No matter their level of activity, all’s right in the prog world when the on again/off again ensemble known as Frost* is in “On” mode. Many of us have closely – and happily – followed the twists and turns of writer/keyboardist/vocalist Jem Godfrey’s group since they released the landmark album “Milliontown” back in 2006.
For those who may not have been exposed to the band back then, “Milliontown” was something altogether new, or at least sounded altogether new – an accessible, expertly-produced, keyboard-heavy, dense, dynamic, and at times industrial-sounding blend of prog rock not for the faint of speaker cones. It was not to be mistaken for yet another prog band channeling the 70’s with all the cliches that go with that era (band names withheld to protect the guilty). As a fan of modern prog, “Milliontown” easily became one of two of my favorite albums of the last 15 years – the other being It Bites’ “The Tall Ships” – and not a week has gone by in the last decade when I haven’t given at least some of “Milliontown” a listen (no, really).
Following “Milliontown,” Godfrey kicked in the afterburners with gigs and a near-constant stream of online videos (dubbed “Frost Reports” – ha!) that both shone light on the humor of the group – Godfrey’s in particular – and the music that would eventually become 2008’s “Experiments In Mass Appeal” (the “reports” being part of the “Mass Appeal” strategy). With the addition of guitarist/vocalist Dec Burke and then-drummer Andy Edwards adhering to a no-toms rule – leaving him free to load up on additional snares and cymbals – “Experiments” had a different timbre to it while still being undeniably Frost*.
Since then, we’ve be treated to live efforts with eagerly-anticipated bonus studio tracks – “The Forget You Song,” “Lantern,”and the epic “The Dividing Line” as examples – but many of us longed for the day when Godfrey & Co. might convene to record a third studio album. There were hints over the years that a new album, new albums or even albums with different approaches – a “Frost* A” and “Frost* B,” if you will, could be released – but these were not to be as Godfrey juggled band lineups, took on nasty Netizens re-posting copyrighted material, plus dealt with “day job” work and family life (the other band members no doubt doing much of the same).
So, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the group – now settled with the lineup of Godfrey, John Mitchell on guitar, Nathan King on bass and Craig Blundell on drums – had begun work on their third studio release, “Falling Satellites,” and with a revamped website housing all of Godfrey’s social marketing tools including his “British Wintertime” blog and YouTube channel, it was clear that the band was very much back in the “On” mode.
As “Falling Satellites” moved closer to release day, it was clear that unlike “Experiments In Mass Appeal,” which we knew much about prior to release – thus raising expectations to a near-impossible level – we would hear none of the new album aside from knowing that “Heartstrings” would be included on a full-length studio album…ah, but even the track itself would be a bit of a surprise. More on that later.
The album kicks off with a trip down with rabbit hole in “First Day,” a dramatic intro track leading us back into the Frostiverse, then straight into the barnstorming “Numbers,” emphatically announcing the group’s return and is similar in feel/pacing to The Police’s “Synchronicity I” (“Frostronicity?”).
The next track, “Towerblock,” proves that every time you think you’ve heard it all in prog, there are new styles to incorporate as the track crescendos from a slow intro into a full-blown dubstep section that’s both fascinating and a sonic challenge to the senses, before blossoming into a big chorus and big rest of the track. Those who forgot (or didn’t know) that Godfrey logged his fair share of time in the pop scene will no doubt catch that here.
Mitchell gets the lead vocal mic on the next track, the co-penned “Signs,” which twists and turns in 5/4 and 6/4 (and probably other time signatures I didn’t count) before we’re treated to arguably the most pop-oriented track we’ve heard from the band – and that’s saying something considering such tracks such as “Toys” and “The Forget You Song” in the Frost* canon – in “Lights Out,” a fantastic power ballad that quickly became a favorite of this reviewer and his family with its more traditional pop song format.
Followers of “Frost* will no doubt recognize the addition of “Heartstrings” to the “Falling Satellites” tracklist, but this slight re-working serves as the lead-off track to “Sunlight,” a suite encompassing the final six songs on the album. This version of “Heartstrings” is pitched up a bit and has an outro that partially serves to transition into “Closer to The Sun,” a pulsating track with its insistent four-on-the-floor feel that also features 24 bars of guitar from one Joe Satriani before Godfrey picks up with a sizzling synth solo worthy of his inclusion in Satriani’s group several years back.
“The Raging Against the Dying of the Light Blues in 7/8” – truth in advertising, if ever there was – is a blistering song that should more than satisfy those looking for the pure prog on this album, which is continued on “Nice Day For It,” reprising the intro from “Heartstrings,” the chorus of “Closer To The Sun” and provides a bookend lyric to “First Day” before transitioning into “Hypoventilate” with its dramatic, haunting melody from “Heartstrings” before the final track, “Last Day,” featuring the most emotive vocal we’ve heard from Godfrey, makes for a perfect closer to the album.
More in the spirit of “Milliontown” than “Experiments,” yet still very much its own work, “Falling Satellites” is sure to be on many prog fans’ “Best of” lists for 2016. Eight years was completely worth the wait to hear this fantastic piece of work from a band playing as tightly as ever, with a sound and production – ridiculously good production – reminding us that progressive rock should, first and foremost, be forward-thinking.