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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Emerald

Crown of Creation

Review by Gary Hill

I got this CD not having heard anything about the band. I put it in and was immediately captivated. These guys create a world of prog rock that is both modern and retro. They can be poppy, but they can also go through complex and mind boggling changes at the drop of a hat. While certain bands come to mind when listening (Genesis, The Beatles, Spock's Beard, Gentle Giant, Pentwater and King Crimson to name a few), the band weave these textures into a sound that is wholly unique - never really immersing themselves in any one of them for too long. Fans of neo prog should definitely enjoy this one, and I think they should also be able to win over old school progressive rock bands. This is a very entertaining album, and one I know I'll still be spinning years from now.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Reverse Side of Mosquito's Battle
A martial beat with an annoying, but appropriate, buzzing serves as the intro here, but the cut quickly shifts gears as a triumphant sounding Yes-like progression takes it. It drop down to the verse which feels a little like a cross between Echolyn and Gentle Giant, leaning more heavily on the older textures. The cut works through organically from there building on these themes. The tale told by the lyrics is exactly what the title suggests - the story of a battle from the point of view of one its soldiers - a mosquito. They drop it back to a pretty sort of section, then burst up into crunchy neo prog that makes up the musical theme of the next segment. This feels like a crunchier Pentwater. They drop it back to the earlier section punctuated by a Crimson -like break then move it back to just piano to take it to the main theme of the track and then to its short noisy outro.
Losing You
A sedate and slightly melancholy prog ballad mode starts this and it carries forward from there by working through and building at times feeling like old Genesis at times like The Beatles. Eventually they turn this into a harder edged prog jam that's just a bit crunchy and very powerful. Then a transitionary mode takes it into a killer jam that has major old school prog elements while not calling to mind any band in particular. They take on a potent crunchy verse from there til a short fast paced movement takes into another new jam that's sort of a more energized take on the last verse. This then turns very Crimsonish and Pentwater-like, bombastic and off-kilter. They move it into another short melodic segment, then wander back out into the previous verse before the KC/Pentwater segment takes it again. More melodic jamming pulls it back out from there and eventually fades down to end the piece.
Libra Birthday Girl
This one has a jazzy sort of ballad approach, but mixed with both old Genesis and The Beatles into a unique tapestry. This turns into a bouncy playful jam with The Beatles elements coming more fully into fruition. Then a great keyboard based movement takes it on a pretty prog journey for a short time before giving way to the main song structure. They follow through in the same pattern as before with more energy to it. The keys drive the pretty jam that takes it to its conclusion.
Insubstantial Liberation
A four-part suite, this begins with neo-classical piano, then pretty atmospheric strains come over top. The song begins a very gradual building process from there, moving upward ever so slowly til a bit of a crescendo gives way to the second section. Pretty, intricate and fast piano serves as a backdrop for the vocals here and this feels a lot like Spock's Beard. They pump this up after a time by adding the rest of the band to the mix and pound it out til a new soaring mid era Genesis-like movement takes it. As the spoken vocals come over top, the Beard leanings return. They eventually drop it back to the piano that has been ever present then a Beard meets Starcastle section takes it before they launch into another new section - rather fusion-like. This doesn't last long, though, dropping to just keys, and as the vocals enter it feels a bit like Klaatu. This section grows and intensifies for a long time til a crunchy guitar takes over. They ramp up the speed here and launch into another frantic prog jam. Then neo-classical piano takes over. The band eventually moves this up into a new jam again, then rework it all into the next verse segment. They drop it down to just the rhythm section after a crescendo and the elements begin to come over top, at first seeming to struggle for control, then eventually jumping into a new crunchy and powerful jam that calls to mind a number of prog bands both old and new. This gets very powerful then moves to back to the verse segment. Piano takes it to end.
Sara
This is a pretty mellow piano-dominated ballad that grows slowly. Acoustic guitar manages to get in a solo before they move back to the main verse mode to carry forward. This never wanders far from its origins, but is a soothing and pretty ballad and a break from the fast paced changes to this point.
No Straight Story
This comes in with a pretty bass and gradually builds, the band coming in slowly. This feels very much like early Genesis and builds very leisurely. It's another nice change of pace in this section. After a time, though, they burst out into crunchy fast paced prog. After a crescendo they turn this to a hard-edged bluesy jam. This then modulates into a prog journey, then the earlier hard-edged segment returns until a keyboard solo moves into a short Crimson like jam.
Politician
This is a two-part cut. It starts with a jazzy ballad like section that is bouncy and piano based. They move this forward ever gradually in a very pretty and calm manner, then gradually turn a corner to a less bouncy prog ballad section. This is another fun and cool jam. As they bring in the guitar, it follows the same musical patterns as before, but is another that feels a bit like Klaatu. They crescendo, then an intricate piano solo leads into a series of prog bursts, then a new jam, feeling like a cross between Genesis and ELP takes it. They expand on this by adding some fiery crunch guitar over top, then punctuate it with a series of fast paced changes before exploding into one of the most dramatic and powerful segments on the disc. Then they drop it back to the piano and move gradually into the prog territory until a new hard edged progressive rock grind takes over from there. This gets kind of noisy, but still very cool as it leads to the outro. The lyrics are a scathing indictment of politicians who act like they represent the people while they only represent their own personal interests.
After Trial
Acoustic guitar starts this cut and its mellow, slowly growing mode feels a bit like a cross between Genesis, Klaatu, the Beatles and early Floyd. It eventually shifts gear to a different hard-edged jam that still is based on the earlier themes. Then it shifts to an odd staccato pattern, then another related section that feels a lot like Spock's Beard takes it to a new series of musical changes. They resolve this over into a new pretty prog melody that eventually moves it back to the main song segment. This eventually pumps back up to a hard-edged take on the themes.
Emerald
This comes in feeling a lot like Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd and carries forward growing slowly from there taking on Gentle Giant elements as it does. This one pretty well stays in this spot throughout, but it's a solid and entertaining cut.
Rant
While this is listed on the cover, it almost qualifies as a hidden track because a long section of silence precedes it. This instrumental comes in pretty and mellow, then the band launch into a series of hard-edged prog rock changes that are quite cool. They take on a lot of varying textures and themes while still maintaining a cohesive texture.
 
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