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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Ghost Circus

Across The Line

Review by Gary Hill

I like the folks at Prog Rock Records; I really do. With a label named “prog rock,” I really need to support these guys, too. The problem I keep running into, though, is that most of the music they release isn’t really progressive rock but more prog metal. That means I generally have to pass it by in order to keep the site half progressive rock. I just can’t fit it in. Well, this disc falls into the prog category, but just barely. I came very close to doing the old pass again because it’s very much metal in a lot of ways. That just about got it lumped into heavy metal and passed up to keep the balance of the site together. In the end, though, I found enough progressive rock in this to get it in under the prog heading – and work it into the issue. The truth is, though, prog purists will want to avoid this like the plague. There is a lot of metal here. For those who like their neo-prog leaning close to heavy metal, this is definitely recommended. While I wouldn’t put it too near the top of the pack, it’s definitely in the upper half. These guys have produced an ambitious concept album (a disc about the crossing over into the after life has to be ambitious by definition) that’s got some great moments and quite a bit of above average material.  I have to say that the multi-track epic is brilliant. I just wish they had more music here that was close to the same par. Still, it takes up about half the disc, so you know you can count on that half.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Reflection
A sedate guitar solo, played on electric, but without effects (and feeling a bit like Steve Howe), makes up the first minute (give or take). Layers of keys and other sounds come on board, but the track remains reasonably unchanged for the first minute and a half or so. Then, they explode out into a crunchy (but still quite melodic) neo-prog jam. Keys take command later in the piece, bringing a lush sound with them. This melodic instrumental is a nice way to lead things off.
Pathway
Prog purists, get to your bomb shelters now! This pounds in extremely heavy and quite metal-like. The track is without question more metal than prog and if the whole album were like this, I’d have put this disc into the metal category rather than prog. I can guarantee that anyone who has a problem with metal in their prog rock will definitely shut the album off at this point – and with good reason. This is some great metal, but it’s metal. It combines nu-metal with stoner rock and a few progressive rock tendencies in the mix.
Holding On
This piece pulls them back into the realm of progressive rock. It’s nearly ambient, quite textural in nature. It’s rather dark, but also extremely cool with Howe-like chirping guitar soaring above a fairly monolithic backdrop. A little past the one minute mark keyboards take over from the guitar, swirling around in a transcendent pattern of sound. Of course, from there this shifts to a very metallic riff. As opposed to the previous number, though, they include enough progressive rock tendencies (particularly in the retro keyboard sounds) on this one to keep it from falling straight into heavy metal. The vocal arrangement is quite powerful. They shift out to a killer keyboard oriented journey mid-song that lands us more thoroughly into the prog vicinity for the duration. This is a good, but not really great, track. It’s got some good melodic concepts and some interesting excursions. It’s just a little pedestrian in terms of its delivery. I think they sacrificed some of the character of the song for crunch.
To Be
This balladic pop prog piece is extremely pretty and catchy. It’s not really metal at all, but it’s also not extremely challenging. Here the trade off is more accessibility over more extremely progressive rock oriented sounds. This gets quite powerful in terms of its arrangement and has a soaringly triumphant texture in a lot of ways. This certainly comes a lot further than some of the other music towards true progressive rock. We get a harder jam later in the track that provides a nice change of scenery without getting into the “Metal-land.”
Losing Time
Here we come in with an almost techno sound. Some crunch threatens to pull this into heavy metal. Instead it winds out into a bit more melodic territory – rather akin to Van Halen meets Joe Satriani. From there they shift out into crunchy prog that’s definitely prog. They alternate between these two sounds. I’d have to say that probably only about half of this track qualifies as progressive rock. The other is probably just “hard rocking classic music.” We get a cool melodic instrumental segment mid track that definitely reinforces that progressive rock title. When they shoot out into a different section later it seems to mix rock and roll with a Chris Squire sort of vocal arrangement. Mind you, it doesn’t sound like Squire’s voice, but the melody feels like something he would come up with.
Through The Darkness
James Bond meets Rush on this metallic stomper. This one is definitely a lot more metal than progressive rock, particularly when it comes to the screaming, rather noodly guitar solo. Yes, there are some prog rock elements here, but I definitely wouldn’t call this “prog.” The exception to this is when they turn it out to more melodic music later in the piece. This is neo-prog, but progressive rock. Lush keyboards eventually end this.
Through the Light
This is an epic piece that weighs in around the 27 minute length. It’s divided into separate tracks here, so I’ll address them that way. 
Through The Light – I – The Calling
Keys start this off and then other elements join in a swirling, rather playful motif. As new guitar sounds enter it reminds me quite a bit of David Gilmour. It drops back to the tones that opened it for a time. Then everything peels away leaving us with a piano over some sedate backdrop materials. This rises up into a powerful neo-prog jam and the vocals come in over this. Keys still swim through the arrangement here and there for good effect. They drop it back to just the piano for a balladic set of vocals. They build up from there, but then drop it back to just the keys again. We go through this repeating pattern again. This is quite progressive rock oriented, but also quite catchy. It’s a good piece of music, leading the epic off in fine form. I like the cool bass solo on this one with its jazzy textures. Keys segue into the next movement.
Through The Light – II - The Choice
Coming out of the previous section, this shares some thematic ground with that segment. It’s got a bit more crunch and rock and roll as they work their way through. This takes on some great prog melodies. It’s got a bit of a metallic edge at points, but not enough to put it into that category. We get some Chris Squire-like bass work here and there in this one. This is one of the more effective sections of the CD.
Through The Light – III – The Essence of Life
Here they take us back into metal territory. This is a screamer with some progressive rock in the mix, but it’s a lot closer to metal than we’ve heard so far in this epic. Still, it’s done tastefully and I wouldn’t really call this “heavy metal.” It’s more hard edged neo-prog. They drop it way back to just keys as they move it onward. It turns more lush in its arrangement and textures. It gets rather powerful later in the piece. Interestingly that comes as it works further away from the heavy metal. They turn it heavier again and crescendo to segue into the next movement.
Through The Light – IV – The Sea of Shadows
This rises up from the aftermath of the crescendo from the previous section. It has a bit of an Asian flair to the gentle stylings that slowly grow. It’s also rather mysterious, but quite pretty. Around the one minute mark this gives way to an acoustic guitar based journey that has a world music drum presence. This is poignant and rather folky.  This is definitely a portion of this epic that has no heavy metal in it. They work this up to an involved and powerful incarnation of itself, but you won’t hear any crunch in this arrangement. It drops back to just acoustic guitar for an extended solo accompanied only by sound effects before it ends.
Through The Light – V – Soaring Above
The acoustic guitar that ended the last movement brings this one in. The group work on the themes that the instrument introduced in a crunchy neo-prog jam before shifting this out into fusion. They turn it more into the heavy metal direction, but never quite cross that line.
Through The Light – VI – Breaking Through
Coming out of the previous segment, this rises up with a great hard edged, but quite progressive rock oriented jam. It’s a fast paced movement with some killer instrumental work. This seems to blend classic Rush with Dream Theater into one of the most effective musical journeys of the whole album. A crescendo pulls into the penultimate segment.
Through The Light – VII – Distant Memory
They begin this with a keyboard based balladic approach and build up to a full fledged neo-prog journey from there. Mid track they turn this into a killer jam. At first synthesized voices come across in angelic ways. Then a guitar solo screams with crunchy, yet melodic, abandon. The whole of the movement is merged together into a powerhouse jam that’s pretty and dramatic at the same time. It gets very emotional and potent before giving way to the final segment. That power comes from the lyrics, the music and the vocal delivery, all rolled together.

Through The Light – VIII – The Final Steps
The closing section is quite metallic, feeling a lot like Dream Theater at times. We get some great musical themes and mysterious textures here, too, but it’s quite heavy at times. A triumphant resolution closes the epic in style and keyboards segue it into the next piece.

Across The Line
A mini-epic all its own, this track is over ten minutes in length. It starts in a noisy, yet fairly melodic, feedback laden instrumental way. This holds the track, with variations for the first couple minutes. At around three minutes in they shift it out into a hard rocking neo-prog journey that’s simply awesome. This represents one of the most powerful sections of the whole disc. They drop it back down a bit for a short time and then launch into a killer keyboard dominated jam from there, ramping things up in terms of quality and power from great to sublime. Another drop down gives way to a new incarnation that combines the same musical themes with an almost Genesis-like approach. A little alter the half way mark this has become more metallic, but it’s still all prog. It’s also incredibly dramatic and mysterious. It drops back to mostly keys at around six minutes in. Then they power back out from there in a new musical journey. This gets quite melodic and powerful before they drop it back to just keys (around eight and a half minutes in). This carries it for a time until the guitar motif that opened the disc returns to bring us full circle.
 
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