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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Splinter

Dreamers

Review by Gary Hill

Those who think that there is no neo-prog that really encompasses the older world of progressive rock need look no further than this CD. It’s about as good as you get. These guys have their feet firmly planted in the traditions of 1970’s progressive rock. They are still reaching upwards, though and grabbing the best of the new prog. You will hear some crunch here and there on this music, but I’m very doubtful that anyone would ever accuse it of being metal. This is powerful and emotion packed progressive rock. While it leans towards the prog of old, you will hear very few points on the disc where you can point to one particular act or another as an influence. That’s how original this is.

The music alone is well worth the price of admission, but the band have packed a couple of bonuses into this set. The first of these is a DVD that includes the entire CD over again with the lyrics on the screen. It also includes two live videos, reviews and a photo gallery. You can get the disc at the group’s website and when you receive your CD be sure to go back there because the other bonus they include is a user name and password to unlike hidden treasures at the site. It’s got some cool stuff, but a word of warning, the password is case sensitive.

Track by Track Review
Goodbye
Keyboards bring things in. Then a rocking guitar sound takes it into a new realm. Keyboards solo over the top in fine fashion. They drop it after this intro for the first vocals. The cut grows in hard rocking progressive rock fashion from there, feeling quite accessible. We get some killer instrumental journeys here and there on this road, but overall the vocal arrangement and general song structure steals the show on this one. A playful little piano and vocal segment is an interesting change, if a bit odd. The jazz motif that comes out from there is tasty. They work this through for a while and then power up into a cool revisitation of the song’s main themes to take it through.
Bio Engine
Mellow musical motifs make moments of sound run through here. This grows very gradually out into an inspired and more powerful arrangement. They drop it back down for an instrumental segment and the track is reborn for another time around. Crunchy and catchy, this is nonetheless challenging music packed with angular lines and twists and turns. They turn it towards crunch at points here and there, but I don’t think anyone would ever call this “heavy metal.” There is an exceptionally tasty guitar solo on this that reminds me a bit of The Flower Kings. They drop it to an ambient section based on harmonic guitar chords working off of sustain. Sound bites come across this. As the bass churns through it feels a bit like Marillion. They fire this out into a killer jam that’s both hard edged and still very progressive rock in nature. The keys wander over a monstrous metallic riff. Eventually this gives way to a return to the track’s main musical themes. It drops back to mellow ambience after a while and they work through this concept to finally take the number out.
Reflections
This is a multi-track suite and each section will be covered separately here.
Reflections Part 1 – Dreamer
Acoustic piano opens this in a classical manner. It continues in this format as it is built upon. At about thirty seconds in a pretty piano melody enters. This doesn’t stay around long, though. The keyboards create a fast paced prog approach and the other instruments join to launch this on its way. I love the chorus, “I thought today would be the day that I had to save the world.” This is uptempo and catchy but still quite proggy. While you might hear some minor echoes of Genesis, this song has a sound that’s quite unique to Splinter. We get some killer guitar work in the midst here and it twists and turns in some intriguing ways. There is also a tasty acoustic guitar solo segment. The more energized prog returns and they weave various waves of melody amidst this tapestry.
Reflections Part 2 – The Dream
This segment fires out with a killer guitar riff that’s very much in a vintage progressive rock motif. They work through several variations and at times you might think of Rush, while other sections might call to mind ELP, Gentle Giant, Pentwater and others. A killer retro keyboard solo swims across the ocean of sound that the band creates. Several twists and turns take things in differing directions in this cool exploration. They drop it back later to ambient textures and sound effects. We can hear carnival music in the backdrop and then a phone ringing. The phone call items take this to the next section.

Reflections Part 3 – REM
A melodic, but very powerful jam leads us out here. It’s got just a hint of Satriani-like sounds. This drops back, leaving behind some beautiful and very evocative music driven by keyboards.  As they power back up the keyboards solo in fine fashion. They drop it back to just keys for the balladic verses here. This is intricate and pretty. They move in a couple of different directions, while staying mellow. Then a vocal line soars it into the fast paced, more rocking approach that carries this next. It’s still got a traditional prog texture, but also seems to feel rather like neo-prog. It gets quite theatrical at times and then turns rather heavy for a short time. This resolves out into a more melodic guitar driven sound that takes it through a number of changes and back into the fast paced jam. This time that sound becomes almost Rush-like for a little while. It drops away and up comes a bouncy prog rock jam that reminds me a bit of something Starcastle might do. Don’t get comfortable, though, cause they continue on the path, shifting and switching all the way along the road. We get reprises of earlier themes and new motifs all sewn together into a tapestry that is complex and intriguing. A more stable, melodic rock jam takes it back to the vocal section. Dropping to piano and voice, this takes it into the next motif.
Reflections Part 4 – Wake Up
Rising up with the same instrumentation, but a different progression, that ended the last movement, this one kicks into a cool, fast paced prog rock groove after a short time. I can definitely hear echoes of Spock’s Beard on this movement. It’s a powerhouse track and a great way to end this suite. It’s a bit more cohesive than the movement that preceded it, but it’s loaded with emotion and works into a very satisfying resolution – not only for itself, but the whole suite. A quick burst of hard edged, quirky prog closes it out.
Anthony’s Songs
This comes in with a frantically fast, spiraling riff that’s almost metallic. They pull it out into more pure progressive rock from there and then drop it way back down to more balladic textures for the vocal section. This builds slowly and gradually. They work it out into powerful prog while still maintaining the melodic textures. Then it careens out into frantic angles of sound. When they drop back to the vocal segment it feels quite jazz-like. Once more it’s worked up to a feverish intensity and this is extremely effective. We get a tasty guitar solo followed by a retro keyboard journey amidst another jazz-like arrangement. This wanders through several variations and changes before powering back out into crunchy progressive rock.
Korsakov
This is playful and might share a little ground with Peter Banks era Yes. The thing is, there’s also some Jellyfish in this mix. It’s a cool tune that’s quite catchy and fun. It also includes a great jazzy groove during its course. We also are treated to a tasty hard rock guitar section. It’s amazing that music that’s this unique and quirky can be this catchy. We get a great fusion guitar solo at points on this one, too. There is also a killer off-kilter prog journey. A couple killer keyboard solos can be heard later on this track, as well. This thing is all over the place a lot of the time yet it never loses you.
The Devils’ Advocate
They close the disc with another multi-track suite. Once again these will be covered individually.
The Devils’ Advocate Part 1 – Dreamworld, The Saint
Pretty piano starts things off and after a time they move this instrumental movement out into harder edged progressive rock. They alternate between these two motifs for a time. I hear bits of Genesis at times on this extended instrumental movement. It moves through a number of twists and turns, but never loses sight of the goal.
The Devils’ Advocate Part 2 – Realworld
This comes out of the previous section with pretty but ambient motifs. It grows very gradually and the vocals come in over the top of the keyboards in a gentle approach. This gets quite dramatic without escalating too much in volume or altering the general format. At less than two minutes, this balladic segment is short, but important to the piece.
The Devils’ Advocate Part 3 – The Devil’s Advocate, Distinctness
This piece is the last section of the suite. A melodic progressive rock jam starts it off and they work through several changes and alterations on this basic concept. Different instruments lead here and there, but the vocals really steal the show throughout this section. I love the rolling segment that takes it later with its little bursts of vocals in the midst of the stream of words. We get some crunch for a time here and there as lines of guitar punctuate and separate the iterations of the music here. It drops back to playful territory, though, to carry on. Then a jazzy version of the song’s central themes take it before they shift this out to more fusion oriented territory. This doesn’t last long, though, because around the three minute mark they drop it way down and then a new piano melody emerges. Other textures join as they reinvent the new theme and it’s another point on the CD that feels a bit like Genesis. We get a more hard rocking guitar sound climbing out and making its presence known before the vocals return. This resolves down to a more contemplative, slowly moving segment. The guitar weaves some killer lines across this backdrop and the whole arrangement gets very powerful. This gives way to a potent resolution type section that takes things out in fine fashion. This is around the six minute mark, but the track is actually over eleven minutes in length. Keep listening and you’ll hear little bits of sound rising here and there, ever so slightly. It builds gradually, but never really rises to the level of “song.” The furthest it comes up is to a sort of new age sound that finally ends the disc.
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