Would you like some standard issue 70’s prog rock/metal with a modern twist? “Yes please” I said, some power instrumentals thrown in with some excellent songs? “oh…go on then!” I said. And there I was listening to the, self proclaimed, best kept progressive rock secret in America!
Unified Past have a long history, having been formed in 1998 by classically trained guitarist Stephen Speelman and thunderous drummer Victor Tassone, after 5 previous albums they recruited Dave Mickleson, of Joey Belladonna’s Chief Big Way, and recorded Spots, their most gripping record yet. Having an overall sound focusing more on melody and song composition than technical wizardry, it blends classic 70’s progressive rock with modern influences into a sound that is uniquely Unified Past.
Spots has 11 tracks of which 4 are instrumentals, the song titles short and sweet which gives no hints of the complex blend of musical magic that awaits you.
The thunderous opener Blank throws you straight into the fray with powerhouse drumming and keyboards firing in the background, the guitar heavy and melodic and the vocals hard edged. This song has a definite grounding in heavy rock with touches of AOR in the mix. Deep has a strong, guitar led, intro before the keyboards lead us into what is very much an 80’s Asia tinged track with touches of rock, I loved the strong vocal harmonies and catchy hooks throughout the track, the album having a very strong melodic base so far. Our first instrumental, Hot, has a strong jazz/prog fusion feel to it with Speelman letting his hair down and playing some seriously virtuoso guitar, the track is a lot more prog orientated than the first two and has a touch of Satriani thrown in for good measure. I could have sworn I was listening to Bob Catley at the start of Seeing, a great 80’s rock style riff that starts a belting rocker of a track, some seriously good guitar and keyboard trade-offs, you definitely get the feel that this album is guitar orientated, and what a guitarist Speelman is, mind you, his keyboards skills are pretty good too. We are cruising into Motley Crue and Kiss territory with the blazing, guitar heavy, intro into Tough, as heavy a riff in a prog song as you will ever hear. This is a fantastic instrumental track, keyboards and drums swinging it into a more traditional prog metal style, reminiscent of Dream Theater at their pomp, my favourite track on the album. The tempo slows towards the end as Speelman showcases his prodigious guitar playing and ratchets it up again with an epic riff and guitar break. A bombastically heavy keyboard and guitar based riff rocks up with Age, seriously prog metal in style, then Rush suddenly join the fun, followed by Metallica style vocals. This is no messing, in your face heavy prog metal, a seriously good blast from start to finish. It is neither formulaic or over the top, Speelman rocking out with a brilliant solo, that cool Metallica vibe running all the way through the song.
What follow next are two incredibly tight and well composed instrumentals, Sun and Big, very guitar focused, high tempo and that really show off how great a guitarist Speelman is with some balls out riffs and fantastic fluency proving that this guy stands comparison with some of the better known axe heroes out there. A lighter, keyboard focused intro brings us into Wet, another instrumental but, this time, there is more focus on the keyboards, lending a style that has more in common with Derek Sherinian or Jordan Rudess and backed by a more laid back guitar. The singularly titled G is a very short instrumental interlude, heavy on the bass, and then we reach the final song on this cracking album, appropriately titled The Final. A very Floyd influenced start to the track, the best vocals on the album. This is deep down progressive rock all the way to the roots and a fitting finale to the album, well thought out composition and musical excellence all in place, progressive music fans are not left short changed by this final piece to the jigsaw of what is an album very diverse in its nature, a true smorgasbord of musical styles that meld into a very satisfying style that is uniquely Unified Past.
With this stellar release Unified Past should not be America’s best kept progressive secret for much longer and any true fans of progressive music who are not already fans of this band should jump on the bandwagon as soon as possible.
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