Reviews

Prog Archives - Execute And Breathe

by Tom Szirmay
March 23, 2014

The pachyderms from Vermont via the Highlands are back! Their debut, for those of you who missed out on it, was a splendid and well-rewarded work that had everything to stroke the progressive heart, including a sublime package in terms of cover and artwork but most importantly, a set list of shockingly brilliant prog , full of ballsy progressions, swift and nimble playing, infusing the whole with exhilaration. Some noticed Rush influences (yes the glorious bass IS upfront!), others Marillion and other slicker neo-prog bands but truth is this quartet kicks royal behind, while formulating a distinctive touch, evident in each musician's display, totally devoted to team play and freedom to imprint a personal gesture of genius within the grooves. The boys from Burlington (a lovely little town) have set the bar high, so what do we have here? A brighter sound, perhaps a tad heavier as guitarist John Whyte likes to raunch and roll, very much in the Lifeson mode, while the low-end steamrollers with the best of them, bassist Dan MacDonald fingering with resolute mania. Drums are expertly propulsive and explosive as leader Adam Rabin lays down the ivory tapestry needed to keep it all within symphonicity, piano synths and organ all obediently weaving their magic. Vocals are shared among three (only the drummer abstains), each with their own particular take on the microphone.

From the initial jungle blare of "A Different Machine" blasts out from the gates, showing off impressive gusto and the harder edged sound promise that defines their 'progression'. The playing is fast and hard, the sound crisp and pristine. To "the Other Room", a shorter piece that has all kinds of cacophonous caresses, guitar wobbles and rebound techniques that hint at obscurity and dissonance. The metamorphosis into a more conventional tune hits you like a flung rock, Adam grabbing the mike with authority, the bass and drums chugging fiercely, with Whyte doing an axe two-step, using some Andy Summers shifting rhythms to great effect.

But the thrilling piano-led "Amber Waves" really shows off the incredible prog tradition of creating an epic, multi-dimensional piece with different yet eventually merging melodies, counterpointed instrumental snippets and a hard rock finale that screams and creams. This is a bruising and extravagant affair that comes as close to a sonic roller coaster, extremely dynamic in structure. A merciless jewel, I tell you! Adam does a highly credible job on vocals, playful and soaring like many 80s singers (Naked Eyes' Peter Byrne, among others), as well as unleashing some nifty synth leads throughout the track.

"TFAY" scours out terrain that could be described as 'hard space' with some Hendrixian flair, manic rhythmic pulse and a rather greasy disposition. This is prog-rock at its most energetic, little Geddy in the hysteria-laden lead vocal but the music is like a speeding bullet, Whyte and MacDonald pulling hard on their strings. The Elephants seem to enjoy grazing in the confines of deep space, pulling their considerable weight in providing bold new directions and exemplary instrumental creativity. This sounds like old school Rush orbiting Saturn, for a spell, 'phasers on stun' guitars and warp-speed propulsion. Ornan MacLean really excels on his kit, crisp, tight and massive. This is especially obvious on the bubbly and unsquared "Boxless", a universe of beats that clobber and pound ever forward, the four string wonder following with humility. Nothing overtly complex, just deliriously played and expertly handled.

"Endless" is the centerpiece, an extensive 2 part extravaganza that offers up some scintillating horizons for musicianship and inspiration. The spotlight now moves to the players, a platform to show off some considerable chops, Whyte stepping up to the plate magnificently, carving some criss-cross lines that hypnotize and stun. Spluttering synths stop and start sections that defy gravity, a display of on-a-dime execution and blitzkrieg speed. Part 1 is all instrumental and it sizzles! The second chapter is longer, denser and more progressive than anything heard up to now. There is a slight "Suite Madam Blue" feel, like the Styx classic, as the acoustic introduction preps an obvious swelling of emotions, namely a glorious theme that seeps deep into the soul, delicacy in its most ethereal blessing. Softer tones provide a sonic richness, the pace ratcheted up only with utter flair, such as the buzzing Rabin synth solo, a frizzly affair that twirls, swirls and whirls. Very unflappable (Elephant ears) indeed! Adam then does a little piano etude that just brings out the deepest emotion.

"Mouse trap" sets this one down for the night. Aggressive, loud and bombastic, this will kick you hard and nasty, Whyte doing his Lee on the mike, MacDonald doing his Lee on bass, Rabin bending notes on his Roland synths while MacLean bashes with the almighty! Square and devastating, these mastodons show no fear in their defiant attitude and soldier on bravely. Needless to say, Rush fans will adore the superb progginess displayed here once gain.

Their mammoth sound has evolved to a higher level, crisper and crunchier, as if peanut butter is what elephants really like best! There is also a sheen, a velvet veil of excellence that is hard to describe, a sense of bold confidence that is unmistakable. I still have a very soft spot for the debut which was one of many 2013 revelations that blew my speakers sideways but I am sure this will continue to refine my appreciation, with many more revisits. This is a band to watch further, should not be too hard, the Scots are quite a stubborn lot and elephants can be seen for miles and miles. Nice modern artwork, almost as engaging as the flying boat debut.

4.5 Implements and Puffs (woo, that sounds censurable!)