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(48:51, ‘Novus Rex’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Look It's Coming 7:45 2. Old World News 8:22 3. Truth Seeker 9:48 4. Belleshazzar's Dream 8:10 5. Plowshares into Swords 10:15 6. Locust Swarm 4:31 LINEUP: J. R. Fernandez – keyboards; bass, guitars; vocals Scott Rockenfield (of Queensryche) – drums With: Anthony Davis – vocals (1, 4, 5)
Prolusion. The US outfit NOVUS REX is described as a father and son duo, albeit on this initial disc it would appear that the latter was only briefly involved. Another participant was vocalist Anthony Davis, who sadly passed away before the CD was finished. What remains, at least as far as credited work on this production goes, is that the Novus Rex debut effort "Plowshares into Swords" to most intents and purposes is a solo vehicle for J. R. Fernandez, put together with some additional help.
Analysis. The two names that top the list of stated influences for this US project are Keith Emerson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Among the plethora of symphonic and fusion artists noted in an extensive list, names like Mike Oldfield and Vangelis pop up as well, and this foursome is in my opinion the most representative as far as noting down the stylistic expression explored by Novus Rex. In addition I'd add Bo Hansson as an artist I suspect Fernandez senior had come across while growing up in the 70's. Symphonic progressive rock is the keyword for this recording, and a retro-oriented one at that. Sound and production adhere to one you might find on an independent release of that era, and approach and overall style should sound familiar to those who have explored that part of the progressive rock legacy extensively, too. And the focus and emphasis is on instrumental soloing, first and foremost by way of the tangents. Rhythms and guitars are mainly utilized to craft a foundation for various keyboard and organ motifs to play upon; circulating repetitive basic themes with minor variations underscoring the tangents are the dominating approach throughout. Occasional ambient-oriented passages appear, mainly at the start and the very end of this disc, and the electric guitar is given the odd passage or three to dish out harmonizing textures. But by and large this is a keyboard and organ dominated affair; the main focus is on this aspect and this is also the element that holds the highest quality throughout. On a detailed level one might note that frequent use of dark-tinged guitars and organ motifs results in many themes with a compact, majestic character. I found the compositions as such to be slightly underwhelming however. I'm not too keen on compositions highlighting soloing, and prefer creations where the backdrop is slightly more developed. Mix and production didn't quite catch my fancy on this item either, perhaps a result of being exposed to too many productions with a superb quality in those departments. Add in that the lead vocals are rather singular, and not adhering to my tastes performance-wise or in terms of arrangements, and there are a few dimensions to this album that for me make it not overly enticing. I found the title track to be most pleasing overall, in particular the Bo Hansson vibes present in the opening and ending theme of that piece, and the slightly ambient-oriented final track Locust Swarm is an enjoyable number as well, the repetitive circulating backdrop less of an issue due to its shorter length. But when that is said, the keyboards and organ parts are of good quality, and that aspect alone will see to it that many will find this CD to be a pleasant experience in general.
Conclusion. "Plowshares into Swords" comes across as a slightly flawed item, but one that does keep a high standard on some levels. If you have a soft spot for 70's sounding symphonic art rock, a particular fancy for instrumental soloing in general and ones conveyed by organ and keyboards in particular, this initial effort by Novus Rex is one that warrants an inspection.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: May 3, 2011
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