2013 has already shaped up to be one of the most bountiful years ever for prog. Consider a few of the outstanding albums that have already been released: Big Big Train’s English Electric 2, Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space, Bruce Soord/Jonas Renkse’s The Wisdom Of Crowds, KingBathmat’s Overcoming the Monster, Sanguine Hum’s The Weight of the World, Sound of Contact’s Dimensionaut. Add to that list Days Between Stations’ In Extremis, which has taken up permanent residence in my home CD player and my iPod.
Days Between Stations, based in Los Angeles, is Oscar Fuentes Bills (keyboards) and Sepand Samzadeh (guitars). In Extremis is only their second release, but it possesses the maturity and excellence of a far more experienced group. Their 2007 self-titled debut consists of five extended instrumentals with some wordless vocals (plus two “intermissions” of sampled conversations), and is top-notch prog in its own right. The opening track, Requiem for the Living, begins with a beautiful yet mournful theme on synths and piano, which eventually develops into a slide guitar workout that would do David Gilmour proud. According to Samzadeh, it was inspired by Gorecki’s Third Symphony, also known as his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The album concludes with the epic Laudanum, which never loses focus or power over the course of its 22 minutes. It includes ambient textures, jazz fusion, and, of course, lots of prog guitar!
While Bills and Samzadeh were ably assisted on their first album by Jeremy Castillo (guitars), Jon Mattox (drums), and Vivi Rama (bass), for In Extremis, they have taken things to an entirely new level. Billy Sherwood (Yes) is sharing production duties with Bills and Samzadeh, Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and many others) is on Stick and bass, Colin Moulding (XTC) lends his voice to a song, and Rick Wakeman (Yes, etc.) contributes some mellotron and minimoog. In a fitting way, the late Peter Banks (Yes, guitar) adds his magic to several songs. As a matter of fact, these are Banks’ last recorded performances.
In Extremis begins with a massive fanfare featuring the Angel City Orchestra that becomes the overture for the album. The most obvious difference with this set of songs is that we now have vocalists singing lyrics! Billy Sherwood sings in the Floydian Visionary, Eggshell Man, and the title track. Thematically, the lyrics convey the loss and regret of someone near the end of his life:
There’s no replacing what’s been left behind
There’s no returning to that place and time
In sight were all the distant horizons
In flight were all the dreams alive
A high point is Colin Moulding’s marvelous vocals on the wry pop of The Man Who Died Two Times. Set to an irresistible, bouncy ’80s vibe, Moulding sings of
All the angels cried
For the man who died two times
And they wiped away tears of laughter
And helped him survive
Going station to station
Always ready to revive
Next up is a touching string quartet piece dedicated to Peter Banks, which is followed by the crowning glory of the entire album, Eggshell Man. It features a delicate accoustic guitar intro with gorgeous vocals by Sherwood and a mellotron flute solo by Wakeman. It soon picks up speed and intensity, including a section with some Middle Eastern flair. The tempo ebbs and flows over the course of twelve minutes, Wakeman has a terrific minimoog solo, Levin is rock-solid on bass, and Sherwood sings of “best laid plans” and empires returning to dust. It’s one of the finest songs released this year.
Believe it or not, there is still the title track to come, and it’s a monster, clocking in at 21:37. In Extremis is a requiem for a man (the Eggshell Man?) who realizes too late the brevity and preciousness of life:
Images upon the screen
Recanting all the memories
From the first breath
To the last goodbye
Dust dancing on beams of light
Most groups would give anything to achieve a track like In Extremis. Days Between Stations pulls it off with ease, and manages to precede it with seven other tracks that are its equal.
There have been some extraordinary releases in prog music this year, and Days Between Stations’ In Extremis is near the top of the heap. This is an album not to be missed.
Here’s the official trailer: