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5 stars I was heavily anticipating this release since it was announced and, frankly, I am not disappointed.

Songs like "Citadel", "The Spectrum Explodes", and "The Vital" prove that the group has truly attained its sound. Each member skillfully presents their instruments without sounding pretentious; I especially like the vocalists, Alex Crispin (organs, keyboards) and Nicholas Whittaker (saxophones).

The album is not explosive, but that is not to say that it is not powerful. Diagonal does not need to play loudly or quickly to be heard - that is the beauty of this group. Since they are unique in every way, one may find it difficult to locate their influences; so few bands can become so removed and outstanding. In a way, Diagonal is no Starcastle, the blatant Yes-imitator, nor is it Klaatu, the band that fooled the world into thinking that it was the Beatles.

Well done.

Report this review (#2243352)
Posted Monday, August 12, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Diagonal is a Eclectic Prog band that started out in 2006 in the UK, released an album in 2008 and another in 2012, and then went on hiatus between 2013 ? 2018 to raise families and etc. In August of 2019, they came out of nowhere to release their 3rd albums "Arc". For a band that started out with 7 members, it is quite a feat to say that the band's line up has remained the same except minus one member. All 6 of the remaining members were with the band since the beginning; David Wileman (acoustic and electric guitars), Alex Crispin (organ, electric piano, vocals), Ross Hossack (synthesizer), Nicholas Whittaker (alto and soprano saxophones, vocals), Daniel Pomlett (bass), and Luke Foster (drums, percussion). "Arc" has 8 tracks and a total run time of just over 44 minutes.

In order for the band to "get back in the groove" of working together, they decided to try creating the album with a more spontaneous method, not spending so much time trying to get the perfect take. They holed themselves up in the studio for a week and spent that time composing, jamming and recording, focusing on nothing except music. The lyrics have taken what the band calls a "Jon Anderson approach" where they are mostly thematic, choosing words to fit the mood instead of telling a story.

The album starts instantly with a groovy beat on "9-Green" (6:22), which soon brings in the vocals that sounds similar to the male vocalist from "The Human League", but good enough, but have a nice level of vulnerability to them. The music is clean and feels free flowing, but it isn't what you could call straightforward either, as there is a strong progressive feel to it all. A unique sounding guitar solo comes in around 3 minutes, which continues even when the vocals start again. The music is relaxed and really does seem like it is very un-forced. During the last instrumental section, things take time to develop and intensify as the guitar continues, then it eventually calms back to the flowing style again.

"Stars Below" begins atmospheric with nice synths and keys and acoustic guitar. It's a very nice mix, again relaxed and free flowing. The melody from the vocals doesn't fall into anything really structured, it just seems devoid of any boundaries or borders. Short and nice, with shades of Canterbury Scene and a light jazz attitude.. "Citadel" (8:02) does follow a loose- structure of sorts, but at the same time, has a meandering attitude. The soft jazz/motorik feel really shines through on this one, relaxed and free floating. As the music slips into a soft psychedelic feel, you get a feel of "Can" or even some of "The Doors" softer jams. Later, the sax comes in with a more minimal foundation, but that soon returns. Instruments continue to take the spotlight as the music softly flows along with some excellent improvisation.

"The Spectrum Explodes" (4:32) has an upbeat tempo, but retains smooth synths with sustained chords and a more accessible melody. In the instrumental break, a sax introduces in a rousing guitar solo. The music sounds almost like a Moody Blues track in their later years. The beat and meter get a little more complex towards the end, but smooths out again for a organ and synth led ending. "Warning Flare" (6:13) slows things to a slow, moderate tempo, and returns to the mellow and relaxed style. Beginning with a floating intro with guitar and sax, the vocals later come in, and it all sounds a bit more Pink Floyd-ish, but with psychedelic, stoner guitars. Things calm down towards the middle until the track is mostly driven by acoustic guitars and soft organ with the vocals. An extended sax solo has the final spotlight of this track. The title track "Arc" (4:25) comes next. This one has a definite psychedelic feel to it, but gets more intense when the vocals come in with a tricky melody echoed by the guitar. Synths and sax share the solos on the instrumental break, followed by fuzzy guitar after.

"The Vital" (7:38) begins with an atmospheric organ and minimal soft guitar both improvising together. This time the band calls on their inner, early psych-Floydian spirit. Even the sax gets in on the mellow instrumental bliss-out. The somewhat ambient track just meanders along like a slow, wandering river, and also brings an inner peace to the spirit in the same way as the river does, evoking nature almost as well as anything by Paul Winter. Very nice, and quite unexpected actually. "Celestia" (4:34) ends the album with a soft and pensive song with more "Floydian" style, but with a repeating keyboard riff in the background.

This album seems to teeter on 3.5 star rating, but overall the band manages to tip the scales in their favor. The music is quite easy going with a relaxed flavor, even in the heavier moments. It seems the band was going for that style from the comments they made about having a sense of spontaneity without feeling stressed out about boundaries of time and such so much. The music is mostly quite relaxing, and yet it doesn't really get boring like you might think, however, in the first few listens, it might seem a bit same-y. But the music grows on you also, and with more listens, you will pick up subtleties that you didn't notice at first. It's a very nice album that mixes soft jazz, psychedelics and even some hints of Krautrock in places, plus it is a bit spacey at times. Very nice, but not really essential or excellent, but quite good nevertheless.

Report this review (#2250499)
Posted Tuesday, September 10, 2019 | Review Permalink
2 stars From the acid-psych of the title song to the Simon-and-Garfunkel vibe of "Stars Below," Arc is an intriguing mix of late-1960s styles. 

I particularly appreciate the sunshine-y vocal arrangements, for instance, on "Celestia" and "Warning Flare." The first half of the latter is essentially a repeated two-chord sequence which is varied for the second half. The whole affair sounds like the Association teaming up with Procol Harum.

There are more recent influences as well; three minutes into its 4:30 runtime, "The Spectrum Explodes" becomes positively Yes-like. And on the overlong "9-Green," the lead vocalist sounds more than a little like Wang-Chung frontman Jack Hues imitating Talking-Heads frontman David Byrne. Plus, I hear an echo of King Crimson in the song's ending motif.

But influences alone a good album don't maketh. On Arc, Diagonal seems to take stabs at a series of compositional styles, but rarely has the quality material necessary to make such an eclectic mix work. For example, in addition to 1960s pop, the band tries out some prog-electronic ideas. The longest song here, "Citadel," is a slice of psychedelia set to a somewhat slow, repetitive pattern. It's pensive, and it's grown on me a bit. But the rhythmless, seven-plus-minute expanse of "The Vital" is just boring, especially so late in the running order, after the mostly unexciting songs which precede it.

To those interested in late 2010s "eclectic prog," I'd suggest Mad Fellaz III (Mad Fellaz, 2019), Le Bateleur (Alco Frisbass, 2018), or Decalogue of Darkness (Daal, 2018).

Report this review (#2282414)
Posted Monday, November 18, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A band that I've been following since 2008 because of the promise they showed with their excellent self-titled debut of that year.

1. "9-Green" (6:22) sounds like old ROXY MUSIC, BRIAN ENO, and TALKING HEADS. Fun! I even hear a little THE MARS VOLTA with the middle instrumental/guitar solo section. (8.5/10)

2. "Stars Below" (2:46) sounds like the soft side of PINK FLOYD at the opening but then moves into a more folk domain as singer sings and alto sax joins in. I like this very much. My first top three song. (4.5/5)

3. "Citadel" (8:02) two notes from an organ oscillate for a few seconds before bass and drums join in. When singing enters it reminds me of US Prog Folk band, MIDLAKE. The chorus confirms this though I'm also now reminded of GHOSTS OF JUPITER. Sax fits in nicely toward the end. Excellent laid back song even if it does drag on a bit. A top three song for me. (13/15)

4. "The Spectrum Explodes" (4:32) opens with a fast-paced drum pattern (old style sound, i.e. no gated effects! Yea!) As the song develops I'm reminded of THE AMAZING, MICE ON STILTS, and THE MOODY BLUES. Aside from the synth solo and Tony Kaye-like organ work in the second half, this is a solid Folk Rock song in the vein of late 1960s Moodies. (9/10)

5. "Warning Flare" (6:13) opens with a slow keyboard arpeggio which is joined by drums, bass, jazzy guitar notes/chords and gentle sax all woven together into a smooth and surprisingly tight tapestry. Some BEACH BOYS-like singing enters well into the second minute and actually disrupts and disappoints--as does the searing blues/psych guitar solo that joins in in the third minute and remains active between the first three vocal verses. Then it goes solo acoustic guitar for a spell before the third vocal verse. With this accompaniment the choir vocals work much better. A far more interesting and complex song than one would have predicted based on the opening. Sax and synth weave their melody lines with the full band in the final minute. Nice! A top three song for me despite the weak first half. (8.75/10)

6. "Arc" (4:25) opens like the opening to PT's "Dark Matter" before synth and electric guitar join in to create their discordant psych melody. Suddenly, at the end of the first minute the tempo shifts as the multi-voice vocal enters. It turns into another completely surprising vocal-driven song for the next 90 seconds before instrumental passage gives way to synth, sax and electric guitar soli with a little tighter foundational weave in support of it all. The first song that doesn't really work for me. (7.75/10)

7. "The Vital" (7:38) opens with three minutes of slow, spacey organ play within which guitar, bass, and percussion interject sounds and notes before and as soprano saxophone enters to gently flit and fly about above the mix. The music never really changes as the saxophone continues its gentle exploratory flight. Nice for meditative relaxation though more of a New Age-y JAN GARBAREK piece than rock and roll. (12.5/15)

8. "Celestia" (4:34) opens with a fade in of a synth arpeggio which is then joined by drums, bass, and guitar before the Christoffer Gunrup-like voice joins in. Another prog folkie song evoking the late 1960s as well as THE AMAZING. The lead vocals get harmony support in the second verse and then Mellotron. Very nicely done. The foundational music begins to get a little stale in the third minute--just in time for all instruments but the 'tron to cut out while vocal harmonies sing on. This is, unfortunately, all too brief as the the frundational music from the opening returns to play out to the end. (8.25/10)

Total Time 44:32

An album that hit me with surprising force in its friendly, engaging, and familiar sound and styles; I enjoyed this album far more than I thought I was going to.

3.5 stars; nowhere near a masterpiece but a much more likeable and enjoyable listening experience than the ratings would indicate. Rated up accordingly. Check it out for yourselves!

Report this review (#2285845)
Posted Friday, December 6, 2019 | Review Permalink
2 stars Diagonal's 2008 self-titled debut is one of the strongest progressive rock records of the '00s. And the '00s were the best decade for progressive rock since the '70s, so that's saying something. It was an enthralling blend of folk, prog, jazz, and Canterbury sounds presented with a fresh and modern energy. Their 2012 follow-up saw the band going almost fully instrumental after a personnel shake-up, much to their detriment. Alex Crispin's vocals were one of my favorite elements of their debut, being far more soulful than most other vocalists in the genre.

I wasn't even aware Diagonal were still together?it had been seven years since their last album. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I learned about their forthcoming third album, Arc. I was even happier when I listened to the first pre-release song and found they'd decided to reintroduce vocals to their music. The jazz influences on Arc loom large, in both the rhythms and the textures. The drumming is deft and often light, while organ and electric piano tend to be the lead instruments.

"9-Green" opens the album with a funky conga rhythm and shimmering organ. The bassline is jerky and impactful, yet it somehow facilitates a smooth, flowing atmosphere. The song's second half consists largely of a guitar solo over an increasingly intense backdrop.

"The Spectrum Explodes" is a more forceful piece of music than I would have expected from these guys. It's not often that guitar is the primary instrument in a Diagonal song, and paired with the propulsive drumming, it makes for an immediately engaging listen. Organ and sax manage to imbue no small amount of jazz flavor into this hard rocker. The second half of this song sees the band shift into a weird, technical riff reminiscent of math rock topped by an airy synth solo.

The title track is probably my favorite on the album. Fuzzy guitar and electric piano share the lead on the smooth verses, while the chorus features an odd riff that adds a sinister subtext. The gentle "Celestia" is a suiting album-closer, ending everything on a light, hopeful-sounding note.

This album isn't without its flaws, though. The eight-minute "Citadel" drags on and on and on with little development. The lethargic tempo is not helped  by the extended bouts of drowsy soloing, and the two-note organ line underpinning the whole song grows tiresome. "The Vital" suffers from almost identical ills. Despite being seven-and-a-half minutes, there's almost no development. It languishes in jazzy, atmospheric torpor for its full runtime?breathy sax bleats float over droning organ and noodling bass improvisations. Diagonal have proven themselves very good at including jazz elements in their music, but these songs demonstrate such elements are best paired with dynamism.

I'm glad Diagonal are back, and I hope they have an uptick in productivity?I don't want to have them be on Tool's or Änglagård's recording schedule. However, I hope they also temper some of their more long-winded, drone-flavored tendencies. Their jazzy, Canterbury-style prog is an uncommon subgenre I'd love to hear more of from modern acts.

Review originally posted here:

Report this review (#2903269)
Posted Friday, March 31, 2023 | Review Permalink

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