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Reviews of Malcolm Smith's "We Were Here"

We Were Here cover

Progression Magazine, Spring 2016

Review by Nick Tate

One of the great joys of writing about progressive music is finding and spot-lighting talent as bright and inventive as San Francisco's Malcolm Smith, composer/guitarist and founding member of prog-rock band Metaphor.

We Were Here is a winning, if jubilantly quirky, collection of prog-rock originals demonstrating that the genre is hitting stride with a new generation of artists, nearly 50 years since its audacious beginnings. Here, Smith teams with Anglagard drummer Mattias Olsson, longtime collaborator Marc Spooner on keys, bassist Loren Gustafson and a host of guest musicians to produce largely instrumental suites, cleverly arranged, riding odd time signatures and solid virtuosic playing.

"Peyronie's Angle" kicks the album off and up, with its high-stepping romp through a handful of progressive jazz and rock motifs. "Cavity Research" is a crazy quilt of complex guitar/synth/bass-drum ensemble jamming. "Monkey Signature" sounds like inspired circus music imagined by the mad genius of Frank Zappa. And the album's centerpiece ­ the eight-part, 13-minute "Sykiatry" ­ is a lavish showcase for Smith's extraordinary compositional skills and derring-do musical chops.

4.5/5 stars

Prolusion. US composer and guitarist Malcolm SMITH is probably best known as one of the key members of the US progressive rock band Metaphor, which released three albums between the years 2000 and 2007. "We Were Here" is his first solo album, released by Metaphor's own label Trope Audio in 2014.

Analysis. Smith's main band Metaphor is often described as exploring a retro-oriented brand of progressive rock, with strong tendencies towards vintage symphonic art rock and occasional leanings towards neo-prog. As a solo artist Smith appears to hone in on the vintage-oriented aspect of what his man band has been described as doing, but perhaps in a more challenging manner than many other artists described within this general context. First and foremost, this is primarily an instrumental album and one that clearly has been made with that in mind as well. The compositions revolve around instrumental solo runs, more often than not tightly intertwined, with arrangements that are fairly advanced to my ears. There's also a fair share of variety at hand here, within this given context, as the compositions don't really revolve around any limited set of expressions either. In clear speak, this means that there's room for atmospheric sequences sporting elegant guitar solo and keyboard constellations akin to Camel, majestic passages combining guitar soloing, organ and keyboards in manners more similar to Genesis, quirky, challenging and unpredictable instrumental movements with more of a Gentle Giant aligned take on progressive rock, as well as occasionally more dramatic ventures that have a stronger alignment towards the work of ELP. In addition, there's a fair few instances of themes and movements with more of a jazz rock-oriented sound tossed into this brew, as well as occasional pastoral details with gently wandering guitars and Mellotron, combining in an appropriately melancholic and gentle manner. If the summary does sound a bit confusing, I would state that this is fairly indicative of how this album might appear on an initial inspection as well. A lot is going on most of the time, and getting under the skin of this production will take a bit of effort and intent listening, unless you're already well accustomed to the more challenging aspects of progressive rock. That vendor CDBaby recommends this CD to fans of Happy The Man may also be a revealing little tidbit facts wise.

Conclusion. If vintage-style symphonic progressive rock is a type of music you have a general taste for, Malcolm Smith's debut album "We Were Here" is one that merits an inspection. His take on this music is a challenging one, and, I suspect, that among those who falls within the above specification, those with a special affection for early '70s Gentle Giant and the classic ELP albums may be regarded as something of a key audience.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: April 14, 2016
Sea of Tranquility

Progressive rock fans might surely recognize the name Malcolm Smith as the founding member & guitarist of San Francisco act Metaphor. Seeing as his main band has been on a lengthy hiatus since 2007s The Sparrow (though word is we will see a new album from the band in 2015!), Smith has been busy putting the finishes touches to his long awaited solo album.

Joining him on We Were Here are Anglagard/White Willow drummer Mattias Olsson, his Metaphor bandmate Marc Spooner on keyboards, bassist Loren Gustafson, vocalist Deborah Roth, guitarists Rich Lonacre & Craig Launer, and Metaphor vocalist John Mabry on one song. Much of what you hear on We Were Here is a similar form of the quirky, complex, vintage styled progressive rock that we've come to expect from the Metaphor camp over the years. Smith's compositional skills are fully on display throughout, and it's clear from the opening 1-2 punch of "Peyronie's Angle" and "Cavity Research" that this was not meant to be a 'guitar' record, but a full ensemble approach. Sure, Smith's weaving, snaking guitar lines permeate the former, and rip in classic jazz-fusion fashion on the latter, but he gladly shares the limelight with Olsson's acrobatic drum work and Spooner's wide assortment of keyboard sounds every step of the way.

"Monkey Signature" has a sort of Genesis-meets-Gentle Giant flair to it, and the lush "Still...Life" contains a passionate vocal from Mabry over muscular bass lines and melancholy keyboards. Of course, it wouldn't be a prog album without the mandatory epic, here in the form of the multi-part suite "Sykiatry", which is chock full of plenty of intricate guitar & keyboard passages from the two Metaphor pals. You can hear bits of Gentle Giant, Return to Forever, Genesis, Yes, and Kansas, just to name a few of the references included on this excellent song. Jazz blends with prog on the groove laden "Les Canards de Guerre", a fun & classy closer to this highly enjoyable album.

So, if you've gotten restless since the last Metaphor release, here's something that will easily tide you over till the band unleashes their next studio album some time in 2015. Smith & Co. have done a very fine job on We Were Here, a progressive rock album that needs to be on your radar here as we close out 2014.

See also Pete Pardo's video review on Youtube

SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews
Posted by Jon Neudorf

Malcolm Smith is the guitarist for the progressive rock band Metaphor whose last album The Sparrow was released in 2007. In the intervening years Smith has been working on his first solo album titled We Were Here which came out in 2014. For the new disc he has enlisted some fine musicians including drummer Mattias Olsson (White Willow, ex-Anglagard), keyboardist Marc Spooner (Metaphor) and bassist Loren Gustafson. Adding vocals on one track is Metaphor bandmate John Mabry and additional guitar is handled by Rich Longacre and Craig Launer. 

Having never heard the music of Metaphor I wasn't sure what to expect. Smith has made an excellent album of classic symphonic prog that is both catchy and complex. While the musicians show off their considerable skill throughout, We Were Here is also a gorgeous sounding album with tasty melodies and strong arrangements. The album is mostly instrumental so there are lots of opportunities for complex instrumental interplay but the sound isn't overblown or pretentious. 

The band is talented and Smith's guitar work is integral to these songs but that is not meant to diminish the other players. Spooner's keyboards are also prevalent and his choice of sounds are spot on. The rhythm section of Olsson and Gustafson is equally as talented. I am particularly impressed with Olsson's drumming as he changes tempos with ease and has the ability to play both heavy and soft passages with equal aplomb. 

The music ebbs and flows with intricate passages and gradual builds as is demonstrated by the opening track "Peyronie's Angle". Shimmering keyboard passages and acoustic guitar develop into a retro classic symphonic sound. The guitar and keyboard work are both exemplary and occasionally reminded me of King Crimson. "Cavity Research" features complex guitar and keyboard interplay including some excellent solos. Gentle soundscapes morph into heavier sections where the band is completely locked in.

The first track with vocals is the melodic "StillŠLife". Mabry has a warm and inviting voice and is a perfect match for the song's majestic yet slightly melancholic symphonic passages. 

The longest piece is the nine part "Sykiatry", a showpiece for the band's stellar musicianship and complex arranging. It is a very nice slice of retro flavoured symphonic prog.

If you like classic 70s prog in the vein of King Crimson and Genesis there should be plenty here for you to enjoy. Recommended!
by Peter Thelen, published 2014-12-23

Composer and guitarist with prog-rock band Metaphor, this is Smith's debut solo endeavor, a largely instrumental sampling of ideas that push all the right progressive buttons, yet offers a respectable level of originality that won't leave the listener comparing these six pieces to things that have been done before. First and foremost, this sounds like the work of a composer utilizing the full palette of rock instrumentation rather than that of a guitarist alone, and on that level this is truly successful. Working with Smith are his Metaphor bandmate and keyboardist Marc Spooner, Änglagård / Necromonkey / White Willow drummer Mattias Olsson, and bassist Loren Gustafson.

The two cuts that feature vocals (That would be "Still...Life" and some wordless voice on the refrain of the second part of the nearly fourteen-minute nine-part epic "Sykiatry") feature Metaphor's John Mabry, and Deborah Roth respectively, although closer "Les Canards de Guerre" features a spoken French poem recitation by Smith and Spooner. Two additional guitarists, Craig Launer and Rich Longacre, guest on a couple of the album's instrumental cuts.

Compositional approaches run the gamut, from a warm, melodic and delicate Genesis-like approach to the the full-on orchestral type arrangements of early seventies Frank Zappa, even to a balanced and refined fusion approach that appears from time to time. Mabry's vocal appearance is just at the right place to create a down-to-earth stop in the middle of all this heady instrumental music. For the most part the album is full of busy and complex arrangements with turns and twists that surprise the listener around every corner that should please the instincts of progressive rock fans everywhere.
Author and music historian Jerry Lucky

After three well received symphonic progressive rock albums with the band Metaphor, San Francisco based Malcolm Smith (guitars) decided to take a stab at a solo effort of self-penned material. In the break between Metaphor projects Smith brought together fellow Metaphor members Marc Spooner (keyboards) and John Mabry (vocals track 4) and Anglagard and White Willow's Mattias Olsson (drums) along with Loren Gustafson (bass), Deborah Roth (vocals track 5), Rich Longacre (guitars) and Craig Launer (guitars). The musical style displayed on We Were Here is naturally similar to the work of Metaphor, its classic symphonic progressive rock, and yet as you might expect, it sounds very different as well.

We Were Here features six tracks making up roughly forty-seven minutes of music. Much of the album is instrumental allowing for all manner of instrumental interplay. Lead parts are constantly traded off as either guitars or keyboards come to the fore. Smith incorporates both electric and acoustic guitars offering up a very wide tonal pallet, while keyboards provide sounds as varied as organ, strings, flutes and even saxophones. With most of these songs on the longer side, there are plenty of musical change-ups all handled with ease. We effortlessly go from arpegiated segments building up themes to sudden staccato repetition all of which form a transition to the song's next major musical statement. Songs build and subside in intensity with contrasting loud and soft passages. Long sustained chords and building crescendos are sprinkled throughout that again form the connecting tissue to these multi-part compositions. One moment the music is very pleasant and melodic but it will just as easily turn to something more complex with many notes becoming almost dissonant although never over the edge. The overall tone is as I say classic symphonic prog and while the guitar is ever present it never dominates. Instead these compositions display more of a collective sound that suits the music rather than the performer.

If you're a fan of the music of Smith's band Metaphor, I dare say you'll thoroughly enjoy the music created on We Were Here. If you've not checked out the band or are new to the scene this is an excellent place to start your adventure. But be careful because I'm sure once you start you won't want to stop. This is a great disc full of intricate and melodically complex symphonic progressive rock that will please a lot of people. Highly recommended.
Music in Belgium

Membre fondateur du groupe américain de rock progressif Metaphor, Malcolm Smith en est aussi le guitariste et le compositeur. Si le lecteur peut se référer aux chroniques des albums du groupe manifestement, le guitariste a voulu aller plus loin dans l'expérimentation et les essais techniques. Pour mener à bien cette périlleuse mission, Malcolm qui prend en charge la guitare acoustique et la guitare électrique, se fait seconder par Mattias Olsson (Anglagard, White Willow) pour la batterie, Marc Spooner pour les claviers, Loren Gustafson pour la basse et John Mabry pour le chant. En fait, plusieurs membres du groupe se retrouvent ici pour épauler leur camarade de route, ce qui permet je pense une meilleure cohésion du projet. Ajoutons encore la présence des guitaristes Rich Longacre et Craig Launer.

Avant de débuter notre analyse, précisons qu'une grande partie des compositions ont été écrites lors de la préparation de l'album "The Sparrow" sorti en 2007. Enfin, c'est courant 2015 que le groupe devrait proposer un nouvel album. Pour l'heure, des synthés futuristes introduisent un rock progressif fusion proche de Van Der Graaf Generator où, les différents tempos s'enchainent et les claviers libèrent des sons de saxophone. Break et contre break s'encanaillent à une vitesse élevée avant, des interludes chers à Thomas Bodin (Flower Kings) qui temporisent le tout. Batterie, orgue et guitare électrique s'entrechoquent comme des particules à haute vélocité dans l'accélérateur du CERN. Le clavecin apaise le rythme pour le final mais, ce n'est que partie remise avec la seconde composition où la fusion progressive est encore présente. Orgue, batterie et sons de saxophone relancent la mise puis, le piano et les claviers nous ramènent vers Genesis lors d'une courte pause. Sinon la cacophonie calculée continue de plus belle avec, les relents des grands groupes des seventies. Les démonstrations techniques en tout genre ne manquent pas car, les synthés et la section rythmique se revoient la balle à tout moment.

Les synthés futuristes ouvrent toujours les compositions suivantes pour le piano, la guitare et la batterie. Le travail de Marc Spooner aux claviers est hallucinant car, il développe une invraisemblable palette de sons parfaitement maitrisés. Le reste de l'équipe n'est pas en reste avec un Malcolm qui virevolte sur sa guitare et, une section rythmique qui encadre parfaitement l'ensemble. Malgré-tout, c'est bel et bien le duo claviers-guitares qui portent le squelette des compositions, et ce, sur un niveau proche des maîtres comme King Crimson.

Un rock progressif chanté vient troubler le désordre orchestré du début puis, place au long épique de plus de 13 minutes où les démonstrations techniques se succèdent en cascade. Cet exercice technique périlleux qui est parfaitement contrôlé, fait place enfin à un dernier rock progressif chanté cette fois en français, travail assez proche de celui des frères Decamps.

Amateurs de démonstrations où les instruments se lâchent, voici donc un opus qui vous est destiné. Pour le commun des mortels, il faudra plusieurs écoutes pour pouvoir digérer ce menu car, il regorge de sons souvent décalés.
Radio MLWZ, Poland

By Artur Chachlowski

The guitarist from American band Metaphor, Malcolm Smith, used that band's hiatus to produce a solo album. "We Were Here" is mostly instrumental, actually only one of the six tracks is a song with lyrics. It is "Still ... Life" featuring vocals by his Metaphor bandmate, John Malory. One other track ("Sykiatry") includes a gentle female chorus (by Deborah Roth); then the rest of the material is intensely played instrumental prog with numerous references to jazz rock and fusion music.

This is the first solo project by Smith, who composed all the material and played the guitar. But he has surrounded himself with a crowd of extraordinarily talented and extremely technically expert musicians. In addition the already-mentioned John Mabry, they keyboards on the album "We Were Here" are played by another member of Metaphor, Marc Spooner. His keys fill out this difficult and at times highly complex music. The rhythm section is also made up of great instrumentalists - Loren Gustafson on bass, and Mattias Olson on drums. Yes, yes ...this is the same man whom you meet on the discs by Änglagård, White Willow, and Necromonkey.

"I think that people will love the attention-grabbing, curious, and sometimes peculiar nature of the compositions. This music that we make today will be our artistic signature to the future ­ similar to what prehistoric cave paintings say to me, 25,000 years later ­ we were here""- so says Malcolm Smith ­ a musician fascinated not only by sound, but also apparently by anthropology and history.

Pictures of the prehistoric paintings mentioned are the shown on Smith's album "We Were Here." Do the compositions of this American guitarist actually have a chance to become a musical legacy in history? There is no way to answer that question today.

One is for sure: Malcolm Smith's music on "We Were Here" is unique and not often presented by the music media. It's not easy to digest, but people who like ambitious and not 'obvious' sounds will find in his music a lot of proof of the composing and technical genius of Malcolm's musical talent. And as for humanity as a whole, will they appreciate it 25,000 years in the future? ...
Prog Rock Music Talk

Keith Hannaleck

This review deals with one of the artists I have been unaware of thus far, one Malcolm Smith, who I discovered is the guitarist and founder of the American symphonic prog band, Metaphor. This is his first solo album produced while Metaphor were undergoing a hiatus and is entitled We Were Here.

As with many solo albums, there are guest musicians aplenty helping out on tracks. The musicians involved in We Were Here are, Malcolm Smith (electric/acoustic guitars), Mattias Olsson (drums), Marc Spooner (keyboards), Loren Gustafson (bass), John Mabry (vocals) with Rich Longacre and Craig Launer guesting guitarists on 2 tracks. Marc and John are members of Metaphor, and Mattias is associated with Anglagard, White Willow and NecroMonkey.

We Were Here is a 6 track album, lasting around 48 minutes, with only one track featuring "real" vocals. The longest track offered up is track 5, "Sykiatry" made up of 9 parts and running on for 13:31 minutes. At the other end of the scale, the shortest song, "Peyronie's Angle" still stretches out to just under 6 minutes (5:58).

The opening track to We Were Here is the shortest on offer, "Peronie's Angle" (5:58) and has a gentle keyboard opening before an excellent guitar passage fires up, and what sounds very much like a trumpet, but this is not an instrument that is listed, so my thought is that it is keyboard generated. The keyboards get free rein to produce a superb passage with lots of little hooks and riffs that constantly engage the listener. This track motors along and is an excellent vehicle for the skills of Marc Spooner on keyboards. Excellent guitar work takes over around the 4:50 minute mark and takes the track out with a burst of (keyboard generated) "strings."

"Cavity Research" (6:18) has a very jazzy influenced start, again highlighting the keyboards of Marc. This track builds up layers of sound over some excellent keyboard motifs which propel the track along. There are hints at times of the early jazz rock sound of Chicago (when they were still known as Chicago Transit Authority) floating in and out of the track. The over-riding memory of this track is the stunning contribution of the keyboards.

Track 3, "Monkey Signature" (8:56) leads with a blast from the band and into a keyboard motif, swirling synths and then layered keyboards. Just around 1 minute, the guitar enters and the song just takes off from that point. There is some excellent interplay between the guitar and keyboards, and again the song is littered with those little hooks and catchy riffs. Just prior to the 4 minute mark, there is a stunning sequence with a "flute" and guitar before the electric guitar and keyboards take over the reins of the musical journey. The constant shifting of emphasis between keyboards and guitar together with the subtle and not so subtle, time changes keep the listeners' ears firmly at attention. There are more of the "trumpet/saxophone" keyboards as the track makes its way out. This is a stunning track on an album that has up to this point, set the bar very high.

"Still-Life" (6:20) is the only track that contains a "proper" vocal and it is provided by John Mabry. Starting with a flurry, the track quickly settles down to an acoustic strum with a burbling synth in the background. The crystal clear vocals by John simply glide over the sparse background. This is a generally slower tempo track than previously shown over the tracks. Around 4 minutes there is a burst of acoustic guitar before a brief keyboard passage, but I feel that this track is all about the vocals. The keyboards do take over around the 5:30 minute point, but that is simply to escort the track out.

The long track, "Sykiatry" (13:40) is built up of nine interconnecting parts. This track has an almost carnival style start with multiple keyboards setting out the themes and at times sounding amazingly like a vibraphone. Some vocalizations appear before the time signature changes and the keyboards are off and running. More of the characteristic keyboards and guitar interplay sweeps through the track and the "flute" returns. The main parts merge together very well and the skill of the musicians is a joy to hear. This is yet another track which just "hits the spot."

The final track, "Les Canards du Guerre" (6:25) has a very jazzy vibraphone intro with excellent drumming heralding the entry of the keyboards and guitar, although the keyboards again add layer after layer to the sound. I did say that "Still-Life" was the only non-instrumental track, but there is a chunk of spoken word in this track. The track segues into a gentle undulating acoustic guitar and keyboards passage then the electric guitar appears over the top and a time change in the track moves it towards its finale. The final sound that is heard as this track fades is the sound of ducks.

This is simply a stunning album which deserves to be given many accolades, but in reality may not, as it may simply get passed by. I had not been aware of Malcolm Smith, nor his band, Metaphor, and this is an oversight that must be righted. My advice for the album, We Were Here, is very simple, and that is, go out and buy it, at once! Listen to the album many times and appreciate what a tremendous example of progressive rock it is.

5/5 Stars