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Knight Area - Hyperdrive CD (album) cover


Knight Area



3.30 | 80 ratings

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3 stars Back in 2007, Dutch band Knight Area released what I consider to be one of the finest recent Neo Prog albums in `Under a New Sign'. It was loaded with beautiful lengthy symphonic tracks perhaps in the style of the early romantic Pendragon albums, plenty of serene keyboards plied all around and a lively, likeable vocal performance from Mark Smit. There were occasional more straightforward hard rock elements, something that has been on all of the band's albums, but this most recent release, 2014's `Hyperdrive', sees the band ditch much of those progressive sounds, instead focussing on streamlined, reigned in hard rock/heavy AOR with shorter instrumental runs. While thankfully everything is still coated in Gerben Klazinga's sleek synths and new guitarist Mark Bogert's makes a huge impression for his album debut, as strong as the material actually is, some of the band's identity has been lost, leaving them musically sounding a little more anonymous. However, is it a bad album? No, not even close!

The majority of the eleven pieces here run between three and five minutes (only the closer stretches out beyond seven minutes), most following pretty traditional verse/chorus/solos/chorus patterns, which is initially quite a letdown. But give the album a few spins, and it quickly reveals that every piece is loaded with pleasing and strong melodies, memorable punchy arrangements and plenty of terrific playing. Frontman Smit still has a much softer and more pleasing voice than the tougher and usually bellowing hard rock/metal vocalists, making the band more appealing to those not as keen on hard rock/metal bands. Newcomer Bogert displays great variety and skill on guitar, and he fits in perfectly with the long-term members, also more than holding his own even with friendly competition in the form of a musical cameo from Ayreon mastermind Arjen Athony Lucassen!

Looking over the kinds of tracks on offer, you get blasting metal stompers like opener `Afraid of the Dark' and the up-tempo `Crimson Skies' with it's addictive snarling riffs and an Iron Maiden-esque anthemic chorus. Gutsy synth-heavy arena rocker `Avenue of Broken Dream' sounds like a better version of what Asia tried to offer, and the more poppy and groovy `Bubble' has a catchy chorus with a tasty runaway synth solo in the final minute. Choral Mellotron and swirling synths get a real workout all throughout driving rocker `Living in Confusion', and the only instrumental `Stepping Out' is a dynamic guitar showcase for special guest Arjen Anthony Lucassen, with an opening that goes straight to the heart, then burns with plenty of widdly fire in the second half. Album closer `Hypnotised' is overloaded with extended symphonic synth and guitar instrumental passages after it gets a shorter vocal section out of the way early on, with the grandest of epic guitar solos and Pieter van Hoorn's powerhouse drumming to close on.

Several winning power ballads also feature. The lush piano-led `This Day' and it's slightly twee chorus instantly reminds of Anyone's Daughter's self-titled album from 1980, and `The Lost World' has nice backing vocals, chunky bass courtesy of Peter Vink of legendary vintage instrumental proggers Finch, and a tasty Fish-era Marillion-flavoured Moog solo in the finale. But by far the absolute standout of the album is the swooning and gently melancholic piano ballad `Songs from the Past', where Mark adopts a sweeter falsetto vocal, supported by exquisite and intricate backing harmonies that instantly recall the classic early Seventies Queen albums.

While the more adventurous and sophisticated qualities are largely absent this time around for Knight Area, there is absolutely no denying how well written and performed this collection of tunes is. Along with the eye-catching sci-fi artwork and a lavish CD booklet, a lot of effort has gone into producing a strong work, and even though the band is working with more accessible pieces here, if you pay close attention you will still find progressive elements carefully worked in throughout, just in smaller doses! Hopefully the next release will see the group upping the prog scale a little more again, but if you enjoy the band overall (and they do have a great sound), and are perfectly happy to enjoy some hard rocking tunes, `Hyperdive' is very satisfying and worthwhile.

Three stars as a prog album, four stars as a hard rock album!

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |


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