2014 : VOLUME 31
IQ - The Road of Bones (Round Table Review)
|Country of Origin:
||Giant Electric Pea
|Year of Release:
Special Edition Disc: 49:06
Exclusive Collector's Disc: 60:34
CD: From the Outside In (7:25), The Road of Bones (8:32), Without Walls (19:15), Ocean (5:43), Until the End (12:00)
Bonus CD: Knucklehead (8:11), 1312 Overture (4:18), Constellations (12:25), Fall and Rise (7:10), Ten Million Demons (6:10), Hardcore (10:53)
Exclusive Collector's Disc: From the Outside In (first studio run through) (7:25), The Road of Bones (first studio run through) (8:35), Ocean (piano/vocal version) (5:52), The Slender Sky (13:56), McDozenStrings (4:08), Without Walls (live medley) (12:45), From the Outside In (live) (7:51)
Marcel Hartenberg's Review
"Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make!" Bela Lugosi invites us off to where ghosts reside and vampires welcome you to feast upon blood, as Neil Durant, the new man on keyboards, sets the mood for a dark trip in From The Outside In. That is when someone must have said "Get set, go!" because all at once the whole of IQ kick in, thundering, roaring like a horde of vampires, out for blood. These vampires, at least the singing one of them, is not happy at all as he overthinks life and times as a vampire, well, life? "I'm waking up, I'm better dead." From second one, Messrs. Cook, Durant, Esau, Holmes and Nicholls grab your attention with haunting music as dark, brooding and heavy, mind you, as IQ ever was.
In the second track of their latest release, the title track, IQ paint us a musical thriller as they portray the grim thoughts of a serial killer, closely resembling the feel of those dark Scandinavian thrillers like The Bridge or Those Who Kill as of late have been televised. Mike Holmes has watched a lot of movies recently and the effect of watching them gets translated into the music and, as we clearly find out, most certainly during the title track, these movies were not of the Love Actually kind. Dark, darker, darkest. That is what we get in the first two pieces.
Rich in keyboard sounds, these songs. Neil Durant, formerly of Sphere3, already joined IQ during the 30th anniversary live gigs and now proves to be quite the asset in writing and defining today's IQ sound. Quite a daring task to step into his predecessor's shoes, but he does so magnificently. Rich in textures, adding just the flavours the songs need, he paints a great backdrop where Mike Holmes and the rhythm section only need add their ingredients. Wait for it, there is always Peter Nicholls' voice. It appears, there are those who either love, or either hate Peter's voice. For the haters, I bid you not to read on, as Peter does as great job in the latest of IQ releases and mind you, he ages well. For the lovers of his voice, expect his voice in fine form and again, adding those typical, dark lyrics for which we have come to know and love his writing ever since Tales Of The Lush Attic.
The first two songs give an initial impression of IQ in 2014. Must we buckle up and expect the unexpected? Or, are we sitting comfortably as ever? IQ remain true to the sound they have built for the last 30+ years. Still, that doesn't mean we get lulled into a "Been there, done that" mode. No, sir. Let's compare it to Lord of the Rings. You know you are getting your fair share of hobbits, orks and what have you, yet still the movies have their fair share of those who love them and who will always want to be on the look out for more. I'm not saying IQ have now changed their game to play for the masses, not at all. But you know what's inside when there's IQ on the tin. And when that mark is on the outside, you know you get your fair share of progressive rock, IQ style.
It is great to hear how IQ manage to bring their sound to 2014. The richness in textures by Neil Durant, the ever rocking Mike Holmes, Tim Esau's thundering bass, Paul Cook adding quite the right punches and Peter's unmatched voice all up to today's standards while also, also very much, even though it may very well be unintendedly so, connecting with the past. There's a xylophone part in the title song that reminds us of Nomzamo's title track, yet Mike Holmes has pointed out that that was very much unintended.
Yet there is more than two songs on the new album. We get five songs on the single album and six on the bonus disc as well. That is, if you buy the special edition. The story behind that is that IQ had written enough strong material for the album yet had written songs as well that might not fit completely into the album's flow but still was strong enough for a release. So the band decided to release those tracks as a bonus disc and, decidingly, not release a double album as such. The songs on the album being as cohesive as they are, where the bonus disc does not quite fit into the same feel and flow.
But the songs, the songs... There is a typical IQ epic in Without Walls that begins with a bit of an 80's Genesis or even Phil Collins solo feel. That lasts for just about three minutes when the music initially gets slowed down and we then welcome the full on IQ heavy approach. Mike Holmes shines in a short solo and does great riffing throughout the song as if he were to audition for Tony Iommi's place in Black Sabbath. Still, the IQ riffs are there to set the background along with the keyboards. And here, in Without Walls, IQ prove they are still masters of the game. Get yourself aboard that rollercoasterride and enjoy it from start to finish. Yes, there is a part that reminds us of Falling Apart at the Seams (again Nomzamo) yet there is much more tot his and bes ure, this not just a copy and paste track at all. Take the time and enjoy it, again.
Ocean follows the maelstrom that is Without Walls and it marks a nice resting point on the album. Nicely sung by Peter and giving a very peaceful, easy feeling. Even though the subject is not quite that easy. Some might discard the song for being unimpressive. I think it is there in quite the right spot. Until the End, again an IQ song you just to need to listen to. And, is that a mandoline or banjo? Or are they both even featured in one track? Try and find out for yourself.
As for the bonus disc, it is just that these songs don't fit in with what are the album tracks. There is no way in saying that these songs are not great in themselves. They are. Knucklehead might be the most experimental song the band from Southampton have ever recorded, if not, it is truly IQ at its heaviest. Does that sound strange then? Well, no, think Threshold in a way (forget the double guitar parts) and you get the drift somewhat. It's certainly not a song that mellows you down. 1312 Overture takes its beginning from old man Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and then dives into less unfamiliar YYZ-vibe yet is the time signature of the song that gives it its title, not the Rush reference.
Constellations, particularly the intro, again harkens back to an 80's Genesis feel, yet it turns out to be quite an illustration of what IQ sound like in 2014. Wrapping this review up, consider the remainder of the bonus disc to be of the same standard as you have found the former tracks to be. This is 2014 and IQ have just released their tenth (eleventh, if you also take into account Seven Stories Into Eight) album. There are two editions. One with just the single disc, one with a bonus disc that adds more IQ. Oh, yes, there was also a 3 disc version for those buying this very special edition with a ticket in it for the release show, a t-shirt and what have you. Whatever version you decide to listen to or buy, IQ have returned in great form and for all I know, this is an album I will return to very frequently. I reckon this one to be among the IQ classics. Whereas some might consider a 9 to be too flattering, this album in all its diversity certainly holds its own way beyond the 8-mark.
Mark Hughes' Review
Caveat Emptor: Mark Hughes is a long standing fan and friend of the band and so his contributions to this round table will hopefully help give the new album some historical context as well as offer his opinions on the new music. To prevent any assertions of bias he will not provide a rating on the album.
After a gap of nearly five years, IQ return with their long-awaited new album, The Road of Bones. OK, so they have not been completely absent during that time, maintaining a presence on the live scene and celebrating their heritage by releasing 30- and 25-year anniversary editions of Tales From the Lush Attic and The Wake. There has also been a Re:Mixed CD (given away free to attendees of the 30th Anniversary concert in Leamington Spa) although, like The Lens' Regeneration, that was more of an individual undertaking by guitarist Michael Holmes. More significantly, the first releases by the current line-up of the band - original members Michael Holmes, Peter Nicholls, Paul Cook and Tim Esau along with Neil Durant - a couple of live albums capturing a full performance of The Wake in 2010 and a recording of a 30th anniversary show from 2011, have also seen the light of day.
The Road of Bones is something of a watershed album for the band as it is the first to have been written without any involvement from Martin Orford, the keyboard player whose often tumultuous relationship with Holmes not only resulted in some spectacular music over the years but also growing personal differences, particularly relating to composition of new material. The "writing by committee" approach as Orford viewed the process by which new IQ material was created was partly the reason behind Orford's two fine solo albums, 1999's Classical Music And Popular Songs and 2008's The Old Road, and ultimately the reason behind his departure from the band. As the bulk of IQ's material had originated from the pens of Orford and Holmes, the question was could the group maintain the quality of previous releases without losing their identity?
IQ have always tried to do something a little different with each album and not rely on a formula or rehashing of previous releases without straying too far from their signature. From the opening bars of From the Outside In, there is never any question than it could be anyone other than IQ. Nicholls' characteristic vocals play a large part in that familiarity but also the stylistic structure of the song and the tangential directions taken by the music. Although it may be a nod to the past, it is nice to hear the prominence given to the Mellotron and bass pedals. In contrast, the title track is a feat of moody magnificence. From a minimalistic start it builds gradually - first piano (and ominous synth sounds) followed by a steady drum beat and a persistent bass line with the guitar completely absent for the first six minutes. A very dramatic number that is already highly regarded, the only thing that I personally have reservations about is the spoken Almost, but not quite line at the end of the first verse – for some reason it really irritates me!
Without Walls is the epic of the album and is rather a departure from other long-form compositions generated by the band. Rather more subdued with lots of quieter and more intimate sections, reflected in the nature of the lyrics. In typical IQ fashion, the heavier sections feature some nice keyboard-guitar interplay and there are a lot of ideas packed into the grooves. Overall though, the piece has a rather more disjointed feel and lacks the seemingly more natural musical progression of previous epics such as The Narrow Margin. There is an element that, as a big piece of music, it is not easily assimilated in a short period of time and needs greater familiarity for better appreciation. This might be why, at present, I find the shorter, work-in-progress, live version on the third Collector's Disc, to be more immediately accessible, although as this early version contains a lot of musical elements immediately recognisable as IQ, the rewriting is understandable. Ocean is quite heartbreaking in its lyrical honesty but I have to question including the full band version on the main CD and relegating the starker and more fragile piano and vocal version to the limited collector's disc. To my mind the additional instruments are a distraction, particularly the drums, and remove a lot of the power and poignancy of the duet. Last track on the first disc, Until the End is the weirdest wedding song ever, probably the most characteristic IQ song of the disc and of a style that is somewhat synonymous with an IQ closing number.
I am at a loss as to why the band felt the need to release the album as both single and double editions as that might imply that the contents on the second CD was in some way inferior to that on the first disc. In truth, The Road of Bones should be viewed as a double album and I think that it would have benefited if it had been released as such with a resequenced track listing. Maintaining a consistently high quality over two hours of new music would stretch any artist and it is inevitable that favoured, and not so favoured, pieces will emerge. Knucklehead, falls into the latter category for me as it seems to lack a degree of originality as well as having a title that is atypical for IQ. 1312 Overture, the only instrumental number, should really open the disc and perhaps have omitted what I can only describe as the brief "Royal Wedding Fanfare" introduction. Other than those minor criticisms, this energetic number is a great piece of prog and really sets the mood, it would also be a fantastic opening live number to really get a crowd psyched up.
Longest track on the second disc is Constellations, one of the highlights of the release. Not musically extravagant, in fact quite the opposite, and Holmes, a much under-rated guitarist, offers up a fine performance. There is an obvious affinity with Holmes and Durant as they mesh together very well with a greater sympathy in the guitar and keyboard lines than on recent albums. Fall and Rise displays a slightly different sound palette with some excellent playing from Esau who has really matured as a musician, a lovely acoustic solo from Holmes as well as some more idiosyncratic keyboard blips and beeps from Durant (which don't sound as out of place as you might imagine!). Ten Million Demons is the only song that come close to being "filler"material and is the least inspiring of the new songs although closer Hardcore finishes things off on a high, particularly the last seven minutes which are strong enough to be a standalone instrumental track.
Finally, a few quick words on the content of the Exclusive Collector's Disc that came with the limited edition box set of the album. The first studio run throughs of From the Outside In and The Road of Bones are interesting and a bit rawer although not dramatically different from the final versions; the piano/vocal version of Ocean and the live rendition of Without Walls have been covered in the main review; while the live version of From the Outside In has the somewhat cryptic introduction of El Bastado but demonstrates how well the new material translates to the stage. The two numbers not included on the mainstream releases are most likely attributable to Holmes as McDozenStrings, a relatively simple instrumental number based around an acoustic guitar line with additional keyboard effects and some subliminal bass, is no doubt named after the McDozen Legs moniker Holmes sometimes adopts, while The Slender Sky is an ambient instrumental remix of From the Outside In - anyone familiar with the Re:Mixed CD will know the sort of stuff to expect – which takes a while to get going the ending is particularly good. So some nice material but, with the exception of the piano version of Ocean, nothing really essential.
All-in-all, The Road of Bones is an excellent addition to the IQ catalogue and is already proving to be one of the band's best sellers. The group continues to explore new avenues within the IQ style and have proved that, although missed by many, are able to produce the goods without the talented contributions of Martin Orford. There is life in the old dog yet...
Niels Hazeborg's Review
IQ's tenth (or eleventh?) album is out, and there's every reason to have high expectations. They aren't the most productive of bands, but their work has been of a consistently high quality. Then again, these lads have been around for so long and have so many classic albums under their belt that any new album has a lot to live up to. Does The Road of Bones rank among their most iconic work or is it just a middle-of-the-road addition to their impressive discography?
There's a new lineup, although it consists mostly of familiar faces. Paul Cooke is back on board, and so, surprisingly, is original bassist Tim Esau. While I'm undoubtedly going to miss the incredible rhythm section of Jowitt and Edwards, it's interesting to have IQ back in almost the same lineup that made Tales From the Lush Attic and The Wake. Barring a keyboard player, that is. On 2009's Frequency, previous keyboardist Mark Westworth had a tendency to use a wide arsenal of synthesizers that gave that album a distinct 80s feel. Newcomer Neil Durant, by contrast, has a far more 70s sensibility. The man sure loves his mellotrons! So, given all that, plus the once again promising song lengths, you'd be forgiven for thinking the new album is going to be another shamelessly indulgent symphonic throwback in the vein of Dark Matter.
You'd be wrong. The Road of Bones is an altogether different beast. It's dark and ominous, occasionally heavy but mostly very moody. The album kicks off in typical IQ fashion, with a pumping bass, a soaring chorus and the unmistakable voice of Peter Nicholls. From the Outside In is cut from the same cloth as the title number from Frequency, only more stripped down. No tempo or key changes here, but a verse-chorus song followed through to the end. A good track, but nothing remarkable.
The title track follows and it's a grim and moody song that slowly but surely works towards a ripping climax that is probably the closest IQ ever got to being metal. Imagine one of the heavier sections from Subterranea mixed with a Steven Wilson solo song. The Road of Bones is a real killer of a track and definitely one of the highlights of the album.
Unfortunately, the album lets itself down after such a strong start. Without Walls is the traditional nineteen-minute marathon track, uncharacteristically placed in the middle of the album. Now, I like a good epic as much as anyone and IQ usually do them well, but I have to say, Without Walls does not work for me. There's a Phil Collins style drum computer bit in the beginning, some heavier, more attractive stuff in the middle and a mellotron-and-bass-pedal-laden reprise at the end that peters out into nothingness, and the whole thing just doesn't gel together. The song's main theme (such as it is) does nothing for me, and the song as a whole feels like a patch job. Too bad, because it does contain some good ideas.
Without Walls does work as a showcase for the outstanding talents of Neil Durant. He knows exactly what tasteful vintage sound to put where, plays a few blistering Moog solos but never allows his playing to become too rambunctious. He adds a lot of warmth to IQ's sound that was missing from Frequency. Mike Holmes has a less prominent role this time around. He does a lot of heavy-duty riffing but his famous guitar solos are sparse on this album.
In between the albums' longest tracks, we get a breather in the form of Ocean, actually quite a little gem. It's essentially a simple song spiced up with contrary rhythms and lovely tingly synths. With its intriguing Arabic inflictions, Until rhe End makes a worthy closer. In the frenetic middle section, Durant stands out once more with highly energetic organ work. Its quiet and understated final moments are particularly well done.
IQ's tenth album does a lot of things right. It contains some of their heaviest stuff to date, musicianship is excellent as expected, Peter Nicholls is on top of his game vocally and lyrically, and the shorter songs are as good as any IQ has written. On the downside, the album tends to hit the same note a bit too many times. The album takes few breaks from its own moody atmosphere, making it a lot to take in one go (even though it isn't particularly long). Most songs tend to follow the same pattern, with a quiet section, a heavy section and a slow bombastic finale. Also, the album sags a bit in the middle.
If you're not the world's biggest IQ fan, you will probably enjoy parts of The Road of Bones. It is another quality release from a band that maintains high standards. However, this is not one of their essential records and I can't in good faith give it the "Recommended" tag! If you are a fan, yes, you should probably buy this (but you don't need me to tell you that!). There is a deluxe 2CD edition that I haven't heard, but heard good things about; that's probably the one to go for.
Nathan Waitman's Review
IQ is one of the leaders of the Neo-Prog movement, first coming onto the scene in 1983 with their debut Tales From The Lush Attic. Through their thirty year career, they have kept a strong presence in the new wave prog scene with many critically acclaimed albums in the genre. 2009 saw the release of Frequency, a significant release for the band because it was the first without keyboardist Martin Orford - a founding member of the band who played a huge role in crafting the band's sound. What was surprising was that, despite the absence, Frequency was not only a strong album, but perhaps their best overall work to my ears. The question now was, would they be able to continue this streak with their next release, or was Frequency some brilliant accident?
Enter new album, The Road of Bones. What is immediately apparent to me is that the same excitement and burst of creativity that was present for the sessions that created Frequency is present here on The Road of Bones. The band seems to be at the top of their game, even though they are over 30 years into their career. There is even a full bonus disc that could create a whole other full length album. It shows to me that their well was overflowing with ideas. This is always a good thing, although I'm always conflicted when it comes to bonus discs. I never tend to listen to the bonus disc nearly as much as the main disc, which causes some magnificent little gems to slip away into obscurity in my collection. But, we'll get to the bonus disc a little later.
The album begins with some heavy atmosphere that will pervade the entire disc before the band kicks off at full power. From the Outside In is a hard hitting opener that seems to be a statement from the band that they mean business. This is perhaps the weakest track on the main disc in my opinion, because it starts to feel a little too repetitive by the end. But, this is definitely a good toe-tapping track with a strong chorus. There is even a break in the middle of the song where the band rests on a forboding atmospheric section where singer Peter Nicholls gets to shine. A great sign of things to come.
Next is the title track, which is a great example of the emotional build-up that this album contains in several sections. The track starts off slow, with mystical keyboard sounds and whispers before Peter Nicholls voice comes in clear as a bell. The drums and bass kick in to a magnificent groove, where keyboardist Neil Durant sprinkles an interesting xylophone type sound. Then, the track goes a notch further for a heavy section that includes building strings and Nicholls singing with as much passion as he can muster. It is a wonderful track that really showcases IQ's talent for building tension in their music.
Without Walls is the powerful centerpiece of the album and consequently maybe my favorite track IQ has ever done. It begins simply with keyboard and voice over a simplistic drum machine sound. But, what continues from here is an epic that constantly shifts through several different sections, always keeping the listener on their toes. The epic contains all the elements that IQ are known and loved for. There are many different time signatures, hard rocking sections balanced by quieter, meditative moments. Every band member gets their chance to shine including guitarist Mike Holmes, who gets to display his signature soloing style during the majestic ending.
Ocean is the shortest track on the album, and perhaps the most upbeat as well. While the rest of the album seems to have a darkness about it, this song allows a little light to shine through. Neil Durant once again shines on this track with his uplifting keyboard playing reminiscent at times of the playing of Tony Banks. It is a pleasant track and a good breather between the two most epic tracks of the album. The closing track is appropriately titled, Until the End and is another highlight. As is the pattern in this album, the track starts out slowly with a lot of atmosphere, almost evoking a middle-eastern sound with acoustic guitar. Then, it is full on Genesis prog mode with heavy organ and synths. Things lighten up a bit with another majestic closing section evoking the power of the final section of Supper's Ready where Mike Holmes is again showing off his impressive playing. The album concludes with a reflective ballad section that is only vocals and keyboards, which is a refreshing ending.
While I feel the main disc is cohesive and works well together as a unit, the bonus disc seems to be a hodgepodge of different experiments the band was trying at the time this album was being made. The results are somewhat mixed. Knucklehead perhaps sounds the most like it could have fit with the mood and theme of the main disc, being somewhat dark, heavy and intense. This is however better done on the tracks on the main album, so this track feels somewhat unnecessary to me.
1312 Overture starts off feeling like it is from a whole different era entirely with pure orchestra and choir and then morphs into an interesting and quirky instrumental. I feel this could be a good section as part of a bigger epic or concept album, but on its own does not really have enough meat to work as a strong instrumental piece. Constellations is to me the highlight of the bonus disc and is strong enough to match the high quality of the main disc. Paul Cook plays an interesting drum pattern as big keyboard sounds wash over the listener. Then, the song moves into its main section, which sounds very much like Genesis, and maybe even a little taste of Neal Morse. The track is strikingly uplifting after the darker mood of the main album and the bonus disc up to this point. During the instrumental section, both keyboards and guitar have their moments of brilliance before things slow down for an ethereal section that is mainly just keyboards and voice. It is a definite highlight of the entire album, both powerful and emotional while maintaining the quirkiness and fun of the best progressive rock.
Fall and Rise succeeds as well by having a unique sound compared to the rest of the album. There is an almost oriental influence, particularly with the interesting keyboard sound used throughout. It is a pleasing listen and great break from the more epic and brooding pieces throughout both discs. I must admit, Ten Million Demons is where things get a little too cheesy for me. The sounds used almost remind me of an 80s sci-fi movie. Once again, it is nice to have something different, but this song never really catches my interest. The bonus disc closes with "hardcore" which takes the listener back to the foreboding mood of the main album, and thus, like Knucklehead, feels a bit unnecessary since it is done better on the main disc. The bonus disc largely does not work for me if considered as its own album. But, I view bonus discs generally as just extras and don't feel that they should be considered when rating the main album. I'm happy to just get a peek into the recording process and get to listen to songs that might otherwise just end up on the studio floor.
Road of Bones is a fantastic album, one of the first truly great ones I've heard this year. IQ has managed to craft a release that is both fun and foreboding. There is definitely a dark atmosphere present, but this doesn't stop the band from having fun playing fast-paced classic prog in a Genesis vein. I'm drawn in to this band by their emotion, which is permeating throughout the whole record. They put their heart and soul in the music and it shows. While I feel keyboardist Neil Durant is the all-star here, the whole band manage to shine. It makes me happy that a band that has been around for quite a while can still manage to surprise and exceed the high expectations that their fans have for them. While I have mixed feelings about the bonus disc, I feel that it doesn't take away from the brilliance of the main album, which I would recommend to any prog fan. Road of Bones will certainly be on my short list of favorites come years end.
Guille Palladino's Review
Without any doubt I have to admit that I was waiting impatiently for this release. IQ is one of my favorite bands ever since I heard Tales from the Lush Attic and Subterranea in 1997, after that I began a personal journey to discover all the work done by the band during the last three decades and I have to conclude that for me they are the founder fathers of the Neo Progressive genre and a band that never loss their musical essence as the years has passed by and after suffered important lineup changes. Obviously this is my personal approach and without denying their role to other important bands that have contributed to craft this subgenre during the 80's, like Marillion, Pallas, Pendragon and Twelfth Night, among others.
Explain the lineup changes would be too complicate but instead of that the most relevant facts are the return of their founder member Tim Esau on bass guitar replacing Jon Jowitt (who came back to Arena) and Neil Durant from prog-fusion band Sphere3 replacing Mark Westworth (from Darwin's Radio) on Keyboards. Both keyboardists have demonstrated that they were wonderful replacements for the founder member Martin Orford. And actually we can see a very amalgamated band with a style that retains all their early influences and musical approach but in a constant evolution, I was talking with a friend of mine and he said that every record the band releases is better by far than the previous one, and The Road of Bones is not the exception.
Durant's work on the keys gave the band more freshness in their sounding, combining the typical progressive arrangements with more sequences and electronic soundscapes which gave to this record a sound sometimes darker sometimes avant-garde and sometimes more contemporary. What I like a lot is the way Peter Nicholls has managed his voice on this album, in which he sounds inspired without making a huge effort. Combining his particular voice timbre with some voice sampling reminded me of Peter Gabriel. I've heard some colleagues say he sounds the same on stage (despite some rough videos posted on the internet). Mike Holmes' guitar harmonies and solos are like the centre around which all the music is spinning. Besides his soundscapes and sliding technique he is also adding more rough (not distorted) sound effects to his arrangements making this album more stronger. After replacing Andy Edwards, Cookie is back again demonstrating his skills and technique behind the drums with wonderful fills, timing and rhythm. Obviously all his efforts practicing and composing his parts had a superb result on this record. The final question is, what has Tim Esau been doing all this time? My personal answer is practicing for his return, because despite his work done with the North London Spiritualist Church he clearly sounds in this record like his never left the band. I can hear his comfort and his joy in playing the bass guitar with IQ again.
Let's hit the Road! One important thing in every record is the opening track, the first one, more than the first single. From the Outside Intakes us into the record almost immediately with its strong arrangements and rhythm, combining their roughness with soundscapes like the ones we heard on The Seventh House, with the organ sounds, the more Genesis-like guitar chords and very powerful drumming. This is the kind of song that makes you think "What is that? What will happen from now on?" The second track is more relaxed. I like the kind of orchestration and acoustic sound the band gave to it, combining strings with piano arrangements and some occasional marimba effect. It is a song that starts very soft and goes into a crescendo, turning into a heavier and mysterious tune, a very beautiful song.
Without Walls is the first epic song from this album, honestly a hard one in a first listening because it shows us an unknown IQ. First with a more electronic sequence in the beginning and a cadence that reminded me of the Dark Matter album. Again we have a crescendo cadence and some Peter Gabriel like soundscape combined with organ sounds. I have to admit that the middle section is harder to listen to, with many dissonant arrangements and a heavier rhythm. However, Neil Durant demonstrates his skills in the keys to finally turn to a wonderful and classic IQ sounding final section, like we heard on Ever. After that we have the kind of prog-ballad that became a trademark of the band. Ocean is a lighter song that reminds me of Closerbut with a more elaborated timing marked by Cookie's drums. Until the End is the perfect ending theme for this first disc, the darker version of Ryker Skies combined with a cadence like Tunnel Vision from Subterranea. I like the way the song begins, reminding me of some far east arrangements by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in their unplugged No Quarter. Just a bit, though. The final section brings us back to early IQ tunes. The work done by Esau on bass lines is simply beautiful. The final acoustic break is a beautiful tune like a farewell to this record with its classical mood.
Sometimes we can find extraordinary themes on the unfairly named Bonus Disc attached to the main album. Get over it guys, you've done a two-disc masterpiece! Opener Knucklehead is a song that begins with a more contemporary and far east influence in its cadence that goes into a Genesis influenced song, but with a rougher arrangement, or something in the vein of Dream Theater gone neo-prog. 1312 Overture has an orchestral and bombastic start that have all the early influence from a record like Seven Stories into Eight or The Lens, a wonderful instrumental piece that shows us IQ in all their magnificence. An electronic sequence marks the beginning of Constellations, an epic song with an influence of Frequency and Dark Matter but again mixed with a classic neo progressive approach in their arrangements as on Ever. A beautiful one! Fall and Rise is a more relaxed song that shows us Tim Esau playing in a fretless bass. The Peter Gabriel influence here is undeniable combined with a Hackett-like acoustic guitar arrangement, a very nice surprise in this second disc.
Ten Million Demons is a song with a rhythm that I've never heard from the band. A fantastic and sticky but mysterious and spacy rhythm that leads us into a song that begins like a Pink Floyd's One of these Days tribute. It's one of my favourites indeed. I love Cookie's drumming, never heard a timing like this, it's unbelievable. Finally, Hardcore is the ending theme for this second disc that starts like a Porcupine Tree song with a stronger rhythm and a Subterranea-like instrumental mid-section beautifully composed that leads us to the ending section and guitar solos until the melody fades away. Definitely another perfect ending theme.
As an overall we have a mixture between a much more acoustical and a rough sound approach. It seems the band is letting behind the more harmonic, spacy-influenced and lighter sound they've been doing before Frequency and even Dark Matter, but not forgetting them. They extracted many elements from their whole career and mixed all this progressive experience into this album and with beautiful lyrics. For now, this is the most important release of this year, and without doubt I'll kindly encourage our readers to listen to it. This is my first 10 for IQ and for all of you!
Published Saturday 17 May 2014