Prog Round-up: December 2015

Geoff Barton on new releases from The Tirith, Witchwood, Soft Hearted Scientists, Heylel and Simulacrum

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The Tirith: Tales From The Tower

Back in the early 1970s this Loughborough-based band were known as Minas Tirith, named after the mythical city in JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth scribblings. Re-forming in 2010, they shortened their moniker to the hard-to-pronounce The Tirith (especially if you’re Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies). But that’s the only faux pas in an otherwise triumphant comeback that fuses Styx-like pomp rock with bluesy prog, guitarist Tim Cox evoking the spirit of Gary Moore with his delicious solos and punchy power chords.

Some tracks – notably the chunky, NWOBHM-like The Tower – have been re-worked from the early days; however it’s on the more up-to-date compositions where they really show their chops. The lavish, Moody Blues-tinged Gazing At Stars and the gritty, Hendrixy Gin Lil are particular standouts, closely followed by epic closing numbers Pioneers Of The Outer Arm and Lost, which can only be described as (wait for it…) Tirithic. (810)

Witchwood: *Litanies From The Woods*

The annals of rock are full of misguided career moves but this one, quite literally, takes the biscuit. Italy’s Witchwood were once known as Buttered Bacon Biscuits, which begs the question: why the hell did their change their name to something so boring and unimaginative? Thankfully their music is anything but, being a beguiling mix of Tull and Purple. (610)

Soft Hearted Scientists: *Whatever Happened To The Soft Hearted Scientists?*

The double vinyl album version of this retrospective sold out in 2013 and is now available as a run of CDs direct from the band – details can be found on the SHS Facebook page. A single listen to their offbeat take on The Likely Lads theme and you’ll be a fan for life. (810)

Heylel: *Flesh*

If you enjoy operatic female vox but are fed up with the symphonic fluff that often accompanies them, Portugal’s Heylel will offer you salvation. Dark, twisted and foreboding, this is highly impressive. Singer Ana Batista puts in an imposing performance, and when Paulo Rodrigues (of metallers Debunker) chips in with growly bvs the result is special indeed. (710)

Simulacrum: *Sky Divided*

Many progressive metal bands are so focused on honing their blistering technique they end up sounding boring and soulless. Not so Finland’s Simulacrum, whose rampant noodlings are augmented by a veneer of passion and excitement. Niklas Broman puts in a noteworthy display, his deranged vocals falling somewhere between Geoff Tate and Ron Keel. (610)

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.