I could hardly be happier. My latest issue of PROG magazine just arrived—the one with the Marillion cover (and a great article about the neo-prog bands of the early 80s).
But as fun as the magazine is, I submit it’s worth the price of subscription just to get the CD sampler. I am of the generation that has been (is) fighting (within my own brain) the battle for physical, “hard copy” media and thus I don’t download. Being too cheap to have satellite radio in the auto, I love CD samplers. PROG’s latest collection, “LORDS OF THE BACKSTAGE” is a corker; maybe the best one I’ve heard.
With 10 tracks clocking in at about an hour I only found one song that gets a less than an “A” rating.
Track 1: “The Storm” from Arjen Lucassen and Anneke van Giersbergen’s latest magnum opus THE GENTLE STORM kicks of the disc in epic fashion. This driving and rhythmic guitar and drum driven song starts off in almost a NWOBHM/power metal way but when Anneke starts to sing (accompanied by chorus) it morphs into a symphonic metal masterpiece that sounds like a gutsier Annie Haslam singing with Nightwish.
Track 2: MARILLION deliver big-time with a 7:30 live version of “Sounds That Can’t Be Made.” I can’t really be objective right now with this band—as it’s my favorite. I feel myself starting to go “fan-boy” in my adulation. Pete and Ian are simply the “tightest” rhythm section in rock. Mark Kelly as the king of both sampling and digital programming also lays down some lush and lyrical “story-telling” cinematic score-worthy keys. Rothery stays mostly “behind the scenes” with his axe, ever so gently guiding the melody till he cuts loose a bit at the 5:40 mark. And Steve Hogarth…just “wow.” “h” is raw, visceral, melodic, and moving…as always. MARILLION remains the one band that always sounds as good, if not better, in their live performances.
Track 3: AISLES, a Chilean band, delivers a slower love-song with some great harmonies and a beautiful soft acoustic guitar opening.
Track 4: One of the treats on a sampler is when one encounters an unexpected surprise. LUNA ROSA delivers a 4:58 song filled with smoky flute, deep rumbling bass & synths, an almost prog-lounge (but in a good way) key board theme, and the strong, dark, yet mellow vocals of song bird Anne-Marie Helder. This is a band I will explore!
Track 5: HAWKLORDS with their short and “to-the-point” (3:01) “Sonic Seven Kiss” gives the listener exactly what a fan of the Hawkwind/Hawklords genre of music expects—SPACE MUSIC LIVING AND ORGONE ACCUMULATING! When the music starts you’re instantly blasting to Neptune with punk-tinged vocals smashing into noisy crunchy guitars. There’s all the mud, vocal distortions, head-banging, and electronic noises to cause your space-suited glove to register a big “thumbs up.”
Track 6: This 4:50 song “Frozen Processions” by BARREN EARTH is the only “meh” tune for me. My lower rating is not due to any sonic deficiencies or lack of stellar musicianship, but simply due to my lessening interest in melodic Death Metal. There’s some great shredding, nice double-kick drumming, and requisite growling vocals, but it just didn’t “do it” for me. Sorry guys.
Track 7: Another real treat with “Traveling Man” by M-OPUS. This 5:30 song has tons of Hammond organ and synths, but it’s the outer-space sounds/mojo and the rich & varied melodies that conjure up images that run the gamut from Nektar (Down To Earth) to the neo-prog crop of UK bands in the early 1980s. M-OPUS is also now on my radar for future purchase!
Track 8: I’ve already enthusiastically praised THE MIGHTY BARD and their “must-buy” album “Blue God and Other Stories” in a prior post. The song “I Know” is a pure gem of (9:15) melancholy grandeur and sad and mournful battle-weary beauty. This is an “A++” track that hearkens back to the more pop-Prog/cross-over genius of early Procol Harum and Uriah Heep. Put down whatever you’re doing and buy the album!
Track 9: RA RISING and their song “Again” instantly puts a smile on my face whenever I listen to the first 43 seconds of its lilting Canterbury folk-prog meadow jauntery. This track is such a feel good Ray Davies (or maybe Donovan) meets Barclay James Harvest, that one can’t but help be transported into rural England and the proverbial “village green.”
Track 10: MAGIC BUS gives us the final song on the disc with the 5:10 track “Ballad of Lord Sogmore.” Slow flute, psychedelic droning Mellotron, Hammond organ, and early King Crimson-ish vocals, produce a pleasing swirling conclusion to a wonderful hour of Prog.
The song selectors have really outdone themselves with this edition.
If you’re not a subscriber, I heartily recommend picking this issue up on the newsstands (Hastings, Barnes & Noble) if you can. Astounding Sounds and Amazing Music, indeed!
Mellotron set to 11