Mike Prete    19-July-2002 Absolute Zero

Mark-1 is a young band out of Massachusetts firmly entrenched in the retro Genesis mold. A concept album in the grand tradition, Absolute Zero weaves a modern story of faceless corporations into a plot line that at times borders on the ridiculous and seems reminiscent of a combination of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and "Get 'Em Out By Friday" (not surprisingly, as many themes, both lyrical and instrumental, are adaptations of those works). Mock social commentary mixed into a journey of self-discovery includes allusions to Genesis that run rampant throughout the album, from direct quotes and easily recognized similarities to the processed vocals attempting (and not succeeding) to replicate Peter Gabriel. Another similarity is the use of an authentic ARP Pro Soloist and the soaring Hackett-like leads.

"Through The Looking Glass" opens the story with its lyrical narrative and some alternating keyboard and guitar sections and is a foreshadowing for what will be presented throughout the rest of the album - a mish-mash of half baked original ideas and overt Genesis references, such as the use of the main rhythm of "The Cage" from the Lamb setting the backing for an overly long guitar solo. Despite using some analogue keys, an early 80s feeling dominates the album with the simple rhythms and almost lounge-like vibe present in many pieces.

"Exodus" is an up-tempo rocker with some aggressive guitar playing and a more complex arrangement bringing it closer to progressive rock territory. The closing track "Meltdown" is mostly instrumental and leaves space for the band to stretch out with nice melodic leads and it even brings some earlier themes back into play. The band attempts to bring a more unique style into play and makes a decent finish, although some more lifted Genesis melodies and glaring tape edits mar the proceedings.

While exceedingly derivative of Genesis, it is most likely the band's intention to pay homage to a band that had a tremendous influence on this group of players. Where the band suffers the most is the lack of original ideas and horrible production. There are places where the master tape can be heard slowing down and changing the tempo of the song, (such as around the 2:40 mark in "Again and Again" and 1:30 of "Ultra Modern Blues").

There is plenty of talent and potential in Mark-1, and a transition to a more original sound could really benefit them. There is definitely an audience for this retro style of symphonic rock, but I can see this band doing much more with their own distinct style and some judicious editing of ideas that tend to wear out their welcome.

Mike Prete    19-July-2002 The Criminal Element

Mark-1 returns with their second album of 2001 - straying away from the blatant Genesis influence of their debut, The Criminal Element incorporates a more refined and original take on the retro 70s sound. The album clocks in at nearly half the length of its predecessor, a smart decision that consolidates the punch of the music and helps it from losing some of its bite from having to wade through too many sub-par pieces.

From the intro of the title track, it becomes fairly obvious that the band has tried to shake the direct influences of the previous album and concentrate on a more unique sound of their own. The guys have obviously been practicing since the last album, working in slightly more complex material and more cohesive compositions. A piano-led interlude halfway through the song as well as some organ sounds near the end bring a needed variety to the previous monotonous synth-driven pieces.

Some pieces such as "The Life" contain some downright catchy sections and show the band in their best light. "The Raven" is the highlight of the disc, being a cohesive and melodic piece of extended length, coming closer to living up to band's potential while balancing vocal sections with extended instrumental passages, although certain themes tend to hang around longer than necessary.

While there is still some obvious improvement to be made in a lot of areas, The Criminal Element is a small step in the right direction for the band. The absence of reliance on Genesis songs shows a marked improvement as songwriters, and the added complexity shows that they may one day be able to appeal to a wide progressive rock audience. But their reliance on a more 'prog-by-numbers' approach does not allow much room from standing out of the pack of numerous nu-prog copycats. Hopefully the band will spend more time refining their sound before rushing out with another album.

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