It’s funny how things get lost and then turn up suddenly. While browsing through my Progulator archives I realized that a few months back I wrote a couple of mini-reviews that somehow just dissappeared before I finished up a third to make a publicable trio. If they were terrible albums, I’d say that’s a good thing, but in this case I’m seeing some very strong prog on both sides of the generational fence, with Circle of Illusions pulling in some of the most top notch symphonic metal I’ve heard in a long time and New Trolls rolling in their signature brand of baroque rock. To bring us up to date I’ve included a wonderful avant-garde debut from Regal Worm, totaling a trio of albums with something for just about everyone. Enjoy!
Circle of Illusion – Jeremias (Foreshadow of Forgotten Realms)
Lesson learned: never judge an album by its cover. When I saw the album cover for Jeremias (Foreshadow of Forgotten Realms) by the Austrian symphonic outfit Circle of Illusion, I automatically assumed “low quality female fronted gothic metal.” I was most certainly wrong. Circle of Illusion offers a disc full (literally) of powerful and interesting music, taking many familiar styles and blending them in marvelous ways. Hearing progressive metal of the caliber of Symphony X is one thing, having the film score inspired symphonic arrangements be of the highest quality is another, but mixing it all in with a heavy dose of disco funk and jazz was utterly surprising and brought a huge grin to my face time after time. Sure, there are other bands who have done symphonic prog metal with a variety of singers, and even bands who have mixed metal with jazz (particularly fusion), but I would be hard pressed to think of many that have done it on this level without feeling typically generic. Circle of Illusions offers interesting music that is attention grabbing, epic, bombastic, technical, and walks that line between serious and fun in the best of ways. And if that isn’t enough, the epic 16 minute closer is a journey and a gem. You don’t want to miss it.
Regal Worm – Use and Ornament
Hailing from the avant-rock realm of Quatermass Records, Regal Worm delivers a fantastic debut that shows strong potential for this band as far as how deep they can dive into weird music while still keeping it fun. Use and Ornament is an album that screams out humor with complex composition. Despite the fact that the album is mostly instrumental, there are the occasional vocal parts, and they are certainly well done, as can be seen on the track “Apple Witch,” an upbeat piece that reminds me of Inner Ear Brigade with its catchy blend of jazziness, retro vibes, and modernity, as well as in the case of the surprisingly elegant female vocals that appear out of nowhere in “Confession From a Deep and Warm Hibernaculum.” What really characterizes Regal Worm though is the instrumental, such as the exemplary track “Cherish That Rubber Rodent” which is quirky but very catchy and singleable at times or “The Aunt Turned into an Ant,” with its rollercoaster ride that starts off somewhere in the vein of Yugen meets Anglagard to controlled ambient noise, horror soundtrack-esque segments, and even some psychedelic rock jamming. From blaring saxes to swelling Mellotrons and tasty basslines, Use and Ornament is certainly a debut that leaves me eager to hear how Regal Worm will progress in the coming years.
La Leggenda New Trolls – Concerto Grosso no. 3
Fun? Yes. Musical? Definitely. Cheesey? Well, yeah, it’s that too, but there’s something captivating about Italian prog legends the New Trolls and its latest incarnation led by Vittorio De Scalzi despite the fact that not much has changed this time around. Once again we get loads of baroque inspired orchestra music blended in with pop and rock. Their latest, Concerto Grosso no. 3, is high energy, bombastic, and showcases, as always, the classic voice and flute work of Mr. De Scalzi. “Oh Venice” made for a powerful baroque/rock ballad while storm in Venice starts of brilliantly mysterious and builds spectacularly with the strings before an explosion of strings and electric guitar trade-offs with strong Vivaldi leanings. “Like Ophelia” returns to ballad form and makes gorgeous use of harp and piano; unfortunately when the guitar and drums kick in it gets a bit sappy. “The Magical City” ends up being a reprise of the opener, “The Mythical City” (both great songs), but this time with a royally epic march, sort of kingly parade music and even more orchestral wanderings in baroque style, augmented by punching rock band and thundering timpani. While there is lots going on in terms of classical baroque rock, there are, of course, the elements that make New Trolls’ songs a bit polarizing for me. From my perhaps snobby view, there are a few bad pop numbers on this record, just as is typical of other albums in the New Trolls catalogue; in this case, “Per Nico,” “Per Amore,” and “Per Chi Combatte Per Noi.” On the flip side, however, there are examples of good/tasteful pop, such as “Per Tutti I Bambini Del Mondo,” a moving piece, somber but catchy, and “Per Lui” which is pretty straightforward rock with some nice opera vocal surprises. In the end, Concerto Grosso no. 3 offers us about what we expect from New Trolls: high quality and energetic baroque inspired prog rock along with a tendency toward old school style pop rock and ballads. If you’re a fan of these Italian boys, this is certainly an album you’ll want to run out and buy, and if you ever get an opportunity to see these guys perform live, you’ll really be missing out if you don’t go.