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Southern Empire - Civilisation CD (album) cover


Southern Empire

Crossover Prog

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4 stars For my first review on Prog Archives, I think it's only proper to put virtual pen to virtual paper and contribute a review of a release by one of the few "prog"bands that is based in my own home town of Adelaide, here in Australia.

Civilisation is the second album released by the Adelaide-based band Southern Empire.

After a disconcerting false start to the first song (several bars of what resembles a very scratchy gramophone record), the album gets off to a punchy start with Goliath's Moon, a well-crafted song written by guitarist Cam Blokland - over it's 9 minute- plus length, this song detours into some significant guitar pyrotechnics before returning to the well-crafted chorus, which becomes something of an earworm after a couple of listens.

The remaining four songs offer the sound of Southern Empire stretching their legs into more diverse musical territory and styles. Cries for the lonely stretches out to 19 plus minutes but doesn't outlast it's welcome.

The centrepiece of the album is Crossroads, which shares considerable musical and lyrical overlap with the song Travelling Man (The Story Of ESHU) as recorded by United Progressive Fraternity; UPF is the "other" band that, like Southern Empire, can trace it's ancestry to the earlier talented Adelaide band, Unitopia. Crossroads, like "The Bridge That Binds" (from the first SE album), twists and turns throughout it's 29 minute length through a range of styles and atmospheres from world music to a heavier onslaught; like "The Bridge That Binds", I find I can listen to it over and over again without losing interest.

Innocence & Fortunewraps up the album with yet another 9 minute-plus song that I've also found lasts up to repeated listening.

In a nutshell, this album is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the music of bands such as Spock's Beard and IQ in particular, and of course Unitopia, with distinct - but not overwhelming - detours into progressive metal. More specifically, if you enjoyed the first, eponymous, album by Southern Empire, it is extremely likely that you will also enjoy this second musical expedition by SE; I think it's fair to say that Civilisation offers a continuity of approach but with diverse song-writing that never left me thinking that I was listening to "Southern Empire v.2". If you're not familiar with SE, I'd recommend that you give both their albums a listen.

A Rating of a strong 4 - this being my first review, I am not sure that I will ever give any album a rating of 5, apart from the known shortlist of "masterpieces of progressive rock music" (DSOTM, TAAB, CTTE, etc)

Report this review (#1977354)
Posted Sunday, August 12, 2018 | Review Permalink
PSIKE Team & Band Submissions
4 stars A really comfortable album offered by this Aussie prog rockers. SOUTHERN EMPIRE are headed, or at least founded by experienced musician Sean Timms, who is also known for playing with the band Unitopia, amongst other collaborations. Seemingly their passion is to elaborate extended songs, no matter what. I mean, basically it's not a problem to offer a 30 minute rock music suite. But this without running into boredem and aimlessness at any one time? And so I'm really enjoying the album from the first to the last minute. When listening you will have other known bands at hand for a reference quickly, some glimpses, influences can't be denied, no question.

New young bands probably will prefer being compared to respected artists, could be helpful for gathering some reputation. Not necessary in this case. Concerning so much richness to detect the list would take half the review maybe. Well, nevertheless, this is a unique case, due to a very special outfit being shaped, while skillfully combining different styles, as there are neo prog, heavy art rock, jazz, folk, AOR, metal aso. And well crafted compositions are vital, on top of it a virtuoso execution is given to make it rounded. Now the last hurdle solely would be to reserve enough time for this gem, okay?

Danny Lopresto is serving very good lead vocals. On one hand somewhat AOR close in the vein of Bob Catley, Danny Bowes or maybe Mike Tramp. But then also more charming when it comes to the neo and art rock parts. Not to forget, furthermore, often demanded musician and producer Steve Unruh and german prog iconic figure Marek Arnold have been invited for some decorative adds via violin, flute and saxophone. The aforementioned long track might be emphasized as the ultimate highlight. Definitely a monster epic including multiple faces, nearly being out of equal. Recommended! 'Civilisation' delivers 70 minutes of intricate and highly melodic stuff - 4.5 stars.

Report this review (#2024536)
Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars On the surface, it may be easy to dismiss Southern Empire as yet another symphonic prog band following in the well-trodden path of symphonic prog bands. You have a cast of highly talented musicians composing epic- length songs that are constructed with the intent of permitting numerous musical tangents for instrumental showcasing, which is sometimes called "wanking" or, to quote the phrase one music critic once said about the latest Iron Maiden album, "prog-jam log jam".

Yes, on the surface one could give Southern Empire's sophomore release a cursory listen and skip around through the expanse of music that makes up the four tracks and declare it another example of overblown musicianship and pretentious compositions. But in the same way, one could nibble around the crust of a deluxe pizza and grumble that it's just dough with a bit of cheese. I say this because I found the self-titled debut to offer so many musical wonders and yet I heard a well-known U-Choober pass the album off as nothing original and far too common these days to be impressive. What?! Sir, our opinions differ. Greatly so!

"Civilization" was released in July of this year (2018) and I had pre-ordered it, fully anticipating an album as equally impressive as I found the debut to be. I was only to be disappointed by the post, which lost my order, and I didn't finally receive a copy of the album until late in August.

The album has just four tracks, but right from the start, Sean Timms and Co. tantalize your tympanic membrane with an excellent eight-minute track that comes across as crossover prog with an earwormy, catchy chorus. "Goliath's Moon" also includes a slower middle part and some awesome lead guitar work by Cam Blokland, who plays like an eighties metal guitarist (think Vivian Campbell, Steve Vai, Vito Bratta, etc.) in a prog setting.

The next two tracks, "Cries for the Lonely" and "Crossroads" extend over 19 minutes and 29 minutes respectively. Here is where one might expect to be dragged along through tedious reworkings of Flower Kings- inspired epics, but fear not! One thing that Southern Empire has going for it is a natural ability to blend styles and combine world music influences. Some highlights from "Cries for the Lonely" are the violin melody after the first minute and the chorus at 4:20 that sounds really heavy, almost like power metal but in a heavy prog framework. Powerprog? There's also a wonderful instrumental section around 11:00 and at 11:45 comes this beautifully melodic metal type guitar solo which is both technical and purposeful in the context of the music.

"Crossroads" begins with music that appeared on United Progressive Fraternity's debut album, "Fall In Love with the World" from the song "Travelling Man (The Story of Eshu)". The original song was written by Mark Trueack and Sean Timms, both of whom were responsible for the band Unitopia, and the music is credited to these two and Matt Williams. The UPF song is about 21 minutes long, but here "Crossroads" tips the 29-minute mark. Some highlights I noted are the world music/classical type part around 4:10 which is followed by a flute and guitar solo, and a horror movie-sounding piano melody that is joined by heavy guitar and then violin playing in a style like eastern music. At 21:00 there's some great synthesizer playing and cool drums, then an ear-catching melody followed by a guitar solo. There's a jazzy bit and some soprano sax by Marek Arnold of Seven Steps to the Green Door. The final part of the track is slow and beautiful and then builds to a big dramatic climax. This track is an epic that is more like a journey full of EARthly delights!

The closing track, "Innocence and Fortune" is a beautiful song similar to the debut's closer "Dreams and Machines", but at around 7:45 we are treated to a romping piano solo which is then joined by acoustic guitar, bass and drums for one of those fantastic displays of talent that tell us why prog is better than mainstream pop! I recently played this part for someone I know whose music appreciation is entrenched in opera and classical, and she looked surprised and said, "But this isn't rock. This is really good music!"

I must give special mention to the very talented vocals of Danny Lopresto who can sing a variety of styles from acerbic and coarse heavy rock vocals to catchy pop melodies to softer singing. It's not often a super talented symphonic prog band hooks themselves up with a true singer.

Though either of Southern Empire's albums are a treat to listen to, I am most pleased to have both of them. They make a great pair! I'd gladly give this 4.5 stars if I could.

Report this review (#2077287)
Posted Wednesday, November 21, 2018 | Review Permalink

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