Connections, connections, connections. The progressive rock community’s greatest attribute is how closely linked everyone seems to be, with geography being no longer an issue. New projects seem to blossom organically, as a simple e-mail or text can germinate into a new band with apparent immediacy. Fresh of his one album stand with ‘the revolving door of musicians’ band This Winter Machine, guitarist John Cook wasted no time in reconstructing a powerful rhythm section by reaching out to bassist Mark Gatland of IT and Hats Off Gentlemen Its Adequate, as well as multi-instrumentalist Dom Bennison of This Winter Machine handling the percussive, keyboard and production duties. Next, was getting hold of the busiest vocalist lately in the UK prog scene, Charlie Bramald. A quick word about Charlie, who first appeared on the Rogue radar with his contribution to fascinating band Nova Cascade as guest flutist. Playing this storied instrument requires impeccable lung and tongue control (nice poetry there), so it was no surprise that the allure of the microphone came rather easily on a variety of recent prog releases, namely with French project Nine Skies, Drifting Sun (Pat Sanders finds wonderful vocalists) and the thrilling Ghost of the Machine, interestingly staffed with another set of This Winter Machine castaways. He is a masterful vocalist that is easy to admire and indeed, applaud. Great and very a propos name for this new band, as we surely do dwell in a world of seemingly endless miasma of gluttonous commotion. The material is crisp, edgy, powerful, and addictive, as repeated listens just made the entire set-list even more appealing.

A magnificent piano intro comes courtesy of another recently reviewed talent, the hyper talented Ruby Jones of Exotic Ices Project that was tons of fun. Eerie voice effects create the perfect moody atmosphere to launch into the crackling electricity of “Break My Bones”, a bold and raucously sympho-neo piece that shows off all the various characteristics described above, within a huge melody and chorus expertly delivered by the incredible voice. Booming drums, bruising bass, brazen keyboards, and bleeding guitar riffs with a blazing solo that crushes skulls in its furious rampage. Keeping the pedal firmly on the accelerator, that angry “Compromised” elevates the wrath of an apathetic world diving full throttle into infinite lies, malicious distortions, absurd agendas, odious opinions, and leaden, laden leaders of dubious intentions. Bramald really hitting all the right notes with perfect tone, articulation and passion, the band blasting on all cylinders, well oiled and sonically pissed off. Thematically flowing ideally into “Protect Me”, a symphonic prog anthem that pleads, begs, yearns, and prays for some kind of salvation and peace.  The arrangement starts out in ambient splendor, gently veering into a suitably dense chorus, with swirling electronics, orchestral keyboards in full regalia, depth charged bass and drums signaling the funeral pace. The frazzled guitar exudes the thirst for security as espoused by Charlie’s impassioned declaration, a magnificent duality that is finished of by a celestial electric guitar spiral. The smartly crafted sequence is maintained on the brief but beautifully haunting instrumental “The Plea”, which is so rapturously enjoyable, I could have ordered another 10 minutes from the waitress! The guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums are fine tuned to the nth degree, with Cook in particular, showing incredible finesse in his fretboard delivery. I never do but I took a knee.

Change of pace as well as lead vocalist, as “Take Me Down” features Philip Stuckey of Stuckfish (I need to review them soon), owner of an equally sensitive timbre that convinces of its sincerity, as well as offering Ruby Jones another seat at the piano. The atmosphere is highly charged, bathing in a masterful melody, sublime playing and a final piano flurry of intense emotion. The title track reasserts the bulldozer rush back to an angrier mode, the heavier riffs storming onward, the current themed lyrics tormenting the soul, and Charlie showcasing his talent in vocally delivering that story with unforced zeal. He hits the high notes like vintage Geoff Tate (no minor achievement) and comes across as utterly impressive. The thankfully lengthy instrumental segue is a consummate ride of phosphorescent licks, explosive rhythmic cannon fire, exalted riffs. and a clear understanding of the title, reaching a certain “Point of No Return”.  Sheer heart attack and no, its not Kansas.

Definitely a Rogue highlight track, as “Oceans” is laden with sensitivity and ethereal beauty in a track of elevated symphonics, a modern 21stcentury ballad of the finest vintage. Dim the lights, close your eyes, and impregnate yourself with each sound emanating from Bramald’s lungs and if you still feel uninspired, I suggest major cerebral surgery to repair the damage to your brain. The sweeping companion instrumental “The Left Unsaid” is a short musical meditation that is drenched in melancholic introspection, as if fatigue of fighting an ostensibly hopeless battle may force one into golden silence.  Simplicity incarnate, wisdom attained.

Unsuspectingly serene at the outset, one can guess what comes eventually with “Sneak Attack”, an epic, nearly 8 minutes of rabid ruminations, showcased by complex syncopations from the rhythm section, as the keys and guitars weave up a perfidious assault on the senses, and Bramald sealing with conviction the ‘instrument of my demise’, the ultimate battle won with a final guitar barrage full of piss and vinegar, surely leading to either abject surrender or futile triumph. In both cases, the human cost is too great to contemplate.  A pyrrhic victory for the Age of Distinction.

Mercifully, the finale “My Peace” is a gentle orchestral lullaby that desperately hopes for a new dawn, where perhaps humanity must learn to fear again, only to shake the shackles of apathy, forsaking being comfortably numb and feeling the pain without hypocrisy.

Easily a candidate for a seat among the very top albums of 2024, urgently recommended to all fans of intense and intelligent progressive rock. More please.

5 Match mutterings