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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Stratospheerius

The Next World

Review by Gary Hill

You just can’t go wrong with this outfit. Nor can you assume what you are going to hear when they release a new disc. While the fusion elements of previous releases are still present, this one has more pure rock in it, too. Frankly, this might be the best Stratospheerius disc yet. At least until the next world, err time.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Release

Starting in a fusion way, this turns out to a killer, accessible prog rock tune. It’s very much in an AOR motif and the peace lyrics are cool. There’s a great non-lyrical vocal section as a bridge. There’s also a bouncy sort of section that reminds me a bit of the reggae influenced period of Rush. There’s also an intriguing space rock meets jam band instrumental section later. As one might guess, there is also some tasty violin playing on this.

The Missing Link
The early sections of this have an almost modern alternative rock texture. From there, though, it turns more unusual. Perhaps the most obvious reference is King’s X, but it has more of a fusion element than that conveys. As this cut continues the vocal arrangement becomes very noteworthy. In addition, some of the changes start to feel more like some classic progressive rock from the 1970s. This is another awesome tune on a disc that’s turning out to be exceptional by this point.
Tech Support
Frantic and funky, this is a short song, but what a monster it is. It’s definitely more like jazz, but there’s even a vibe to it that feels almost like Red Hot Chili Peppers. While this might not be the prog powerhouse that the first two cuts represented, this thing is full of energy and the instrumental section is a real killer.
Climbing
While this cut is good, and presents a definite change of pace, it’s not nearly as strong as the rest of the disc. The bulk of this fits somewhere between an alternative rock sound and country music. Still, there is a smoking hot instrumental section that’s more prog meets fusion and manages to save this from pure mediocrity. Honestly, the problem isn’t weakness with this particular number. It’s just that compared to the rest it’s a bit lackluster.
Fleshbot
After a gong blast, the violin heralds a killer fusion jam. This is angular in its progression and mid-tempo in its pace. Its shifts this way and that and really rocks like crazy. At times I’m reminded of some of the most adventurous music from Yes. They take it out into some world music after a while. Then it becomes more pure jazz for a short time. They drop it to a weird percussive bit and then move back into the song proper. It gets pretty crazed after a time. Other than some found sound type voices, thie tune is an instrumental. This one is certainly proof that the disc is back on track after the last one.
The House Always Wins
While this cut is a big change, it’s far from a let down. It’s sort of like a jazz ballad with a lot of New Orleans and some blues in the mix. It’s a weird little tune and features some small oddities in the arrangement. It’s also very tasty and has loads of charm and style. It’s probably not really a progressive rock number, but there’s enough fusion here to make it a close call.
Gods
What a powerhouse this one is. It comes in hard rocking with a modern progressive rock sound. As it continues it just gets more potent. The vocals are among the best on the disc and the music also stands out. At times this leans towards metal. At other points it’s closer to fusion. There’s almost a Jimi Hendrix goes fusion feeling to it at times. The guitar solo is especially powerful as it soars over the top of the mix. There’s a full on progressive rock interlude that serves to link the instrumental movement back to the song proper. This is arguably the standout number on show here.
Ballad for Ding Bang
This instrumental starts out much more like pure jazz. It gets more rock infused as it continues and it has some particularly inspiring musical interplay and soloing. It suffers from having to follow the masterpiece that “Gods” was, but it manages to pull it off very well by not occupying similar space.
Road Rage
The frantic jam that opens this allows Joe Deninzon lots of room to simply scream out his violin soloing. This is a high energy cut that’s part Charlie Daniels and part Kansas, but all Stratospheerius. The guitar also gets a chance to shine and this thing is a crunchy crazed progressive rock meets fusion instrumental that’s another highlight of the set.
One Foot in the Next World
While the first parts of this have that alternative rock turned modern progressive rock sound and seem a bit lackluster compared to some of the rest of the music here, this includes plenty of powerhouse jamming later. It’s another standout tune. It’s got strong vocals, killer instrumentation and a powerful arrangement.
The Prism
They saved a winner to close the set. The progression of this cut includes some Eastern tones, and I’m a sucker for that sound. It’s also powerful and features some killer instrumental work alongside the vocals. This is another that has a bit of a Kansas element to it, but it also seems to lean on some modern epic metal in some ways. Still, this is Stratospheerius, so it’s got plenty of prog and fusion built into it. This is definitely a great way to end the disc in style and power. There’s even a little symphonic turn that actually closes the track.
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