I am occasionally criticized for rarely being a proper music critic in that I never consider posting negative reviews and demolishing verbally some struggling artist is something I am loathe to do. Why? Two main reasons: I witnessed the Rise of the Glory days of Prog in the very late 60s and its agonizing Fall in the late 70s, “panzer blitzkrieged” into a massive venom spittoon by astute anti-prog losers like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, the turncoats at Melody Maker and New Musical Express, to name just a few.  If you don’t like this style, why bother at all? A vegetarian has no business or credibility in discussing their highly opinionated thoughts on a steakhouse, and vice versa. Number two: There is sooooo much amazing music emerging on an hourly basis, 24/7 since the mid Eighties that keeps prog alive and very well, thank you. I purchase a dozen releases a week and I still struggle to catch up! Supporting creative music by being a fan, is my mission, above all else.

I am a huge fan of Minneapolis band OVRFWRD, owner of all their albums and was patiently waiting for the pandemic-driven inspiration period to provide me with another first-rate all-instrumental masterpiece. The quartet is a solid as ever, not a single change of personnel since 2014, proof of how tight these guys are, obviously true bandmates. Over the years, I have communicated with keyboardist Chris Malmgren and bassist Kyle Lund, the baton passing onto my favourite American drummer as Rikki Davenport has taken on the task of sending me their brand-new album, the cleverly titled “There Are No Ordinary Moments”. Only guitarist Mark Ilaug is left for my future considerations. These are absolutely first-rate musicians, easily on par with all the heavyweights out there and their brand of powerful and daring prog is a true joy to listen to.

The mood is set on “Red Blanket”, to my utter astonishment, the brassy trumpet seems to be the main bristle in this extended track that also features some hyper percussive support from Rikki in a jazzier tendency that is a surprise. Though the heavy jazzy feel is overt as well as compelling, make no mistake about the patented Ovrfwrd sound kicking in, especially when the stringed duo muscles into the arrangement. No ordinary moment here!

The sonic palette gets a further widening with the sophisticated charm of “Eagle Plains”, ambient skies effortlessly portrayed, twinkling piano elegance and twangy guitar swerves, until Davenport sets down a tight shuffle and elevates it all to a higher level. Needless to say, the piece takes on a robust direction that builds with a swirling synth solo, a grinding guitar, and a menacing disposition that organically flourishes into quite the obsessive shrine. Nothing conventional at this juncture!

The bluesy raunch of “The Virtue of…” is a highlight track, the spotlight on a demented electric guitar rant from Mark that is staunchly assertive, verging on psychedelia, a diversion into a driving sonic hallucination that reeks of the early 70s, all that is missing is the incense. I was tempted to be reminded of Robin Trower’s fury on “Whiskey Train”. The outro is unorthodox through!  Delerium settles the score on the slap your face shortie “Flatlander”, a brash, noisy, brazen, and fiery workshop of mechanized brutality that should induce some serious perspiration. Extraordinarily nasty!

Apparently, a change of pace is in the cards on “Tramp Hollow”, an opportunity for the mellotron to direct the atmosphere, choppy piano, bass and drum rhythms not withstanding, and finished off with an undulating organ bit and a catlike guitar romp where Ilaug gets to shine luminously. A fluid piano outro seals the deal. The outro is unorthodox through!

Kyle gets to caress his bass on the opening ambient rivulets of sound on “Notes of the Concubine”, enough to provide a comfortably numb anaesthesia that is shocked into reality by an oblique abstraction of jarring notes, a murky mixture of lightning guitar runs, binary beats, obsessive piano and a temperament not too distant from recent King Crimson’s more abstract compositions. So much for the Rush comparisons, which this writer always found to be way too simplistic. This is a tortured, angst-ridden, possessed, and severe ride that is tempered with softer transitions that cavort with the inner edges of experimental and jazz rock. Extremely (that word is perfect) creative.

As if there could even be a higher level, the whopping central epic, “Eyota” and its nearly 13 minutes, is a tour de force that transcends the routine and the mundane. Named after a town in Minnesota that is derived from a Sioux term meaning the ‘greatest’, what else could it possible be but a killer track? Relying heavily on a consummate performance from keyboardist Chis Malmgren, who delivers a virtuoso task on the piano, the arrangement voyages through differing outlooks. The middle section’s softer moments are crushingly passionate, the melody beyond gorgeous and the restraint shown on the guitar solo is exemplary. A momentary plunge back into the eruptive gear is perfectly handled, raising the emotions once again. Yet, once again, the sensational piano reverts to expressing the nervous tension, gathering in the rest of the band for a final hurrah. This is perhaps the finest track in their repertoire and a top contender for epic of 2023.

An intermezzo is a desperate need after such a colossal experience, so “Chateau La Barre” volunteers that task with a surrealistic pillow of symphonic purity. It also beckons the arrival of the sneaky “Serpentine”, a cobra-like assault on the senses, featuring a seething guitar outburst that acts like a rattler’s tail, a churning organ reminiscent of a coiling boa, a bass furrow longer that an anaconda and a viper fanged synth flutter. Hysterically eccentric!

Perhaps ideally serving as a summary of their progression, the bass propelled “The Way” perfectly illustrates that talent these four gentlemen keep on proposing with apparent ease. Their brand of instrumental exploration offers not only technical expertise but a showcase for visionary heavy prog with endless shifts and enhancements that keep the interest in full rapture. Richard Davenport dazzles on all the tracks, especially this one. I stated this before and I repeat again, he is my fave current US drummer.

The wait was well-worth it as “There Are No Ordinary Moments”, really has no ordinary moments, just extraordinary ones.

5 exceptional flashes