This Scandinavian act is marketed as a progressive rock
band. However, when you listen to the first two tracks, what you get are pop
beats and catchy vocal hooks that recall Supertramp, Queen and AOR groups. Not
exactly progressive rock.
It is only on track 3, the longest piece, clocking over 30 minutes
that you come upon progressive rock with an outstanding instrumental
introduction driven by Chris Squire-style bass, majestic keyboards and great
synth solos. There are masterfully crafted sections that are inspired by Gentle
Giant’s skilled time signature changes. The vocals are still based on harmonies
inspired by Queen, but the pop beats are thankfully gone.
The lineup includes Linus Kåse on piano, synthesizers, saxophone,
vocals; Per Hallman on organ, mellotron, synthesizers, vocals; Kristofer Eng
Radjabi on bass, taurus, theremin, vocals; Johan Öijen on guitars; and Erik
Hammarström on drums.
The Intelligent Music project goes back to the golden era of AOR (Adult Oriented Rock) in the 1980s. More pop than rock, AOR features catchy hooks, hard rock guitars and steady drum beats. Although progressive rock musicians made AOR, this genre was never part of the progressive rock family.
Composer Milan Vrabevski invited drummer Simon Phillips and several vocalists from popular AOR and hard rock bands: Carl Sentance (Nazareth), Richard Grisman (River Hounds), John Payne (former Asia) and Joseph Williams (Toto). So if you are into the Asia and Toto type of music, you will probably enjoy this recording.
Phenomena, an easy listening rock and pop music concept album series envisioned by record producer Tom Galley and his brother, guitarist Mel Galley, is now available in brand new editions. The contributors were leading rock musicians like Brian May (Queen), John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia), Glenn Hughes (Trapeze), Don Airey (Deep Purple), Mel Galley (Whitesnake), Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath) and Cozy Powell (The Jeff Beck Group, Rainbow) among others.
Phenomena released three albums in the 1980s and early 1990s, and had a number one hit single in South America with “Did It All For Love,” while the album charted throughout Europe, in Japan and Brazil.
The Phenomena series presents ear friendly, toe tapping rock with pop hooks and catchy melodies.
American rock band Spock’s Beard is still described as a progressive rock band. However, their new double album Noise Floor is not what you would expect from a progressive rock band.
The opening track, “To Breathe Another Day”, gives you a pretty good preview of what the album is about. It’s hard rock with pop hooks, pretty much AOR. The only prog rock is the outstanding work by keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, who injects intricate keyboard solos and atmospheres.
Track 2, “What Becomes of Me” is a pop ballad where Ryo Okumoto shines again and Alan Morse delivers a great guitar solo. The next song, “Somebody’s Home” combines AOR with progressive rock segments.
The longest song is “Have We All Gone Crazy Yet.” It’s a mix of hard rock with progressive rock. The prog parts kick in halfway through the track and the listener gets treated to superb keyboard instrumental work.
Track 5 “So This is Life” is sappy and sounds a lot like the Beatles, although Spock’s Beard are much better instrumentalists.
On “One So Wise, it’s more AOR with pop hooks. Superb bass lines from Dave Meros; and mellotron, organ and synth work from Ryo Okumoto.
“Box of Spiders” is an instrumental, composed by Ryo Okumoto. Without the vocals, the band switches to full, satisfactory progressive rock mode. The listener is treated to spectacular work from all instrumentalists. The band should form a prog rock side project and leave Spock’s Beard to AOR, hard rock and ballads.
Disc 1 ends with the anthemic hard rock “Beginnings,” featuring pop hooks.
Disc 2, titled Cutting Room Floor contains four short tracks. The first three are forgettable AOR songs. The only keeper is the last track, a great instrumental titled “Armageddon Nervous,” where the musicians get yet another opportunity to shine.
The current incarnation of Spock’s Beard includes Ted Leonard on lead vocals; Alan Morse on electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals; Ryo Okumoto on keyboards; and Dave Meros on bass guitar, backing vocals.
Guests include Nick D’Virgilio on drums and percussion, backing vocals; Eric Gorfain on violin; Leah Katz on viola; Richard Dodd on cello; and David Robertson on English horn.
The star on Noise Floor, from a progressive rock perspective, is Ryo Okumoto. It would be great to see him collaborate more often with like-minded progressive rock instrumentalists.
Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius – Guilty of Innocence (Melodic Revolution Records, 2017)
Guilty of Innocence is the fifth studio album from Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius. Deninzon is known for his fiery violin solos and delivers quite a few great ones.
While in the past, Deninzon has recorded progressive rock and fusion-leanings compositions, Guilty of Innocence heads into a more commercial direction, with short songs infused with hard rock, AOR and pop hooks. Sure, there are brief spectacular violin solos and notable bass lines, but it’s mainly non-progressive material.
The highlights of the album are track 9, “Dream Day Cadenza,” where Deninzon showcases the marvels he can do with solo violin and effects; and track 10, “Soul Food.” This last song begins as yet another AOR piece, but when you get passed minute 4, it’s transformed into a wild instrumental prog rock ride with electric violin and guitar wizardry as well as splendid mandolin and piano.
Personnel: Joe Deninzon on electric violin, lead vocals, mandolin, and guitar; Aurelien Budynek on guitar, vocals; Jamie Bishop on bass, vocals; Lucianna Padmore on drums.
Guests include Renaissance’s Rave Tesar on keyboards; guitar maestro Alex Skolnick on guitar; Randy McStine on guitar, background vocals; Melanie Mitrano on vocals; Eddie Venegas on violin; Earl Maneein on viola; Leo Grinhauz on cello; Patrice Jackson on cello; and Benny Koonyevsky on drums.
Yet another album marketed as progressive rock that’s really not. Karibow is the project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Rüsing. His style brings together AOR, pop rock beats, hard rock and heavy metal riffs. The only piece that you could legitimately call progressive rock is a pretty good symphonic instrumental titled “Requiem.”
Despite the fantasy artwork by the great Ed Unitsky and the participation of Billy Sherwood and Olivier Wakeman, this album does not contain progressive rock. Instead, it’s a collection of sing along pop-rock and AOR songs by vocalist and songwriter John Vehadija.
I’m not sure why these type of recordings are marketed as progressive rock. Anyhow, if you like poppy rock like Asia or Styx, you might enjoy this album.
Paralyzed is the second album by German rock band. Although the album was released by Progressive Promotion Records, the majority of the album’s content is a mix of AOR melodic rock and hard rock. Multi-instrumentalist Marek Arnold adds some brief symphonic moments to the mix.
The lineup on Paralyzed includes Larry B. on vcals; Manuel Schmid on vocals; Marek Arnold on keyboards, saxophones and clarinet; Ralk Dietsch on guitars, mandolin, vocals; Clemens Litschko on drums and percussion; and Denis Strassburg on bass and programming. Guests: Susan Kammler on oboe, Herman Schade on viola, and Dan Stein on vocals.
Asia is a band that I really dislike so normally I would feel inclined to ignore any of its new releases. Since Phoenix was a new album to me, I gave it a chance and found very little to attract my attention. Even though the four band members are known for their work in progressive rock bands Yes, ELP, King Crimson and UK, Asia delivers something between AOR and pop, with simple songs, toe tapping rhythms and cheesy keyboards. The only notable work is Steve Howe’s guitar who demonstrates that he’s too talented to stick to simplistic guitar work.
Steve Howe is an enigma to me. He could be collaborating with so many progressive rock and jazz musicians doing great things, but he insists in joining rock projects that aim for the top of the pop charts.
The lineup includes Geoff Downes (Yes / The Buggles) on keyboards; Steve Howe (Yes) on guitar; Carl Palmer (ELP) on drums; and John Wetton (King Crimson / UK) on bass and vocals.
The 2 CD re-issue includes the original European version of the album, the two bonus tracks and the US only remix. The artwork is enclosed in a six panel digipack with artwork by the great Roger Dean.
Progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, ambient electronic music and beyond