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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

A Chinese Firedrill

Circles

Review by Gary Hill

A solo CD from Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Anthrax, Armored Saint, etc.), this qualifies as progressive rock if you consider the more metallic form of prog to still be prog. I know there are those out there (prog purists) who would be inclined to call it “metal,” but for my money this is progressive rock. I like this CD a lot. It’s definitely unique and creative.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Circles
Sound effects lead things off here. A Kraftwerk-like keyboard texture joins and then we get a wahing sort of cool, techno-prog sound for an intriguing start and stop riff. This gives way to a crunchy sort of jam. It drops back to a more stripped down approach for the vocals. This reminds me a bit of a more techno Dream Theater. The fusion-like jam in the center of the song is really cool as is the killer riff driven section that follows it. This is high energy and quite powerful. It moves through a number of changes in an extremely dynamic arrangement.
Automatic Fantasy
An odd echoey voice that ended the last cut starts this off. Tribal drumming joins in to start the track proper. Eventually an acoustic guitar joins and this feels a bit like Led Zeppelin or the Page and Plant stuff. After a time in this mode it powers out to a noisy nu-metal kind of arrangement for a short while. It moves back out to the acoustic section and then resolves out into more melodic progressive rock a bit like Pink Floyd. From there it seems destined to fire out into more metal. Instead it drops back to piano and then a crunchy bass sound enters the mix. A voice says that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Then the bass continues until a Latin styled guitar segment leads the cut into ground that would be quite at home on an Al Di Meola disc. Then we launch out into more Pink Floyd type sounds to carry on. It does power out to more pure metal for a time and then drops back down to an even more sedate take on that acoustic guitar driven sound.
Insane
This one still has a bit of that Pink Floyd sound, but the dominating texture on the early sections is one of a jazzy, bouncy little dittie. It powers out to more metal sounds for a while, but then drops back into the familiar groove to carry on. I actually can hear a bit of Jellyfish on this arrangement. Later we get a killer guitar solo that isn’t quite metal, but definitely has some crunch. This gives way to a great retro keyboard sound and then it soars in a more pure prog (albeit neo-prog) motif that is incredibly triumphant in texture. This ends abruptly just as you really get into the groove.
Siúcra
Weird sound effects start this, feeling a bit like an odd outdoor scene. Then some elements of melody emerge, but never really take hold. A rocking jam powers out and moves the whole thing into the song proper. This is a very soaring, positive sounding journey. It drops back to a more balladic take for the vocal delivery. This has a very natural feel to the way the song matures and adapts. It’s got the catchy sort of delivery of the best of Kings X, while still managing to convey plenty of progressive rock structuring and majesty. It drops later to an acoustic guitar driven motif and grows gradually from there. It seems like it’s going to explode out from there, but instead drops back to a beautiful piano melody. Then more techno elements emerge amidst this mode. Eventually it gives way to an energized return to the song’s main themes. Another return to the acoustic format ends it. This may be my favorite piece on the whole thing.
Never Say Never
Noisy techno sounds start this, but Vera quickly launches out into a frantic sort of off-kilter jam that feels like vintage Rush. It drops to a more stripped down, but no less oddly timed sound for the verse, but jumps back to Rush-like territory as it carries on. This turns more melodic for the chorus and then works into a fairly dramatic section for the next set of vocals. We get various reiterations on the different sections of this track. It’s a cool one and really feels a lot like something we might get from modern Rush.
Grass and Stone (Ethereal)
Mellow tones start this and seem ready to bring up a ballad-type structure. It wanders to sound effect-lined near chaos instead. That ballad approach does rise up after a short time like this, though. We get some intriguing chordal patterns and sounds as it is worked and reworked. When it shifts to more energetic sounds those Rush echoes seem to appear again. I also hear Kings X on this track as it work through its various incarnations. The more metallic take midsong is extremely powerful. It gives way to a rather fusion-like section with some decidedly Steve Howe-like guitar work. It works back to the main song structure, but then around four minutes in we get an odd interlude where keyboards that feel partly like bees and partly like a noisy theremin takes control for a time. A spoken voice can barely be heard in the mix here. This gives way to a pretty and intricate piano based section, though. This is reworked into a powerful progressive rock excursion from there. It gives way to the main song section after a time, though.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
At almost nine and a half minutes this is the longest piece on the disc, by far. Atmospheric keyboard textures start it off. A funky sort of texture appears after a time. Then percussion enters, too. The vocals come in over this backdrop. It builds up rather organically from there, eventually turning towards more energized music. As a soaring guitar section takes over a spoken voice recites the title. It returns to the song proper from there. It moves along like this for a while, these various sections repeating. Then it charges out with a more metallic fury delivered onto the same musical structures. At just a little past the four and a half minute mark it moves down to a more stripped down rather funky approach. A more keyboard based treatment takes it after a while. This all drops away just before the six minute mark. Then melodic keyboards in layered sort of motifs enter and begin to rise up in a mysterious fashion. After about a minute this transforms into a smoking metallic jam that still feels somehow like this keyboard segment. It gives way to a reprise of the main song structure from there. This eventually takes it to a fade down and more sound effects end the tune – and the album – in fine fashion.
 
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