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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

D'arcana

D'Arcana

Review by Gary Hill

There are those amongst us who will tell you that a song isn't progressive rock unless it's (insert number) minutes long. Well, to all you, I challenge you to listen to this CD. These guys have an uncanny ability to craft short songs that have all the prog drama and changes you would expect, and still feel like complete songs. The vast majority of the tracks here fall into the three-minute window. They still manage to be full on progressive rock compositions. To me this is simply unbelievable song writing ability. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy the tracks where they stretch out and put in a performance that fits into those time length prog heads' territory). There are plenty of other acts that do that, though. I think that it is simply astonishing how these guys can do it in the length of what used to be considered a radio "single" cut. I don't know how many bands out there can pull that one off.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Miles Away
This is a fairly slow paced sedate cut that calls to mind Pink Floyd and Chroma Key. The powerful vocals and intriguing changes (especially on the tempo) are quite cool. The instrumental break has a rather Yes meets Genesis approach. While definitely not a case of opening "with a bang," this strong composition works well in that slot. Plus it's quite amazing just how much they pack into a three-minute song.
Picture This
The off kilter bass backdrop here is a great change of pace, as is the frantic fusion oriented crunchy bridge. This one is full of frantically twisting and changing musical landscapes pulled together with catchy melodic verses. It is quite dynamic and very satisfying. Again, with less than three minutes to the song it's simply astonishing.
Once In A Lifetime
Sedate atmospheric Eastern tinged sounds start this. The band move this into a stripped down verse segment and build it up gradually in a neo prog fashion. This one isn't full of the major twists like the others, but is still dramatic.
Changes
Starting with acoustic guitar this begins building as a folk ballad with just a hint of Grateful Dead styled country. This becomes a bouncy hippie like jam eventually from there. It has a very classic rock texture - think Crosby Stills and Nash. Eventually this transforms with the more rock elements into a classic prog oriented sound. After a time like this a more expansive jam takes it and begins building up from there. Some cool backwards-tracked guitar comes across later as part of a new dramatic instrumental break before they drop it way back to just guitar and voce. Then they work it in more sedate forms to carry the song through. This segment has a lot of intriguing changes and varying themes. It gets pretty intense at times. Acapella chant/ choral like rounds sever as the outro. The vocal arrangement on this entire number is great. It is the first long song of the disc at nine minutes.
Pastazaporius
A jazzy fusion like element kicks this one off and serves to carry it forward for a great oddly timed change of pace. The band turn in some interesting musical themes over the backdrop. It's another case of "how do they do all that in three minutes?"
Set In Stone
Another longer track at just under seven minutes, this one kicks in harder edged with a more neo-prog nature. It turns more like Moving Pictures era Rush with a touch of Dream Theater. They run through a verse like this, then jump to a faster neo-prog sound. This cut is another with a meaty arrangement and a lot of drama. A fast paced guitar riff driven with Neil Peart like drum fills gives way to something that feels a bit like Hemispheres era Rush. They then launch into some frantic changes running through a chaotic, but oh so cool jam with very classic prog elements and just a touch of dissonance. The ghost of Rush is all over this, though not alone. It moves later into a Pentwater like progression to carry one, then a killer new jam takes it with both a crunchy progression and soaring keys. This is the song that keeps on changing and a major winner. It's hard for a poor writer to keep up with all the changes - besides you'll be missing out if you don't hear it yourself. This is a powerhouse!
Nightshade
This one comes in as a mellower pieced, and if we ever needed a breather it would be now. This one is slow moving and sedate, but has a great mood. It is also another short one. It gets both pretty and evocative.
Let It Out
"Let It Out" is rather playful and fun and very sedate. It doesn't do that much for me, though. It dissolves to gentle chaos to end.
s.u.a.p.y.g.
This comes in tentative and a bit strange and begins to grow gradually in a free form dissonant jazzy King Crimsonish way. Although elements of melody emerge at times, this one stays in this weird, off kilter format throughout. This sort of wandering jam fest, no matter who does it, generally loses me and this is no exception.
Windows
This is a pretty ballad based on piano and voice. At 1:45 it's the shortest cut on the disc, but it's also a very strong and evocative one.
Ancient Future
The longest track on the CD at an epic 14-minutes, keys and vocals jump it right in and take it forward for a while. Percussion starts around the back after a time. Then it moves to a mellow guitar based progression that feels a bit like the spacey mellow early Floyd. They move through likes this for a while. Then a picked dramatic acoustic progression enters and they start building on that. Then a new section moves in that's full of tentative energy moving upward in sheets one over the next. Then a lauder keyboard segment, again Floydlike, comes in and gradually reforms the cut in its own image. Suddenly it changes gear completely to an all new segment - more straightforward rock. Then a Yes like section takes over (fort along the lines of "And You and I"_. They make their way around this in a very satisfying fashion that's both catchy and pretty. They work and rework this in an ever ascending format, creating more and more powerful incarnation, then drop it way back to near chaos with hints of some new drama ready to emerge. The overlayers here are very powerful. Then keys hint at an explosion of sound, but instead they eventually take it to near silence. A dramatic and pretty dirge slow movement rises up from there and gradually builds. This crescendos then threatens to give way to pure chaos. Instead it's reborn in the most powerful passage of the album. This gets quite intense as it carries forward. They crescendo then just keys and various sounds move on from there to end the composition and the album.
 
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