Wednesday, June 24, 2009

IQ- Frequency

Frequency is the latest album from prog giants, IQ and is notable for being their first after the departure of key member Martin Orford. Many fans wondered if IQ would be the same without Orford’s influence. Let me assure you that this is still the IQ that fans know and love. I may not be the best to judge because I’ve never been a huge IQ fan, but to these ears this is the best album IQ have ever created. I have always tried to avoid IQ because of their frequent comparisons to Marillion (a band I just can’t seem to get) and their association with the Neo-Prog movement (a subdivision of prog that generally doesn’t interest me). But, despite these reservations I picked up Dark Matter quite a few years ago when it came out and I ended up really enjoying it. Because of my positive attitude towards this album, I decided to order the latest IQ offering, Frequency, and boy am I glad that I did. This is one of my favorite albums, a true masterpiece of Prog for me. I can’t get enough of it!

The album kicks off with the title track, and what a powerful track it is! It starts with some random frequency noise before the bass kicks in with a pounding rhythm. The band rocks out for a bit before slowing down, allowing Peter Nicholls to come in with his wonderful voice. One of the things that strikes me with this album is the pure beauty of Nicholls voice, it fits the music perfectly and makes him one of my favorite prog vocalists. This song moves fiercely through many great sections, and it ends leaving me wanting more. It is a progressive tour de force that never gets old. It is followed by Life Support which starts as a pleasant ballad once again focusing on Nicholls voice before it turns into a jam with a weird keyboard solo. I wasn’t sure what to make of the odd keyboard noises from new keyboardist Mark Westworth at first, but I have gotten used to them and now love them.

This leads into Stronger Than Friction, another favorite of mine, which starts with a happy upbeat melody that isn’t overly complicated but is really fun to listen to. This song moves through different movements but does so naturally so that the song flows beautifully from one part to the next. I especially love the ending where the band rocks out, especially guitarist Mike Holmes (who I feel is the other star of this album along with Nicholls). The ending goes right into One Fatal Mistake, which is a great segue between Stronger Than Friction and Ryker Skies. It is another ballad that presents one of the main themes of the album in a pure way. Ryker Skies is a killer song that has a great heavy atmosphere to it that really grabs the listener’s attention. I really like some of the proggier keyboard moments spread out through the piece, and I love the sing-along chorus. It is definitely highlight.

This song leads right into the masterpiece of the album, The Province. I don’t think I have adequate words to describe the beauty of this song. It is 13 minutes of pure beauty and inspiration and impresses me even on the 37th listen (or whatever listen I’m on right now, sorry I haven’t been keeping track). The sound bursts out at you at points that makes it a really exciting piece, but there is also room for heartfelt vocals from Nicholls. My favorite moment of the song, and the whole album in fact, is toward the end with Holmes goes off on this incredible guitar solo that highlights the main musical theme of the song. It is inspiring, magnificent, and whatever grand word you want to put in. It just gets me every time-it is wonderful.

Appropriately titled, the final song of the album is Closer, and what a great closer it is! It is a pleasant ballad that once again highlights the main theme of the album and really brings things full circle. As I listen, it gives me time to reflect on how brilliant the album was. Every musician involved is playing at their top performance level, and there is originality and emotion pouring through every note. It isn’t very often that I feel this moved by an album (unless Neal Morse is coming out with a new album). I really have no other choice but to give this album a perfect score. I urge all prog fans to give this album a chance, you may be as moved as I am by it.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hourglass- Obvious to the Oblivious

Hourglass is a new band to me. They are based out of Orem, Utah, which happens to be the next city over from where I live in Provo. I discovered them on one of my favorite prog sites where there was a very positive review of this album. From there I went to Hourglass' website and listened to samples from their latest album and was blown away. I bought the CD from them immediately because of how impressed I was. When I recieved the CD in the mail a couple days later, I couldn't wait to listen to it! I put the CD on my ipod and started to play the music and...I wasn't all that impressed. I was really bummed out- had I made a huge mistake? Luckily, I decided to give the album another chance and was blown away by it all over again. How could I have been dissapointed with this album on first listen? This is definitely one of my favorite albums so far this year and is a strong contender for album of the year.

This album could be classified as Progressive Metal, but it is never too heavy. The heaviest track is easily the first one, On the Brink, that starts off Disc 1. This song really reminded me of The Glass Prison by Dream Theater, which is one of my all time favorite songs. It has a powerful riff, and the whole band plays fantastically- it is a perfect start to a great album. The singer, Michael Turner, sounds like Ted Leonard from Enchant, but also gets in some growling in the opening track. He hits this high note in the second half of the song that just blows me away every time- he is truly a great singer. What really impresses me about this band, though, is the amazing bass playing of Eric Blood. There are moments where the music stops and Eric Blood plays an awesome bass part by himself before the rest of the band come in. These are some of my favorite parts and show how funky and rocking he is as a bass player. Amazing stuff!

There is a lot of stuff on this album, so I think it would take too long to go through each song individually, so I'll just give some highlights. What is amazing to me is that this album spans two whole discs and there is not a boring or bad moment throughout the whole album. I love Pawn II, which seems like an instrumental until the soft, tasteful vocals come in about halfway through the song. There is some amazing playing going on in this song and it just blows me away every time. I love the closing epic on the first disc, called 38th Floor. It is over 20 minutes of highlights that move seamlessly from one piece to the next. Just so you know I'm not playing favorites, I really love the guitar playing of Brick Williams, it is truly outstanding.

I love the instrumental piece on the second disc, Delirium. It gives all players a chance to shine including the two band members I haven't mentioned yet, Jerry Stenquist on Keyboards and John Dunston on Drums. There is no weak link in this band, every member is fantastic! And, who can forget the awesome epic that closes the album? The title track, a thirty minute piece split into 5 parts, is incredibly done and showcases all the great styles that this band includes in its music. There are heavy bits, some great singing, more tasteful bass work, a beautiful ballad section, and a jazzy ending. It is the perfect ending to a great album as the band members jam together.

I love this album! The more I write about it, the more excited I get about it. It is an album that keeps growing on me and really makes me appreciate the complexity involved in progressive metal. I would give this album a perfect score, but there are some minor imperfections, mainly the sound quality of the album is not as crisp as I would like it to be. Also, I have a feeling Hourglass have even better albums to come, so I want to give them room to grow. Great work here and a strong contender for album of the year!

Rating: 9/10