A FAREWELL TO THE KING
“He lived his life his way, never afraid to be himself” Prog’s greatest drummer – celebrated
SOFT MACHINE OLIVER WAKEMAN MARIANA SEMKINA DISTRICT 97 GODSTICKS 65DAYSOFSTATIC EXPLORING BIRDSONG MARKO HIETALA
IF IT’S OUT THERE, IT’S IN HERE
KATATONIA RETURN FROM THE GRAVE WITH CITY BURIALS
The resurrected prog nihilists reflect on Stockholm and their past with their first LP in four years. Dark prog denizens Katatonia will release their 11th album, City Burials, this April via Peaceville Records. Recorded during 2019, the LP follows the first official cessation of activities in the band’s three-decade history: a one-year break that vocalist and co-founder Jonas Renkse believes has rejuvenated them. “We’d been doing the band for such a long time we thought we might all focus on something else for a while, and see if we still have the drive and the hunger to do Katatonia,” he tells Prog. “As it turned out, we all missed it very much. This isn’t a comeback, because we only had a break for a year! But it’s good to recharge. Me and Anders [Nyström, guitarist] did the [death metal side12 progmagazine.com
Juggling his career and the demands of looking project] Bloodbath thing; I also became a dad after a baby, the Swede sounds genuinely relieved again, and all that stuff takes up a lot of time. to have been able to work at his own pace. Having a break really showed us that Katatonia is “As a vocalist, it’s all about the vibe and the a very crucial part of our lives and we need to feeling, and, if you’re in a very expensive studio, move forward with it.” maybe you don’t get the vibe, or you start getting Recorded at three different studios, with vocals it when the sound engineer wants to go home. captured at Renkse’s home studio, City Burials is That’s a lot of pressure when the clock’s ticking the first album Katatonia have made since and money’s being spent. So I got the right recruiting second guitarist Roger Öjersson in equipment and decided to do it myself, work 2016. “It was really nice to have a full band with when I felt inspired.” two guitar players again,” Renske Despite their renewed notes, “and also having his perspective and collective expertise in the studio, because enthusiasm for moving forward, he’s a really good guitar player. Katatonia have not veered away Everything sounds great on this from their trademark moodiness album. The vibe was relaxed “Katatonia is and melancholy. Famously and we ended up with top a crucial part of reluctant to explain his lyrics, performances from everyone.” our lives and we Renkse does note that the songs Renkse is very enthusiastic on City Burials are all linked by a about his decision to record the need to move hazy but heartfelt common theme. vocals for City Burials at home. forward.”
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This month, Intro was compiled by
Memories, all alone in the moonlight… Katatonia get their Cats on. Perhaps.
NEIL PEART PASSES AWAY AT 67
Prog bids a sad farewell to one of drumming’s kings.
The Professor: soul brother to Geddy and Alex.
PRESS/ RUSH/ ANDREW MACNAUGHTAN
Mike Barnes Malcolm Dome Jerry Ewing Martin Kielty Dom Lawson Rhodri Marsden Matt Mills Grant Moon Natasha Scharf Jonathan Selzer Johnny Sharp Nick Shilton Rick Wakeman Phil Weller
ANUBIS GO SHORT BUT SWEET WITH NEW LP
Aussie sextet’s sixth is created specifically for vinyl. Anubis will release their sixth album, Homeless, on March 10. It marks their first record written specifically for the double-sided LP medium. “It was important for us to approach this album differently,” explains bassist/ vocalist Robert James Moulding. “We wanted to take on the vinyl format, so have 20 minutes, flip, 20 minutes, and really let that idea shape the record. “The concept meant trying to find how an idea could work within a smaller timeframe,” he continues. “We wanted to distil our sound and get it to its essence.” Lyrically, Homeless represents Moulding’s reflection on a complicated modern world, touching upon mankind’s fascination with environmental issues, populism politics and beyond, making for an emotional ninetrack whirlwind. “We all feel there’s a social homelessness for a lot of people these days,” Moulding concludes, “so we wanted to ask: ‘What is home these days and how do we get there?’” Anubis: two socially conscious See www.anubismusic.com for info. POW sides to thei r latest sonic story.
“It’s about memories. Anders and I have lived in Stockholm our whole lives, so we know parts of it really well. Once I was walking through where I used to live when I was a kid, and I started thinking that I had so many memories from certain streets, or even certain houses, in this particular part of town, and I thought that everything that’s a memory now is something that’s buried. So the album is a tribute to the things that you’ve lost.” From their loss to our gain: Katatonia will hit the road to support City Burials later this year, and Renkse admits that he still harbours grand ambitions for his enduring band. “I’m very excited to present this record to the world; I’m really looking forward to feeling the energy of the new songs when we play live. I think we’re ready to move up a little bit on the ladder this time. This album has a lot of potential, so I just hope people get a chance to hear it.” For more, see www.katatonia.com. DL
Rush drummer Neil Peart died on January 7, aged 67, after an unannounced three-year battle with brain cancer. He’d brought the Canadian trio’s career to an end in 2015 when he retired, citing damage caused by years of his “athletic” approach to playing, and his desire to spend time with his family. Reports suggest he was diagnosed with gliobastoma in mid-2016. Rush bowed out after a career-spanning 35-date tour. “Honestly, people don’t realise the sacrifice you make as a touring musician,” Peart told sister mag Classic Rock in 2017. “Being away when children are growing up and when your partner needs you around, it’s wrenching. Your family and friends, their lives continue and you’re not part of them.” Their last studio album, Clockwork Angels, was their 19th and released in 2012. Peart had appeared on all but Rush’s 1974 selftitled debut LP, and helped the band notch up 24 gold records and 14 platinum. Peart authored seven non-fiction travelogue books, notably 2002’s Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road, where he documented his motorcycle trip as he tried to get over the death of his first wife and daughter. He also co-wrote two books based on the theme of Clockwork Angels. He appeared in five drumming DVDs and produced several tributes to his hero, Buddy Rich. Announcing his death, bandmates Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee described Peart as their “soul brother” and asked for memorial donations to cancer charities. Turn to page 34 for the start of our tribute to him this issue. MK
â€œI stop at a diner or at a gas station, I have wonderful encounters with people at rest areas at the side of the roadâ€Ś these moments that are just person to person. Those are the moments, that is how I live best.â€? Neil Peart
Suddenly You Were Nobody knew Rush quite like Prog writer Philip Wilding. In the wake of drummer Neil Peart’s sad death from brain cancer he shares his memories about what made the man so very special. Words: Philip Wilding Image: Richard Sibbald/Rush Archives
here are no other vehicles out on this highway, the light fading from the sky as a motorbike pulls into view, a lone rider casting a long shadow, there briefly in focus and then gone, heading to the horizon, going nowhere and headed anywhere. “He’d gone,” Geddy Lee told me years later, years after Neil Peart had lost his 19-year old daughter Selena in a single-car accident as she drove to her university in Toronto. That had been in the August of 1997; five months later his common law wife of 23 years, Jackie Taylor, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After her death, Neil told Rush to consider him retired and took to the road. “We didn’t know where Neil was,” said Geddy. “He was just out there somewhere and then very occasionally we’d get these coded postcards that we knew were from him, and that he was alright.” Neil finally came back to the band to make Vapor Trails and tour again in an era of Rush that Lee calls his very favourite. Perhaps even more remarkably, the man who practised his drums for hours every single day of the year apart from Christmas Day, hadn’t even touched his kit in all the time he’d been away. As the band were putting themselves back together, guitarist Alex Lifeson would stay late after Geddy had left for the day. “And me and Neil would just jam together, get his chops back up, stay late and play.” Neil joined Rush in 1974 after the departure of original drummer John Rutsey. “I remember him pulling up and unloading his gear and we thought he was kind of goofy looking,” said Lee. “And we thought we were pretty cool cats! But he started playing and Al and I just sort of caught each other’s eye. He was astounding, he blew us away. After he left this other guy turned up and he was setting up with his sheet music and I felt kind of bad for him because after Neil’s audition he had absolutely no chance.” Neil walked away from Rush in August 2015, as he began to doubt his ability to play to the demanding high standards he set himself. He had another daughter now and a new wife, and he, more than most, must have realised how time is fleeting and we need to hold on to what we love when we can.
I was at those last few concerts with the band, watching their penultimate show at the Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre in Orange County, California from the side of the stage. Not only to enjoy the frantic air drumming and faces pulled by the startled onlookers in the first few rows, but to watch Neil up close, to try and fathom what exactly he was doing. It was impossible, though. His reddening face was almost impassive, his signature hat perched on his head – how it stayed on in that maelstrom is still a mystery for the ages – but his arms and legs were doing impossible and strange things. Each fill was a recognisable moment of wonder and I, along with every other human being in that open-air arena, paused to get the air drum fill on The Temples of Syrinx just right. There was something joyous and gloriously unhinged about 16,000 strangers all caught up on the hook of that thundering drum fill rattling across the toms. I’m pretty sure we all thought we were in time too. It was that tour, and one I wish more people could have seen, where the setlist was played out in reverse chronology, starting with songs from Clockwork Angels and ending with Working Man, the stage stripped back to resemble a high school hall, some hours later. Given that the band had to work backwards through their catalogue, Neil had two separate kits around him, his latest set up front and then, as the set progressed (or regressed depending on your viewpoint), the drums would switch around to reveal one of Neil’s older kits from another tour and another time. The older kit was harder to play and less comfortable and less conducive to the setup Neil had grown used to, but he – and this was very Neil – insisted on soldiering on with the older kit for half the set as it brought authenticity to the music. That’s how those songs had been played live before and they would be again. But I’m getting away from myself; my head is filled with images and memories of him. Drinking 12-year-old Macallan with him at the mixes of Clockwork Angels; him showing off his beautiful silver Aston Martin (as driven by James Bond in Goldfinger), one of many; standing at the Canadian consulate with him in Los Angeles; Neil laughing with the actor Jack progmagazine.com 35
OLIVER WAKEMAN The Prog Interview is just that: every month we get inside the mind of one of the biggest names in music. This issue, it’s Oliver Wakeman. While there’s no escaping the fact that he’s the eldest child of Yes keyboard legend Rick Wakeman, Oliver has carved out his own significant career. Since cutting his teeth in a blues group, he’s played a diverse range of music with a broad array of bands, including of course Yes, with whom he toured for three years between 2008 and 2011. The recently issued From A Page, featuring four previously unreleased studio tracks from the Benoît David/ Oliver Wakeman/Steve Howe/Chris Squire/Alan White incarnation of the band, cements his position in Yes history.
That collaboration proved the catalyst for Wakeman replacing his father in Yes in 2008 and touring extensively with the prog giants before making way for the returning Geoff Downes on 2011’s Fly From Here album. Wakeman Jnr’s involvement with Yes appeared destined to be confined primarily to live performance, as documented on the In The Present – Live From Lyon album, recorded in December 2009. However, there’s another twist in the convoluted Yes tale. Late 2019 saw the release of From A Page, comprising four splendid tracks initially recorded during 2010, which Wakeman has finalised. Three of those songs are written by Wakeman, while The Gift Of Love is credited to the whole band. Words: Nick Shilton New Portraits: Duncan Everson From A Page provides a fascinating insight into a bygone Yes n encounter and hard graft to era and is a credit with his excellent use. to Wakeman’s father’s Wakeman came sometimes grand piano to prominence with overlooked at the age of 1997’s Heaven’s Isle contribution to four represents Oliver album. He followed the band. Wakeman’s earliest that with a pair of Dean art. Since leaving musical memory. Having albums with Arena/ r ge Ro th wi , A Page Yes, Wakeman managed to play a chord by guess Pendragon keyboardist From has recorded and/or toured work, he tried and failed to repeat Clive Nolan. The 3 with the Strawbs, Gordon Giltrap the trick, realising that he would Ages Of Magick in 2001 found and Magnum artist Rodney have to learn the instrument Wakeman working alongside his Matthews. He’s been involved in properly. Subsequently he has put father’s sometime Yes bandmate readying the Crossover album for the combination of musical genes Steve Howe for the first time.
Filling big shoes: Oliver performing on stage with Yes.
“It was only in my early teens that I really got to know what dad did. Also, in 1984/85, prog rock really wasn’t what teenagers talked about!”
release, which features material from a recently rediscovered improvised session from 2010 with David Cross and late Yes guitarist Peter Banks, as well as working on a large-scale musical project and reissues of his earlier albums. Wakeman will be performing some of the From A Page material on May 9 in London. Do you think that it was preordained that you would play keyboards? Heredity means I’m built in a way that allows me the dexterity that a keyboard player needs. I also have a brain that works for it quite well and genuinely enjoy it. I enjoy playing guitar too, but some people have a natural affinity for it and I didn’t have the same passion as for piano. With the guitar there’s a completely different feel and mindset. Whenever I’m writing and feel myself getting repetitive or nothing’s coming, I switch to guitar.
Playing around: Wakeman strikes a pose for Prog, January 2020.
Edited by Jo Kendall email@example.com
Iamthemorning’s co-founder goes solo with an emotional and therapeutic work that aims for personal transcendence and healing. It’s goth, Jim, but not as we know it. Words: Chris Roberts Illustration: Stephen Kelly
ariana Semkina’s debut solo album begins with her singing ‘One day I’ll find the hole inside what used to be my dark heart’ and ends with ‘I am laced in sadness’. As you might imagine, what occurs in-between isn’t exactly a frolicking funk-fest of upbeat party bangers. As with her mothership, St Petersburg duo Iamthemorning, melancholy sighs and swoops dominate the mood, creating a landscape that’s broody, introspective, melodramatic and deeply intense. Yet as Semkina herself has said, raising a toast to human misery is entirely normal in Russia, and when her influences aren’t patriotically stern, they’re jolly japers like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. “Dead girls” have been a recurring theme; others have ranged from fairy tales to mental illness to horror stories. All of which might make this sound a depressing prospect, but like all the best sad-hearted music it ultimately lifts you up. Having given you a good wallow, a vessel in which to vent, it pats you on the back and sets you off refreshed on your road. Sleepwalking turns the screw as it progresses, but that mood gets cranked up (or should we say down) until it reaches a point of catharsis. It feels as if Iamthemorning arrived fully formed with 2016’s Lighthouse, which won acclaim and awards here. In fact they’ve been crafting their shadowy chamber-prog constructions for a decade, with four studio albums, culminating in last year’s The Bell, another album about “human cruelty and pain”. Her pianist partner Gleb Kolyadin released an uncompromisingly stern, gothic solo album in 2018, mildly leavened by guest appearances from Steve Hogarth and Jordan Rudess, and now it appears it’s the singer’s turn. She too calls in a host of impressive players: Dream Theater’s keyboardist Rudess, bassist Nick Beggs, drummer Craig Blundell and, for good measure, the St Petersburg Orchestra. She’s called it a therapeutic album “to help me get through some hard times”,
Like all the best sadhearted music, Sleepwalking ultimately lifts you up. gathering songs “too personal” to record under any name but her own. “Mortality” is another key motor to her muse. The world in which this music exists – poetic, nocturnal, and for want of a less-abused word, arty – has been explored in the past by one or two Kate Bush albums, but the frequent comparisons made between Semkina and that icon seem somehow ill-fitting. Bush also allows her positivity, her joie de vivre, to flower in her work. Semkina is more focused on facing the tides of midnight. The piano-led backing places her closer to Tori Amos, though this record, thanks to its musicians, offers more skip and swing and undulating undercurrents. There’s undoubtedly a folk-formed presence too, with spells recalling Renaissance or the more reflective, pensive moments of All About Eve. One is also minded to cite the 4AD acts
of the early 80s who were satirised by nonbelievers as women in floaty white dresses cooing ethereally. Yet one mentions all these references only to make sure you have the right boots – and mindset – on before wading in. For all Sleepwalking’s lightness of touch in terms of musicianship and arrangements, it is, to put it bluntly, profoundly heavy stuff. Like a film (Tarkovsky, anyone?), it’s best experienced as a whole, its individual tracks part of an immersive process bent on pathos and poignancy. It’s rich with engrossing passages: the way the keening strings flow from Everything Burns into Mermaid Song as almost subliminal rhythms skitter and scatter; the vocal call and response section on the gripping Lost At Sea; the piano rivulets from Rudess on closing ballad Still Life which feel as transporting as Mike Garson’s Aladdin Sane contributions. And there’s a sense of resolution by the end, a calm after the tempest. We’ve been tossed around by the album’s ocean like tiny humans in a Turner painting. Spiritually, Semkina’s creations are, on the surface, very Pre-Raphaelite, but the longer you spend with them the closer they veer to the eerie surrealism of Dora Maar or Dorothea Tanning. The ruminations of the emotionally troubled complement and clash throughout. On the raw Am I Sleeping Or Am I Dead, she sings ‘All I find are beautiful dead things around’, while on the arresting Ars Longa Vita Brevis she describes her own “death” as ‘magnificent – you can’t put it any other way’. Obviously, she is inhabiting characters and personae, telling stories, imagining herself into other women. In that sense, she’s simply fulfilling the role of the fearless artist. As she sings on Skin, ‘Pandora’s box is open, nightmares are set free’. However, as is often the case with the Gothic, whether born of Poe or Lovecraft or Mary Shelley, the beasts thus released turn out to have a radiant, shocking beauty to which something inside us relates and responds. Sleepwalking leads us down some ghostly corridors to a new way of looking at the light.
DEVIN TOWNSEND VENUE THE ROUNDHOUSE, LONDON SUPPORT HAKEN
Devin howls at the moon... and the stars, and all the galaxies.
ith the results of the UK’s general election rolling in, it doesn’t take much more than a look at our phones, social media feeds or news coverage on TV to feel affected by emotional conflict and political tension. But over at the Roundhouse in London, sanctuary appears in the form of a Canadian enigma in a Hawaiian shirt, armed with a kaleidoscope of progressive sounds. Not to mention the kind of variety and weaponson? Gig or yoga sessi
Haken belt ou t their best.
Cuddly toys not pictured.
grade eccentricity of which Frank Zappa would approve. There are whimsical quirks and crushing heaviness. Metallic death-roars and operatic grandeur. Light relief and tearjerking intimacy. Cuddly toys and thoughtful meditations on mental health. And such pearls of insight as: “I smell like a yak’s balls!” Of course there are. It’s Devin Townsend after all, and his propensity to flip between the profound and the prepubescent has delighted and infuriated fans for more than 20 years. So how will tonight’s extravaganza pan out? Before we can find out, there’s local support action to be had. Visually Haken make a techy first impression, with their mostly black attire and two headstock-less guitars between. Heavy, dancey tones spar with machine-gun blasts, like some sort of rave for introverts. Singer Ross Jennings wryly introduces Cockroach King as “one of our ‘hits’”, while keys and solos create the sense of a jazz fusion night. Indeed, for all their kudos as a commanding force in progressive metal, much of what they do reaches comfortably beyond that niche. Plus their technicality feels like a non-egotistical part of their equation, not the whole thing. They conclude with a punchy 1985, leaving us with an earful of keytar and guitar flourishes. As anticipation builds for the main event, a wide-eyed plush toy unicorn perches on a laptop as early blues preset music plays. Projections of city lights and tower blocks appear on the backdrop, and Devin’s band start to appear nonchalantly onstage in Hawaiian shirts. The stage itself is now bedecked with litup palm trees and cocktails are passed around. It’s like they’ve literally created a holiday space for us all – a kitsch, multicolour bolthole. “Oh my God, hi!” Townsend beams, before acknowledging what a “fucking weird night this is” and assuring us that we’re here to escape all that. The good vibes are gratefully received as Borderlands starts things up with a melee of thumping guitar hooks, emotive lyrics and new-age flavours. The album from which it’s taken (Empath, Townsend’s latest) is densely packed with ideas – a rainbow arsenal of musical textures, quirks and stirring catharsis. It’s a phenomenally ambitious
record, cramming in tastes of the many flavours he’s explored over the years (bizarro prog, metal, new age, rock’n’roll, spokenword…). It’s also a bold choice of album from which to draw the bulk of a big live set, especially for an artist with plenty of longestablished older favourites. But it works: rambling stage banter, stuffed animals from the crowd and all. “If there’s one thing I represent it’s heavy fucking metal!” Townsend roars, before shifting in to the delicate, immaculately harmonised Sprite. Mid-way through the band change into darker attire, Townsend in the skirt he’s taken to wearing sometimes. It suits him, and weirdly complements the extreme vocals of Heaven Send and jazzier qualities of Ain’t Never Gonna
“Oh my God, hi!”
Win. This is a guy who understands progressive tradition and wants to destroy it simultaneously. You can see why his early 90s compadre Steve Vai liked him. The mosh-pit descends into man hugs within the first few notes of his slow, driving masterpiece Deadhead. He talks about depression. Awareness of what it can do to people. The mid-life crisis that shrouded the making of Empath. It’s all so deeply relatable, even as he swerves into a head-bobbing Lucky Animals: the kind of infectious dose of oddball oomph that no one else could write. And that’s the thing about Devin Townsend – there’s no one else like him. As if to prove a point he wraps up with an acoustic Spirits Will Collide, followed by a cover of Disco Inferno (yes that one) and fan favourite Kingdom. Touching, bonkers, innovative; qualities he turns all the way to 11, and all within a few minutes. Devin hasn’t always pleased “At the heart everyone, and he knows it (the of all the fart third-grader humour of Ziltoid jokes and The Omniscient was enough to test larger-thanthe patience of even the most life absurdity devoted acolytes). But at the heart is a unique of all the fart jokes and largersongwriter and than-life absurdity is a unique performer who songwriter and performer who really moves really moves people. people.” POLLY GLASS
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