So, I’m sitting here thinking, “it’s almost Halloween.” Why didn’t I have Fright Pig ready for this edition of Bite-size Prog? Well, somehow it didn’t happen, the planning was bad, the planets weren’t aligned, or there was something weird in my water I suppose. Either way, you get the new Ayreon, and just in case you didn’t order it yet or are still waiting for your package, it’s up for a week of free streaming, so try not to complain too hard.

Ayreon: The Theory of Everything
I’d like to think that there’s no secret when it comes to me being an Ayreon fan, but I must say, being a big fan brings  a price: high expectations, harsh judging of new albums, comparing everything to the masterpiece which is Into the Electric Castle, etc. That said, I was blown away by The Theory of Everything, an album which focuses a bit more on the prog rock side this time around while simultaneously offering all that we have come to love about Ayreon; but this time in a format which we have not previously seen. In my opinion, for perhaps the first time, we get an Arjen Lucassen rock-opera that actually feels like a rock opera, with pieces that smoothly transition from one to the next as the scenes unfold and while lyrics truly carry the movement of the story. This time, rather than getting a lot of great songs, we get a composition format a bit more similar to what we’re used to with an artist like Neal Morse which is based around long pieces of music that consist of smaller movements that share fundamental motifs and drive towards one, epic whole. Add to Arjen’s phenomenal composition the fact that we witness absolutely masterful performances by singers such as Tommy Karevik, John Wetton, and what I would consider the best performance of Marco Hietala and Cristina Scabbia’s career, coupled with stunning solos (such as those provided by none other than Rick Wakeman), The Theory of Everything is most definitely among the strongest releases of the year.

Listen to the new Ayreon for one week only at:

Museo Rosenbach: Barbarica
A band with no small reputation that has certainly managed to spread their albums out over the years (3 in 40 years, to be exact), Museo Rosenbach is hardly a small name when it comes to the classic RPI scene, and 2013 sees the release of Barbarica. No matter how you spin it, when you have a record in your catalogue of the caliber of 1973’s Zarathustra, the expectations are high, and in this case I would say that Museo Rosenbach was a bit short in reaching them, releasing an album that in my opinion had its ups and downs. On the upside there are some great vocal lines, such as the ominous vocal presence in “Il respiro del pianeta,” and the powerful melodies of “Fiori di vendetta.” Instrumentally speaking, there were some grand moments, such as the fabulous keyboard solo and epic climax of “Abandonati.” On the other hand, there were segments of songs and transitions that felt a bit disjointed, such as when the electric instruments come in on “La coda del diavolo,” leaving the impression of riff cutting and pasting. Regardless, Barbarica is a decent album and fans of the band will no doubt be happy to have another release from this great band. And besides, I’m thrilled to see them live next year at Baja Prog, where I’m sure they’ll full on deliver the goods.

Listen to the new Museo Rosenbach for a limited time at:

Elephants of Scotland: Home Away From Home
Elephants of Scotland’s latest album Home Away From Home lays down a lot of familiar elements combined in ways that are fairly conventional but still show skill in composition. The overall vein is thoroughly neo-prog at a fairly relaxed pace, featuring electronic influences such as on the opener “Geograph,” tranquil piano playing on “Full Power,” a great groove on the title track “Home Away From Home,” and loads of atmosphere on the closer, “Errol McSquisitor.”  Unfortunately, there a few things that were detractors for me, such as the vocals; while they had the right sound there was just something that sounded a tad off about the performance, like intonation that missed the mark often enough to where it felt like something didn’t mesh. Apart from that, there seemed to be an overall lack of energy in the recordings, sort of a stagnant feel throughout. In the end, die hard fans of neo-prog may be satisfied but Home Away From Home may have difficulty reaching a broad range of prog audiences.

Listen to the new Elephants of Scotland for a limited time at: