Album Review – Fearful Symmetry’s “The Difficult Second”

Fearful Symmetry, The Difficult Second, 2022
Tracks: Mood Swings and Roundabouts (6:00), The Difficult Second (3:56), Light Of My Life (5:39), Shifting Sands (4:07), Eastern Eyes (5:15), The Song Of The Siren (4:57), Hope (5:35), Sandworm (6:37), Shukraan Jazilaan (3:23), Warlords (14:45)

Fearful Symmetry is the brainchild of Suzi James, a UK-based multi-instrumentalist. working with Yael Shotts (vocals) and Sharon Petrover (drums, arrangements), along with Jeremy Shotts, who helped write the album’s epic, “Warlords.” James plays guitars, bass, all manner of keyed instruments, and various other stringed instruments… and based on the emojis used in the booklet to indicate what instruments she plays, she also plays a camel. Prog has always been about pushing boundaries, I suppose. Ha.

The opening track is clearly an intentional nod to Yes, and I have to say it’s done very well. Yael Shotts’ vocals are close enough to Jon Anderson’s to make it work, and the instrumentation is classic 70s prog. A strong bass line, a clear and prominent electric guitar, keyboards and organs galore – it’s a fun throwback. “Time and a Word” even gets a nod in the lyrics.

Catchy melodies abound on the record, such as the chorus on “Light Of My Life.” “Sandworm” has another catchy melody, with a vintage organ sound to match. In addition to the classic prog takes, jazz has a strong influence on the record, particularly on “The Song of The Siren.” The drums especially take on a jazz edge.

There are Middle Eastern influences on the record, like “Shifting Sands,” an instrumental with Middle Eastern vocalization done in a more traditional western style of singing. There’s a moment when the melody is played with violin, and it reminded me a bit of Kansas, despite the different style of music being played. The Middle Eastern themes are repeated in “Eastern Eyes,” although they aren’t quite as pronounced, and they remain rooted in rock music with shredding guitars and bass. I’m usually wary of artists pulling the Middle Eastern influences into progressive rock because it can quickly become corny, but it feels very natural on this record, perhaps because it was done through a more western interpretation rather than simply plugging a sitar into the mix.

“Warlords” is the epic on the album, at just under fifteen minutes in length. The intro overture has a swelling sound with guitars and bass working together to create an epic feel. It narrows in with a more gently keyboard driven section before expanding back out into a guitar solo. The song, divided up into five parts, is a story about a grand battle – very proggy indeed. As the song moves along, the Yes influence remains the most prominent, although thematically I’m also reminded of Genesis. But even so, the variety of instruments that Suzi plays keeps the track sounding particularly modern. Despite the song being about a battle, the music remains very bright.

“The Difficult Second” is an enjoyable throwback album that doesn’t feel oppressively tied to the past. The album is upbeat, with good melodies, solid instrumentation and vocals, and clever lyrics. The guitar solos are especially worth checking out.

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