E.P’s are all good and well, they give you a small window into the mind of a musician and a slice of what you can expect from them in the future. However, it isn’t until the artists take the next step and release a full blown album that you are going to get the full picture of their musical direction and mindset.
This does leave you with a small dilemma though, is it going to be as good as that E.P. that first caught your attention? Have they moved into a different musical direction? The only way to find out is to listen to the music and make your own mind up.
The artist that has elicited this introduction is Chicago based Fire Garden. I was seriously impressed by their 2012 debut E.P. The Prelude so, when I was asked if I would like to review their first full length release Sound of Majestic Colors it was really a complete no brainer.
Fire Garden is a progressive rock band from Chicago formed by song writer and guitarist Zee. Their music is associated with progressive rock and progressive metal yet influenced by psychedelic rock, hard rock, folk and experimental music. Fire Garden consistently incorporates odd time signatures, skull crushing riffs and acoustic guitar passages into their music. The band’s philosophy is not to classify their music to one particular genre but to explore different styles to find their own sound.
The band consists of Zeeshan Baig (Guitars, music), Kevin Pollack (vocals), Frank Lucas (keyboards), Barry Kleiber (bass) and Chuck White (drums).
Breaching all the rules of traditional songwriting Fire Garden continues to explore its journey into modern progressive music with all the classic sounds of its origins. The new album contains 10 tracks clocking over 70 minutes of music provides different flavours of progressive rock music from soulful vocal melodies to skull crushing riffs to epic PROG moments.
The album opens with an archetypal progressive metal number The Joker. The usual mysterious introduction complete with voice over and prophetic , clashing notes gives way to a Dream Theateresque punching riff that hits you right in the vitals along with the powerful bass and drums. The guitar riff then lifts up and runs, fast paced and urgent before the vocals join the throng. It does have a sense of progressive metal by numbers but the execution is done so well that that never interferes with your enjoyment of the track. The vocal delivery is menacing and low and the whole song has its roots definitively in the progressive metal camp. The flashes of warped guitar add to the intimidating atmosphere. The song runs through many facets and convolutions in true progressive fashion and the superb guitar of Zee is the glue that brings everything together into one cohesive whole, a solid start to the album. The next track, Alone, is a melodic rock track that is full of soul and emotion, The gentle intro gives a hint of what will follow, acoustic guitar and a lilting vocal performance where Kevin Pollack wears his heart on his sleeve. The highly addictive chorus sections are pure 80’s AOR and pure quality, I am not ashamed to admit I found myself singing along like a demented lunatic. This track has a habit of lulling your senses and enfolding you in a sensuous musical embrace. The guitar, in places, just drips feeling and passion. The solo is a thing of beauty and grace, enrapturing your soul.
Time Machine is a rollocking rocker, all crunching riffs and power rhythm section. Different time changes and stuttering guitars add an off kilter feel to proceedings as the track segues into a more progressive mode. The vocals are earnest and thoughtful and add a further dimension, especially on the chorus. It is a good song that has flashes of brilliance and the excellent keyboard solo that merges perfectly with another one of Zee’s guitar sections is particularly impressive. The album improves as you venture further into it. I’m fairly intrigued by it all. Another venture into a more melodic AOR style, Endless Memories is a nice step back from the power and the glory and gives visions of sunny days and happier times. A nicely judged vocal adding to the feel good factor that the song engenders and the acoustic solo is a delight. Not a filler track but an interlude to allow you to get your breath back and steel you for what may come next.
The next song, Redemption is a real slow burner and one of my two favourite songs on the album. A low key, smouldering introduction encapsulated by the sombre, mellow vocals holds you mesmerised and holding your breath, a study in anticipation. The guitar then builds up and adds further depth to the track, like layers of musical intensity. The compassionately sung chorus is smoother than chocolate. When the pace is lifted, the song takes on a harder edge and urgent vibe, the drums really earning their corn on this one. The section that follows next could have come straight from a modern Opeth album with the ringing guitar and considered drumbeat. Kevin Pollack gives a seriously impassioned vocal performance throughout this song and his is a voice that resonates with your mind. A complex and inventive instrumental section is highlighted by an offbeat, coruscating guitar solo and super cool keyboards and adds more inventiveness to proceedings. The culmination of the track is all dynamic and forceful vocals and a superb guitar, a fantastic track. Behind the Fence is a well worked song that hits all the right notes with me. Another low key intro is blown away by a monumental riff that will blow more than just the cobwebs out of your hair and the instrumentalists are given something of a free reign for a short time. The vocal is precise and robust and you feel the guys are really growing into this album now, mixing timing changes and tempos to provide an intriguing listening experience. This progresses throughout the track as each little musical segment morphs smoothly into the next. For me, the best parts are when Zee’s thunderous guitar is let off the leash and hits you with a warped riff or a screaming solo but, the rest of the band back him up with serious aplomb. Then I just break out into a mighty progressive smile as our old friend the Hammond organ makes a brief but entertaining return, brilliant stuff indeed!
Forsaken is more of a straightforward heavy metal track with progressive undertones and bludgeons you into submission with a seriously heavy opening. The vocals enter, mysterious and extremely well enunciated then an incredibly down and dirty guitar just drags your soul kicking and screaming from within your body. This song raised the hairs on the back of my neck when I first heard it, full of malevolent suspense and tension. There is a disquieting keyboard solo that doesn’t help your already shredded nerves and the track then moves into an interlude of distorted guitar that chills the blood and turns your spine to jelly. A dark Stephen King novel turned into music but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. The distortion carries on with the introduction to Echoes in Silence being almost punk rock in its vehemence. The riff that then runs away is fast and furious and backed by intermittent keyboard licks. This song has a futuristic, technical metal feel running through it. The vocal kick in quite late in the running and they add to the industrial vibe, almost mad professor in their delivery. It is quite a disconcerting song and never lets you catch your balance. That keyboard and guitar riff carries on the disquietude and becomes quite addictive. Some seriously solid drumming gives a sturdy backdrop to the track before we are treated to a laid back interlude which has a free form jazz feel to it (well, with a heavy side to it anyway). Zee then lets fly with his guitar and plays off against the jangling keyboards, ratcheting up the tension to maximum. The dam breaks as a Steven Wilson inspired acoustic guitar and laconic vocal take centre stage. This is really a track of many colours, some seriously inspired songwriting and a nailed on performance.
We move into anthemic, balladic territory with Far From Grace a deep, sorrowful track that plucks at the heartstrings. It is a seriously poignant and stirring song with soaring guitars, potent drumming and an incredibly emotive vocal performance. To be fair, it is not inventive or challenging like the rest of the tracks on the album but it has an exquisite simplicity to it which is all that is required to make it an elegant piece of music. The guitar solo is an epitome of power and grace and adds to the allure of this refined number, superb. The final track, The Last Step, is the other track that really stands out in the sea of quality that is laid before us. A very low key intro, almost like a western musical soundtrack holds you in limbo as your expectations increase. What happens next is just sublime, Zee’s guitar just flowers and takes on a feeling of serenity as it breaks the musical pre-dawn mist and hits your subconscious, an ethereal thing of charm and allure. The vocals blend perfectly with the otherworldly brilliance of that guitar and, on this track, they take a step back. The involved and intricate instrumental section that follows is consummate, like a polished musical jam. Once again, Zee hits the nail bang on the head with a quality guitar solo that is matched by an equally impressive keyboard. The vocals are given a more pressing feel before we head towards the final act, the final crescendo of this track and, indeed, the whole album. It is an intense and fitting finish for this virtuosic record.
Well, any doubts I had about the full length album living up to the promise of the E.P. have been well and truly banished. Sound of Majestic Colors is a thing of wonder, a monumental album that takes everything that Fire Garden did well on The Prelude E.P. and lifts it many notches into a much higher league. This is a release I expected great things from and it has delivered so well I am speechless. I recommend you buy this album and shut yourself away until you have listened to it so many times that it becomes part of your being.
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