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Active Heed - Higher Dimensions CD (album) cover


Active Heed

Crossover Prog

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Second Life Syndrome
1 stars I'm going to preface this review by stating one thing: out of all the albums I've heard in 2014 thus far, this is by far the absolute wurst. I mean, it's real junk food. I can't help it, really. Last year, Active Heed (Umberto Pagnini) released their/his debut album, "Visions from Realities". It was met with questionable praise, and, honestly, wasn't even progressive at all. Well, give me a lollie and smack me silly, but this sophomore album "Higher Dimensions" is exactly the opposite of its name. It's abysmal. Even excretory at points. Totally laughable.

That sounds harsh, right? You'd be right. "Higher Dimensions" is like the leftovers in the refrigerator that you forgot were there, and now there's something disturbingly ripe and hairy about them. Utter squash, in other words. Avoid it completely. The band (actually just a studio band that plays the music that Umberto writes) attempts to mix the classic prog bands, such as Genesis or Yes, with the smoother sounds of Arena or Pendragon. Just mentioning those amazing bands in this review, in all honestly, is utter bologna. Even though a band names influences, it doesn't mean that the band will try to make the sound their own somehow. Active Heed, however, tries to copy the sounds of the past, but fails miserably and excruciatingly. It's like comparing spam to steak, or shrimp to lobster. It's like a bad cover band, and the beer at the show tastes like piss. In other words, you got nothing out of the experience.

So, you're asking, what's actually going wrong here? Well, you see, Active Heed seems to think that there's a recipe for progressive rock. Add a bit of keys, a dash of guitar solo, and make sure you don't forget to throw in some time signature changes, or else no one will call you prog (that's the mistake he made on the first album). So, they tried to follow the recipe, but ended up with garbage clippings instead of filet mignon. Time signature changes are literally thrown in, seemingly randomly, for the complete heck of it. The bass player is playing the notes, but there isn't a single instance of groove or rhythm anywhere. The guitarist plays some solos here and there, but there isn't an ounce of soul or emotion in any of them. The vocalist is singing, but, in all honesty, is bound by the worst vocal melodies I've ever heard and also some of the dumbest lyrics, too. I couldn't get over how horrendous the vocal melodies are, as the vocalist seems to be singing just to be singing. It's a completely phoned-in performance by the band, and I can understand, as the writing is 100% cheese and by-the-prog-book.

Each song manages to be "blah" in its own way. Honestly, you'll find yourself wishing for the end of each one, too. Every time I heard the sound of synth, my heart rose, but I ended up being disappointed, like a stale dessert bar at a two-bit wedding reception. You get your hopes up for some smooth chocolate, some moist cake, or maybe even some old- fashioned pie. What you get, though, is definitely old, but also moldy, putrid, and gives you a headache. The final track is the high point of the album. "Not Left and Not Taken" has a decent keyboard solo at the end, and even some aura, too. It doesn't make up for the rest of the song or album, though. A few good spots in moldy bread do not warrant keeping the whole thing. Throw the entire loaf in the dump.

I don't like to be mean. I really don't. Yet, Active Heed has made a name for themselves by spamming the Internet. Ironically, their music is like spam, and not even the crispy fried kind. I almost wonder how many of their fans have actually heard their music. I've lost count of how many times I've gotten a message asking me to like their page. In reality, this album is way worse than the first, as at least that one sounded like a genuine effort. This album only gets worse with each listen, and the stale, rotten vocal lines make listening to it a real chore. The band plays well, but the notes are uninspired and seemingly forced together to try to achieve "prog". What this band is missing, however, is that prog is not the sum of a list of parts, but rather an attitude and an ambition that are clearly missing from this album. In the end, this album is completely bland, vanilla, and worthy of the trash heap.

Report this review (#1239073)
Posted Friday, August 8, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Band with varying line-up (only the vocalist, Per Fredrik Åsly, aka PelleK, is left from the recording sessions of the first album, published in 2013), Active Heed is the brainchild of Umberto Pagnini, a big fan of progressive rock, who writes the lyrics and the music, without being involved himself in the performance. In order to make his compositions come true on 'Higher dimensions', he asked a bunch of experienced musicians to lend him a hand: Cristiano Roversi (Moongarden, Mangalla Vallis) on keyboards and bass, but also in charge of arrangements, Gian Maria Roveda (Moongarden, Mangalla Vallis) on drums and Mirco Ravenoldi (Catafalchi del Cyber) on guitar. With vintage keyboards, Hammond organ, ubiquitous mellotrons, pastoral passages brought by a luminous acoustic guitar or an enchanting flute ("Ternary level one"), aerial guitars and hesitating drums (Genesis' "Apocalypse in 9/8" often springs to mind), Active Heed's music, while accessible, doesn't hide its progressive influences. Besides, the young vocalist steming from the world of metal music, this other influence can be witnessed in passages lead by roaring guitars on one hand, surprisingly akin to to thrash metal (the versatile "The war of tempos", "The number of God", "No speed limit", and "Not left and not taken") and in rhythm accelerations on the other hand. The metal leanings are nonetheless far less obvious in the low-pitched and theatrical voice (quite close to Michael Sadler) that can switch from melancholy to enthusiasm, always in a moderate way, far from the eccentricities of our singer's beloved musical genre. This humble attitude could be perceived by some listeners as a lack of dynamism, but in the end it fits quite well the overall atmosphere. Moreover, the melancholy that soars from PelleK's voice is not a brake to melodic arrangements. In fact, even if we are standing on a complex ground, our ears are caressed in permanence by melodic winds, borne as much by whirling synths and aerial guitars, as catchy and passionate choruses. When the first Active Heed album got released, it divided reviewers, many of them regretting that the pop side was brought too much forward. With 'Higher dimensions', Umberto Pagnini seems to have taken into account the criticisms and prog elements abound this time, yet, much to our delight, they are there only to provide more depth to the melodic purpose of a band that stays far from any flashy showing-off. The only complaint I have is with the brutal stop of some tracks ("The war of tempos", "A little bit expired", "The numbers of God", "Crop squares" and "A pet called prime").
Report this review (#1241658)
Posted Sunday, August 10, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars One year after the debut, Active Heed released "Higher Dimensions", and though the style is practically the same, I must say we can listen to some heavier hints here, longer songs, including one 9-minute epic. So it is a new chance to get involved with this project for those who did not dig their first album, and it is also a chance for those who did, to enjoy new music with a light vein. This album features 12 songs that make a total time of 65 minutes.

It is strange to hear the introduction of "The War of Tempos", because it has a heavier, metal-like sound that in the first album never appeared; however, the fury lasts only some seconds and later the vocals appear bringing that mellow sound which is nicely accompanied by the other instruments. Keyboards play a main role this time, since this first track we can appreciate their importance, which to my ears, was an improvement. "Far Escape" has a nice instrumental introduction that produces a symphonic sound, in a more classical prog style, I mean the roots of prog rock were well placed here, and though the music turns into a softer and catchier tune, it is worth mentioning the tendency is now proggier than their first album.

"A Little bit Expired" continues with the same direction, and I really like they decided to give keyboards more importance, they add a lot of nuances and textures which are healthy for the music. I like the inner changes of the song, though in moments I think they sound a bit forced. Here I must mention the guitar solo, which is very good, and something Active Heed had not offered before. "Gaps in Time" has a rhythm made to clap and go with the beat of the drums. That friendly and catchy sound they used to share returns here. "Multiple Replies" starts beautifully with keyboards, and after a one-minute introduction it changes, putting some heavy guitars that immediately contrast with the mellow voice of Per Fredrik Asly. This is a very nice track with cool arrangements, which talk about Umberto Pagnini's compositional skills. This is one of my favorite songs of the album. "The Numbers of God" brings back the metal-like sound of the introductory track, and though it does not harm the music, I honestly prefer the light and soft side of Active Heed.

"Crop Squares" might be catchy as well, but what I like of it is that inclusion of keyboard importance, it puts the nuances, it produces the textures, it makes the difference for a better song, because its changes and diverse atmospheres make the music change every time, and not to be lineal (which would make it boring). "A Pet Called Prime" is another nice song with some inner changes in mood and tempo, and with the resurgence of guitar solos. The sound might be a kind of neo prog. "No Speed Limit" starts with a scream and the music is heavy again, with inherent tension on it. This song might be one of the most challenging of the album, it is very well crafted no matter the different changes it brings, here I like a lot the bass sound, and the last part of the album is a great Halloween-like mood with something that sounds like a theremin.

"Kick-Ass Grammar" is a nice neo symphonic track that specially reminds me of some older bands. A nice mixture of symphonic rock, heavier moments and soft and delicate passages. Definitely the music of this second album is much more enjoyable and entertaining than the first one. "Ternary Level One" brings again that mellow and soft catchy sound, full of peace and even tender, and though of course the vocal range is guilty of giving that sensation, the music collaborates and matches with it. The last track of the album is "Not Left and Not Taken" which happens to be the longest one with almost ten minutes of music. I like the drums beginning and then how the other instruments join and start building up a structure. All the feelings and the styles of Active Heed during this album are gathered here, so one can enjoy the pastoral and soft sound provided by keyboards and vocals, while guitars and drums all of a sudden explode and produce a heavier tune. A nice way to finish this very good album.

Well, for me the improvement is obvious, Active Heed changed the direction, one can easily note the new style, though of course the essence prevails. So congrats to Umberto and his musicians for this step forward, which ears at least 3 stars and my recommendation.

Enjoy it!

Report this review (#1282878)
Posted Tuesday, September 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars The new production of Active Heed, "Higher Dimensions", tells us a series of science-fiction episodes starting with "The War of Tempos", a song with powerful metal-

like introduction and dynamic tempo changes... "Far Escape" takes us through a wormhole to another galaxy taken by the hand Roversi's mellotron and Roveda's drums.

Gaps in Time and "Kick-Ass Grammar" (a couple of my favorite songs from this album) are catchy tunes that will make your feet follow the rhythm and will surely put a

smile on your face. In "No Speed Limit" we can find again the metal-like introduction that then developes in a more gentler melodic song. "Crop Squares" and "A Pet

Called Prime" offer remarkable keyboard moments. "Not Left and Not Taken" is the last track (and longest, being around 10 min) of the album and is a perfect prog piece. Besides Umberto Pagnini himself, which is the ideator and only music/song writer of Active Heed, the only one to repeat on this album is PelleK. The other musicians in

this production are Gian Maria Roveda (great contribution to the album with his dynamic drums) Mirco Ravenoldi (his guitars often remind me of the best Hackett) and

Cristiano Roversi (with his huge experience in prog rock bands - excellent!) who played the bass, keyboards, produced and co-wrote the last song of the album: "Not

Left and Not Taken". All through "Higher Dimensions" you can notice the influence of classic prog-rock bands: Genesis, Yes, and Rush mainly... and of some neo-prog bands, such as Arena or

Jadis. And there are also some nice touches of modern prog metal. "Higher Dimensions" is a simply extraordinary album. A special mention for Antonio Seija's artwork.

Sincerely and highly recommended - and exhilarating experience!

Report this review (#1291715)
Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Progressive Rock is back!

The power of a stunning tone of classic progressive rock mixed with modern and actual sound put this album in the top 5 of 2014 releases in my opinion. In a period of no happy moments for creativity in progressive rock music, Higher Dimensions gave me the hope of a possible return of experimentation and fusion of genres that was typical of the earliest moments of this music genre. 'Higher Dimensions' is a concept album and like all the concept album, the best way to listen to it is to start from the first song and follow the story beneath every single song until finishing with the magnificent 'Not Left And Not Taken': masterpiece of rare beauty. With 'The War Of Tempos' the epic ride begins in the best possible way. This song reminds me the Rush music but it would be simplistic to compare Active Heed's music with other bands because their sounds is simply unique ed innovative at the same time. I think here we are in front to a modern evolution of the progressive rock, alive, fresh and with a touch of classic progressive that gives the entire album a sense of completion. It was a very long time since I didn't listen to a so awesome album and from the first to the last song: they are all beautiful!

I hope Active Heed will go live one day. It will be certainly fantastic to listen to the full story of Forest (the main character of first and this second album). The voice in the songs deserves to be interpreted like in a rock opera... Thank you Active Heed!

Report this review (#1358381)
Posted Saturday, January 31, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well I hate writing reviews but the low rating of this album convinced me to try and push it up. I almost bought this a while back but decided not to because of the one-star rating given by a collaborator I respect. Then I revisited this album yesterday after reading ProgJapan's review and additional ones posted after my first visit. So last night I decided to take the plunge. Glad I did. I have listened to it six times now and love it. Of course I was struck again how art is so subjective. This album is terrific in my humble opinion. I find the vocalist emotive with a wide range that I enjoy. Thank God he does not sound like everyone else. The keyboards are great, love the ever present mellotron. Guitars, drums, flute, etc... keep it very interesting. I do think the bass got lost in the mix but after almost 6 decades of loud music I have begun to lose those lower registers. The bass could be there for all I know. The sound/production are very clear. The songs show a nice range of styles and tempos. Great neo-prog. I really like this album. Highly recommended. Thanks ProgJapan for giving me the positive push.
Report this review (#1359494)
Posted Sunday, February 1, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars While speaking with a friend about new prog bands, I was suggested to give a try to "Higher Dimensions", which happens to be the second album of the Italian band Active Heed. After listening to this album I had to search for the first album of the band, and I have to say that they are both very good progressive rock albums (with touches of metal here and there) and at the same time, I think that they are accessible for other audiences. I have learn that Active Heed is not a band in the strict term of the word, it's the project of the Italian musician Umberto Pagnini who has worked with different musicians for each album. His influences and this is clearly shown, are from British progressive rock. I cannot say which of the songs from Higher Dimensions I like best, because all of them are great: "War of Tempos", "Kick-ass Grammar", "Not Left Not Taken"... If I am forced to compare with another progressive groups or musicians, I can say that it reminds me of Genesis at some points and also reminds me of the latest Clive Nolan's works, for I have learn the in the two albums, Active Heed follows the adventures of a being named Forest and each song is a chapter. What a nice rock opera would be made out of them! One thing for sure, I am waiting for the new Active Heed's album, I would like to know if the story of this character will continue...
Report this review (#1407447)
Posted Saturday, May 2, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well crafted second project of the Italian band Active Heed, which recalls the sounds of the classic British progressive bands of some decades ago, adding some touches of energetic metal here and there. It's been a long time since I heard an album I've liked from the beginning to the end, so I recommend it warmly. Excellent work of all the musicians involved, specially Umberto Pagnini who wrote the music and all lyrics and Cristiano Roversi, who is a well known name in the world of Italian progressive rock. Interesting and with a great outcome the choice of having Pellek, a metal voice, singing in ths progressive album. I'm sincerely curious to listen to this band's next album, to see which path will they take.
Report this review (#1520635)
Posted Tuesday, January 26, 2016 | Review Permalink

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