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Rocket Scientists - Looking Backward  CD (album) cover


Rocket Scientists

Symphonic Prog

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5 stars As I said before in my review for Earth Below and Sky Above, I have only recently become interested in Rocket Scientists. The best place to start as of late is the new box set LOOKING BACKWARD. This 5- disc set came about as a result of the band's entire 90's studio back catalog going out of print. Bandleader and keyboardist Erik Norlander decided the best way to reissue those albums would be to remaster all 3 of the albums (their 1993 debut, EARTHBOUND; their 1995 sophomore effort, BRUTAL ARCHITECTURE; and their third album, 1999's OBLIVION DAYS), add on a disc of rerecordings from 2007, AND a DVD of candid studio footage dating from 1993-2007, an interview with Stick genius Emmett Chapman, and the 2007 Sessions plus interview segments all shot by HD film crews. PLUS, a nice little 64-page book chock-full of lyrics, pictures, and commentary of EACH SONG. As Borat would say: VERY NICE! Now onto the review, which I promise will go into great depth about the whole entire release. Here it goes!:

CD 1: LOOKING BACKWARD: THE 2007 SESSIONS - This disc contains mostly rerecordings of songs from the EARTHBOUND era, some remixes, and a couple of new chapters to add to the ''Dark Water'' saga. Here a lot of the songs are quite unique to their original versions, especially ''Picture Show'' whose length has been nearly doubled, thanks to nearly 15 years of playing and perspective. Songs like ''Earthbound'' and especially ''Dark Water Part One'' contain new elements while eschewing some old ones, the latter showcasing the full band near the end. There are also the two remixes of ''Escape'' and ''Break the Silence'', both from OBLIVION DAYS. They aren't too necessary, since they don't sound too different from the originals. Also, there's a version of the song ''Mariner'' with four minutes trimmed off its playing time and featuring the emotive vocals of Kelly Keeling. On this disc, all the musicians are in top form. Especially Erik Norlander and drummer Greg Ellis when performing the new ''Dark Water'' songs. ''Part Five'' showcases Ellis' brilliant percussion skills (if you liked Ellis here, check out his world music project VAS) amid atmospheric Mellotron from Norlander, while ''Part Six'' is a short, ominous drone of atmosphere similar to ''Part One''. This disc is very enjoyable and shows the EARTHBOUND songs with a more prog touch.

CD 2: OBLIVION DAYS - Rocket Scientists' third album is their heaviest, oftentimes bordering on progressive metal. Since I'm an avid listener of prog metal, this release no doubt jumps out at me the most. OBLIVION DAYS opens atmospherically with ''Dark Water Part Three: Neptune's Sun'' with Norlander having a little bit of fun before segueing into the heavy ''Aqua Vitae'', opening with a very distorted bass line. Here, the mood for the rest of the album is set. Heavy guitars with a nice warm, yet light crunch, pounding drums, flowing bass and Stick, with Erik Norlander's signature keyboards. On top of that are Mark McCrite's warm Beatles-esque vocals. The title track continues in the same vein as ''Aqua Vitae'', also carrying the apocalyptic concept present in the aforementioned songs and ''Break the Silence''. ''Archimedes'' is a groovy prog instrumental, much like ''Copernicus'' from BRUTAL ARCHITECTURE. ''Escape'' is the epic of the album, and is very depressing at first until picking up the pace a bit. ''Banquo's Ghost'' is very decieving, starting out gently before abruptly switching into one of the best instrumental passages in RS's history. ''Space:1999'' and ''Compass Variation'' are nice little tunes too, with the latter showing wonderful guitar acrobatics from McCrite. ''Break the Silence'' is a very somber song about the eventual end of days. Finally, ''Dark Water Part Four: Heavy Water'' lulls the listener into a false sense of security with lush keyboards before becoming a straightforward metal song. The last two bonus tracks aren't that great, although I prefer the live version of ''Wake Me Up''. I recommend this album to the metalheads out there. Not to be missed!

CD 3: BRUTAL ARCHITECTURE - This album showcased the ideal Rocket Scientists sound. It's the first album to exclusively feature Don Schiff's amazing Chapman Stick skills, and the only album not to feature any other guest musicians, except for Norlander's wife, Lana Lane. Here, RS show their truly progressive side, with more instrumentals, and much longer songs. Right off the bat, BA opens with ''Dark Water Part One'', a chance to let Erik Norlander spread his wings a bit with lush atmosphere. After that is ''Wake Me Up'', where we get to hear Don Schiff put his Stick to good use, although Tommy Amato's drums seem a little bit forced at first. ''Copernicus'' is a rather funky tune, while the title track is a laidback number. ''Nether'' and ''Dark Water Part Two'' are some more instrumentals to chew on before coming the piano ballad that is ''The Fall of Icarus''. ''Resolution'' is a nice pick-me-up after that, but ''Rainy Days & Pastel Grays'' is an absolutely beautiful piece of music that picture some guy would probably sing to some girl to woo her. I would. ''Millennium 3'''s chorus is impossible to shake out of your head, with Schiff's impeccable Stick laying down a good rhythm. The sad ballad ''Mariner'' follows, which didn't really impress me too much, but neither did the bonus track ''Stardust''. All in all, a very nice album to listen to on a rainy day. Just don't forget your pastel grays!

CD 4: EARTHBOUND - Rocket Scientists' debut release. Of all of their releases, EARTHBOUND is the odd one of the bunch. It's not very progressive at all, instead showing a more 80's poprock influence (just listen to some of Norlander's keyboard accents). Also, Don Schiff only uses the Stick on three of the songs here, instead using a regular bass or sometimes a fretless (like on Down Trodden). Many of the songs are also shorter, and are written with commercialness in mind. The album's best moment comes with their cover of Pink Floyd's ''Welcome to the Machine'', the poppy ''Picture Show'', and the proggiest moment of the album: the 57-second instrumental ''Pythagoras''. This album is a bit of an aquired taste, but will still prove to be one of their most unique releases.

CD 5: The DVD - The main feature of the DVD is the recording of the 2007 Sessions, which was filmed with HDV equipment. It's very interesting to see all of the angles in the recording of the songs. Also strewn about are interview segments which are as informative as they are entertaining. Another feature is an interview with Stick creator Emmett Chapman. We also get to see him play his instrument alongside Don Schiff, plus you will learn so much about the ''standard EC Stick'' and the NS/Stick. Lastly there is the Brief History of Rocket Science segment which shows videoclips from the sessions of all of the Rocket Scientists' studio albums. You gain some witty jokes from Tommy Amato during the EARTHBOUND sessions.

The booklet is absolutely incredible. The artwork is interesting (Mark McCrite with highlights?), the lyrics are accurate, and the commentary of the songs are informative and amusing. Well done guys, you have just reissued your 90's catalog true form. DO NOT MISS THIS!

Report this review (#185336)
Posted Saturday, October 11, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars Earthbound reprise

This rating and review is not for the full 5 disc box set Looking Backward, but only for the individual disc of the same name. This disc is part of the box set but it is also available separately (through iTunes). The box set also contains re-mastered versions of the three studio albums Earthbound, Brutal Architecture, and Oblivion Days, as well as a DVD. For my reviews of the original studio albums see the individual album pages, but as I do not own the box set I cannot comment on the DVD.

The disc contains re-recorded versions of older Rocket Scientists songs. The bulk of the material originally appeared on the band's 1993 debut album Earthbound; Earthbound, Picture Show, Pythagoras (here subtitled 'unbound'), Minstrel Saviour, When Sorrow Falls, and Carry Me Home, were all originally on that album. These new versions were recorded in 2007 and are greatly expanded and generally improved upon, though the 1998 live album Earth Below And Sky Above (not part of the box set) already contained new arrangements of some of these songs similar to those found here. Earthbound reprise is new for this present album.

Brutal Architecture is represented by a new version of the excellent Mariner. This version was recorded in 2003 and features Kelly Keeling on lead vocals instead of Mark McCrite. Though I prefer Keeling over McCrite, I think that the best version of this song is the one that appears on the Erik Norlander solo live album Stars Rain Down (also featuring Keeling's vocals). Dark Water parts one and two - the first of which is recreated here - originally appeared on Brutal Architecture (while parts three and four originally appeared on Oblivion Days). Looking Backward contains parts five and six of this instrumental.

Finally, there are two remixes of songs that originally appeared on Oblivion Days. These are Escape and Break the Silence.

Overall, I enjoy this disc every bit as much as the four proper studio albums by the band. The best introduction to Rocket Scientists remains the aforementioned live album Earth Below And Sky Above, but Looking Backward is a worthy addition to any Rocket Scientists collection.

Report this review (#772812)
Posted Sunday, June 17, 2012 | Review Permalink

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