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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

North Star

Extremes

Review by Gary Hill

  Peter Gabriel era Genesis produced some amazingly cool progressive rock. I doubt that there are many prog fans out there would disagree. I'm not sure many of them would produce an album that was so thoroughly immersed in that sound that at points it's almost embarrassing, but that's what North Star have done. Make no mistake, if you like that period in Genesis' history (and who doesn't) you will like this album. Just put it on and let it run and it will wash over you like waves of sound hitting the beach of your mind. Just don't stop to think about the fact that this is not Genesis, because then you might be a little troubled. Here's the thing, these guys produce great music, no questions asked. The only issue is that probably 75 percent of this sounds like it could be lost Genesis recordings. That's fine if you are a Genesis tribute band, but for an original group, you need to develop your own sound. All right, now understand that that right there is probably the biggest criticism of this group. There are songs, and sections of other songs here where the inference is not so direct, and those, like the others are strong tracks. Frankly, I hope these guys work to develop a unique sound. They are very talented and I'm sure they could set the prog world on fire, but if everyone thinks of them as "that Genesis sound alike" it won't happen. Make no mistake, this album is good - very good - it's just too derivative.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Midnight Soldier
A symphonic, militaristic processional music makes up the first minute and a half of this cut. Then a keyboard texture that feels like old Genesis takes over and pulls it into the next phase, a neo-prog motif. This has a great old school prog texture, but I'd have to say that the mix on the vocals feels a bit rough. Still, the seemingly continuous exploration of the keyboards does a lot to make up for that flaw. This launches later into a series of instrumental excursions that are simply incredible. This extended jam has elements of Genesis, Happy The Man, Gentle Giant and others all over it. With a total track length of eight and a half minutes, my guess is that this ever-changing instrumental based journey makes up about half of the song.
Star Child
This shorter ballad like piece really feels a lot like old Genesis - along the lines of Nursery Cryme or Foxtrot. The vocals here remind me a lot of that era's Gabriel sounds and the keyboard layers and guitar textures are all in keeping with that motif. I've always loved old Genesis, so this really works for me. They move it out later into a more developed segment, but the overall atmosphere and musical themes remain the same. That segment eventually does a slow fade out to end the track.
Sometimes In The Suburbs
As this number fades in it feels a bit like a noisier take on The Lamb Lies down on Broadway era Genesis. As it keeps building, though, there are hints of Eastern based sounds. After this guitar oriented segment ends, though, the cut launches into a faster paced progressive rock journey that, while still maintaining some of that Genesis sound seems to also have a healthy dosage of Yes in its midst. This also incorporates some of those Eastern tones from time to time. As it drops to the verse segment, the old Genesis elements are in full control. They eventually pull this back up in definite Genesis fashion and a keyboard solo that maintains that theme takes it. Then a rather metallic Eastern tinged guitar segment takes command for a short time. They move back to the Genesis like keys until they drop it back to an almost fusion-like mellower mode that still manages to hang on to some of the Genesis-textures. Then another soaring keyboard solo takes over from there. This explodes with drama as the next vocal segment eventually emerges. They still maintain the nod to Gabriel and company throughout most of the rest of the cut.
Battles Waged Before
Acoustic guitar begins this with a chorded brief introduction, then the cut starts anew with pretty picked style sound that again calls to mind Genesis. This builds very slowly towards a conclusion that serves as a false ending. Then the track comes up with a texture that is totally old Genesis, and they work through a sedate sort of segment based on this motif. This really feels even more than the other material here as a previously undiscovered old school Genesis gem. Some of the keyboard segments have a bit of a different sound, but other than that this really could almost pass as such a rarity. This one includes an exceptionally extended, and very cool, instrumental segment that makes up probably half of the song's ten minute plus length. The Genesis sounds dominate this section, too.
The Form
This one has more of that Genesis like sound, but the production on the track doesn't seem as good as it is on some of the other music here. It's noticeable enough to give one a bit of a problem getting into this track. Still, this one is a good piece of music, just not put to tape (or in the era of ProTools hard drive) as well as some of the rest. There is a keyboard solo on this one that feels just a bit like Emerson to me, but overall you can figure that this is more Genesis-like tuneage.
Dr. Pill's Backlash Ballroom
At just a little over two-minutes in length this is by far the shortest cut on the CD. It's basically just a very disquieting piece of ambient weirdness and voice loops.
Unleashed
This one jumps right into the fairly quick paced Genesis oriented territory in the form of a soaring sort of jam. They move through several varying themes with this general motif. As it moves to the vocal segment the effect is still the same, more Gabriel era Genesis. This one has a rather creative arrangement within that sound, but it's almost a little embarrassing by this point how much this band's sound is modeled after old school Genesis.
Life With Liberty
Starting with sedate keyboards, the Genesis elements are all over this one in this introduction. As it moves into the harder keyboard dominated verse there are still lots of echoes of that Genesis sound, but it's a little further from a full homage. As they move through a few changes those references come more to the fore, though. More than anything, though, this one is a keyboard showcase.
Stained Glass Door
A more bouncy texture makes up this track, but it's still quite in the Genesis cycle of sound. A false nding gives way to a revitalization and reworking of musical themes and textures that create the next part of the piece. This instrumental is a potent and dynamic one, even if derivative.
Living on the Fringe
Now, this is more like it, while this one still feels a lot like another band, at least they've changed bands - and in fact, this seems to combine the sounds of varying groups. Certainly the first act that will come to mind is Emerson Lake and Palmer, but I also hear some King Crimson and touches of heavy metal. The vocals bring back the Genesis comparisons but overall, this is the most uniquely original cut on the album. The mellow drop back later is once again in the mode of Genesis, but perhaps more Genesis as interpreted by early Marillion. As it moves upward ever so slowly from there this is still the case. A short percussion segment serves to segue this into another smoking instrumental excursion that is in the style of ELP. When it moves back out into the verse segment it is reworked in a way that makes it less Genesis like. While I love that Genesis sound, it's good to hear these guys stretching out a little from that familiar ground. I'm not saying that there aren't still echoes of it here; it's just less blatant. As the next instrumental break kicks in it has a bit of a blues-rock texture, somewhat along the lines of Pink Floyd.
 
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