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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Knight Area

Realm of Shadows

Review by Julie Knispel

The Netherlands’ Knight Area popped onto the radar of progressive rock fans around the world in 2004, following the release of their debut album The Sun Also Rises.  Showcase gigs at stages across Europe, as well as the prestigious NEARfest festival in the United States, contributed to a heightened awareness of this newcomer to the front lines of symphonic and neo-progressive music.  Three years passed before the release of the band’s sophomore effort, the well-received Under a New Sign.  Showing a maturing band from both musical and song writing standpoints, the album was greeted by several award nominations.  The band toured the release across Europe, including major performances at the Night of the Prog festival in Loreley.

2009 sees the release of Realm of Shadows, the band’s third album.  One would expect for, and hope for, continued growth and maturity from the band, and Knight Area delivers this.  While Knight Area does not ride the cutting edge of musical intricacy and intensity, those are not their motivations.  Three albums have shown that their impetus is crafting well written, melodic progressive music, filled to the brim with interesting keyboard textures, incisive guitar, and lyrics that touch the heart as much as they engage the mind.  From excursions into ambience and shade through fairly intense instrumental workouts, Realm of Shadows showcases a band that is continuing to grow and expand their style in a genre that has a tendency to try and compartmentalize its artists to a pretty extreme degree.  While certainly one could point to elements of some songs and say that this sounds like (insert band name here), at no point do any songs actually mimic an artist throughout.  Knight Area takes these blocks and makes their own constructions.

Realm of Shadows is a solid, enjoyable release from this band, and shows them continuing to hone their craft, deserving of mention in the same breath as the bands that preceded them 10 to 15 years before.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Ethereal
A bouncy synth line and a Genesis-inspired flourish introduce Realm of Shadows. Alternating poignancy and upbeat moments lead into a plaintive piano backed ballad vocal section...all hallmarks of both Knight Area's sound and classic neo-progressive music. The instrumental breakdown of the track features legato guitar lines suspended over a more strident groove, segueing neatly into edgier Mark Smit vocals, concluding in an almost anthemic end vocal high.
Antagony

Unlike the bright, somewhat poppy “Ethereal,” the album’s second track moves in a darker direction.  Organ, staccato guitar chords, and a pulsing bass line are joined by interspaced piano chords and a somewhat heavier tone.  Smit’s vocals have a slightly huskier tinge to them matching the heavier sound. 

Two Of A Kind

“Two of a Kind” is a sweet power pop ballad, complete with strummed acoustic guitar and a memorable synth line opening things up.  It’s easy, breezy, and the kind of song that might have gotten summertime airplay in the early to mid 1970’s.  Dealing with affairs of the heart rather than some fantasy storyline, it’s the kind of song that Greg Lake would have written and released on one of his solo albums. Gerben Klazinga’s selection of synth and keyboard sounds is to be commended.

Momentum

A song with a title like “Momentum” has to live up to that title, and it seems like such will be the case right out of the box, with an insistent beat, incredibly present bass (courtesy of Gijs Koopman) pushing things along, and some singing guitar work courtesy of Mark Vermeule.  At 2:50, the song is at once entirely too brief yet perhaps just the right size for a pleasing instrumental track to change things up and reignite the senses.

Awakening

Knight Area tossed in a second instrumental track, just in case people weren’t impressed with the intensity of “Momentum.”  “Awakening” also seems to fit the title musically, as this is a quiet, almost ethereal piece based around piano and keyboard textures.  It’s a pretty radical switch up after the intensity that it follows, but as examples showing the breadth of what this band can do, you can’t ask for much more than “Momentum” and “Awakening.”  It’d be interesting to see this band put out even an EP of instrumental tracks…I think it’d go over like a storm.

Dark Souls

“Dark Souls” moves back toward a style the band showcased on the second track on this release.  Opening with a winding, almost labyrinthine synthesizer line, “Dark Souls” is a heavier, faster piece of symphonic prog that shows the group followers of their own muse, rather than simply aping the styles du jour.  I again want to single out Gerben Klazinga on keyboards, as he seems to pick just the right tones and colours to match what the song needs. 

Realm Of Shadows

“Realm of Shadows,” the album’s title track, opens peacefully, with longing vocals and some careful, almost precious piano playing.  Throughout this review, I keep coming back to arena rock as a touchpoint, and if I were to keep up these allusions when discussing this song, I’d say that this is the kind of song that would lead to audiences swaying in time, lighters held aloft.  Not anthemic like “Two Of A Kind”, this is a more dramatic piece that offers bursts of pomp alongside the plaintive, emotional restraint.

A Million Lives

In some ways, “A Million Lives” is the most memorable track on Realm of Shadows.  It certainly has the more insistent, stuck in the brain hooks.  Mark Smit’s vocals and delivery match the immediacy of the vocal sections.  Knight Area works well within the confines of a fairly straight ahead arena-esque rocker.  This is a real fist pumper of a track.

Occlusion
 Lest one be afraid that a prog album, especially a symphonic prog album, would be issued sans epic, Knight Area ensured the propagation of the cliché with “Occlusion,” at 11:13 easily the longest track on the release.  Epics often seem to have the feel of being the “everything and the kitchen sink…and maybe some stuff from the next room too” track for prog bands.  Their length seems to invite bands to toss in as much disparate material as possible in hopes that some of it will stick.  Thankfully, “Occlusion” tends to stay away from this formula, offering a more tightly composed piece of progressive rock that takes its direction from shifts in tone (light/heavy, bright/dark).  It’s a gradually building piece of music, well composed and well played.
 
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