Unlike many fans who view progressive music as a genre requiring specific sounds, instruments and structures – usually from the 60’s and 70’s – I think of the term literally: Music that, while challenging and possibly containing traditional prog “signposts” along the way, is also pointing towards something more modern and different that what’s been done prior.
It’s that approach that endears 80’s Yes and Rush music to me. While many trash those bands for taking a more streamlined tack compared to their 70’s output, I could only applaud them for changing with the times and trying something new to them. Dream Theater had that streak in the 90’s, Spock’s Beard somehow made the old sound new in the 90’s and 00’s, and after sampling what was “new” in prog, Jem Godfrey gave us new and different sounds (at least to these ears) with Frost*.
I have the pleasure of being able to sample a lot of progressive albums, and while most admittedly do little for me – thus explaining my meager volume of columns here – I was taken by Southern Empire’s “Civilisation” this year, and repeated listens have left me declaring it to be my favorite of 2018 as it’s a modern, dynamic and forward-thinking album.
Since I knew nothing of Southern Empire before this year, and with only two albums and a live album under their belts, I was able to catch up with this band quickly, first with their 2016 debut. Tracks like “How Long,” “Forest Fire” and “The Bridge That Binds” quickly caught my attention, with “How Long” taking up a LOT of listening time early on.
When I finally gave “Civilisation” a listen, I was immediately taken NOT by the epics (as many prog fans might be), but instead by the bookend tracks, “Goliath’s Moon” and “Innocence And Fortune.” Both of these tracks and the music on the first album showed a band that, while certainly playing well within the prog genre, was definitely looking forward with their sounds and production.
“Goliath’s Moon” starts with a vintage song reference, a funked-up beat, a hooky chorus and plenty of aforementioned “prog signposts” in the middle section to display their prowess – instrumental runs, great harmony parts, a Spock’s Beard-esque vocal section (because, really, are we going to give only Gentle Giant credit for this?) – before returning to close out and ends with and excerpt from U.S. President Richard Nixon’s call to the Apollo 11 crew.
The last track “Innocence And Fortune,” is a grandiose spine-tingler containing cool, proggy verses, a wonderful chorus befitting an album-closer. Its my go-track on the album, for sure.
For the longest time, it was those two tracks that dominated my “Civilisation” listening, but as with most epic-length tracks, a deep dive into them is usually necessary, and so it was with “The Crossroads,” a 29-minute beast with a ton of stylistic twists and turns, somewhat akin to Dream Theater’s “Learning to Live” (but nearly three times as long) and also not unlike early Spock’s. It’s WELL worth your time to absorb this, their longest track to date. Finally, the album’s 19-minute second track, “Cries For The Lonely,” is a slab of modern proggy goodness.
As one should expect, the playing is top notch and tight as hell throughout “Civilisation,” but I do want to mention the expressive and emotionally-delivered vocals of Danny Lopresto, which go a long way to make the band stand out.
Bravo forward-thinking prog. Bravo Southern Empire. Ever forward!