Pink Floyd’s sixth album, ‘Meddle’, is regarded as a prog rock masterpiece. The band had released enjoyable works prior to its release in 1971, but ‘Meddle’ is arguably the first album where all of the “classic Floyd” ingredients came together to create something coherent. David Gilmour has referred to it as the first album since his appointment as guitarist that really made sense, and – as enjoyable as bits of its predecessors are in their own weird and wonderful ways – it’s hard not to argue with that logic. The thunderous bass groove driving ‘One of These Days’ very much looks forward to parts of ‘Animals’; in Gilmour’s ‘Fearless’, there’s a melodic prog songcraft that he would take forward and make the heart of ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ and even the post-Roger Waters ‘Division Bell’, and via the mighty ‘Echoes’ – a side long epic – bits of the Floyd’s soundtrack recording past collide with huge solos, and there’s even a melodic phrase that would be reworked a few years later to become one of ‘Dark Side’s timeless musical touchstones. Unfortunately, there’s the lazy blues of ‘Seamus’, too – something that undoubtedly grew from their Pompeii animal cruelty jam ‘Madamoiselle Nobs’ – but very few albums are perfect.
All star prog tributes are hardly a new phenomenon. Robert Berry and Yes man Billy Sherwood have been contributing to such releases since the 90s and it’s often resulted in records made with love. Occasionally, they’ve included a few tracks that’ve become essential collection fillers. There’s a Pink Floyd tribute from the 90s called ‘The Moon Revisited’ that brings together a host of famous faces recreating the monolithic ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ from start to finish. Naturally, the record isn’t as good as the original – nobody ever claimed it would be – but a run of tracks during the second half make it a keeper. World Trade’s take on the instrumental ‘Any Colour You Like’ and Robert Berry’s ‘Brain Damage’, especially, showcase veteran talents able to turn their hands to almost anything with ease.
There are too many bands within the progressive metal sphere that desperately want to be Dream Theater. Why, in the name of sanity, would musicians think that ten minute fretboard masturbatory noises and rhythmic histrionics would represent the apex of such talents? It’s bewildering to say the least, especially considering Dream Theater’s abominably boring live “shows”. With this in mind – and so much progressive metal leaning towards the unlistenable because of it – it’s refreshing when a band comes along that appreciates the necessity of a reasonable chorus and knows that shorter track lengths are necessary if a wider audience is to be reached. Calgary’s Red Cain are one such band. The spectrum affected purists might dismiss some of this debut EP as just metal, or alt-metal, but these four songs take in a variety of moods – and the forays into instrumental complexity, albeit without self-indulgence, still places them within the progressive bracket.
Back in the 90s when progressive metal was very much still a niche genre as opposed to a dominant force within prog music, Symphony X and Eldritch were at the more extreme end of the scale. Eldritch’s 1997 outing ‘Headquake’ in particular, was very much a headcrusher in places, with the band’s blend of prog metal and power metal taken to extremes. Ensight brings together ex-Eldritch keysman Gabriele Casale, drummer Raffahell Dridge and ex-Fallen Angel vocalist Antonio Cannolletta, in a union which works exceptionally well indeed. The eight songs (plus intro) on this debut album should appeal to ardent fans of Symphony X, Aeon Zen and Silent Call, as well as potentially appealing those open to some very technical and rather heavy riffing.
When it comes to hard rock and metal guitar playing. there’s a fine line between melodic, harmonious workouts and empty, soulless fretboard bashing for the sake of it. For every player who understands the importance of filling several bars with succinct and thoughtful soloing, there are a thousand John Petrucci wannabes who think – oft like Dream Theater themselves – that notes and flash are a thousand times more impressive than actual tunes…and just because we can see them pulling orgasm faces while bending strings at lightning speeds, we’ll somehow feel the magic too. They’re wrong, of course.