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Southern Empire - Southern Empire CD (album) cover

SOUTHERN EMPIRE

Southern Empire

 

Crossover Prog

3.86 | 110 ratings

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Windhawk
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Australian band SOUTHERN EMPIRE is a fairly recent project, instigated by composer and musician Sean Timms shortly after his former band Unitopia disbanded. For this new venture he has sought out proven quality musicians with a fairly varied background to continue exploring the progressive rock genre, and their self-titled debut album was released by noted UK label Giant Electric Pea in the spring of 2016.

One of the striking features of Southern Empire is how they don't really sound like a progressive rock band actually. If you listen to the music with half an ear only the main details you'll mainly take note of is that the compositions by and large are fairly vocal driven, accessible and compelling throughout, and without too many of the intricate instrument details you tend to expect when listening to a band labeled as progressive rock one way or the other. Of course, when you start listening closer it does become rather obvious why progressive rock is the only fitting description for the music of this band, and it's not only due to one of the compositions being an almost 30 minutes long, multiple sectioned suite that this genre description has been chosen.

My main impression is that Yes is a good place to start when describing this band. 80's era Yes that is, alongside the Yes but not in name project Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe towards the end of that decade. While not a dominating aspect of the music of Southerm Empire, certain recurring keyboard sounds and movements are comparable within this context, as are some of the tasteful and elegant vocal harmonies that appears here and there throughout. One might say that this aspect of this album is a commonly recurring feature rather than a red thread throughout though, as Southern Empire is about a lot more than this as well, and unlike the aforementioned possible influences the style here is actually a bit further removed from symphonic progressive rock as well.

Other recurring aspects of this album, and by and large more common as well, are gentler atmospheric laden passages more in line with late 80's neo progressive rock bands, and then most commonly alternating with and tied into harder edged passages sporting more powerful guitar and keyboards driven passages with a more distinct melodic hard rock sound, bordering melodic metal at times. Powerful and majestic, and less elaborate and quirky in execution than what you would expect from a progressive rock band. Or, as others might describe it, more accessible. Occasional details with a slight exotic or folk music tinge to them appears as well, and in the second half of this production interludes that takes the songs into jazz and jazzrock-oriented territories becomes a common and recurring feature as well, which expands the scope and depth of this CD quite a bit as well.

The quality, highly appealing lead vocals of Danny Lopresto is the most striking feature, and most likely what most will recall when reflecting on this album on first inspection, and the at times gorgeous vocal harmonies probably coming in at a close second. But there's ample room here also for elongated instrumental sections and solo runs of various kinds. Those who fancy striking, dramatic keyboard solo runs, blazing guitar soloing and combinations of those will find plenty to recall and enjoy as well. That there's also room for delicate saxophone motifs and elongated wandering piano runs is also something that should please listeners, especially those with a general taste for progressive rock I suspect.

Southern Empire comes across as a high quality band that have chosen to explore a rather broadly appealing variety of progressive rock, with room for sophisticated instrument sections and the occasional jazzrock oriented run just as much as for driving, energetic and vibrant melodic hard rock sections, in between more careful and atmospheric laden passages closer to neo-progressive rock. While rather different than both of them, I would suspect on a general basis that fans of bands such as Magic Pie and Spock's Beard might be something of a key audience for this band, and presumably quite a few of Unitopia's fans will also experience this album as a worthwhile experience.

Windhawk | 4/5 |

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