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IQ - The Road of Bones CD (album) cover





4.23 | 1324 ratings

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5 stars IQ, that venerable outfit of 1980's vintage, release this, their 11th studio offering, and, I will say straight away, are sounding as strong, if not stronger, than ever.

This review is of the double cd I pre-ordered, and which is available now from all the usual quality outlets, and I would wholly recommend that potential purchasers get the whole thing. To be very fair to IQ, they have made the entire work available on release at a reasonable price, with no follow up rip-off's to us poor old punters, and support is deserved for that alone.

The first cd, The Road Of Bones itself, is a concept piece that is not just dark, but actually very bleak and positively gothic in places, telling the story of a rather nasty serial killer in the first person. You would think, then, that the music itself would match such a story; you know, an album which would make Pink Floyd's The Wall a veritable ray of sunshine to come down to after listening.

But, no, not a bit of it. This sumptuously produced (and Mike Holmes has really exceeded himself in this department), and gorgeously performed work just about takes us through the entire range of emotions, with passages which are achingly beautiful, and a rock experience which takes us from the hard and crashing opening, thundering, riffs of opener From The Outside In, to the quite gorgeous acoustic interplay on guitar, piano, and vocals at the denouement of closer, Until The End (which itself follows a really beautiful wall of sound in the finest symphonic tradition).

More experienced IQ followers such as myself will, on the first couple of listens, have been surprised at the relative absence of genuine Holmes guitar bursts of days of yore. Indeed, it is, in my opinion, fair to say that this is the most keyboard dominated IQ album in many a year, perhaps ever, and massive credit must go to Neil Durant, who creates such a huge wall of sound and virtuoso performance that really do go up against the best Orford produced for the band, he is that good. However, saying this, this album is a genuine ensemble piece. The joy of hearing our favourite rhythm section of Cook and Esau, who shine especially on the beautiful title track, whilst Holmes, if not understated, is most certainly not at the forefront of all the action as he was during much of Frequency, although his bursts towards the close of epic Without Walls are pure trademark Holmes brilliance, and remind one of the similar beauty of Dark Matter. And, thence, to Peter Nicholls. I have always loved this man's voice, a set of chords capable of belting out a massive piece one minute, with a tear inducing piece of fragility the very next, and so it is on this album. His voice, if anything, is growing and becoming a damned sight better the older he gets, and his is without doubt the only one I can think of capable of telling this theatrical piece properly.

There are five tracks on the first cd, and all of them, without exception, are essential IQ, that is, for those who know my opinion in such matters, right up there with the best progressive rock. Without Walls, just a shade short of twenty minutes long, never once fails to grip your attention and pull your heart strings. It contains all the vital elements that make this band so important, from those well versed symphonic soundscapes, to very dark introspective instrumental passages, massive riffs, some lovely acoustic work, some very clever sound effects, and quieter moments which, rather frighteningly, allow us in the subject's innermost feelings. The manner in which the vocals and music change mood and interpret a story are fantastic.

And so to cd two. There are those who tell you that it is as good as cd one. They are extremely close to the knuckle, because, in Prog Archives parlance, cd one is a masterpiece, whilst the second helping is merely excellent. Which is to say, again, that it is at the top of the prog tree. Highlights for me are the exceptional Constellations, on which this lineup sound as if they have played together all of their career, with Durant, especially, sounding wonderful, helping to create a pomp prog spectacular; the clever instrumental 1312 Overture (so named because of its time signature); and the really rather exceptional opener, Knucklehead, which is perhaps one of the most experimental, and heavy, pieces they have released, although, in all honesty, there is nary a bum note or poor moment present throughout the cd. These are not "throwaway" bonus tracks, but a set of pieces which, whilst they did not fit into the main concept, deserved a release of their own. I for one, am very grateful they were. Six tracks, and 50 minutes of quality progressive rock.

So, how to rate this? I think that IQ are a band who are still improving, which, given the fact that they have released some of the most important and vital neo-prog over the course of 31 years, is a testament to the quality present here. This is the sound of a band still striving to develop, mature, yet staying true to their glorious roots. It is simply a magnificent experience to listen to, and is genuinely the first utterly essential purchase of 2014 for me. Probably 4.5 stars, if we had such a rating, but rounded up to five because it is warranted.

I tell you this. Pendragon, those other venerable survivors of yesteryear, will have to go some to match this when they release their own much anticipated new work later this year.

lazland | 5/5 |


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