The Samurai Of Prog are definitely a modern ‘Progressive Rock Enigma’. There is a uncanny ability among its members to celebrate progressive rocks’ past while appealing to a modern more current audience with more contemporary elements that make for their unique sound. Last year in 2016 I was introduced to this Progressive Rock Enigma by Marty Dorfman at House Of Prog. It turned out to be one of the best introductions I have had with a pure progressive rock band in the past 20 years. What I heard defied some of my expectations as to what a progressive rock band could do.
When Steve Unruh sent me the promotion copy of Lost And Found I was floored by the physical presentation of the packaging. It was at that moment I noticed that this band was very different from where their contemporaries were and are. It may of been a CD , however it certainly opened in the way a gatefold would with a vinyl experience. The individual disc’s even had their very own sleeves within the fold out jacket as a whole. The very detail in their packaging and physical representation translated very well into the music itself. My review for The Samurai Of Prog Lost And Found can be found HERE
Where Lost And Found was older music dusted off the shelf and reworked, re-recorded and remastered, On We Sail is a album of all brand new material. On We Sail on the surface gives you the appearance that it might be a conceptual work, however the 9 songs on the album are more set to a common theme or thread throughout the album. Once again Marco Bernard, Steve Unruh and Kimmo Porsti have gathered together a all star cast ensemble of world class musicians as noted above in the ‘Guest Musician’s’ roster. On We Sail also sees the band bring both its progressive rock influences such as Jethro Tull ,Gentle Giant, Yes, Camel, Caravan, Renaissance on the early end. On the modern end there are influences from 1980’s Neo Progressive Rock with the likes of Marillion, IQ, Galahad, Pallas, Pendragon and Enchant.
The Samurai of Prog seem to know what they want in album art and never shy away from recruiting top artists in the progressive rock art genre. One name that has remained synonymous with The Samurai Of Prog has been Ed Unitsky. I remember when I reviewed Lost And Found last year how utterly accurate Ed Unitsky captured both the band’d personality and their personalities in relationship to the music on the double album. Ed Unitsky is easily in the same conversation with the likes of Roger Dean and Storm Thorgerson as one of the definitive progressive rock album artists of the past 50 years. Once again Ed Unitsky has captured the personality and mood of The Samurai Of Prog’s On We Sail perfectly like he always has. The packaging is almost too gorgeous to open.
When you open The Samurai Of Prog’s On We Sail it is a 6 panel digipak style with the exception that the plastic tray has been replaced with a very fine mini jacket sleeve much in the tradition of a vinyl album. When you remove the CD it even share the same spirit and tradition of a vinyl release in a otherwise digitally handicapped musical atmosphere. With the lyrical content on the album having a heavy nautical theme throughout it, Ed Unitsky has perfectly and tastefully captured that in a moment in time that will help preserve the albums integrity and eventual legacy.
The Common Nautical Thread
The listener does not have to look into it too much to realize that The Samurai Of Prog’s On We Sail has a common theme through it. This is a heavy nautical theme. Although there is not a main concept, each song is a representation of what the band want to convey to the listener. The listener also hears something new or something different with every listen due to the multiple instruments and melodic layers. Let us now journey into The Samurai Of Prog’s On We Sail with a track to track analysis.
On We Sail Music – Kerry Schaklett Lyrics & Vocal Melodies – Steve Unruh Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass , Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Vocals/Violin , Kerry Schacklett – Keyboards, Srdjan Brankovic – Electric Guitars
This one opens up with a beautifully done vintage style synth with modern neo progressive rock elements. Soon the deep rhythm section of bass and drums adds to the deepening layers the band utilizes through out the song and the album. Soon heavy melodies of violin come into the mix. The instrumental melodies really jump out with brief breaks to allow the composition to breathe. Soon a Gentle Giant style vocal comes in perfect harmony and melody with the instrumental backdrop. The violin enters in and soon provides even more layers to the song. The instrumental solo’s are very deeply rooted a more neo progressive mindset. The guitar solo’s really allow the track to gel with this heavily stringed section composition. Some of the guitar work reminds me a lot of Steve Howe meets Ronnie Stolt of the Flower Kings.
Elements Of Life
Music – Octavio Stampalia Lyrics – Steve Unruh Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass , Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Vocals/Violin/Flute , Octavio Stampalia – Keyboards , Ruben Alvarez – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
This one has a very unique isolated flute to open up the track. The isolated flute reminding me more of Camel with a little bit of Jethro Tull in it. The flute also adding a more classical music imprint. Soon the song takes a more lush orchestral direction before the deeper warmer bass comes in both as a melodic and rhythmic instrument. The track itself has a deep classical musical aesthetic throughout it. On the instrumental portion of this the band provides for a great soundtrack to the various weather elements of the human experience. This is perfectly matched in harmony with the lyrical content of the song. Like Fire, Wind, Water, Earth the band explores all these within the melody in relationship between the instrumental and lyrical content. Part of this reminds me of parts of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. The deep Rickenbacker bass adds a deep Earth like tone to the rhythm section. The guitar solo’s do a great job in conveying the wind elements. The keyboards have a heavy Dixie Dreg’s style to them.
Music – Luca Scherani Lyrics – Pikko Salhi & Kev Moore Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass, Kimmo Porsti – Drums/Percussion & Backing Vocals , Steve Unruh – Violin/Vocals/Flute , Luca Scherani – Keyboards , Ruben Alvarez – Electric Guitar , Michelle Young – Vocals
If you like Annie Halsam and Renaissance you will like this. Michelle Young stands out as a true treasure on vocals. She sings with a very sultry yet soulful voice. The opening of this track sets up much in the tradition of Renaissance’s Mother Russia. The guitars have a heavy Floydian influence about them. The opening top this is very stringed section driven with obvious emphasis on guitar’s , violins, and keyboards interchanging and weaving like a beautiful web. It is matched in melody and harmony with both rhythm sections and beautifully orchestrated feminine vocals. This is a track that also places a great emphasis on time signatures and chord progressions. There is also beautiful exchange of both male and female vocals. The backing vocals are very heavily symphonic in their nature. There are some nice breaks in between vocal lines allowing the track to breathe so the listener can take in its full intended purpose.
Music – David Meyers Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass, Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Violin/Flute , David Meyers – Keyboards , Jacques Friedmann – Electric Guitar
This open up with a very atmospheric keyboard orchestration that is soon picked up in melody with a subtle and brilliant bass line from Marco Bernard. It soon takes a more fusion funk chord progression with the gentle style of the flute accentuating the instrumental melody. The electric guitar opens this one up into a deeper layer of a atmospheric track. The way this was tracked you can tell they had some fun with this instrumental. It all comes together like they played it live as a unified band in the studio. This is one of those tracks that appears to have been minimal effort with the pay off of maximum distribution. The piano allows a classical element to be present in the song as well.
Music – Sean Timms Lyrics & Some Vocal Melodies – Steve Unruh Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass , Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Violin/Vocals/Flute , Sean Timms – Keyboards , Mark Trueack – Vocals , Jacob Holm Lupo – Electric Guitars , Ruben Alverez – Electric Guitar Solo
This opens with a beautifully guitar led passage that is enhanced with the subtle sound of the flute and immediate vocals. It is a perfect set up for a great story. There are great melodies and layers of violins and flutes along with the guitar and keyboard stringed sections. This has a very heavy Celtic/Folk atmosphere about it much like a element of World influences. The rhythm section really anchors this allowing every other instrument involved their ‘Day In The Sun’ if you will. I also feel at times elements of Camel and Caravan peaking through the melodic veil. Steve Unruh has such a highly distinctive flute that has become a major staple in the discography of The Samurai Of Prog. I like the way the track isolates the piano and vocals around the 5:30 mark. The vocals are very Southern Empire meets IQ. This is also a very uplifting song lyrically wise. The band also has a very astute ability to let every song breathe where all the instruments shine through and this song is a perfect example of it.
The Perfect Black (Instrumental)
Music – Oliverio Lacagnina
Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass ,Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Flute/Violin/AdditionalClassic Guitar , Oliverio Lacagnina – Keyboards , Flavio Cucchi – Classical Guitar
This is a little bit darker track. It begins with a deep rhythm section along with a open atmospheric style Hammond Organ. This is a heavily stringed section based track along with a heavy wind instrument track. Its nature carries a tone about it like the captain of a ship navigating through some rough waters. The Perfect Black is a excellent title due to the unpredictable chord progressions and time signatures. The very backbone to this track is heavily classical in nature. For those who score films this track gives the listener the appearance that a symphony orchestra is playing to a set of film clips. This track also allows the listener to breathing room to absorb the adventure as they see fit instead of forcing the motion picture on the screen of the theater of the mind. The piano reminds me more of Bach or Mozart playing progressive rock. The classical guitar’s also have a heavy Latin element about them.
Music & Lyrics – Kerry Schacklett Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass , Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Vocals/Volin/Flute , Kerry Schacklett – Acounstc & Electric Guitar/Keyboards/Vocals ,Brett Kull – Electric Guitar
This definitely has a very vintage Jethro Tull element about it. Much of the opening passage is in the tradition of Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick. The band does a great job in storytelling with the lyrical content. Even traditionally non progressive fans can relate to its content. The heavy Ian Anderson influenced flute of Steve Unruh is the unsung hero in this song. The drums of Kimm Porsti really allow the flute and stringed instruments the opportunity to engage the listener on many levels. This is another uplifting and positive song of childhood innocence. In general this is a very fun song that will resonate with many objective listeners.
Over Again (Instrumental)
Music – David Meyers David Meyers – Bosendorfer Grand Piano
This opens up with a baby grand piano passage about it. The piano really reminds me a lot of Beethoven meets Bach. This is a great transition instrumental that will work in live sets to give the other members of the band a brief rest period. This is also a very soothing track that allows the listener time to digest the album thus far. It also transition’s seamlessly into the final track on the album Tigers.
Music & Lyrics – Stefan Renstrom Marco Bernard – Rickenbacker Bass , Kimmo Porsti – Drums & Percussion , Steve Unruh – Vocals/Violin/Flute , Stefan Renstrom – Keyboards/Vocoder ,Daniel Faldt – Vocals , Roberto Vitelli – Moog Taurus Pedals
This comes right in smoothly and seamlessly off Over Again. The track opens up with most its instrumental in one melodic coco phonic harmony. The opening has some very heavy piano and violin elements. It drops and then the isolated piano in harmony with isolated vocals begin to tell the story intended by the band. This track is a very traditional progressive rock track. It is heavy on the keyboards, flute and violin to add greater depth and layers that are the signature of The Samurai Of Prog. The vocals are very soulful and executed with great conviction. The vocals not only serve as a harmonic story teller, they also hit every note perfectly as they go. The transitions within the vocals are spot on perfect. The open ended guitar solo’s add a depth of great emotion about them. The rhythm section also picks this up quite nice towards the 7:00 to 8:00 minute marks.
This final track gives the listener the appearance that they have taken the album to its final destination thus finishing the beautiful melodic journey that has been The Samurai Of Prog On We Sail.
Although this was not a deliberately planned out conceptual piece it certainly felt that way. I like how the band always leave breathing room for the listener to absorb and digest every album according to their individual personalities. The Samurai Of Prog also prove there is still a market for organic uncompressed traditional progressive rock. Nothing ever seems forced to appease a record label or the industry whatsoever. They also have a intelligent awareness to incorporate newer elements that may attract a newer listener base. I am giving The Samurai Of Prog’s On We Sail a 5/5.
Band Members Hans Jorg Schmitz – Creator/Percussion/Keyboards/Guitars/Bass Dago Wilms – Guitar/Bass Gary Farmer – Rickenbacker Bass Steve Unruh – Flute/Violin Pantelis Petrakakis – Bass Andrew Marshall – Spanish Guitar Phillip Schmitz – Keyboards/Piano/Voice Peter Simon – Woodwinds Erik Vaxjo – Mellotron Chip Gremillion – Keyboard Scott Taylor – Ulliann Pipe Kathrin Daniel – Voice Viktoria Papen – Voice
King Of Agogik Morning Star is inspired by the poetry of Christian Morgenstern.
Tracklisting Veils Open… ..To The Place Of Origin Mother Of Depth The Art Of Make~Up Suprema Lex Ignes Fatui A Visit To The Mouse Barber The End Of Dithyramb Curtain Call
Definition of concept something conceived in the mind : thought, notion an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances the basic concepts of psychology the concept of gravity
Throughout its 45+ years, it seems that progressive rock and metal have given birth to some of if not the absolute best concept albums or conceptual albums. The part of the world you live in bring both of those titles to a ever growing and never-ending sub genre within our class of music. Some believe you have to have a concept album loaded up with all lyrical content as to follow the main story or objective of a concept album. I said this before here at Power of Prog and will say it again. Although I still have a love for concept albums loaded up with lyrical content I also love conceptual albums where the majority of the content is instrumental.
Now in April 2017 I have the honour to review King Of Agogik’s Morning Star by German drum virtuoso Hans Jorg Schmitz. King Of Agogik was a special experimental project that Hans Jorg Schmitz set out to create and develop in 2006. Morning Star is the sixth album in this melodic franchise. Morning Star is inspired by the poetry of Christian Morgenstern. Who is Christian Morgenstern you ask?
Christian Otto Josef Wolfgang Morgenstern (6 May 1871 – 31 March 1914) was a German author and poet from Munich. Morgenstern married Margareta Gosebruch von Liechtenstern on 7 March 1910. He worked for a while as a journalist in Berlin, but spent much of his life traveling through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, primarily in a vain attempt to recover his health. His travels, though they failed to restore him to health, allowed him to meet many of the foremost literary and philosophical figures of his time in central Europe. Morgenstern’s poetry, much of which was inspired by English literary nonsense, is immensely popular, even though he enjoyed very little success during his lifetime. He made fun of scholasticism, e.g. literary criticism in “Drei Hasen”, grammar in “Der Werwolf”, narrow-mindedness in “Der Gaul”, and symbolism in “Der Wasseresel”. In “Scholastikerprobleme” he discussed how many angels could sit on a needle. Still many Germans know some of his poems and quotations by heart, e.g. the following line from “The Impossible Fact” (“Die unmögliche Tatsache”, 1910)
This may have been created by a drummer but make no mistake this is a very profound melodic artistic expression. The album ranges from classic neo progressive elements, heavily melodic chants, heavy melodic instrumental metal and thought provoking spoken word portions with some social commentary. Therefore there is a wide spectrum of elements within the progressive rock and metal standards. This is also one of those albums that will require both a open mind and a few spins to pick up on the main objective to the concept. I would like to explore and point out some highlights from King Of Agogik’s Morning Star on a track by track analysis.
Peter Simon – Oboe , Phillip Schmitz – Piano/Keyboards , Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums/Keyboards/Guitar
This opens up with a very heavy keyboard progression that sets up the first of many atmospheric elements on the album.From there a sound effect of a phone rings and you hear a dialogue between two men. Soon after that the drums come in and make a abstract construct through what sounds like a regressive filter with a spoken word element blended right into it. The track bleeds seamlessly into the next song The Unavoidable Wayfare …
The Unavoidable Wayfare …
Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums/Keyboards/Guitar’s , Dago Wilms – Ryhthm & Solo Guitar , Gary Farmer – Rickenbacker , Steve Unruh – Flute & Violin , Peter Simon – Woodwinds , Phillip Schmitz – Piano , Erik Vaxjo -Melltron , Viktoria Papen – Voice, Chip Gremillion – Keyboard
This transitions seamlessly off Veils Open. It opens up with a beautiful atmospheric effect done on keyboards and quickly goes into a beautifully unorthodox Arabic Scale done with well disciplined woodwind instrument that soon explodes into a Neo Progressive harmony between the drums, keyboards and a neo progressive guitar. The heavy new progressive instrumental harmony has a slight progressive metal element to it. The track soon drops where the Arabic Scale starts taking the track in and out of odd time signatures and chord progressive passages. The drums are more in time with the Arabic Scale that seems to be the dominating factor throught the track. It also takes on a heavily Mellotron induced melody that allows the track to maintain its unique quality. Each and every turn and layer upon layer chord progression and time signature is building towards what I believe to be the second part of a multi tracked 24:34 minute track followed by the following track , …To The Place Of Origin. Parts of the next half of this track remind me a lot of 1980’s Neo Progressive elements of a Jan Hammer meets Shamallwith a lot of intricate keyboard progressions in harmony with the insane clinic Hans Jorg Schmitz seems to be putting on. The helicopter effects are something very unorthodox where they fit nicely into a surround sound system. This ends with some insane intricate changes between the drums and keyboards.
…….To The Place Of Origin
Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums/Keyboards/Guitar’s , Dago Wilms – Ryhthm & Solo Guitar , Gary Farmer – Rickenbacker , Steve Unruh – Flute & Violin , Peter Simon – Woodwinds , Phillip Schmitz – Piano , Erik Vaxjo -Melltron , Viktoria Papen – Voice
Again in appropriate concept fashion this track bleeds seamlessly off of the previous track The Unavoidable Wayfare …… It transitions so smoothly that it gives the listener the true audio illusion that it is the second part of a multi tracked 20+ minute epic. It begins with a beautifully orchestrated acoustic guitar in harmony with the flute and violin. This sets up for a more folk style atmosphere in the vein of more of Jethro Tull meets Camel meets Big Big Train. The violin eloquently done reminds me a lot of Robby Steinhardt of Kansas, especially dust in the wind. The guitar builds layers upon layers to meet in harmony with the rhythm section. The neo progressive folk progression allows the listener time to breathe and begin to absorb the album more on a soulful level. It is one of the more symphonic and orchestral laden tracks on the album providing depths of even classical music. The middle section is is a real roller coaster of emotion with the various time changes and those Arabic Scale instrumental reprisals to remind you you of the conceptual spine of the album. The drum and rhythm section continues its beautifully intricate exchanges of various chord progressions and time signatures and synth atmospheres. This track finishes with a elegant female spoken word telling a story over the drum beats in harmonic balance.
Mother Of Depth
Phillip Schmitz – Fender Rhodes, Hans Jorg Schmitz – Keyboards and Carillion
This begins with a gracefully done harmony of various keyboard and Carillon harmonies forming a deep toned atmosphere. The atmosphere created is quite dark in nature however serves as a bridge track Navde.
Kathrin Daniel – Voice , Hans Jorg Schmitz – All Instruments
This track keeps on point with the more darker and deeper atmospheres on the album. There is a very articulate spoken word section in both German of a poetic nature. The instrumental atmosphere is quite psychedelic in nature.
The Art Of Make~Up
Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums
This is a perfect storm of epic drum proportions. The symphony of hi hats blending with snares and eloquently in harmony with cymbals is a dream for listeners who really love drums and tight rhythm sections. Playing sometimes in odd time signatures there is a little blend for the most objective mind and progressive purist at once.
Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums, Dago Whilms – Guitar & Bass , Peter Simon – Oboe
This begins with various effects as if the listener has been transported to a war zone. This is a all out audio assault on the senses. With deep rhythm sections and dark and heavy handed neo progressive metal elements with police sirens effects, this is certainly a track that will get the attention of the listener for sure. It includes parts of Winston Churchill’s infamous speech following the all out assault of Nazi Germany during the start of World War 2. From there it runs a series of spoken word segments over some good solid progressive hard rock. Fragments of spoken word nature of President John F Kennedy and various other world leaders throughout history are very upfront and present with a vast amount of social commentary. The instrumental atmosphere remains very very aggressive towards the finish line of the track.
Dago Whilms – Guitars , Scott Taylor – Keyboards/Bass/Guitar
Begins as a very folk driven acoustic ballad. One that may come out of the regions of say Scotland or Ireland as it steadily takes on heavy layers of Celtic elements. The guitar and Celtic elements remind me very heavily of Dave Bainbridge and IONA or even Mostly Autumn.
A Visit To The Mouse Barber
Pantelis Petrakakis – Bass , Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums
Opens up with a heavily funk driven bass chord progression in harmony with various percussive cymbals giving the track very unorthodox and fresh sounds. The drums and bass take on a far more melodic narrative here. Even more so than a percussive narrative. This is another track that is a rhythm section lovers dream come true.
The End Of Dithyramb
Gary Farmer – Bass , Dago Whilms – Guitars, Peter Simon – Woodwinds, Steve Ubruh – Fute & Violin, Andrew Marshall – Spanish Guitar, Hans Jorg Schmitz – Drums/Keyboards/Guitars
This begins with a healthy rich Spanish/Latin chord progression along with various percussive elements to present this 20+ minuteepic. Once again Hans Jorg Schmitz has a very intricate understanding of layering various time signatures and effects on a composition. Soon the violin takes it into more of a traditional classical atmosphere. The violin even at times allows some Far East Orient elements loose. Soon the piano, drums, bass, and guitars take the listener on a unorthodox and unpredictable journey of sonic excellence. It is as if Santana and Yes got together to develop a Latin Progressive Rock composition with a slight flavour of Jethro Tull with the presence of the flute. This track is like a perfect balance and blend of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung meets Yes Tales Of Topographic Oceans meets Santana – I, II, & III.
This track is also like Bach or Beethoven on drums writing one of their classic symphony scores. This takes on qualities of traditional progressive rock with some heavy Celtic and World influence to even some cosmic elements from a RUSH 2112 meets Tangerine Dream’s – Zeit 1972. All the instruments are very clearly heard both on their own accord and in the collective harmony of things. Hans Jorg Schmitz has written this very complementary so his guest musicians can really be heard. That is a tougher task than many think it is. It also takes a humble and gracious soul to do that for guest musicians. The breathing space each of his guest has on this track is just a remarkable feat.
The last five minutes of the track is much like a straight away, 1970’s era classic rock acoustic track in the vein of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home, however in a instrumental fashion. Soon the sweet rhythm sections and atmospheres that have been the standard for Morning Star start to really bring it home for the listener. The elements in their collective really come together to perfectly compliment the last and final track Curtain Call.
Dago Whilms – Guitar, Phillip Scmitz – Piano/Keyboards, Hans Jorg Schmitz -Drums/Keyboards/Guitar
Is very appropriately named for the last and final track on Morning Star. The journey is about over however not until it is ended properly. It is a full reprisal track that ends much like it began back in the first track Veils Open. The same narrative is pumped through a more abstract filter with a much more melodic atmosphere serving as the backbone. It ends in a very ‘Pink Floydian’matter with the guitars. You can hear many of the elements in this short track that you heard through the entire journey of the album.
King Of Agogik is some of the very best instrumental work that I have heard since great instrumental albums as Ayreon’s Actual Fantasy, Liquid Tension Experiment 1 & 2, Gordion Knot 1 &2 and even the two from Melodic Revolution Records I featured last year, Leon Alvarado The Future Left Behind and Darrel Treece Birch No More Time . King Of Agogik is very groundbreaking with every release. It is a perfect album for those interested in a quality instrumental progressive rock album and it will also suffice the progressive purist at the same time. This is on my list already as a contender for Instrumental Album of 2017 at least. I do hope to see some more social media presence on this franchise. It is worth the time to invest social media presence such as Facebook or Twitter. Credit goes to Chip Gremillion who shared a few copies with me making this review possible. I am giving this a strong 5/5.
My gateway into neo progressive rock music was Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood in 1985. It was a bit difficult for me due to the fact I was a solid metal purist at the time. However the music never left me and the seed was sown towards future neo progressive music in the future. Throughout the years neo progressive music and bands would come across my path. By 1999 I had discovered California neo progressive rocker’s Enchant when I bought A Blueprint Of The World – 1993 and Wounded – 1996. From that point all my defenses concerning neo progressive rock and metal had been totally removed.
Soon after I had discovered bands such as IQ, Pendragon, Spock’s Beard, Jadis, Pallas and Arena to name a few. These bands all have a common thread that easily allows the neo progressive title to be bestowed upon them. This common thread is experimental symphonic prog. It requires particular programming of synth’s along with guitars and rely more on a heavy lush stringed section. It is a very rare occasion when the neo progressive element meets a heavier almost metal element. It also takes a very talented and exceptional band to be able to blend these elements just right. Fortunately Dutch band Knight Area has been able to manage just that. Their 2017 release Heaven And Beyond displays this at work.
On Knight Area’s Heaven And Beyond there is a sonic buffet of various styles in play. Various styles not only include the obvious neo progressive staple but also go on to include hard rock, heavy metal and even AOR at certain points. This album is easily accessible to those various audio pallets. My appeal to Knight Area really took off after Peter Vinnk – Bass (Star One and Ayreon) alumni joined the band. I had always been a fan of his intricate and expansive bass work. This work is magnified on Knight Area’s Heaven And Beyond. Now I would like to explore some highlights of Knight Area’s Heaven And Beyond track by track.
Unbroken opens up with the keyboard transcribing a horned section almost from the 16 th century. Soon it goes into a pure progressive hard rock slightly metal chord progression with a great isolated guitar solo. The track fades down and soon come out of left field with a really gritty and crunchy rhythm based guitar signature. That is followed by a thunderous another thunderous rhythmic section between the bass, drum and rhythm portion on the guitar. Mark Smit – Vocals then comes in with some powerful, clear and angelic style vocals to carry the atmosphere of the track. This is a very guitar driven track from top to bottom with various breaks and time signatures.
Tree Of Life opens with a beautiful piano passage before being met with a straight away progressive hard rock passage. The rhythmic section really sets the table on this track quite nice. The guitar almost sounds like a 7 string guitar at times allowing more depth within the track. The vocal work is just as much a instrument as it is a narrative piece within the composition. The guitar solo’s really allow for a heavier listening experience. This is easily one of the tracks that can open up a live set list delivering depth to their intended audience. The Hammond Organ style towards the end gives the track a vintage progressive rock presence.
Memories starts out with a lush piano ballad with a deep warmth within the vocals. Although it is very progressive it displays some light AOR elements. The track soon takes off like a hard rock power ballad however without sounding cheesy. The guitars really lend a lot of atmospheric depth and layers to the stringed section. The vocals harmonies are spot on with the instrumental portions to the composition. They are almost like a mini choir in nature. This is definitely one of the more guitar driven tracks on the album.
Dreamworld begins with a beautiful piano intro before taking on a very heavily symphonic rooted chord progression. It is as if the band are taking a symphony orchestra mindset and transcribing it to the available instruments at their disposal. This track as big thunderous rhythm sections matched wonderfully with big stringed sections. The vocals really blend all the sum of the parts of this track beautifully. The band really start to form a very distinct sound on Dreamworld.
The Reaper opens up with a very dark brooding bass passage with some seriously warm yet dark vocals along with a open atmosphere on the keyboards. The vocals are arranged with such thought and care in their isolation. This track takes on a very some very misty eerie instrumental elements allowing the isolated vocals to get a beautiful to be told in its fullness. In its gloomy atmosphere the track still allows a little light in to breathe.
Box Of Toys opens with a powerful guitar solo from the top. Soon it goes into a break with a great rhythm section to allow the vocal to breathe and tell the story. This track reminds me a lot of early GTR or Asia compositions. There is a great violin in this as well. The harmonies are very Yes in nature.
Starlight blasts open into a progressive frenzy with the rhythm section. This is a very straight away progressive hard rock track with intelligent vocal harmonies playing in perfect range with the stringed section of keys and lead guitar. Starlight borders on the fringe of a progressive metal track at times throughout the track.
Heaven And Beyond opens up with a beautiful harmony between the piano, guitar and vocal. This combination allows the listener to settle in the track. The opening is almost ballad like before the drums come in and turn it into more of a power ballad. This is definitely one of those songs I see their fan base singing back to them during live performances on tour. Its very nature is unifying. The guitar solo’s are a complete treat on this one as well. There are some really tight beautiful vocal harmonies towards the end.
Saviour Of Sinners opens up with a straight away prog metal delight with some neo progressive elements sprinkled in. The band really has a great talent in mixing the vocals to be isolated within the instrumental where they can be clearly heard and the story told. The rhythm section is spot on leading both the vocal harmony and the stringed section serving as a anchor for the entire track. Time signatures are definitely present all over this song.
Eternal Light the ethereal opening guitar solo on this track matches the title quite perfectly. It appears this was recorded live as is in studio along with a beautiful and perfectly complimentary keyboard in tandem harmony. The emotion in this track will take the listener for a emotional ride. It is the only instrumental on Heaven And Beyond.
Twins of Sins opens up in a almost unconventional classic rock format. It opens up much like 1980’s progressive rock when bands like Asia, Yes , etc took on more AOR elements. However the further this goes the more the track takes on a more modern neo progressive metal track with catchy time signatures and complex chord progressions to match the intricate bass and vocals. This track also serves as a great uplifting track to close out the album.
To my surprise Knight Area’s Heaven And Beyond was a very unconventionally guitar oriented neo progressive album. Sometimes the term neo progressive means it is more keyboard based however this album was not that. Heaven And Beyond is going to surprise some people in the progressive rock and metal communities since there is a little bit of everything for the progressive pallet. I would not be surprised to find this album in the Top 5 or even #1 of the Album Of 2017 lists when they come out at the end of the year. This is a very good album and gets a 5/5 for the variety of many progressive elements.
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