Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 7

This Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 7 we went deep off the radio radar for you!  While one of the performers is known for his participation in one of the greatest progressive bands of all time and his incredible guitar work, there’s no way this album is getting radio play these days despite the fearless rock progressive opera it is.  Then there’s the talents of death metal, hardcore vocalist, singer-songwriter producer who is definitely not interested in radio-play, but his talent and perception of his pocket of music has created a vibrant, scary beautiful and wondrous record with a potentially limited accessible window (don’t worry I’m going to work you into it).  Finally, we go psychedelic rockabilly cautionless with a wicked fun band out of Switzerland that knows how to spin, swing, and rock into your ears – young and old!  This Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 7 is ready to peak your interest, dip your toe, and press “play,” even if you’re slightly scared.

 

LINK TO OUR YOUTUBE VERSION
[Mark Kuligowski & Panelist DAHM discuss these (3) albums + adds three (3) more reviews, again this weekend]

 

Ihsahn – Ihsahn & Ihsahn (Orchestral Version)

You know me, I’m trolling Twitter (call it “X” if you will – stupid name) with all my good music appreciating, multiverse travelling friends.  It is always nice to travel in and out of the hundreds of tweeters that span from comfort zone creatures, to off the beaten path far gone into a woods of potential no return.  They give their shout outs to old albums, favorites, and some shout the praises of something completely new (that I would’ve never seen coming, or maybe even given a touch to my ears).  I respect everyone’s opinion, even if I’ve listened and don’t agree (except for Alex, kidding).  So, Lisa – Hold Tight, her handle in parenthesis here (Sweary Music PR Director, practising inbox supremacy @holdtight_co w/@jimetal. Extreme Metal/Classical Fiend. Lover of light. Living a life of unexpected magic) was the one who brought Ihsahn to our attention.  There were a few others, too, but she was the most committed to the music cause, and I knew, once the solo album was released, we would be partaking of it to get the full effect.  Yes, virgins to the Ihsahn are we.  So, quickly, he’s the lead singer, songwriter for the band Emperor.  And, considering that title, you know where the metal mayhem is going.  It’s like a Robert Frost poem, dark and deep (and here’s a few other bands to drop, if you’re so inclined, that he was a part of);

Ihsahn is Norwegian (Vegard Sverre Tveitan), and his talents range from the singer-songwriter, composer and producer, to an instrumentalist with strong command of guitar, piano/keyboards, synthesizer, bass and drums, as well as the familiar guttural vocal, death metal operetic parts, and even clean post metalcore deliveries (which on this record are few and far between).  This record is a cataclysmic death metal recording that deserves complete attention, delivering exceptional modern expansion and compositional madness to the genre.  That is why, I listened past the vocal delivery.  This is why you should, too.  The musicianship is a reach beyond contemporary death metal (there’s a oxymoron sentence that I’ll probably get chastised for) sparing not a solitary inch of instrumentation on a common riff, thrashing of drums, or repetitive flow.  Ihsahn has composed an impressive, progressive, and darkly matured sound, surrounding it in orchestral and fierce metal integrity.  Who does that?!  He does!  And now — this next paragraph is why you should listen to this album, even if you’re completely turned off by this Satanist (yes, you read that right, and you’re not surprised), death metal gutter growler extraordinaire.  Please read on — I assure you, it’s worth it!

I already spoke of the musician that he is, and that which surround the solo record (this his eighth I think, so he’s got some years of absorption, perfecting and molding under his thick, metal belt, considering the other 90s death metal bands he was involved with).  The lyrics are formed by years of Nietzche and elemental darkness, as well as female followers of Bacchus, as on ‘Pilgrimage to Oblivion,’ which are engaging despite their darkness.  But you should be listening elsewhere, my ravaged friends, to the background the orchestra and the band.  This is where the incredible action lies.  You know why Metallica is so popular?  Accessibility, making the darkness accessible, letting you touch it, hear it, and then be comforted by riffs and thunderous drums.  Ihsahn doesn’t care, delivering it with absolute belief and conviction, so that’s the scary part, and the extreme pursuit of more sound and orchestration on top of it all.  Yes!  The instrument side – he’s surpassed every element surrounding death metal and just sent a thunderous warning shot that he’s completely absorbed in this new creation, and that’s what I absolutely love about it.  No, I hate the guttural vocal, but I understand it — the consumption.  It has to be there.  It’s why I don’t really enjoy Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, the vocal seems less fitting to the pursuit and all that surrounds it.  Ihsahn is all of it, even in the slow deliveries of ‘A Taste of the Ambrosia’ in it’s love torn sickness.

Okay, I’m going to help you have another experience with this record.  If guttural vocal will wreck you, don’t listen to it.  What?!  Listen to the Orchestral album first, so you can appreciate something of which you’ve probably never heard before.  This is the most amazing use of orchestra you will have ever heard!  Then go back and listen to ‘A Taste of the Ambrosia’ so you can be a little more aware of your surroundings and the author/vocalists’ intent and complete absorption.  I can’t imagine you not being complete enthralled.  I know I was, and I am.  This record is growing on me intently.  No, I’m not converting into oblivion anytime soon, and I’m certainly not going to start falling down the death metal rabbit hole with reckless abandon.  But, I am completely blown away by the recording.  That orchestra has things going on that should not be possible in strings.  It’s beautiful, sinister, ridiculous paced, and an earful unlike any soundtrack you could have possibly imagined.  Good luck…and shhh…god’s speed (oh no, I think he heard me).

The Band

  • Ihsahn – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, production

Additional Musicians

  • Tobias Ørnes Andersen – drums
  • Chris Baum – violin
  • Tobias Solbakk and Angell S. Tveitan – percussion

The Orchestra?  Is it all by these people above?  How?  I have yet to find proof one way or the other.  If that is the case (for the above) how even crazier good is this?!

Ihsahn – Tracklisting [Orchestral Album same titles]

  1. 1. Cervus Venator
  2. The Promethean Spark
  3. Pilgrimage to Oblivion
  4. Twice Born
  5. A Taste of the Ambrosia
  6. Anima Extraneae
  7. Blood Trails to Love
  8. Hubris and Blue Devils
  9. The Distance Between Us
  10. At the Heart of All Things Broken
  11. Sonata Profana

 

The Hillbilly Moon Explosion Back In Time

So you remember last year when we reviewed the wonderful rockabilly record from Australian blues man, Jimmy Barnes and Jools Holland (England’s favorite piano player and music show host)?  Not only a great record start to finish, but made our tops of 2023, and was one of the most watched Album Listen Challenge shows!  Well, let’s take that to a very interesting, female and male singer level, throw in a pint of psychedelic, a pinch of swing, a half-cup of blues, a splash of old school southern rock and surf, and even a fabulous off-beat Parisian number with a hint of an Elvis song in there, and you’ve got an earful!  Welcome to The Hillbilly Moon Explosion experience from, can you guess (without looking), no you can’t…Switzerland!  What?!  That’s right Zurich had a hell of a rockabilly scene hit up in the late 1990s, and this one still remains one of the most respected, and on Back In Time, we found out exactly why!

Back In Time, while the album’s title fits extremely well, is a genre stompin’ rockabilly lovin’ toe tappin’ and earful of a record.  But we don’t start off quite in the wheelhouse I’ve described, as the band does like to spruce and spit things around some!  ‘Sometimes Late At Night’ doesn’t start us there.  It’s a surf-psychedelia bender with the female vocal whipped back in time to an easy rocker, and that cliche, clever, guitar shiver slide down the fret.  Love that.  And they don’t linger in long songs, so you’re in, and then you’re out, into a noire Parisian slow, jangle country-slide guitar slinkiness of ‘Summerlove’ (and I’m hearing a close inflection and lines with ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ in it).  Simply a odd cafe delight!  The musical surprises and genre rock-in-a-billy adjustments are incredible throughout, and are never ever repetitive.  One of the reasons is the entry of male lead vocals, too!  When it hits, so does the familiarity and style and lyrical cleverness.  While our female vocalist continues sometimes in harmony, or a ghostly opera howl.  Whatever you call it, the sound is darn right cool, swanky, and bluesy enough to get you swinging on any dance floor.  And of course, there’s a banger on here, too, ‘Jet Fuel Rock N Roll‘ that brings down the house!

If you had a pension for the Barnestormers, but want some Squirrel Nut Zippers, and neo psychedelia with throwback appeal, get your Swedish moonshine ready, your stereo cranked, and your mood set to — here to — ‘Let’s Go’ (Back In Time)!  Guaranteed to satisfy until the next moon explosion.  Perfect for a lunar eclipse party, too!  And you, US clubs, you might want to think about booking this band, as apparently only Florida back in January was smart enough to get them in!

The Band

  • Oliver Baroni – vocals/upright bass
  • Emanuela Hutter – vocals/rhythm guitar
  • Duncan James – lead guitar/vocals
  • Sylvain Petite – drums

Back In Time Tracklisting

  1. Sometimes Late At Night
  2. Summerlove
  3. Knocked Down
  4. 1979
  5. I Live In My Head
  6. Sudden Ring
  7. Jet Fuel Rock And Roll
  8. Let’s Go (Back In Time)
  9. Nothing Takes The Place Of You
  10. Always Just You
  11. Death By My Side
  12. Reno

 

Steve HackettThe Circus and the Nightwhale

I don’t know who the ‘People of the Smoke’ are, but I hear the train coming (or is it leaving), and I know once the string come in that Steve Hackett (ex-guitarist for Genesis, legendary progressive solo guitar act) is set to deliver another progressive concept album, but this time it’s more of a rock opera in my ears!  I have certainly been a fan of his from Genesis and throughout the years, as his career and playing has evolved while still remaining true to his playing nature, which was something his bandmates of Genesis sort of left behind in a lot of instances to the feast and or foul of it all, depending on your musical enjoyment, era you were born in, or outside influences.  I love it all, so all the fractions of the beloved and not so beloved band are essential to the music multiverse.

The Circus and the Nightwhale is an impressive undertaking.  The album has an absolute killer (whale) production style and flow.  The instrumentation that goes beyond Hackett’s dynamo handling of electric (and acoustic — wait for it) is more than commendable — it might be the best I’ve heard in his career of non-Genesis albums.  There are so many interesting changes in the progressive pomp and ritual of this interesting musical tale (yes the pun is intended) that it even feels like you’re in an era-made journey, showcasing some interesting hommages of sound, as well as stretching the usual Steve Hackett designs.  The ‘Taking You Down’ edgy pop-rock into flamboyant saxophone is an awesome example of the creative nature and the grand production scale from track to track, as well as the all-encompassing nature of the project.

The 45 minute journey through The Circus and the Nightwhale leads to a variety of sounds, ear-settings, and intriguing bridges that you are never bored.  The slow jazz of ‘Found and Lost’ comes in soft and lovely with production rain, then adds in progressive piano and keyboard into harmonic vocals building that bridge of familiarity to the next musical story, ear driven location.  And, Steve Hackett and crew make you keenly aware of how they can weave and wind you up.  Flute to guitar to hard rock guitar solo, to drum crescendo.  It’s all powerful, purposeful, and progressively beautiful even to the climax and outro of sorts ‘White Dove.’

Is this Steve Hackett’s masterpiece?  I’m not close enough to the catalog of the artist to make that distinction.  I certainly am overcome and wowed by the passion in the music, even the vocals (which have always been the weakest link in the soloing, even when bringing in singer — as there is here, which ‘Ghost Moon and Living Love’ did a remarkable job of making work).  But it is the ever-changing virtuosity of Steve Hackett and the controls of the guitar that are the backbone of The Circus and the Nightwhale, and that is the very testament to the artist and professional player that he is and continues to be despite the lack of that surrounding the music multiverse over the last decade (for sure).  He is a treasure, whether it’s washed up on the shore from a Nightwhale, or left for dead in a back alley at Duke’s End.

The Band

  • Steve Hackett – electric and acoustic guitars, 12-string, mandolin, harmonica, percussion, bass and vocals
  • Roger King – keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements
  • Rob Townsend – sax
  • Jonas Reingold – bass
  • Nad Sylvan –  vocals
  • Craig Blundell – drums
  • Amanda Lehmann – vocals
  • Nick D’Virgilio and Hugo Degenhardt – guests on the drumstool
  • Benedict Fenner – keyboard (appearance)
  • Malik Mansurov – tar (Iranian Flute)
  • John Hackett – flute.

The Circus and the Nightwhale Tracklisting

  1. People of the Smoke
  2. These Passing Clouds
  3. Taking You Down
  4. Found and Lost
  5. Enter the Ring
  6. Get Me Out
  7. Ghost Moon and Living Love
  8. Circo Inferno
  9. Breakout
  10. All at Sea
  11. Into the Nightwhale
  12. Wherever You Are
  13. White Dove
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