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Ovrfwrd - Blurring the Lines ... A Democracy Manifest CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.17 | 185 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars After releasing the assertive live-in-the-studio teaser "Occupations of Uninhabited Space" only six months earlier, the Minneapolis quartet OVRFWRD completes what has to be the most impressive one-two punch of 2018 with their long awaited third album, in the process cementing a (so far) low radar reputation as one of the best and most authentically progressive bands at work today.

From the eye-catching cover art to the inscrutable title to the undeniable depth and variety of the music itself, this is stunning stuff: old-school instrumental Prog as it used to be practiced, by four ace players very much aware of their shared musical heritage. On their Facebook page the band cites the influence of Pink Floyd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Iron Maiden, Rush, Yes, Opeth, Joni Mitchell (!), and King Crimson, and believe it or not all of the above are discernable in the new album. But this is hardly an ensemble stuck on a retrograde treadmill: the same list of influences ends with an intriguing "TBD..."

In truth the only thing OVRFWRD actually borrows from the past is a legacy of boundless creativity. Their music is hard to categorize, which ought to be true (but usually isn't) for any band flying the Progressive Rock banner. Heavy, intense, lyrical, sensitive, and thrilling are a few words that immediately spring to mind at first exposure. I dare any self-respecting Proghead not to respond to the attention-grabbing album opener "Wretch", with its gut-punching rhythms and near-symphonic instrumental chorus (a brief "Reprise" later in the album acts more like an interlude excised from the earlier track but too good to waste).

The same challenge also applies to the gentle acoustic beauty of "Kilauea", an oasis of calm before the macho chords powering "The Trapper's Daughter". Or the Kick-Muck Ozric Tentacles intensity of "Forbidden Valley Opiate", one of two tracks previewed on the "Uninhibited Space" collection. Elsewhere the title "Cosmic Pillow" may have been intended as a joke: note the ethereal faux-'60s sitars and tabla, and the Roedelius-like simplicity of Chris Malmgren's acoustic piano accents, bathed in interplanetary echo. But it successfully conjures an age of outer-atmospheric exploration better than most dedicated Space Rock bands, then or now.

For this session OVRFWRD seems to have shed the few remaining inhibitions that might have lingered over their previous two studio albums. The band is playing with a greater sense of space and freedom, but at the same time have bonded tighter and harder than ever into a single musical unit. Solo turns are few, and are always heard within a larger group context: a possible explanation of the "Democracy Manifest" in the album's title. Chris Malmgren's nuanced keyboard work; Mark Ilaug's fiery lead guitar; and a vigorous rhythm section with stamina to spare: these guys function like an eight-armed beast controlled by one alert, curious, and very confident brain.

I'm always hesitant to award a new album five immediate stars: masterpieces need to first stand the test of time. But maybe this effort has been there and done that already, even before its official release. After all: if the same music had been around 40 years ago (and it might have been, if only more bands at the time had resisted commercial trends and played to their strengths) the album would likely be remembered today as a why wait?

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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