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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Planet X

Quantum

Review by Gary Hill

I have to say that when I heard Alan Holdsworth was going to be featured on this disc, my interest skyrocketed. Don't get me wrong, I love everything Derek Sherinian has ever done. The man is simply one of the greats. He never compromises on his musical vision and always produces music of the highest quality. Planet X has never failed to deliver on his musical ideals. So, my expectations already run high for any new Sherinian project, particularly Planet X. The thing is, I saw the legendary Mr. Holdsworth play live with his band once. I was grateful there were not a lot of bugs out the night I attended that outdoor show as my mouth was firmly open nearly from the start to the finish of the set. That's how amazing all the musicians (Holdsworth included) were. A prog head like myself is accustomed to awe-inspiring musical performances, but those guys were from another planet. It was simply amazing. So, while the one disc of Holdsworth I bought (Sand) didn't hold up to that expectation, I knew what the guy is capable of doing. The Planet X venue seems to be perfect for him (perhaps that is his home planet?). While every Planet X album is full of powerhouse instrumental prog/fusion, this one just plain outdoes the rest. If you buy only one album from this outfit, this is the one. If you are a fan of this type of music, don't walk, run out and buy it. You will not be disappointed.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Alien Hip Hop
Starting with symphonic textures, this quickly shifts gears into a killer fusion stomp. They move it towards more melodic territory on the “chorus” section. This thing rocks out quite well, but still manages to amaze and captivate with its prog fusion motifs, staggered timings and inspired changes. There is a lot of majesty packed into this arrangement and I can't imaging a better opener. There is a cool section where it drops back to a mellower fusion mode for a tasty guitar solo.
Desert Girl
Starting with keys, this is another scorching jam. If the last one had a lot of changes packed into its course, then this one is purely constant shifts. The modes run between frantic hard edged prog and furious fusion. All of it works quite well and none of the changes seem pushed or artificial. They do work some melodic, mellower modes into the mix, as well. These guys can do no wrong as its one awesome track after another. It even turns a little metallic at times.
Matrix Gate
While the overall motif of this track doesn't differ much from the first couple cuts here, it doesn't suffer because of it. That theme itself is diverse enough that it holds tons of variety within each composition. Holdsworth is simply on fire on this one. Yes, my mouth is held firmly open through much of the track. Shorter than the first couple tracks (at 4:10 the shortest track on the disc), this one definitely does not fall short on drama or powerhouse instrumental work.
The Thinking Stone
Here we have a bit of a change of pace. This is a little slower and more melodic in its overall texture. I suppose comparisons to Joe Satriani would be warranted, at least on the early modes. They don't stay there for long, though, screaming out into crunchy prog that simply scorches. As good as the rest of the disc is, there are sections here that rise even higher than the peaks provided by the other cuts. They bring us back to Earth with more of the melodic sounds, but with a revitalized and energized structure. There is a great textural sound with just some hints of Eastern textures nestled in the middle of this cut. I also love the section with a rather staccato beat and piano pounding over it that comes in later. In many ways this one shows even more dynamic range than the compositions that preceded it. It may well be my favorite tune on the disc.
Space Foam
As one might expect from the title, ambient sounds start this off. That doesn't last long, though, as they launch out into a killer funky groove. This moves toward a heavy metallic sound that still has plenty of fusion to make the most prog hungry fanatics happy. This has some of the most angular shifts and turns of anything on the CD. It is without question one of the highlights of the disc. There are moments where you might think of the legendary supergroup UK. Earlier discs by Planet X have called to mind that act, but it seems even more obvious now as Holdsworth was a founding member of UK. Still, those sounds are only short sections. I love some of the soaring soloing that takes this cut into new thresholds of musical exploration. This is a killer, but there is little (or nothing) here that falls short of that label.
Poland
The song structure that leads this one off is among the most jazz oriented music on the disc. It's also joyfully off-kilter and extremely cool. They work through a series of changes on this, but always manage to thrill and amaze. There is some extremely potent instrumental experimentation on this one, but that is sort of expected by this point in the CD. This turns the most chaotic and dissonant of anything on show. It also resolves out into some of the most traditional progressive rock sounds of the whole show. With some killer metallic segments and a great mellower movement, this is piece that presents a fine example of how contrasting sounds can be used to their fullest potential. While Holdsworth doesn't try for a million notes a minute on much of this song, he also produces some of the tastiest guitar work on the whole disc here. This is without question another highlight of the disc. Considering how strong everything here is, that says a lot.
Snuff
If there is a weak cut here (and that's doubtful) this would be it. It's not that there is anything wrong with this. Taken by itself its lines of stellar fusion and powerful changes and textures are great. The main issue with this track is that it just seems a little pedestrian when standing up to the rest of the music here. For certain it has less of a dynamic nature than the rest of the material.


Kingdom of Dreams
From the “average” to the “superb,” this is one of the best cuts on the disc. It starts with a cool keyboard texture that's full of tension and drama. They work it through a number of hard rocking fusion segments in fine fashion. Each one of the musicians is playing their best on this and the musical motifs they create are top notch. This has enough cohesiveness to really shine while altering enough to keep it very interesting. I love the swirling patterns that emerge in the musical progression from time to time. I also love the way that opening keyboard element returns at varying times throughout the piece, accompanying different soundscapes as it does. This is definitely one of my favorites here. The UK leanings appear on this one, as well.
Quantum Factor
This one is as close as we come to a title track. Metallic textures lead it off, but they quickly work those into a fusion motif. A new riff emerges after a time, this one feeling like the metallic sounds of King Crimson's Red era. More melodic elements are laid over the top of this for a time until the whole track shifts more in that direction. They wander back into more metallic territory, this time with a nicely odd-timed segment. Then it transforms into a soaring, triumphant sounding progressive rock jam. We get a killer King Crimson like segment with guitar that feels like Fripp goes metal. As if all of this wasn't enough, we get some short bursts of unaccompanied percussion and then a shift out into a killer jam that reminds me of something Birdsongs of the Mesozoic might put together, if they had a lot more crunch in their sound. Then a killer fusion movement takes over. While this may not be my favorite cut on show here (and it's not far from it) it is a powerhouse and makes for a great conclusion to will certainly be close to the top of many lists of “best of 2007.”
 
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