"Magic Circles" is a thrillingly exhaustive, interstellar, electronic-exploratory prog workout that somehow shakes all of prog rock's douchiness (HB3 even magically maintains non-bullshit status while printing an accompanying chapbook of "Magic Circles" lyrics as poetry). More impressive is the moody "Poseidon" album, an epic instrumental soundtrack to a moody aquatic fable that sounds both sadly sub-aquatic and soaringly high at the same time.
The keyboard/synths, guitar, and electronic drum sound comes at your fast and never fail to impress. 'Laserium' truly is one of the better tracks on the album as it ignites the flame early and propels the project on an unrelenting course. 'Neuromancer' has a sound reminiscent of the band IQ from their earlier days. The vocals add variety to the electric beats and rhythms. The title track, 'Magic Circles,' weaves a very good electric synth melody right from its wonderful opening. 'Dragon Music' is another standout full of power electric key sounds and fast vocals. The ocean and seagulls that open 'Clockwork Annie' blend well with the keys supporting. Nature and electronics brought together well.
HB3 is the name of (at least) one mysterous musician whose weapon of choice is the piccolo bass, a variation on the bass guitar, which plays one octave below a standard guitar, and one octave above a regular bass. Any thoughts of a solo bass album might bring to mind the funk-fusion work of players like Stanley Clarke, who has been known to utilise a piccolo bass on albums like Future Shock. However, Studies For Traps And Piccolo sounds absolutely nothing like Stanley Clarke, fusion, funk, or any other bass album you have ever heard, with influences from folk to shred metal. Although some previous HB3 albums appear to have featured keyboards and even vocals, Studies For Traps And Piccolo is almost exclusively performed on piccolo bass, with just a drum track as accompaniment. This would seem to be a daunting listen to even the most dedicated bass affectionado, but HB3 (presumably a "he," rather than a "she" or "they," at least judging by the album cover) manages to pull out a range of styles over the course of this 35 minute album, using numerous effects including the Univox Super-Fuzz pedal deployed by Hendrix and Pete Townshend.
Opening track Rocket Science features hugely distorted guitar-like riffing, which is further extended on Leroy Of the Ancient World (supposedly based on the adventures of a caveman battling dinosaurs on an alien world), coming across like a minimalist version of Joe Satriani. These high-octane slabs of heavy metal are interspersed with delicate finger-picking and strumming (yes, strumming!) on The Machineries Of Joy and Firefisher, the former sounding like a mandolin, and the latter coming off like a 12 string Led Zeppelin III ballad. It is not so much HB3's technique that is astonishing, as that getting these kind of sounds out of a bass could even be conceived. Brutal Bed is different again, consisting of a five minute blast of unaccompanied white noise (the publicity sheet asks listeners to imagine Karl Stockhausen sneaking into the sessions for Detroit Rock City, a curiously apt description).
Once you get used to the fact that this is very far from being a traditional bass album, Studies For Bass And Traps yields up more with every listen for anyone wanting to try a more experimental approach to instrumental rock. Meanwhile, HB3 has already released a couple of follow-up albums in 2011, those being Magic Circles and Real $hit, the latter being a collaborative effort with Austin-producer/DJ/vocalist Cabrini Green, which promises more tales of the unexpected.
Ragnarok is an instrumental concept album by bassist/composer HB3. "Machines in the Sky" commences with phased-out symphonic grandiosity while triggering drum samples. The title cut highlights some tasty bridge pickup twangin'. "Level 7" recalls the stark Morricone-istic crepscularity of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well Pt. 2," while "A Passage to Arms" and "The Remnant" are balls-out, neck pickup-on-steroids rockers, aided and abetted by an uncredited drummer.
Don't expect the typical bass-in-your-face Jaco/Stanley/Jeff Berlin chopsy fart-toned funk fusion favored by bassists on solo excursions from this California kid. For HB3, the bass is a trigger (literally) for sonic explorations that rawk!
HB3's new album Ragnarok is the third in a trilogy starting with Magic Circles (2011) followed by Poseidon: Fantasia for Piccolo Bass (2012).
So, just what is Ragnarok? In Norse mythology it means the end of the cosmos. Long cold winters, fire and devastation, the awakening of the dead, stars disappearing and the end of the sun. Not a good thing at all. Out of the ashes a new world will arise which will be a vast improvement to the least. That's the concept, what about the music?
If the concept sounds a tad cliche (really, what prog concept isn't these days) I am happy to say the music does not. Being an instrumental album probably helps in this case.
Check out the spacey prog of "Nightwind," his psychedelic fuzzy tone in "The Remnant", some sweet arpeggios in the solo bass tune "Ragnerian" and the heavy title track with an addictive bass line and crashing rhythms heightening the drama.
Ragnarok is an enjoyable instrumental album that should appeal to fans of progressive and/or space related music.
Right away, HB3's new album Ragnarok gets prog rock points. It has no vocals. It features an oddball instrument not often used (in this case, the piccolo bass that HB3 uses on all his albums). It has a fantasy/sci-fi/mythological theme (the Norse story of Ragnarok, the "twilight of the gods," a tale of battle and rebirth not unlike the book of Revelation). And two of the eight songs are over seven minutes long.
Actually, the whole album is only 40 minutes, split neatly in half just like the vinyl days of yore; side one features the piccolo bass in various settings and side two tells the actual Ragnarok story through music, with the piccolo bass returnign for the final number. It is HB3's seventh album and the final in his current "mythic trilogy."
If you're still reading, that means you're interested in progressive rock (good for you!) and are the core audience for this one.
HB3 is a bass guitarist who specializes in the piccolo bass; the instrument is tuned one octave higher than a bass and one octave lower than a guitar. It is a unique sound and HB3 plays very well. His fourth album is Poseidon: Fantasia For Piccolo Bass and is a sort of instrumental ode to the Gods of the sea not the least of which is the mighty Poseidon.
As with all his albums Poseidon continues the trend with some intriguing instrumental music. However, the mood is much more mellower this time around. Atmosphere, ambient mood and texture is the focus of this album which may or may not be your cup of tea. Personally, I happen to like the mellower vibe and playful instrumentation that pervades the album.
The fuzzier tones heard on previous albums are replaced with cleaner notes, shimmering rhythms and dreamier soundscapes. Often the songs build from sparser more minimalistic beginnings to a fuller sound created solely by HB3's piccolo bass. It is a unique sound and he makes the most out of his instrument.
The mood is set right from the start with the epic title track featuring cool harmonics, slow builds and crystal clear notes. You might argue that the song is a tad long but I enjoyed every minute. The dreamlike "Bay of 7 Moons" has an ethereal quality while "Poseidon's Dominion" has a sitar-like flavouring and an overall Arabian feel. The sparse arrangement gives way to some rapid bass runs while still maintaining a wistful vibe. In the pretty "Harbor Lights" the playing is slow and luxurious before the album ends with "Captain O My Captain" showcasing HB3's superb sense of rhythm.
Poseidon is another solid effort from HB3. It's a moody and atmospheric piece that still retains an experimental edge while skirting around some pretty fine melodies. Recommended.
Giventhe Norse Apocalypse theme I expected progtastic audio chaos, so I was pretty surprised, and relieved, that most of this is strangely soothing -- it makes the end of the world a little less scary! Sure there's some intense Dr. Who future grooves, some jaunty jamming, and a grand and groovy seven-minute sonic explosion at the end...but as far as apocalypse goes, if that's as rough as it gets, I'll take it! And like it!