it should entirely surround you.

There are builds big and small throughout, all of them engaging, and welcoming and demanding, too, simultaneously. I was particularly swept up by the pair “Smiling Thrush” and “Cecil Succulent.” I suspect that the experience will land differently for individuals and yet still I wager there will be places you are drawn to, no matter how much you like the work in its entirety. There will be a part that takes hold of you and finds something to fulfill you didn’t even know was wanting. The album is elemental. Recommended.

This one is out tomorrow. Some of the limiteds have already flown, but you can still get physicals through Bandcamp or Ripple Music, and the digital is there, too.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://bosskeloid.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/bosskeloidband

Ripple Music, https://www.ripple-music.com/

Boss Keloid, Family The Smiling Thrush (Ripple Music 2021)

Vokonis, Odyssey (The Sign Records 2021)

Sweden’s Vokonis has created a progressive rock/metal album designed to push out against borders and boundaries and exist in that expanded space.

With three previous full-length albums stretching back only to 2016, Vokonis seems to be on a mission. The earlier music was more in the stoner/doom lane (it seemed to me) and the newer work is heading toward the prog. That is a touchy transition that Vokonis has managed effectively. The band is Simon Ohlsson (guitar, vocals), Jonte Johansson (bass, vocals), and Peter Ottosson (drums), with Per Wiberg on keyboards for this album.

I always look first for the longer songs because I appreciate the necessary complexity and endurance required for an extended composition. There are six tracks on Odyssey, half at radio length and half tending toward the epic frame. “Rebellion,” then, is an opening shorter piece that sets up the nine-minute title track that follows. The clear vocals allow for straight-forward narrative delivery atop the keyboard beds and pulsing guitar riffs. “Odyssey” is a big story and it is beautifully imagined. Listening to the guitar diversions and occasional gruffing vocalizations you realize they are the milestones that mark the way and that will spark memories on re-listening.

“Blackened Wings” and “Azure” are shorter, up-tempo skirmishes that liven up the set and add a couple of my favorite breakaway moments. It is “Hollow Waters” that stands out most to me for the way it combines elegance and power so seamlessly and effectively. The closing track is the longest, “Through The Depths,” and I see it simultaneously as a culmination and a retelling of what has come before – it is filled with ambitious ideas and soaring moments; peppered with lyrical stopovers as well as truculent byways. For fans of the band and fans of transitional prog, this is an album you will want to hear. Recommended.

Odyssey is out now in all its myriad realities and tangential essences. Bandcamp is a good place to start looking over the choices.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://vokonis.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/OfficialVokonis

The Sign Records, https://thesignrecords.bandcamp.com/

Vokonis, Odyssey (The Sign Records 2021)

Odd Circus, Mantha (Good Idea Music 2021)

Free-form improvisation is the orifice through which the music expands into creation on the new album from Odd Circus.

The band describes its music this way. “Forged in improvisation, the band’s music navigates a boundary-less sonic landscape that embraces the unknown and welcomes the bizarre. The result is an experimental style of psychedelic art-rock that weaves its way into garage, fusion, krautrock, no wave, post-rock, noise, hard psych, and sci-fi prog.” The musicians are Graham Robertson (saxophones and effects), Partin Whitaker (drums), Crews Carter (bass and effects)

If this music comes from live free-form improvisation then color me amazed. The notes read that the set is compiled from this process, so maybe they worked in the form and captured the lasting bits for the album. Whatever the process, the creativity is a boundless expansion that takes no time to consider what is possible.

With drums, saxophone, and bass, enhanced with “effects,” the fullness of these instrumental pieces is a marvel. It is heavy and driving and up-tempo for the most part, splashed and slammed with surprises. When the music slows a touch or quietens for a while, an eerie sensibility takes over that complements the pulsing urgency of the other passages. Progressive post-rock, we could call it, and with the saxophone you can’t take your finger off the jazz button either, but if it is jazz, its dark.

Each piece flows into the next, and still they all have their own perspectives and outcomes. The titles of the tracks are named after mythical entities like “Djinn” and “Dybbuk” and “Wendigo,” providing the perfect launch for the musical explorations.

Pushing aside predilections, the music on this EP will find its way into your psyche. It will be an altered state experience for the heavy music crowd, and we could all use that now and again. Recommended.

Mantha drops on Friday, April 2nd. Bandcamp is your best bet for a hook-up in the US.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://oddcircus.bandcamp.com/album/mantha

Website, https://www.oddcircus.net/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/OddCircus

Odd Circus, Mantha (Good Idea Music 2021)

Scaphoid, Absent Passages review (Shunu Records 2020)

The first full-length album from Scaphoid is a straight-forward exposition of instrumental guitar fervor.

Scaphoid is Matt Hobart, an Austin, Texas musician who is a one man orchestra. In late 2016 he released a 25-minute EP (Dies Mercurii) under the Scaphoid name and since then has been quiet on that front. Absent Passages is a long awaited and very welcome return.

My earliest exposure to instrumental rock/metal guitar music was Frank Zappa and Shut Up ’N Play Your Guitar (1981). What an eye-opener that was. That album (3 LP set) was a collection of individual pieces Zappa had played from many different places, so it didn’t have a cohesiveness that a planned instrumental album would have. I heard that for the first time in Surfing with the Alien (1987) by Joe Satriani. Since then, for more than thirty years now, I have been constantly on the lookout for high quality instrumental rock guitar. I just found another one.

The single off the album is “Marauder,” and it leads off with a “let’s get acquainted” easiness. The Prog starts to pop at about the one minute mark, and the music takes off from there. When the lead appears, we know we are out of the parking lot and on the road. The style is matter-of-fact, the tone is establishing. Throughout the set ideas and emotions emerge and evolve, as with the very next song, “Shores of Ruin,” that moves the needle from the opener, then has some of its themes reëmerge later in songs like “Celestial Ego.” There is a direction, a trajectory that winds past many wonders but keeps heading for the destination. The closing number is “Infrastricken,” a fourteen minute mini-epic that might just be that destination we saw on the horizon or it could also be a launching pad for whatever comes next. The guitar work by this point has gone through many manifestations and takes, yet there is still more. The creativity and exploration of this final element of Absent Passages is an elegant summary and conclusion to the collection of songs, and could also easily be a stand-alone EP. High regards. Recommended.

On Friday, October 9th you can lay your head back and let the music seep in. Shunu Records and Bandcamp have the goods at the links below.

Links.

Scaphoid Bandcamp, https://scaphoid.bandcamp.com

Scaphoid Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/scaphoidmusic

Shunu Records, http://www.shunurecords.com

Scaphoid, Absent Passages review (Shunu Records 2020)

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

German/Swiss/Swedish ensemble The Ocean (Collective) is back with the sequel to the renowned Phanerozoic (2018) album, part two of a paleontology concept work.

Robin Staps is the driving force in The Ocean ensemble/collective. As the principal guitarist and composer, Staps orders the ideas and molds them into the expression we hear. Of course, Staps did have an outline with for this long concept: the most recent 541 million years of the geologic history of the earth. It might seem like a big story, and it is, but The Ocean got their arms around it.

The album is broken into two parts, “Mesozoic,” which is covered in the first two tracks, and “Cenozoic,” the last six tracks. There is an extraordinarily detailed description available about the meaning of each passage, so you can check that out by doing a quick web search. In the context of this short review I will concentrate on what the music sounds like.

The first part is two long songs, together running about twenty two minutes. They begin with a solo, echoing acoustic guitar and ethereal synth passages. Very quickly the music turns upbeat, adding instruments and active assertions. At times like this, the music has a Tangerine Dream feel to it – that might be a good baseline to start thinking about this music. A melodic voice tells us part of the story, and for some time this is fairly quiet Prog Rock. Big guitar riffs crash in here and there, and coarse vocal instantiations now and then. There is a lot going on here and the musicians have 22 minutes to work with, so sit back and enjoy. As with much of the music in this lane, dramatic extremes are exhibited. The guitar leads are somewhat reminiscent of Camel on the Mirage album here and there, and that is very appealing. Excellent vision and execution.

The second part of the album is comprised of six shorter songs, each in the four minute range with the final two being a bit longer. This section seems more linear than the first, but that could be due to the deliberate segmenting of the musical passages into smaller bits. Indeed, the first song, “Palaeocene,” sounds almost like a radio cut, with fan-pleasing guitars and aggressive but digestible vocals, and the second track is almost a ballad. “Pleistocene” starts out humble but turns into an all-out Death Metal assault before it is over. The closer, “Holocene,” has a comfortable desert vibe to it and eases us out in a perfect cooldown. There is a lot to take in with the second part, too, so give yourself some headspace.

Look to Metal Blade Records for the CD and digital (through Bandcamp) and to Pelagic Records for the vinyl of Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic on September 25. The Bandcamp digital download has the complete album in an instrumental version included with it, which is an excellent alternate way to experience the music. If you are up for the challenge, Prog and Post-Metal live in this album. Recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/theoceancollective

https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords/b/the-ocean

https://theocean.bandcamp.com/

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook is the new name for the band previously known as Witch Hazel (not Wytch Hazel from the UK), and they have a new album out: Magick & Mischief.

As Witch Hazel, the band released three albums. The style of those is similar to what you hear on the new one, but a little murkier in tone. Two of the earlier albums, Otherworldly (2018) and Forsaken Remedies (2012), are on Spotify and are definitely worth checking out. The band for the new release as Spellbook is Nate Tyson (vocals), Andy Craven (guitar), Selbert Lowe, Jr. (bass), and Nicholas Zinn (drums).

The music on Magick & Mischief has a foot planted firmly in the early 1980s. Back then I was listening to bands like Omen and their amazing Battle Cry album from 1984, and Fates Warning’s occult masterpiece Night on the Brocken (also from 1984). Demon, too, from 1981, with their poppier take on the subject, Night of the Demon. Memories of all these bands cascade over me listening to the new Spellbook. The 2020 take on this style of metal cast refreshing glances toward unlikely corners of music and combines creative ideas that make this music genuinely new even as it creates pristine nostalgic flashes.

The first song on the album is “Wands To The Sky,” the title leaving no question in the listener’s mind about the subject. A jazzy drum roll folds into a stabbing prog-like rock guitar set-up, followed by the distinctive retro vocals. Homage riffs can be heard here and in “Black Shadow” – that is part of the appeal. “Ominous Skies” leads in with a challenging bass line, and “Not Long For This World” presents a doom throng as its introduction. There is a magic theme here, an occult perspective, and yet also sprinkled in are songs like “Motorcade” and the big closer, “Dead Detectives,” which are surprises. The first three minutes of the latter has the same kind of feel as Side One of Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love – if you don’t know what I am talking about, take twenty minutes and go listen to the first four songs of that old AC classic on Spotify. Spellbook shifts into a steady rock vamp in the second part of the 11+ minute opus, segue to a voiceover to further the narrative, some more rock, finally fading out on a rainy street. It is like going to a Broadway show, and it is a strange yet compelling way to tie up the threads of the album.

Out on September 25, digital, CD, and vinyl versions of Magick & Mischief can be had from Cruz Del Sur Music through Bandcamp and others. A heads up that the track “Amulet” appears to be different on the LP compared to the other versions. Completists take note.

Links.

https://spellbookband.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.facebook.com/spellbookband/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)