The fifth album from this Lexington-based trio is a record which is unashamed in its inclusion and integration of a number of distinct but not conflicting influences, which the band deploy as it suits the needs of the music. After a brief electronic vocal introduction, which sets the scene for the heavyweight metaphysical themes of the album – faith (and the loss of it) and the unravelling of the social fabric – the first taste is a progressive one, with «Beyond Repair», a driven, dense piece, but which remains accessible. In fact, for all the differences of sound and arrangement evidenced, this basic assessment holds true for almost the whole record. It is a laudable and largely successful attempt to produce a record which is technically demanding, original, progressive, complex and sophisticated but also, at bottom, near radio-friendly in its sensibilities. «Forged in the Furnace» wears its hard rock heart on its sleeve and «Steal the Love» has a catchy groove. Then there are pieces like «Love Letters» which have a complex, unconventional structure and style, but with a nice catchy chorus which sits nicely on the ear. Elsewhere we get echoes of Rishloo and Caligula’s Horse, for example on «The Lessons They Bring» which evokes some of The Edge’s open, expansive guitar work on «Achtung Baby» in its later section. Guitarist Matt Page has such a diverse range of influences at his fingertips, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were two guitarists writing on the record. Where the arrangement and overall sound doesn’t tip its progressive hand, bass player Chris Tackett reinforces that overall impression with his choices of harmonisations. Drummers will enjoy this record, as Michael Beinhorn’s production gives the backline full prominence, occasionally at the expense of the vocals and guitars, and Joey Waters is a modern rock drummer par excellence, powerful and full of complex rhythms and dazzling fills. As a three-piece progressive band, comparisons with Rush are hard to avoid, and although some can be made, especially on technical grounds, it’s more the sensibility than the sound of the music that carries it – the emphasis on the importance of the songwriting more than the bustle and complexity of the music. Otherwise, it’s the power and richness of the ensemble vocals, which are another hallmark of the record. There are a few weaker moments, like the keystone track, «The Lessons They Bring», which does seem to lose its way a little, «wandering … aimlessly» as the lyrics say. Here, the lengthy arrangement could have been pared back. Elsewhere, there are some jarring moments as instruments are introduced («After the Fallout») or as the episodic song structures present a change of direction («Love Letters»). But this is nit-picking. Largely, the «remote production» experiment by Beinhorn worked a treat, and we have a record which is an easy album to like, particularly for anyone who likes progressive music and hard rock, and which balances progressive sophistication with good songwriting. «Lay Down the Cross» closes the album on the same terms, a mix of folk, Beatles-style rock bookended by prog-anthem grandeur, which fades away to nothing.
5/6 | Alex Maines
Release date: 14 July 2023