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K2 - Book Of The Dead CD (album) cover





3.51 | 96 ratings

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Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars From under a cloak of antiquity

Since this group is listed under Neo-Prog, I feel that I must begin this review by issuing a warning (which is more of a blessing for some of us!): K2's Book Of The Dead sounds nothing like Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Pendragon, Arena, or similar groups. If any similarities with these groups could be detected in K2's music this would have more to do with similar first hand influences than on any influence on K2 coming from these British bands. Further, within the ranks of K2 we find none other than the great Allan Holdsworth who is clearly a classic, first generation Prog artist. As most people on this site will know, Holdsworth has been in the music business since the early 70's and has played in many prominent classic progressive rock groups including Tempest and UK. In addition he has released solo albums on a regular basis since the 70's (mainly in the Jazz-Rock field) and as far as I know he never had anything at all to do with the Neo- Progressive movement that started in the early 80's with some of the bands I mentioned above. While K2 is listed as a US band, they are in fact a multi-national band due to the presence of Holdsworth who is British.

The sound of Book Of The Dead is much more in line with classic Symphonic Prog, but even that would not do K2 full justice. This is neither Neo-Prog nor 'retro-Prog'; this is neither truly vintage nor truly modern. Rather, it has a timeless sound! While all of the people involved here are obviously very talented, Holdsworth steals the show with his totally unique and distinctive guitar sound. No one else could ever sound like him and his presence here gives the music of K2 a 'cloak of antiquity'; a credibility and classic feeling often lacking in post-70's progressive rock. Though less theatrical and a bit more laid back, the vocals are strongly Peter Gabriel-like. The bass guitar sound is equally strongly Chris Squire-like and the keyboards remind of bands like Genesis, Camel and Manfred Mann's Earth Band at their respective best. There is also some exquisite violin on the album often sounding a bit like Kansas. In the overall atmosphere and feeling of the music it sometimes reminds me of the excellent, recently released Proto-Kaw albums. Despite similarities with such classic groups, K2 has managed to find their own sound and I do not find this music derivative in any obvious or distracting way.

Due to Holdsworth's presence it is perhaps natural to also want to compare K2 with the band UK in which Holdsworth played in the late 70's and that also featured a line up of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and violin. However, the music of K2 is much less intense compared to that of UK. Some passages are more in the somewhat 'sleepy' mood and slower tempo of Camel's Moonmadness and Genesis calmer moments. K2's music is always harmonic and never aggressive or dissonant.

While I immediately liked the sound of this band, it took several listens before I got into the music. My very first impression was that the songs were not strong enough melodically to be really memorable. However, like with many great progressive rock albums it took several listens before it started to sink in and began to grow on me. I have now listened to this album over and over, over a period of more than a weak, and it keeps growing on me. The melodies that reveal themselves over several listens are gorgeous and turned out to have lasting appeal. This is more than can be said of Holdsworth's solo efforts. While he is a very unique and interesting guitar player, he is not a very good songwriter/composer. His solo albums are often quite tedious to listen too, often lacking in melody and composition. It is clearly when he worked with other people like in Tempest, UK and here in K2 that he created his best works. However, fans of Holdsworth's highly experimental side might perhaps find the music of K2 undemanding. For me, on the other hand, Book Of The Dead is together with UK's debut the very best albums (of the ones I've heard) Holdsworth ever participated in making! This is an excellent chance to get a taste of Holdsworth's unique guitar playing for those (like me) who are not too keen on experimental Jazz-Rock/Fusion and improvisation.

Book Of The Dead consists of only five songs, or chapters as they are called here, the longest being a 23 minute plus piece and the shortest is an instrumental with the very well played bass guitar as the leading instrument. The latter is inevitably the weakest number of the album. The bass guitar is extremely well played on the whole album and this instrumental isn't really that essential, but I do not find it distracting. The high quality of the music is spread equally over the album and there are no real standout tracks nor are there any weak ones. However, I tend to prefer the three mid-length tracks Mirror Of The Spirits, The Edge Of Light and Cloak Of Antiquity.

The album is based on the Egyptian book of the dead and the lyrics are certainly not your average love songs. The concept helps to hold the music together.

It is also a strong advantage of the album that it runs for only 46 minutes, not committing the all too common mistake in the age of the compact disc to pack the disc too full of material. A shorter length often makes for a more cohesive album and avoids overwhelming the listener with too much material at once. A further advantage is the very high production values, Book Of The Dead is something of a sonic masterpiece. And I think this is a great addition to any Prog collection.

Highly recommended!

SouthSideoftheSky | 4/5 |


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