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Unitopia - The Garden CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.58 | 167 ratings

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Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars A give and take album from down under.

After a three year wait, this Australian band Unitopia has followed up on their debut with this massive undertaking. The Garden is a very ambitious album from the band, a double album containing multiple epic suites and a myriad of influences that come to mind right off the first listen. If there's one thing that this band misses the mark on it's creating a completely original album, but still, the band succeeds in making a very enjoyable album that should please just about every kind of listener other than those who like to stick completely to the more Rock In Opposition side of things. This album is highly melodic, highly retro, but very good.

The influences of this band do tend to shine on this album. People looking for the newest-latest-greatest innovators in the scene today won't find them here, this band can be compared to many others in the genre. They've taken pages out of the books of the likes of The Flower Kings in their approach to create sophisticated symphonic rock when it comes to the longer tracks, while at other times they sound like The Ladder era Yes in some of the sappier songs such as Don't Give Up Love. They can be heavy and brutal as proven in the short and astounding stand-out rocker, This Life, a wonderful song with a demanding vocal line with some grumble behind it in the chorus and a riff that will make fans of heavier music very happy. Other times the band decides to be more on the calm side of things as proven in the nicely piano driven Here I Am, which shows a softer side of the band with a delicate vocal line that eventually bursts into full motion while still retaining the sensitive feel. Although likely the biggest standout among the short songs is the final offering on the discs, the blistering 321, with it's heavy tones, shouting vocals and graphic lyrics.

If there's one thing you can't accuse this band of doing, it's writing filler. Peer bands in the overblown symphonic category have often been attacked for making improvisational instrumental songs that feel more like an engagement of self indulgence than a piece of music to entertain and capture an audience. This band plays it safe in that department, which is both good and bad, since fans of the more experimental side of music won't find anything to quench that appetite, although I Wish I Could Fly (Part 1) does become rather hypnotically beautiful in it's orchestration at times, and rather grand thanks to it's layers of instruments which is carried on through (Part 2), with some pleasing melodies throughout. For the most part, though, when this band isn't playing a massive suite they can probably be found in the solace of the more pop/rock side of things. Angeliqua is an example of this, a song that is lengthy and features some fine and impressive guitar work near the end, but never becomes truly captivating thanks in part to a rather light-hearted chorus and bouncier segments. Give And Take is another example of this, although this one is more concise in format and a little darker in tone, this one features some wonderful orchestration once again reminiscent of The Flower Kings before moving into a fairly safe format.

One thing that becomes interesting throughout is the use of the vocals. Mark Trueack is a very unusual progressive vocalist for a retro band, most of whom usually aim for someone high-pitched a la Yes. Kudos to Mark then, whose low and distinct vocals fit all of the tunes on the album. While the vocals tend to be overused at times and there feels like there could be more room for jamming between the multitude of musicians. However, given the style leaning towards a more poppish feel reminiscent of late-90s Yes mixed with The Flower Kings it does kind of work.

The standout pieces of the album, as likely predicted, are the lengthiest pieces. The Garden is the first of which, and the second track on the album after a brief intro song. This stands as a token piece for the band thanks to its various sections and impressive percussion work throughout. There's even a middle instrumental section where the band whips out some pleasant jazz piano after embarking on a middle-eastern favored journey for a couple of minutes. Of course, like just about every 20+ minute piece, it ends with the giant grand finale and an explosion of symphonic themes. Journey's Friend is the other lengthy song on the bill, this one clocking at 16-minutes, and it's an entirely different beast. This song has that edge which Unitopia decides to bring out every once in a while (moreso on the second disc, it seems) with heavy riffs and cataclysmic sections, including some very heavy parts with vocals that bring Brian Johnson (AC/DC) to mind, I suppose that style of singing may just be inherent to Aussies. While it does have a full out jazz jam and a slow percussion driven section, this one is mostly heavy and very interesting.

In the end this won't be the album that shakes down the progressive rock scene this year, but it is a good album. Unitopia may have played it a bit safe with this release, but it makes for a very pleasing listen. A good dose of progressive rock that includes some rockers and some moments that are easier on the ear. With 2 discs worth of material there's definitely something for everyone, if maybe nothing that will blow your mind. 3 stars out of 5 for a solid release that will appeal to fans of modern progressive retro rock. Recommended to people who loved The Ladder from Yes and the people who enjoy the bulk of The Flower Kings material.

Queen By-Tor | 3/5 |


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