“I often think in music, I live my daydreams in music, I see my life in terms of music.” –Albert Einstein.
That quote is really how I see music and why I started this website in the first place, I love music and spend the vast majority of my time listening to it. Progressive rock is one style of music that I really resonate with, to me, when it is done well, it is the modern version of classical music or musical theatre, both genres where the music can be so expressive.
Well, without spoiling the conclusion of this review, this new, much anticipated, album from legendary antipodean progressive band Unitopia definitely falls into the ‘done well’ category…
As the follow-up to 2010’s ‘Artificial’ and 2012’s ‘Covered Mirror Vol. 1 – Smooth as Silk‘ (a superb assortment of classic/prog rock reinterpretations), ‘Seven Chambers‘ is Unitopia’s first new outing in over a decade. Founded by vocalist/songwriter Mark “Truey” Trueack (United Progressive Fraternity) and multi-instrumentalist Sean Timms (Southern Empire,Damanek, UPF) in 1996, Australian progressive fusion Unitopia have always been among the most renowned and distinctive bands of their ilk and era.
During the interim, each member kept busy with various other projects, and according to Progrock.com‘s Essentials’ Mark Monforti, the method of getting the group going again was endearingly fortuitous:
“A few years ago, Steve Hackett was exploring studios and players for a show in Australia, and he contacted Timms about using the studio that he and Truey still owned. That got Sean and Truey talking about possibly working on new music together. Then, I reached out to them about doing some shows. They went exceedingly well, which sort of solidified the fact that Unitopia needed to come back.”
With Timms and Trueack reunited, the duo decided to expand Unitopia by bringing in fellow UPF maestro Steve Unruh, guitarist Dr. John Greenwood, drummer Chester Thompson (Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Genesis) and bassist Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report, Santana, David Gilmour).
With the powerhouse duo of Timms and Greenwood on creative duties, aided and abetted by Trueack and Unruh’s songwriting skills, Unitopia have delivered something rather special. It is a truly remarkable and immersive musical experience, wonderful musical theatre at its absolute best. The songs just ebb and flow magically and the musical virtuosity on show is totally mind blowing.
In a world where the darkness seems to be overwhelming the light, it is a salve for the soul to hear an album with as much emotional depth and sheer musical beauty and bombast as this. The music is the light that fights back the darkness and gives us hope and that’s what truly great music can do and why music really can mean more to you on a daily basis.
Mark’s powerful and emotive vocals are wonderfully stirring and effective, especially on songs like Broken Heart where John Greenwood’s magical guitar playing can first be heard. The keyboards dance like little gems of sound in your mind and the ever so cultured rhythm section of Chester Thompson and Alphonso Johnson is a lesson in less is more except, of course, when more is more! The deeply thoughtful Something Invisible opens up into something strident and vibrantly dynamic where the music wends its way around your psyche like it’s almost alive. I honestly don’t think I’ve heard an album as meaningful as this in quite a long time, every note is perfectly placed and the vocals are sinuous and full of heart and soul. One of the things I really love about this album is the use of strings, Steve Unruh’s violin especially is utterly charming and full of intellect and vitality. Bittersweet is just that, the wistful guitar and piano that open the song, along with Truey’s delicate vocal are as sweet as they come, tinkling on your mind. Things get more darker and edgy in the second half of the song, very free form jazz influenced, but almost with a wry smile in the background, you just have to admire the fantastic songwriting again.
Mania is deliciously dark, there’s a sense of foreboding from the primeval opening and the crunching guitar, Mark’s vocal goes up in intensity, he really has such an expressive voice and when he sings a chorus it absolutely soars. Twelve minutes of sombre, brooding music that is brilliantly executed by all, it’s a real powerhouse of a song and an almost exhausting listen as the emotion in the track bleeds directly into you. John’s fervent guitar work is superb and, once again, Chester and Alphonso step up to the mark superbly, a highlight of the album for me. There’s refinement and elegance throughout this exquisite album and that continues with the elegant The Stroke Of Midnight, wistful and contemplative, it’s sheer grace and style are a joy to behold. Mark’s voice is as smooth as they come and the music just flows so elegantly. As a lesson in songwriting, it is nigh on perfect and the violin section will make the hairs on the back of your neck rise, it is utterly mesmerising.
If you have an album that is supposed to be progressive rock, then it needs to have an epic, or in the case of Unitopia, two epics to finish the album! First Helen gives us nineteen minutes of sheer musical brilliance with wide ranging musical styles all asked to turn up and blend in together and, boy do they ever. Symphonic rock, gypsy violin, flamenco guitar chops, heavy rock, they just keep coming. It’s a musical melting pot of sheer wonder and the band just seem to having so much fun playing it. The highlight for me is a marvellous section where Steve Unruh plays a beautiful flute alongside a stylish Elizabethan harpsichord and it just made me smile. The album closes with the widescreen wonderment of The Uncertain, a scintillating musical work that crosses the boundaries of musical theatre, classical music, progressive rock and contemporary music with abandon to deliver eighteen minutes of dazzling, intense brilliance. Mark’s vocals dip into each genre with ease as he shows off his fantastic talent and Steve delivers a violin solo that is utterly riveting and enchanting, this is six musicians working in perfect harmony, almost symbiotic and delivering the performances of their lives.
Unitopia have returned with one of the stand out releases of the year. It may be over a decade since we had any music from this uber-talented collective but, in this reinvigorated from, it would appear that they are back and even better than before. ‘Seven Chambers’ is possibly the ultimate expression of modern progressive rock and one of the highlights of this year, it just doesn’t get much better than this!
Released 25th August, 2023.
Order CD from Burning Shed here:
Or download from bandcamp here: