Being a music reviewer and a fan of music is always a voyage of discovery and, every now and again, these discoveries are quite remarkable indeed. When 23 year old Progressive Rock artist Dominic Sanderson reached out to me via email and invited me to listen to his debut full length album ‘Impermanence’ I was intrigued by the fact he was influenced by the likes of Steven Wilson, Marillion, King Crimson and Pink Floyd and drawn even deeper into this young man’s web by the striking album artwork, incidentally all artwork and lyrics were handled by Dominic’s dad (who has been instrumental in shaping his music taste and is the reason Dominic loves prog rock).
The PR blurb’s bold claims then sold it to me completely, “Impermanence strikes a perfect balance between a traditional symphonic progressive rock sound, as epitomised by heavy use of mellotron, Hammond organ, flute and baritone saxophone, and modern production techniques that anchors this firmly in the 21st century despite obvious influences such as King Crimson, Steven Wilson, Wobbler and Anglagard. Heavier, movement-led tracks such as ‘The Twisted Hand of Fate’ and ‘Is There Calm Amongst This Chaos?’ contrast softer ballads (‘This Night and the Wounds it Will Bring’) and avant-garde, experimental tracks (‘A False Sense of Promise’). The album was recorded wholly independently by myself, my band and a variety of excellent musicians and producers using the University of Liverpool’s SSL studio over the course of a year. It promises to deliver a truly progressive sound that so many modern ‘prog’ bands fail to capture.”
Would this provocative album live up to the hype?
The solid, if formulaic, opening of I Don’t Think I can Get Over This After All is a good start but things only get better and immensely so. Dominic’s vocals have a early fragility to them and the acoustic guitar adds a sparse background, the track then opens up with a glorious instrumental section overlaid by hushed vocals leaving you wanting more and wondering where the album will go next. Into the stratosphere actually! The Twisted Hand Of Fate has the hallmark of ‘Insurgentes’ era Steven Wilson, all full of mystery and opaqueness. The musicianship is quite remarkable and the angst of the crashing drums, chaotic keyboards and wailing guitars is hypnotic delivering five minutes of modern prog brilliance. The softer tones of This Night And The Wounds It Will Bring brings some calm serenity to proceedings, a pulsating, shimmering track where the music is given space to breathe, the vocals low and hushed. There’s always an undercurrent of something primeval, almost alien threatening to break out and that makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise in a deliciously suspenseful way.
Like King Crimson but without the intransigence, Is There Calm Amongst This Chaos is a superb progressive rock track that would grace any era of the genre. It is a carefully judged and superbly delivered six minutes of clever variation and moods, dark and dangerous yet chinks of light shine through at vital moments and make this an intelligent piece of music where the musicians are given free reign to deliver something compelling and captivating. The ebb and flow of the staccato section is just genius and leaves me open mouthed in admiration. After the thought-provoking intensity of the previous track, the soothing, relaxing composure of delightful instrumental An Empty Room is a welcome contrast and, as it closes on a lifting note, a musical palate cleanser that leads into the avant-garde splendour of A False Sense Of Promise. This intricate journey into the experimental and enigmatic has a fleeting, wistful feel. Almost like a musical narcotic, its soporific nature leaves you mesmerised and entranced as it dances across your synapses.
The album closes with the near twenty minute prog epic Like Shards Of Glass Falling Through My Fingers, a perfectly constructed song that shows the sheer talent and inventiveness of Dominic and this incredible set of musicians. The intro with its awe inspiring organ and choral vocals is nape tingling and only the beginning of this musical adventure. The musical interplay between the keyboards, drums and guitar is just magical, just sit back and enjoy the show as the drama unfolds before you, the soaring guitars adding even more theatre and showmanship. Ethereal, ghostly vocals wash over the music to deliver perfect modern progressive rock and showing a maturity well beyond Dominic’s tender years. It’s an object lesson in how to hold the listener’s attention over an expanded running time, there’s always something going on but nothing is gratuitous or mere padding and the way this monumental track closes is just sheer genius.
‘Impermanence’ is quite possibly the best truly progressive release I’ve heard in many a year, Dominic’s influences are obvious but that’s all they are, he takes those influences and blends them into something distinctive, unique and utterly brilliant. It is an exceptional release and stands well above the norm and, after the relatively disappointing (well, to my ears anyway) ‘Closure/Continuation’, is the album that Porcupine Tree really should have written.
Released 25th February, 2023.
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