Unified Past release Etched in Stone, the first of many live videos to come from their performance at RoSfest (Rites of Spring Festival) on May 6th, 2017 at Majestic Theater in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. Etched in Stone is the 3rd track from the band’s critically acclaimed album ‘Shifting the Equilibrium’ and was the final song performed by Unified Past at RoSfest.
The Rites of Spring festival or RoSfest is an annual progressive rock festival which takes place at the end of April or in early May. Established in 2004, and held the Majestic Theater in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Unified Past was a well kept progressive rock secret. However, their 2013 release “Spots” was their most gripping recording yet that connected with fans of progressive rock and was met with positive reviews in progressive rock circles. ‘Shifting The Equilibrium’ is the band’s 7th release and promise to appeal to an even wider array of prog fans as the band has stepped up a notch or two with the addition of Emmy Award Winning Singer, Song Writer, and Vocalist Phil Naro.
So I’ve let the lunatics take over the asylum for the last few reviews (I jest, they are all going to be worthy additions to the website) but it’s time I stopped shirking and took the Captain’s chair back…..
“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” – Oscar Levant.
After listening to the latest release from multi-national conglomerate Corvus Stone, I wouldn’t be surprised is that was the band’s mantra!
This is music that makes you smile, yes you could say they have poked too many badgers with sharp sticks but, I appreciate the sheer unbridled joy that is at the heart of their flippant and humorous output.
That’s not to say that they do not produce some excellent music, these guys are all great musicians at heart but they don’t take themselves too seriously. The band understand that a touch of madness can make something much more rich and varied.
A bit of background from the band’s website…….
“A band comprised of individuals, all with their own unique styles and approaches. You want predictability & an obvious theme on an album, you will not find it here (Or will you?). If you enjoyed radio stations like the ones that existed in the good old days (anything and everything), you will enjoy what you find here! They really do mix it up.
If you want to like what you hear in the first 30 seconds, again… look elsewhere but if you want music to grow on you as you get to know it, Corvus Stone’s music does exactly that. There is melodic content 100% of the time in everything they do. Sometimes there is singing, sometimes not.“
The so called ‘hardcore’ members of the band are Colin Tench (guitars), Petri ‘Lemmy’ Lindström (bass), Pasi Koivu (keyboards) and Robert Wolff (drums and percussion) but they add a stellar list of guest vocalists to the mix including Sean Filkins, Blake Carpenter and Phil Naro, just to name a few.
These guys never planned to form a band when they met on the internet. Recordings were made for fun and it became obvious to them that this was different and had all the magic and surprise that rarely comes from a plan. Corvus Stone step in and out of “prog” within the space of one song!
After releasing two albums, one in 2012 and the second in 2014, this year sees them release ‘Unscrewed’. An album released as a free “Thank You” for fans and on sale to everybody else.
It started life as a combination of unplugged new music and remixed old music but it has become something much bigger. A full blown album in fact!
The opening track, Brand New Day, is one of the new compositions and is a full blown rock instrumental and fairly conventional, well for Corvus Stone anyway! Powerful rock guitar riffage and thumping bass steer the ship while Robert’s stellar drumming plays the anchoring role (see what I did there?). Uplifting keyboards add a really smooth gloss on things and it is a nice way to start the album. Early Morning Calls started it’s life as purely an instrumental on Corvus Stone II (as ‘Early Morning Call’), this modified version features both Sean Filkins and Phil Naro’s vocal talents, Phil adding ‘multi harmonies, doo wops and Di di di dum dums (yeah, me neither!). It almost sounds like a Beach Boys or Beatles track that’s had too many magic mushrooms, Colin also adding new and significant guitar work to the track. It is brilliantly nuts, keeps me smiling from ear to ear and really seems to sum up what this band are all about. A lot of the sense of humour is present in the track titles, take Joukahainen Without Chips for instance, bloody mental isn’t it? A new track that majors on organ and guitar, it is like and incessant earworm. It opens positively majestic in stature like the title character, a character from an epic Finnish poem but soon ebbs and flows between also being a lovely little unplugged delight. What drumming does feature is delivered by collaborator Paul Marshall.
Just a limited amount of re-recording was deemed necessary for old favourite Horizon, a short but brilliantly bonkers instrumental that has my imagination working overtime and brings images of clowns at a fairground playing this song with a maniacal glee. See what I mean, it’s nuts! The keyboard goes off with a mind of its own, Colin’s guitar has slapstick written over it and the drums and bass bound along just having fun. You just can’t beat it! Landfill is one of the latest musical creations and, once more, features Paul Marshall. Laid back, carefree and playful, it has something of a medieval tone and is quite processional. A song that is, in the main, unplugged but with some well placed percussion where it will make the most impact. A tongue-in-cheek nod to MontyPython to my ears. An extensive remix for After Solstice has also seen changes in the drums. A track with delicate sensibilities and some intricate guitar playing and one that seemingly always verges on teetering over the edge into delirium. Once the blue touch paper is lit, there is no getting off as it heads off at break neck speed with dizzying keyboards and manic drumming, a song that stares at the abyss and laughs it off as inconsequential.
Another ‘lick of paint’ is all that JussiPussi required and there is a full on ‘box of frogs’ type of lunacy going on here. Darting and grabbing, you literally could be in a musical version of a Circus’ House of Fun. Off kilter and chaotic, it leaves you utterly wired. Scary Movie Too is a complete belt and braces, double in length reboot of Scary Movie from the first album. The band see it as a sort of ‘live’ version of the original track. Creepy and mysterious it almost crawls across your skin at the beginning in a Hammer House of Horrors fashion. Disturbing, it keeps you on edge as the musicians deliver a suspenseful tale through the ever expressive music. Crashing riffs and thunderous drumming make you almost jump out of your seat. Distorted squeals and sinister keyboards just add to the deliciously oppressive feel, I am just waiting for Vincent Price to come round the corner (if you’re under 35, you may need to look him up or ‘Google’ him, as the youth of today would say). Petrified in the Cinema Basement is a total reworking of the track Cinema and has a real Mariachi note to it as it bounds along at a jaunty pace, its metaphorical cap doffed to all and sundry. All knowing guitar and seventies sci-fi sound effects with a clear, starlit sky above.
Petri ‘Lemmy’ Lindström
Double the length, as Blake Carpenter had always wished it to be, Lost and Found Revisited has gained a lot of new vocals, a second drummer and a lead break. Bringing some semblance of normality to the party with it’s military style drums and tasteful vocals, it is thoughtful, meaningful and quite evocative. Colin’s guitar seems to verge on a Mike Oldfield impression without giving it the full ‘Tubular Bells’ and it is probably the only song that actually leaves you in a calm state of mind. Tighter and more dynamic than the original alternate version of Cinema that was a bonus track on the debut album, Cinema Finale is, in my opinion, the best track on the album. Methodical, deliberate and precise, it is sombre, sensible and resolute. Colin really lets loose with some superbly intense guitar playing that really seems to be telling a story, the polished delivery of the keyboards adds gravitas and the uncompromising rhythm section adds real substance and sensibility. Jazzy, laid back and ever so slightly stoned, Pack Up Your Truffles brings some of the playfulness back. Another great addition to the new tracks on display, you are left in such a laid back state that you could almost be horizontal and in a world of polo necks and bad haircuts. Returning us back to the crazy world of Corvus Stone (liberties taken, I know) Moustaches in Massachusetts is a helter-skelter ride through the mind of an insane musical genius. Included as a bonus track because it is essentially unchanged, apart from a remix, it needs to be played loud because, at some point, you will realise that you are just as mad as what you have been listening to!
This album is flawed in places but entirely and eccentrically wonderful. Corvus Stone follow no path already trodden. Mad bad and brilliantly dangerous, whether you’ll come out the other side with all your mental faculties is another matter entirely.
“I really don’t think in the past. I sit down with many friends at dinner, and they like to talk about the good old days. I’m respectful of the good old days, but I find myself spending very little time reminiscing. I’m really looking forward.” – David Bren.
Through numerous conversations, discussions and mild arguments on social media this last month, I have come to see this as indicative of my view on the music industry and, particularly, the progressive genre.
I wrote a few words about this, agreed, in the heat of the moment and, despite them mellowing somewhat over the last week or two, this was the gist of it:
“My dear friends if we always keep looking over our shoulders at what has gone before then there will be no future for the music. Yes, enjoy the greats of the past but please invest some of your precious time and hard-earned money in some of the smaller artists who are producing the here and the now and, more than that even, the future……”
True, some of these modern artists would not even be writing and performing their music if it wasn’t for the influence of the leviathans of the past and we should respect them for that and for what they are producing now but, we really need to concentrate on the present for this genre (and many others, I would imagine, but I’m concentrating on my favourite!) to flourish and not disappear into the musical ether.
I hope, in some little way, that by concentrating on the independent artists and small labels that I can contribute to widening the general music fan’s consciousness when it comes to the new music that they produce and release.
To that extent I, once again, delve into the musical treasure trove to find some wonderment for your delectation and, this time, it is Syracuse, NY band Unified Past who get ‘Progradared’ (so to speak!).
I have been a long time fan of this excellent group of musicians ever since reviewing their last release ‘Spots’ for Lady Obscure Music Magazine and I was very excited when, earlier this year, guitarist Stephen Speelman first informed me that they had a new album coming out, ‘Shifting the Equlibrium’, in the autumn.
Unified Past is a power progressive rock band from Syracuse, New York. ‘Shifting the Equilibrium’ is the band’s 7th release and their third for MelodicRevolution Records. The CD is a 6 panel digi pack containing a 12 page booklet of lyrics and photos, designed by international fantasy artist Ed Unitsky, who also designed “Spots” in 2013.
The band consists of Stephen Speelman (guitars, keys, vocals), Dave Mickelson (bass) and Victor Tassone (drums and percussion). For this new release they were joined by grammy award winning vocalist Phil Naro, showing that the band is continuing to grow and evolve and that they are a band that prog rock fans should really get to know.
Guitarist Stephen possesses a master’s degree in classical guitar performance, bass player Dave is currently a member of Joey Belladonna’s Chief Big Way and thunderous drummer Victor has appeared on several independent artist releases as well, including Corvus Stone and Andy John Bradford’s Oceans 5.
The album opens with Erasure Principle, a tentative percussion and keys based intro gives way to the thunderous guitar of Stephen Speelman and Victor Tassone’s powerful drumming. This is what you call ‘Power-Prog’ as the heavy riffage continues, surrounded by some rather nice technical elements. When Phil’s voice joins the throng, it gives it a very Rush-like feel, especially with the keyboards driving the song along. Some rather excellent instrumental interludes join together the vocal parts and it is immediately obvious that Naro’s distinctive vocals have added a further dimension to the band’s signature sound. Speelman goes into guitar shredding mode with an excellent solo in the middle of a more laid back interlude, giving a short break, before the flood gates are once again opened and the full force of Unified Past is thrust upon you. Upbeat, effervescent and assured, it opens the album with a purely positive vibe.
A really striking keyboard run, accompanied by another booming riff opens Smile (In the Face of Adversity), Phil repeats the title in a lazy repeated circle and the song seems to tread water before the blue touch paper is lit and off we go on a hectic riff-led journey once more. Excellent little squirreling guitar runs grab your attention and reel you in to join the effusive musical thrill ride. The dense production leading to a wall to wall block of intense sound, staccato, random keyboard parts and sinister guitar breaks give the whole song a moody aura and Phil’s vocal has a slight pleading note to it, appealing to your better side. The catchy chorus is underpinned by the chugging riff that drives the song along at a break-neck pace. The musical breaks haul everything back to a more sedate tempo as the atmosphere takes on an edgy feel. Naro’s intensive vocal delivery will not be to everyone’s taste but I feel that it works perfectly with the solid, forceful musical delivery. An intricate, restless guitar solo adds menace before the song breaks out with the dynamic keyboards and looms ominously above you. Quite a dark hued musical adventure that comes to an enigmatic close, I’ve paid the entrance fee and I am enjoying the ride….
Etched in Stone begins with a nicely subdued acoustic guitar followed by refined keyboards that add a note of distinction to the track. The vocals join in, quite heartfelt and earnest, adding a cultured note. The ‘Power-Prog’ takes a back seat initially but it isn’t long before Tassone’s drumming starts to resonate around the inside of your skull, purposeful and compelling. Speelman’s guitar adds its usual stylish flourishes and you really get to hear the majesty of Dave Mickelson’s fluent bass playing as it lays the foundations for the rest of this enjoyable musical jaunt. Another forceful and energetic riff adds the necessary chops to Phil Naro’s increasingly potent vocal delivery, add all this energizing melodic brilliance to the intricate progressive elements already in the melting pot and you get a wild smorgasbord of harmonious delights. There is no denying the technical artistry of these musicians but it is their ability to write a damn good song that always seems to come to the fore for me, adding the undoubted vocal drama of Phil Naro has really upped their game by quite a large leap.
A highly charged and volatile keyboard and guitar combination launches Peace Remains in This World, a really aggressive and magnetic opening and Phil’s dominant voice carries on the efficacious feel. Touches of Rush and Trevor Rabin era Yes abound to my ears. The lively, electrifying interplay between the keys and guitar that overly some more impressive bass work from Dave Mickelson is a definite highlight as this track takes definitively heavier progressive route. Intricacies and ‘noodly’ bits ramped up to eleven are at the core of the song, a darker and moodier track than those that have gone before. Once again, the superb bass playing anchors the whole sound as the song moves into what is almost a stylish jam session, I get the impression that this would be a killer track live, both for the band and the audience. A really dominant and dense musical experience that leaves its mark on your psyche as it comes to a strident conclusion.
Let’s go on a metaphysical journey, Deviation From a Theme (of Harmonic Origin) sounds very existential and begins with quite a thought provoking, if rather loud, introduction. It is a rather fine instrumental that gets your grey matter working as it careers from place to place with its own destination in mind. An exploration of the deeper parts of humankind’s inner being through music, the smooth segues from intricate and convoluted to smooth and calculated are pin sharp as these musicians deliver their ‘A’ game right on cue. Speelman’s guitar is animated in every sense and punches the song forcefully along with an intense depth of intuition. The polished rhythm section of Tassone and Mickelson seems inspired as they choreograph this great track at ground level. The Rush influences can be heard throughout, like a nod to the greats of the past but they are integrated into Unified Past’s own sound to create something dexterous, eye-opening and quite superb.
The final track on this discerning musical adventure is Today is the Day and sees the band deliver an uplifting close to the album. A euphoric opening dominated by Naro’s vocal leads you gently into the song as the classy music delivers a wonderful hopeful note. Musical sunshine runs across your mind as the track increases in expectancy and emotion. A song full of hope, longing and optimism and all that is inherent in the lyrics that Phil Naro espouses so fervently. This song is more about the spirit and meaning of the lyrics, the musicians seem happy to take a back seat and let the words do the talking, yet they never take their foot of the pedal. The demonstrative bass work and energising fervour of the drums give the verse that added lustre and Speelman’s admirable guitar could almost be singing itself as it comes to life in short virtuoso slots throughout the song. A contemplative, serious instrumental section adds a nice counterpoint to the lighter note of the early part of the track yet it soon sheds that steely eyed demeanor to flare brightly with expectation once more. All good things must come to an end, unfortunately and this auspicious song comes to a triumphant close.
Powerful, energising music that makes you sit up and listen, ‘Shifting the Equlibrium’ is most definitely Unified Past’s most impressive release to date. A group of exemplary musicians whose songwriting has reached a new peak, add in the dynamism of Phil Naro’s voice and you have near-perfect ‘Power-Prog’. Will it appeal to veryone? I doubt it but, those that do appreciate this band’s excellent music have really dropped lucky this time, well done chaps!