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Rocket Scientists - Refuel CD (album) cover


Rocket Scientists

Symphonic Prog

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Tarcisio Moura
4 stars The Rocket Scientists is a group of american musicians who balance their sound between Erik Norlander´s symphonic prog tendencies and Mark McCrite pop sensibilities. And it seems that, in the end, McCrite´s influences are more proeminent than Norlander´s. At the excellent, all instrumental, EP Supernatural Highways that preceded Refuel in a few months, wheren you can find the band in full blown symphonic prog mode, I was expecting more of the same in their next full lenghth. But that was not to be. Definitly, this is a much more "song" oriented stuff like most of their previous works.

Please, don´t get me wrong: these are surely sophisticated and well crafeted tunes, with several styles and moods. Besides, Norlander´s majestic keyboards are all over them. The band even brought some novelties like a brass trio to some tracks. It was also nice to see Don Schiff showing off his talents on cello, violin and mandolin, besides his already impressive work on the N/S Stick and bass. In other words: with all the pop leanings on much of the songwriting, you´ll still finds lots of progressive stutff here. Even some jazz and latin music bits can be heard here and there.

My only gripe about this record is that, after the monumental 26 minute epic title track of the EP, there are only three instrumentals on Refuel, all of them short ones. In fact the longest song here barely hits the 8 minute mark. Again, this is not a bad sign, and overall the songwriting on this album is excellent. There are no fillers. Still, considering the tremendous talents of all involved, they could have been a little bolder and take more risks. Where is the fuel to propel this rocket higher to the stratosphear?

If you like melodic prog rock with terrific performances and tasteful arrangements, this is surely for you. On the other hand if you´re looking for long instrumental passages, improvisations and jams, you might get disappointed. For my tastes, I liked Refuel a lot.

Rating: 4 stars.

Report this review (#1435974)
Posted Monday, July 6, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars These rocket scientists have a message for you. After all the years since the 1993 debut release, there is one thing that has always been an axiom of the band: It's all about the song. Though a prog band at heart, Rocket Scientists place heavy emphasis on song-writing and not just progressive instrumental flare.

Here's another album that attracted my attention by the cover art. I gave it a cursory listen on iTunes, I think it was, and thought it was a bit too poppy. Their older material seemed more interesting, especially "Oblivion Days" but those older albums were expensive imports. I kept "Refuel" on standby in my Amazon shopping cart for nearly a half year before finally deciding that I had to start somewhere with this band and this album was affordable.

Lucky for me, this album has turned out to be as outstanding as the cover promised. At first, I'll admit it was the pop (mainstream-ish) melodies that I heard and I wasn't blown away just yet. But I felt that it was an album I could listen to from start to finish as the level of music and song-writing quality remain high throughout. When I finally came round to listening to this album intently for the purpose of writing a review, I actually fell into a busy period when night after night I would listen to the album but return home from work too late to think of writing a decent review. As a result, it became a custom for a few days to just listen to the album again and again, and I discovered that I didn't mind at all.

The album kicks off with one of three instrumentals (actually four; I'll get to that). "Refuel", "Regenerate" and "Galileo" all show off the band's instrumental talents with some great compositions that allow for keyboard and guitar solos. "Regenerate" has become my favourite, and the official band video shows Don Schiff playing lead on his NS/sticks.

The rest of the album is song-oriented but what a selection! Yes, there are more pop-like catchy chorus melodies and mainstream approaches to song-writing. But there is variety as well and also some terrific instrumental sections in the songs. Some tracks like "Martial" and "Cheshire Cat Smile" are easy to latch onto and quickly become memorable for their melodies and use of cello or horns. Horns! Darn but those horns in "Cheshire Cat Smile" are uplifting and cheer-inducing!

A couple of other tracks like "It's Over" and "Fading Light" start off sounding like the album is going into mundane mode, especially after the gripping "Martial" and the prog delight "Regenerate". However, these songs are hiding some unexpected surprises. "It's Over" transforms partway in and becomes a rather impressive track after all, and "Fading Light" plays clever tricks with abrupt tempo and melody transformations.

The songs vary in length from the longest track, "Rome's About to Fall" (8:15) to the brief cello/viola/acoustic guitar instrumental, "Reconstruct" (1:30) that leads into "Cheshire Cat Smile". The longer tracks do make room for more impressive instrumental work.

While I say impressive, I don't mean complex or technical. Rocket Scientists Mark McCrite, Erik Norlander, and Don Schiff keep the show on the road and working with the song rather than going off on any wild tangents. There are several guests as well as instruments outside of the usual guitar/keyboard/bass/drum set up. I've mentioned cello, viola and horns (trumpet and trombone) already. You'll also hear contra bass, piccolo, and mandolin as well as many keyboards like Hammond organ, clavinet, and Wurlitzer electric piano. I think Rocket Scientists have put everything in to creating and capturing the sound that they wanted for each song. And yes, the sound quality is great with each instrument easy to pick out and the music only ever feeling cluttered once during a build-up and just before the release.

So, yes, I am thoroughly enjoying this album and I felt at last compelled to seek out other albums. I soon found their EP "Supernatural Highways" and my first choice "Oblivion Days" for reasonable prices and have them on order now. I hope they will prove to be as much pleasure to listen to as "Refuel". I wouldn't say it's an essential masterpiece but it is a terrific album in my opinion.

Report this review (#1603660)
Posted Wednesday, August 31, 2016 | Review Permalink

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