“Modern cinematic prog” reads the blurb on Circuline’s website, and they’re not wrong.
This one has been kicking around on the review pile for too long now. It immediately struck me as a good album but I just couldn’t get a handle on where to start with it. Revisiting it again recently only underlined the quality and so, finally and with apologies to the band for the tardiness, quill has been put righteously to parchment to tell of its virtues.
Hot on the heels of 2015’s debut, Return, Counterpoint continues the stated aim of combining the best elements of the “Golden Age” of Prog with modern widescreen melodic rock, focusing on making big statements in shorter songs rather than twenty minute epics.
What is immediately striking is the use of two strong lead vocalists in Natalie Brown and Billy Spilane who work very well together, the strident delivery suiting the scale of the music, particularly on Who I Am where they trade lines in a call and response, coming together for the chorus. An off-beat drum pattern and piano melody line set the track apart, an unusual take that does indeed reference traditional prog influences through a modernistic stance.
Vocals are again important for Forbidden Planet where Spilane takes the lead, Brown and keyboardist Andrew Colyer joining as the trio offer strong vocal harmonies that give the music a lush and highly melodic quality. The significant quality of the playing available within the band is well used, the more tricksy and complex sections used in support of the main thrust of the song in a widescreen sound with plenty going on. The results are impressive with Colyer’s keys particularly noteworthy.
On tension building instrumental opener New Day, keys and martial drums support recorded voices from the Apollo 11 moon landing, a metallic bass tone and Frippian guitar emerging in the second half. There’s a sense of expectation as the piece ends with Neil Armstrong taking his “one small step”, the band clearly having the bases well and truly covered in the keyboards, drums and bass departments, but despite having the recently joined and highly capable jazzer Beledo in the ranks they have still chosen to go down the route of deploying guest players to spice up the guitar delivery, recruiting members of Enchant, Happy the Man, Renaissance and Sound of Contact accordingly. The latter’s Randy McStine contributes instrumentally to New Day and also helps out in the writing of the lyrics and melody lines, the rest of the music predominantly the work of Andrew Colyer and drummer Darin Brannon.
The cinematic approach is underlined by the inclusion of a brace of predominantly keyboard instrumentals placed strategically within Counterpoint, the unsettling Erosion and brief S.O.A. adding to the variety as worthwhile asides.
A more metallic edge and real thump leads into Hollow, Brown taking the lead vocal for this one and hitting some impressive notes. The longest track, there’s a Saga feel until Colyer’s solo piano sections with their suggestions of Keith Emerson. The full-on instrumental is pure Tarkus and Alek Darson adds unusual guitar textures as the track takes a number of off piste excursions. Piano is again key to the slow-burning Inception which isn’t afraid to go through its paces with confidence, restraint and a forward-looking ethos. Glass Hammer’s Kamran Alan Shikoh guests here and Brannon’s percussion also impresses before the song breaks loose towards the end.
Nautilus is noteworthy for the twangy metallic bass from Paul Ranieri, the track being a good representation of the wider album as it successfully incorporates many of the influences, both old and new, and elements used throughout Counterpoint to be one of the standouts, piano again a focal point. One of the melody lines reminds me of Trent Gardner’s Leonardo: The Absolute Man project and it has the scale to go alongside that mammoth album. The unusual bass continues into Stay, another strong and melodic workout with fine vocals, Stanley Whittaker’s lovely guitar solo having a hint of Bill Frisell in there.
Finally, Summit tops things off ( 😉 ) with a jazzy outlook, including from Matt Dorsey’s guitar. The harmony vocals are again lovely but there’s an edge in the instrumentation that sits well with it. There are subtle asides, including for a timpani and piano duet, as the orchestration builds into an impressive instrumental section built on complex rhythms to close out the album.
There’s variety in the pace and approach that make Counterpoint a rewarding and entertaining listen. After their recent appearance at Progtoberfest in the U.S., the band are planning a visit to Europe in 2017 which would certainly be something to look forward to.
01. New Day (5:20)
02. Who I Am (8:20)
03. Forbidden Planet (7:09)
04. Hollow (10:48)
05. Erosion (3:22)
06. Nautilus (6:12)
07. Stay (Peter Frankenstan) (6:55)
08. S.O.A. (1:14)
09. Inception (8:06)
10. Summit (9:53)
Total Time – 67:19
Andrew Colyer – Keyboards, Sound Design, Vocals
Darin Brannon – Drums & Percussion
Natalie Brown – Lead Vocals
Billy Spillane – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Paul Ranieri – Bass & Bass Pedals
Beledo – Guitars
Randy McStine – Guitars (track 1), Lyrics & Vocal Melodies
Kamran Alan Shikoh – Guitars (track 9)
Stanley Whitaker – Guitars (track 7)
Matt Dorsey – Guitars (track 10)
Alek Darson – Guitars (tracks 2,3 & 4)
Doug Ott – Guitars (track 2)
Ryche Chlanda – Guitars (track 6)
Record Label: Inner Nova Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 5th May 2016