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Southern Empire - Civilisation CD (album) cover

CIVILISATION

Southern Empire

 

Crossover Prog

3.98 | 208 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars On the surface, it may be easy to dismiss Southern Empire as yet another symphonic prog band following in the well-trodden path of symphonic prog bands. You have a cast of highly talented musicians composing epic- length songs that are constructed with the intent of permitting numerous musical tangents for instrumental showcasing, which is sometimes called "wanking" or, to quote the phrase one music critic once said about the latest Iron Maiden album, "prog-jam log jam".

Yes, on the surface one could give Southern Empire's sophomore release a cursory listen and skip around through the expanse of music that makes up the four tracks and declare it another example of overblown musicianship and pretentious compositions. But in the same way, one could nibble around the crust of a deluxe pizza and grumble that it's just dough with a bit of cheese. I say this because I found the self-titled debut to offer so many musical wonders and yet I heard a well-known U-Choober pass the album off as nothing original and far too common these days to be impressive. What?! Sir, our opinions differ. Greatly so!

"Civilization" was released in July of this year (2018) and I had pre-ordered it, fully anticipating an album as equally impressive as I found the debut to be. I was only to be disappointed by the post, which lost my order, and I didn't finally receive a copy of the album until late in August.

The album has just four tracks, but right from the start, Sean Timms and Co. tantalize your tympanic membrane with an excellent eight-minute track that comes across as crossover prog with an earwormy, catchy chorus. "Goliath's Moon" also includes a slower middle part and some awesome lead guitar work by Cam Blokland, who plays like an eighties metal guitarist (think Vivian Campbell, Steve Vai, Vito Bratta, etc.) in a prog setting.

The next two tracks, "Cries for the Lonely" and "Crossroads" extend over 19 minutes and 29 minutes respectively. Here is where one might expect to be dragged along through tedious reworkings of Flower Kings- inspired epics, but fear not! One thing that Southern Empire has going for it is a natural ability to blend styles and combine world music influences. Some highlights from "Cries for the Lonely" are the violin melody after the first minute and the chorus at 4:20 that sounds really heavy, almost like power metal but in a heavy prog framework. Powerprog? There's also a wonderful instrumental section around 11:00 and at 11:45 comes this beautifully melodic metal type guitar solo which is both technical and purposeful in the context of the music.

"Crossroads" begins with music that appeared on United Progressive Fraternity's debut album, "Fall In Love with the World" from the song "Travelling Man (The Story of Eshu)". The original song was written by Mark Trueack and Sean Timms, both of whom were responsible for the band Unitopia, and the music is credited to these two and Matt Williams. The UPF song is about 21 minutes long, but here "Crossroads" tips the 29-minute mark. Some highlights I noted are the world music/classical type part around 4:10 which is followed by a flute and guitar solo, and a horror movie-sounding piano melody that is joined by heavy guitar and then violin playing in a style like eastern music. At 21:00 there's some great synthesizer playing and cool drums, then an ear-catching melody followed by a guitar solo. There's a jazzy bit and some soprano sax by Marek Arnold of Seven Steps to the Green Door. The final part of the track is slow and beautiful and then builds to a big dramatic climax. This track is an epic that is more like a journey full of EARthly delights!

The closing track, "Innocence and Fortune" is a beautiful song similar to the debut's closer "Dreams and Machines", but at around 7:45 we are treated to a romping piano solo which is then joined by acoustic guitar, bass and drums for one of those fantastic displays of talent that tell us why prog is better than mainstream pop! I recently played this part for someone I know whose music appreciation is entrenched in opera and classical, and she looked surprised and said, "But this isn't rock. This is really good music!"

I must give special mention to the very talented vocals of Danny Lopresto who can sing a variety of styles from acerbic and coarse heavy rock vocals to catchy pop melodies to softer singing. It's not often a super talented symphonic prog band hooks themselves up with a true singer.

Though either of Southern Empire's albums are a treat to listen to, I am most pleased to have both of them. They make a great pair! I'd gladly give this 4.5 stars if I could.

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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