Country: The Netherlands
Style: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 20 Mar 2020
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube
Well, after the stunning Pendragon album in February, I wasn't expecting any other prog rock album this year to come close to it, but here's one already. It's the work of a project rather than a band, I believe, but I wonder if it will become more than that. It certainly should.
The core musicians involved are Sander Heerings and Jan Willem Ketelaers and I wasn't aware of either until now, so I clearly have homework. Heerings is a keyboard player who creates mellow music as Wane of Summer and belongs to the prog metal band known as the Dust Connection. Ketelaers is the vocalist for hard rock/prog metal band Knight Area nowadays and has performed in many others. They got together in 2016, added a full backing band and brought in a few guests to create this, hopefully the first of many albums.
This is prog rock and, before you ask, yes, it's a concept album, exploring "the journey of a soul to its final destination". However, it's very much at the accessible end of prog, reminding as much of the Alan Parsons Project as Queensrÿche, but with instrumental passages right out of early Marillion. It sounds crisp and clean, the production being as impressive as anything else I can name. Melody is so crucial that it occasionally drifts over to melodic rock, such as in Back to the Days, with its perky attitude and elegant bass. And, above all, it sounds so classy.
It's classy when entirely instrumental, such as on the album's intro, called Origins, which combines the atmospheric keyboards of Heerings with evocative drums and an incredible guitar tone, so clear and resonant. Three minutes in and I knew I would be a fan of this band if nobody ever opened their mouth. Then, as you might expect, Ketalaers did and they got even better with his dulcet tones adding another layer, because his work here is just as classy. It's worth saying that his voice feels so effortless that he's clearly well within his scope and we can't wait for him to truly cut loose.
One of many things that impressed me here is the way the album consistently builds. Origins is a fantastic introduction but it builds into Birth with a vocal from Ketalaers that displays all the confidence of a Geoff Tate. Then the band add some killer hooks for Once, Ketaelers soars magnificently with dedicated underpinning from the instrumentation behind him. This track should be all over the radio!
Judgement Day is the album's epic, running almost ten minutes and with Into the Open throwing everything but the kitchen sink into it but still somehow feeling restrained and classy. It opens rather like an eastern dirge, brings in a delicate harp, then a choral vocal structure with Ketalaers commanding as a soloist. There's theatrical teasing, violin, a bass solo, you name it, and the tones that the band find are simply sublime, whether it's keyboards or guitars or whatever.
Ride the Wind adds a female vocal, courtesy of Maria Catharina, which grows into a duet with Ketaelers. The emotion is palpable in the vocals, but it's just as overt in another duet that unfolds between keyboards and guitars, a set of solos that sounds like the whole band has been caught up by a tornado and their music is able to shine through the tumult, absolutely riding that wind. I believe the guitar solo is from another guest, Marcel Coenen. Half Song is just as emotional as a closer, but it's as stripped down as Ride the Wind isn't, driven instead by solo piano and another Bob Catley-esque vocal.
Like the Pendragon album, this is a sheer delight from the first moment to the last. It rocks out and soars, emotions running wild. It gets intricate and introspective, subtle little details shining out. It's progressive but always commercial and accessible. It's an impeccable exercise in tone, with half a dozen songs shocking me with another killer sound. This journey of a soul is an absolute rollercoster and you're really not going to want it to end. Everything on this album is a highlight.