Artist: Knight Area
Album Title: Hyperdrive
Label: The Laser’s Edge
Year Of Release: 2014
Around 2008/09, I developed a real love for ‘neo-prog’ music. At the time, I had that rarest of commodities known as a disposable income, so I eagerly bought up as much music from this genre as I could. In amongst my purchases, was ‘Under A New Sign’ by a hitherto unknown Dutch band called Knight Area. The album impressed me and thus I have followed the band ever since.
In 2011, they released the fabulous ‘Nine Paths’ which in particular, remains on heavy rotation at the ‘Mansion of Much Metal’ even today. Then, last year, fans were treated to an EP, entitled ‘Between Two Steps’, showcasing a couple of songs from this very album, whetting the appetite nicely for its release.
The first thing to say is that the quintet, comprised of vocalist Mark Smit, keyboardist Gerben Klazinga, drummer Pieter van Hoorn, bassist Peter Vink and guitarist Mark Bogart, exude professionalism. This is not a band that seemingly cuts corners or does anything half-arsed. What you get each and every time, is a quality product where every small detail has been considered. ‘Hyperdrive’ is no different.
On a first spin, I was initially struck by the heaviness of ‘Hyperdrive’. With the best will in the world, neo-prog is generally not the edgiest or angriest of guitar-based music although it has its fair share of dark and challenging moments for sure. Here though, from the get-go, there’s a demonstrable crunch to the guitars and the rhythm section is properly powerful. This is a theme that continues right through the album and, although there is plenty in the way of variation amongst the compositions, satisfying crunch remains a big and welcome element of Knight Area’s approach this time around.
On the subject of variation, this is another big string to the ‘Hyperdrive’ bow. In neo-prog terms, the album is not the longest, with several of the songs weighing in at the three-to-four-minute mark but there’s an impressive amount of music packed into the 11 tracks, plenty enough to keep fans entertained and fully sated.
To offer more detail, the album kicks off with ‘Afraid Of The Dark’, arguably one of the heaviest and most striking compositions within the band’s entire catalogue. The central riff is aggressive and powerful, the rhythm section is muscular and the chorus is a belter. As with any neo-prog album, there are lashings of keyboards layered throughout as well as indulgent yet engaging guitar solos. One of the best compositions of Knight Area’s career? You bet it is.
‘The Lost World’ has the feel of a power ballad about it but it is also very moody. The pace of the opener may be reduced, but the conviction certainly isn’t. It’s a bold track that features more sumptuous melodies that sit around a stomping tempo. It includes a great synth solo but it is Smit’s stellar vocal performance which sets this track apart, full of passion and honesty.
‘Bubble’ will be familiar to those who have already heard the preceding EP. Heavily influenced from the UK prog rock scene, it constantly reminds me of early Marillion. The catchy chorus full of layered vocals took time to grow on me but is now a firm favourite and is a track that could easily enjoy plenty of commercial radio airplay.
I could mention something positive and worthwhile about every single track. However, to avoid the review becoming a monster, I’ll instead pick out a few further specific highlights including the power metal-meets-hard rock vibe of ‘Crimson Skies’, the AOR-reminiscent ‘Avenue Of Broken Dreams’, the 80s melodic rock leanings of ‘Running Away’ and ‘Songs From The Past’ that offers overtones of Queen with its overt West End or Broadway feel.
The impressive album closes with ‘Hypnotised’, a longer more sprawling composition that closes in epic fashion thanks to an uplifting yet bitter-sweet melody overlaid by a genuinely spine-tingling guitar solo. It’s the fitting and dramatic way to end such a great record.
The whole album is then wrapped up in a fantastic production that offers the clarity required from this type of music but doesn’t rob any of the power from the compositions. Each instrument is given the room it needs to shine, nothing is lost in the mix and yet there’s a lushness about the whole thing that shines through and enhances the entire listening experience.
‘Hyperdrive’ is not necessarily the album for those looking for the ultimate progressive workout, but then this genre and Knight Area in particular have never been about that. Instead you are treated to excellent musicianship, great melodies, sing-along choruses and above all, a collection of songs that are a joy to listen to time and again. Why Knight Area are still so relatively unknown is beyond me; trust this review and give ‘Hyperdrive’ a listen because you honestly won’t regret it.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
Check out my other reviews via the following links:
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld