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North Star - 2005 - "Extremes"

(62 min, Musea)

TRACK LIST:                    
1.  Midnight Soldier 8:35
2.  Star Child 4:00
3.  Sometimes in the Suburb 7:00
4.  Battles Waged Before 10:10
5.  The Form 6:55
6.  Dr. Pill's Backlash Ballroom 2:13
7.  Unleashed 6:12
8.  Live with Liberty 4:14
9.  Stained Glass Door 3:39
10. Living on the Fringe 8:37


Dave Johnson - guitars, bass
Kevin Leonard - keyboards
Glenn Leonard - drums
Joe Newman - vocals 

Prolusion. The history of America's NORTH STAR counts 25 years, during which the group recorded and released several cassettes and five full-fledged albums, namely "Triskelion" (1983), "Feel the Cold" (1987), "Power" (1992), "Tempest" (2000) and "Extremes" (2005). The lineup never changed, not counting the mere fact that on "Tempest", which is their only instrumental album, singer Joe Newman takes the duties of a bass player.

Analysis. The shadow of the most influential Art-Rock band of all times and nations, Genesis, pursues North Star all over their creation, and "Extremes" is no exception from this rule either. On the other hand however, this is their first album on which they appear to be almost in every respect on a par with their mighty benefactors, plus not only revealing their ability to follow the well-trodden road, but also discovering some genuinely unique directions. Midnight Soldier and Living on the Fringe, taking the polar positions in the track list, are brilliant and are especially eloquent regarding the band's bravery in using unusual textures within classic Art-Rock constructions. Dave Johnson is the most original voice in this ensemble, equally resourceful whether he plays bass, electric or acoustic guitar. He shines with resourcefulness everywhere on the album, but particularly on Midnight Soldier and Living on the Fringe. Most of his guitar solos here refer directly to the Jazz-Fusion genre, leading the music quite far away from familiar territories. The Genesis influence is strikingly noticeable only in the vocals of Joe Newman, who carefully (and tirelessly) imitates Peter Gabriel, but thankfully these two are largely instrumental. The other longer songs: Sometimes in the Suburb, Battles Waged Before, The Form and Unleashed, as well as the only non-vocal piece Stained Glass Door, are also compelling, although they are slightly inferior to the 'boundary' tracks, above all in diversity on the stylistic level. Each is classic dramatic symphonic Progressive with no digressions from the style - somewhere in the vein of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", barring the episodes in which, conditionally speaking, Dave Johnson switches over from bass to electric guitar, which occurs not as often as I would like it to, though it's perhaps just due to bandleader Kevin Leonard's desire to make the sound more keyboard-oriented. The serene and mellow Live with Liberty reminds me of Afterglow from "Wind & Wuthering", only with Gabriel on vocals instead of Collins. Star Child is similar, although the first half of the song features only slow passages of synthesizer and singing. Both aren't stunning, to say the least, but are okayish in the album's general context. Doctor Pill's Backlash Ballroom, whose 'otherworldly' atmosphere is achieved with the use of synthesizer effects and some distorted vocals, is the only track that I didn't like at all.

Conclusion. I would give North Star a medal for being one of the most consistent followers of Genesis, with the slogan "Genesis's legacy still lives and wins!" engraved on its face. The reverse of the medal however would say: "One of the most expressive bands working in the field of theatric Art-Rock nowadays". What is fully incontrovertible is that "Extremes" is the best North Star outing to date, much stronger than any of their previous releases. Recommended.

VM: March 13, 2006

Related Links:

Musea Records
North Star


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