Is there a top-line in the prog rock world? That’s really hard to say as the whole of the genre hasn’t been unqualified chartbuster stuff since the mid-‘80s, and rock acts in themselves haven’t had nearly the influence that pop and hip-hop/rap acts have. Even so if you account what might be considered the stars of prog, you’ll think Opeth (which could also be metal), Porcupine Tree (also metal but sometimes psychedelia), Katatonia (doom metal), and Tool, or whatever’s left of Tool. Beyond that, the grouping of acts range from independent to very independent to extremely independent, so becoming a “star” in prog is very, very difficult. It’s simply not ranked like that.
So when you’re talking about this stuff and fall back on our generalities, you can say U.K.’s Frost* and Sweden’s Carptree and Jupiter Society are some of the form’s stars and still you, the reader, probably don’t know them. You also may not know Dec Burke was a singer for both Frost* and Jupiter Society. On his second solo album Paradigms & Storylines, he teams up with core members of JS, Stefan Fanden (who produces this record), Cia Backman, and the band’s keyboardist/ringleader Carl Westholm and, for fans of both Burke’s work and Westholm’s group, the timing is just right.
I was terribly disappointed with Burke’s first solo, Destroy All Monsters, not because of the material (which I thought was quite good) but because of the mixing (which was quite terrible, making some songs unlistenable). I knew that something was there and worth my time, but how it was delivered to me was impenetrable. That is not the case with Paradigms & Storylines. The first clear indicator of it is the guitar-driven nature of the album; a change from the synth-heavy Destroy All Monsters, but a welcome one because Burke is also a darn good guitarist.
The new recording is also, tonally, heavier than the first and that may just be the product of an increasingly-darker nature that has insinuated itself into prog, and yet the record works, has a lot of nice hooks, and finally represents Dec Burke in the light he deserves to be shown. He may never be a chart-topping star, but this record indicates he should at the least be a star in his own field. You can find Paradigms & Storylines directly from Burke at his website: http://decburke.com/
If you like a lighter, classic touch to your prog, look no further than the recent return of The Flower Kings, Banks of Eden. Known for their long-form epic tracks and Roine Stolt’s sometimes insane but always tasteful guitar, The Flower Kings are readily been compared to early-Yes for mostly the right reasons. On here, you get that instantly, but I was taken aback by similarities heard on “For Those About to Drown,” bearing certain hallmarks found on Procol Harum’s “Grand Hotel.” Never mind the comparisons; it is by far no rip-off and the whole of the disc is right on the money. It is, in my mind, probably the best thing the band has put out in years, and that is saying something.
I’ve read a number of reviews that haven’t cut the band an ounce of slack, saying the retro nature of their style of progressive rock is too derivative of other groups. Frankly, I don’t buy into it and I’ll tell you why. The band’s last couple of discs (Adam And Eve, Paradox Hotel, The Sum Of No Evil) were good and proficient, but nothing grabbed me, certainly not in the way some of my favorite classic proggers have, so I was fully expecting this entry to be the same. Instead, by the time I got to “Rising The Imperial,” I was alternately hooked and sunk. For the group to have moved me from my ambivalence to rushing out to replace my reviewer’s copy with a vinyl LP says something. It says that there’s still room in the world for music that sounds just like this.
Banks of Eden is available from Amazon.com