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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Wolverine

Still

Review by Gary Hill

While I was definitely enthralled by Wolverine's last offering, this one blows the doors off of that one. If you read that first review you will note that I mention that the band started out as an extreme metal band, but have been morphing more and more into a progressive rock outfit. Well, with this disc there are no more signs of the death metal vocals at all. Some of the music still has tendencies in the direction of progressive metal, but more and more their sound is being morphed into straight neo-prog. I'd go so far as to say that this one will probably be in my top five for the year by the time this annum is out. Yes, it is that good. If you are a fan of neo-prog and prog metal it's a no-brainer, pick this one up. Even if your calling is more in the direction of old-school prog, this might be the prescribed "gateway drug" to get you into the modern age. Whatever direction brings you here; these guys have produced a masterpiece with this one. There isn't a single song - or even section of a song - that doesn't work really well.

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
House of Plague
This starts in a mysterious ballad type mode that feels to me a bit like Pink Floyd. After the first part of the introduction, though, fusion like guitar lines come over the top transforming the piece for a time. Then it explodes out into a new jam that is considerably more geared toward a traditional old school form of progressive rock. Then it shifts again to more metallic textures for a time before it drops back to a sedate fusion-like progression. This gives way to a harder edged faster paced jam that feels like a more progressive rock oriented take on prog metal. Some hints of Rush even show up here for a moment. Then it drops back to a straightforward ballad approach for the verse. As the next vocal segment enters this takes on a lusher progressive rock air. The chorus comes in with a prog metal approach and an epic feel, but this is transformed later to a more full neo-prog texture. This is a very dynamic cut continuing to move through varying musical textures and adventures on its course. The instrumental break that precedes the next verse segment is particularly interesting. Later there is a segment that calls to mind Operation Mindcrime era Queensryche to me a bit. It drops back after this to another mellow section before jumping back up to the chorus, and eventually the outro. This makes for a great album opener.
Bleeding
This comes in feeling a lot like Dream Theater. This hard rocking neo-prog approach runs the track for a time until it moves to a more open segment for a chorus that feels like it is sung through a megaphone. The track alternates between these two segments for a time. They intensify the arrangement as they carry it forward with a definite modern progressive rock approach. Then it drops back to a keyboard dominated mellower segment before pounding back out into the song proper. As they run through this they move it out into a different ballad-like structure later that is extremely evocative. The cut continues by essentially repeating a lot of the musical concepts from earlier. Once again this is a piece that works through a lot of changes in its course.
Taste of Sand
The extended introduction on this one is essentially a pretty keyboard solo, mostly textural. As it moves out into the song proper it sort of bounds out into the main structure, instruments and voice powering out at once. Still, this is a melodic, fairly mellow progressive rock arrangement here, not metallic at all. This cut is really quite beautiful and powerful in an emotional way. It is more balladic than anything else, but that doesn't stop them from packing a lot of power into the mix. It also doesn't mean that this composition is static. Far from it, they still manage to bring a lot of different textures and movements to the mix here, too. I'd have to say that this is one of my favorites from the CD.
Nothing More
If the last cut was a drop back in terms of volume, this one takes us even further downward. It begins as just keys - and only sporadic ones at that - along with voice. After it works its way through like this for a while the keys become a bit more consistently present and eventually more layers of them appear. Other than that, though, the cut remains an extremely sedate keyboard and vocal ballad for over two minutes of its length. Even then it changes only by the addition of a mellow, but meaty guitar soloing added to the mix. This song is certainly a potent one, even if it has a lot less change involved than the other material on show.
Sleepy Town
A ticking clock sound starts this, and then ambient textural waves of sound join in. Eventually a fast paced drumbeat rises up to join in and the cut feels as if it's on the verge of bursting out. Instead the first vocals come over the top of this backdrop. After a while some acoustic guitar joins in fairly fast paced patterns to add to the mixture, but once the track moves back to the vocal segment it seems to have disappeared. The next time the vocal enters, after the next verse, it is in a tasty, but still very tasteful guitar solo. Then the track drops away to just ambiance and a spoken line comes over the top (feeling distant). Those ambient layers eventually end the track.
Liar on the Mount
This one starts with a sound bite from George W. Bush. Considering the title of this song it seems pretty obvious the meaning the band is hinting around. As it pounds in with a metallic bombastic approach the President continues to deliver sound bites. This is just the introduction, though. They shift the song out to a more modern prog sort of rocking arrangement to carry forward for the actual vocals here. They run through a couple verses like this before moving back out to the more metallic and guess who is back in the sound bites? This becomes an instrumental break, but those loops still show up at points throughout. They run through this for a time, then move it back out into the song proper. The keys add some great drama on some of the later verses. Then it drops way back to basically just keyboards and voice to deliver a couple poignant verses. As they move new instrumentation in they carry this musical theme for a time in a rather jazz oriented arrangement before moving it out into another hard-edged progressive rock powerhouse progression. As the song proper ends Bush is back for the last word.
Hiding
An acoustic guitar based ballad approach starts this one up and carries it onward. The first minute or so gains all its variety from a slow intensification of this musical theme, but then they add more layers and create a short instrumental break based on this general musical concept. This, while staying basically within this fairly simple approach, is another exception powerful cut and one that is a standout. I like this one a lot.
This Cold Heart of Mine
This one starts with a rather rhythmic, swirling sort of approach that seems both tentative and to have some world music elements. As this moves forward more hints of melody emerge and piano solos over the top of this. They run through for a while like this before bursting out into a powerful and triumphant sounding neo-prog exploration. This runs through for a time, then just stops. The cut suddenly comes back in with a more standard, but still very dramatic, ballad approach. This is another that's packed with emotion. This moves through for a verse, then turns a bit more sparse in terms of arrangement to carry onward. That sparse mode makes what comes next seem all the heavier. The band suddenly scream out in a very prog-metal approach with a rather aggressive sound. This eventually (after another verse) is reworked into a more straight progressive rock take on the same movement. Then they turn it into a stalking sounding metallic portion to keep it going. They turn this later into a more prog rock based jam with the addition of some very retro sounding keyboards in a solo that calls to mind Keith Emerson (more in terms of the sound than the notes). As they drop it back towards more metallic territory they introduce an odd sort of staccato rhythmic pattern. This segment, though, doesn't remain long. Instead it gives way to a ballad approach that carries the next vocals. After a time, though, they power back up in the direction of prog metal and the guitar takes a very crunchy solo. While this might be the hardest sell of the disc in terms of metallic approach turning off progressive rock purists, this is also one of the most impressive tracks on show. It might actually be my favorite of the whole CD. It's more than worth giving it a chance.
And She Slowly Dies
What a nice cheery song title that is! This one comes in with basically a prog metal ballad type of sound. They work and rework this pulling in more progressive rock elements and more emotional power. This one is dramatic and dark, but also quite potent. The keys add a lot of drama to this mix. They power this out later in a mode that feels like a cross between Dream Theater and Queensryche. Eventually, as they keep expanding the arrangement on this one, it becomes quite symphonic in its overtones. It moves out into a rather metallic guitar solo section after this, though. This solo segment gives way to an acoustic guitar driven portion that is way below the volume level the band had previously been working at. They gradually move this upwards from there to carry forward. It makes for a very powerful and satisfying conclusion to a killer album.
 
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