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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

ScienceNV

Last Album Before the End of Time

Review by Jason Hillenburg

Founded in 2005, this San Francisco based outfit's third album, Last Album Before the End of Time, is an ambitious work and a successful synthesis of multiple musical styles. Few bands or performers can convincingly juggle the sheer variety of sound that ScienceNV offers. However, the tremendous intelligence and musicality at work here enables the compositions to cover an immense amount of ground.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mars
The opening song is an adaptation of a movement in Gustav Holst's The Planets orchestral suite. Despite the piece's classical origins, ScienceNV does a superb job of grounding their adaptation in a modern context. The piercing lead guitar, martial rhythms, and banks of keyboards recall the airy explorations of Pink Floyd and Yes. The true highlight is a powerful guitar solo in the second half of the song.
Chinatown (Last Song Before The End of Time)
This shows off the band's flair for deeply textured jazz fusion. I admire the fluidity that the group exhibits; the seamless transitions and beautifully timed spaces between the notes help the music breathe.
Molecular Super-Modeling
Scorching guitar work and surging, disjointed rhythms propel this track. There is a pronounced jazz-rock feel to this, but the song is full of surprises, like the slide guitar that bites your hearing midway through the song.
Curved Space
After the slide work of the previous song, the throbbing bass and swirling keyboards of "Curved Space" returns us to familiar territory. The music's atmosphere strikes an interesting contrast between the light-hearted and menacing with its spiraling keyboard lines giving way to darker shades and tones.
Cold Sleep
This is a spare, crystalline work of ambient beauty. It has a careful, deliberate quality that engages the listener intellectually, but the guitar work lends it a quiet, desperate air with notes that sound like voices rising from the bottom of a well.
The Ring Cycle
This opens with its "Titan" section. Thundering percussion underpins savage, simplistic riffing before the song slows into an ominous duet between guitar and keyboards. This is a challenging, uncompromising piece with off the charts intensity reminiscent of King Crimson, but yet uniquely their own. It is breathtaking to hear how skillfully the band moves through the five sections of the piece, driving to the edge of one musical cliff after another, yet pulling back when everything is primed to fall apart. Every devotee of the genre should hear this progressive rock epic, a stunning work of dark, chaotic beauty that exhausts, yet invigorates the spirit.
Atmosphere of the Mind
Following such a work with the relative calm of "Atmosphere of the Mind" is another accomplishment in its own right. The strings, soft textures, and deceptive simplicity of the piece is such a stylistic 180 degree turn from the previous song that one expects to feel blindsided; but instead, the song works as sort of a coda to "The Ring Cycle.” It also works as a brilliant end for the album as a whole.
Titan
The first four movements of “The Ring Cycle” are presented as bonus “single” tracks at the end of the CD. As a single track, the "Titan" movement works as a superb rock track capable of standing alone. There's really no other moment on this album when ScienceNV consistently flexes their latent power to rock like this track. The song has tremendous immediacy. It grabs you and doesn't let go.
Iapetus
Unobtrusive, shimmering keyboards and scattered wails of electric guitar augment the plaintive acoustic guitar work opening "Iapetus.” The track has an appealing ambience that suggests fragility but, near the end, the swelling keyboards deepen the tune's moodiness while the guitars recede into the mix.
Enceladus
The churning rhythms of "Enceladus" gain additional power from the slashing guitar and keyboard work lying over the top. There is a great deal of aggression in this piece. You can hear it in its relentless pace particularly, but the shrill electronic screams scarring the beat attack the listener as well.
Stella Mortis

"Stella Mortis" opens with an extended bass introduction before moving into an intense instrumental section that resembles a series of inter-connected crescendos. Release never comes, however; instead, the music accelerates until exploding in a squeal of keyboards.

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