‘When did Absurdity and Nonsense take control?
The Moment that they all Lost Sight of Common Goals…’
For some strange reason those words from A Revolutionary Cure, the opening epic song from ‘Becoming Aware’, resonate quite significantly at present. Formed in 2007 by Ben Revens (vocals and keyboards) and Reuben Krendel (guitars), as a result of a college project which ultimately resulted in ‘A Revolutionary Cure’, Paradigm Shift have gradually developed with the addition of drummer, Bryson Demath and very recently Leon Itzler on bass for the recording of this album. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene, also willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album from London based band.
In such tumultuous times it is perhaps appropriate for Paradigm Shift to release such an album based on the ideas of freedom and control. However, the generally optimistic theme of ‘Becoming Aware’ is that attempts to control people, whether through politics, religion, media, dictatorships or medication are ultimately futile and people will find a way to be free. I sincerely hope this young band’s optimism is well-placed in the recent context of the pervading influence of the media and the manipulative powers of politicians to distort and misrepresent to gain popular support. Lest we forget, Hitler was elected into power.
A Revolutionary Cure commences with an intro of sampled speeches about slavery and freedom before an awesomely heavy guitar riff provides a dramatic opening in to the song proper before the rest of the band joins the melee. What strikes you early on with this band are the strength of the piano led keyboards, which adds more texture and colour to their heavy progressive style. Ben Revens has stated that Rush and Dream Theater are influences, which you can hear with this powerhouse number but this is no carbon copy as there are other elements in this particularly powerful rock concoction, with dashes of jazz, metal and electronica. Reuben Krendel’s guitars certainly take centre stage half way through this number with an impressive array of styles and sounds emanating from his guitar with Revens’ keyboards swirling around them.
When one considers that this number started out as a project for a college course one has to be impressed at the musical skills, imagination and influences injected into this epic opener – no half hearted subtle opening for this band. Straight in – BLAM! Unashamedly retro in style, but oh so many styles and so well played. One could choose to possibly think as a younger band perhaps they could have been a little more ‘contemporary’ (whatever the hell that means?) or one can choose to just get on board and hang on during this enjoyable rock journey. Let’s face it these days we need a little distraction from the mess the older generation may have inflicted upon this nation.
However, before we relax too much in to the music recent events are seemingly brought into very sharp relief as the album seamlessly segues into An Easy Lie, amidst more sampled speech. Revens turns up his synthesiser ‘swirly’ button to eleven (I believe that is the technical term!) before Bryson Demath and Leon Itzler lock in to a great drum and bass groove. Krendel’s guitar rhythmically plays powerfully and then a staccato vocal (with a hint of rap style) from Revens tries to keep pace with the juggernaut backing. One cannot help feel a resonance with current times with prescient lines like:
“We fell in Love too quickly with a Tempting Word
Slotted in our own Beliefs around what we Thought we heard
And jumped to clutch at Flags like fish biting at a Hook….”
Needless to say this album was written some time before the recent political mess that has plagued the UK but depending on one’s viewpoint it is hard not to invest such lyrics with more meaning and feeling. Revens has stated:
“It is uncanny just how relevant it’s become actually. I’d love to say we foresaw the UK’s unravelling, but I think it was more a case of writing the right lyrics at the right time!”
This is an outstanding song musically and lyrically, fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix – much like the lying demagogue at the centre of the song and seemingly holding sway in recent political debate. It remains to be seen what happens in the near future nationally, but the figure at the centre of the song falls from grace.
‘And Chained by Sweet mystifying words half understood
We let you get us Victory, just as you said you would
But nothing changed at the end of our Crusade
Tell me, just what happened to the Promises you made?’
(For some strange reason I can’t help think it could be useful for that last line to be emblazoned on the side of a Big Bus?)
After the drama and impact of the first two tracks Paradigm Shift calm things down somewhat with an eerie synth soaked instrumental The Void. This segues into The Shift which starts with piano playing reminiscent of Keith Emerson before the band crashes in powerfully as the track rolls along, with Demath particularly impressive on drums. Revens is a real driving force behind much of the music, and it is his preference and skills with pianos rather than organs that sets him apart from many progressive rock bands who sometimes overly rely upon the overwhelming generic wash of mellotron sounds. The Shift merges seamlessly into Masquerade and we are back in epic progressive rock territory.
Revens has shared the song writing process of the band:
‘Our writing process for the album was very collaborative. Reuben or I would bring ideas for sections or the skeleton of a song, and then we would work together to flesh things out. Once we were happy we’d bring it to the full band and play with certain passages to add things in or strip things out etc. I think it was through this process that we really found our sound as a band.’
This approach appears very evident on this multi-layered track which shows the band all contributing to this varied piece. It is also clear that this is a band that has not rushed out with their first inexperienced efforts as they have developed and honed their songs over a few years before attempting to gain a release, eventually wisely choosing Bad Elephant Music to back them.
Sampled dialogue in Masquerade about ‘Democracy’ from Charlie Chaplin’s 1930’s classic film ‘The Great Dictator’ underlines the theme of the album and presages an exciting instrumental section with a scintillating synth – guitar soloing battle with Itzler and Demath on bass and drums keeping the song anchored powerfully. This is the best vocal performance of Revens on the whole album as on some other songs he perhaps shows a little inexperience vocally. That will come with more performance and recordings but for a first album it is certainly a competent showing.
The album takes an optimistic view that lies and fear will be overcome in time:
‘Your Fears only Blemish the View,
A New Perception of Truth is ours for the taking
We’re coming Awake and Becoming Aware’
It is to be hoped that recent events may act as a catalyst for more engagement with the political process and citizenship amongst the electorate, especially amongst the young, whatever the future holds. ‘Becoming Aware’ is vital for a healthy democracy… but back to the music!
Like the rest of the album, Masquerade segues smoothly into final track Reunification. There are distinctive songs that stand alone in this album, but they are presented as one flowing musical and lyrical narrative. A melodic opening vocal section, (with perhaps a rather too densely packed lyric?), ends with words that seem so apt for our times;
‘Pulled apart by the desire of fools, All so Misguided
Now our History’s divided in two’
Inspiring sampled dialogue about ‘democracy’ and ‘common interest’ resonate in the background as the band play out a stirring rock manifesto of keyboard and guitar duos and leads, before gently drifting away in an acoustic guitar and piano coda.
‘Becoming Aware’ was mixed by Rob Aubrey, who has an impressive pedigree in modern progressive rock having worked with IQ, Big Big Train and Cosmograf, amongst many others. He brings his experienced ear to bear on this young band and ensures a perfectly balanced sound in tune with the style of those great artists. Acle Kahney of the more prog metal band TesseracT mastered the album, which helps give it a harder edge. The choice of those two professionals may indicate where this band lie in their aspirations – modern progressive rock with a heavier edge.
I googled the phrase ‘Paradigm Shift’ and discovered a couple of things:
Firstly, there are at least two other bands with that name – a fusion band from Mumbai and soul Jazz trio from America – so beware when searching for this band on google!
Secondly, I discovered the definition from Thomas Kuhn in 1962 that a Paradigm Shift is ‘a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions’.
There is some irony that this is not really a phrase that could be applied to the music of Paradigm Shift, who create finely played music based on well known influences but with a largely retro feel. They are not changing the face of progressive rock, but in all fairness there have been so few bands in history to whom such a description could be applied! Their interesting political edge is not particularly revolutionary or earth shattering in their insights, but it is definitely refreshing to hear such a band addressing such issues with vigour and passion.
Timing is everything and the lyrics for this album would not have had the same resonance a few months ago, and may not in a few years time… but right now they seem so appropriate and resonant. Listening to this album won’t solve the current political mess this country faces right now, but for some it may it help to listen and hear reflected what one may feel and think at times. What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.
Released 10th June 2016 via Bad Elephant Music.