Fire Garden’s Immediate Past and Immediate Future

“Best ofs” are flying around every where at the moment.

The top 10.  The top 22.  The top 25.  Best albums.  Best songs.  Best gigs.

Admittedly, I not only love all of these lists, but I encourage and contribute to them.  List, list, list!  Yet, in the middle of it all, I also worry.  Are we allowing the conventions of time to limit our vision?  Things that came out in 2015 have relevance, while things that came out in 2010 have weight.  What about those things that came out between 2010 and now?

So, in the spirit of lists and in the warning labels that should come attached to every one of them, I offer the following about a favorite from. . . not 2015. . . but 2014.  May it never be forgotten.

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Do not–I repeat–DO NOT enter 2016 without having purchased this brilliant album from 2014.

On June 10, 2014, Zee Baig, Chicago prog mastermind and professional artist (photography), revealed to the world Fire Garden’s first full LP, the gorgeous SOUND OF MAJESTIC COLORS.  A little less than two years earlier, he had tempted us all with his three-song EP, appropriately entitled THE PRELUDE.  It was a smart move on Zee’s part, as it truly whetted the appetite.  For eighteen months, I looked forward to the full album.  And, when it finally arrived, it did no–in any way–disappoint.  It was everything the EP had promised and, then, so much more.  The band kindly sent me a review copy, but I was also more than happy to purchase a personal copy.  And, so glad that I did.  Zee does nothing if not perfectly, and a beautiful package arrived promptly from the Windy City, complete with a lovingly-crafted CD and case, a poster, small stickers, and a large bumper sticker, “GOT PROG?”  I had never applied a bumper sticker to my car before.  I generally find them entertaining but tacky.  This one was so good, however—and I was moving to Boulder, Colorado—I had to apply it.  And, there it proudly remains.  It’s actually attracted a lot of attention, especially when I was in Colorado.

As I type this, the band is recording (literally, as I type this) its second album.  I type “band” for convenience, but Zee properly labels Fire Garden a “project,” rather than a band, and, of course, he’s right.  As a project, it magnifies the art, soul, and mind of Zee rather than being a mere expression of each.

SOUND OF MAJESTIC COLORS has been in constant rotation in my playlist for eighteen-months now.  Never has it left that playlist, and never has it bored me.  Indeed, as with all true art, the album reveals more and more to me with each listen.  Granted, I received the album just days before moving to Colorado for a year, so it is tied up with very good personal feelings and memories of my time at CU-Boulder.  But, lots of albums could have done that—at least in terms of possibilities—but it was Fire Garden that best expressed my love of life along the Front Range.  Even now, as I listen to it, I can remember with absolute clarity the view of Rocky Mountain National Park from our back deck.

Zee describes his own music as a reflection of his love for progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater as well as for much harder prog such as Rush.  He also properly notes that he doesn’t really like categorization and that he goes where the muses lead him.  Amen.

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Intense perfectionist, Zee Baig.

As many times as I’ve listened to the album, I still can’t quite place it into any specific category of music.  Yes, I hear Zee’s love of Dream Theater, Drama-era Yes, and Rush and other bands too, but Zee offers something quite different than any one of these bands does.  He shares the tightness of both DT and Rush, but he’s also more melodic than DT and more intense than Rush.  His lyrics, too, speak to a million things.  If I’m understanding every thing I’m hearing, I assume that Zee and I have a fairly similar view of the world, but I may be missing some depth here.  He’s younger than I am by almost two decades, but I still think we view the world in a rather similar fashion.  His love of intensity and perfection certainly inspires me.  No doubt about it.

And, interestingly enough, the lyrics point out everything from a love of Christopher Nolen’s Dark Knight trilogy to existential angst to perseverance to the nature of grace.  All to the good!

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Jimmy Keegan and Zee.

Zee has offered a few teasers from time to time on social media about the forthcoming album, and, of course, he is genius.  The big news is that the new album will feature Jimmy Keegan, the drummer from Spock’s Beard.

Add to this the fact that the first album featured engineers from Dream Theater and Rush, and you get a really good sense of what means what to Zee.  As I’ve already written, this is not a guy to do anything half way.  If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence.  Zee is excellence, and excellence is Zee.

As we exit 2015 and contemplate the best of this year, let’s not forgot what led into it, what came immediately before it, and what will spring from it.  Fire Garden’s new album is certainly one I anticipate the most for the upcoming year.

Make sure you visit Zee’s official site: http://firegardenmusic.com.  He keeps it up regularly, and I’m always interested in what he’s listening to at the moment.

 

Zee Baig’s New Song

Zee Baig, the present and future of American prog.
Zee Baig, the present and future of American prog.

Just now (10am, Central Standard Time), Zee Baig, mastermind behind one of the best American prog bands, Fire Garden, has released a solo song.  It is beautiful, haunting, and earnest.  “Yeh Jahan.”

Please check it out here:

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To purchase the first album from Fire Garden, SOUND OF MAJESTIC COLORS (and you should!), go here: http://firegardenmusic.bandcamp.com/album/sound-of-majestic-colors

Fire Garden's first.
Fire Garden’s first.

Zee Baig is an American: Long Live, Fire Garden!

I just found out that Chicago’s master of all things Prog, Zee Baig, became an American citizen today.  Getting to know Zee–even if only virtually–over the last year has been one of the great joys of editing progarchy.  

Sound of Majestic Colors (2014) by Fire Garden.  A masterful work of prog metal.
Sound of Majestic Colors (2014) by Fire Garden. A masterful work of prog metal.

His success today is the kind of thing that makes me say: good for Zee and incredibly good for America!

So, let me be blunt–let’s please help Zee celebrate by supporting his excellent band, FIRE GARDEN.  

 

A U.S. citizen.
A U.S. citizen.

The Dramatic Rock of Fire Garden’s “Sound Of Majestic Colors”

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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.”

Fire Garden Band Photo 1