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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Devil's Staircase

The Devil's Staircase

Review by Gary Hill

The music of this act is described as being based on science and mathematics without being math rock. For that reason, I'm sure the name of the act and album refers to the Cantor Function - which is a mathematic principle also referred to as "The Devil's Staircase." Given that the title of the last song is "Cantor's Dust," that seems to be an accurate assumption.

In any event, this is unusual and exceptionally strong instrumental progressive rock. It has a great balance between mellower and more rocking sounds. The pieces are all quite dynamic, and everything here is strong. While comparisons to things like King Crimson are appropriate at times, this is very original. Had I heard this last year when it was released, I might have landed it in my "best of" list for that year. It really is that strong.

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Track by Track Review
Gravitation (Parts 1 & 2)
The ambient keyboard elements that start this do bring a feeling of gravitational waves to me. This starts to build outward from there very gradually. Eventually some guitar rises up to join the ever growing keyboard arrangement. The tune explodes out after a time into a King Crimson-like jam. With eleven seconds over eleven minutes or room to explore, they have a lot of canvas on which to create. After that rocking phase it drops to a dramatic and mellower movement for a time. A screaming hot movement takes over around the half-way mark. That again brings some Crimsonian elements, but also some hints of space rock and jazz. Then it shifts to a grind that has a rather metallic vibe and energy to it. There is a section later that seems to be a nod to Holst's "Mars." It fires outward from there to a killer jam that at times makes me think of Rick Wakeman's solo work. It drops back to an earlier mellow section after that to take the track out.
Rule 34
A powerhouse fusion-styled jam brings this in. As they explore from there I can make out more hints of Wakemanesque music and some world textures. This is a dramatic and powerful musical tapestry with some killer instrumental excursions. There is a cool twist to a faster paced movement that has some hints of surf music along with more Wakeman like sounds. This thing just keeps evolving and reinventing itself. There is some screaming hot guitar work later. The song really works into some crazed zones as it continues.
Room 101
A clip from "1984" opens this track. Of course, the title refers to that book and film. The tune powers out from there to a killer up-tempo prog rock jam. Again, this piece has some killer shifts and changes along the road. The guitar really soars and screams out with passion on this. The whole tune is of the more rocking variety.
Morse ..--..
Bass starts this track. Even longer than the opener (by four seconds), this is another epic. It gradually evolves and grows. There are some chorale vocals at times here, but I think they are synthetic. As it approaches the three-minute mark the cut shifts directions to more of a melodic fusion sound to continue. The whole number has a real melodic prog vibe, though. This is packed full of changes, though. There is a killer rocking movement around the seven-and-a-half-minute mark. The violin-like sounds on the track really brings a lot of magic.
Cantor's Dust
Psychedelic textures bring this cut into being. Bass takes it in a different direction. Some Indian tones come over before it explodes out into another powerhouse prog jam from there. At nearly ten-and-a-half minutes of music, this is another epic piece. It has some smoking hot guitar at times. The number has a great groove and works through all kinds of intriguing shifts and changes along this ride. There are moments of this that lean toward King Crimson-like zones. I really dig the guitar work on the dropped back section later a lot. That movement perhaps makes me think of California Guitar Trio just a little, but it explodes out into hard-edged Crimsonian fury from there before working to another more melodic rock section. The evolution of the piece continues there is some more killer guitar work as it does so. Bits of psychedelia return further down the road before it's all over.
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