ALBUM REVIEW: Transition by Eddie Arjun

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http://www.eddiearjun.com/

Eddie Arjun (formerly Arjun) is the collective name of New York-based instrumental trio, consisting of lead guitarist (and producer of this album) Eddie Arjun Peters, backed up by Andre Lyles on bass and Mike Vetter on drums.

Essentially they combine the raw expression and energy of rock and blues with the sophistication and intricacy of jazz and progressive rock, resulting in a musical fusion that is unique and original. All three members are musicians of the highest calibre and manage to balance free expression on their respective individual instruments whilst managing to interlock musically in an airtight, completely synergistic way.

Founded back in 2003, the band developed their craft over time and they eventually began releasing a trilogy of studio albums which started with Space (2013), followed by Core (2014, reviewed very favourably by yours truly) and culminating in 2016’s Gravity. These albums also featured contributions by highly regarded musicians such as E.J. Rodriguez (The Jazz Passengers, Sean Lennon), John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).

This album, Transition, consists of eight tracks and is due for release February 1st, 2019. Opening track There It Is gets the album off to a strong start. It begins with a Jimmy Page-style rock/blues riff which for many rock bands would become enough to base a whole track around, but it forms just one of a number of melodic themes and motifs which are deployed throughout the track. It leads straight into a high-end blues/funk riff, with the simple rhythm soon displaced with syncopations. This is alternated with the low-end riff, played in tandem on the bass with a short chromatic section adding further variety.

Drummer Mike Vetter and bassist Andre Lyles soon manifest as a formidable rhythm section, both rock solid and incredibly fluid. They lay the platform for Eddie Arjun Peters’ versatile, almost otherworldly guitar skills. Halfway through the track it breaks down to an extended section where Eddie gets to show the more psychedelic Hendrix/Gilmour side to his playing, with some incredibly mellifluous runs across the neck. This is underpinned by some stunning playing from Vetter and Lyles, culminating in a jaw dropping section of virtuosity before returning to the original groove.

Second track Core opens in a blaze of Keith Moon-esque drum fills and raw guitar chords before launching into a mellow blues in 6/8 time. From this simple template, the band progress through an intricate arrangement full of nuanced dynamics where almost every bar has some clever accent placement or rhythmic motif that adds musical interest.

It then builds up to a gorgeous ascending section that Hendrix would have been proud of, the music exuding sensuality. Eddie gets to break out his wah-wah which he uses tastefully and effectively, bringing to mind the Jimi of his latter day Voodoo Chile-period.

Next comes the title track and it’s a very different beast. Opening with a taut guitar riff that keeps you hanging in suspense it then locks into a pulsing, intense groove with a continually unpredictable rhythm that shifts under your feet. This is the track where the whole band really showcase their mastery of rhythmic dynamics and their remarkable unity that almost seems telepathic but is no doubt the result of tireless rehearsing.

Here the music is more modal than pentatonic giving it a more exotic feel, though still with a strong bluesy vibe. It feels like every single note has been worked out to precision, with some astonishing moments where all three players reach a frenzy yet remain in complete control, such as the superb solo section and the frenetic climax.

The following Longass has an irresistible groove and a real strut, with the guitar and bass once again playing a funky blues riff in tandem. And again, what starts out as a seemingly simple rock/blues jam becomes a cleverly arranged epic. After the initial sections have been repeated a further section midway through takes the music into the stratosphere, with Eddie Arjun Peters breaking out the delay pedal for another skyscraping solo. Another album highlight.

Iana is more like an interlude track consisting of just a moody solo bass, acting as a lull in the storm. The next two tracks both made me think of Hendrix, but in different parts of his short career. Sixth track Ascent is a mellow jazzy blues number that recalls the Axis: Bold as Love era, specifically songs like Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. The arrangement is very clever in how it reflects the title perfectly, gradually building up to the thrilling development section where Andre Lyles shines with some remarkably fluid bass playing, locked in perfectly with Mike Vetter’s whirlwind fills around the kit.

The following, aptly-titled Lavalust is more akin to the wild epic psychedelic rock of Electric Ladyland and is my personal favourite on the album. Kicking off with a killer slap bassline put through a phaser, this is joined by a torrent of flamboyant fills reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell. It then launches into a rock/blues masterpiece that takes all their combined compositional and arrangement skills to another level.

The breakdown section in the middle is where this track really aims for the stars though; delay-drenched lead guitar playing some mind bending runs over gradually intensifying bass and drums, as trippy as something like 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Hendrix’s last magnum opus. It then returns back to Earth for another fantastic section where the guitar does indeed drip like liquid lava, and the whole band is captured at their euphoric, boundary-pushing best.

Closing track Gone is a real slow burner. It starts with a languid groove that really allows the music to breathe, Vetter and Lyles play with exquisite restraint while Eddie Arjun Peters slowly weaves a spell with some deliciously dreamy guitar work. The main theme is plaintive and haunting, the arrangement gradually growing in grandeur towards one final blaze of wah-soaked guitar pyrotechnics. It continues through several sections on this subtly complex seven-minute sonic odyssey. It’s a majestic way to end the journey overall, finishing on an unexpected major chord which gives an air of completion.

Overall, this is the best album so far from this terrifically talented trio. The three members of Eddie Arjun have honed their respective skills to a very fine pitch, have developed a musical unity and synergy that few musicians ever achieve and most importantly write and perform consistently stunning music. The nuanced details and craft in the arrangement of every track means it will richly reward repeated listening and should appeal to an enormous range of rock, blues and jazz aficionados.

VERDICT = 9.3 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Shine by Through Infinity

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Through Infinity are a Croatian new age instrumental progressive rock band, with a multinational personnel. The band was founded in 2017 by Josip Pesut (guitars & electronics), with Tomo Bacurin (keyboards and producer) and Tomislav Lackovic (bass) forming the core of the group. As recording progressed they added other members; drummer Damir Somen, guitarist Antony Reynaert, and traditional instruments/woodwinds courtesy of Safiudin Alimoski and daughter Dulijana.

This track Shine is taken their debut album The Life, which was a long time in coming to final fruition and contains eleven tracks. Shine is a perfect showcase for the band’s unique sound and musical abilities. You can detect the influence of great guitarists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, as well as the instrumental music of artists like Yanni and the Japanese instrumental band The Black Mages.

Starting with swirling synths, combined with powerful bursts of guitar and drums, its first main section centres around a rolling bassline and syncopated drums. A sparse guitar line weaves over the top, then becomes much more expansive in the second section, which rhythmically alternates between halftime and full time. There is some mellifluous high-end lead guitar, which is tightly structured and melodic rather than a gratuitous display of virtuosity.

This progresses to sections where synth and bass play in tandem then combine with the guitars in glorious harmony. The drumming throughout is superb, full of nuance and tasteful fills. integrating perfectly with the rest of the music. Through Infinity understand that there is more musical power in synergy rather than individual virtuosity, though the whole group are extremely accomplished musicians.

Overall, Through Infinity are master practitioners of their craft and have set the bar very high with this instrumental single. As their significant popularity on YouTube suggests (circa 300,000 views for this track), there is a massive fanbase for high quality new age progressive rock and Through Infinity have carved a stylistic niche of their own. I expect their success and fanbase to increase exponentially with every further release.

VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: Once Upon A Scary Night by Robin B. Czar

Robin B. Czar - Once Upon a Scary Night - EP Cover

http://www.rbczar.co.uk/

Robin B. Czar is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who is German but currently resides in Canterbury, England. He has developed a cult fan base owing to his unique sound; it is a fascinating fusion of old school hard rock/metal like Black Sabbath, with more modern influences such as Marilyn Manson and HIM. Vocally, he has an immediately distinctive tone reminiscent of David Bowie and Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto.

He has released three albums, Nachtgesange, Kiss from The Abyss and Mission Bizarre, which I reviewed a couple of years back. This E.P., Once Upon A Scary Night, consists of three tracks which form a ‘trilogy about a fictional character’ who goes through an emotional journey portrayed across one night that resolves the next day. For the fans who love his established sound, they will be pleased to know it retains the virtuoso musicianship, darkly humorous lyrics and ambitious, sophisticated arrangements that have become his trademarks.

Opening track Candle In The Rain begins in a blaze of Avenged Sevenfold-esque guitar pyrotechnics, displaying Robin’s incredibly fluent style, grabbing the listener’s attention immediately with a swirling riff that he harmonizes to great effect. The first verse depicts a life of misery over a sparse musical backing: “Another endless day has passed, another sleepless night begins.…”. The bridge/pre chorus bursts out of the speakers in a blaze of guitars and syncopated rhythms, the lyrics even darker: “The torture never stops, its like a nightmare without waking up…”.

Then the gloom is relieved by the instantly catchy title hook which refers to the fleeting and fragile nature of life: “Like a candle in the rain, everything’s vain in the end….”. After the second chorus there is an excellent instrumental passage, first with a short half time section featuring beefy, low-end riffage before launching into a fantastic solo, again featuring Bat Country-style duel guitar harmonies, then one last chorus.

Second song Until The Morning Breaks is a complete contrast musically, but carries on the nocturnal theme. This one is a brooding, intense epic rock ballad which starts with a lilting piano motif before a sparse but effective beat kicks in and Robin portrays a bleak, gothic scene: “The raging wind’s outside… the winter storm, it howls, it’s banging at the door….ghosts from forgotten graves come to you in need….”.

It builds gradually in intensity across the duration of the track, with atmospheric synths and subtle lead guitar work adding to the texture. The central theme of the ‘dark night of the soul’ is captured in another memorable chorus: “In sombre silence you sit in here and wait…until the morning breaks….”. After the second chorus there is an instrumental section with a concise, well structured solo played in octaves. It ends poignantly with the return of the piano phrase.

The final track Kill Everybody, is again in strong contrast to the previous song, this one hurtling along at a hectic pace, though not quite what you’d classify as speed metal. It shows Robin’s macabre sense of humour for the first time on the E.P., with a scenario in the lyrics reminiscent of the film Falling Down, about a man who cracks from stress and starts taking revenge on whoever has slightly wronged him.

Robin clearly has his tongue in his cheek as he sings: “Now is the girl who gave the wrong change, now it’s too late for mercy or tears….”. It leads to the joyously delivered chorus hook: “Kill everybody! Now it’s payback time….”. After the second chorus, Robin wrong foots the listener once more, reducing the tempo drastically for a build up section that airs grievances in a humorous fashion: “They do the same job, but get paid a bonus on top….”. Then ensues a return to the machine gun kick drums of the first half of the song, Robin delivering the best guitar solo of all, performed with a mellifluous, silky tone to bring things to a satisfying musical climax.

Overall, this is an excellent E.P. that’s works as a complete whole rather than just a collection of separate songs based around a lead single, as is usually the case. Robin B. Czar can lay claim to a genuinely original sound and style, melding rock (classic, prog, and industrial) with elements of heavy metal, then throwing quirky, eccentric lyrical themes shot through with Gothic black humour into the mix. It all adds up to an entertaining sonic concoction and this E.P. raises the bar even higher in the context of his previous work. Rock/metal fans looking for something a little left of field are implored to give him a listen!

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

E.P. REVIEW: Endless Blue EP by Vitne

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Vitne is the stage moniker of Jo Kimbrell, who is a singer, guitarist and songwriter hailing from Oslo in Norway. He has released a lot of music through his involvement in different musical projects, including the band Golden Palace. It was in 2013 that he launched his solo career as Vitne, teaming up with German guitarist Julian Angel, whose skills feature on this EP. He released his debut solo album, Neon, in late 2013 to critical acclaim.

This six track EP, Endless Blue, is the perfect showcase for Vitne’s various talents and broad musical range. The tracks differ in style, but essentially you would describe his music as a combination of glam rock artists/bands like Billy Idol and Kiss with the more modern sound ofvpunk rock bands like Sum 41 and Goldfinger. There is also a sophistication to both the music and lyrics that you get with progressive rock and a certain theatricality; it’s no surprise to learn that Vitne is also an actor.

The EP starts with the sound of rolling thunder on Rain Of Hope, a one minute instrumental comprising just guitar, setting the tone nicely for what follows. The title track comes next, and the contrast to the intro could not be greater. It begins with a pounding stadium/punk rock drum beat courtesy of Matthew Sean Reynolds, before a Sum 41-style lead guitar riff grabs the attention. After a short verse we soon hit the anthemic chorus, sung with fire and passion: “Just one more try and I will fight..sit staring deeply through the still of night, digging deep, trying to find you, never ending, searching for you endlessly in this endless blue…”.

After a middle eight section that maintains the colossal energy, it breaks into an exciting guitar solo before one last blast through the chorus. A fabulous, uplifting song and an obvious choice as a single. This is immediately contrasted by Himitsu, Village of the Sea, which is a gentle folk acoustic ballad introduced with some gorgeous flute (played by Vitne). It’s about realizing how much you appreciate somewhere once you’ve left that place and contains some lovely vocal harmonies. A track that shows Vitne’s songwriting craft.

This is then followed by Serenity, a four minute acoustic instrumental track. It is beautifully simple, a picked acoustic guitar melding with a haunting, poignant melody also played on the acoustic. This melody is then eventually taken over by flute, which works very effectively.Vitne says the inspiration for this track “came from role playing games like Chrono Cross”, which just goes to show that artistic inspiration can come from all manner of sources.

Fifth track Misery is a return to the anthemic rock of the title track, this one not as fast and builds more gradually. Starting with just vocal and chugging acoustic, the electric guitars are not introduced till the second verse, which heightens their impact. It features an intimate and heartfelt vocal performance from Vitne as he depicts a struggling relationship in the lyrics: “I already know that it’s over..so try my best not to make believe, I feel alright though I’m not sober, I’m drowning in this misery…. “.

Final song The Ocean is an interesting song to end the EP, another romantically themed track that incorporates the metaphor of the (endless blue) ocean as symbolic of the vastness of life’s emotional experiences. The lyrics honour a finished relationship, the chorus containing the poetic and poignant line, ‘Our love lies in the ocean….‘.  Whereas it could have been arranged as a simple acoustic ballad, musically it lies halfway between the EP’s ballads and rockier songs. It’s an intense, powerful track and a suitable ending to the musical journey of this EP, giving a sense of having come full circle.

Overall, this is a very accomplished and highly enjoyable set of tracks that manage to cover as much musical range and emotional territory as you would expect from a full length album. Vitne has an excellent voice and writes well crafted, intelligent music and lyrics that stand out as a cut above most rock music. His backing band all give superb performances that match the ambition of the artist – you would have to think its only a matter of time before Vitne breaks through to become a worldwide famous star.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.8 out of 10

 

E.P. REVIEW: An Electronic Sphere by An Electronic Hero

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An Electronic Hero is the musical brainchild of Federico Foria and this E.P. An Electronic Sphere consists of five tracks, most of which are instrumentals. The music is complex and ambitious with a concept behind it, described as an exploration of the human soul in the electronic age. Musically, it is an inventive and eclectic blend of several genres, including ambient, house and even progressive rock.

Opening track Little Planet gradually weaves a tapestry of intertwining synth melodies that work together well in combination, a pulsing four to the floor beat emerging halfway through with a voice exclaiming “Let’s go!” and the main high melody returns till the finish. Second track Asteroid has a very catchy main synth riff which is added to by supporting melodies as the track goes on, with a subtle kick drum that punctuates the music intermittently.

Third track Oxygen is faster paced, beginning with epic orchestral synths and rolling timpani before another memorable melody takes the lead. An urgent beat kicks in but, again, only briefly, soon dropping out to give way to the layers of textured synth lines. I loved the oboe type sound and the cluster of harmonies around it.

Fourth track Sun is radically different, featuring the lead vocals of Mariax drenched in distortion (perhaps symbolizing the burning heat of the sun) which gives the music a real edge. I loved the simple four note lead synth line around which Mariax bases her vocal melody as well as the swirling melody that envelops it. Final track Moon is quite the opposite, the various mellow, floating melodies evoking the mysterious nature of the moon, and I could hear how prog rock band King Crimson were an influence here. It is by far the longest at five and a half minutes and a great finale.

Overall, this is a very well composed and produced E.P. of inventive and original electronica that has already gained a strong fanbase online. An Electronic Hero makes music with more thought and depth behind it than most, and now is the perfect era for it to reach a wide audience, which I have no doubt it will.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.6 out of 10

E.P. REVIEW: Clarity by Zero Verdict (Release Date: 30 April 2014)

CLARITY Zero Verdict are a progressive rock/metal band hailing from Finland featuring former members of Machina, King’s Ruin and Vermivore. Their sound is a mixture of progressive rock influences like Rush and Dream Theater but with the heavier guitar sound of, say, Avenged Sevenfold. The exceptionally high level of musical ability is the first thing that becomes apparent on Clarity, their first E.P., though there is not the slightest trace of self-indulgence as is often the case with highly proficient musicians.

The opening song, The Perfect White Lie, begins with an exciting, wiry guitar riff that hooks the listener straight away. The song pulls off the neat trick of effortlessly juggling complex time signatures whilst remaining accessible to the average listener. This is due to the highly anthemic chorus, aided by the powerful vocals of Sami Huotari. Many rock bands have excellent musicianship but are let down by their vocals, this is not the case at all with Zero Verdict. Despite the rhythmic complexity, the catchy chorus hook ensures instant appeal, and this memorable song is the obvious single and leading track.

The songwriting, by guitarist Tapio Mattila, (who also wrote the next two tracks) is first class, with a verse/bridge that builds to the epic chorus with consummate craft. A taut, perfectly constructed guitar solo is another highlight. Most progressive rock bands find a limited audience, but Zero Verdict keep their prog tendencies in check and it succeeds as simply a heavy rock/pop song, as commercial and potentially popular as a band like Evanescence, and they should not be ashamed of that. A band like Rush have shown you can have your progressive rock cake and eat it!

Next track Alone is also strong, beginning with a lilting guitar riff in 6/8, the song building into a slow epic that is lengthy but never dull for a second. This track also features a memorable chorus and is much higher quality than you’d expect for a second track on an E.P. Most bands usually have one strong lead-off song and three filler tracks.

Third song Lost In a Haze is seven and a half minutes long and features several time-signature changes like the first track, all achieved in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the music. Another fine piece of composition, this one is notable for an incredible passage of duel-guitar interplay that would put Dragonforce to shame.

Unusually, the title track of the E.P. is placed last and begins with a gentle, plucked acoustic guitar. It gradually builds into another colossal epic, with perhaps the most anthemic, singalong chorus here. It also features some effectively atmospheric keyboards by non-band member Jukka Tappola. This is their ‘lighters-in-the-air’ rock ballad and provides an excellent finale to one of the best E.P.s I’ve heard either as a music listener or reviewer.

From the songwriting, to the musicianship, singing and production, there is nothing here that is not of the highest quality. If there’s any justice, Zero Verdict will become as massive as their sound.
Verdict: 8.4/10

Alex Faulkner