‘Sooner or Later the World will Wake Up’ – the first spoken words by Satish Kumar on Planetary Overload Part 1: Loss, the second ambitious album from the United Progressive Fraternity, sum up the hope that inspires this release. As the climate change protesters’ ‘Extinction Rebellion’ brings central London to a standstill, it seems a particularly resonant time to release this music, the stated aim of the United Progressive Fraternity being:
To produce great music, as a collective concept, whilst conveying a message of peace, hope and global awareness.
Before we consider how successful they have been in trying to reach those aims, it may be helpful for the uninitiated to look into what the United Progressive Fraternity is and where its origins lie.
United Progressive Fraternity (U.P.F.) grew out of the ashes of the excellent but now sadly disbanded Australian progressive rock band Unitopia, led by Mark Trueack and Sean Timms. Timms went on to form Southern Empire whilst Trueack formed the United Progressive Fraternity, releasing Fall In Love With The World in 2014, which first touched on Trueack’s environmental concerns and heavily involved other ex-Unitopia members Matt Williams, Tim Irrgang and David Hopgood. Alongside them Trueack recruited Guy Manning, Dan Mash and Marek Arnold, who in a strange twist later went on to form Damanek with Sean Timms. Guest performers included Jon Anderson, Steve Hackett and Steve Unruh. Trueack’s vision was to form a collective of artists and activists around the globe. At the core of Fall In Love With The World was a significant portion of songs which had already been co-written with Sean Timms for a Unitopia album which never reached fruition before they split up – those songs were effectively ‘shared’ with songs such as Travelling Man and Intersection later appearing in rather different form on the two Southern Empire albums. Fall In Love With The World was also played by a significant element of the old Unitopia band. Therefore, there is a very real sense that the first U.P.F. album was a successor to the Unitopia legacy in terms of the music and feel of the album.
How does Planetary Overload: Loss compare or fit in to that legacy?
Well, if listeners are expecting to hear a sort of ‘Son of Unitopia’ album then they may need to adjust their expectations and perceptions, as did this reviewer!
Firstly, on this album there are no songs with any lyrical or musical input from Sean Timms, so that Unitopia link is removed. Secondly, apart from the excellent Mercenaries, co-written and performed with Matt Williams on guitar and David Hopgood on drums, there are no other ex-Unitopia member contributions on this album. Therefore, the Unitopia musical D.N.A. is very much diluted with mainly only Mark Trueack’s input, albeit a major part, from Unitopia’s heritage. This all means that in many ways we have a very different musical creation and the album needs to be heard through that prism rather than with any nostalgic desire regarding Unitopia.
In hindsight, the most significant ‘guest performer’ on the first U.P.F. album was Steve Unruh (also of Resistor and The Samurai of Prog). Multi-instrumentalist Unruh, adept on violin, guitars, mandolin, flute and percussion, has now become one of the main architects of U.P.F. alongside Trueack. According to Trueack, the United Progressive Fraternity should not really be perceived as a ‘Band’ – he likens it more to a Project with musical, artistic and media involvement which brings people together with a love of music and concern for environmental and humanitarian issues. That may be the aspiration, but it is clear that the album is consistently led by the joint vision of Unruh and Trueack.
The album promisingly announces itself with the atmospheric Loss (Anthem), written with Trueack by keyboardist Christophe Lebled, who also has significant input into the Romantechs: Reimagine bonus disc. Environmentally relevant quotes from luminaries such as Dame Jan Goodall and Sir David Attenborough definitely set the agenda for the album. Steve Unruh splashes lovely strokes of violin and flute over the gradually forming musical canvas, alongside tasteful dashes of saxophone by Marek Arnold. This truly uplifting piece builds with harmony vocals from Mark Trueack, Lisa Wetton, Matthew Atherton and Unruh, but the most notable voice is Jon Davison of Yes. The resemblance of his voice on this song to Jon Anderson is uncanny, and this vocal input and the arrangement is reminiscent of Anderson’s magical and classic solo album Olias Of Sunhillow. However, listeners expecting the album henceforth to launch skywards into fantastical Roger Dean-esque Yes-like musical universes are taken in a very different direction as What Happens Now bursts in with flute and saxophone jazzily swooping over Jerry Marotta’s cool drumming. Mark Trueack shows his vocal versatility with a bluesy and angry sounding vocal… if you can’t get angry about the threat of environmental disaster what can you get angry about!?
This is quite unlike anything one would hear on a Unitopia album and Trueack takes us in a very different direction again on What Are We Doing To Ourselves, which features his insistent repetition of the song title over a percussive African rhythm with a delicately picked electric guitar from Raf Azaria. Some with their ‘Unitopia-vision’ spectacles / expectations in place may struggle with this song (as I did initially, in all honesty) but upon reflection, if this is an album about global concerns it should therefore reflect music from around the World, and then it makes more sense. This song ends with Sir David Attenborough recollecting his teacher’s unfortunately prescient prediction that our era will in future be regarded as the ‘Plastic Period’. Ocean sounds immediately segue into the hard rocking Stop-Time, co-written by Unruh with Steve Hackett’s late ’70s/early ’80s keyboardist Nick Magnus, who provides some psychedelically swirling and funky sounding keys. Colin Edwin, once of Porcupine Tree, also contributes some impressive bass lines under Mark Trueack’s powerful and impassioned vocals, alongside former Flower King Hasse Fröberg (the guest list of this album is a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of progressive rock!). A strange, eddying and discordant mid-section, dominated by choppy percussion and eerie keyboards, evoke the chaotic and dark theme of the song. We soon return to the catchy main refrain of this memorable and impactful song, bringing home the self-inflicted threat of excessive use of plastics.
A simple vocal from Mark Trueack over Mark Franco’s subtle bass and Unruh’s nylon string guitar and violin on One More acts as a linking piece to the sinister and powerful Mercenaries. Matt Williams is outstanding on ‘dirty’ sounding guitars and in the middle Steve Unruh’s striking violin play over a rock-solid section complements the guitars perfectly. This is a rousing tour-de-force of a song with great interplay between guitars and violin. After such mayhem there is an oasis of calm on What If as Trueack echoes Led Zeppelin with the opening line, “What if the Sun refused to shine…?”, backed by a simple acoustic guitar and some subtle melancholic horns.
Planetary Overload then takes another excursion into music of non-western origins, largely courtesy of the impressive multi-instrumental skills of Knifeworld’s Charlie Cawood, who contributes the bewildering array of oud, saz, bouzouki, dulcimer, zither and bass to Forgive Me, My Son. Alex Grata wrote the music and provides an evocative soundscape through piano, synthesizers and guitars. Mark Trueack expresses the lyrics of Cindy Spear with great emotion, ranging from chilling restraint to angry rage, over intuitive drumming by Phill Sokha. Steve Unruh’s violin weaves its way around the rhythms and melodies like some sort of musical wraith. This is an outstanding and atmospheric song instrumentally, so one wonders why the gunfire sound effects were felt necessary to help paint a sonic picture which was sufficiently evocative, but this is a minor quibble in one of the best songs on the album. The blood-soaked subject matter of this powerful anti-war song is tragically evoked with great skill and commitment. After such darkness and powerful emotion it is something of a relief to glide into the gentle optimism of The Beatles inflected Dying To Be Reborn, complete with Sgt. Pepper style sitar, horns and harmony vocals. This piece of musical sunlight is embroidered with an undulating keyboard solo, segueing beautifully into a fluid guitar solo by George Perdikis, all supporting Trueack’s warm and sensitive vocals.
The main piece of the album is the epic Seeds For Life, which features Steve Hackett and Michel St-Père of Mystery on guitars. This ambitious piece begins with the softly spoken vocals of Dr. Cary Fowler telling us about Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic regions, over futuristic synth soundscapes from Matthew Atherton. Programmed percussive beats are then joined by metronomic drumming by Jesus Gancedo Garcia and Unruh’s violin as the tempo and intensity gradually build. Marek Arnold adds saxophone along with a string section. There’s a fine line between portentous and ponderous as the number progresses. I was starting to wonder, but I think this section just manages to steer away from the latter, and then it is transformed by some Kashmir-like strings and an electric guitar break. Just as quickly as that erupts it melts away to an acoustic guitar section (presumably from Hackett) over lush strings and Unruh’s subtle flute in a delightful pastoral passage. The main melody returns over which Marek Arnold lays a short sax piece. However, in all honesty, for this listener this central section may not have been strong or distinctive enough to fully hold the attention in such an epic piece. It may be fine for others who may have rather more of an attention span! Nevertheless, this feeling is relatively momentary and is more than outweighed by other parts which engaged this listener more effectively. The piece moves into the gentle pastures of the Now is the Dawn section as a tinkling piano is backed with lovely strings, like a sunlit clearing in woods, before we career into a rather rockier passage. Marc Papeghin’s soft French horn ushers in ‘Truey’ with the sensitive Seeds for Life vocal section, echoed with harmony vocals. Once again a fine line is walked between ‘sweet’ and ‘saccharine’ for such vocals. Whether the listener feels this line was crossed is probably down to personal taste – I swung between both opinions, dependent on my mood!
Seeds For Life grows from the mellifluous vocal section as Unruh’s violin and becomes increasingly more animated, seemingly germinating into a scintillating rock section. Steve Unruh’s electric violin becomes increasingly frantic and distorted, and the piece expansively flowers with great drumming, keyboards and strings into a rousing, celebratory finale. A delicate acoustic guitar coda, presumably again from Hackett, provides a gentle feeling of afterglow.
The main album ends with Loss To Lost, which emerges from ocean sounds, piano and sitar before settling into a beguiling, chiming rhythm and melody. This is an uplifting song – a call to action:
“We will Carry Hope in an Answer, Carry Hope Ever After, Carry Hope to Defend our World
Let’s Turn it Around, Let’s Find a Solution, We can find Hope, Hope is what we Need.”
Planetary Overload Part 1: Loss comes with a bonus disc of songs by the trio Trueack, Unruh and Christophe Lebled who call themselves ‘Romantechs’, in which they ‘re-imagine’ songs from Unitopia and U.P.F. They have a very romantic and relatively simple feel, with clear echoes of Jon and Vangelis, particularly the diaphanous Falling In Love With The World. They flow together fluidly in a light way. The bonus disc is rather a curiosity but sweet as they are in my view the songs do not add a great deal to the album as a whole. However, the soft vocal harmonies and gentle instrumentation will appeal to some more than others. What cannot be doubted is that this is a good value release with ample music and attractive packaging. Planetary Overload is rather striking as an object with evocative images and immediately distinctive artwork by Ed Unitsky.
Whilst the intentions of this album are clearly noble and inspirational, one question that needs asking is: Does the music do justice to the theme?
This is an album bursting with ideas, personnel and imagination. Not all of it works in my view. Cruel Times appears to be intended as a lament, but to these ears it struggles to get above a rather turgid, uninspired level… and believe me, I tried this song quite a few times but nothing ‘clicked’. Seeds Of Life is a rather flawed but ambitious ‘epic’, and What Are We Doing To Ourselves takes some adjusting to in my view. However, on the whole, these personal reservations are greatly outweighed by the positives found in this album. When it’s good, it’s great.
There is a great diversity of musical styles and input, strangely that may simultaneously be its strength and weakness – the range of different artists involved may lead to some lack of cohesion and focus, conversely, it is that diversity of influences and contribution that helps make it a vibrant piece of work, brimming with a kaleidoscope of sounds, influences and images. Environmental and humanitarian issues are clearly the most important subjects facing us all. U.P.F. have creditably highlighted those issues clearly, with imagination and musical skill. They have drawn from diverse influences and successfully combined artists from a wide range of backgrounds into creating a high quality and significant album for our times.
It will be interesting to see what they produce in Planetary Overload: Part Two, and if there has been any significant progress in the environmental agenda across the world.
Phase I: Dawning On Us
01. Loss (Anthem) (3:25)
02. What Happens Now (4:04)
03. Cruel Times (8:05)
04. What Are We Doing To Ourselves (3:19)
Phase II: Distraction And Destruction
05. Stop-Time (6:56)
06. One More (2:37)
07. Mercenaries (6:48)
08. What If (1:44)
09. Forgive Me, My Son (7:46)
Phase III: Growing
10. Dying To Be Reborn (5:19)
11. Seeds For Life (19:33)
12. Loss To Lost (5:15)
Bonus Disc Romantechs: Reimagine
01. Fall In Love With The World (6:11)
02. This Time (5:08)
03. Loss To Lost (4:17)
04. Seeds For Life (8:27)
05. Rebirth (2:11)
06. One More (1:46)
07. Cruel Times (3:59)
08. Forgiveness (1:39)
09. The Great Reward (5:35)
Total Time – 114:00
Mark Trueack – Vocals (all tracks)
Steve Unruh – Violin, Guitars, Flute, Slide Guitar, Sitar Guitar, Percussion, Kalimba, Congas, Tabla, Floor Tom, Nylon-String Guitar, Mandolin & Vocals (all tracks)
Christophe Lebled – Keyboards, Piano, Synthesizer, Soundscapes, Sequencers (tracks 1 & 2)
Cornel Wilczek – Orchestration, Conductor: Fraternity Symphonic Orchestra (track 11)
Daniel Mash – Bass (track 11)
Matthew Atherton – Vocals, Synthesizer, Soundscapes (tracks 1,3,5 & 11)
Marek Arnold – Saxophone (tracks 1,2 & 11)
Joe Toscano – Drums, Vocals (tracks 3 & 11)
Mark Franco – Fretted & Fretless Bass, Vocals (tracks 2,4,6 &10)
Michel St-Père – Electric Guitar (track 11)
Jon Davison – Vocals (tracks 1 & 11)
Angelo Racz (RedZen) – Music, Melodies, Keyboards (track 3)
Nick Magnus – Keyboards, Soundscapes (tracks 5,10 & 11)
Jesús Gancedo García – Drums (tracks 11 & 12)
Hasse Fröberg – Vocals (track 5)
Guillermo Cides – Chapman Stick (tracks 2 & 12)
Grace Bawden – Choir, Soprano Vocals (track 12)
Lisa Wetton – Vocals (tracks 1,3,10 & 11)
Charlie Cawood – Oud, Bağlama, Saz, Bouzouki, Hammered Dulcimer, Zither, Pipa, Zhongruan, Liuqin, Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar (tracks 3 & 9)
Steve Hackett – Nylon-String Guitar (track 11)
Raf Azaria – Piano & Synth Solos, Slide &Electric Guitars (tracks 3,4 & 12)
Clive Hodson – Alto Sax, Valve Trombone, Trumpet, Flugelhorn (tracks 2,3,7 & 10)
Jerry Marotta – Drums (track 2)
Angus Keay – Electric Guitar (track 2)
Colin Edwin – Fretless Bass, Soundscapes (track 5)
Hans Jörg Schmitz – Drums (track 5)
Phill Sokha – Drums (track 9)
Brendon Darby – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Digital Trumpet (tracks 2,3,8 & 10)
George Perdikis – Electric Guitar (tracks 8 & 10)
Matt Williams – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Synth, Vocals (track 7)
Valentine Halembakov aka Val Hal – Guitar (track 9)
Little Brodie Byrne – Spoken Word (track 9)
Marc Papeghin – French Horn (track 11)
‘Ghost Girls’ – Haunting Voices (track 9)
David Hopgood – Drums (track 7)
Dr. James E. Hansen – Narration (tracks 1 & 2)
Mark Maslin – Narration (1 & 7)
Dr. Cary Fowler – Seeds of Life Introduction (track 11)
Sir David Attenborough – Narration (tracks 1 & 5)
Dr. Jane Goodall – Narration (tracks 1 & 10)
James Lovelock – Narration (track 8)
David Suzuki – Narration (track 7)
Alanna Mitchell – Narration (track 6)
Satish Kumar – Narration (track 1)
Ettore Salati – Electric & Acoustic Guitars (track 3)
Alex Grata – Vocals, Piano, Synthesizers, Loops, Electric & Acoustic Guitars (track 9)
Gordo Bennett – Keyboards (track 11)
Cindy L. Spear – Lyrics (track 9)
Record Label: Giant Electric Pea [GEP]
Date of Release: 19th April 2019
– Fall in Love with the World (2014)
– Planetary Overload Part 1: Loss (2019)