Fire Garden, FAR AND NEAR (2016). Tracks: Far and Near; There’s Something; A New Day; Life of a Drifter; A Thousand Lost Souls; War and Peace; Faint Shadows; Whitelight; and Diary of a Blood Moon.
One of the single best things about being a hyperfan of progressive rock music is always dealing with the most interesting of people. When it comes to prog—the musicians, the engineers, and the fans—we’re all basically a bunch of OCD perfectionists. And, I think we understand each other in ways non proggers simply cannot (as in, not constitutionally equipped to do so). In the nearly ten years I’ve been reviewing music online, I’ve met a number of absolutely fascinating people. None less so than Chicago’s young master of all that is melodic metal prog, Zee Baig.
The moment I first found Zee’s music—as first sold through his ep, aptly titled THE PRELUDE—I knew I had to reach out to him. I did, he was responsive, and we pretty quickly established a friendship through email. We talked about war, tradition, music, kids, art. You name it, and Zee and I talked about it. Even though we’re only a three-hours drive from one another, we’ve never actually met in person. Strange, but true. And, here’s hoping, someday soon this will be rectified.
Until that glorious moment, I’m more than content listening to Zee’s astounding music. It, in and of itself, has become a close friend. The band’s first album, SOUNDS OF MAJESTIC COLORS, has remained in my constant listening rotation since it first appeared in 2014. There’s no mistaking that the best of Dream Theater influenced and inspired much of the first album, but Fire Garden takes chances that Dream Theater never would. This is especially true in lyrical content. To be sure, Fire Garden is no clone of DT.
FAR AND NEAR, Fire Garden’s second full-length album, has just appeared on the market, and it’s a stunner, as strong and as good as anything else that has come out this year. This is no small praise when one considers how many greats have come out: from Frost* to Glass Hammer to Big Big Train. FAR AND NEAR stands with those at the very top.
If Dream Theater hovered over the first album, late period Rush hovers over this one. Again, please don’t take me wrong. As always, Fire Garden is very much its own band, happy to recognize its influences, but finding itself completely within its own sphere of creativity. Within that confidence and that sphere of creativity, Zee is more than happy to work with his heroes. On this album, no less than Bruce Soord of Pineapple Thief mixes, Jimmy Keegan of Spock’s Beard drums, and Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater plays keyboards on track four. Quite an impressive ensemble.
Frank Lucas and Zee provide additional keyboards, with Lucas serving as the excellent main keyboardist on the album.
Having just listed such a stellar cast, it’s probably surprising to many to learn that the single best thing about this second Fire Garden album is that Zee finally takes over lead vocals. On SOUND OF MAJESTIC COLORS, Zee sang, but in conjunction with a lead vocalist. He was (and remains) quite good, but I like Zee’s voice best. There’s a deep honesty and intelligence in his vocals. As I continue to listen, I can hear how much David Gilmour’s style has shaped Zee, but I can also hear a brilliant artist with a kind and intelligent voice, the voice of a friend, the voice of a neighbor, and yet still the voice of a prog demi-god!
As mentioned above, the best comparison I can give for those of you who have not been fortunate enough to listen to Fire Garden yet is this: imagine David Gilmour singing his heart out on Rush’s SNAKES AND ARROWS.
Zee’s lyrical style tends toward the subtle, poetic, and imagistic, though his topics are traditional prog topics, dealing with war, conformity, liberty, and peace.
For readers of Progarchy, most will gravitate toward the final track, “Diary of the Blood Moon,” a near eleven-minute epic.
Additionally, the packaging for FAR AND NEAR is simply gorgeous. Everything from the lyrics to the photography to the layout is a stunner, and, happily, Zee offers at least a paragraph explanation (as well as the lyrics) for each of the nine songs. The edition I purchased came with a standard CD of the album, as well as a DVD with a 5.1 surround sound as well as a 24-bit instrumental mix.
If you’ve already heard of Fire Garden, you almost certainly have already purchased this new album. If you’ve not yet experienced the brilliant wonder that is Zee Baig and Fire Garden, I envy you. I would give a lot to be introduced to this band for the first time. That first time will never come again for me.
For more information on Fire Garden, please go here: www.firegardenmusic.com