During the month of May, some of us Progarchists switched into “Rush Appreciation Mode” as we paid tribute to the group that, for some of us, forever altered our view of what music could be on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut release. This very site is a reflection of our appreciation for a genre of music that, for so many of us, started with our first exposure to Rush. For so many, they were springboard into the world of progressive rock.
Of course, there’s another generation of progressive rock fans from the 1990’s who cut their teeth on prog through Dream Theater, while for some of us older folks, Dream Theater was the group that picked up the torch for progressive rock starting in the 1990’s, when iconic bands such as Rush and Yes had either changed their songwriting approach and/or gradually declined in popularity. Still other prog fans recently found their love of the genre through Tool’s and/or Steven Wilson’s works.
In the spirit of the more recent iconic, progressive hard rock groups such as Dream Theater, Chicago-based Fire Garden has released their first full-length album, “Sound Of Majestic Colors,” which follows their December 2012 EP release, “Prelude.” As is the case with most prog, repeated listens will reveal layers within the music, but the album is also accessible from the get-go.
Prog fans will have little trouble picking out styles and sounds similar to Dream Theater, but anyone who dismisses the group simply as a knockoff of DT does so at their own peril, for Fire Garden is very much their own band.
That said, the album opens with perhaps the group’s biggest nod to its Dream Theater influence in “The Joker.” Guitarist/songwriter Zee Baig channels John Petrucci’s guitar sound from “Train Of Thought,” there are echoes of the Derek Sherinian era DT with some nice organ work, some percussive keyboard patches that take from Jordan Rudess’ work in later years and even some fast kick drum work that might recall Mike Portnoy’s heavier playing prior to his departure from DT. A vocal-heavy middle section breaks up the influences noted above, showcasing the group’s range.
Despite liking “The Joker” quite a bit over repeated spins, I was a bit fearful that I might be subjected to an album not unlike “Train Of Thought,” which is one of my least favorite DT albums, but oh, how Fire Garden quickly proved me wrong.
It’s rare that I’ll hear a succession of tracks for the first time and think, “This one’s my favorite!,” then say to the next, “No – THIS one’s my favorite,” but that’s exactly what unfolded during the first four tracks on “Sound Of Majestic Colors” as “The Joker” gave way to the soulful “Alone,” abandoning the bombast of the opening track for a slower, more atmospheric vibe. We then get a touch of “Images And Words”-era Dream Theater with the big-sounding “Time Machine,” but Fire Garden then shows us an altogether different side with “Endless Memories,” with bassist Barry Kleiber weaving melodic bass lines over acoustic/electric guitars, setting the tone for what is easily the most accessible track on the album. The track features a lovely, soaring chorus that’ll no doubt have audiences singing along.
This changing up and blending of styles that Fire Garden seem so comfortable writing continues throughout the album with a trifecta of big rtracks in “Redemption,” “Behind The Face”, and “Echoes Of Silence,” then broken up by the lovely, harmony-laden “Far From Grace,” and finally, the cinematic album ender, “The Last Step.” If rock radio was still open to progressive hard rock they way it was 20 years ago, tracks from “Sound Of Majestic Colors” would find a place in station’s rotation, to be sure.
It’s worth mentioning that throughout “Sound Of Majestic Colors,” singer Kevin Pollack does a fine job using his range – a bit lower but a welcome change from the wails of many prog/metal vocalists – bringing the proper measure of energy, emotion and, well, gravitas to each song.
The lyrics on the album tend to explore dark themes – battling demons both internal and external, sometimes literal – in “Alone,” “The Joker,” “Echoes In Silence” and “Redemption,” greed in “Time Machine,” love lost in “Endless Memories,” and finally, reaching for redemption/rejuvenation in “The Last Step.”
Half of the 10 tracks on “Majestic Colors” clock in between eight and nine minutes, giving the band plenty of space for stylistic exploration without falling into the noodling/padding trap that’s so often a cliche of prog. They also avoid cramming as many time signatures into each tune as possible just for the sake of it, making the album quite accessible to those ears tripped up a bit by odd-meter shifts.
Fire Garden also gets it right with the album packaging and liner notes, very much reminiscent of Hugh Syme’s best work with Rush and Dream Theater, as each lyric is mated its own piece of artwork, beautifully complementing our listening experience in way that liner notes from the aforementioned bands do.
Knowing that the prog community is a tight-knit one, I would highly advise any reader with influence over any prog festival or cruise – as is the case these days – to quickly snap up Fire Garden as they’d be a worthy addition and sure-fire fan favorite. Better still, how’s about groups like Rush and Dream Theater consider the next generation of prog by dropping the well-worn “Evening with…” format and getting these guys out on tour to build as big a following as possible?
“Sound Of Majestic Colors” is more than enough evidence that Fire Garden has an extensive palette of talent and styles to “paint” with, making this release a more than worthy addition to prog fans’ libraries. Dream Theater’s ridiculously, prodigiously-talented lineup may still have a tight hold on prog’s hard rock torch, but Fire Garden stands as a potential successor with “Sound Of Majestic Colors.”