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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Soul Secret

Flowing Portraits

Review by Gary Hill

Prog purists will probably call this prog metal rather than crunchy prog. I can see their point, but I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the album where this is true, but there are at least as many sections where the progressive rock elements take the forefront. Coupled with the complex musical arrangements, I’d put this more in the prog rock school than the metal one. These guys have a good deal of Dream Theater in them, but there is also Rush, Queensryche, Fates Warning and even ELP. It’s all woven into a sound that’s decidedly unique, even though it owes debts to the music of other bands. This is a heck of a thrill ride and a great disc. If you like your prog with a good deal of metal thrown in – or perhaps your metal with a lot of peanut butter – sorry prog, then this is for you.

Track by Track Review
Dance of the Waves
Sound effects begin the proceedings. We get a spoken sound bite then waves of ominous keyboards join. Other sound effects and sound bites come here and there across this slightly creepy backdrop. At a little before the one minute mark this “crescendos.” Then percussion, feeling at first like “cartoon sounds,” enters. This powers up and we’re treated to some tasty, crunch guitar riffing. They take it in from there in a prog metal motif. This becomes Dream Theater like at points along its journey and I hear some very Rushish like sounds at times, too. We get a journey into a cool piece of keyboard dominated weirdness. Then they move back out into the song proper for a time before launching into a smoking, hard edged instrumental section. This gives way to some of the most Rush-like sounds we’ve heard so far with a cool staccato pattern.  A cool bass solo appears and when they move back to the vocals we get keyboards playing over the top of them. It turns extremely metallic before they wrap things up.  At seven and a half minutes in length, this might not be the most massive track on show here, but it’s a killer and makes for a great album opener.
First Creature
Keyboards start things off in style here. This is definitely more in a metallic prog mode rather than prog metal. The keys dominate the early portions of this arrangement, spinning patterns of melody over the arrangement. They run through in hard edged fury for a time, but then drop it back to the mellower modes before they crank it back up for the chorus. We get a great metallic riff that comes and goes here and there. It’s a total old school rock and roll riff done with a harder edge. They alternate these harder segments with extremely mellow music for good effect. Comparisons to Dream Theater would be appropriate at points along this ride, too, but that’s just one aspect of the music of Soul Secret. They deftly move from more metallic sounds to those that are more thoroughly in progressive rock territory. We get changes from one direction to another and all delivered in nearly seamless ways. I particularly like the keyboard dominated section at around four minutes. It really reminds me of something Queensryche would do (if they were a keyboard dominated prog band). I don’t know if you can wrap your head around that, but the musical progression seems to have a lot in common with Operation Mindcrime era Ryche, but delivered on keys. They don’t sit in any one place for long, though. This shifts and turns, careening here and there on a path that never fails to surprise and captivate. While the opening number was strong, this one blows it away.
Inner War
Beautiful balladic keyboard elements strike a stark contrast to the metallic fury of the last piece. The track builds on these sounds and the vocals enter with little more than those keys for backing. They work through a number of changes here, but still don’t bring it up far from this motif. This is a section that few will have problems calling “progressive rock.” At a little after the one minute mark, though, they introduce a cool riff driven crunch sound. This is still decidedly less metallic than the music on the first tracks, but certainly prog purists would lump this in as “metal.” We get some cool keyboards in the mix here and they keep this track growing and changing in a steadily climbing way. We get a cool instrumental interlude where they run through the same pattern – at first dominated by guitar and then by keys. There are definite Dream Theater like elements here. After another verse this gives way to powerhouse jam that’s a bit off-kilter and has as much in common with King Crimson as it does Fates Warning. We also get some more Rushish music to bring us back to the balladic motif from there. When they do bring the keyboard dominance back it’s in a fast paced jam that’s quite fusion-like. This shifts out to another metallic riff that gives way to a more DT-like sound. The metallic riff returns and then a section that feels like ELP goes metal takes it for a while. At one point we have Zeppelin like guitar soloing, then you might hear Rush in the next moment followed by Dream Theater and then some more pure metal. This extended jam is powerful and extremely dynamic. Keyboards eventually end this.
Learning to Lose
A balladic acoustic guitar motif begins this and keys skitter across as the number is built upward. This cut shifts out to harder rocking sounds, but for my money it never crosses the border into metal territory. Instead we get a classic rock sounding, cruncher that includes some ELP-like keyboard elements and some powerhouse rock motifs. This one might be a bit less complex than some of the other music here, but it’s also one of the most effective tracks. It’s a powerhouse that has a lot in common with the progressive rock era of Rush.
Regrets
At less than four and a half minutes in length, this is the shortest track on show here. It’s an acoustic guitar based ballad that’s pretty and poignant. I like this one a lot. It’s a great way to provide a bit of breather before the powerhouse that’s about to begin. It does grow beyond its simpler approach, but I don’t think anyone would accuse this of being metal at all. I also think that few would argue with hoisting the “progressive rock” banner above it.
Tears of Kalliroe
This is the sole true epic of the CD, clocking in at over sixteen and a half minutes. Sound effects begin things with dramatic and mysterious keyboard textures joining in short order. The track turns from there to bombastic and powerful symphonic sounds. This feels like the soundtrack to some new fantasy epic as it builds and builds. I hear echoes of James Horner’s soundtrack work, in fact. This seems to get more potent with each iteration until it drops back for a beautiful violin solo. As the move out from there the motif might be more like some of Danny Elfman’s soundtracks. This turns back to the more dramatic and they begin building from there. Between the two and a half and three minute marks this seems to reach its peak. They crescendo and wander into sedate space for a few moments before a piano brings a new theme. This doesn’t last long, though, as keyboards rise up in a synthesized voice and drive the track in a new direction. This then shifts out to a more Rush-like motif like the early portions of “Natural Science.” When they shift this into a rhythmic movement it still resembles the music of Rush. Then it goes through a couple more changes and we get the first real crunch of the song in a tasty metallic riff. We get a more powered up Rush-like progression after that and from there we launch out into another new section. This gives way to the first vocals at around the five minute mark. This part of the song is rather metallic. They move out into a Dream Theater inspired motif after that, keyboards swirling over the metallic background that holds down the basis for the vocals. They work through alterations and reinventions of the central themes and then launch out into a smoking staccato pattern for a short time. This gives way to another balladic segment, dominated by pretty piano. This holds the cut for a time until they fire out into another scorching jam that’s one part Dream Theater and one part ELP. This gives way to another metallic verse. They set off another alternating pattern and reinvent various themes here and there. This shifts out toward the more melodic after the eight minute mark and they launch into a keyboard solo that takes the track towards fusion for a while. The keys continue to wail as a Rush-like guitar riff takes it for a new ride. Then they power out into more metallic territory from there. Another new dramatic melody line, this one quite metallic, takes it after that. As they shift out for another keyboard solo it takes on that metal meets ELP approach. This drops way back and threatens to pound out in a new energized jam. We don’t have to wait long for that as they shift out into another metallic riff that’s a powerhouse. This gives way to a series of rapid fire changes and shifts. They come and go to quickly to properly document, but you’ll here Rush counter pointed with Dream Theater and then ELP and then neo-classical music. We get a cool funky bass sound at one point and then they shift through a series of variations on this theme in a great crunchy, but not quite metal, motif. Eventually another crescendo gives way to a new keyboard solo. Then the band pound in with metallic fury based on this fast paced keyboard sound. Death metal vocals show up here for a moment and then more melodic singing takes it. This is frantic and heavy. Echoes of Dream Theater are definitely found here. They continue to rework and rethink this musical concept, turning it towards more melodic prog here and there, but still coming back out to the crunchier sounds from there. It resolves out to a more traditional prog triumphant motif. Even though this feels like old-school prog in terms of the progression, it’s still quite crunchy. This is powerful music that shifts and turns and seems to keep lifting the listener higher, even though the music begins a gradual fade downward. Rather than simply fade away, though, it rises back up and eventually crescendos in a noisy, but joyous celebration, leaving just keys behind to finally end things.

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