Ice Age — Waves Of Loss And Power
History, they say, repeats itself. Well, for the past three years it certainly looks that way with a reliable string of magnificent albums released early in the year that end up in my yearly top-10 chart. This year seems to be no different as with Waves Of Loss And Power, the recently reborn Ice Age have done it again!
From the moment that news reached me of Ice Age's intent to release a new album after an absence of 22 years (not counting their eponymous 2004 EP), my anticipation started to build.
Anyone familiar and fond of their two previous albums The Great Divide (on Bandcamp) and Liberation (also on Bandcamp), both soberly reviewed on DPRP, will most likely share these feelings. Personally I find their debut a timeless classic and one of the finest releases ever done by the Magna Carta label. I realise this a quite a statement alongside such heavy prog (metal) acts like Cairo, Shadow Gallery, Altura, Magellan and Under the Sun being part of that label's roster. But just the thought of Ice Age's brilliant opening track Perpetual Child sends shivers down my spine.
Opener and first single The Needle's Eye confirms the bands promise of returning to their sound as found on their debut. This is now followed through on the whole of Waves Of Loss And Power, which results in even more goosebumps. One of the reasons for this is that to my delight the band is offering several continuations of favoured songs from their first two albums; notably the aforementioned Perpetual Child.
Together with the trustworthy knowledge of Rich Mouser (Dilemma) supplying a wonderful crystalline sound through his mixing and mastering skills, this song was an obvious first to explore.
Proverbially this song makes sure the ball will never see the playing field again, because Perpetual Child, Part II: Forever hits a series of home runs. Firing on all cylinders we have a bombastic heavy prog/metal opening where Dream Theater's Awake is given a run for its money. From here; this composition is an instant return to paradise with exhilarating play and attractively contagious melodies in which images of Saga, Styx and Mystery shine bright. Not only do these names surface in the unbridled music on offer, but also through the voice of keyboardist/vocalist Josh Pincus which shows unique resemblances to those of Michael Sadler, Dennis DeYoung and Jean Pageau; all captured into one.
The equally impressive Together Now follows and breathes an exquisiteness of Rush from immaculate play by Doug Odell on bass and Hal Aponte, a master of technique, subtlety and versatility on drums/percussion. With intricately woven structures thriving on virtuosic synths and lushly sprinkled magic by guitarist Jimmy Pappas, this song keeps the momentum of the album going effortlessly.
The two shorter rock-influenced songs All My Years and Float Away thereafter demonstrate that Ice Age's concise compositions are equally impressive by offering a grooviness found in The Cyberiam, and Styx pleasantries amidst a more mainstream Rush-influenced melodic approach. Out of the two, it is the incredible catchiness of All My Years that appeals to me the most, predominantly through the close resemblances of the melodies to Zon, a Canadian pomp-rock band from the late seventies that's often compared to Styx, and whose stellar Astral Projector is amongst my desert island discs.
However, it is the amazing Riverflow which at the moment of writing this review outclasses all the other compositions for me. Taking a step back with a refined piano opening and showcasing a more progressive-rock styled approach, this song bursts at the seams from ingeniously arranged creativity, and demonstrates a delightful symphonic bliss mindful to Kansas in their prime. Together with the song's exciting stream of melodies and oasis of guitar pickings mindful to Everon, elevated by powerful dynamics and a divine recurring chorus that adds uplifting brightness of Zon, this phenomenal composition mesmerises in the same sublime way as Mystery's Chrysalis managed to do to me several years ago. Chapeau!
Final hats off go to the two concluding compositions To Say Goodbye, Part IV: Remembrance and To Say Goodbye, Part V: Water Child. After the former's intricately performed classical interlude, the latter once again provides plenty of variety, with initial touches of suspense and drama, bluesy elegance and enchanting piano parts guided by sensitive bass. This fifth part in the To Say Goodbye suite acts as the perfect showcase of Ice Age's unique style and marks a sublime apotheosis to this astonishing "comeback" album.
Exceeding my expectations, Waves Of Loss and Power seriously impresses. The songs deliver on many levels, and after many repeated visits to the album I get the distinct impression that I again have listened to what could easily be the best album of the year. Don't take my obviously-enthusiastic word for it and find out about this highly recommendable album for yourself. You won't regret it.
And if by chance you happen to be in Atlanta on September the 6th, then by all means go to the 22nd edition of Progpower USA where Ice Age will kick the off the festival and their upcoming world tour. OK, admittedly that tour for now is only a personal wish, for I still regret missing them in action when they last visited Europe, performing a mere 23 miles away from my home-town in 2004. That's a historic mistake I won't make again!
Ice Age's debut album, The Great Divide, is without doubt a timeless classic. It's opening song, Perpetual Child is a valid contender for any list highlighting the best prog-metal/heavy-prog songs ever recorded.
I was/am less enthusiastic about the follow-up effort, Liberation. I had long since written-off this band as one of those promising acts, whose big potential was sadly lost to a premature break-up.
Twenty-two years is a long time and none of the four musicians have become any younger. So I was hesitantly curious when I heard that Ice Age album number three would finally be released.
Considering the time gap, the line-up has remained remarkably intact, being the same as that which hit the road in support of Liberation. Three of the four members have been with the band since the beginning.
The Needle's Eye is the opening track and the first single. And what a stunning piece of music it is. The guitars are thick, with a meaty low-end. I'm reminded of the best riffage from American prog-metallers Redemption. The keys are bright. The bursts of organ are sublime. The solos cut swift and sharp like a executioner's blade. The differing phases flow effortlessly into and through one another. And the vocals? Josh Pincus is a revelation throughout this album. What a voice. He hits the highest notes with impressive power and precision. The seven minutes pass too quickly every time.
The downside of having this rare slab of musical perfection as the album's opening statement, is that it sets the bar at an impossible level. The rest of the album is impressive, but I always seem to compare each song with the opener. And noting quite reaches that level.
Once again the band takes the heavier, more intense parts of 80s Kansas and Styx, the more aggressive sides of Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Enchant and my favourite textures of Rush and Fates Warning. It's heavy, and mostly cracks-along at a Formula 1 pace.
However, I wouldn't call this progressive metal. Other than the opening song, the guitars avoid the deeper riffage favoured by "metal" acts. There is a more delicate tone utilised here. When combined with the use of the keyboards, the close harmonies and a frequent lighter dynamic, then there is a brightness that makes this fit more into a heavy-prog category.
That combination is what particularly distinguishes the following pairing of Riverflow and Perpetual Child Part II. The latter is one of two long-form songs continuing epic sagas begun on the band's previous albums.
Despite some heavy guitar work by the ever-impressive Jimmy Pappas, the soulful vocal lines of Pincus dominate the first half of Perpetual Child Part II. I do like the final part of this track which revisits the central theme of the original song.
We also have two fresh parts to another old epic, To Say Goodbye. Of the three epics, I find Riverflow the most successful.
As is to be expected with the Lasers Edge label, the production is impressive. The album was mixed and mastered by Rich Mouser (Transatlantic, Dream Theater, Spock's Beard) so there is plenty of ooomph to the sound but with all instruments having their own space in the mix.
Together Now takes reference from mid-period Rush, Shadow Gallery and latter-day Fates Warning, with a sense of grandeur in its mid-paced, melody-rich dynamic. It is my least favourite track. Nothing really sticks in my memory from its eight minutes of seeking a hook-line. The vocals are not as consistent as elsewhere either.
All My Years and Float Away is where the band showcases its more concise songwriting. Both take a more alt-rock approach, where I'm reminded of the Canadian band Tiles. It gives a nice bit of variety, but they are a little similar. I'd have preferred one of these to showcase the band's heavier side, with a more metallic crunch to the guitar riffs.
The album does find a suitable ending with the third epic, To Say Goodbye, Part V: Water Child. A great mix of heavy and light, with a strong and memorable central melody. It is certainly unusual to have an epic song that has now evolved over three albums and a quarter of a century! It also provides another superb showcase for the soulful vocal lines of Pincus.
Overall this is a very impressive return to the scene for Ice Age and a natural follow-up to their first two albums. If you enjoyed this band previously, you can dive in without hesitation. For all fans of heavy-prog and any of the band's mentioned above, then this will be one of the best albums released in this genre in 2023.
As Josh Pincus explains: "With age and experience come additional wisdom and maturity (hopefully). We've always been about writing memorable songs and presenting challenging ideas within the progressive rock genre. With Waves of Loss and Power we've really achieved that goal. We're extremely proud of it.” They should be.