Ask any prog savvy friend which are the two most important bands in progressive rock music and you will most likely hear the names of Yes and Genesis more than often. Granted, these two bands have influenced their share of musicians that followed. Now ask yourself if you can come up with a band that seemed to have been equally influenced by both Yes and Genesis. If you can’t think of one, let me make you a suggestion: Us.
“Reflection”, the band’s fifth studio release will instantly bring you memories of Genesis’ “… and then there we were three…” and Yes’ “Drama”.
Us is a quartet from Netherlands, most likely a family band, comprised of Jos Wernars (guitars, basses, percussions and vocals), Ernest Wernars (synthesizers and vocals), Marijke Wernars (vocals) and Joris ten Eussens (drums). Jos plays both lead and bass guitar, but I thought he did a particularly exceptional job on bass.
Barely a minute into the album and you can already hear the guitar sounding much like Steve Howe’s. The good thing is that the band keeps developing in other directions, without sticking to a particular theme for too long.
The second song, “A Mind’s Tale”, has a very intricate instrumental section (nice guitar and Mellotron work here layered on top of some fantastic bass lines), background for the vocals that sound, at least in the first half of the track, as if taken from a beat tune. The arrangements are quite good, a proof that the band is mature and is able to take an idea all the way to the end.
“Nothing Can Last a Lifetime” starts as a nice ballad, with a beautiful, spacey Mellotron background. This is a long track (over 11 minutes) so things will move on before you know it. Along the way we are treated to a variant of the intro to “Machine Messiah” after which the song leads us into the final part. Again, there are lots of musical themes, nicely arranged together, just what you would expect from a good progressive rock tune.
Next is “A Blink of the Eye” a nice prog-rock anthem, the first one to learn if these guys will gain arena-wide popularity. “Timeless” is the shortest song of the album, clocking in at 6:10 and leading us to the epic end of the album, “Through Hell and High Water” an 18-minute tune. This one pretty much follows the same template, taking the listener to a trip through several progressive rock themes, the symphonic element being somehow more predominant here, perhaps because more Mellotron was added to the mix.
I know, some say that we already have enough imitators
of Genesis and Yes. I would say to them that Us is not
one of them. There are some influences that I hear,
mainly in how the guitar and the keyboards sound, at
times, like Steve Howe’s and Tony Banks’, but that’s
where the similarities end. Like it or not, the band
has its own personality and they are not afraid to
stand for their ideas. One can only admire that in a
group of artists that stay true to their art, no
matter what the critics say.
|Tom Hayes||15-Jul-2006||The Ghost of Human Kindness|
This is the recent incarnation of the 70’s Dutch band Saga, who released an obscure symphonic prog album titled “To Whom It May Concern”. “The Ghost of Human Kindness” is their 3rd post-reunion release and the first for me to hear since the aforementioned Saga album. The album contains 5 very long tracks, anywhere from the 8 minute ‘The Dream’ to the 19 minute opener ‘Full Circle’. Commercial oriented Neo-prog has become a cottage industry in The Netherlands, spearheaded initially by the likes of Egdon Heath and Coda and carried on by Flamborough Head and others. And Us pretty much falls in line with this protocol on the opening track. You get the Fish like delivery with Dutch accent, the Steven Rothery leads and all the melodrama one can stand. ‘Domes’ however follows with a more energetic, heavy and difficult approach, recalling the one great Dutch neo band in my opinion, Cliffhanger. I believe this has to do with a more concentrated effort to create a Yes like sound, especially in the woody bass lines and Moog/organ leads, rather than the typical Genesis sound alike that we’ve come to expect. Still, the vocal lines bog down in AOR styled bland-ola and you’ll find yourself waiting for “the good part”. Which of course is the instrumental section, which breaks into a ‘Gates of Delirium’ complex bass drum counterpoint and soaring guitar leads and keyboard overlays. ‘Grand Canyon’ and ‘The Dream’ follow harmlessly. Each have easy to listen to commercial styled vocal parts that ultimately lead to much more interesting instrumental sections. Definitely the album’s winning composition is the 17 minute title track (or perhaps I feel obligated due to the name?) The melodies and arrangements here actually smack of originality and speak the language of inventiveness. Which is the point of my review. With so much talent that obviously surrounds the group, why settle on what’s already been done (and redone in Holland enough for a couple more generations). Let it loose fellas, and show us an album of creativity that we only now get in snippets, primarily found within the instrumentals. It’s obvious the band spent 100’s of hours creating this album and by no means is this the homemade-album-of-the-week. The group put a lot of passion into this, so you the listener can enjoy the hour+ of entertainment. Next time, there is no reason to hold back, put the emphasis on melodies, energy and arrangements, but not the overt commercialism that is far too often the custom today. Fans of neo/symphonic prog already know what to expect and will enjoy. Looking for a little bit more? Going to have to look elsewhere, at least for now.
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