After spending the past few months reviewing bands from around the globe it's nice to have another band from the good old USA arrive at my doorstep. And what a surprise it turned out to be.
Unified Past is no newcomer to the American progressive rock scene, and “Spots” is the band's sixth release following “Power Of Existence” and “Breaking Up The Atmosphere” (available at the band's website for download only), “From The Splintered Present Surfaces … The Unified Past” (1999), “Tense” (2009), and “Observations” (2011).
Unified Past is another excellent US band which somehow managed to slip under my radar … but judging by the band's press release suggesting they are “the best kept progressive rock secret in the United States”, I guess I'm not alone. And very thankful that the situation has now been rectified.
Unified Past hails from Baldwinsville, New York and is spearheaded by founding member Stephen Speelman. Speelman is a classically trained musician, having attended Stony Brook University for six years where he received a masters degree in classical guitar.
In the early 80s' at the age of sixteen, the partnership of guitarist Speelman and drummer Vic Tassone took root in their first project Labyrinth. The band performed regularly throughout the 90s'. But by 1999 the partnership of Speelman and Tassone temporarily dissolved and the new line-up found themselves performing more sophisticated progressive rock compositions, so it was decided a name change was in order to reflect the change in musical direction. So under the new moniker Unified Past, the band which consisted of Speelman (guitars, drums). Vinny Krivacsy (keyboards, vocals), Peter Palmieri (bass) and Matthew Wood (drums), released “From The Splintered Present Surfaces … The Unified Past”, a collection of re-recorded older material and a few new tracks on the indie label Atomik Records.
After the release of “From The Splintered Present Surfaces … The Unified Past” the band went into a decade long hiatus as recording artists until 2009 when they re-emerged to record the album “Tense”. The recording of “Tense” marked the return of the both Vic Tassone and Steve Calovi (vocals) from the early Labyrinth days, as well as guest keyboardist Vinnie Krivacsy (who also appeared on the album “Observations”).
And now, with in 2013 release “Spots” the band has pared down to a three-piece with Speelman assuming guitar, keyboard, and lead vocal duties, along with percussionist Vic Tassone, and bassist Dave Mickelson – also a member of Joey Belladonna's Big Chief Way. And although Speelman does a credible job on keys throughout the album, the band invited Karl Matzka as special guest keyboardist on the tracks “Tough” and “Age”.
Since keyboards play an integral part in the band's compositions they recently posted a request for a full time keyboard player on BANDMIX, so I fully expect to see a keyboardist added to the line-up in the very near future.
Unified Past is a hard driving band which combines the Dream Theateresque elements of progressive metal with hook laden 70s' classic prog, and bombastic 80s' arena rock.
Although listing Rush, Dream Theater, Steve Morse and Genesis as major influences, their sound is unmistakably American. Their heavier material is comparable to the first four Mastermind albums from brothers Bill and Rich Berend, and the Detroit prog group Tiles - while their more melodic neo-prog compositions are reminiscent of the group Northstar featuring the brothers Kevin and Glen Leonard, and vocalist Joe Newman (with a vocal style quite similar to Speelman).
Although the song titles are short, sweet, and simple … the songs are anything but! With superb musicianship throughout, tight 'stop on a dime' tempo changes, powerhouse drumming and gut thumping bass, excellent vocal harmonies, and melodic hooks that counterpoint the frenzied fretboard gymnastics.
Stand-out tracks include the blazing opening track “Blank”; “Deep” a track reminiscent of the Hackett/Howe collaboration GTR; “Seeing” - a high octane monster rocker with shades of Magnum, containing some superb keyboard and guitar duels performed by Speelman (the guy really is a smoking keyboardist); and “Sun” and “Big” a pair of blazing guitar heavy instrumentals showcasing Speelman as an amazing virtuoso on equal footing with contemporaries like John Petucci (Dream Theater), Michael Romero (Symphony X), Steve Morse, Alan Holdsworth, and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Now that I have Unified Past on my radar I'll keep a sharp eye on any future projects as well as get myself up to speed on their complete discography.
“Spots” is highly recommended for fans of progressive metal.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on August 31st, 2013, 2013