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IQ - Frequency CD (album) cover





4.10 | 948 ratings

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3 stars |C| One of the stronger releases of modern Neo-prog.

As this is my first review of a Neo-prog album, I might start off with a word of my general low opinion of Neo-prog in general. I pretty much consider the genre the 80s prog that somehow never died out, but neither did it develop much over the years. It's basically the pop of the prog community, with cliches that the fan-base can eat up, often with no real substance or creativity of which to be spoken. "You've heard one band, you heard them all" is a good indication my views of the style, and it would be an understatement to say that there is little diversity in the use of devices of composition in the genre from band to band. However, some bands definitely pull off the style very effectively, sometimes very charmingly, and on rare occasion, beautifully.

I've sampled a few IQ albums before, but never before dedicated a concentrated analysis of an album. I decided to pick Frequency since it's their most recent album and simultaneously one of their most highly rated, which isn't often the case older prog bands the past few years. While I find it by no means groundbreaking, breathtaking or essential, it sure is a nice change of pace from my usual music consumption, and was pleasantly surprised that I didn't want to throw up from the Neo-prog cliches, let alone actually enjoy it. Let it be known to the reader that a three is quite a compliment from his reviewer: its means that I think it's good, as in actually worth buying.

The instrumentation and layering of the composition is basically what you can expect from most Neo-prog: chorused guitars, synthesizers and effects everywhere, melodic guitar lines sometimes with atmospheric reverse-fade effects, etc. However, I find that IQ utilizes the typical layering formulas in often creative and expressive ways, and deviate from the cliches just enough to give their music the creative edge that is lacking in most neo-prog. And sometimes, they just plain rock (pun intended). I especially like the drummer, he almost always contributes a lot to the intrigue of the music. While much of their work may be laced (and often, too much so) with effects, the actual composition beneath is of pretty good quality, whilst many current prog releases often use the effects the cover up for lack of substantial, musical ideas (I give an example with a very recent review of mine).

Track Commentary: The opening album title track starts off with recorded sounds about Hiroshima distorted with effects, leading into mellotron pads with heavy palm-muted guitar that repeats several times, coming to be layered with a guitar solo, and then some nice keyboard synth riffing. Nicely done, though the rhythm guitar part is a bit repetitive for my taste. This leads to an electric keyboard section that repeats every two measures. The singer is quite nice sounding, as are the reverse-fade electric guitar parts. This song has some decent chord progressions. The 7/8 section is a bit choppy sounding, but I wonder if this was a conscious decision. I like the way the intro comes back at the end with the vocalist singing this time, with pretty tasteful effects on his voice in my opinion. Probably one of the best tracks on the album. The second track Life Support is starts off with soft piano arpeggios. I don't usually like music of this kind, somewhat sentimental sounding and cliche, but IQ pulls it off in a way that's very classy and convincing, and I actually unexpectedly enjoy this track. The section with the synthesizer is also quite nice, albeit somewhat synthetic sounding, but I think that's kind of the point of this album in general to an extent. This track demonstrates some efficient use of effects in my view, especially at the end. I wish the middle section weren't repeated so much though (which is more excusable considering the solid drum solo beneath the repeated sections). Stronger Than Fiction starts off abruptly with the main melodic guitar line, very energetic. This track is in general quite jagged, with pretty good material in each section of the song, but I feel like they don't really link too well. The verse has your (very) typical way of layering neo-prog, though it does have a bit of a groove to it. The chorus unfortunately seems a bit out of place with the sudden heavy guitar out of nowhere. This track leads directly into the softer One Fatal Mistake, which once again is more sentimental sounding than my usual taste but it's nonetheless well done. The sound effects at the end lead into Ryker Skies, which starts off with chorused acoustic guitar chords, very pretty sounding ones at that. Then, seemingly out of nowhere drops the guitar bass and drums playing a heavier section. Then this breaks into synthesizer/keyboard effects section with the vocal line dubbed an octave lower, kind of creative for them to do that. The chorus sounds way to drawn out though, and this work seems quite long-winded in general. I like the mallet percussion toward the end of the song, but that damn bass synth pounding out rhythms really ruins the soft movement implied by the other instruments. The fade out was kind of weird. The Province, the longest and most substantial work on the album, has a lot of elegant acoustic guitar work and tasty chord progressions. I like the transitions into the heavier sections, especially at "not here, not now!" Very expressive. There's lots of diversity in this song, with chord progressions, effects, melodies, layering, etc. Closer starts off with very heavy effects on clean guitar arpeggios, layered with synth pads and a nice vocal melody. I like the way the acoustic guitar and piano are added after the vocals finish.

This is definitely one of the better releases from the genre of Neo-prog in general; not the best that I've heard, but this really is a pretty pleasant album that doesn't pretentiously try to make too much of itself. The musicians really take their time (usually too much time) to say what they need to say, and say it in a elegant and gentle matter. In fact, the main issues that this album suffers from are mainly a factor of long-windedness in most of the tracks, and the sometimes unsatisfactory transitions between sections of the songs, which is really what usually separates the men from the boys among the great artists of rock music. Not to mention the general over-repetition of some musical ideas, but this is an almost universal problem for Neo-prog anyway. This is definitely an album to revisit on occasion. I recommend it for Neo-prog fans, and consider it essential for IQ fans for sure.

Isa | 3/5 |


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