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.
In 2015, multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood found himself ahead of a rather daunting task. He was hand picked by his close friend, Mr. Chris Squire, to be the bass man for progressive rock legends Yes, after Squire – founder member and only constant – discovered his ongoing fight against leukemia would soon be lost. It was obviously a job he’d would rather not have, but given the circumstances, he was the most obvious and sympathetic choice. In many ways, the only choice. Sherwood’s links with Yes go back a long way, of course: he’d previously been involved with the band in an on/off role since the turn of the 90s, if anyone could fill the void and at least have half a chance of fan acceptance, it would be Billy Sherwood. Looking back even farther, Sherwood’s own music with Lodgic and World Trade had showed parallels with the more commercial sounds of Yes. The 1989 World Trade debut, especially, often sounded like the album Yes might have unleashed after ‘Big Generator’ had they continued along the shiny, techy, AOR-prog path.