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TRACK LIST: 1. Nightmare of My Dreams 7:07 2. Future History 5:39 3. Eternal Life 5:32 4. A Frozen War 7:31 5. Another Year 5:10 LINEUP: DarWin - guitars Simon Phillips - drums, percussion, keyboards Matt Bissonette - vocals, bass With: Billy Sheehan - bass Guthrie Govan - guitars Greg Howe - guitars Derek Sherinian - keyboards Alex Sill - guitars Jeff Babko - piano, keyboards Chariya Bissonette - backing vocals Robert Thorhallsson - bass + more
Prolusion. Iceland based project DarWin, spearheaded by the composer and musician using the DarWin moniker as his creative alias, first came to some prominence in 2018 when the double concept album "Origin of Species" appeared. DarWin has since worked on finalizing material for his second album, "A Frozen War", which is scheduled for release in late November 2020.
Analysis. One of the striking features of the first DarWin album was the massive amount of prominent guest musicians used throughout, which includes both drumming, keyboards and production work by Simon Philips. Philips is back again also this time around, alongside an impressive gallery of mainly well known musicians, and I rather suspect that fans of the first album will enjoy this second outing just as much. The most impressive aspect of this production by far is the input by the members of this glittering cast of guest musicians. The vocals are top notch, the backing vocals arguably even better, the drumming is impressive and the instrumentalists deliver on all fronts. As such this album is a real treat for those who enjoy listening to quality musicians having a go, even if not in an all that expressive manner. Constraint inside a context is perhaps a good description here. Musically the foundation of this album is a calmer variety of progressive rock with AOR elements, with the acoustic guitar and the lead vocals arguably having the most important roles. The majority of the verse and chorus sections are careful affairs, with some dampened riffs and elegant keyboard and piano details added in here and there to craft subtle rather than striking impact moments. There are plenty of additional features of course, adding variation and a more expressive nature to the songs overall, especially in the instrumental sections. Pastoral folk-tinged sections and string driven passages have their place here, harder edged passages with a bit more of a hard rock flair appear here and there, and more energetic and driven sequences with more of a progressive metal edge to them appear on occasion as well. But it is the gentler and more tranquil parts of this album that dominate and sticks to the mind, at least for me. One of the more curious aspects of this album for me personally can be found in the concluding cut 'Another Year', as the opening (and recurring) guitar motif on this song has some subtle similarities to the opening part of French band Delusion Squared's song 'Copyrighted Genes' from a few years back. Besides that aspect of it this is also a striking and hypnotic motif, and works really well in this song. Another curious aspect for me is that there appears to be a slight offset in the mix and production for the calmer sections of the songs and the harder edged ones, and then first and foremost the more progressive metal oriented passages. This may well be due to the sheer difference in sounds and arrangements, but while the former strikes me as very open and detailed, once the metal riffs kick in the sound strikes me as becoming more closed in. It is an odd aspect of this album for me, but also one I suspect not too many others will even register. While there is a lot to enjoy on this album, for my sake I didn't manage to be truly captivated by this production. There are many fine and striking moments in each of the compositions, but the total experience for me just didn't manage to resonate with me emotionally. It is certainly a well made production, and an album I could return to every so often to enjoy, but not an album that will ever draw me totally in I suspect.
Conclusion. DarWin presents us with a short and concise album for his second outing, featuring an array of high quality musicians that provides instruments and vocals in compelling and relatively easy going songs with a foundation in the calmer, AOR-oriented parts of the progressive rock universe but with detours to both orchestral, pastoral, hard rock and progressive metal territories along the way. The most striking aspect of this album for me is the quality musicianship, and I'd recommend this album to those who generally enjoy progressive rock explored in a more careful manner, that appreciate a fair degree of style variations thrown into the mix and most of all those who generally enjoy listening to music provided to them by a vast array of high quality musicians in the described context.
Progmessor: October 2020
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