|Track by Track Review
|Dark Highway, Pt. 1: Transmission|
Classical motifs begin the album. A burst comes in that feels like the symphonic side of epic metal. They burst out from there into music that is rather akin to that style, but yet there’s a little more of a progressive rock texture to it. The first vocals come across this and then, just a bit after the one minute mark, they drop it back to just keys. They take their time coming back up from this ambience, with percussion the first instrumentation to join. When they move out into the balladic motif it’s dominated by keys and gentle textures in a motif that lets us know that this is indeed not a metal album. The vocals that eventually emerge are evocative and almost feel like something you might hear in R & B. At around the four and a half minute they shift this out to a dramatic neo-prog instrumental excursion with hints of Arabic music. It drops down to mostly ambient keys for the next vocal sequence. Then they bring it up in a triumphant prog approach that has echoes of the Beatles in the arrangement. They take this ever so slightly towards epic metal here, but the overall approach doesn’t cross the line at all. We get some more hints of Arabic music and some symphonic textures before they pull it to the ambient verse motif. That in turn gives way to the rather Beatles-like approach followed by the chorus. When they kick it out from there this has a crunchy neo-prog texture to it. The guitar that solos over the top is exceptionally tasty and tasteful. This song continues by reworking some of the earlier themes before dropping back to a rhythmically dominated section. Then they rise back up into the main themes once more.
|Dark Highway, Pt. 2: Before First Light|
At just about twelve minutes in length, this is the longest cut on the CD. Middle Eastern musical textures start this one. Rather than fade away these become ever more dominant as the number moves through a couple vocal sections. Then the ethnic sounds drop away as they turn this towards techno sounds with a rhythmically driven segment for the next vocals. This drops away to near silence that takes it back to the opening motif and we’re on our way through the procession anew. That techno-like segment is worked up a bit more this time in a more progressive rock attuned sound. The techno rhythm is still there but with a lot more meat to it. In a major change of pace they shift it out to a Latin-tinged fusion journey from there. We get some extremely tasty guitar soloing in this segment and then they drop it to near new age ambience. The opening themes are brought back, but in a slower dramatic style. The next vocals come over this backdrop, feeling much like a prog metal ballad. This is quite powerful. It’s powered up with some more Middle Eastern elements for a while until they take it back down to the portion that preceded it. This moves through some variations on these themes and is quite powerful and dramatic at times. At around seven and a half minutes it’s dropped back for a keyboard interlude. This changes gear, but not instrumentation and the next vocals are placed over this backdrop. It moves back up from there for a chorus, but then they return to the keyboard based sound that came before to carry on. When they come back to the more powered up motif in this repetition it has a more powerful arrangement. At about the nine and a half minute mark they move things out into a harder edged and faster paced prog jam that’s quite strong. The guitar solos over this after a while. They use this format, altered a bit, for the next vocal section. This features layered vocals in a killer arrangement. They take it out to the harder rocking Middle Eastern styled format for a return of the dramatic section we heard later. They resolve towards more melody at around eleven and a half to take it out.
This is one of three tracks that’s less than five minutes on the CD. It starts with keyboard textures that carry it for a while. They bring in a killer funky bass line and add more keys to the mix, but don’t shake it up beyond that. The vocals come in over this structure. At one point guitar solos alongside the vocals in a slow pattern of sound that’s tasteful and dramatic. I’ve always loved it when instrumental solos are not confined to their own little compartment and this is a fine example of that. It adds so much to the piece. We get a killer retro sounding keyboard solo here, too. This comes back to the earlier motif and climbs upward ever so gradually in terms of emotion. Keys finally take things out, just as they began it. This track is emotional and powerful while not really ramping up far in terms of volume or tempo. I like it a lot.
|Scars and Dust|
A rhythmic texture starts things off. They move through a fast paced, quirky little jam before dropping it back for the vocals. Coming back up to the faster riff for the “Stars and Dust,” this becomes the recurring pattern on this piece. They include a bridge that blends Beatles like elements with a dark prog ballad approach later. This gives a twist to something that feels a lot like Kings X. This then takes us back to familiar pattern of the quick, quirky sounds with the stripped down verse. This time through, though, they add in a revisitation to those Beatles elements. I get a bit of a Prince vibe here at times. They take it out into a more ballad oriented section for a nice shift of pace and then a killer guitar solo takes us on a new, rather bluesy journey. This then gives way to a return to earlier patterns as they move on. They shift things forward again to a cool melodic jam that’s slow and just a little creepy with more of those Kings X leanings. This runs through and eventually goes down to just acapella sounds to end things. It should be noted that this song in particular is probably not something you’ll want to play when kids are in the room as the “f bomb” is dropped with some frequency.
Keys and percussion start things off in style. This grows slowly until it moves out to a killer keyboard dominated texture that really reminds me a lot of Alan Parson’s “The Raven.” In fact, it’s so much so that the keys play a melody that feels nearly exactly like that song. The vocals are laid here with a moving bass line. They shift this out to a funky sort of guitar oriented jam that’s got some mid-era Pink Floyd in the mix. Just before the two minute mark they move out into more fusion meets DT-like prog mode. This only holds the song for a short time, though. They drop it back to the more mellow modes from there and keys that again bring in an Alan Parsons texture take it after that. Then they power up for a killer jam for the next set of vocals. It’s funky, crunchy and full of prog drama with very soulful vocals. They drop it back to the “Raven” section with some more soulful singing. A David Gilmour-like guitar sound brings back the Pink Floyd elements here as the guitar lines alternate with the vocal segments as they carry forward. They return to other themes we’ve heard before with a more complete arrangement full of layered vocals. Then we’re back into “The Raven” to continue. They shift through a couple more variations on recurring themes before they drop it way back to ambient textures. Keys come in over in a rather jazzy way. We get sound bites here alternating with bursts of chaotic musical sounds in a repeating pattern. The sound bites talk about the blurring of “fact and fiction” in the media. Sound effects and keys take us out.
With a bit of tribal texture, this in some ways reminds me of Godsmack’s “Voodoo.” The thing is, this has more of an Eastern tinge to the sound and the arrangement is a lot more involved, bringing in more of the progressive rock textures. They power it up here and there with more lush arrangements and this has some of the most “true” Middle Eastern tones on the album. It’s gotten a definite taste for the real sounds that inspire that type of sound, rather than a simple rock retelling of the scales. It gets quite theatric at times and there are sections of actual Arabic singing in the midst of this. It’s quite a powerful piece of music that works through a few iterations and explorations without wandering far from its roots. It moves out into space to end with an extended ambient outro.
This number has a major soulful pop sound. I hear traces of Prince here and there on this. The whole thing just has a cool groove and while not the most proggy thing to show here, it’s still got enough prog and enough crunch to keep people happy. The vocal performance is extremely heartfelt and soulful. It wanders towards electronica later on and we also get a smoking guitar solo in the mix. We get a quick flash of Hendrix to end it.
|Dark Highway, Pt. 3: New Rome|
The third part of “Dark Highway,” this one is the second longest. None of these pieces is less than nine-minutes, but this one passes the eleven minute mark. Ethereal atmosphere starts this with sound bites working over the top. Just before the one minute mark we get a burst of crunch, but it settles back down for a short time before the whole track rises up into hard edged, fairly fast paced prog rock that’s full of drama and theatrics. You might hear some Pink Floyd in this hard rocking instrumental section. They drop it back to a segment of weird keys merged with processed vocals that reminds me just a bit of Nektar. This seems about ready to burst up, but instead it waits a bit going through some more strange ambience. When it does burst upward it’s crunchy, but with a distant sort of feel. Again you will probably detect a Pink Floyd element here, but there’s a more creepy aspect here, too – a bit like Alice Cooper. They bring it up to a chorus that has an epic metal goes prog feel to it. Then this drifts out into a spacey journey that again feels a bit like a crunchier Floyd. When it moves out from there the music recalls Pink Floyd’s The Wall album quite a bit. They take this in a different direction from there with some fast vocals. This gives way to a crescendo and from there we get a drop back to more ambience. They work through some familiar territory before shifting out to a Middle Eastern based soundscape that holds things for a while. The work through an echoey instrumental section that brings back more Pink Floyd sounds, but then drop to weird sound effects and chaos over which more sound bites are woven. This eventually takes it out.
|Dark Highway, Pt. 4: Take the Blood|
They come in with an energetic, but somewhat subdued approach. This gives way to segments of melodic, synthetic sounding vocals alternating with sound bites over percussion. After running through like this for a time they shift things towards more ambient space music for a time. The come back to the give and take pattern that came before. More noisy ambience takes it. This time, though, they come out with a guitar driven motif that’s still quite mellow, but also very dramatic and dark. The comparisons to Pink Floyd are appropriate here somewhat. They bring in another sound bite and then grow into an incredibly expansive vocal approach that feels somewhat like epic metal, but with no crunch at all. The progression and vocal delivery (with layers of vocals bringing it ever upward) are what produce the metal feeling, not any distortion. This shifts to a mysterious sounding motif that blends classical and jazz approaches. When they move it out to the next set of vocals I’m somehow reminded a bit of Elton John’s “I’ve Seen The Saucers.” This has more of electronic sound and mystery to it than that song, but there some similarities. It works out to a theatrical section next before working back into the “I’ve Seen The Saucers” section. The portion that takes it out from there has a similar arrangement, but the vocals are evocative and powerful. This gives way to the first real crunch of the song, but it’s just hard edged, not metallic at all. This runs the number for a while until they drop it back to the earlier motif for a cool instrumental interlude. Then they move back out to the build up and the powerhouse chorus section. This has a definite 1970’s rock feel to it in many ways. They rise up from there in a crunchy, but still quite prog instrumental foray. Guitar soars and sings over the top of this journey. They shift out totally towards a more metallic sound at around seven and a half minutes in. It takes on more pure prog sounds in a way, but there is a still a metal drone driving it in the background. This becomes quite effective and potent. They work through several changes and alterations of the track’s themes. Classical elements play over the top at quite a few points along this road. This never really rises anywhere close to metal. Instead the sounds of thunder end it.
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