Album Review: Symphony X – Underworld

Even without the slightest knowledge of their songs or albums, I still have heard of the band Symphony X. That’s how big of a name this band is in their music scene. Another one of those bands that’s been recommended to me over the years, progressive metal giants Symphony X has released a new album last Friday called “Underworld,” their first album in four years. I took it upon myself to share with you my first experience listening to the band over the weekend.

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ancient bards soulless child

Album Review: Ancient Bards – Soulless Child

I was listening to some Ayreon over the weekend, and couldn’t stop thinking about the amazing vocal talent on all of his albums. That got me to thinking about reviewing an individual on his latest album that I believe shined amongst a stacked lineup of vocal extraordinaires. Fronting a smaller band with a devout fan base, Sara Squadrani provides some of the greatest moments in her own project in the progressive metal band Ancient Bards.

Residing across the globe in Italy, Ancient Bards consists of Sara Squadrani on lead vocals, Daniele Mazza on keyboard, Claudio Pietronik on guitar, Martino Garattoni on bass guitar, and Federico Gatti on drums, and included Fabio Balducci on guitar in the album to be mentioned. Easily defined as a metal band, Ancient Bards further expands into the symphonic, progressive, and power metal categories. Read More »

Album Review: Steve Hackett – Wolflight

There was another album released a couple weeks ago that I was anticipating besides Death Cab’s “Kintsugi.” This artist is a well-known musician, and arguably one of the best guitarists in progressive rock. When I play the guitar, I only imagine that I could play half as good as this gentleman. Anyone who has heard any of Genesis’ early works will have heard his glorious guitar solos and rhythms. Peaking towards the top of my most played albums this week is Steve Hackett’s latest and greatest album.

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Album Review: Feral States – Dark

A while back, I had gone on the website Reddit in search of some independent and unsigned bands to listen to. After filtering though the many suggestions I received, I stumbled upon this next band, a band I immediately felt a connection with. With its eclectic nature, Feral States has a sound that forces listeners to hear this album in a different perspective with every listen.

Based in Urbana, Illinois, Feral States is frontman Joseph Meland on vocals/piano, Samuel Hasting on lead guitar, Noah Gehrmann on rhythm guitar, Erik Opland on bass guitar, and Justin Peters on drums, and includes the symphonic sounds of Daniel Hinze on saxophone, Maciej Latawiec on violin, and other additional musicians. Feral States is in every sense of the word avant-garde, with heavy influences of progressive and symphonic rock, and even moments of pure metal and classical music. Each song off their latest album “Dark” contains sections of varying genres, making this album a very interesting listen.

I had the chance to talk with frontman Joseph Meland about his writing process:

“I began writing “Dark” about a month or so before we recorded our “Light” EP. I wanted to further push the contemporary classical angle we’d introduced on “Light” by using more “classical” techniques while writing as well as creating more involved orchestrations. I’m interested in a lot of different styles of music and classical trends, so I think those all kind of mesh together in my head and come out somewhat randomly…”

Meland, who is a student in music, is a magnificent composer on this album, which is easily coherent with the piano sections. With a knowledge of classical orchestrations, Meland takes a symphonic approach in “Dark,” a unique and clever experiment with the old and the new. I truly love the matchless sounds of this album, a sound that in incomparable to anything released today. The opening song “Empty Sails” is very airy, containing reverbed piano chords and Meland’s lone voice. After the orchestra instruments chime in, the song quickly picks up into a harder, almost progressive sound, which is concluded with Hasting’s tremendous guitar solo. As the album progresses, each song changes the overall mood and tone of the album, switching from darker to softer melodies.

feral states
Photo by Feral States (Facebook)

Continuing my discussion with Meland, he discussed the influences of each song, along with the lyrical meaning behind “Dark”:

“…For instance, I love the music of Messiaen, and I think the use of his own modes gives his music a really unique and beautiful color. So, on “Trapped in the Machine”, I made up my own scale, which the song is based in. “Sins” channels my favorite composers of aleatoric music as well as my favorite band Mr. Bungle, “The Blurred Figure Waits” is definitely inspired by minimalism, and “Forgotten” actually began as a theory assignment for which I had to write a piano composition in the style of Debussy. Lyrically, the EP is very personal, mostly revolving around experiences I had before and after the death of someone close to me.”

Containing lyrics from the heart, listeners can not only hear, but feel the pain felt by the vocals and instrumentation. In writing this album, Leland states that “there are a lot of different emotions covered from beginning to end, but I hope that the journey serves as something relatable for those that have gone through similarly painful experiences.” In a similar train of thought, I am easily reminded of a quote that perfectly complements this, which is said by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson: “When we hear a very sad song, it makes us realise that we do share this kind of common human experience, and we’re all kind of bonded in sadness and melancholia and depression” (source). To be on the same lyrical wavelength as such an honored musician and writer, I applaud Meland for insightfulness and for giving his listeners an avenue for interpersonal healing and recovery.

What I found most interesting about this album is the incredible talent of each musician on the record. Each member shines in different songs, with Meland providing the most impressive moments. The saxophone and violin in “Nothing Left” and the piano in “Trapped In The Machine” are also highlights on this album. The melancholy ending of the album featuring the song “The Blurred Figure Waits” perfectly wraps up “Dark,” with a great organ rhythm and the final lyrics to the album:

“A fog descends / Friends from the past / Laughing with no end … A color fades / Beauty decayed / Graying as you sigh / Final days gone by” (source)

I can easily tell that each musician is classically trained, and envy the talent behind their experimentation and compositions.

feral states
Photo by Feral States (Facebook)

Please support this amazing unsigned band and their album “Dark.” For those of you with an eclectic taste in music, this album is for you. Their sound can loosely be affiliated with the bands The Moody Blues, Porcupine Tree, The Dear Hunter, Vienna Circle, and many others. This album is available for download on their Bandcamp page for free, so I implore you all to take a look! If you like this band, you can also check out their other EP “Light” on their Bandcamp page. You can also find them on their Facebook and Twitter pages. I can’t wait to hear what this talented group has in store for their next release!

Please enjoy a complimentary listen of “Dark” from Bandcamp below:

Fire Garden – Sound of Majestic Colors

This next band is another one that I’ve found since I started my Twitter account. When I first started my account, I was scrolling through my list of followers and noticed how many bands were following my page. I felt impelled to go through them and start sampling each band, a ritual I still do. I came across the band Fire Garden, and was immediately drawn to their music.

Fire Garden is a five-piece band from Chicago, consisting of Kevin Pollack on vocals, Zee on guitar, Frank Lucas on the keyboard, Chuck White on drums, and Barry Kleiber on bass. When listening to their recent album, you can hear the many bands that have influenced them throughout this album, which is one of the main reasons I love listening to them. On their Bandcamp page, production notes are given, where key sound figures in rock music are noted in working on this album. From bands like Dream Theater, to Rush, to Porcupine Tree, the influences are heard in their most recent album “Sound of Majestic Colors.”

The opening song “The Joker” immediately draws the listener in, with a narration of what seems to be one twisted joker speaking to the audience. Once the joker ceases speaking, you are punched in the ears with deep heavy guitar riffs, reminiscent of songs like “As I Am” and “The Enemy Inside” by Dream Theater. This track is loud and heavy, a great way to open any progressive metal album.

Despite the heaviness of the opening track, the entire album isn’t necessarily the same intensity. In fact, some of my favorite songs off this album are the “slower” songs on the album, being “Alone” and “Far from Grace.” The lead guitar towards the end of “Alone” is reminiscent of Porcupine Tree, being one of my personal favorite bands. The clean rhythm guitar in “Far From Grace” is a great change of pace, and is beautiful when backing the lead guitar and vocals. The end of this song is absolutely beautiful, when Kevin Pollack sings his heart out. The keyboards in other songs are also fun to separate from the rest of the band, as Frank Lucas reminds me of my favorite keyboarder Jordan Rudess. In the songs “The Last Step” and “Time Machine” I feel they are particularly written around the keys, as Lucas steals the show with his solos and other effects. Chuck White and Barry Kleiber are a perfect complement to the band as a whole, as they help drive each song to another level with their groovy bass lines and passionate drumming.

Fire Garden - Sound of Majestic Colors

My favorite thing about this album is the musicianship and quality that is evident in each song. Just by listening, you can easily tell the amount of detail and effort that was put into this album. This is not an album that was slapped together by a band in a bind. The use of different guitars, the multitude of sound effects, the frequent time signature changes, and the well thought out solos make this album stand out among the others. The production behind this album is fantastic, thanks to band member Zee.

I highly recommend this album to those who love any form of progressive music. The influences of key bands in the progressive rock and metal industry are clear in this album, but Fire Garden is not afraid to differentiate from them. Their sound is a tip of the cap to those in the past and present, but is also a fearless step forward into uncharted waters. Please support “Sound of Majestic Colors” by Fire Garden!

Side note: For those bands who follow me and are reading this article, please know that I do check all bands that follow me for potential future reviews. Do not be afraid to follow me or send me a message!

Please enjoy a complimentary listen of “Sound of Majestic Colors” from Bandcamp below: