“Dead String Scrolls. Bring your own lyrics.” This is how New York musician John Quarles describes his creation, Atropos Project. While purely instrumental “prog,” John draws upon a variety of influences and experiences for his album, Equator. The beauty of this album is that it cannot be pigeonholed into one specific genre or sub-genre of rock. Musically, Atropos Project explores many different aspects of progressive rock.
John began his musical journey when he was in high school, playing drums for a variety of local metal bands. As he grew older, he began trying out different instruments, eventually settling on the guitar as his weapon of choice. Over the course of the last decade or so, through collaborating with other musicians, John began to pick up other instruments as well, including the keyboards. Equator is the product of those experiences. John cites bands such as Rush, Queen, Boston, and Kiss as his early influences, and he cites Opeth, Porcupine Tree, and Radiohead as his more recent influences.
The album itself is strictly instrumental, with all instrumentation performed by John. There have been several good instrumental prog albums the last few years, including Antoine Fafard’s Occultus Tramitis (2013) and The Fierce and the Dead’s Spooky Action (2013). Equator belongs right up there with those two excellent albums. I guess 2013 was the year for great instrumental music.
Across the album, I can hear many different influences, especially, to my ears, Rush. Specifically, more recent Rush. Alex Lifeson has adopted a much heavier style of playing on their last three albums, and much of the guitar work on Equator is reminiscent of that. However, the music shifts stylistically a lot over the album, so it is hard to generalize the album. There are hints of traditional jazz, classic prog, and even new age throughout the album. The beginning of the fifth song on the album, “A Curious Trip,” reminded me instantly of some of the piano work from Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Aire I, which is my favorite instrumental album. The seventh song, “Suspiria,” reminded me of the song “Faithless” from Rush’s Snakes and Arrows. The guitar riff is very similar, but you have to “bring your own lyrics.”
If it seems like I’m being rather random in my review of the actual music, it’s because I am. The brilliance of Atropos Project is the music jumps around stylistically, which leaves the listener wondering what is next, eliminating the threat of boredom that can often come with strictly instrumental music. One second you are listening to what approaches metal, and the next second you are in a completely different genre, one that explores acoustics and keyboards. I found the eeriness of the keyboards overplayed with a heavier, steady rock beat in the fourth song on the album, “Spiraling,” to be exceptionally enchanting. Atropos Project does a great job of creating a repeating rhythm, and then completely changing the time signature and style of music right in the middle of the song. It doesn’t get much more prog than that. The overall effect is one that keeps the listener interested and curious about what comes next in the album.
For music that was created entirely by one man, Atropos Project offers an astounding array of styles and influences. Furthermore, John Quarles is an extremely talented musician with every instrument that he plays. Fans of everything from jazz, to Mannheim Steamroller, to Rush should find Equator an excellent album to relax to. If you are a fan of Antoine Fafard’s latest album or The Fierce and the Dead, then definitely add Atropos Project to your listening list.
I had the opportunity to contact John the other day, and he told me that recording is underway for his next album, which is tentatively due out sometime this year. He says that, sonically, it will be a darker album than Equator. I read that as heavier, but I could be completely off on that. Either way, I’m sure it will be good, and I look forward to listening to it.