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Orpheus Nine - Transcendental Circus CD (album) cover


Orpheus Nine

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4 stars This is my first casual encounter with a transcendental circus! Obviously all went well so far. Eh ... I'm quite sure about that. Content-wise one will be faced with established figures like elephants, dragons, clowns, ghosts, wizzards and so on. Well balanced. No need to worry therefore. ORPHEUS NINE evolved from a solo vehicle, started by keyboarder/singer Jason Kresge, into a real band. Based on a heavy prog fundament their songs are showing diverse musical influences. And so it all developed into the approach to record an album which will offer a rock opera somehow. Which generally should live from, maybe let's say, entertainment, diversity, twists and turns, joy of playing ...

The album runs all around the epic title track, this visually appointed by the nice prog typical cover art. That song represents the planned core. And, not always with guarantee, you know, in this case the masterly highlight in the same way. Moreover one can say it's Jason's showpiece in particular, while being a Tour de force regarding his keyboard playing. A prominent cinematic respectively opera attitude, equipped with ambient and jazzy impressions, swirly synths, symphonic and classical sequences. Tricky! I would highlight the lovely excerpt Hallowed Playground first and foremost here.

One song may top this, in terms of more accessibility at least. Eightfold Way marks THE strong contender for spreading the word via diverse radio and internet broadcasts. A rather virtuoso finish, The Fall Of The House Of Keys then appears with classical and symphonic roots again. Excellent starter! While listening I'm feeling rather comfortable when occasionally visiting that intergalactic playground with all those festivals, mausoleums, carousels and sandcastles given. Sounds similar to Styx, Saga, Red Bazar in parts, but also further, I mean more eclectic bands in the vein of Tiles, Zip Tang for example. Now have a go at it!

Report this review (#1826016)
Posted Thursday, November 23, 2017 | Review Permalink
Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars A band that names the title of his album "Transcendental Circus" and where you can found some strange and funny titles in some of his songs must have a sense of humor that can only reflect in his music and lyrics. It starts with some bass lines and some upfront keyboards lines from master Jason Kresge. Then the music goes into an AOR/Neo-Prog vein before developing into more complex structures. We can hear many special effects coming from the keyboards. "Fetish" start like an acoustic Hackett style guitar just before bringing some guitar metal riffs with some classical arrangements. "Hand of Make Believe" has some guitar Rush/Tiles influences with some jazzy intrusions and again we are treated with some keyboards magic from Jason. "Age Of Rhyme And Reason" has some furious instrumental parts with a slow break that deliver some inspired Dream Theater parts. But the fun part of the album begins with that 22 minutes of "Transcendental Circus". The special effects of what we can hear in a circus are used and also the special keyboards sound of Geddy Lee in the song "Camera Eye", it can only be intentional... In this song, the band is trying to have the most fun possible by showing their craft and versatility with their instruments. We can hear tons of rhythms changes and Jason taking inspiration from Nathan Mahl, Glass Hammer, Keith Emerson depending on which sections the song is. There are some catchy riffs and some captivating drums fill throughout this epic and a music that goes to different moods from the dark side of metal and the lighter side of Jazz. Part V " Swimming In Our Four O'Clock Tea" brings again that acoustic Hackett guitar influence and some Hamydryad/Gentle Giant multi-part vocals style. The last song "The Fall of The House of Keys" is the only song where you feel that the band has slowed the pace down to take his time to develop the melody which gives more emotion to the music in this 10 minutes song. This is a strong debut from a band that has a lot of potentials, just hope for some more music soon.
Report this review (#1826644)
Posted Sunday, November 26, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars I hate writing reviews but this is an underrated band that deserves more attention. A friend told me about their CD saying I would love the keyboards. I've heard enough shredders and figured I didn't really need another one in my collection, so I blew it off. Then a couple weeks later some guy outside the library had a song playing from his phone, thanks to Shazam I found out was Hand of Make-Believe. It was in 7/4 but melodic and catchy, with kind of Rush flavors. There were some nice harmonies and great lead vocals, with a really sweet and tasteful guitar solo fitting perfectly over Mellotron, and then some pretty Rhodes that went all ring mod before screaming Hammond organ. I decided to look up Orpheus Nine and saw many interesting song I took a chance.

Not the least bit disappointed! This isn't a meaningless shredding album. It isn't a concept album either as far as I can tell, but a lot of the music still ties together and the whole thing's cleverly bookended. At the center of it is the title track, a 6-part suite called Transcendental Circus that's longer than 21 minutes. By far one of the coolest songs I've ever heard in my life. From any band EVER. There's so many musical ideas packed in here that sometimes they go onto the next one before you know what hit you. But it all holds together, and in different parts you hear references to other parts and realize it's all a unified epic. Most of it's instrumental, but when the singing shows up it's amazing. In part 2 (Hallowed Playground) it starts with the lead singer doing really soulful "mmms" and "ohs" and "oohs" that almost made me cry (and then the solo lead that I thought was guitar but might be synth? WOW!) In part 4 (Swimming In Our Four O'clock Tea) there's like Gentle Giant harmonies and rounds, which are beautiful but have a sense of humor too. And the music in all 6 parts is incredible. Part 1 (Barcarolle Of Bedlam) has tons of crazy time signatures but it sounds so cool and different, a lot of Keith Emerson and King Crimson stuff in here with wild guitars and mind blowing keyboards plus an explosive drum finish. Part 3 (Intergalactic Clown Festival) is jazz fusion with Chick Corea keys and some funky bass. Part 5 (Not Within The Memory Of Elephants) really rocks and has a suprising tribal twist in the middle. Finally part 6 (Freak Tent Mausoleum, which also a lyric in Reaper's Carousel) is a weird freaky carnival that includes a classical waltz and a metal section that's like an orgy between Iron Maiden, ELP and Pink Floyd...and then like Tarkus it climaxes with a recap of part 1. So much talent but it's focused and isn't wasted. The whole suite is powerful and awesome. And fun!

You won't go wrong the rest either. Of Zygotes And Grace Notes is a gorgeous classical piano intro. Eightfold Way is very unique and has many twists and turns, there's lots of different synths and I love the bass. (If you get the CD and read the lyrics they put a cryptogram in it too, but I didn't try to figure it out yet.) Fetish is one of my favorites, another soulful vocal and great melodic song, and in the middle there's kind of an Arabic thing with funny bad news headlines over top of it. No Illusions is the least prog sounding, more of a jazzy blues swing but it's still a good song. Age Of Rhyme And Reason flat out rocks - I could see this one getting a live crowd pumped up. Reaper's Carousel comes right after the title track and has a monster bass line all through it, with more nice harmonies at the end. Sandcastles is mostly piano and vocal with a great deal of emotion.

This all leads to my other favorite, the epic finale, The Fall Of The House Of Keys. It starts with a full orchestra playing about a 2-minute overture before a muted Rhodes fades up. From there it builds slowly and keeps building until it just can't contain itself anymore and explodes. This song is a masterpiece and the perfect ending to a 5-star masterpiece of an album.

Maybe some people will think there's too many different styles and sounds and that they should just pick one. But I think that's part of why I love Transcendental Circus. It isn't predictable, it doesn't all sound the same and again the music ties together and seems right as an album. The music breathes and so does the audio - no loudness war BS here. Also the whole CD design and art look great.

Why isn't this on those top 10 lists I'm starting to see??? It should be. And it should be in your collection too. Go get it today! I can't wait to see what Orpheus Nine will do next.

Report this review (#1838927)
Posted Monday, December 4, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars The era with no newbies. The days when pupils successfully jump directly from diapers to a professor's chair, while founding fathers seem to be still in diapers. The vocals better than Gabriel's, the drumming better than Mason's, the guitar playing better than Howe's... but those all were (and still are) easily recognizable. The music reminds sometimes Genesis, sometimes Spock's Beard, or Shingetsu (first part of Fetish), or Glass Hammer (and therefore Yes circa The Yes Album), early Relayer, early No Name... well, the list of references and analogies can be prolonged endlessly. The only question with no answer is where and when does the band's music remind Orpheus Nine? For some tracks (No Illusions, Age Of Rhyme And Reason, Sandcastles) it's not easy to recognize whose music they remind, but surely remind someone else's. Not stolen from anyone but hardly distinctive. What to say about the prog band Orpheus Nine and their debut album? They produce very well crafted and skilled music. They excellently play their instruments and sing. Their arrangements are amazingly complex and diverse. The only thing the band sadly misses is capability to risk - and readiness for risk. They are too flawless. So flawless that they lose originality. Even the two mindblowing epic suites (multi-part self-titled and The Fall Of The House Of Keys) do not change the overall impression. Besides they undoubtedly do have original musical ideas. But for now, it's not quite clear what their message to the world is. Hopefully the band's next album will show.
Report this review (#1841574)
Posted Thursday, December 14, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars Orpheus Nine - Transcendental Circus

The scattershot tapestry of melodies that opens this album tells you all you need to know about what's in store: regal, anthemic hooks that weave in and out of constantly evolving strands, unexpected refractions of what began as almost familiar ideas that charge the air with that excited surge of discovery, oh, and amazingly great songs recalling youth's irresistibly noble quests leading beyond the shimmering horizon to certain glory.

Everything I love about progressive rock is here: familiar riffs turned on their ears with great sounds, fresh ideas and reversed rhythms raising arm hairs. If I ignore the epic multi-part title track for a moment, there isn't a spot anywhere that doesn't 'say it' in these tunes. Without even including the epic, we have an absolutely great progressive rock record that restores faith in the genre and forces my fist to pump into the air repeatedly with volcanic joy. Add the thrilling rollercoaster that is the album's centerpiece and I feel I'm in the presence of genius. Repeated listens only confirm this. Original musicians playing for their lives and going for their wildest ideas. An instant classic.

Report this review (#1852892)
Posted Monday, January 1, 2018 | Review Permalink
5 stars Amidst the sprawling garden of progressive delights sown in 2017, it is quite conceivable that I was most gobsmacked by discovering Transcendental Circus, the maiden voyage of American ensemble Orpheus Nine. These four lads hatched from the obscure ether to unearth a genuine tour de force that is vibrantly alive and exciting, rendered with the urgency and passion of hungry souls dependent on this music for their very survival.

That they possess virtuosic talent is obvious, but what become more evident over time are the memorable melodies they so intricately and tunefully weave into this elaborate fabric. What must also be lauded is the preternatural versatility on display here. To shiftless listeners who may find yourselves merely and dutifully pointing to moments of past prog splendour, I implore you to consider: how often have your heroes garnished a single record with such an eclectic potpourri of texture and style? Indeed an artist risks greatly by shunning a telltale stamp, to which one may cling for staid comfort from each strain to the next. Orpheus Nine valiantly accept the challenge, conquering every unforeseen mode with a marriage of clever bravado, elegant finesse, and steadfast conviction. Somehow, it is foremost through their diversity that they forge their uniqueness. Somehow, furthermore, the whole coalesces. This is particularly true of 'The Fall of the House of Keys' which concludes the proceedings.

None among such a bright cast of musical characters shines more brilliantly than the epic suite supplying the album's title. Within this protean magnum opus, tempests and maelstroms dance with fairies and angels, clowns frighten innocent youth, a teacup overflows with sweet humour, elephants declare war and peace, and utter mayhem is organised miraculously into something at once logical and beautiful. Ivory tinklers take note: Jason Kresge densely populates the entire escapade with some of the most exquisite keyboard tapestries this side of Jupiter.

Transcendental Circus is a spectacularly enchanting debut from a band whose future brims with promise.

Report this review (#1870974)
Posted Wednesday, January 31, 2018 | Review Permalink
5 stars Much modern prog is a stale remnant of bygone eras. Orpheus Nine is not. Their opening statement to the world, Transcendental Circus, is a triumph.

Right from the off you'll be mystified by Jason Kresge's keyboard playing. But all of the musicians are extremely talented, and the songwriting is absolutely solid, with melody and taste favored over pointless noodling.

Good luck locating a bad song on this 75-minute CD. Highlights are Fetish, The Fall of the House of Keys, and the momentous masterpiece: the certifiably insane 6-part Transcendental Circus 'suite'. What can I say about this incredible title track? Genius. Madness. Beauty. Surprise. Schizophrenia. Perfection.

How can a band be this strong, this tight, this compelling, on their very first rodeo? It's almost unfair.

1. Of Zygotes and Grace Notes (8/10) 2. Eightfold Way (9/10) 3. Fetish (10/10) 4. Hand of Make-Believe (9/10) 5. No Illusions (7/10) 6. Age of Rhyme and Reason (8/10) 7-12. Transcendental Circus (*11/10*) 13. Reaper's Carousel (8/10) 14. Sandcastles (9/10) 15. The Fall of the House of Keys (10/10)

Report this review (#1936377)
Posted Friday, June 1, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars Transcedental circus is the debut of american band Orpheus Nine and is one great release in today's progressive rock scene. I was connected from the first to the last song of the album who came out in 2017. This type of music can listen all day, symphonic prog with excellent vocals and top musicianship. From the great art work, fine booklet all is almost perfect here. What stroke me at first listning is the amazing ease musicians play, the keyboards are more then excellent, diverse and inventive, recommended pieces Eightfold Way , Age Of Rhyme And Reason, or thew magnific 22 min epic tune title track divided in 6 parts. This is symphonic prog with similarities in parts with lets say Rush or Saga, even the voice of Jason Kresge remind me of Saga - Michael Sadler in places . In the end, I like the attitude, I like the musicianship, I like the vocals, the art work , all is more then great on this release. Strong virtuosic playing , but with hooks and melodic lines. Definetly for me one of the best albums from last year. For fans of Saga, Heliopolis, Cell15, etc 4 stars for sure and recommended.
Report this review (#2038081)
Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2018 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars One thing about being around the scene for one or two years is that every so often I get tracked down by people who think I may possibly be interested in hearing their latest album. Sometimes it can lead to real gems, others not so much, but I always respond in the same way, which is to let me hear it and I will give them my opinion. I get offered a lot of music from multiple sources, but if someone has made the effort to seek me out then I will always do the best I can in giving them a fair hearing. That is the case here, when keyboard player and lead singer Jason Kresge asked me if I would like to hear the 2017 album from his band Orpheus Nine, and boy I am glad I did.

The band itself started as a solo project until 2005 when he met up with drummer Daniel Nydick, and they started working on developing their style of progressive rock. By 2011, the group was now a quartet with bassist Tony Renda and guitarist Matt Ullestad, before Daniel left in 2012 to be replaced by Mark DeGregory. This is the line-up which recorded this album, and I can only hope that it isn't going to take too long before we hear the next one, as this is a delight from start to end. I have spent many hours trying to think of the best way to describe this, and the best I can come up with Saga meeting Kansas who then attempt to bring in elements of Spock's Beard. I do also need to make progheads aware that there are times the guys inject humour into their performance, deliberately so. I know this sort of behaviour shouldn't be tolerated in progressive rock, as musicians are expected to be bunched over their instruments and not making eye contact, let along enjoying themselves as much as Orpheus Nine obviously are.

This doesn't sound like a debut, as it is performed with panache and confidence. It is often based around the keyboards, with Jason moving between piano and multiple synths with ease, yet Matt is a strong guitarist who understands when the time is right for acoustic, or gentle picking, or straight forward riffing. This is a progressive rock band who know how to combine complex musical and melodic lines into songs which are immediately accessible, moving from ballads to out and out rockers with harmony vocals that are bang on. Tony can often be found playing a third melodic line behind Jason and Matt, leaving it to Mark to keep everyone on track, also adding flourishes and nuances when he needs to. Jason is at times reminiscent of Michael Sadler, with great control and range, and his voice combines with the music to make an album which is enjoyable the very first time it is played.

Symphonic American-styled progressive rock rarely sounds as good as this, especially on a debut. Let's hope the next one isn't far away.

Report this review (#2233813)
Posted Friday, June 28, 2019 | Review Permalink

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