Free System Projekt - Protoavis. 2004 Netherlands

The hard part about reviewing any Free System Projekt album, at least from this era, is trying to come up with something new to say. I suppose figuratively one could make a similar claim about FSP - that is, musically they have nothing new to say. But nothing new, while still being great, are not mutually exclusive comments. On Protoavis, Free System Projekt have completely zoned in on the 1974-1975 era of Tangerine Dream, where the sequences remind one of Phaedra and the overall atmosphere and style are more toward Rubycon. This is my personal favorite years of Tangerine Dream, so of course I'm going to enjoy Free System Projekt. Not enjoyment at the same level mind you - one cannot replace the magic of initial discovery in one's youth - but the familiarity makes it comfortable. A safe place to cuddle up in.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Quantum

Dungen - Allas Sak. 2015 Sweden

After a 5 year break, we receive Dungen's 7th studio album, though if we're to use their numbering system, I suspect they would say it's their 6th (witness album called 4). No matter as Dungen continue with their brand of Swedish psychedelic progressive... pop. The latter perhaps a bit more pronounced this time, especially on the opening trio of tracks. I still can't get over just how popular Dungen are (including a guest appearance on prime time USA late night TV). Me and about 20 other people from Sweden have a full collection of this kind of Swedish psych from 1970-1974, sung in the native tongue. Not a single album anyone would ever have heard of today. Speaking of which, it took me 10 years to figure this out, but now I know precisely where Gustav Ejstes got his main ideas from. If you're a big fan of Dungen, then you should make an effort to hear this album Till dej, one I assure you Gustav has framed on his wall at home.

As mentioned, there is quite a bit more pop this time around than prior, though there is plenty for the more adventurous listener to dig their teeth into. 'Franks Kaktus' is an absolutely stunning instrumental and among Dungen's finest compositions to date. 'En gång om året' is the mournful downer Scandinavian psych that is Dungen's signature sound. 'Åkt dit' gives us the requisite mellotron drenched sound we so crave. 'En dag på sjön' reminds us just how popular Santana's fusion era was in Sweden in the early 70s (think the live Lotus album here). 'Sova''s attempt at a psychedelic ending is admirable, though ultimately boring, and the fast forward button was looked at. More than once.

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Mexican Summer (USA)

Zanov - Virtual Future. 2014 France

Welcome back Pierre Salkazanov (aka Zalkazanov)! If the digipak cover is any indication, it appears Zanov rediscovered his old analog keyboard toys and picked up right where he left off with In Course of Time. It's as if he walked into the basement, saw the massive equipment, and said "Hmmm... let's see if these things still work, shall we. Oh great - they do." This is old fashioned, all-fat-analog instrumental 70s sequencer based synthesizer heaven. Somewhere between Klaus Schulze's Timewind and Richard Pinhas' Iceland is the sound of Virtual Future. As if the Egg label is still with us, and we've been transported back 35 years. Even though there are a myriad of homegrown electronic artists today, it's refreshing to hear how the old masters used to do it. I can listen to this kind of elektronik musik all day.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 private

Oresund Space Collective – The Black Tomato. 2007 Denmark-Sweden

The Black Tomato is Oresund Space Collective's third album and my personal favorite of the ones I've heard by the band. This title sounds more like a vintage Kosmische release rather than the more modern Ozric Tentacles school of space rock. Long tracks (two of the three clock over 30 minutes each in fact) that shimmer with that early 70's German vibe, but also keeps the motor running throughout, so there's no room for boredom to sit in. And high energy guitar-driven Krautrock always wins here around the UMR household.

Looking for a place to start with the vast OSC catalog? Start with this one.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Transubstans

Oresund Space Collective - s/t. 2006 Denmark-Sweden

Oresund Space Collective are yet another Scandinavian space rock crew, who revel in the art of the groove and the jam, and eschew any kind of arty pretension. Large ensembles are the way to go when performing this kind of exploratory music, and OSC deliver all kinds of personnel and instrumentation (including multiple guitars and an array of vintage and modern keyboards). A true international bunch, in that their very name is the bridge between Denmark and Sweden - and lead by the American scientist Dr. Space (Scott Heller). A fine beginning for the band, who were to improve greatly from here - not to mention become far more prolific.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Transubstans

The Trip - Caronte. 1971 Italy

The Trip were formed in London in the mid 60s and at one point had a young guitarist named Ritchie Blackmore in its stable. So not exactly your normal Italian prog rock pedigree. And as such, The Trip were always outliers in the evaluation of great bands from Italy. To best appreciate The Trip, one needs to take in account the western European landscape of whatever was popular at the time of release. Up-front organ rock was quite popular in Germany and England in 1971, and that's exactly the sound you'll find here on the mostly instrumental Caronte. Anywhere between Atomic Rooster and Orange Peel, one will spot the sounds found here. Hammond organ, loud guitar, experimental bits, a jammin' and a rockin'. Not entirely an unknown sound in Italy in 1971, as one could also point to the New Trolls and Le Orme for doing similar. Le Orme's Collage in particular was the band's own odd album out, with a strong Krautrock influence, though they also sung in the native tongue and had began to look inward to what was happening back at home. Not The Trip however. So if you love 1971 era hard driving progressive rock (and who doesn't?) - but foreign languages and indigenous sounds turn you off - then The Trip's Caronte will likely be one of your favorites from "The Boot".

Personal collection
LP: 1990 RCA / Contempo
CD: 2008 Sony

Quantum Fantay - Dancing in Limbo. 2015 Belgium

Quantum Fantay has always been a Masters Class course at the Ozric Tentacles University. And on their 6th studio effort, Dancing in Limbo, yet another thesis has been proposed and accepted. So much so, that the professor himself - one Ed Wynne - even guests on the album! If you're the sort that appreciates Ozric Tentacles most in full blown space rock mode with fiery guitar solos and fluttering flute, meanwhile constantly twisting and turning with jumpy rhythms, then Quantum Fantay will certainly blow your socks off. I'm of that sort, and my socks are missing. Dancing in Limbo earns Quantum Fantay yet another "A".

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Progressive Promotion

Quantum Fantay - Terragaia. 2014 Belgium

So exactly how would Quantum Fantay follow up the brilliant Bridges of Kukuriku? It would take 4 years to find out, but the band has finally reappeared with Terragaia, and the CD (that's right - a CD - remember those?) is housed in a fine triple fold out digi-pak. I would say that Quantum Fantay have found themselves back to their roots of Ozric Tentacles' inspired space rock. Unfortunately, there aren't any of the hair raising, head turning moments of the last two albums to be found. However, let's not get carried away and start pointing fingers as if this is some kind of failed effort. Hardly. The music here is as brilliant as "Ugisiunsi", but with a distinct Middle Eastern and Chinese theme running throughout the melodies (and some snippets of Caribbean and Celtic music too). There's so much to admire about Quantum Fantay in the studio - and their variation of the Gong "You" era is as fine as anyone as ever realized, including Ozric Tentacles themselves. So what you have is the usual fiery guitar solos, flute overlays, bubbling synthesizers, and hyperactive rhythms that you expect - and want - from the genre. Quantum Fantay are money, man. I'm already looking forward to the next release!

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Progressive Promotion

Quantum Fantay - Bridges of Kukuriku. 2010 Belgium

I've been a fan of Quantum Fantay since their first album. All are very good variations on the Ozric Tentacles sound. But I wasn't prepared for the greatness that is Bridges of Kukuriku. Everything about this album is exponentially better than prior efforts (and that's saying something). Whether it's the production (listen to the panning from speaker to speaker as if Dieter Dirks himself took the controls), the instrumental interplay (crisp and tight), the energy level (extremely kinetic) - or just the general exoticism surrounding the compositions. And this has real melodies, something you can actually latch onto and remember, rather than just a technical exercise in musical theory. The amazing transition from 'Follow the Star' (track 2) to 'Shiver Moments' (track 3) and the subsequent blitzkrieg of said track practically gave me a stroke. Music like this is truly exciting, as you never know what will happen next, and yet it still rocks hard in a psychedelic way. Ozric has never come close to fully realizing an album like this. We're in the rarefied territory of those Finnish groups Hidria Spacefolk and Taipuva Luotisuora. This album is absolutely brilliant and will most certainly be considered one of my personal favorite albums of the entire 2010 decade.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Bassick

Quantum Fantay - Kaleidothrope. 2009 Belgium

After the great success of Ugisiunsi, Quantum Fantay return with Kaleidothrope...  ...and serve notice that they are serious and are here to stay. The jumpy sequencers, fluttering flute, hyperactive rhythm section, and - best of all - pyrotechnical psychedelic guitar work, are here in abundance. All of this while never forgetting that melody is truly important to a great composition. Not to mention the constant shifting of themes, meters, and dynamics. Final track 'Telepathy' is a monster and needs to be heard by all. And to think they would actually improve on their next album. Wow! If there's a criticism of Quantum Fantay, it's that they veer too close to Ozric Tentacles. And while that may hold true, one should know that it's more like Ozric extract: All the good stuff is filtered in while leaving the chaff out.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Shiver

The above comes with a DVD.

Quantum Fantay - Ugisiunsi. 2007 Belgium

While the debut Agapanthusterra could be considered another Ozric album, the sophomore effort Ugisiunsi utilizes to a greater extent other music vehicles like flute (in more abundance than the debut), sequencer based electronics, and haunting wordless female voice, thus adding color to the usual guitar / keyboard rave-ups. The guitarist (from Srdjan 'Sergio' Vucic, in his only stint with the band) adds some metal crunch at times, recalling the Dutch group Kong. And the solos are Ed Wynne-esque in their intensity. Like Hidria Spacefolk (Finland), Quantum Fantay also display a penchant for progressive rock themes and complexities – something that Ozric did more frequently in their past with songs like ‘White Rhino Tea’. Tracks like 'Snowballs in Ghostlands' show Quantum Fantay were capable of writing beautiful melodies as well - moving beyond the usual "if you can't find it, grind it" mentality. At this point in their career, Quantum Fantay looked to be a major force in the space rock circuit. And as it turns out, they ended up being just that.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Pete's Mushroomland

Quantum Fantay - Agapanthusterra. 2005 Belgium

Agapanthusterra is Quantum Fantay's most Ozric Tentacles-like album - right down to the reggae bits. That said, the compositions are entirely unique and offer one more perspective of an already great formula. On this debut, Quantum Fantay were a four piece with synthesizers, bass, drums and flute. Guitars were performed by a guest of the band (who would later join as a full time member on their 3rd album Kaleidothrope), but despite this designation his participation here remains a centerpiece to their overall sound. Best tracks are the heaviest rocking pieces 'Lantanasch' and 'Chase the Dragon'. Worth noting that the final track 'Amoevha' is hidden and not listed on the CD itself.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Pete's Mushroomland

Wobbler - Rites at Dawn. 2011 Norway

My comments are going to echo many you've already seen - it's clear that Wobbler has made a conscious attempt at recreating the textures, sound and compositions of 1971-1972 era Yes. Personally I think it's a style that has plenty of room to improvise and innovate in, and apparently Wobbler agrees with me, as this is a wholly original work within an obvious context. As such, I find many of the parts quite exciting, with vicious Rickenbacker bass, mellotron, organ, and loud acid guitar leads way out front. Some of the acoustic guitar work recalls other British acts of the early 70s. So the band has clearly cut ties with its Anglagard/Sinkadus early 70s retro-Scandinavian past, and migrated towards the British Isles, just as their ancestors did 1300 years ago. Works for me.

For dyed-in-the-wool old school progressive rock lovers, like me, this one is a no brainer pick up.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Termo

Wobbler - Afterglow. 2009 Norway

Though Afterglow was released second, this is really a newly recorded version of older material dating back to 1999. Here, the sound is more obviously influenced by Anglagard with mellotron, heavy guitar, grungy organ, flute, woody bass - the whole package. So definitely closer is sound to Hinterland than their newest release Rites of Dawn. Easy recommendation for those into the heavy early 1970s sounds of northern Europe. For me, I'm not sure I'll ever tire of this sound. The more the merrier.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Termo

Wobbler - Hinterland. 2005 Norway

Not since Anglagard, did a band receive so much attention before their debut release. There were plenty of folks trumpeting its release ("pass the torch", bla bla bla ...) and, not unexpected, a full gathering to say Wobbler are really not all that amazing - overrated, over-hyped, over whatever. Since there isn't a single album that everyone agrees is great, this point / counterpoint is bound to happen in the virtual progressive rock town hall. Personally I don't think we can have enough bands like Wobbler. It's analog keyboard heaven. It has the flutes, the woody bass, the active drumming, the loud fat acid guitar leads, the great production. It's rhythmically complex. It's dynamic with real climaxes and releases. It's an open ended style of progressive music, that allows for many avenues, crooked alleys and hidden piazzas. And it takes many listens to discover the various paths. So not every band is the all-time greatest ever, but if there were 50 bands operating in the Wobbler style, most would score very well with me. Either that, or perhaps we've reached a new pinnacle of cynicism, and you have to begin to wonder if you're even a fan of symphonic progressive rock anymore. Admit it, you stumble on something like this album in the record store: 1974 Polydor Norway. And you wave your hand dismissively and bark "It's just average - whoopeedoo". Yea, sure. Through it all, I can't help feeling bad for good ole' Sinkadus. They're really the only other modern band that went down this route in the 1990s, and they were just TRASHED for daring to walk the sacred ground of Anglagard. Time will most certainly be good to Sinkadus. Time has already been good to Wobbler. Bravo!

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Laser's Edge (USA)

The Cosmic Dead - The Exalted King. 2012 Scotland

The Cosmic Dead are a Scottish quartet who've been around a couple of years, and whose raison d'etre is improvised space rock. The Cosmic Dead are yet another one of these new bands who seem to be content to issue their albums via download, along with the archaic cassette format (which, to be fair, does allow for 90 and 120 minute albums). They have 6 albums to date but only two are on the more durable and desirable formats like the LP and CD. 

The Exalted King is a sprawling 2 LP set of droning keys, echoed guitars, and pounding rhythms. Hawkwind and the more cosmic moments of Amon Duul II are the obvious comparisons. This is music to turn the lights off, sit back / lay down, and take in the aural kaleidoscope provided. Wake up, turn the vinyl over, and repeat. By the end of Side 4 you're ready for a blissful sleep.

Another fantastic package from the excellent Greek label Cosmic Eye!

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Cosmic Eye (Greece)

Ben Bell - Patchwork Cacophony. 2014 England

In general, I'm not a fan of solo albums, but when Ben Bell asked me to give a listen to his debut work Patchwork Cacophony, something told me this might be a bit different. And sure enough, I was right (at least this time...). I knew Ben from the Fusion Orchestra reformation album (technically with an appended 2 to the moniker). He seemed like such a genuinely pleasant fellow, and his positive demeanor and overall disposition were perhaps a bit closer to my own. And it was obvious, to me at least, that he had an enormous influence over Fusion Orchestra's return success (artistically speaking of course).

Basically Ben Bell plays about 40 instruments here, and that's one reason why it works so effectively. This includes the critical ingredients such as keyboards, guitars, and drums/percussion. So instead of the usual limited palette, Bell creates a myriad of sounds via both older analog, and newer digital, instruments. In this way, Bell could be considered a modern Mike Oldfield, marrying his Hergest Ridge and Amarok eras in seamless fashion. Though perhaps Bell's work is more in line with traditional symphonic progressive, than what the mercurial Oldfield would release. The only track with vocals, 'Dawn Light', has a distinct Supertramp feel - at their most progressive. Hammond organ, acoustic piano, and sampled mellotron drive the tones, and he does an admirable job with the rhythms - and especially the additional percussion. And an occasional fuzz guitar intrusion never hurt anyone (especially me!). Of course, one can always benefit from the "creative friction" and synergy of a group effort, though admittedly the stress levels are so much calmer when it's only you that you're left  arguing with...

I had to laugh when Bell stated "As a gesture to my teenage version of myself who loved reading these lists while listening to albums, trying to spot each part like a a treasure hunt checklist:". And then he listed the instrumentation in detail. Yea, well, I also liked doing that when I was 13 too. And guess what? I still like doing that as I close in on 51...

In conclusion, a highly recommended album for symphonic progressive rock fans.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Patchwork Studios

Fusion Orchestra 2 - Casting Shadows. 2013 England

Well, well, look who's back? I would not have thought of Fusion Orchestra that's for sure. Original guitarist Colin Dawson reformed the band, with 4 new players involved including the all important ingredient of a female vocalist - this time performed by the lovely Elsie Lovelock. Despite the new membership, the band sounds very much like an updated Skeleton in Armour, which is all one could - perhaps should, given the moniker - hope for. Lovelock's vocals retain that husky soulful jazzy tone that Jill Saward brought forth in the early 70s. And it's nice to see Dawson continue to carry a psychedelic sound in his energetic guitar playing. On the keyboard front, Ben Bell, it appears, has decidedly gone with modern gear - much of it representing the sounds of the past, so he has successfully accomplished what he set out to do. The compositions could have easily been composed in 1974 for a followup album, and I'm not sure I could pay a higher compliment than that. 'Cider Sue' is my favorite of the three main 10+ minute tracks presented. Certainly the material has a modern edge to it, and it would be unrealistic to expect different, but it seems a natural progression for the band, and does not come across as forced or contrived. Had this been a new band from 2013, that no one had heard of prior, I think it would be well received by fans of modern progressive rock. It's a tragedy this one escaped notice. Don't miss this one.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Patchwork Studios

Architrave Indipendente - Azetium A Otto Piste. 2009 Italy

Architrave Indipendente's sole album is the closest I've heard yet of a band sounding like the original 1973 Italian progressive rock movement. There are many groups today that emulate the sound, especially from a compositional standpoint, but they still sound like they're a modern troupe (vintage equipment not withstanding). For example, groups such as La Maschera di Cera, Il Tempio delle Clessidre, and La Torre dell'Alchimista all are clearly retro focused, but still are very much of our own era (and that's also a good thing). Architrave Indipendente are hardcore, right down to the recording techniques and LP only release (though a year later some handmade CD-R's were made to meet digital demand). It's as if they immersed themselves directly into the Italian culture of 1972. That's not an easy thing to accomplish. Great album that is closer to the romantic sounds of Celeste, Errata Corrige, and second album Quella Vecchia Locanda rather than the harder edged bands like Il Balletto di Bronzo, Biglietto per L'Inferno, or Museo Rosenbach.

Personal collection
LP: 2009 Retroguardie
CD-R: 2009 Retroguardie

To date, this is an LP only release. However, there is a CD-R version out there that Greg Walker / Syn-Phonic carries (and maybe a few others). The band did this to meet demand, but it's clear their heart isn't into CD issues. Best to get the beautiful gatefold LP.

Deus Ex Machina - s/t. 1993 Italy

I feel sometimes that this, their second offering, is the forgotten work in Deus Ex Machina's canon. But much of their live repertoire is taken from this work, proving that in some ways, the album features their strongest material from a compositional standpoint. The execution isn't as crisp, and the sound quality isn't dynamic (a bit of a flat digital sound - typical of early 1990s albums). Singer Piras demonstrates here what a force he was to become. A very good album that has aged well and I feel an improvement on their chaotic and unfocused debut.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Kaliphonia

Free System Projekt - Protoavis. 2004 Netherlands

The hard part about reviewing any Free System Projekt album, at least from this era, is trying to come up with something new to say. I sup...