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DarWin

Origin Of Species

Review by Gary Hill

This is a concept album, but I'm not really clear on the concept. I do know that it opens and closes in the same place, after taking a ride across two CDs. This is progressive rock for certain. It's of the more AOR variety. At times it leans toward heavy metal. At other times it has fusion elements. There are definite symphonic things throughout much of the set, too. In addition to DarWin, who is the main songwriter and guitarist, there are a lot of interesting musicians on this set. Simon Phillips, Matt Bissonette and Greg Howe are three names that stand out the most. In a lot of ways this set reminds me of the latest Styx album, but a crunchier Alan Parsons might be a good reference point, too. Whatever you call it, though, give this a try. It's a compelling set from start to finish.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD1
               
For Humanity

The album opens with a fusion sort of arrangement. A synthetic voice delivers a mission statement. From there they launch into hard rocking metallic prog. It makes me think of a cross between Styx and Dream Theater. In fact, I'm reminded of Styx' latest album The Mission quite a bit. This is AOR prog with a cool hard edge. Another computerized voice serves as the narrator for the break later in the number, but they bring it back out into the song proper from there.

The Last Chance
Sound effects, like found sounds of a busy city, open this cut. A piano driven arrangement brings it out from there. They pound out into a killer hard rocking prog jam from there. This has a lot of heavy metal in it, particularly on the chorus.  The cut works through some intriguing changes mid-track, turning toward some rather symphonic prog before a melodic guitar solo takes over for a time. It returns to the metallic further down the road.
Taking Chances
Sound effects with a female spoken voice over the top open this. Acoustic guitar climbs upward to bring the song proper into being. It rises up as a balladic kind of jam. After the first verse, a fast crunchy jam emerges for the chorus. A keyboard laden jam serves to connect that back into the mellower verse movement for round two. This makes its way out to a dynamic and rocking prog jam as it continues. It's a catchy, but powerful song.
Escape The Maze
Piano and symphonic elements bring this into being. A bombastic section emerges later that's part prog rock and part classical. That resolves to something that has some crunch guitar at its heart. Then this drops way down to mellower progressive rock to continue. This is another dynamic track. Those symphonic elements remain within the arrangement. There is a soaring, positive quality to this piece. This is quite melodic and has some accessible hooks. Yet it is meaty and so interesting and unusual, too. The symphonically-tinged movement later is beautiful.
Walk Away From Earth
There is a cool fusion like section that starts this. It has some almost bluesy guitar at times. There is a dreamy, psychedelic vibe to it. We get more narration from that computer-like voice, followed by a theatrical skit sort of thing with multiple voices including children. Then the rock elements emerge driving the cut forward in style. This has a crunchy edge, but is all AOR prog. It has some accessible hooks and works well. The piece works out into a killer prog jam further down the road. Given that this song is less than four-and-a-half minutes long, it's amazing how much is packed into it.
Gummy Bear
Vocals start this cut. The number works out from there into melodic, fusion meets prog territory. We get a cool symphonic prog jam mid-track that has some exciting musical modes. That gives way to a reprise of the song proper. Somehow parts of this make me think of Toto just a bit.
Forever
Another that lands more in the melodic AOR prog zone, a saxophone solo later brings a different flavor. The strings add a lot to the mix, too. There is a cool prog instrumental jam later in the number.
CD2
         
War Against My Mind

This rises up hard rocking with guitar riffs alternating between gritty vocal lines. Eventually it shifts out to a more melodic prog AOR concept for the chorus, but there is still some crunch firmly entrenched. The earlier section returns for the next verse. The first guitar solo on this is  real powerhouse. The second one is also impressive, but seems more evocative and a bit less furious. Still, it really does explore and get in its share of shredding. It's also the longer of the two, taking the cut to the end.

Artificial
This cut does a great job of combining more pure prog things with fierce metal and some definite fusion. The cut is dynamic, unusual, and features some more killer guitar work. That computerized voice is also heard on this number, in fact it takes control of the last section of the track.
One Horizon
An acoustic guitar based melody is on display as this number gets under way. It has definite fusion leanings. This remains fairly mellow, but does rise up a bit as it goes along. There is some decidedly evocative guitar soloing further down the musical road.
Modern Insanity
Now this is a big change. It has some rapping on it. Parts of it make me think of Prince just a bit. Yet there is still plenty of melodic prog here, too. I really like the guitar showcase later in the piece.
Cosmic Rays
Coming in with a mellow mode that feels a bit fusion-like, this has female vocals (Amy Keys). The male vocals return on the chorus. This is a melodic number that lands in the more sedate zone. It's a nice bit of variety and a great tune. It rises up to a rocking zone later in the track for the guitar soloing. It's still quite fusion-like and decidedly melodic, though.
Life Is A Mystery
This is really a powerhouse. It has some decidedly metallic moments along with symphonic strings and more.
Slowly Melting
This mellower cut merges melodic prog with fusion, creating a nice musical construct. It gets into crunchier, harder rocking zones further down the road for a time, but reverts to the more sedate stuff from there.
Rise
This number starts mellower, but eventually works out into a powerhouse prog jam with a lot of symphonic elements at play. After continuing along the road for a time it drops back to more fusion-oriented stuff for a cool guitar solo.
Just One More Day
This screamer has a real metal edge. It makes me think of Styx just a bit.
Prologue - For Humanity
A female voice opens this as narration. Some sound effect type elements are heard as it continues. This works out from there and the same monologue from the opening song is heard again, seeming to bring this whole album back around in a full circle landing at the beginning. A crunchy prog jam is the concept from there. In fact, it's a reprise of the opening number.
 
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