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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Presto Ballet

Peace Among The Ruins

Review by Gary Hill

I have to say that there is a big buzz about this band. To hear many tell it these guys are the best new prog band to come out since the heyday of progressive rock in the 1970's. Well, it was with this kind of anticipation that I found myself listening to the CD. Did it live up to the hype? Is Presto Ballet the latest version of progressive rock incarnate? I'd have to say that they don't live up to that level of praise. However, they are very good and show a lot of promise. They are somewhat of a mixed bag for the true progressive rock fanatic, though.

While the instrumental breaks at times have some strong leanings - really strong - in the direction of 1970's prog greats like Yes, Genesis and ELP, the main song structures are definitely more mainstream than those acts' works. In fact, during many of the verses and choruses only the overlayers of keyboards echo the classic era of prog. While many of the vocal harmonies also lead one to think in those directions, the majority of the lead vocals seem to me more like Molly Hatchet, minus the southern rock. So, in the final analysis, these guys are very good, and should be a welcome dosage of nostalgia toward '70's prog. They also bring in newer elements to the mix to shake it up. On the downside, though, some of the overall song structures are a little lacking for many prog purists. Still, just pop the disc in, let it sink in, and it will win you over. It has enough progressive rock trademarks to make it of interest and at its base is some darn good hard rock to hold it all together. I look forward to seeing where these guys go next, and in the meantime, I'll keep listening. It may not be the second coming of Yes or even Kansas, but it is pretty darned good.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Peace Among The Ruins
This one comes in with a turbo charged ELP like jam that carries the cut for a while until it resolves out into a Kansas-like main song structure. This is quite heavy, but also very tasty. After a time this gives way to a new melodic instrumental segment that feels like a cross between Yes, ELP, Kansas and Genesis. This shifts out to the harder edged later. The over layers here are truly magical. Eventually the cut moves back to the Kansas territory. Another instrumental break later that's part ELP and part Kansas takes it to the keys that make up the outro.
The Fringes
Bursting in like super potent Kansas, this works through like that before a shift to keyboard dominated hard edged territory with Eastern textures creates an extremely powerful motif. As this drops to the verse it feels more like a modern neo-prog mix, then moves up into the more melodic before launching into a brief break, then coming back to where it came from and starting the cycle over. They launch eventually into a very ELP-like jam that eventually moves into the more metallic. This works its way to a killer guitar solo segment then in turn a keyboard solo. I love the mix of modern and classic prg on the extended jam that again feels quite a bit like Kansas. They include another verse chorus section, then launch into another instrumental movement, this time shorter, that gives way to a reprise of the chorus with layered vocals. That fades down to end the piece.
Seasons
After the sounds of radio stations going past on the dial, the band launch into a hard-edged, fairly stripped down jam. This moves into a killer progression that seems part Kansas and part Yes. Then these two segments become the alternating pattern here. They launch into a rather metallic instrumental segment that in turn gives way to the main song configuration again. This one is one of the less interesting pieces on show here.
Find The Time
A keyboard dominated segment, one part Pink Floyd, one part Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" starts this. The vocals come overtop of this killer backdrop through one verse. Then the band join in to launch the cut into its next melodic phase - an instrumental break that leads back to the keyboard based section. They eventually ramp this up to a more fully realized variation of it - an incredibly powerful segment. They grow it organically from there, creating a new powerful movement. Eventually this crescendos, then weird keys take it out til piano takes over gradually from this chaos, but the chaos swells behind it. Then the band launch into a killer Kansas like riff segment that really rocks. This is one of my favorites on the disc.
Speed of Time
Mellow modes start this, but after running through like this for a time, the band launch into one of the most decidedly metallic segments of the disc. They change this out shortly into something that's part Kansas, part Starcastle. Kansas serves as the model for the chorus section and afterwards this turns to more straightforward hard rock. After a time this gives way to an instrumental break (dominated by keys). Then that break shifts into a KC-like jam. Another verse gives way to a new journey where metallic guitar competes with Wakeman like keys. This eventually crescendos to give way to a very Yes like jam (with hints of Starcastle) that carries the track for a time until it takes on more straightforward textures for the verse. After the verse chorus progression they take off on a killer fast paced prog fury that just ends abruptly giving way immediately to the next number.
Sunshine
A psychedelic pop sound, driven by acoustic guitar makes up the mode to this one. While this has more in common with neo-psychers Jellyfish than with Yes, Kansas and their ilk, it does have its share of twists and the keyboard sounds are nice. There is a mellow Genesis-influenced instrumental break that takes it later. This leads to a reprise of the main themes with a renewed energy and Beatles-like over layers. Weirdness eventually ends this.
Slave
Keys tentatively start this, feeling a bit like a Tales From Topographic Oceans era Yes to me, but a bouncy, nearly funky, somewhat staccato jam takes it from there, eventually giving way to a tasty, fairly straight ahead riff with intriguing keyboard sounds layered over top. This feels a bit here like the progressive rock Iron Maiden meets Rush. They drop it to a totally straight ahead prog metal jam for the verse section. The faster paced chunky segment later feels a bit like Dream Theater. They eventually launch into a soaring, expansive prog jam that moves through several incarnations as it carries on. This gets quite intense at points. After a crescendo keys rise up, then pull the band back into the main song structure, with a new fervor this time.
Bringin' It On
The disc closer comes in with an acoustic guitar mode that feels decidedly like the late era Beatles. A pretty balladic mode with nice keyboard over layers create the theme here. This is a very effective number. From the title one would have expected a hard rocker. Instead we get this cool cut. Layers of vocal harmonies lead a Yesish textures at points, but as the keys take it, then give way to a new expansive jam those Yesish leanings are even more strong. This gets very powerful. A brief change up gives way to a new driving, slower, heavy jam. This feels like part Yes and part Black Sabbath. It runs through for a time, then keys and ambient weirdness give way to an odd "false start" that ends the disc. I think, had they left that off, this one would have finished up on a much stronger note.
 
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