Review by: ProgRock Block PodCast
Review by: Sleeping Bag Studios
My immediate first impression upon pressing play was one of, ‘Wow – was I EVER raised on this kind of music!’ The opening track reminded me very much of something that Joe Satriani would have put together…maybe around the time of his Surfing With The Alien album. One thing is certain – you can’t make an instant comparison to one of the instrumental GIANTS like Satriani without there being an intense and large level of skill in both the instrumentation and in the production – Velvet Symphony is bringing this kind of A-game – listen up!
Right into the second track called “Surface” and I’m more than in love with this album. Get yourself caught up – hit that sweet spot around 1:40 and see what this act is capable of! This jazz-line piano that is brought in works so perfectly in this track and reveals a large element in the overall work of Velvet Symphony; though at the core this music stays true to progressive roots – it is not afraid to give it an update by reaching for different genre elements like jazz or power-ballads and do something new with it. When you’re listening to the track “Horizon” – you might think to yourself ‘yeah – this is prog-rock, but the Postal Service could even find a way to work with what Velvet Symphony are doing.
We’ve said it countless times – good music can transcend genre barriers. A track like “Horizon” will take you through a journey from the prog to the pop side of Velvet Symphony. “Clock It” comes ripping in back to the progressive with an absolutely mind blowing guitar performance. The skill level is no doubt in my mind up there with the greats – I’ve spent a near lifetime listening to Vai, Satriani, Fripp, Johnson… the musical brain, songwriting and skill of Ed Melendez and his work with Velvet Symphony easily deserve a mention alongside what could easily be considered his PEERS.
During “Clock It” I had to sit and think for a second. I had to check pages. Yep – this is ONE guy. So if you had ANY beef before – you can drop that shit now – cause this is made by ONE guy. Sick! His ideas on how an album should flow are incredible and the production on the sound is absolutely beyond pro and so incredibly true to the style – it just works on every level track after track.
Prog-rock has taken a beating lately – those of us who listen to it fully know it. The genre has become confused with bands that wander but don’t understand structure or proper timing elements, resulting in it becoming a genre many music listeners became afraid of… If you’re looking for the classic sound – this freaking NAILS it on all fronts. Listen to “Going To Jupiter” and tell me you can’t love that! Again – a very guitar driven melody – but it’s truly the rarest of musicians that can really make their instrument SPEAK to us like Ed can through these fantastic guitar lines. The rest of the classic elements are rounded out – in a track like “Labyrinth” you can absolutely hear the influence of a band like Marillion. Another brilliant song for his guitar; he’s almost channeling the blues soul of Gary Moore in playing on this one. It has tension – it has a tremendous build up that completely pays off.
As does this album. As I went from track to track – I had to kind of smile and think to myself, ‘You know what prog-rock? You’re gonna be okay…’ Indie prog-rock is fully alive and well – you found that out with us before when we reviewed The Great Airport Mystery. This album by Velvet Symphony – Counter Clockwise – shows the more traditional side of progressive rock and could easily hold up with the best of the independents OR the mainstream.
Shit – I have to be honest. This is like the damn manual on what you SHOULD do in making progressive music true to the style. The rise, the fall…the epic journeys that this genre can take us on when we just close our eyes and listen are all here. That feeling of freedom in music…is here…all over this album…and you know what? It sounds awesome.
You all know that I’m a huge fan of melody in music. Listen to the Velvet Symphony track “Cloud Parade,” surrender, give up, and agree with me that it’s not just AN important element of songwriting but that it could very well be THE element of GREAT songwriting. After all – it’s through that melody that we connect emotionally to a track – without that could we even at all? It is again to be noted the complete phenomenal level of skill it takes to be able to communicate this without the means of vocals and Velvet Symphony seems to have an entire degree in musical communication. The album completes itself with “Metal Circus” – another epic journey through the land of skill and epic-ness but this time also bringing in a bit of the funk for us before the final explosion.
Well written. That’s probably how I’d describe it if you limited me to only two words. Give me three of those word-things and I’d say INCREDIBLY well written. Ed has literally left no stone unturned and covered every base on this album – no bullshit here. When you hear how these tracks flow and weave through each other, and then the culmination of the album in “Metal Circus” which nearly incorporates all of the different aspects and elements you’ve come to love throughout the album…there’s no doubt in my mind that every sound and note was looked at and examined before putting this out there as finished work. For this prog-rock genre, this is as perfect as perfect gets.
Review by: Noise Shaft
Though genres tend to be arrogant by nature, it seems and sounds safe to say that Velvet Symphony is Ed Melendez’s instrumental progressive space rock project which not only is easy to listen to, but vastly entertaining to do so with, as well.
Ed Melendez’s music embodies the sheer vibes the inquisitive ears would keenly jump unto during a high profile ’80s YET timeless space journey, and, if you (falsely) consider that you do not currently feel suited for such a reality fabric experience, then please get your head out of all butts and just pop this spin in, and you will be taken on such a sonic trip nevertheless.
The “I” is the least important part in a review, competing with the urgency to remind ourselves from time to time that it is fun to solidify a rule by failing to submit to it. As such, I’m listening to this music right now and feel an almost irresistible physical urge to play the role playing game Mass Effect 2 with this album playing as sonic backdrop as soon as possible. Ed Melendez is old school and All Sonic Balls, as his debut, Counterclockwise – a probable reference to the exquisite retroid space rock nature of this fine audio stimuli – showcases more than 30 years of the artist’s personal musical evolution, that which primarily gravitates around the crystal clear musical thought, executed and complimented by an exemplary musical awareness and a perfect understanding of retro sci-fi glitter. First Blade Runner this, then read on to know more about this.
Ed Melendez primarily is a keyboardist, so it should not surprise you at all that the disc reeks the music Jean Michelle Jarre seeks to circulate with varying degrees of success exhibited since 1642, only, Melendez fortunately made sure to include only the kinds and types of ideas that are guaranteed to show simultaneous potential both to exist and entertain – the two qualities might have something to do with each other via a mystical (?) form of entanglement. Melendez’s harmonic awareness, coupled with the unrelenting and valiant willingness to deliver layered ornamentics, is considerable. The luscious audio happenings are always complex AND straightforward, courtesy of well established base structures your host compliments with top tier mid-, and high frequency melodic wizardry.
The main lead brings a perplexingly-, even impertinently convincing solo guitar timber, and, depending on the spot you will join into the flow on as listener, you might have immense-, even “emence” difficulty believing that what you hear is not a(n) “(un)real” electric guitar offering ambitious avant-garde patterns as per the command of an adept fret soulja’. Premiere sci-fi shredder Michael Angelo Batio LOVES this music all the way through. See? No objections.
At 41:08 interval of massively instrumental space journey overdose, Ed Melendez has plenty of real estate to showcase/articulate his intriguing inner visions of top of the foodchain old-school retro eloquence, and even the tamer compositions – from a harmonic point of view, see track 9, “Cloud Parade”, for example – emerge successful as nice chill out-periods and “forgiving” counter-pointings against such high profile instrumental highlights like trailblazer-opener “Exit”, or track ender “Metal Circus”, which once again so deliciously invades the mind with the ethos of the science fiction of the ’80s that you immediately want to take hold of something pink with green blotches, no matter what. Seriously, if you have a chance to do so, go into the “Afterlife” bar in Mass Effect 2 with any track from this fine spin as background music, and the exhiliratingly evident stimuli-satisfaction is guaranteed. When something is “too good”, you have no other chance than to make it stop for a while, so it can be “too good” again, armed with its rightful claim to its sheer quality once again. Such is the case with this release, too : it is a good idea to take one sip at a time, it indeed is so good. Do NOT abuse yourself (that much [at all]).
As noted, Ed Melendez has been at the music production quest since quite a while, and his debut, when witnessed for what it wants to accomplish, – which is to establish the musical timelessness of progressive over-the-top glitter sci-fi starting from 2012 – is nothing less than triumphant, and an immediate recommendation for ALL music lovers. What? You are not a fan of glitter sci-fi? You don’t know what you are talking about – listen to this record, and you WILL be a fan of it. The album gives no other options, and this equates with its premiere character and sonic benefit.
Review by: Heath Andrews
Having been a fan of classic progressive rock groups such as Yes, Genesis, and The Moody Blues for most of his life, as well coming to appreciate more recent progressive outfits such as Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, it should come as little surprise that composer Ed Melendez is heavily inspired by this genre of music. As a composer and keyboardist, he certainly is following in the footsteps of giants given how revered a keyboardist and songwriter that Tony Banks from Genesis is as well as Yes’ Rick Wakeman. While it would be unfair to compare Melendez to the musicians who have inspired him, he seems to have learned a lot from them and his years of general composition. By taking his skills and surrounding himself with a group of equally talented musicians, he was finally able to put together the band, Velvet Symphony and their debut release, Counter Clockwise.
In his notes discussing the creation of Counter Clockwise, Melendez states that his compositional strategy was to start by creating minute and a half long riffs between the drums, keyboards, and bass and lead guitars, and then go back to build upon these once he had a riff for all ten tracks that would be on the album. By building from riffs on up, Melendez has managed to create a collection of very tightly constructed instrumentals within which he and his fellow musicians are able to showcase their fantastic abilities. However, this compositional strategy has also made the songs a bit too structured and they lack the sense of progression and change that prog rock is identified with.
Regardless of how progressive the music is, Velvet Symphony sounds great. Joining Melendez is bassist Walter Taylor, and lead and rhythm guitarists Alexander Moss and Nicolas James respectively. Also featured is Dean Vincent on acoustic guitar, Nancy Michaels playing the hand bells, and Madeleine Grace providing strings. The core group rips and rocks their way through every song here. Beginning with “Exit,” Velvet Symphony instantly establishes a hard and driving sound through Taylor’s bass playing. Built on top of this is an increasingly complex layering of keyboards. The production from Melendez is strong enough to where the listener can easily pick up on the different parts being played and hear how they all blend together. The meat of the song however is in Moss’ lead playing. On this track in particular he’s a bit reminiscent of Greg Lake from ELP with solos that show a great deal of finesse and an intensity that builds up to the closing.
That intensity shows itself throughout most of the album but it’s when Moss plays with a more controlled intensity that he’s at his best. One such example of this is on “Horizon,” where, he adopts a style and tone that is more akin to Genesis live guitarist, Daryl Stuermer. The playing isn’t as frenetic but each note rings out with a more restrained punch. This allows for other sounds to come through more strongly such as Taylor’s bass work as well as the atmospheric bells that Michaels brings in late to the song. From an editing perspective though, the extended fade here is much too long, damaging the song’s otherwise stellar climax.
There are a few other mild issues with the sound of Counter Clockwise. For one, the drums are too soft. Compared to the sonic assault that the lead guitar and keyboards put on, the drumming from Harrison sounds downright tame. At least on something like “Metal Circus” he doesn’t sound too distant, which is great considering he has some incredibly strong drum fills here. It’s good that the album’s closing tracks ends on a bang but it’s a bit frustrating when an important dynamic to the music doesn’t come through like it should elsewhere. “Clock It” is a perfect example of this; it’s a hard edged song with a tour de force performance on lead and bass, but sometimes the drums get lost under all this. The same thing happens to some of the keyboards on “Surface” as they get sonically buried under the guitar.
When everything is coming together though, Velvet Symphony generates some staggeringly good sounds. “Going To Jupiter,” despite being a shorter piece, is one of the most effective tracks here. The piano finds a good balance against the guitar while the sound of strings arising in the background makes for a remarkably stirring piece of music. Melendez accomplishes this to a bit lesser of an effect on “Broken Window” where his synthesized choir vocals create a mildly chilling atmosphere.
Velvet Symphony has a tremendous amount of talent brewing within its roster of musicians. Counter Clockwise is not a perfect album, but it’s definitely an enjoyable one. Progressive rock fans will likely argue that this is more a collection of rock instrumentals than it is a progressive one, and rightly so. There’s not quite enough freedom and changes for it to be a great progressive album, but there’s enough muscle behind the music for it to be a solid rock one.
Artist: Velvet Symphony
Album: Counter Clockwise
Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)