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IQ - Dark Matter CD (album) cover





4.03 | 859 ratings

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4 stars I've been experiencing IQ's latest, DARK MATTER (2004) for a few weeks now, in preparation for writing this review, and I have immensely enjoyed the task. With some discs, listening enough times to write knowledgeably about the contents can be a decided chore, but that has certainly not been the case with this fine slice of "neo" prog.

Now, some of you may object to the whole notion of "neo prog." You may believe - not without reason - that this present-day prog should more accurately be dubbed "regressive progressive" or "retro prog," because it tends to stick firmly to "the path laid long before," instead of taking the genre to any really new territory. That's a mindset you are entitled to hold, and one review of mine is not likely to change your mind if you tend to think that it was all over for truly "progressive" rock after the mid to late 70s.

True, when I listen to the classic "symphonic" prog sound of IQ, I am immediately aware that the band - whether consciously, or by "osmosis" - derives its chief inspiration from classic Genesis, but I have no problem with that. I'm a huge fan of early Genesis, but as that first-rank progressive group stopped making consistently top-quality prog around 1977, I am grateful for the existence of bands who, like IQ, can convincingly deliver strong new material in the style of the old masters, without being slavishly imitative or too obviously derivative. Yes, it's a fine line that "neo prog" bands tread in the quest to appeal to fans of a bygone era (while yet being acceptably "original" enough so as not become a mere parody of the past), and IQ navigate that artistic high wire more sure-footedly than most. With DARK MATTER, the seasoned English outfit (they've been together for over twenty years) have released one of the most satisfying works of their extensive catalogue.

All of the five songs found here are quite good, for my tastes, yet two are particular standouts. Album opener "Sacred Sound" blows me away with its scope, power, and memorable lyrics, choruses, and melodies - I've even caught my wife and kids singing along. A prog song's ability to appeal to a broad audience might seem like a decided non-recommendation to some purists, but I believe it points to successful and relevant songwriting within the strictures of a style that can often be difficult for mainstream music fans to relate to. (See Rush, Yes's "Roundabout" or Pink Floyd's DARK SIDE OF THE MOON for classic examples of such "crossover hits" that managed to retain intelligence and integrity.) "Sacred Sound" is simply a darn good prog song of epic proportions (almost twelve minutes), that you'll likely find yourself playing often, and loudly. Sing along on the chorus, if you wish - it's okay to find pleasure in the present! Yep, "Sacred Sound" is alone almost enough to justify shelling out your shekels for DARK MATTER.

The CD's major work, however, is the over twenty-four minute opus "Harvest of Souls." Unlike some, I won't go so far as to directly compare it to Genesis' masterpiece "Supper's Ready" - that would be near sacrilege -- but if you're ready for a challenging, engaging and varied longer prog song (that has a release date well after the bell bottoms and peace sign period) look no further! IQ is a band well able to deliver prog's alternating passages of power and sensitivity with practiced ease, and it all comes wonderfully together here, with writing, vocals and musicianship that push all the right buttons - a truly satisfying epic!

As for the other three tracks that fill the space between those weighty numbers, "Red Dust Shadow" is an unnerving/melancholy treatment of loss and regret, while "You Never Will" picks up the pace, while still sticking with the album's prevailing thematic "dark matter." Paul Cook's drumming is especially hard-hitting here, and Michael Holmes' lead soars.

"Born Brilliant" is another winner that starts out slow and creepy, before a driving bass and keyboard line from John Jowitt and Martin Orford, respectively, asserts itself for the remainder of a song that also cries out for high volume delivery. The evocative lyrics, Peter Nicholls' voice and Holmes' guitar all work notably well for me on this one.

Thus, if you're at all receptive to "neo" prog, and the efforts of newer bands that draw their antecedents from a vaunted vanished day, you would do well to buy this fine CD. DARK MATTER would be an excellent addition to the collection of the open-minded prog fan who is not "stuck in the 70s." Turn it up, and smile again!

Peter | 4/5 |


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