Progressive rock in general tends to attract comments such as pretentious, bombastic and self-indulgent. This CD shows little reluctance to refrain from these appellations. The length of the music, the threading of the elements into a complex tapestry, the effusive explosion of ecstatic instrumental energy and alternating between obscure lyrics and descriptions with moments of diamond clarity come together to provide fodder for even the most benign of critical detractors. In summary, this CD is fantastic.
The opening track to this two CD masterpiece, “The Glass Prison,” has some of the most phenomenal guitar work of any band I have ever heard. Every time I listen to how quickly the lead guitar is being play I am in awe that human fingers can move so fast. The style combines hard rock, progressive rock and a flavor of nu-metal to create an original, technical, and yet artistic song. There is much in this song to commend it to a much wider audience than is typical of any one of these individual genres. Progressive long at nearly 14 minutes, the group uses a variety of influences to create an evolutionary song that is simultaneously challenging and listenable. This song is the antithesis of shy.
The second song, “Blind Faith,” is generally much mellower than the dynamic and explosive first song. The song begins slick and smooth with less heaviness than the first song, sounding almost pop. However, the build up to the chorus puts to flight the thought that this song is anything other than a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing. The charging guitars in the lengthy bridge cracker crunch into the notes leading to a lovely (yes, that is what I meant) piano piece before getting into a bass driven run-up to instruments enthusiastically alternating for the lead until the last vocal set is reached. This song is well-crafted with an excellent balance of art and technical skill.
There is Moody Blues transition between “Blind Faith” and the “Misunderstood.” Unless you are watching the track changes you could easily miss the beginning of this track as there is no pause between tracks. “Misunderstood” is one my favorite tracks on this CD. The quiet, slow, introduction lulls you into a passivity that is instantly and violently blown away as the instruments and vocals shatter drivingly into your brain. I think I hear a mellotron in this song, which I always enjoy.
“The Great Debate” takes on the challenge of human stem cell and other human cell research. The song begins with speakers stating portions of the opposing viewpoints, coming from opposite speakers. The complexity of the song matches the complexity of the subject, and the tone of the song is somber and sincere. The music and the lyrics provide ample opportunity to contemplate the content of the lyrics, which summarize the opposing viewpoints nicely (moral and ethical versus practical and beneficial), and suggest that we as a race are at a crossroads of sorts and we need to make a decision. The song suggests that we need to “turn to the light,” which I take to mean we need to face this issue rather than turn away, as our decision may define who we are.
The heady moral complexity of the previous song contrasts with the simpler, and yet emotionally more powerful content of “Disappear.” Since this song deals with death and loss, some of the lyrics in the previous song are put into perspective, because you sense by the position of this song on the CD that failure of science may have led to the loss felt in this song. Every word sung is painfully wrought and pulled from a deep secret place where you may have thought they were secure. The song has hopeful elements, but the dark nature of the music indicates that the singer is still grieving over the loss of she who gave him hope. This song is one of those that you should listen to only when you are not already feeling morose.
Thus far I have only discussed the first disc of this CD. The second disc deserves its own, completely separate review because it bears no relationship whatsoever to the first disc. In the classic tradition of progressive rock, the second disc is a concept with an introductory instrumental overture that combines some classical elements with hard rock, and an exit finale that sums it all up. In between is an exploration of the human mind, and what can appear to be insanity, or sanity, as there is no single definition for sanity. The music ranges from contemplative to crispy, from idle slow to light speed fast, from quiet to blast-off. This disc contains a concept album to rival some of the best progressive rock music concepts.
When I listen to this two-disc set I hear influences from an array of groups, and I hear something completely new. When I was introduced to this music by another reviewer (now going under the name Samhot), it was so different from anything I had previously heard that it has taken me more than a year to come to grips with the music. This music is faster paced and more complex than early progressive rock. This music brings in modern rock elements, along with music from several other groups, to revitalize progressive rock, which had become somewhat moribund in the 80s and early 90s. The modernization of progressive rock is welcome to an old-timer like me, who has followed progressive rock from its roots in “Sgt. Pepper” to the seminal “Days of Future Passed” and its explosion into a separate genre populated by King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and a few select others. This new generation of artists is giving a new generation of listeners and an old generation of listeners a reason to return to progressive rock.