Published on 21st January 2015
Asia – Gravitas
A Review of the Deluxe Edition CD/DVD
Originally titled Valkyrie, Gravitas is the latest album from Asia, following on from 2008’s Phoenix, 2010’s Omega and 2012’s XXX. Founding members John Wetton, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer continue their musical relationship whilst introducing Sam Coulson from Bromsgrove in the UK, who replaces Steve Howe on guitar. When you have such a prestigious musical heritage as the members of Asia do, you can only expect greatness as a listener. Progressive Rock bands Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Uriah Heep, Yes, Wishbone Ash, King Crimson and additionally The Buggles highlight the various musical flavours that the individuals have been part of shaping and creating in the past.
Naturally reminiscent of Asia’s third album Astra due to Steve Howe’s absence, Gravitas features all brand new material except the seventh track, I Would Die For You, which evolved from a 1987 unused demo. The album sounds edgier than its recent predecessors, predominantly due to the new guitar sound of Sam Coulson. This is clearly evident on the title track itself, Coulson’s sound shocks the track into life after two and a half minutes of gentle keyboards from Downes, his sound gives the song a much needed aggressive angle again near the climax, re-energising it in its final moments. According to Wetton’s album notes, the track itself was inspired by the city of Plovdiv whilst Asia were on tour across Europe, a snippet of the bands performance in Plovdiv, Bulgaria can be found on the bonus DVD attached to this Deluxe Version of the album.
One of the most impressive musical pieces on the album is easily Heaven Help Me Now. The track is both intricate and bombastic, especially after the first twenty-five seconds. Every member of the band can be heard distinctively and powerfully throughout, it becomes very fast paced due to Palmer’s drums and Coulson’s chugging guitar, whilst Downes keyboards soar in the chorus and dance on top of the guitar for the duration. A little over four minutes in Coulson provides a guitar solo that Jack Black would probably describe as “face-melting”. On the DVD Coulson explains that the three founding members gave him the freedom to perform his solos as he wished, hearing this album, I am not surprised.
Other highlights on the album include The Closer I Get To You which Wetton describes as “ultra close and personal” – what is evident from this track is how good Wetton’s voice still sounds after all of these years. Aside from the two bonus tracks, Till We Meet Again closes out the album, beginning with a heavy drum beat and acoustic guitar it has a very upbeat vibe, the lyrics speak of saying goodbye to friends and relationships “till we meet again”. If I could be accused of reading too deeply into it, I would suggest this song could be interpreted as a goodbye from Asia until the next album, or indeed a goodbye to Steve Howe himself after he retired from the band in 2013.
The only criticism I can make of the album is that there is no “hit song” or one that instantly grabs your attention upon a first listening the way that Never Again from Phoenix, or Finger On The Trigger from Omega might have done, simply an album of good songs produced expertly. The artwork for Gravitas is of course intricately painted by Roger Dean, any fan of Asia, Yes or Uriah Heep will instantly recognise the artists work here, as he has contributed to every Asia studio album that John Wetton has been involved in.
This deluxe version of the album is very akin to the deluxe release of XXX, it contains two bonus acoustic tracks and a bonus DVD. The DVD includes the music video to (a shorter) Valkyrie, The Making Of Gravitas featurette and the Live In Plovdiv Excerpt.
Compared to The Making Of XXX featurette which was over twenty minutes long, The Making Of Gravitas is under five minutes and is shorter in duration than the Valkyrie music video, which is slightly disappointing. However, we do get to see interviews with each member of the band, including the new addition, Sam Coulson, allowing a brief insight into how various songs were written.
The live performances present on the disc make up for the fleeting Making Of by being over fifteen minutes in duration and the first footage to feature the new guitarist. Three songs are available from the Plovdiv show; Extraordinary Life from Phoenix, followed by classics Only Time Will Tell and Heat Of The Moment. The latter are performed with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra who at times replace Geoff Downes’ keyboard pieces with string instruments giving the tracks a uniquely fuller orchestral sound. Aside from a few fan made videos on YouTube, this DVD appears to be the only way the view this footage.
Moving in to 2015, hopefully Asia fans can expect a live album and DVD set from both Asia and Frontiers Records similar to the fantastic Spirit Of The Night (2010) and Resonance (2012) releases. Naturally, the Plovdiv footage is the obvious choice, so fingers crossed for that.
01. Valkyrie (5:25)
(ii). Gravitas (8:00)
03. The Closer I Get To You (6:38)
04. Nyctophobia (5:12)
05. Russian Dolls (5:06)
06. Heaven Help Me Now
(i). Wings Of Angels
(iii). Heaven Help Me Now (5:38)
07. I Would Die For You (3:12)
08. Joe DiMaggio’s Glove (4:31)
09. Till We Meet Again (4:03)
10. The Closer I Get To You (Acoustic) (6:41)
11. Joe DiMaggio’s Glove (Acoustic) (4:34)
Total Time 59:00
01. Valkyrie (Music Video) (4:38)
02. The Making Of Gravitas (Featurette) (4:37)
03. An Extraordinary Life (Live In Plovdiv) (4:36)
04. Only Time Will Tell (Live In Plovdiv with The Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra) (5:05)
05. Heat Of The Moment (Live In Plovdiv with The Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra) (6:01)
John Wetton – Lead Vocals, Bass and Acoustic Guitars
Carl Palmer – Drums
Geoffrey Downes – Keyboards
Sam Coulson – Guitars
Record Label: Frontiers Records
Year Of Release: 2014