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  • ""It has happened to me twice here in 2009. You stumble upon a band that you have never heard of which totally blows you away. The first time was with the band Anima Mundi out of Cuba. Now, it has happened a second time.From Germany comes the band AtmOsfear with their third release called Zenith. After hearing this one, I am now they have me on a mad search for their past two discs. I cannot believe that they have been ignored by the prog metal world if the past music is as good as this album. Any fan of groups such as Dream Theater, Symphony X or Evergrey whom they have shared a stage with, are in for a treat that is the equal of any of these bands.The disc kind of lulls you in with the short instrumental intro titled "Beginnings". Aptly titled as this is only the start of what is about to fill your senses. The five remaining songs fill the remaining 70 minutes of music and it culminates in the almost 30 minute epic "Spiral Of Pain". Along the way you are treated to a group of five musicians that can hold their own with anyone you would like to name. Stephan Kruse on keyboards, vocalist Oliver Wulff, bassist Burkhart Heberle along with drummer Tim Schnabel and guitarist Boris Stepanow form one of the most dynamic group of musicians ever assembled. They seem to draw off each other and interweave their individual talents into one of the best musical offerings of 2009 or any year for that matter.When music has the power to make you stop what you are doing and listen then you know you have something special. As the very metal opening to "Loss Of Hope" hit me I perked up the ears. When the vocals started, I knew this was no run of the mill offering. Then as the band swelled to their full magnitude, I was completely absorbed. Who are these guys? It is still amazing that music of this caliber can fly under the radar for this long. All you have to do is listen to the exchange between the keyboards and guitars during the extended instrumental section of this song and you will become a fan without a doubt. These guys are the real deal.I have been trying to think of what I can tell you are the highlights of this disc. Well it could be the terrific instrumental piece "Reawakening" with its powerful piano that sets a mood that the guitar plays off of so well, or it may be the enthralling "Generations" which is a roller coaster ride of sound. Then there is the edgy "Scum Of Society" which shows that they are as powerful lyrically as they are musically. Of course all this is setting you up for the epic "Spiral Of Pain" where they take you on a 30 minute quest for musical perfection. They leave nothing on the table as this vast work captures all that we prog metal lovers dream of. Intoxicating from beginning to end this is a classic piece of art. Where Michelangelo used many different mediums to project his art, AtmOsfear similarly uses many different musical approaches to convey their message, melancholy when called for, melodic where needed, brooding and harsh as the story calls for and totally mesmerizing throughout.This is a must have disc. For anyone who has a love of great music this is one that needs to be given a chance. You will not be disappointed." - Sea Of Tranquility
    $3.00
  • "Despite what the name might lead you to think, progressive metal is among the most static and boring of all heavy music genres. Half the bands that fall under the moniker exist merely as a vehicle to show off the skills of the players involved, which is fine in small doses, but rarely sustains a creative career. The other half of the bands stick rigidly to the blueprint of one of the fore-bearers of the genre, giving us music that sounds exactly like something we've already heard. Very little of progressive metal is actually interesting, because it is a genre that lacks people dedicated to the art of songwriting. Songs are what makes any band successful, no matter how much sheer musical skill they possess. Dream Theater didn't get to where they are just because they are amazing musicians, they also wrote a slew of great songs and albums. The number of progressive metal bands who have impressed me with their songwriting in recent years is miniscule, but I mention all of this because Ascendia is one of them.As “At The End Of It All” swells into focus with a tribal drum beat and chanted vocals, it's already obvious that this is not going to be prog-by-numbers. The song kicks into gear with a syncopated guitar riff, before the vocals soar over the top of everything, slapping a thick coat of melody atop the sound. There's a quiet section in the middle of the song that feels like a cousin of Killswitch Engage, which is a fresh sound to hear in this kind of music. When it opens back up into the chorus, the song is massive, and it's hard to believe all of that music was contained in five and a half minutes.The songs on the album are more bite-sized than typical progressive metal, but that plays into the band's strengths as songwriters. By keeping the songs lean and tight, they hit harder than if the instrumental sections had been extended by a minute here and there. There is interesting playing going on, but it's all done within the framework of the songs, and never put out front to dominate the spotlight. It's an approach that is smart not just because of how easy it is to get bogged down in instrumental pyrotechnics, but because an album of that sort would never be able to survive the Herculean vocal presence of singer Nick Sakal.With more than a little bit of similarity to the former singer of the aforementioned Killswitch Engage, Howard Jones, Sakal's vocals dominate the album, making you wonder where a voice like that could have come from. His baritone is warm, rich, and not at all what you would expect to hear in a band that isn't playing down-tuned hardcore.But what is most important are the songs, and that's where Ascendia proves themselves as standouts. Whether tackling more modern fare like “Remember Me”, or more traditionally melodic songs like “Moonchild”, there's a phenomenal blend of heavy riffing and soaring melody. I can't tell you how rare it is to hear a progressive metal band that is so in tune with melody, and can write songs that could stand up if they were stripped down to the chord structure and the vocals. We get an example of that with the duet ballad, “The Song That You Deserved”, a largely piano and voice song that is as beautiful as it is heart-breaking. Ascendia's ear for songs is excellent, and that is what makes “The Lion And The Jester” such an engaging listen. Song after song, there's a warm and inviting chorus waiting to wrap its arms around you after you've heard the heavy and intricate moments.This year has been off to a ridiculously great start, with at least half a dozen legitimately great records having already come my way. Add “The Lion And The Jester” to that list, because Ascendia is making progressive metal the way it was always supposed to be. Both challenging and gratifying, intense and cathartic, “The Lion And The Jester” is a phenomenal piece of work that reminds me of the very best progressive metal I've ever heard. This is an album you need to hear.Oh, and how awesome is that cover art? That is one album that will look as good as it sounds in a collection." - Bloody Good Horror
    $10.00
  • Deluxe mediabook edition with one bonus track."This autumn seems to become a sophisticated season when it comes to progressive metal music. There have been already some quite exciting records that have been published; like the new album from Gazpacho and now there are two German prog bands coming with new albums too. Next to Vanden Plas it is Subsignal that offers a new journey through the world of sound."The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime" is the cryptic title of the new long player which is the forth one of the the band that arose out of the ashes of Siege Even. Brain and soul behind the band are guitarist Markus Steffens and singer Arno Menses who started Subsignal as a project in 2007. Things developed very positively and what began as a project became a fix part of the German prog metal scene."The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime" isn't build on a conceptual storyline. But there is a red thread through the various tracks on this long player. The overarching theme is about loss and parting.When it comes to the music Subsignal became harder again. The predecessor "Paraiso" was in general a bit softer with some tracks that have been close to AOR. The new album brings back heavier riffs. "Tempest" is a first indicator for this, underlined by songs like "Everything is Lost".But in the end it's not about heavier or softer when it comes to Subsignal's music. It's the band's lambent way of composing great songs that come with big melodies merged with a lot of emotional depth and thoughtfulness. "The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime" is full of those attributes and it's the passion for details, that makes Subsignal's sound complex as well as approachable also for non-musicians.This long player is the soundtrack for an exciting journey through eleven new tracks from a band that combines technical capabilities with an outstanding sense for good songs. "The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime" belongs to the highlights of 2015 and I would be surprised not finding back the album in some of the 2015 polls." - Markus' Heavy Music Blog 
    $18.00
  • The Custodian is a new British post-progressive rock band formed by Richard Thomson, vocalist for cinematic death metal band Xerath.  Unlike Xerath, The Custodian is an outlet for the more melodic, rock oriented writing from Thomson.While there are moments in the album that harken back to old school bands like Genesis and Yes, the music of The Custodian is contemporary in sound.  Necessary Wasted Time is an album full of dynamics - light and dark shadings balancing acoustic vs electric, heavy vs pastoral.  While atmospherics and tension are a strong component of the album, the band demonstrates their adept musicianship offering up long instrumental passages to complement the emotion filled vocals.  When needed the band unleashes some complex electric runs.The Custodian's debut should deeply resonate with fans of Steven Wilson, Riverside, Pineapple Thief, and Anathema.Necessary Wasted Time was mixed by noted engineer Jacob Hansen and give the full audiophile mastering treatment from Bob Katz. 
    $14.00
  • The Yes Album is the second in a series of remixed and expanded Yes albums.Presented in a mini vinyl replica gatefold card sleeve (with protective inner sleeves) with booklet featuring new sleeve notes by Sid Smith, along with rare photos and archive material, the album has been mixed for 5.1 Surround Sound from the original studio masters by Steven Wilson and is fully approved by Yes.The CD features a new stereo album mix by Steven Wilson, the studio version of Clap and an extended version of A Venture.The blu-ray features:- 5.1 PCM Surround Sound and High Resolution Stereo mixes (24bit 96khz).- the original album mix in a hi-res flat transfer from the original stereo master tape source (24bit/192khz).- a complete alternate album running order drawn from live tracks, singles edits & an extended mix.- exclusive instrumental versions of all new mixes in DTS-HD Master Audio stereo (24bit/96khz).- exclusive needle-drop of an original UK vinyl A1/B1 pressing transferred in 24bit/96khz audio.The ultimate way to enjoy the album that helped establish Yes's reputation as a creative force to be reckoned with.CD - New Stereo Mixes:1. Yours Is No Disgrace2. Clap3. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker / Disillusion / Wurm4. I've Seen All Good People: Your Move / All Good People5. A Venture6. Perpetual ChangeAdditional Tracks:7. Clap (Studio Version)8. A Venture (Extended)Blu-Ray (Region 0, NTSC):Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio- Album mixed in 5.1 Surround- New Album mix- Original Album mix (flat transfer)- New Album mix (instrumental version)- Alternate version of The Yes Album drawn from live tracks, singles edits & an extended mixPlus further audio extras some exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition.NTSC, all regions, LPCM playable in all Blu-Ray players & Blu-Ray drivesBlu-Ray - Full Track Listing:New Stereo Mixes 24/96 MLP Lossless:1. Yours Is No Disgrace2. Clap3. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker / Disillusion / Wurm4. I've Seen All Good People: Your Move / All Good People5. A Venture6. Perpetual ChangeSurround Mixes (24/96 MLP Lossless):1. Yours Is No Disgrace2. Clap3. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker / Disillusion / Wurm4. I've Seen All Good People: Your Move / All Good People5. A Venture6. Perpetual ChangeOriginal Stereo Mixes (Flat Transfer from original master 24/96 MLP Lossless):1. Yours Is No Disgrace2. Clap3. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker / Disillusion / Wurm4. I've Seen All Good People: Your Move / All Good People5. A Venture6. Perpetual ChangeAdditional Material:The Alternate Album :1. Yours Is No Disgrace (Live, London 1971)2. Clap (Studio Version)3. Starship Trooper (single edit)Life seeker4. I've Seen All Good People (Live, London 1971)5. A Venture (extended mix)6. Perpetual Change (Live, New Haven 1971)Blu-Ray Exclusive:Single versions, edits & live:1. Your Move - single version, stereo2. Clap - single version, mono3. America - Live, London 19714. It's Love - Live, London 19715. Your Move - single version, monoNew Stereo Instrumental Mixes (24/96 LPCM):1. Yours Is No Disgrace2. Clap3. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker / Disillusion / Wurm4. I've Seen All Good People: Your Move / All Good People5. A Venture6. Perpetual ChangeNeedle-drop (A1/B1 UK vinyl transfer 24/96 LPCM):Original stereo, archived master transfer (Flat Transfer 24/96 LPCM):1. Yours Is No Disgrace2. Clap3. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker / Disillusion / Wurm4. I've Seen All Good People: Your Move / All Good People5. A Venture6. Perpetual Change 
    $25.00
  • Hyperdrive marks a new era for Knight Area.  The long running Dutch progressive rock band had previously released four studio albums and toured Europe and USA extensively, performing at all major prog rock festivals.  1n 2012 the band welcomed guitarist Mark Bogert as well as legendary bassist Peter Vink (Q65, Finch, Ayreon) into the fold. With these newcomers onboard, Knight Area introduced a heavier element and fuller sound to their repertoire.  All the classic symphonic rock traits of their previous albums are still clearly evident but the songs on Hyperdrive are more immediate and concise.The band invited noted prog guitarist Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One) to participate as a special guest on one track.  Joost van den Broek, who is known for his production work with Epica, Mayan, and After Forever, mixed the album.   Rounding out the package is startling artwork by Gustavo Sazes.
    $14.00
  • Thirty nine years after the release of their debut album, a reconstituted version of Alphataurus has formed to record their sophomore album...and they nailed it.  Guitar sounds are a bit on the modern side but the keys are the deal.  Soaring synth lines and organ solos dominate.  Five long intense tracks that sound like they fell out of the Wayback Machine.  Comes housed in a mini-lp sleeve with stunning wrap around artwork by Adriano Marangoni, the same artist that did that incredible triple gatefold back in the day.  Highly recommended to fans or Rock Progressivo Italiano.
    $16.00
  • "Discovering new music is always a great feeling. Especially (at least to me) when you’re discovering a new band that not many people have heard yet. Back in early May my life took a change for the better when Voyager’s promoter Incendia Music sent me an email about this new band from New Haven, CA, called Earthside. I checked out the single, entitled “The Closest I’ve Come”, that was supplied with that email. I don’t think I have ever been more gobsmacked before ever. Within seconds my brain was literally strewn all across the floor. I don’t think I have recovered yet from that experience. You know when you hear a song that is so good that you’re wondering how you could have lived your life up until that point without having heard said song before? That’s how I was feeling.A Dream In Static is the title of Earthside’s debut album, and if I was blown away by the first single, it is nothing compared to what I’m feeling now. A second single, “Mob Mentality”, was released about a month ago, and it was then that I fully realised just how big this album would turn out to be. But let’s start with the basic stuff. The gentlemen in this band are Ben Shanbrom (drums), Frank Sacramone (keyboards), Jamie van Dyk (guitars) and Ryan Griffin (bass). I commend each and every one of these guys, the amount of musical brilliance on this album is through the roof. It’s like listening to a slightly more laid back version of Opeth.A Dream In Static kicks off with the first single. For many years I have struggled big time with instrumental tracks, and especially prog music in general. I have slowly gotten into the likes of Opeth and Dream Theater, but this is the song that finally won me over completely. The composition is one of total beauty, and the melody that kicks in at 1.30 is just too good for words. Mind-blowing, spine-tingling, mind-boggling, heck, whatever you want. Bring out your thesaurus, it still wouldn’t be enough. I could dedicate this entire review to the one track, but let’s move on!Next up is the second single, “Mob Mentality” features one of my favourite metal vocalists of all time, Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust. He is the first of a handful of guest vocalists featured on this release. Lajon’s voice fits this song perfectly, I don’t know many other vocalists that can conjure up so much raw emotion, and in combination with the talent of Earthside, backed by The Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra, this track is more like a roller-coaster ride than anything else. An intense sense of drama is seeping through every second of this 10 minute piece that also would serve as the perfect movie score. Metalsucks labeled the music video for Mob Mentality “the most impressive/insane music video of 2015”, make sure you check it out below!We move on into uncharted territories for the first time, where the title track greets us with an intro that I could swear was written by Mikael Åkerfeldt himself if I didn’t know better. Then, outta nowhere, TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins steps in and completely dominates. I must admit that I have never listened to TesseracT before, but just because of this track I am strongly considering going to their show in Sydney next week. His soaring vocals are soul-wrenching and addictive at the same time. I would love to say that this is my favourite track on the album, but it’s simply not possible to single one out. For the first time in what feels like forever, I have encountered an album that pretty much is a definite 10/10. “A Dream In Static” makes a break towards a more djenty and groovy sound. It is a nice change of pace, and it also definitely highlights that no songs are alike on this album.Speaking of djent, there are times when such a label would be justified on this album I suppose, but at the same time the influences are so widespread, and I don’t think I could count the amount of genres on two hands. This is why Earthside remind me so much of Opeth in a way, they extract parts from the obvious ones, such as prog and melodeath, but also soul and jazz, amplify them, and make a sound that they well can call their own. I have never come across another band that sound anything like Earthside before.Next up is “Entering The Light”. Here guest Max ZT is a vital part of the sound, playing a hammered dulcimer. The melody created by this widely forgotten instrument, in combination with the MSSO, is absolutely enchanting. “Skyline” is probably the most basic/straightforward (well, everything is relative I guess) track on the album. Starting out as a full band metal jam it is a track that would work great live I’m sure. As the song progresses a beautiful piano melody takes over, just to be eradicated by the overpowering metal once again. It feels like this track is a battle between despair and hope.We’re getting closer to the end. Fellow Swede Björn Strid (Soilwork) is handling the vocal duties on “Crater”. It is really quite interesting because Björn is given the opportunity to use his softer/more melodic vocals, as well as his harsher style, which is what made him famous. The blend of vocal styles are absolutely fantastic, and I am not sure if Strid has ever produced a vocal performance like this in the past.Now, if magic mushrooms took the shape of a song, this would be it. “The Ungrounding”’s absolutely crazy underlying Infected Mushroom-esque sound is one of the most unexpected things I have heard in a while. And, just like everything else on this album, it just works. For some bizarre reason a prog metal version of Infected Mushroom makes all the sense in the world.The last track on the album, “Contemplation of the Beautiful”, is also the longest one, clocking in at 11.49. It feels very much like a cinematic intro, with some sampled sounds setting the mood. The song suddenly erupts into chaos, and Eric Zirlinger’s (Face The King) screams are absolutely earth shattering. Words simply cannot describe how massive this song is. There are twists and turns, light and darkness, and a jaw-dropping crescendo that concludes this journey that I will never forget.I am just left with two questions:  how is this a debut album? And where did this band come from? With some luck in this difficult business, I am sure that they can become one of the genre’s giants in the future. Mind = Blown." - Metal Obsession
    $12.00
  • Third album from Sam Vallen and Jim Grey.  Plain and simple another triumph.  The great thing about this band is the way they assimilate different influences and make a cohesive whole.  Vallen's guitarwork touches on djent riffing as well as fluid clean lines and Grey's vocals...well they are spectacular as usual.  You get a little bit of Opeth here and Haken there.  Maybe even a little Dream Theater and Pain Of Salvation.  Naturally if you are a fan of Jim Grey's other band, Arcane, you are going to love this one as well.  Very dynamic and dramatic.  Essential 2015 purchase.  BUY OR DIE!"There are certain albums that require more than just open ears. Sometimes, you need to close your eyes in order to sharpen up your senses, to be able to really consume and obtain the musical message delivered throughout the record. So before pressing the ‘play’ button on Caligula’s Horse newest release, Bloom, pour a glass of your favorite drink, put your headphones on and close your eyes.Consisting of 8 tracks, Bloom delivers something deeper than a compilation of technical riffs; it sets an atmosphere, driven by emotion and by the story line, as the sound and production correlate towards that notion. From the very beginning, with the theme song being the opener of the album, you can see how the band sets the mood for the entire record. Mysterious, dark, heavily Opeth influenced, and yet still having its own characteristics to the story.Right from the beginning of the album, one cannot miss how Opeth deeply affected the band’s music. The vocal ideas and implementation, the guitar sound and the general image that’s created, can immediately drift the listener to many of the Swedish group’s finest works. Nevertheless, I do feel that within these carried elements still lies a large chunk of originality that separates this album from being another Opeth-imitation attempt, which can easily be found on a variety of past-releases of different bands.One impressive thing to notice on this record is vocalist’s Jim Grey. It is easy to fall in love with the color of Grey’s voice, as can be heard on The Tide, The Thief & River’s End (2013), but he did manage to improve a certain and essential vocal ability for this album: I’ve always felt that when hitting the higher notes, he needed to “shout” those notes just a little bit too much, having immediate impact on the tenderness and vibrations of his voice. On this album, it seems that Grey feels much more comfortable on higher scales, and that vocal freedom affects his entire range. Grey has turned it up a notch, becoming not only great a singer, but a great storyteller. His vocal movements are probably the most interesting thing to follow on this album, as it escorts the listener throughout each and every song.Another thing that immediately stands out is the band’s cooperation while putting Grey’s vocals as the leading musical idea of the album. Nothing is over-pressed, and it seems that band took a great care of composing the songs mostly to create an atmosphere, to set the right stage to deliver the story in the best way. It is impressive, since many bands tend to miss this very idea, with every musician trying to overlap the other, which mostly leads to a confusing blend that misses the main idea. This shows great maturity of the band, which helped them carry their music to the next level.Many bands these days try to force their music in to a hidden musical horizon just to be different. What’s so great about Bloom is that the band did not try to reinvent the wheel, but only used the tools they had, mixed just a little bit of everything to create something unique. Every song has that thing that sticks to your head; whether it’s a defying chord, a vocal movement, mesmerizing vocals and at times – some really catchy, groovy guitar riffs. That alone helps the fluency of the record, making it an album, 44-minutes of which you listen to from the top to the bottom, rather than just a collection of different songs.Overall, it’s easy to see how the band feels more comfortable with their work with every passing release. With time, Caligula’s Horse understands what they look for while composing their music, yet something still feels held back. It’s funny, because even I, after countless of times listening to the album, still cannot really put my finger towards what it is that is missing. Perhaps it is something that cannot be described by simple words, but it is that something that turns a 9 into a 10. That something that transforms an album which is great to hear, to a one that really dives into your deeper cells, and stays there. Rest assured: You cannot turn a blind eye in regard of the band’s progress, and you absolutely must give this album a try." - It Djents
    $12.00
  • Now here is a band that singlehandedly may be turning prog metal on its head and giving it a good kick in the ass at the same time.Need is a Greek prog metal band that has been around for a bit but like most bands from that country they don't get much attention outside of their homeland.  Orvam is their third album and it finds them stepping up their game quite a bit.Orvam: A Song For Home blends a variety of influences and dishes up something completely mesmerizing.  The band's musical DNA includes Fates Warning, Tool, Nevermore, and lots of prog rock.  All of these influences will crop up but tossed together in a unique way.  Its heavy but complex - ethereal and hypnotic.  Hell the band even weaves in some Mediterranean themes revealing their real roots.  Vocalist Jon V. is the anchor to the musical and he does a phenomenal job, sounding like vintage Ray Alder.  I love how amid all the grinding guitar riffs the band mixes a splash of old school Hammond organ.  Cap this monster off with the 18 minute title piece and you've got an instant classic.  The whole production was expertly mixed by Neil Kernon and masterfully mastered by Alan Douches.  BUY OR DIE!
    $12.00
  • Excellent debut from this Venezuelan band. Echoes skirts the edge between progressive rock and metal. Clearly Dream Theater (and Rush to some degree) are an influence but the music isn't as heavy as most progressive metal bands. There are some great atmospheric parts that have more of a prog rock vibe. There are a number of guest vocalists that contribute to the album and they are all quite good. I'm surprised there isn't more of a latin influence going on - these guys could pass for a US band. I can see this easily appealing to fans of both prog rock and prog metal. Highly recommended.
    $3.00
  • One of the great overlooked prog metal albums of the 90s made available again. This album with the odd name was only released in Japan by Toshiba-EMI in 1998. It was the debut album from this Swiss trio and featured the great Thomas Vikstrom on vocals. The music was keyboard driven, a bit off kilter and totally amazing. The band didn't release anything again until this year's Retrospective but the similarities are superficial. Retrospective is a great album but a bit more conventional. Cosmic Handball has a lot more personality. Its been remixed and remastered which can only help as the original production was a bit murky sounding. Highest recommendation.
    $5.00
  • The release of 2012's critically acclaimed Trouble With Machines ushered in an exciting era for Chicago-based Progressive Rock band District 97. In 2013, the band toured both Europe and the US with legendary bassist and vocalist John Wetton (King Crimson/UK/Asia), which was documented on 2014's live release, One More Red Night: Live in Chicago. 2013 also saw the band nominated for a Limelight Award by Prog Magazine. Rather than rest on their laurels, District 97 took to the studio in 2014 to record the new material they'd been honing at home and on the road. The resulting album, In Vaults, continues and accelerates the upward trajectory of great songwriting and incredible musicianship that's been evident since the band's 2010 debut, Hybrid Child. One listen perfectly illustrates why John Wetton says, “I've said it before, and I maintain that D97 is the best young progressive band around right now. Gifted players, great material, and a brilliant, charismatic singer in Leslie Hunt."In addition to its evocative and powerful songwriting and performances, In Vaults features the immaculate mixing of Rich Mouser (Spock's Beard, Transatlantic), mastering by Grammy winning engineer Bob Katz and the stunning imagery of Björn Gooßes of Killustraitions. 
    $13.00
  • Big Big Train have ascended to the top echelon of progressive rock bands currently active.  They are easily the best band coming out of the UK - the fountainhead of all prog rock."Is there a nicer feeling than when you discover that one of your favourite bands is to return with new material much sooner than predicted and somewhat unexpectedly? There aren’t many better moments that’s for sure and Big Big Train are the architects of this great piece of news, offering us their tenth album ‘Grimspound’ less than 12 months on from the release of the utterly sensational ‘Folklore’.Long term readers will perhaps be familiar with that review, where I was quoted as saying that “‘Folklore’ is another amazing addition to the Big Big Train discography and is something all lovers of quality progressive rock should cherish and take to their hearts. I know that I have.”However, the feelings of levity and excitement about such a speedy a follow-up are, for me, tempered ever so slightly by a few more cautious thoughts. ‘Is it too early for more material?’, ‘has this album been hurried?’, ‘will the quality take a hit?’ You can see where I’m going with this. I worry that speed doesn’t always yield positive results and therefore, whilst I’m like a child at Christmas following this news, I have a few nerves as well. ‘Folklore’ remains on heavy rotation at the Mansion of Much Metal (and Progressive Rock), providing the same levels of magic as it did at the time of its release. The bar has been set and I desperately want ‘Grimspound’ to follow suit.So, does it?The answer, after a slightly slow start is ‘yes, very much so’. At the outset though, I wasn’t convinced if I’m honest. I was looking for similar heart-stopping moments to those that featured within the likes of ‘Brooklands’ or ‘Winkie’ and I couldn’t find them initially. But that says more about my levels of patience than it does about the music on offer within ‘Grimspound’ because, with time, those moments of genius are there to be found and to be heard. In fact, this entire record borders on genius as far as I’m concerned now. How else can you explain the fact that these eight musicians have returned so quickly and effortlessly with another eight superb, intricate and captivating progressive rock compositions?I understand that the band came up with an awful lot of material during the ‘Folklore’ writing sessions and some of what we hear on ‘Grimspound’ was given birth back then. But regardless, the achievement here beggars belief, it really does. Take a bow, Messrs Spawton (bass), Poole (guitars/keyboards), Longdon (vocals/flute), D’Virgilio (drums), Gregory (guitars), Manners (keyboards), Hall (violin) and Sjöblom (guitars/keyboards). You deserve it.Big Big Train have always followed a path of progressive rock that veers down the pastoral route and they probably always will – it’s in their blood. But this is not a group of musicians to stagnate either. So, whilst the music here is recognisable as Big Big Train, there are some differences to be heard between ‘Grimspound’ and previous albums.Some of this is down to the fact that newer members, Rikard and Rachel along with Danny have become more active in the song writing process, bringing their own unique view points to the table. And it is testament to the open-mindedness of the other members that this has been allowed to happen. Mind you, I think ‘welcomed with open arms’ would be a more appropriate description.One of the first things that I notice is that ‘Grimspound’ features very little brass. As someone who genuinely intensely dislikes brass within rock or metal music, I must confess that I am ever so slightly torn by this turn of events. For some reason, I never had a problem with the brass element of Big Big Train and so, once you realise how little of it is evident, it does give the music a slightly different flavour overall.As the band readily admits in the accompanying press release, ‘Grimspound’ also sees Big Big Train experimenting with longer passages of instrumental expression. So it comes as no surprise to learn that ‘On The racing Line’ for example is a five-minute instrumental piece, whilst other compositions have plenty of space for some indulgent instrumental flamboyance. Normally, I would baulk at the notion but where Big Big Train are concerned, they pull it off with style and elegance. Their music has always had the ability to tell a story and this is true whether or not there are lyrics being sung over the music; the dynamics and ideas at play here within the instrumental passages are such that the stories are able to continue very eloquently.Another interesting addition this time around is with the inclusion of a guest vocalist on the song ‘The Ivy Gate’. Judy Dyble offers her voice within this quite a dark and powerful composition that concerns “the reported sightings of a ghostly apparition beside the cemetery gates in a quiet English village.” It is an intriguing composition that begins with a folky, bluegrass banjo-led melody that initially I railed against. In the context of the song however, it makes a lot of sense and is a wonderful addition to the band’s armoury. Moreover, it is an ingredient that I have grown to rather like and enjoy.The violin playing of Rachel Hall is beautiful and I embrace the sadness and atmosphere that is conjured within this track. But even more, I love the way in which the song builds and opens up at the 4:30 mark to deliver a sumptuous melody that is made even more powerful by the duet of Longdon and Dyble that joins it, before the track deconstructs to end with some impressive and emotional vocals and the soothing sound of rain falling.It seems like I am uncontrollably waxing lyrical about this album, but that can’t be helped I’m afraid, with every positive word being well earned and justified. And it must continue I’m afraid.The opening few moments of ‘Brave Captain’ and indeed the album as a whole, create a very subtle, ambient soundscape, very introspective and thought-provoking at the same time. After a minute or so, the entire band enters the fray in what becomes a rousing and dynamic piece of music. This is arguably the most immediate track on the album but in true Big Big Train fashion, it ebbs and flows throughout its substantial 12 minute life creating a sense of drama upon which they tell the powerful story of a World War One pilot named Captain Albert Ball who gave his life for his country.Naturally, given the subject matter, there are moments that convey the sobriety of the story, like the almost Dire Straits-esque piano and bluesy guitar section. But equally, there are also times where the musicians open up their wings and take flight, just like the central character in the song. When they do so, it is quite a heady experience and it is easy to get caught up in the music that swells all around you.Another favourite is the quite stunning ‘Experimental Gentlemen’, a tale of Captain Cook on his first journey of discovery. Incorporating a vast array of intricate ideas within a remarkably cohesive whole, it moves from gentle, dreamy and wistful to up-beat and bouncy. You can feel an increase in intensity as the song slowly and inexorably moves through the gears to eventually deliver a dramatic sequence complete with an emotional and delicate lead guitar solo. That’s not the end though as there’s time for an extended atmospheric outro that has a subtle yet moving feel to it.Arguably the biggest exponent of those aforementioned extended instrumental passages is the longest track on the album, the hugely impressive ‘A Mead Hall In Winter’. The melodies are just so strong that they draw me in for repeated listens in spite of its length, rivalling anything that appeared on ‘Folklore’. But it is the experimentation and the ambition that is the most impressive aspect, including a plethora of bold and striking keyboard sounds as well as plenty of lead flamboyance all round. It all helps to create genuinely rich and engaging textures not to mention a multi-faceted, multi-layered soundscape. This sort of music only works when it is handled with care and attention to detail. And Big Big Train are fast becoming the safest pair of hands that I know, turning everything to gold with their unique Midas touch. My mind never wanders, my attention is never diverted away and as this epic composition draws to a close via a reprise of the early sumptuous melodies, I am filled with nothing but admiration for what has been achieved here.By contrast, ‘Meadowland’ is a much shorter proposition that benefits from a truly gorgeous lead violin and acoustic guitar intro, full of sensitivity and elegance. The wistful vocal delivery of Longdon adds a compelling embellishment to a piece of music that straddles the divide between folk and progressive rock, that I wish was twice as long.The title track begins in strange fashion with an oddly creepy and discordant introduction, quickly replaced by more acoustic guitars. Another serious grower, I’m currently of the opinion that it contains my very favourite melody on the entire album, accompanied by the words:“Out on the Heathland,Look up to the night sky.See the second brightest star?Adjust to the dark light.”The vocals and music together combine in magical fashion to stop me dead in my tracks. But I also enjoy the way in which the track subtly moves away from its starting point, to finish with more instrumental prowess in a much different and more up-tempo vein. The closing vocal passage is inspired too.Seeing as I’ve mentioned all the others, it seems churlish to overlook the closing composition, ‘As The Crow Flies’. It ends ‘Grimspound’ in fine fashion, fittingly oozing warmth and richness. It begins in delicate fashion, featuring more female vocals and some really welcome flute from Longdon. At the mid-point, the composition explodes in typically controlled but epic fashion, delivering a briefly rousing and heartfelt melody, led by hungry guitar notes that retreat all-too-quickly, allowing the song to ease to a gentle and introspective conclusion.Just when you thought that Big Big Train couldn’t possibly get any better, they do. ‘Grimspound’ is without doubt the best progressive rock album I’ve heard since…well, since ‘Folklore’ to be exact. Big Big Train have become an integral part of my musical life, to the point where I cannot imagine what my life was like before I discovered them. Right now, I can’t think of any bigger compliment that I can pay or one that is more justified and thoroughly deserved. Without question, Big Big Train are my favourite progressive rock band on this planet, bar none." - Man Of Metal blog
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