Knight Area — D-Day II - The Final Chapter
Knight Area are a talented neo-prog band from The Netherlands which I have followed closely since their excellent debut in 2004, called The Sun Also Rises. Since then, they have released a body of creative work that has seen them hold centre stage alongside fellow compatriots such as Kayak, Flamborough Head, Like Wendy, Chris, Sky Architect, Trion, Egdon Heath, and others. I must confess, however, to not having obtained the first chapter of this double set that was released in 2019.
The band comprise of Jan Willem Ketelaers (vocals), Mark Bogert (guitars), Gerben Klazinga (keyboards), Peter Vink (bass), and Pieter van Hoorn (drums).
The immediate appeal of many modern neo-prog bands is that they quickly get to work and don't require the listener to spend inordinate amounts of time to "get" the music. Being less-complex can have its advantages, as the melodies and general rhythms of the music become much easier to follow. This is often a tiresome task for many reviewers as so much time can be spent separating the wheat from the chaff. Thankfully, Knight Area, don't fall victim to this impediment, as they quickly settle into a solid but predictable groove that I quite frankly enjoy.
This album is a reflective look back through history and pays homage to many of the fallen victims of war, whether that be from the second World War or to the many tragic stories of veterans who have been hung out to dry with little concern for their well being. How ironic to see such an important piece of musical significance be released just as Ukraine is being decimated by an intruder.
The songs reveal the true emotional stories of those who have suffered at the hands of an often unseen enemy, including the dark ghosts who haunt the mind, long after the gremlins of the physical war have departed. The lyrical messages are truly quite moving and are fully enhanced if you have access to the lyrics.
The song structures are well done, with a nice degree of separation between the vocal passages and the instrumental parts that work effectively throughout their duration. We see a level of imagination in the songwriting that I feel is stronger than some of their previous albums and probably rivals their 2011 album, Nine Paths for sheer enjoyment.
Melodic guitar intervals introduce strong keyboard runs that extend throughout the songs. These are held together well while the vocalist imparts his messages. Jan Ketelaers made his debut with the band for the first iteration of the D-Day saga, and although I don't have that album with which to compare, I am confident he is as capable a singer as you might care to mention. His delivery is powerful, yet melodic, emotional, yet convincing but above all, very pertinent to the underlying themes at hand.
The main songwriting tasks are handled by their keyboardist and guitarist who have achieved a very creditable set of songs on this outing. And what an important message they are conveying. I defy anyone who listens to this album to be not moved by the lyrics. They are truly remarkable. Additionally, Mark Bogert's work is very melodic and reminds me slightly of an excellent piece of music I recently heard by Comedy Of Errors. The track, Prelude, Riff & Fugue from their 2011 album called Disobey comes to mind.
This is another really well-done album by a band that has had plenty of runs on the board. It comes with a solid recommendation if you are in search of neo-prog of the highest calibre. It possesses a fine level of balance with the heavier sections being enhanced by some tasteful, anthemic choruses which really deliver. Conversely, the softer sections appear at exactly the right moment and leave you emotionally drained, considering the melancholic nature of the material. A very impressive album!
In 2019, Dutch prog band Knight Area dared to release a concept-album dealing with the rather enormous subject of the allied landing on the French western coast during D-Day. Because of its historic significance and the availability of information, it was indeed a huge task.
My DPRP colleague Stefan Henning wasn't too impressed with the result (review here) and one of the reasons was the fact that a 50-minute CD was simply too short to deal with the subject. I could agree with and that alone was an important reason that I wanted to do the review of the successor to that album, D-Day II - The Final Chapter.
But there was also another reason. The band had lost me with their prog-metal-orientated albums Hyperdrive (2014) and especially Heaven And Beyond (2017), but the D-Day album saw them return to their neo-prog roots. More melody, more variation, less fast drumming and guitar riffing. I heard a collection of melodious songs that were sung and played well and appealed to me far more than the two albums that preceded the D-Day album.
For part two of this song-cycle the line-up of the band has remained unchanged, with Jan Willem Ketelaers on vocals, Marc Bogert on guitar, Pieter van Hoorn on drums, founder member Gerben Klazinga on keyboards, and prog veteran of Finch-fame Peter Vink on bass. Their tight playing is great throughout the album. It is full-blown when possible and restrained when necessary, providing the music with much dynamics.
The album offers seven tracks telling the story of the aftermath of D-Day, ranging in length from just over two-and-a-half minutes to well over seven minutes. That would have resulted in a rather short album, so the band added two bonus tracks in the form of an acoustic reworking of the closing track of the preceding album and an orchestral work-out.
Opener The Enemy Within sees Knight Area convincingly return to their melodious side. A very fine, almost stately guitar riff with organ accompaniment sets the scene for a song that reminds me immediately of Kansas in the 70s (especially the Monolith-album). The verses have a very fitting piano accompaniment, while the pompous choruses feature loud guitar and keys. In the middle section there is subtle piano with bass guitar, over which Ketelaers sings some fine vocal lines, leading to a short and effective keys solo that would have fitted Steve Walsh or Mark Kelly well.
After another verse there is the heavenly guitar theme again, leading to a long solo by Bogert in the best Steve Rothery or Rich Williams style. The lyrics deal with the inner processes one has to go through after experiencing the gruesome horrors of battling in a war. Unfortunately that is a very actual subject nowadays. A very strong opening track and certainly one of the best Knight Area tracks I've ever heard in many years.
A soft but threatening piano intro (think of Rick Wakeman, Iain Jennings or Martin Orford) opens Peace of Mind and introduces soft, empathic vocals with some reverb. The song evolves as a ballad, with a heavy chorus in which the full band comes in. The fast but melodious guitar solo in the middle shows again the fantastic musical skills of Bogert. I hear snippets of Pallas during their Beat The Drum album, as well as recent Marillion.
With I Believe we do enter metal territory. The song opens with a sample of a military march after which fast double-bass drumming and heavy guitar riffing take over in genuine Queensrÿche-style. The chorus is a bit more modest in mood, and for me the most attractive part of the song. This metal song is far from bad but it just doesn't appeal to me that much. Given the melodic mood of the other songs, I think that this musical aggressiveness is a bit out of place.
The short instrumental For Those Who Fell starts with some intense shouting, reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and takes the listener then to a fine, slow guitar solo during which more occasional shouts can be heard without interrupting the music. Nothing really fancy or technical, just a beautiful melody that is impeccably played.
The Dream is classic rock heaven with a very good vocal melody, a very attractive chorus and nice heavy guitar riffing. The break is remarkably quiet, after which another fine guitar solo follows, another chorus and again a fierce guitar solo. Think of Europe meets Vandenberg and you'll be quite close.
Flute-like keys introduce the slow-burner Journey Home, a nice slow bluesy ballad with excellent vocals and a recurrent, appealing guitar theme. The interplay between keyboards and guitar works very well again. The lyrics deal with a person who comes home and asks a lot of questions about how life has been during the time he was fighting in the war.
In Crossroads the band returns to the classic prog mood of the first track. Again this is a very fine ballad with good singing, a very tight rhythm section and some subtle piano. It all leads to a great melodic guitar solo which brings the song to the last chorus and then to an appropriate close. The lyrics are quite moving, telling the story of someone who reaches out to help a veteran returning from battle. Musically I kept thinking of a heavy Scorpions because of the wonderful guitar solo and the emotional chorus.
The regular version of this album comes with two bonus tracks. The first is an acoustic version of Freedom For Everyone, the closing track of D-Day I. Just having the acoustic guitar and soft string keys accompanying the strong vocal melody, works very well here, doing full justice to the track. The only odd thing are the lyrics that don't fit with the story that this second part has to offer. Lyrically it was a good subject for the end of Part I but here the lyrics are out of place. The music and especially the vocals are fantastic, though.
The last track is an orchestral compilation of some musical themes of the complete song cycle. It sounds fine in itself but regrettably the sudden breaks disrupt the smooth-flow of the music. A full-blown orchestral grand finale would have worked better here. It is a nice track but it could have been better.
Do these two albums fully deal with the D-Day concept? Of course not, that remains far too big and too comprehensive. Yet both albums demonstrate that Knight Area is ambitious and that they have the courage to base their two concept albums on this almost incomprehensible historical event. Drummer Pieter van Hoorn is a military veteran with personal memories of being in combat situations, which makes the choice for the subject even more admirable. He has every reason to be very proud of the result, as has the rest of the band.
This second part is more classic prog than the first part of this song cycle, and is therefore the better part for me. Ketelaers proves again he is a fantastic singer for this band, especially in the slower and more melodic tracks. It looks like his involvement in the band has lead to them re-inventing their sound. I personally welcome this change in direction very much. This album matches the first three Knight Area albums and makes this band very interesting again. So I can sincerely recommend it to anyone who likes heavy melodic prog!