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District 97

Stay for the Ending

Review by Gary Hill

Chicago's District 97 put out consistently strong progressive rock. It's often too metallic for some prog purists, but it's definitely prog. I really love their blend of modern and classic prog sounds. It seems they excel more with each new disc, and this is no exception. It might be their best to date. It certainly made my "best of 2023" list. I have to say that as a Svengoolie fanatic (that's a horror host from Chicago who is now national via MeTV), this gets bonus points for Jonathan Schang's Svengoolie shirt in the band picture. They don't need those points to make the list, though.

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Track by Track Review
Stay for the Ending
A frantic and edgy riff gets us underway here. The track turns into an unusually timed riff from there. That makes up the song proper and serves as the backdrop for the vocals. This feels a little like Dream Theater musically. There is a metallic slower movement that emerges. This works through with both surprises and expected things. It's a powerful opening number.
Coming in intricate and mellower, this feels balladic as it gets going. Electric guitar takes control, but the song is still more sedate than the opener. I love how lines of vocals get punctuated by guitar riffs on the verses. A more melodic, but louder, movement serves the chorus well. A piano and vocal section later gets a duet as it grows. Other instruments join, but it's still a melodic segment, and one of the most powerful of the whole disc.
Many New Things
Understated, percussive and electronic sounds serve as the backdrop for the vocals as this gets going. There is a cool, almost fusion-meets-hard rocking instrumental concept that takes over later. The track gets quite soaring as that part runs through. There is some serious fusion shredding going on in the guitar solo.
This piece has a chirpy sort of delicate approach with a persistent rhythm section as it gets going and begins growing. It's an intriguing concept that is both classic prog and yet fresh. This turns mean and metallic as it drives forward. While they keep this truer to its origins than they do with some of the other music here, it does still evolve and grow.
Divided We Fall
While this is definitely progressive rock, and it has some decidedly prog movements. Some of this lands almost purely in heavy metal zones. Those proggy things are almost fusion. The contrast between the two modes is stark and really effective. This has some pretty unusual stuff at play, too.
Life Cycle
A dreamy, ambient element starts this. Then piano takes command. The piece turns jazzy as guitar joins. The vocals reinforce that jazz connection. This grows out after a time into more standard, progressive rock zones that incorporate both classic and modern prog elements.
This instrumental piece is less than a minute-and-a-half long. It is both dramatic and understated. It's more ambient than anything else, but there is a sense of something more powerful.
This comes in as more of a mainstream rock ballad. It holds like that for a while, but then a pounding sort of hard rocking arrangement brings the dramatic prog to bear. That resolves into a powered up soaring hard rocking prog movement. It drops back to the earlier section after that for the next section. The cut works back through the other section after that. There is some noisy weirdness when the pounding part re-enters beyond another soaring movement.
Deck is Stacked
Firing in metallic and driving, this thing is all class. I like the fast-paced stream of phrases on the vocal part. This continues to evolve with some more melodic prog sections added to the mix. There are also some almost metal parts. There is an instrumental section later in the track that makes me think of modern King Crimson to some degree. There is also a drum solo built into this.
The Watcher
Metallic concepts, fusion elements, King Crimson-like sounds and more are heard on this. Some of this has some unique timing. The cut also gets into very metal zones. There is a dropped back movement around mid-track that has some serious prog concepts at play. It builds back out from there to the metal-leaning stuff. I really love the melodic movement that comes in later. It doesn't stick around long, though. This cut is arguably the most dynamic thing here. It's also one of the most powerful. 

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