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Sonus Umbra - Beyond the Panopticon CD (album) cover

BEYOND THE PANOPTICON

Sonus Umbra

 

Crossover Prog

3.87 | 38 ratings

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kev rowland
Special Collaborator
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars About 20 years ago I used to be in contact with Brian Hirsch, who set up Moonchild with Andrew Robinson (Magus), and once he realised there was someone who was as mad about music as he was, he flooded me with material from tapes to CDs. One of these was an American progressive rock band who used to be based in Mexico, and their second album, 'Snapshots From Limbo', which I thoroughly enjoyed. Brian and I lost contact, and apart from Jeremy Morris, I don't believe I heard from anyone else involved with the label until earlier this year when Sonus Umbra again came onto my radar. They released four albums in fairly quick succession, before an extended break, with their fifth not coming out until 2013. There had been some significant line-up changes, with only bassist and founder Luis Nasser and guitarist Andrew Tillotson playing on the albums either side of the break.

However, between 2013's 'Winter Solstice' and 2016's 'Beyond The Panopticum' the band had remained fairly stable, although by now Tillotson had switched to drums and acoustic guitar. They also had changed considerably in size since I last came across them as whereas they used to be a quartet (admittedly with 3 guests), now they also included Roey Ben- Yoseph (lead vocals, percussion), Tim McCaskey (acoustic & electric guitars), Brittany Moffitt (lead vocals), Rich Poston (electric guitar, keyboards) and Steve Royce (flute, keyboards) as well as guests Colleen Corning (clarinet, bass clarinet) and David Keller (cello). Given the huge change in personnel, with only Luis remaining from the group I first came across, I would have expected a major change in musical direction, and while that is what has happened in some ways, it makes perfect logical sense. One thing I really liked about their music used to be the musicality and melody, and less on the neo- prog, and that is exactly what we have here. They have two singers, but there are long passages where they leave the stage for a well-earned break as the rest of the guys weave a magical spell. In some ways they come across as American with their polish and finesse, yet at others they are looking strongly into the UK for inspiration, although at the very beginning of "Love Undone" they remind us that in another lifetime they started in Mexico.

The CD comes in a four-pane digipak and I was amazed at the care and attention which has gone into the physical release, which contains all the lyrics, especially when this is independent and not signed to a label. Coming back to them after a break of two decades has been something of a revelation, as this complex progressive rock album is a delight from beginning to end, with hugely layered musical arrangements and two very fine singers indeed. This is a superb album that any fan of the genre would do well to investigate.

kev rowland | 4/5 |

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