The Catalyst Fire

US version with 3 bonus tracks.

"The shady stretch of land that exists somewhere between the crossroads of rock, metal, prog, and alternative is one that generates discussion, but not necessarily sales. Fans of Dredg, Oceansize, Cog, and the like have watched countless inspired dissenters of the rock norm leave their mark on music boards and venue bathrooms, only to fizzle into obscurity when radio deemed their playful idiosyncrasies just a little too off-putting. There is a certain burden any group that shakes off standard typecasts faces, yet, with the Australian music scene abuzz with newly recognized talent, and the current popularity of all things delay-driven, it’s an interesting time to be a band like Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus.

In a recent editorial Vince wrote about Tesseract, he echoed a sentiment I’ve long held: the current line of alternative progressive bands might just be the perfect “something for everyone” presence heavy music has needed to escape the rigid confines of the underground.

It is difficult to shake the sense, in listening to Dead Letter Circus’s sophomore album, The Catalyst Fire, that the term “alternative rock” does no justice to them, and that there are a whole lot of people who could conceivably enjoy the crap out of this work.Dead Letter Circus already proved that touring with significantly heavier bands (the likes of which include Animals as Leaders, Intronaut, Last Chance to Reason, and Monuments) posed no challenge to winning over fans who would normally avoid anything quite so digestible, and with the impeccable song craft and memorable hooks on display in The Catalyst Fire, I think it’s only a matter of time before the people standing on the other side of the aisle also take notice.

The first things that standout on any number of these tunes are Kim Benzie’s explosive tenor vocals and the big, shimmering walls of sound his band mates house them in. Benzie has the kind of voice that is perfect for this style of music—familiar, but never readily traceable to a sum of affected influences. His range alone is impressive, but his ability to weave it into inescapably catchy melodic motifs with intelligent messaging behind them is paramount to DLC’s universal appeal.

Of course vocals alone are not the full package; this is passionate, high-energy music, and the band behind Benzie just kills it. As with This is The Warning, the group’s instrumental voice consists of delay-blasted, tremolo-heavy guitar leads jousting with one of the growliest bass tones in rock music and an ever-stimulating rhythmic presence that never feels “in the way.” Luke Williams shows off more than a little of [The Mars Volta's] Jon Theodore’s influence in his nutty patterns, but by keeping them within the architecture of 4/4 time he never detracts from the immediacy of his surroundings.

This package is all further elevated by Australian production ace Forrester Savell (Karnivool, The Butterfly Effect), who returns for his second project with the band. His distinctive mix style of “rhythm guitar in the background— everything else upfront” plays a pivotal role in what makes Dead Letter Circus sound so friggin’ huge and heavy without sounding like a metal band.

High praise aside, it’s worth acknowledging that very little has changed in the group’s formula. The Catalyst Fire is just another batch of very tightly written and memorable songs, with all of the group’s strengths made readily apparent. Despite having two new guitarists in the band’s ranks (following the departure of founding member Rob Maric), the aforementioned stylistic elements that made This is The Warning successful remain firmly in place.

There does, however, seem to be more of an effort made to vary things up on this work. Where the group’s debut, at times, felt a little too consistent in its approach, The Catalyst Fire sees Dead Letter Circus shuffling out the constant adrenaline of songs like “Stand Apart” and the single “Lodestar” for contemplative slowburners to the tune of “The Veil” and “I Am.” One could argue that the group has become a little comfortable with the harmonic framework of their choosing, but it would be difficult to imagine them conveying the same feeling in their music outside of their beloved major-flavored-minor key progressions.

As a whole, The Catalyst Fire, is darker and snappier in its execution than This is The Warning, making for a subtle evolution of an already very strong base. Also, the fact that Karnivool recently made a serious deviation from their relative norm makes a more immediate and urgent sounding release from the Dead Letter folks all too welcome in 2013. I have little doubt that those in the metal and prog worlds who dug the group’s first release will have no trouble rekindling the flame with The Catalyst Fire, but with a little marketing muscle, this could be the vehicle that makes Dead Letter Circus an “anybody band,” and a damn good one at that." - Metal Sucks

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  • "Machine Head's third album finds them sounding a bit looser and less constricted musically than they have in the past, but their aggro-metal with funk overtones is still plenty dense and emotionally claustrophobic. Aided by modern metal producer extraordinaire Ross Robinson (who has also helped Korn and Limp Bizkit get in touch with their inner Lemmy), Machine Head continues to explore themes of alienation, loss, and abuse, but singer/guitarist Robert Flynn is singing a bit more this time out; on "Silver" he almost croons. Unfortunately, while his up-tempo bellow is pleasantly generic, his singing voice and delivery both sound like they were lifted directly from middle-period Eddie Vedder. Flynn and the rest of the band are actually at their best in funky, hip-hop mode, as on "Enter the Phoenix" and the early section of "From This Day." Amazingly, they also deliver a respectful cover of the Police's "Message in a Bottle," one which, disappointingly, adds little more than crunchy guitars to the mix. Overall, though, this is a pretty satisfying aggro-rock affair." - Allmusic Guide
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  • I've known keyboardist Dan Pluta for a very, very long time.  I never actually got to hear him play but one evening in Pennsylvania, his quartet Carpe Nota opened a gig for Knight Area.  In this age of sampling it was refreshing to see Dan's rig - he had keyboards stacked up to the heavens and damn if he didn't play the beejezus out of them!  I was impressed to say the least.So what's Carpe Nota all about?  The are an instrumental quartet with strong roots in 70s progressive rock.  Guitarist Peter Rubinetti has a vintage sound that fits the music perfectly.  Dan is a very dexterious keyboardist.  He is clearly influenced by all the greats - Wakeman, Simonetti, and Emerson while doing his own bombastic thing.  You get serious back and forth interplay between keys and guitar.  The rhythm section of Ken Sundling and Peter Derenbecher essentially hold down the fort and get out of the way for Pluta and Rubinetti to do their high energy thing.  Knowing Dan's passion for progressive music of all kinds, it's refreshing to hear the gestation of it after all these years.  Its reflected in his music - a trip back to old school prog with the occasional contemporary flash.  If you dig the classic bands you need to check out Carpe Nota.
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  • "Many people were skeptical of Mercenary’s ability to deliver after last year’s major lineup change, which left Mercenary with half of its lineup. With Metamorphosis, Mercenary have proven that in their current incarnation, they are just as capable as they have ever been. In fact, Metamorphosis is a definite step in the right direction. Metamorphosis starts out on forceful footing with “Through the Eyes of the Devil,” one of the heaviest songs on the album and what could very well be one of the better melodic death metal songs I’ve heard in the last few years. This song delivers on all fronts; aggressive parts are matched with melodic guitar leads and a memorable chorus that proves that they can do just fine without ex-vocalist Mikkel Sandager’s singing. The rest of the album continues in a somewhat straightforward fashion in varying degrees of success on this formula. The heavy use of a growling vocal style on the opening track is a bit deceitful, as most of the songs that follow it are dominated by clean singing. This doesn’t necessarily have such a huge negative impact on the album, as anyone who is familiar with Mercenary could have seen it coming a mile away. The vocals are certainly quite catchy, especially in the decidedly Van Halen-esque “Memoria.” They don’t shy away from heavy moments completely however, as in “In a River of Madness,” which contains symphonic death metal elements complete with layers of synth that build up a very dark and ominous tone not uncommon in your average Behemoth song.In terms of technical prowess, there’s not much of a “wow!” factor here; but then again, if you wanted technical showmanship, you should probably look at a different genre entirely. Some leads and solos do manage to stick out in terms of complexity, with “On The Edge Of Sanity” having a wonderful and lengthy soloing section. The main focus lies in melodic delivery as expected, and with that, Mercenary do a damn fine job.The biggest concern met with Metamorphosis is that melodic death metal (or modern metal, rather) is hard to get right. The genre has been exhausted for quite some time, with a handful of bands able to maintain some sort of memorability and stick around past the genre’s prime to deliver consistently good albums. It’s safe to say that this genre of music is plagued with some very generic tunes, and Mercenary are dancing around on the line that separates the banal and the exceptional. There is definitely no new ground broken on Metamorphosis, but it definitely sits comfortably on the ears of the listener, bringing hooks and leads around every corner.So all in all, the common fears of Mercenary’s latest album being a flop were largely unfounded. In fact, they exceeded my expectations and delivered a much better album than 2008’s Architect of Lies. Metamorphosis shows that the band is resilient and has some definite lasting power beyond melodeath’s reign. This lineup is going places." - heavyblogisheavy.com
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  • "Transformation is a very apt title for Canadian Prog veterans FM, for not only has their music transformed numerous times over the years, so has their line-up. Joining bassist/keyboard player Cameron Hawkins this time round is drummer Paul DeLong (Roger Hodgson/Kim Mitchell), violinist/mandolin player Edward Bernard, who has performed with Druckfarben and violinist (yes, there are two violinists here) Aaron Solomon. The recording group being completed by legendary Rush, Dream Theater, Fates Warning producer/engineer Terry Brown, who does an excellent job.So you'll gather then that the first proper FM album since 1987's Tonight still follows in its predecessors footsteps of placing violin front and centre. Yet while that may sound risky in today's often sanitised Prog world, Transformation sounds remarkably contemporary and, at the same time, true to this band's 70s roots. More beautiful than punchy, in places the songs on this album feel like Yes with copious amounts of violin strung over it, the air being light, melodic and captivating. DeLong is stunning throughout, his rare ability to be ridiculously busy and intricate, underpinned by a solidity which fixes everything in place. Nary a second goes by where the percussionist isn't whispering a ghost beat, paradiddling the toms to within an inch of their lives, or alternating between snare, hi-hat and cymbals at break neck speed. However, amazingly, he never interrupts the beautiful flow of the vocals provided by Hawkins, Solomon and Bernard; the trio causing another reason for celebration in the process. However no album was built on drums and voice alone, so the stunning, varied violin, viola and mandolin work which weaves and dances across Hawkins deep resonant bass and darting, lilting, pointed synth contributions, are as impressive as they are vital to the unbridled success of this album.There's a real depth of sound and arrangement across the nine tracks on show, the likes of "Tour Of Duty" a journey from fragile art through fractured beauty, into controlled frenzy. "The Love Bomb (Universal Love)" and "Brave New Worlds" contrast this approach excellently, a sparse framework thriving on roaming bass, while gentle string stabs allow the vocals to express the emotions of melancholic introspection, but overriding hope and belief displayed in every one of the songs on this album. And it's that uplifting feeling which really infuses Transformation with the power to captivate and control your attention from start to finish, whether through the harsher attack of the bristling "Re-Boot, Reawaken", unsettling pulse of "Children Of Eve", the almost jauntily optimistic "Safe And Sound" or idyllic "Heaven On Earth".Often when a band reappears from the past, as if by magic to reclaim their past glories, the results are safe and deflating. Transformation however falls far from that trap, instead announcing itself with a triumphant confidence which never fades once as its beauties unfold, and vitally it just gets better with each and every luscious visit to the land of hope and understanding it creates." - Sea Of Tranquility
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  • "Two years ago, a virtually unknown Russian band released a debut with chamber classical orchestration, gorgeous multi-layered vocals, and the occasional modern rock touch. Very few initially noticed it, but eventually by word of mouth, it became an unexpected favorite 2012 album in progressive rock, despite the scarcity of progressive rock elements. Listeners there mainly rated on songwriting and enjoyment.Now, we have a second iamthemorning album, expanding on the elements from the first album. A confident, mature album that will likely bring rave reviews all over the place given the band is not as obscure as in 2012.The music is once again heavily influenced by classical music. Vocals and piano continue creating the foundation of the music, with orchestral instrument, drums, and modern rock sounds adding layers whenever needed. Even the modern rock sounds are used in a very classical, 'iamthemorning' way.The added complexity of the music was a risk. After all, the debut's instantly rewarding melodies and its safe, if brilliant, songwriting approach made it very difficult for many listener to honestly hate such an album. Now, we're dealing with complexity levels more to the tune of classical music and progressive rock. This is now easily categorized as progressive rock, with less direct melodies, knotty musical ideas, occasionally long songs, more in-depth instrumentation and lyricism. The risk is that I enjoyed the first listen less than the first listen of the debut. However, I cannot decide which album I prefer now. I feel like this one has a few minor flaws based on the risk-taking approach, compared to the near-perfection pop of the debut. However, there are even more 'WOW!' moments here in my opinion, some of the very best musical passages I perceive to come across.Flaws? I seem to only gripe about the slow development of their last full song, the samples in 'Howler' and the beginning of 'K.O.S' with a repetitive, awkward drum beat and one-chord guitar riff. Luckily, the latter two songs are overall highly interesting and dynamic songs otherwise, which is why I said the flaws are not severe as they involve a small fraction of two songs.Strengths? It's hard to name them all. The intermissions remain impressive. The first one has such a captivating atmosphere, I can't imagine anyone being hard-pressed to say 'nah' and stop playing the album. The fourth intermission (titled XII) almost reaches song-like status in length, starting with classical violin and continuing with mesmerizing piano. The last intermission is almost transcendental in a spiritual sense.And then you have the songs and they are so, so good. All those subtle melodies and exciting instrumentation in 'Howler', the beautiful 'To Human Misery' with a very captivating main melody yet also with a lot of subtle instrumentation. I should try not to overuse the phrase 'subtle complexity', but I think that word really describes this album. Subtle complexity is what makes this album work so well: you latch on into some obvious melodies on first listen, but then all those little details won't make you lose interest. Every instrument plays melodies, sometimes simultaneously.'Romance' and '5/4' sound a bit like more intricate version of Tori Amos music. They are whimsical, enchanting yet quite complex in instrumentation. Those little details like the muted violin melodies and brief 'shredding' electric guitar that somehow sounds mellow. The '5/4' song is mostly in 6/4 actually, but when it shifts to a 5/4 meter playing a carnival-like atmosphere, it's pure genius, even if it sounds like a horrible idea at first listen. It's an odd choice for a single. I thought it would be 'The Simple Story' which is more instantly recognizable with its melodies and the great piano line near the end. 'Crowded Corridors' is possibly their most accomplished composition to date and also their longest by far at nearly 9 minutes. It begins relatively subdued with their typical instrumentation and vocalizations, if more haunting than usual. Something else going for it is the more 'epic', dramatic moments that work incredibly well. It'd be interesting if they revisit this approach to songwriting in later albums. A particular highlight, besides the obvious piano solo in the latter half, is a slow melody at minute 3 being revisited at the very end at a faster pace.By the way, most of these songs deviate from a typical song structure to help make it more impactful and dynamic. The song 'Gerda' starts very soft and delicate but later sounds very empowering and grand: it's yet another great song. 'Os Lunatum' starts as an outstanding piano + vocal duet, both at their very best, especially during the song's main hook. Guitars later become dominant on the song's instrumental section. The song concludes with a full band sound, the progression from the very beginning being very natural.'K O S' may be marginally a less enjoyable song here because of that first minute which sounds repetitive and lacks what I like about the band. The rest is an interesting experiment as they veer towards a progressive rock / alternative rock sound without fully losing their trademark vocals, pianos, and subtle way to adding melodic layers. I love the way it ends, reprising the intro in such a way that almost redeems it. The 'Reprise of Light no Light' is another lesser favorite, developing in a slow fashion that sometimes tests my patience. I do love that it, along with the last intermission, ends with peaceful, abstract noise.In the end, they have accomplished a very difficult feat, given the high standard the set themselves with their debut. This second album is very intelligent music as well as very deep, emotional music. It touches me. In the end, despite the occasional flaw, it's a masterpiece and I anticipate it being consistently among my favorite pieces of music regardless of genre alongside their debut." - ProgArchives
    $15.00
  • Hackett's last stand... Phenomenal double live set culled from the A Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering tours. Essential.
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  • "Renaissance of Fools is a Swedish band comprised of former members of some fairly known acts; guitarist Daniel Magdic (Pain of Salvation), drummer Magnus Karlsson (Leech/Machina), bassist Linus Carlsson (Kamchatka), and lead vocalist David Engstrom (Silent Nation). Spring is their sophomore release for Metalville Records, a label that is quickly making a name for themselves with a host of strong recent releases from a variety of new as well as veteran groups.Mixing hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock, Renaissance of Fools list bands such as Black Sabbath, King's X, Rush, Tool, King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, and Mars Volta as influences, and while they don't necessarily sound like any of them per se, you can certainly hear little bits of all of them woven into their musical delivery. Engstrom is a very capable vocalist, his expressive, melodic vocal passages soar over the dense, at times atmospheric musical arrangements, giving some of these songs a feel not unlike perhaps a heavier Anathema mixed with a little Fates Warning, especially on the four part title suite, which is not only notable for his alluring vocals, but also the quirky interplay between the guitar & bass, with nimble drum work percolating underneath. Most of the tracks are fairly lengthy, and things never really get too heavy, with "Internal Carousel", complete with symphonic passages and complex rhythms, and the lumbering "Scars", perhaps the most aggressive tunes on the album.Spring is one of those albums where no one thing really stands out, but taken as a whole the results are quite pleasant and satisfying. Strong vocals, dreamy melodies, intelligent musical passages, plenty of atmosphere, and most importantly, memorable songs make up this very fine album, which is a true ensemble accomplishment. Remember the name Renaissance of Fools...you will be hearing a lot about them!" - Sea Of Tranquility
    $14.00
  • "There is plenty of excellent melodic Metal to come out of Italy; RHAPSODY OF FIRE, TRAGODIA and ELVENKING, but upon closer inspection of the more progressive side of the scene, we have a band like CHRONOS ZERO. An ambitious project with grand lyrical and musical aspirations, they have finished their debut piece, “A Prelude to Emptiness”, and it is by no means empty. The thing I love about brand new modern bands is how I'm always surprised at the sheer quality of the debut release, and this band is no exception. They adapt Progressive Metal from the masters such as SYMPHONY X and NEVERMORE, add the melodic flourishes of KAMELOT and an aggressive, yet melodic singer such as Gustavo of ADAGIO.The album has one monster of an opening track in “Spires”, which is completely instrumental, but is unrelenting in progressive riff artillery, not so dissimilar to MESHUGGAH in heaviness. Woven under this neck-snapping guitar playing is innovative, high-end bass playing and foreboding keyboard atmospherics. The MESHUGGAH vibe is noticeably carried on in “Breath of Chaos”, where the mixing of the extremely down-tuned bass adds a much deeper dimension to the album's already crunchy guitar work. The particular riff that characterises most of this song instantly made it one of my favourite tracks on the record. Here we also first hear a taste of the vocals, and it appears to take great skill to pull off a convincing combination of aggressive raucousness and grasp of melody, and the hitting of high notes, which Gianbattista does unquestionably. In addition, there are also featured seductive female vocals, which add a further, interesting dimension to the already-deep music.Parts I and II of “Lost Hope, New Hope” are exemplary of true progression in heavy metal music; two parts to a story, they are both very different, but intelligently interwoven tracks. Part 1 is very much so up-tempo and more aggressive, thrashing about that glorious riff sound I have come to love from this band, and experiences sudden mood swings to jazzier, quieter sections; here, the neo-classical influences are shining throw, as does a blistering guitar solo. Part II contains no vocals, but leans much more to the atmospheric side, but contains even more complex riff mastery, the sheer heaviness and stunted rhythm of which is brain-addling.  “Sigh of Damnation” marks a subtle change to a more melodic sound, dominated by a greater presence of interwoven male and guest female vocals, and the range of the main vocalist is fully explored here, proving that he is most capable of tender pieces in addition to his powerful bellows. The final track, “Sorrowful Fate”, begins with an effective minor scale acoustic trill, and features almost solely female vocals by Claudia; it is about time she and her beautiful voice had almost a whole song to itself. Expectedly, yet unexpectedly, it features a drastic change from a settled, yet foreboding sound, to an explosive and punching beat down, characterised by a further, small performance from Gianbattista, perhaps hitting his most powerful notes yet.I found this an extremely enjoyable album to listen to. An issue that sometimes brings down some Prog albums is the overuse of instrumentals, but I found this to not be the case, because of the sheer musicianship purveyed here. This is exactly what I look for in Progressive Metal." - Metal Temple
    $13.00
  • Remastered edition with one bonus track."With Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, and Neal Schon leading Journey once again, and bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith behind them, it would seem that Trial by Fire would contain the same elements that gave them their stardom in the '80s. Disappointingly, though, there is nothing captivating or even the least bit attractive about this unimaginative release. Perry's singing hasn't lost too much of its power, but the faster tunes come off as contrived and messy. Sounding hard and scattered, the smoothness of their trademarked music is nowhere to be found, replaced with brash, beat-up, hollow rock riffs. The ballads fare no better, as the passion that once flourished within the band when it came to slowing things down has long since faded. Just the fact that Journey reunited may lure fans to this album, but it won't be long before the discontentment begins set in." - All Music Guide
    $5.00
  • New reissue of the long out of print first album from this Swedish band.  This was originally released in 1984.  Tribute made four albums - the later two finds them hooking up with Pierre Moerlen.  New Views is instrumental symphonic rock highly influenced by the the melodic side of prog. Mike Oldfield is an obvious influence as is Camel.  Layers of female voice is used as an instrument evoking the spirit of Incantations.  The real highlight is the near 22 minute title piece.  Highly recommended.
    $16.00