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Knight Area


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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars - First Review of this Album -

Hyperdrive to the charts

I recall Knight Area being a melodic Neo-prog band in the vein of IQ; however, "Hyperdrive" would only loosely fit that description, if at all. Album no.5 from the Dutch progsters is rather dynamic, up-tempo and full of hard-rock, guitar driven compositions for the majority of time. It certainly draws from a light neo-prog "aura" as Kalzinga's keyboards dress the sound, but also from modern melodic progressive metal in the style of compositions. Very strong and catchy vocals from Mark Smit who reminds me of Vanden Plas' Andy Kuntz. With very few exceptions, here we are presented with "hit" songs, destined for the hard rock charts, with influences from pop/AOR, even early 90's Helloween (!) and powerful production.

To the above category we can put the dynamite opener, "Crimson Skies" and "Running Away", who are a gear faster that the rest; "Bubble", "Avenue of Broken Dreams", "Living in Confusion" (AOR meets lush keyboards!) and "Hypnotised" belong to the mid-tempo land with the latter being the longer and more varied. Rather unfortunately, a big proportion of the album is devoted to cliche balladry, with "The Lost World" standing out because of its signature opening riff which takes us back to 1976 and The Enid's debut. "Stepping Out" is a league of its own as a short and in-your-face riff-driven instrumental with Ayreon-like keyboards.

Overall, a pleasant listening experience, "Hyperdrive" is a nice-to-have album, which will appeal to those who like the more modern path, simpler, Neo-prog (i.e. heavy-rock driven) and don't mind a good proportion of ballad-like moments.

Thanks to Freeman Promotions for the promo.

Report this review (#1301142)
Posted Friday, November 7, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars I approached the new Knight Area album expecting to hear lushly atmospheric, sometimes melodramatic neo prog songs emphasizing vocals and keyboards. I expected to hear a new release from a band which, even in their more powerful moments often appropriated a form of metal I'd describe as oddly smooth. Those elements are not bad per se, nor are they gone entirely, but there is something very different happening on their latest album Hyperdrive.

I hear a sense of direction and urgency in these compositions that I've not often associated with Knight Area previously. On these songs, guitar riffs and guitar leads are more inspired. The keyboard solos soar with a new sense of vim and vigor. With this set of songs, the band seems to know exactly where they want to take us and they waste precious little time getting down to the business at hand. No wonder they named this album Hyperdrive!

The formula seems to be to alternate up-tempo numbers with ballads. But even the ballads are more tightly focused than in previous releases. Sometimes a majestic or anthemic mood permeates slower tunes to propel them forward. Other times the choruses are catchy enough to invite repetition. Almost always, the solos have a keen sense of forward movement. . Don't get me wrong. This isn't the most progressive music you'll ever hear. But stretching these songs out by slowing them down or padding them with atmospheric pauses wouldn't have made them more progressive. It would have only extended their running time and diluted their impact.

What then is this album? It is a set of high quality rock songs featuring good vocals, tastefully extended melodic (and sometimes a little shreddy) solos with emotionally full and satisfying keyboard infused arrangements.

On Hyperactive, Knight Area are onto something very good. Their songs are more succinct, more visceral and more captivating. The guitar solos are more purposeful, constantly seeking to push the songs forward musically. And all of this is done without the band losing touch with their neo prog roots. When Knight Area get powerful, I still consider their brand of metal to be a rather mellow and melodious one. Even so, they have acquired just enough crunchiness to now be the kind of mellow metal I can really enjoy sinking my teeth into from time to time.

Report this review (#1301889)
Posted Sunday, November 9, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars Every prog band once in a while flirts with streamlining their sound. I've always thought that Knight Area, with their mix of neo-prog, hard rock, AOR, synth-pop and a classical influence here and there, was apt for this kind of crossover. But they managed to surprise me for a couple of albums, still doing 8 to 10-minute romps. Well now they did it. This is a hard rock/AOR album, with singer Mark Smits evoking the huskiness seen in the likes of John Wetton. Afraid of the Dark immediately hits you with a stratospheric, metallic/70s sound with ultramelodic singing. In fact this could be called a hard-rocking version of Asia or Journey, comparable to recent offers by Arena and Threshold. A hard rock that, in line with its adultness, is pompous, slow and stately.
Report this review (#1306588)
Posted Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Back in 2007, Dutch band Knight Area released what I consider to be one of the finest recent Neo Prog albums in `Under a New Sign'. It was loaded with beautiful lengthy symphonic tracks perhaps in the style of the early romantic Pendragon albums, plenty of serene keyboards plied all around and a lively, likeable vocal performance from Mark Smit. There were occasional more straightforward hard rock elements, something that has been on all of the band's albums, but this most recent release, 2014's `Hyperdrive', sees the band ditch much of those progressive sounds, instead focussing on streamlined, reigned in hard rock/heavy AOR with shorter instrumental runs. While thankfully everything is still coated in Gerben Klazinga's sleek synths and new guitarist Mark Bogert's makes a huge impression for his album debut, as strong as the material actually is, some of the band's identity has been lost, leaving them musically sounding a little more anonymous. However, is it a bad album? No, not even close!

The majority of the eleven pieces here run between three and five minutes (only the closer stretches out beyond seven minutes), most following pretty traditional verse/chorus/solos/chorus patterns, which is initially quite a letdown. But give the album a few spins, and it quickly reveals that every piece is loaded with pleasing and strong melodies, memorable punchy arrangements and plenty of terrific playing. Frontman Smit still has a much softer and more pleasing voice than the tougher and usually bellowing hard rock/metal vocalists, making the band more appealing to those not as keen on hard rock/metal bands. Newcomer Bogert displays great variety and skill on guitar, and he fits in perfectly with the long-term members, also more than holding his own even with friendly competition in the form of a musical cameo from Ayreon mastermind Arjen Athony Lucassen!

Looking over the kinds of tracks on offer, you get blasting metal stompers like opener `Afraid of the Dark' and the up-tempo `Crimson Skies' with it's addictive snarling riffs and an Iron Maiden-esque anthemic chorus. Gutsy synth-heavy arena rocker `Avenue of Broken Dream' sounds like a better version of what Asia tried to offer, and the more poppy and groovy `Bubble' has a catchy chorus with a tasty runaway synth solo in the final minute. Choral Mellotron and swirling synths get a real workout all throughout driving rocker `Living in Confusion', and the only instrumental `Stepping Out' is a dynamic guitar showcase for special guest Arjen Anthony Lucassen, with an opening that goes straight to the heart, then burns with plenty of widdly fire in the second half. Album closer `Hypnotised' is overloaded with extended symphonic synth and guitar instrumental passages after it gets a shorter vocal section out of the way early on, with the grandest of epic guitar solos and Pieter van Hoorn's powerhouse drumming to close on.

Several winning power ballads also feature. The lush piano-led `This Day' and it's slightly twee chorus instantly reminds of Anyone's Daughter's self-titled album from 1980, and `The Lost World' has nice backing vocals, chunky bass courtesy of Peter Vink of legendary vintage instrumental proggers Finch, and a tasty Fish-era Marillion-flavoured Moog solo in the finale. But by far the absolute standout of the album is the swooning and gently melancholic piano ballad `Songs from the Past', where Mark adopts a sweeter falsetto vocal, supported by exquisite and intricate backing harmonies that instantly recall the classic early Seventies Queen albums.

While the more adventurous and sophisticated qualities are largely absent this time around for Knight Area, there is absolutely no denying how well written and performed this collection of tunes is. Along with the eye-catching sci-fi artwork and a lavish CD booklet, a lot of effort has gone into producing a strong work, and even though the band is working with more accessible pieces here, if you pay close attention you will still find progressive elements carefully worked in throughout, just in smaller doses! Hopefully the next release will see the group upping the prog scale a little more again, but if you enjoy the band overall (and they do have a great sound), and are perfectly happy to enjoy some hard rocking tunes, `Hyperdive' is very satisfying and worthwhile.

Three stars as a prog album, four stars as a hard rock album!

Report this review (#1371514)
Posted Sunday, February 22, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Sadly, Knight Area has decided to go the way of several bands before them and dull down their overall sound to a kind of nondescript hard prog/metal that lacks the majesty and drama of their past efforts. The first three or so albums these guys did have been in regular rotation for me since they were released, as they are each chock full of wonderfully lush, melodic neo-prog with enough unique touches to give them their own sound. Not so with this album, which largely sounds as though it could have been done by just about any band with enough playing ability and a recording studio.

Gone are almost all of the nuances that I love about "The Sun Also Rises", "Under A New Sign", "Realm Of Shadows" and at least some of "Nine Paths". Instead what we are given here is a collection of music that is certainly executed well, but completely lacking that touch of magic that causes me to pull a Knight Area album from the shelf. Simply put, this just ain't what I'm looking for from such a fine band. It's unfortunate to have to admit that these guys are no longer in the 'auto buy' category for me.

Report this review (#1416546)
Posted Sunday, May 17, 2015 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
3 stars I had so much difficulty to write this review I´m not sure if I´m ready to do it still. Well, let´s try: I´ve been following this dutch neo prog band since its beginning, watching them growing better with each release. And after an excellent double live album, Rising Signs From The Shadows (2011) followed a brilliant fourth studio offer, Nine Paths (from the same year), of course the expectations were high. However, it took them 3 years for Hyperdrive to see the light of day. When it did things were quite different: long time members guitarist Mark Vermeule and bassist Gijs Koopman were out. In were Mark Bogart on guitar and veteran bass player Peter Vink. And the sound changed a lot.

Of course I expected them to keep leaning a little more towards the classic symphonic progressive sound they were courting since the very beginning. Alas, that was not to be, although Knight Area did not shed their trademark sound altogether. The opening track Don´t Be Afraid Of The Dark was quite misleading since its heavy guitar riffing and atmospheric keys seemed to indicate they decided to take a progressive metal approach, but that does not repeat on the remaining songs, although the guitar sound is indeed more upfront and heavier than before and the keyboards do take a kind of back-seat on several tunes, but not on all of them. On the plus side their knack for writing melodic tunes was still intact: whether you like or not their new instrumental take, the songs are very good. And in many ways I keep loving some of the stuff: Avenue Of Broken Dreams is a good example (it has a mini-moog sounding solo that is as brilliant as anything they have done in the past). Living In Confusion and Running Away are also songs that could sit comfortably side by side with tracks from any of their best moments. Still the lingering feeling after all these years is still the same: an hybrid album, with some excellent tracks bearing their old sound and some that sound a little forced and/or out of place.

So in the end I cannot shake off this feeling of strangeness. A (good) progressive band trying to sound "simpler" or "modern" for the wrong reasons. Or maybe my expectations were just too high after a string of fine albums that had a firm sense of direction, something this one does not. And even if none of the songs are bad or even weak, the production is right and the performances are spotless and tasteful, this is not a CD that is very convincing. A lack of identity? This is the main point here: For, individually, I like all of the tunes. Together they simply don´t work as a whole. A band that lost their bearings, not their talent. Wish I could say more.

Rating: 3 stars.

Report this review (#2300009)
Posted Thursday, December 26, 2019 | Review Permalink

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