Well things finally seem to be looking up for the American progressive rock scene. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you … but at least 'something' seems to be quietly building. Normally I find myself reviewing new prog/rock albums from international bands from Poland, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Brazil. I even reviewed a few groups from Finland and Canada recently, and one from as far away as Estonia – but I seldom get much in the way of new US groups willing to dabble in the progressive rock genre.
Well in the last few months all that has changed as I received promos to review from US prog artists like: Jeremy (“From The Dust To The Stars”) hailing from Michigan; Amber Spyglass (Breathing In Essence”) from Boston; Vinyl Soup (“The Beacon Within”) from Nashville, Tennessee; Cailyn Lloyd (“Four Pieces) from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin; The Elf Project (“The Great Divide”) from Vorheesville, New York; and The Hillmen (“The Whiskey Mountain Sessions”) and Henderson/Oken (“Dream Theory In The I.E.”) both from California. So it's been nice to see a new crop of American prog artists entering the arena as well as new material from established artists like the guys from Djam Karet (The Hillmen and Henderson/Oken).
Well add to that list the incredible neo/metal prog group Pravda from the 'Gem State' - Idaho.
The 2012 release “The Clarity Of Chaos” is the band's fourth release following “The Echoing Sound” (2003), “Walking Through Walls” (2006), and “Monophobic” (2009).
The band has gone through a series of personnel changes over the years, most notably the replacement of lead vocalist Steve Brown after the first album, followed by a revolving door of guitarists: Chris Holman departed after the first two albums – Dan Sejd replaced him on the third album – and now John Redfield is the resident fretmeister for Pravda.
The current line-up is K C Thomsen (synths, piano, Hammond organ, vocals), John Redfield (guitar, vocals, bass), and Dave Thomas (drums, percussion, vocals) and Tom Svanoe (bass). Tom Svanoe is now credited as touring bassist although he's been with the group since it's inception along with Thomsen and Thomas.
The band list their major influences as Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche, Spock's Beard, ELP, Rush, Liquid Tension Experiment, The Who, Bach, Beethoven, Miles, Brubeck, Maritn Medeski & Wood, etc. etc. etc.
Reviews of their previous albums have compared Pravda to groups like Symphony X, Rush, ELP, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Tool, Yes, and Porcupine Tree but to my ears the band has a decidedly American neo-progressive feel. The overriding vibe emanating from “The Clarity Of Chaos” is more akin to US bands like Spock's Beard, Echolyn, Djam Karet, Mastermind, Kalaban, Umphrey's McGee, Glass Hammer, Discipline, Iluvatar, Somnambulist, and of course Dream Theater – more-so than their British counterparts Yes, ELP, Crimson, or Floyd.
Like a majority of albums I've reviewed these past few months … this too is a concept album. At least it's a simple one that doesn't involve fairies and elves, or a convoluted storyline … it's about man's limited time on Earth.
“Second Hand” which opens the album is a great track and smacks of Morse-era Spock's Beard. It has a catchy hook that burrows it's way into your ear where it will remain for most of the day. Expect yourself to be muttering the chorus throughout the day:
“I am the second hand,
the ticking hand of man.
I am a blink in time,
a rhythm trapped in rhyme.”
Thanks guys … now it's in my head again!
“A Hint Of Grey” is another smoking prog/rock epic that alternates from Morse-era Spock's Beard to the type of hyper-kinetic instrumental gymnastics displayed by the midi-guitar synth of Bill Berends on the first two Mastermind CDs (“Volume One” and “Volume Two: Brainstorm”). The only difference is this time it's not a midi-guitar synth it's keyboardist K C Thomsen and guitarist John Redfield providing the laser light speed arpeggios.
Although I implied Pravda has a distinctive American neo-prog sound, there are a few exceptions.
The 12 minute track “Chaos & Clarity” goes through a series of dark metamorphosis beginning with an eerie opening which conjures up the dark progressive aura of the Italian group Goblin, the French band Halloween, and early compositions from Belgium’s premier RIO/Zeuhl 'chamber rock' pioneers Univers Zero … during the “Heresis” period. And if that's not creepy enough, about 5:45 into the track we're transported to the Hellish moribund world of Italy's Devil Doll. Great Gothic atmospherics throughout the track. Were it possible to extract the evil essence of a Hammer horror film into a 12 minute piece of music … this would be it.
Another exception to the American neo-prog sound can be found in the track “Brief Awakening” which opens with an instrumental flourish, combining elements of Rush, Goblin, Zappa, and a healthy dose of the legendary German group Nektar. Thomsen's Hammond organ echoes memories of the classic Nektar albums “Back To The Future” and “Recycled”.
As we delve deeper into the track dormant memories from a seldom ventured drawer in my mental file cabinet is unearthed and I'm reminded of the blistering instrumental pyrotechnics about six minutes into the track “Ittsanottasonatta But It’s Close” from the obscure 70s' Chicago prog band Zazu. (Zazu was being groomed by Wooden Nickel Records to replace Styx once they left the small Chicago-based label and moved on to A&M.)
Although there was a marked similarity, Zazu never attained the success of Styx and only made one album before disappearing into obscurity. Their debut album is still highly sought out by 70s' prog collectors. And while much of the material on that debut album is a bit foggy to me, the last four or five raucous minutes of “Ittsanottasonatta But It’s Close” was lightening in a bottle; a hybrid liaison between Joe Zawinul and Weather Report, Todd Rrundgren's Utopia (“The Utopia Theme”) and ELP, conceived during the “Brain Salad Surgery” recording sessions. That Zazu track was killer … and I get the same electric jolt from “Brief Awakening”.
Unfortunately this track is marred by my new pet peeve … the dreaded hidden track. At the 5:48 minute mark the song ends and we're forced to endure about seven minutes of dead air until the music resumes at the 13:06 mark when we get a reprise of “Colors Of The Moon” (already in progress). At least they don't deceive the listener by suggesting an epic 19 minute opus. So feel free to join me as I extract the disc at the 5:48 mark.
“The Clarity Of Chaos” is a welcome addition to the musical library of any progressive rock fan with an ear for great music, and should appeal to fans of various bands mentioned in this review.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on May 2nd, 2013