Hailing from Norwich, England, Section IV are relative newcomers on the neo-prog scene. Their debut album, Superhuman, was originally released a year ago, but its strong reception has prompted a new drive to get the album listened to. And I’m rather glad it has, or it might not have come my way.
Stylistically, Section IV start out orbiting a reasonably straightforward neo-prog nucleus, and at a glance one might be forgiven for thinking them on the generic side. But this is not so, and they bring enough extra into their system to keep things fresh.
Superhuman is a narrative concept album that, to some extent, capitalises on the current popularity of superheroes and other comic book characters. It does something a little different to the current runs of superhero movies, though, which I’ll touch on over the course of this review. If you like your concept albums spoiler-free (hey, each to their own), you might want to just skim read.
The album opens ambitiously with the 13-minute title track, Superhuman, which introduces us to our titular protagonist. Very much channelling the well-known Superman, he is a being with superhuman powers who finds himself on Earth, but keeps to himself and does not reveal what he can do. That is until his conscience compels him to save the victims of a car crash, an act that is met by scepticism from the media. The music is solid, accessible neo-prog that pleases rather than dazzles, and that focuses on melody without worrying about virtuosity. Nothing sounds especially new, but the song has strong hooks and enough twists and turns to whiz by. Musically, as well as lyrically, it introduces the album very nicely.
The next few songs see the protagonist dealing with becoming public and how much else he should help. These songs are individually more digestible in length and consistent in style, though the run of songs provides some pleasant variety. Out of the Dark is slower and more reflective and features a lovely slow build, In Danger is a straight up AOR tune, while power ballad (of sorts) Inside provides some great vocal harmonies that strongly call to mind Spock’s Beard.
Things take a darker turn throughout So Far Away, IDWTSTWT and Guiding Light as the protagonist, having realised that he is mentally and physically weakened each time he helps, begins to withdraw and turn against humanity. The song deals with the backlash this prompts, with some questioning whether he has snapped and gone bad, and the way he deals with his backlash. The mood of the music reflects the narrative. Some of the music across these songs is dark and brooding, while other parts are as close to metal as the album gets. There are solid riffs, more great hooks and some entertaining instrumental passages.
Some cheesy synth strings aside, Take You Down returns us to strong AOR territory, with a bluesy groove, huge chorus and top notch vocal performance from singer Sam Linay. It’s a catchy song, and was an obvious choice for the band’s first music video.
The album then closes off with its other epic, the 16-minute Exile. By this point, the main character has lost himself and turned on many of those he once protected. The nations of the world come together to fight the menace he has now become, and eventually succeed in exiting him from the planet. This narrative twist is nicely done and provides a surprising substance to what started as a superhero origin tale. The song does not necessarily justify its long runtime – stylistically it doesn’t cover anything we haven’t already heard earlier on the album – but it nevertheless contains some great material and provides a fitting end to the album.
Overall, while Superhuman may not be perfect, Section IV have on their first attempt created a highly enjoyable concept album. Musically, there are some great melodies and enough variety to maintain the listener’s interest. The album’s lyrics also tell a convincing and interesting story, and the small sprinkling of samples complements this excellently. The production is fine but not great, but hey, it’s their debut album. They can certainly be forgiven that. Bring on album #2.