The mainstream music press has often been unkind towards progressive rock, labeling it the bastard offspring of rock & roll; criticized for it's pretentious and pompous excess, complex 30 minute multi-part suites, flamboyant stage presentations, and convoluted concept albums embracing either high-minded metaphysical philosophy or fanciful gnomes and fairies. And yet even among the purveyors of that small downtrodden community of musical outcasts there exists is a sub-genre of progressive rock that even gets flack from their prog/rock brethren.
And that sub-genre is Neo-Prog.
Chided by progsnobs for regressing back to the style of the original 70s' pioneers rather than evolving, and as the name suggests - progressing - into what their ideal of 21st Century prog should sound like.
But there are those among us who champion the Neo artists and are perfectly content reliving those memories when prog/rock first took root in artists like Genesis, YES, ELP, King Crimson, The Moody Blues, or whoever you consider to be the Big Five pioneers of progressive rock.
I was ecstatic in 1982 when Marillion put out their first 12" EP "Market Square Heroes" with the sprawling epic "Grendel" on the B-side which structurally mirrored "Supper's Ready"; the emergence of IQ and their early albums "Tales From The Lush Attic" and "The Wake"; and the Pallas album "The Sentinel" which is one of the greatest neo-prog albums not recorded by Fish era Marillion or IQ.
And even today I relish each new album from Neo artists like IQ, Pendragon, Arena, Galahad, Grey Lady Down, It Bites, Comedy Of Errors, and The Flower Kings.
Which is why I was so impressed with "In Search Of Forever" from Coalition.
Coalition's brand of neo-prog embraces both the pioneers of the 70s' and the revivalists of the 80s'.
UK musician Steve Gresswell (keyboards, drums, bass) has been the one constant of Coalition - a pseudonym he has employed for one of his many musical projects. His first Coalition CD, "PS" was released in 1993.
Gresswell began playing professionally since he was 15 years old and has appeared on an extensive variety of singles and albums with various band/projects which include:
On the 2012 Coalition release "In Search Of Forever" he is joined by the extraordinary guitarist Phil Braithwaite, who appeared with Gresswell on the album "Visions" - his other project The Inner Road (the album "Visions" was reviewed here at Prognaut in December 2011).
- “Express Yourself ” – Oddjob (Lightning Records) – 1977
- “Taking England by Storm” – Scorpio (Quicksilver Records) – 1977
- “Just for You” – Dream (World Records) – 1982
- “You Make Me See” – Poeima (World Records) – 1984
- “Berlin Wall” – Guardian Angel (World Records) – 1986
- “Just For You” – SG Band (Sumo Record) 1989
- “Child of Love/You’ve Got Friends) – Robin Wilson Project (Red Robin Records) 1990
- “Border Crossings” – John Wright (Sumo Records) – 1990
- “East Meets West” – Karel Espandr/Steve Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 1990
- Spirit of Freedom” – Steve Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 1991
- “PS” – Coalition (Sumo Records) – 1993
- “Spirit of Freedom” (Remastered) – Steve Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 1994
- “Good Morning Day” – Rogers & Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 1997
- “Christmas Dance” – Steve Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 1998
- “Band of Brothers” – Steve Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 2002
- “Collections” – Steve Gresswell (Sumo Records) – 2002
- “Child of Love” – Steve Murray/London Gospel Choir – worked with top producer Nick Tauber – 2007
- “Visions” – The Inner Road (Orbital Productions) – 2011
- “In Search of Forever” – Coalition (Orbital Productions) – 2012
- “Ascension” – The Inner Road (Orbital Productions) – 31 May 2013
Braithwaite is the kind of versatile guitarist who can dazzle you with light speed arpeggios as well as move you to tears with a single sustained note. There is more power and passion in his fretwork than a majority of highly touted speed metal guitarists who tend to grace of cover of Guitar Player Magazine. He has performed with a variety of bands over the years which include: Rhapsodaisical, Nu Rotic, El Mahico, Scarlet Moss, Silver Heels, as well as fronting several bands with his own name.
The music on "In Search Of Forever" is the perfect showcase for both Gresswell's dazzling keyboard gymnastics and Braithwait's tasty fretwork.
Also appearing on "In Search Of Forever" is vocalist Paul Bulger.
And together, along with Phil's son Chris (who produced the album), the trio has created a magnificent collection of catchy tunes which should appeal to fans of both neo and symphonic prog. The album is packed with soaring synth solos and chunky chord washes ala Tony Banks, inspired guitarwork, and a quality vocalist with the perfect voice to augment the tunes. So often I find myself reviewing a band with incredible instrumental prowess but lukewarm vocals ... but Bulger is top notch and completes the package.
When listening to Bulger's vocal style on the tracks "The Journey" and "In Search Of Forever" I'm reminded of Steve Hackett's earlier albums like "Spectral Mornings", "Cured", and "Defector".
The opening track "Spirit Code" has an 80s' Genesis vibe running through it with shades of "Turn It On Again" with it's double staccato stabs. And another song that should appeal to Genesis fans would be the track " The Traveler".
"Changes" is a multi-faceted track that moves from high spirited prog with elements of Peter Bank's FLASH, a bit of 80s' Genesis, and some beautiful orchestral moments with faux violin bringing to mind the Brazilian symphonic band Sagrado Coracao Da Terra.
There are no weak throwaway tracks on "In Search Of Forever" so picking out highlights is impossible. Just slip the CD in your player and enjoy it from beginning to end.
Highly recommended for aficionados of bands like 80s' era Genesis, Flash, Fish era Marillion, IQ, Grey Lady Down, Ark, Egdon Heath, Abel Ganz, Clepsydra, Deyss, Comedy Of Errors, Cyan, Galahad, It Bites, Primitive Instinct, Shadowland, Mike And The Mechanics, and Steve Hackett.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on June 15th, 2014