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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Matthew Parmenter

Astray

Review by Gary Hill

Matthew Parmenter has created in Astray that most elusive of beasts – the prog rock album that should please fans of modern and old school progressive rock equally. There is plenty of both on hand, but not enough of either to send the others screaming. For my money there’s only one song I might consider passing by. The rest is all quite strong.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Now
A roughly ten minute epic opens the set. Piano and voice start this. As it works forward other layers of sound are added to the mix. Some of those elements include some backwards tracked things. There is an almost bluesy (think David Gilmour's style of bluesy) guitar that is heard as this continues. A faster paced prog jam emerges from there. It shifts and grows with some rather theatrical elements showing up in the mix. I love the way this song works through recurring themes and steady evolution. There is a drop back around the five minute mark for a mellow, but powerful and quite evocative instrumental section. That portion is extensive (taking up the rest of the song) and has some great guitar soloing with synthesizer serving as the icing on the musical cake. There is something tht sounds like theremin that shows up before the piece fades out.
Distracted

The early portions of this don’t work all that well for me. It’s not because I don’t like the music, but more because the arrangement seems a little overly conflicted and a little distracting. This grows up into a rather moody, yet pretty and innovative musical journey. There are less overt musical references here, although I do hear some Pink Floyd in the mix here and there. It’s another strong piece of music on a disc that shows no sign of letting up in that regard. Around the five minute mark this really takes on some extremely powerful textures. And all of this is without really altering course much, but rather by building the piece steadily upward. Of course, it also climaxes and then is reborn as a keyboard based balladic section that feels a bit like early Genesis to me – or perhaps Marillion. It never rises back up far from there.

Dirty Mind

No, this is not a cover of the Prince song. The first half of this is playful and bluesy, but not really very prog-like. The lyrics are suitably raunchy, but not really overtly so. Later, though, this is taken out into a killer prog meets fusion jam that has a lot in common with early King Crimson. When it comes fully back to the song proper the arrangement is powerful with some major Beatles overtones thrown into the mix. It moves out into space to end.

Another Vision

Slow moving and rather pretty, this is also dark and a bit twisted. It’s very much in keeping with 1960’s psychedelia and has some space rock in it, too. Overall, this is a good tune, even if it’s not the most dynamic or overtly prog thing on show here.

Some Fear Growing Old

If there’s a track here that doesn’t really work that well for me, this is it. Much of the vocal performance leaves me a bit cold and the music just doesn’t vary that much from some of the other stuff here. When it gets more involved later it’s powerful, but much of it is just sort of lackluster.

Between Me and the End

While in some ways this isn’t dramatically different, it’s much more effective. This is a moody and quite mellow balladic piece that’s mostly piano and voice. Comparisons to modern Marillion or Porcupine Tree are obvious, but I also hear some Supertramp in the mix at times.

Modern Times

This is a real epic, weighing in at over twenty minutes. The first five minutes or so are in the vein of the most contemplative and moody of early Genesis. It powers out from there in a series of changes and we get a jam later that’s in keeping with the Red era of King Crimson. This plays through for a couple minutes and then drops down to a bouncy sort of melodic section that reminds me more of Spock’s Beard. The track builds on that as Parmenter carries on. Then around the nine minute mark it moves into a sparse arrangement that’s dark and gloomy. The track is built from there in a rather spooky way. Eventually this works out into a soaring melodic prog jam that’s got a ton of energy and triumphant textures. A change ensues to a section that calls to mind both vintage Yes and ELP as Parmenter continues. Then it moves out into a piano and vocal based balladic segment. From there it’s built back up and then crescendos to move back out into another piano based section – this one staying instrumental. Another peak comes and gives us a false ending. Then we are given a mellow ballad section that’s pretty and piano and voice based. After a verse like that it grows out into another powerhouse jam. That climaxes and then we move out into a couple of other musical excursions with King Crimson and RIO music showing up later in the game. It continues modulating and alternating as it works its way through to its close, though. All in all this is a powerful epic and a great piece of music. It makes for a very satisfying conclusion to the disc.

 
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