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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hess & Franzen

{Closedlockedsealed}

Review by Gary Hill

The disc I received has some interesting packaging. I thought I had gotten vinyl when it came because the CD was mounting on a cardboard “cover” the size of an LP sleeve. It was actually quite a cool twist. I’m not sure if that’s how the consumer copies come or if this was just a special media version. I will say it makes it tough to file it with the rest of your CDs, though. But it’s unusual and artistic. In that regard it resembles the music here. The combination of sounds – ranging from Deep Purple to Tool to Metallica to Dream Theater to King Crimson to ELP to Rock In Opposition and more, makes this a unique listening experience. It’s also quite cool.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Quick Space Threat

The sound effects that start this showcase a raid, or at least the sirens and preparation for one. There is a rhythmically dominated sound that rises up at first in the music. Then it launches into something akin to symphonic epic metal as the arrangements gets built up and more complete. The changes bring it more into pure progressive rock territory as this moves forward. We get some metallic guitar soloing later as the song again shifts directions. When keyboards come over the top of that mix, I’m reminded both of Deep Purple and Dream Theater. They drop it down from there to a bit of melodic and quirky progressive rock before powering back out in metallic prog that’s quite intense. This thing just keeps evolving, though. Don’t get too comfortable because nothing here stays around long.

Gobi Desert Search for SS Cotopaxi

This thing opens up with more proggy atmosphere and then metallic jamming takes over from that point. To me it, almost like King Crimson, Tool and Metallica had a baby. There are more pure proggy sounds that are heard, particularly courtesy of the keyboards. Those bring some comparisons to Dream Theater and there are also moments that make me think of King’s X. The melody that drives parts of this has a real movie soundtrack of old element to it. This thing just keeps shifting and turning, though, with angular twists coming and going here and there. There are even some hints of world music that show up here and there, along with classical and nearly anything else you can imagine.

Three Stripes
Combining progressive rock with metal and other elements, this is another off-kilter and crazy jam. The keyboard elements that are laced over the top are classic and this has some of the most fusion or Rock in Opposition based sections of the whole disc. It continues with the seemingly freeform sounds that seem to shift this way and that almost continuously. This is quite heavy, but also quite melodic and even symphonic at times. There are bits that make me think of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. There are some world music vocals at points on this.
Mantis
This comes in mellower and more constant. It’s a more melodic piece and probably will sit better with those who have an aversion to metallic or RIO music. It’s quite fusion meets atmospheric progressive rock in nature. While there are definitely changes and alterations here, they don’t come in as rapid fire of a succession as they do on some of the other cuts. There are some female vocals (either completely non-lyrical or mostly with some lyrics in a language other than English) later in the piece. This would definitely be the perfect “gateway drug” for this set as it’s the most accessible and mainstream of the bunch. Mind you, it still has some strange bits.
China Inox

Starting with more melodic, but equally strange and abstract progressive rock, this drops after a time for a section that’s almost entirely percussive. Then it powers out to some frantic jamming that’s quite like Dream Theater. Bits of fusion and world music are interspersed as that segment moves the piece forward. There is a melodic and lushly arranged movement that’s part electronic music, part prog and part symphonic. The thing keeps getting reworked and altered, though. This is another that has some fast paced changes, but it’s also fairly short.

Doomsday Device

Crazed symphonic progressive rock turned towards RIO opens this and holds it for a while. Then it shifts to some fairly mainstream metallic music. It careens to and fro, working through different sections. There are parts here that call to mind King Crimson. Sometimes this is quite mellow, but at other points it’s very crunchy and heavy. It’s another where it doesn’t pay to get comfortable because it’s likely to change very quickly.

When I Get out of This Place

While there are more fast paced changes and weird turns and twists, this is one of the most accessible numbers here. It’s also one that falls closer to the metal end of the spectrum. Although, that’s achieved through both mellower and hard edged metallic movements, perhaps rather like prog metal. That said, there are still some sections that are purely progressive rock in nature.

Words Mean Nothing

A keyboard melody opens this and is joined at first only by percussion. After a time, though, the track works out into one of the prettiest and most accessible sounds of the whole disc. This is rather ballad-like, melodic and quite tasty. It’s slow moving, both in tempo and the speed by which changes occur. Both electronic and symphonic elements are heard in the arrangement. This is one of the best cuts here. There is some crunchy jamming later in the piece, though. Still, it doesn’t rise to the point of being metallic at all.

Magic Cat
Coming in more metallic, particularly in contrast to the piece that preceded it, the early parts of this seem to combine Rush with Dream Theater and some more mainstream 1980s metal. As various new sections join and work through it becomes more symphonic at times, more jazz-like at others and more purely metallic (mind you technical metal) in other spots. This is another chaotic, yet somehow organically connected, piece of music. There really are some cool moments in this piece. Parts make me think of some awesome heavy metal, while other points feel similar to something Rick Wakeman might do. It’s such an odd mix of sounds in rapid-fire sequence, yet somehow it all works. There’s even a gentle, almost classical movement at the close of this thing.
 
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