Before anything, deep appreciation to Gabriel of French prog review site Prog Critique for his wonderful review of this new album, that steered me into purchasing it. As per norm, he was spot on in his analysis. Geography was and still is my favourite subject, which explains a lot about my formative tastes as well as character. I had glanced at the previous releases from this New Jersey based band without getting properly seduced and I find myself regretting my indecisions, instantly remedied by getting the debut “Voyage” as well as “Under the Covers III” (a nice list of prog classics). This 2024 album has only 2 tracks and its no EP as we have the title track clocking in just over 26 minutes and “Forces of Nature” timed at just over 23 minutes! The line-up has vocalist/guitarist Matt Maugeri, Elizabeth Holder on vocals and keys, main keyboardist Ken Walker, multi-instrumentalist Chis Parsons (on everything) as well as guitarists Randy Sandmann (who very recently passed away, RIP) and Paul Higginbotham.
I must admit that I needed a few spins before adjusting to their symphonic style and getting into the extended tracks. The title track is a fully developed opus with 8 subsections, and thus classically paced with a “Prelude” and a “Prelude reprise” to finish off! There is no reason to rush into things at all, as the opening notes set the stage for an incredibly varied expedition, introducing the dual guitars, the overtly gushing synths, and an alluring bass undertow aligned with athletic syncopation. Matt and Elizabeth stamp their lungs early on, with impressive skills there as well. Ken introduces ornate elegance with his piano playing, a perfect transition into a mellower mode, where the bass flutters, clanging guitar resonance up front and center in a dreamy vocal sequence from Holder that impresses mightily. The composition evolves into a more accessible zone, where Maugeri seizes the mike with gusto, fluctuating amid a prosperous electric guitar weaving throughout, including a luminous lead solo, seemingly in ‘Praise of Dolphins’. Huge choir vocals ensure the continuance of the theme, as the spry synthesizers vie space with the crashing guitar riffs. Then a pastoral feel is infused with both male and female leads on ‘Soft Conception’, with a delightful acoustic guitar picking session and a laudatory synth line that seems to aim at the stars. The ‘Prelude Reprise’ sets the landing perfectly on time and at the gate.
The aptly titled “Forces of Nature” is a vast slice of progressive rock in three segments, as the sophisticated piano combines with the trance-inducing repetitive dual voices, shifting effortlessly into a massive symphonic crest where all the keyboards burn brightly, elevating the theme with a rapid-fire Maugeri vocal line on one hand, and a gentle Holder response, a very imaginative and mood-altering effect. The pace keeps the melodic content in constant evolution, raising the dynamics to celestial heights, and unafraid to infuse crystalline church organ snippets, as Maugeri singing rather splendidly within the dramatic arrangement. The rhythmic juggernaut keeps this piece firmly on the rails, flinging in some crisp lead guitar flashes in the process. A solemn orchestral partition searches for new horizons, electronic keys doing their part in reshaping the grandiose pace. As per norm, a piano resumes taking the vanguard, female voice in tow as the sun appears on the horizon, a convincing example of onwards and upwards, as both voices unite in a choir-like fashion, resonating deeply as the synths parp in full blown pomposity. Intense finale.
Really enjoyable release, looking at also reviewing their debut “Voyage” in the near future, as this is a very promising band indeed.