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Amalgam Effect - Sketches CD (album) cover


Amalgam Effect

Heavy Prog

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4 stars Amalgam Effect is a Heavy Prog band founded in 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Since that time, the band has released 3 albums centered around a central character, Alan Quill, who is a struggling artist in modern-day society. The 3rd album, released in March of 2019, ends the trilogy of this character and is entitled simply "Sketches". The band's line-up has changed a bit over the years, but currently it has stabilized and is made up of founders Matthew Spivack on vocals, flute and guitar and Chris Childress on bass along with Kody Little on guitar and vocals and Calvin Merseal on drums and keyboards. There are also some guest vocals by Sadie Trigg. "Sketches" is made up of 12 tracks (known as sketches on this album) that have a total run time of over 58 minutes and individual times from 2 minutes to over 8 minutes.

Right out of the gate, the music is a strong lilting folk and rock hybrid with just the right touch of progressiveness. There is definitely an early Jethro Tull vibe, but it seems natural, and maybe a bit more on the rock side at first, but the folk elements are definitely there. The first sketch has some good vocals, the singer with a bit of raspyness to his voice, but not really over doing it, and this flows directrly into the 2nd sketch called "Success?" which has more of a heavy prog sound and is completely instrumental and, working as an overture, touches on some themes upcoming on the album. The flute finally gets introduced in "Sketches, III: Retail Robot" and the comparision to Jethro Tull is now fully merited as it returns to the prog folk-rock fusion sound.

The tracks (or sketches) flow from one to another in a continuous manner and rather smoothly, making this seem like one combined suite, some sketches being instrumental and some with lyrics. The music is more hard centered than your typical prog folk, which also separates it from JT, at least on the acoustic side, and also explains why it fits in the Heavy Prog subgenre better than Prog Folk, but the folk elements are always there, as are the JT similarities.

There are some things that the band uses to distinguish their sound at times also, like a nice heavy bass, occasional female vocals from the guest vocalist, the use of newer Neo-prog elements like a deeper and dark sub bass vocal and a more extended use of blues-inspired hardness. "Sketches VII: The War Song" definitely follows a heavier prog relying on guitar solos and effects as do some other tracks, so even though there is the obvious JT influence, there is enough here that lets you know that the band is good enough to create their own sound too. "Sketches X: The Misfortune of Time" is also a highlight on the album as it shows the progressive instrumental prowess and inventiveness throughout the 8 minute track. And "Sketches XI: But a Beast" has a great instrumental section that is a tip of the hat to early Rush instrumentals.

It's not all great though as one of the longer 8 minute tracks "Sketches VIII: Can't Go Back to Yesterday (Asunderture)" plods along at a robotic midtempo for 6 long minutes before it finally picks up some life. The heavier element needs a bit of variety in there too, like an acoustic sound here or there would have gone a long ways. The problem I see here is the lead vocalist doesn't have a huge range, and doesn't really lend itself to the acoustic sound as well as the heavier sound. "Sketches IX: Forever Broken" tries for a lighter touch, but it doesn't really get good until it gets to the instrumental break and then gets mostly forgotten when the vocals come back in.

Overall, this is a very good album that lacks a bit in variety and needs a bit more range in the vocals, but otherwise is very entertaining and will be an album that will definitely appeal to Jethro Tull and other folk and rock fusion fans. The music is top notch, especially the instrumental sections. The band definitely has a lot of promise, but shared vocals would be an improvement. The band is talented and the production is spot on.

Report this review (#2168326)
Posted Sunday, March 24, 2019 | Review Permalink
3 stars Long song cycles are nothing new to the field of progressive rock. Bands have been filling whole albums with pieces meant to be listened to as one extended piece since the early 1970s, and Amalgam Effect's third album, Sketches, is a great new addition to this particular variety of progressive rock album.

Sketches tells the story  of Alan Quill, a clerk who writes in his free time. The story is about trying to balance the desires of an artist against the drives and demands of living and succeeding in a world where art rarely pays the bills. Calvin Merseal, Amalgam Effect's drummer and lyricist, has written a book called Quill, which tells the story not just of Sketches but of the two preceding albums. (I'd highly recommend both of those, as well.)

Sketches is presented as one hour-long piece divided into twelve movements. Each track is titled "Sketches" I-XII, and they flow seamlessly into each other. Sonically, Amalgam Effect are reminiscent of early-'70s Jethro Tull. The base sound is rooted in hard rock, but there are significant folk flourishes. Acoustic guitar is prominent throughout, and flute plays a major role.

The album opens up gently, gradually building in intensity in big, major-key choruses before shifting to Part II, a high-energy instrumental. Acting as an overture for the album, musical themes fly by at a breakneck pace. This restlessness is itself a great encapsulation of the ambition of this album.

Part III is a relatively terse hard-rocker. The lead riff is great, and it's supported by growling organ and small dashes of flute. The flute's prominence grows in Part IV, a quick instrumental that sounds like it could have come from the recording sessions of A Passion Play. Part V continues this energy but is noticeably grimmer than the preceding movements, with its chorus being especially dark. It's powered along with snarling, distorted bass and haunting backing vocals.

It's on the second half of the album where my one real gripe arises, and it's a common problem with albums of this sort: the album starts to drag and meander. The fact that songs flow together both hurts and helps this at times. The continuous structure helps the succession of themes and ideas move smoothly, but at the same time it can make some of the duller moments feel interminable. A few of the songs could have been tightened up or trimmed down to increase impact.

Part VIII is another highlight. There's a strange, almost-happy bounciness to the opening verses which segues into a passage of ascending guitar and flute over marching drums. The closing moments of the song feature twisting guitar and bass riffs which inject a new sense of urgency.

Sketches ends strong. Part X is probably my favorite on the album. It revisits a number of previous musical themes. The momentum is maintained, and the different ideas are integrated fantastically. It even ends on a killer bass solo. Part XI is also high-adrenaline, and Part XII closes the album out on a majestic reincorporation of the theme from Part I.

Sketches was my introduction to Amalgam Effect, and despite its daunting nature as one 60-minute piece, I'd also recommend it as a good introduction. The music is driving and engaging throughout, and it only rarely wallows.

Review originally posted here:

Report this review (#2903087)
Posted Friday, March 31, 2023 | Review Permalink

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