Being a stalker of one’s favorite bands can pay off in the strangest of ways. I make no secret of my undying love for IQ, and I hunt down every scrap on information I can on them. Knowing that they had an album coming out in the not too distant future(May 3rd to be exact, and yes, I will be reviewing it), I paid special attention to their annual Christmas Bash show last year in Holland, and had to take a gander into their opening act and label mates at Giant Electric Pea, Synaesthesia. After some cursory research, and reading some very solid reviews of their performance, I was even more intrigued by this new progressive rock act out of London. There is surely something to be said for not only being produced by IQ’s guitar maestro Mike Holmes, but also getting to perform your debut concert opening for the progressive rock legends. With all these tie ins to IQ, it goes without saying that when the album showed up at the Lady Obscure offices, I didn’t give my fellow authors a chance at this one, it was mine.
The story behind Synaesthesia’s development is as intriguing as well. The mastermind behind the sound is Adam Warne, a 20 year old multi-instrumentalist, who not only was the primary song writer for the album, but also played all instruments with the exception of guitars, which were played by Nikolas Jon and Ollie Hannifan. Since recording time, he has filled out a full band which includes Hannifan and Sam Higgins on guitar and backing vocals, Robin Johnson on Drums, and Peter Episcopo on bass and backing vocals. With influences listed as Frost*, Porcupine Tree, and Muse, not to mention the opening slot for IQ and Mr. Holmes’ touch, we would expect something proggy for sure, but nothing prepared me for the twenty plus minute opening epic that was my introduction to Synaesthesia….
Now I have stated this on other reviews, and I will again. It takes some serious guts to introduce yourself to the musical world with an epic, and that is exactly what Synaesthesia does. The twenty three minute Time, Tension, and Intervention opens the album, and does so in a full frontal assault of proggy awesomeness. A brief atmospheric vocal and synth section opens the song before it explodes with all that I love about prog music. Exceptionally complex instrumental work, soaring melodies, unpredictable time signatures, and that brilliant keyboard/guitar exchange of the lead. This is an instrumentally driven track. The lyrical sections, though solid and respectable, are interspersed between long, soaring musical passages. Warne’s voice is solid, handling the range with surety. Though he really doesn’t let it fly very often, when he does, he keeps a hold on the tone, with just a bit of power to emphasize the intensity of it. The instrumental work, on the other hand, is any neo-prog fans wet dream. The brilliant keyboard work holds center court, with the other instruments forming support. There are some solid guitar passages in it, and a few that are more than eye opening. The rhythm work is more than adequate, keeping with the complexity of the music in quality fashion. It is Warne’s mastery of the keyboard that is really the star here though. Layering it in many different ways, he provides the canvas that supports it and the paint that colors the song. For an old school fan of prog like me, introducing yourself with an epic of this fashion is akin to greeting me with a handful of cash.
Having blown me completely out of the water with the opener, I found it an impossible task for Synaesthesia to live up to it in the remaining six tracks, and though the rest were solid songs that stood proud on their own, they really didn’t. The opener is just a killer. Track two, Sacrifice, has a catchy edginess to it, with a smooth beat and some memorable riffs. Some sweet guitar work takes over before closing out with a catchy vocal section. Noumenon is an instrumental number that is thick with brutally rich keyboards, the notes rising and falling with crashing drums and flaring guitars bookending the waves. Epiphany is a slightly darker number, with the dominant tones being richer and deeper, all instruments digging in deep for maximum effect. The second instrumental number, Technology Killed the Kids, takes a musical journey from of 8-bit effect sound that is allowed to mature into an ominous aural statement. Though a bit playful, from a technical standpoint, it’s a solid number. Closing out the album is Life’s What You Make of It. This one is a lush, progressive rock statement song, opening with a subdued vocal section before exploding with the rich, layered notes that Warne seems to have a certain flare for. Aside from the opening track, this one really brings out the rich roots from which Warne draws his inspiration from.
OK, so this kid is 20, he has a contract with a very respectable label in Giant Electric Pea, opened for IQ for his first gig, and has the blessing of Mike Holmes on his debut album. I really don’t think there could be a better recipe for awesomeness. Synaesthesia is defined as a union of more than one sense, i.e. seeing music, hearing colors, ect. Adam Warne’s Synaesthesia accomplishes just this, with music that is rich and layered to a point where my senses were firing on all cylinders. One can only imagine what more time and experience, paired with the added influences of his fellow band mates, will allow Synaesthesia to accomplish. I for one will be keeping a very close eye out.