Wednesday 16 October 2019

IQ - Resistance (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 27 Sep 2019
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I remember IQ from way back in the day, as Tommy Vance played them regularly on the Friday Rock Show and I liked them then. What I don't remember is them sounding like this!

I remember them as a neo-prog band, similar to Pallas and Twelfth Night and a number of others who emerged in the UK in the early eighties in what soon became the shadow of Marillion, who had broken into the mainstream. IQ were an excellent band, though I do recall them softening up in a search for that ever elusive commercial breakthrough. I probably lost track of them by the time the nineties came around, but they've stayed together and, reading up on what's happened since, they returned to their core prog sound in 1993.

This feels a lot heavier than the eighties IQ, though they're moving towards their fortieth anniversary in 2021 with what's close to their original line-up. Co-founder Mike Holmes is still there on guitar as he's been throughout. Once original vocalist Peter Nicholls returned in 1990 after a few years out of the band, he never left again. Bass player Tim Esau took a long break but he's been back since 2011. Paul Cook wasn't technically the original drummer but he was on every recording until he left in 2005 and he's been back since 2009. The new fish is Neil Durant on keyboards, having joined in 2011. He's there instead of co-founder Martin Orford, who left in 2008.

Frankly, I'm very impressed by this heavier IQ, who sound like Yes as a prog metal band. Nicholls's vocals are still pure and clean as a whistle, but the band behind him provide a real crunch and/or an immersive swell as the need arises. What I'm most impressed by is how they shift from the quieter, more introspective moments to the heavier ones. Rise does this magnificently and there's a Paradise Lost style escalation on Stay Down that's really tasty as well. The best things about Resistance can be found in its dynamics.

A Missile opens the album with real power. Without trying to reach overdone superlatives, this is exactly what I wanted the Dream Theater album earlier this year to be. Rise goes there too but only at points, because IQ really work those dynamics and there's a heck of a lot going on in this song. Stay Down is more of the same, partly because all these tracks deliberately run on into each other like they're really just parts of a larger whole. Then they hit Alampandria, a shorter piece with an overt middle eastern influence that shifts from keyboard overlays to pounding bass.

At that point, they pause to take stock, with Shallow Bay starting out with solo piano. As it kicks into gear, with those pure vocals and some rolling drums, the light bulb went off above my head and I realised that this IQ is early eighties IQ, just with a glorious production job from, I believe, the band's guitarist, Mike Holmes. Did IQ sound like this all along and I just never noticed, perhaps because I never saw them live? I'll be listening to those earlier albums now with a different mindset.

If Anything goes more overtly back to the eighties, with an electronic beat and a simple emotional keyboard swell. Nicholls's voice isn't as high as Jon Anderson's but it's very reminiscent here. I remember IQ sounding more like Genesis (and they get there later, especially on Fallout), but they've gone more towards Yes with some King Crimson in this track too. It's also a very patient song, happy in the knowledge that this is a double CD (triple album) and there's no need to rush anything.

At over fifteen minutes, For Another Lifetime wraps up the first half and it isn't remotely the longest song here, both Fallout and The Great Spirit Way around the twenty minute mark. The vinyl version runs to three discs with a couple of one-track sides and three more with only two. As you might expect, For Another Lifetime is wildly patient for a little while, neat instrumentation (melodeon? theremin?) adding to the texture. As its slowdown reaches sleepy levels, regular instruments kick in and we're in motion with something of a Queensr├┐che feel. It finds its arc and there are some tasty solos late on.

Holmes has said that he enjoyed working at more substantial lengths. I have to say that he's done it before, the very first IQ album kicking off with a side long song, The Last Human Gateway; and at least two other albums being doubles that include one song around the twenty minute mark. Does having two count as a real shift in approach? I doubt it.

I've seen a lot of prog diehards raving about Resistance like it's the start of the second coming, but I don't think it's that good. It runs together and it often relies on the dynamics to provide variety, which isn't what they're for. It's clearly excellent stuff but I'm wary of shouting from the rooftops that it's an undying classic just yet.

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