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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Act of Will

Retire to the Music Room

Review by Gary Hill

This is an instrumental set that lands in the progressive rock zone. It's built around lots of metal textures, but there is classical music here, fusion and lots more - often all packed into the same piece. The instrumental work on this is nothing short of amazing. When you find out that it's all the work of one guy - Michael Wilson - it becomes even more impressive. This is not the kind of music that you can take in with one spin. It's dynamic to the point of being crazed at times. This kind of thing is also not all that well suited to track by track review, but that's what we do here at MSJ, so I've tackled it. If you dig impressive, metallic, prog instrumental music, give this a chance. You'll thank me for the recommendation.

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Track by Track Review
Pandora's Music Box
Suitably, this starts with the sound of a music box being wound. The tones that come from the box are twisted and weird. The cut explodes out into a metallic jam that shares the weirdness but with a ferocity. It then works out to a mellower, more melodic prog arrangement that still has a real darkness and sense of foreboding built into it. A powerhouse jam more in the vicinity of Dream Theater and heavy metal emerges further down this musical road. The shifts and changes continue as this makes its way forward. It alternates between more rocking and mellower sections. While some of this is less powered up, nothing is restful. There is an unsettling and dangerous feeling to the whole piece. At times metal and symphonic element seem at war. At other times they seem to be collaborating with one another. Don't get too used to any particular part of this number because it doesn't stay in any place very long. There are so many things going on here that it will require several spins for it to really sink in and be absorbed. The music box sounds return at the end, creating a great bookend experience.
This fires in with a real metallic edge. There is some powerhouse guitar work on this screaming hot piece. This has a symphonic prog edge, but a real powerhouse metallic energy, too. Dream Theater is again a valid reference point, but so is Steve Vai. This is so energized and powerful. While it's not as strange and dynamic as the opener was, it is still packed full of different movements and variants. Both the synthesizer and the guitars get some amazing showings on this cut. The violin work on the tune is noteworthy, as well. With all that going on, somehow this thing manages to groove, too.
Unlikely Infection
The bass on the opening of this is crazy. The cut fires out to a killer jam that calls to mind a more metallic version of Bruford Levin Upper Extremities. It is fast paced and so cool. The cut modulates to a less frantic bit, but returns to the crazed section from there. This is another piece that has a lot of changes. There are sections with much different textures. Yet somehow it manages to feel cohesive.
Pathway to Convolution
This comes in with so much power and precision that it's almost scary. The cut is another with crazed changes. It leans quite a bit toward fusion, but has a real metallic ferocity, too. A mellower interlude around the two-minute mark brings a classical intricacy. That interlude manages to make the return of the hard rocking stuff seem even more intense. This has some of the most dramatic musical passages of the whole set. Given the competition that says a lot.
Functional Pollution
Fusion, metal and more merge on this number. The bass line is prominent but doesn't take away from the anything else. There are some soaring sections of this.
Escape of the Undersong
The opening of this song has a weird otherworldly feeling to it in some ways. There are hints of classical music, an almost soundtrack vibe and trippy sort of rocking elements. From there it launches out into some killer fusion. This is screaming hot and packed full of shifts and changes. It's technical and has some definite metal edges. There are also hints of symphonic prog in the mix. It manages to drop to somewhat mellower zones at times. At over eleven minutes of music this is the epic of the set. That space is used well to allow for all kinds of varied sonic exploration. Around the four-minute mark bass leads things into a killer jazz-based movement. By the five-and-a-half minute mark it has dropped to a more classically based section. It powers out from there with a metallic fire and ferocity. There is a powered up classically inspired movement with some Latin guitar elements later, but that gives way to more screaming metallic stuff. This is another cut that just keeps getting reinvented and changed. There is some serious shredding to be had here.
I Think

Frantic powerhouse fusion drives this thing. The bass work is insane, but so is just about everything else here. This is purely on fire. The cut careens in various directions. I love the violin on this thing, but every single instrumental part here is impressive. The changes come in rapid-fire succession.

D' Leery 'em
A swirling sort of modern Crimson meets fusion jam brings this into being. There is a sound here that could almost be described as metal classical. There is a sense of danger and power built into this piece. It's freeform, frantic and so cool.
Circus of Assai
Another that's very frantic, this does a great job of merging fusion with a metallic edge. The guitar soloing puts it in the same vein as people like Steve Vai.
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