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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Black Bonzo

Sound of the Apocalypse

Review by Gary Hill

Fans of old-school progressive rock should love this CD. These guys have created a modern album that captures all the best of the older incarnation of the genre. You won’t hear any metal here, although some more straightforward rock sounds often appear in the guitar soloing. What you will find are glimpses of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Nektar, Gentle Giant, Pentwater and others, all woven into a tapestry that is unique and strong. This is a great disc that knows when to rock out and when to drop it back down a bit. This is never monolithic or boring and always manages to please.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
Thorns Upon A Crown
An electronic keyboard fanfare leads into an introductory segment based on ELP-like keys. This gives way to the song proper, a pounding prog rock jam that is very much in a mode that feels like a cross between ELP and Starcastle. This is without question a strong modern incarnation of old school progressive rock. This cut has both a great classic rock accessible song structure and plenty of progressive rock drama. It drops to a more mellow ballad-like segment later in the piece that has some bluesy overtones and perhaps some hints of Pink Floyd. They pound out into a joyous sounding powerhouse jam later that again brings in those ELP elements, but also some Yes-like leanings. The guitar puts in a decidedly classic hard rock styled solo here. After a few changes and transitions the keyboards take the track on a smoking solo. Overall this is a catchy, but still quite challenging number that serves as a great introduction to the disc and the sound of Black Bonzo.
Giant Games
Backwards tracked textures serve as the introduction here. Then they drop it back to a guitar oriented ballad segment that calls to mind classic Genesis. After a verse like this they power it out into more ELP-like territory again. The song begins an alternating pattern based on these two modes. A killer lushly arranged mode with layers of keyboards bringing drama emerges later and this feels a bit like The Flower Kings. They launch into a killer jazzy jam after this. This turns staccato and dramatic and then shifts out into a different vocal section that has more of that Genesis-like sound. They pound it out from there. It quickly drops down to a section that feels a bit like Gentle Giant and Pentwater. This turns back around into a rousing reincarnation of the general musical themes, just set on overdrive. They alternate between these modes from there. This moves out into a much more melodic movement later. A triumphant vocal line comes over the top of this. That section is faded down to end the cut.
Yesterdays Friends
A bouncy acoustic guitar mode that calls to mind Steve Howe (with hints of old Genesis) leads this one off. As this intro ends, though, they pound it out into more high-energy prog rock jamming. This moves through its progression before the vocals come in over a dramatic staccato pattern. A short, killer keyboard layering takes it. They move it back out into something that reminds me of old Genesis and Nektar at the same time. A more rock and roll sound takes over for a short time before giving control back to that staccato section. They use these varying tools to create the bulk of this track through varying reiterations to the central themes. This has some definite psychedelic leanings at times and includes a smoking harder edged jam that encompasses Yes, King Crimson and ELP all at once. Later on they move out into a soaring, evocative jam for a short time. Another movement later combines a killer martial-beat rhythmic structure with some old school King Crimson like keyboard layers. A quick rock and roll based segment finally ends it. This is one of the more dynamic pieces on show here and just plain rocks. It’s one of my favorites and includes some Starcastle like vocal arrangements at times. If these guys are looking for a track to win over the old-school proggers, this one gets my recommendation.
The Well
This one pounds straight in with a killer hard rocking prog rock jam. In many ways this is one of the more accessible pieces on show here and really reminds me quite a bit of Pentwater. The thing is, the rather straightforward jam is catchy, but pales a bit compared to some of the other material on the disc. Don’t get me wrong – it still includes some powerfully creative jamming, it’s just not quite up to the level of some of the other music on show. It does include a nice mellow segment and the powerful jam that takes it afterwards goes a long way towards making up for any shortcomings the rest of the track might have. This section includes a smoking, rather metallic, guitar solo.
Intermission - Revelation Song
With flute over the top of a bouncing acoustic guitar based jam, this feels a lot like old Jethro Tull. At just under two minutes this is also the shortest cut on show.
Ageless Door
Here they give us a stomping prog rocker that has a lot of common ground with old Kansas. This is another smoker, but then again it’s also one of the weaker pieces on show. As with “The Well,” that has more to do with the strength of the rest of the disc than it does with shortcomings of this one. There are a few changes and alterations of the musical themes and again this feels a bit like The Flower Kings at times. There is a great mellower mode later in the track that adds another dimension to the musical territory.
Here we get another slice of new progressive rock in the classic modes. This is a more ballad-like track, but doesn’t really fall to the point of ballad. It’s another that’s a bit simpler than some of the other material here. It is nonetheless a powerful cut that, while not one of my favorites, definitely falls into the upper half of the disc. This shifts out into some smoking ELP-like jamming later, and in fact, this mid-section of the track really reminds me (more than anything else on the disc) of that group. They drop this back to a piano and vocal bouncing section later that might make you think of Queen. Bursts of the harder rocking sounds enter and eventually regain control.
Sound of the Apocalypse
At around thirteen minutes in length, this is the longest track on show here. It is a three-part suite, but since all the segments are including on one CD track, I will address it as one unit here. A balladic piano melody leads this off and they build upon this framework to carry onward. This grows very gradually with care and precision. It is dramatic and evocative. At just before the three-minute mark this turns quite lush and powerful. A short build up threatens to take the song into chaotic, cacophonic territory, but instead they use this as a respite before moving back into the song’s main structure. Still, even this is a short-lived reprise as they launch out into some killer jamming that combines ELP and Pentwater elements with horns added into give it a free-form jazz texture. This just plain rocks! It has angular lines, powerful passages and enough drama to really set it aside. The jam will at times call to mind King Crimson, too. They drop it back down towards the mellower modes after this excursion, but the new sense of drama and power remains amidst this motif. Once more this is built upon to carry forward. It takes on some elements that call to mind Genesis a bit. They turn this out into a melodic jam that is just plain killer. Keyboards and guitar journey across the top of this backdrop. This eventually takes the number to its conclusion in a very satisfying manner. Without question they saved the best for last with this powerhouse. It is definitely my favorite tune on the disc and leaves you wanting more.
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