Well, I may have met my match with this one but, first, let me explain. I am always talking about how progressive rock albums need both length and space in order for the music to evolve and expand enough to make music make sense. The fact that brevity is not usually a big feature of prog does actually matter, well it does to me at least. Well this latest album from United Progressive Fraternity (UPF) really challenges that idea and could be seen as overload or just simply too much!
‘Planetary Overload, Part 2 – Hope’ is nearly three hours long and has thirty-one tracks, several of which hover around the fifteen minute plus length. Alongside which the cast of contributors is huge, ranging from Steve Hackett to Jerry Marotta and all points in between but it’s fun when you can spot their contributions, like Steve Hackett’s guitar tapping on Chants of Hope.
What I will say is that, this is the equivalent of a transatlantic flight in that it’s long and the scenery changes constantly. And in a similar vein, there are many musical elements that are employed here in the rather strange, and possibly difficult, third UPF album. You get everything including speeches from the likes of Sir David Attenborough and Chief Oren Lyons amongst others, for this is very much an environmentally focused album, in that this is a plea for us to change how we exist, evolve and engage with nature.
Anyway, enough waffle from me, what exactly are you getting with this album? Well, in a nutshell, you will find some staggeringly good and complex symphonic progressive rock music with more than a touch of Peter Gabriel’s World Music thrown in for good measure. You get songs that have good messages and that actually mean something and you get excellent musicianship and some really quite remarkable playing, all wrapped up in a strong, conceptual set of 3 CD’s with excellent artwork from Ed Unitsky.
What’s not to like? Fans of antipodean prog like Unitopia and Southern Empire or even the excellent Damanek will find music to both discover and enjoy here. There are a large variety of styles used from quite aggressive passages to almost swing and orchestral sections. Faultline, for example, has heavy sections and jazzy swing tempo passages to it that are most impressive.
The album begins with Hope Is Drums Of Hope and a symphonic overture, all very ethereal and airy, before Mark ‘Truey’ Trueack’s earnest baritone vocal begins. There is a lightness of touch in this opening section with an evocative violin from Steve Unruh, who plays a large variety of instruments including guitars, bass pedals ,violin and flute and also provides lead and harmony vocals in conjunction with Trueack. These two together form the axis of UPF, although they draw on a wide array of contributors to achieve their unique sound. This opener has a hell of a lot happening during its running time including that great violin, lots of drums, a delicate piano and masses of choral type voices, its’ all very over the top but definitely appealing to these ears.
One of the album’s longer tracks, Being of Equal, has a very middle eastern sound to it, almost Arabian really. This is all very epic sounding, as the song continues a strong electronic element and bass line is added which actually fits in really well with the mystical elements. It really sounds exciting and different, there is an excellent synth burst too that really empowers the track. Yes, it is a complex and engaging track but it is also an excellent album track that really helps set out what the band are all about. This is an album that you are going to have to invest your time with in order to get the most out of it so be warned, this is going to require your efforts here, although I will point out that this will be mutually rewarding as you will encounter some really remarkable and challenging music on your journey.
Justified is another interesting track, very minimal in its sound with just a drum beat along with a sole vocal before taking a more expansive and broader musical route at the early part of the song. Lyrically it is interesting as well, lines like; “If you lay down with dogs you’re going to wake up with fleas, you’re scratching the surface not treating the disease.” It’s very well written and intelligently crafted, the touches of world music really enhance the sound they make and it’s really gorgeous in places, like on this track. Another bonus is the third disc of tracks in which, as The Romantechs they revisit several tracks and even a couple of old Unitopia tracks like Justify from ‘More Than A Dream’ and The Garden from the album of the same name. These are interesting retakes and well conceived and delivered versions of two classic songs, When you factor this bonus disc is of nearly seventy minutes duration, you can tell this is a very rewarding album when you do your part in giving it time and space in your life.
UPF certainly have a valid message wrapped in an attractive, challenging and complex musical format. There is a lot to get your teeth into so what are you waiting for? Dig in deep and enjoy the vista that United Progressive Fraternity offer with ‘Hope’.
It may be worth mentioning that ‘Hope’ continues on with themes that were both raised, voiced and addressed on their previous album ‘Planetary Overload Part One – Loss ‘ released in 2019. ‘Hope’ was delayed in part by the pandemic and continues in expressing both environmental and humanitarian issues and concerns. I also recommend that you give that one a listen as well and embrace the whole picture.
Released 15th July, 2023.
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