Album Title: The Illuminated Sky
Label: The Laser’s Edge
Date Of Release: 21 July 2017
I remember reviewing the debut record from UK progressive metal band Prospekt for Powerplay some years ago. But more importantly, I remember being very impressed with the output and so it was a natural step for me to seek this out and give it the full treatment on the Blog Of Much Metal. No word limits here, so I am able to explore the music a little bit more in depth.
Formed in 2008 in Oxfordshire, a county more renowned for its world famous higher learning establishment than for its world class progressive metal, Prospekt remain a relatively young band with a self-titled EP (2011) and debut full length (‘The Colourless Sunrise – 2013) in their locker already. But it has been a long four years leading to ‘The Illuminated Sky’, the band’s sophomore studio release; four years that has seen a few changes to the band’s line-up. Keyboardist Richard Marshall and lead vocalist Matt Winchester have left, to be replaced by Rox Capriotti and Michael Morris respectively.
Now, I always get nervous when a progressive band changes vocalist, particularly when the departing member was a perfectly good fit. However, it is clear that Prospekt have expertly dodged the ‘disappointing vocalist’ bullet that hits a good number of bands within the genre. In Michael Morris, they have found a vocalist who works really well with the music that sits behind him. His range is impressive, able to hit the lower notes, the high notes and, as demonstrated within ‘Beneath Enriya’ by way of just one example, the very high notes. You know the ones that threaten to veer into ‘canine-only’ territory? Yeah, them!
And whilst ever so occasionally, I wish Morris has just a little more bass to his voice, I really can’t fault his ability or his delivery at all. He certainly has the ability to tell a story convincingly which is important in this kind of music, working with the complex compositions rather than battling them. In time, we could be looking at another Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus or Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder perhaps. We shall have to wait and see.
Given that Prospekt’s musical weapon of choice is dextrous and complex symphonic prog metal, the choice of keyboardist is just as important as the vocalist. Again, Rox Capriotti would appear to be ideal. Not only is he clearly adept at creating sweeping atmospheric vistas and layers of bombast with his synths, Capriotti can deliver a flamboyant solo too, as demonstrated within ‘In The Shadows Of The Earth’ for example.
They join the unchanged core of bassist Phil Wicker, guitarist Lee Luland and drummer Blake Richarson who are equally adept and impressive in their chosen fields. The licks, leads, riffs and chops delivered by Luland are wonderful, the flamboyance of Wicker is not lost in a decent mix and as such is reminiscent of Seventh Wonder and Shadow Gallery. And Blake Richardson lays down some excellent rhythms, just the right balance of power, precision and flair.
Everything so far is pointing in the right direction and the positivity continues as one’s focus then shifts to the compositions themselves. I’m a big sucker for melody and whilst there are just a few occasions where I want the quintet to go bigger and bolder in this area, they generally deliver something rather ear-pleasing to keep me coming back for more. In fact, in true progressive metal style, the more I listen, the more I discover.
Prospekt describe themselves as ‘cinematic technical progressive metal’ which I completely agree with. The content of the ten tracks on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ are truly epic in scope and cover a multitude of different influences, from the neoclassical output of Symphony X, to the more symphonic elements of bands like Dream Theater and the all-out technical flamboyance of Haken. To be honest though, listen carefully enough and you’ll be able to pick out ingredients from just about any of the biggest and best protagonists in the prog metal genre. And yet the music does not sound like a clone of any one band. Nor does it come across as being derivative in the slightest. Instead, it sounds confident, assured and remarkably vibrant.
The dramatic intro ‘Ex Nihilo’ sits somewhere between the aforementioned Haken and Dream Theater in tone, before the title track kicks in. And kick in, it certainly does, with the force and fury of a band that know they have something to offer the metal world. The riffs are excellent, the rhythm section is thunderous and the transitions between sections are slick. The chorus is a real grower and throughout it all, the synths provide that wonderfully dramatic and grandiose feel.
Remarkably, the quintet keep up the momentum as the album develops. ‘Titan’ has a vague Middle-Eastern flavour within its up-tempo structure, as well a striking lead guitar solo from Luland, whilst ‘Beneath Enriya’ offers a beautifully melodic and expansive chorus as well as some spoken-word samples to increase the sense of theatre.
Arguably my favourite track on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ is the nine-minute giant ‘Alien Makers Of Discord’. But it isn’t the amazing guest lead guitar work of Greg Howe that draws me in, it’s the huge melodic hooks within the chorus that floor me, nestled expertly within some impressive musicianship, a staple of the Prospekt sound.
And then, there’s ‘Cosmic Emissary’, which seems to dial everything up a further notch if that’s even possible. The neoclassical lead guitar work that introduces the song is superb but the symphonic elements are possibly the most ear-catching aspect of the song, adding drama and boosting the cinematic flavour even further. And then there’s the thunderous drumming that injects genuine heaviness to expertly counterbalance the well-placed quieter sections within the track.
‘Akaibara’, the closest Prospekt get to a ballad, is also a winner thanks in large part to the brief reduction of complexity and the subtle way that it builds. And what a pay-off when it reaches its climax – the melodies are so powerful and the relative simplicity, topped off by Morris’ emotional performance makes the whole thing more impactful and honest.
And yet there’s still time for one more song. And it’s the biggest of the lot. Weighing in at over 11 minutes, ‘Where Masters Fall’ which features the guest vocal talents of Dragonforce’s Marc Hudson, is the massive conclusion to an already massively impressive album, where just about nothing is off limits. Combining a little bit of everything that has gone before, it is the perfect way to conclude the record, leaving the listener on a real high.
The only conclusion I can reach is that with ‘The Illuminated Sky’, Prospekt have signalled their intent to become a big hitter in the prog scene in the most impressive of ways. Or, to put it another way, if you’re a fan of progressive music, it won’t be long before you’re a fan of Prospekt.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day