Origin of Species is a concept album that has taken several years to reach fruition and it is a collaboration of talents with a hefty pedigree, comprising the likes of bassist/vocalist Matt Bissonette, drummer extraordinaire Simon Phillips and guitarist Greg Howe, amongst many others, along with DarWin himself on guitars.
The album has a strong ecological theme running throughout its 90-odd minute duration with music that encompasses many different styles. The story foretells of a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by both the effects of climate change and also from the resultant nuclear war that has left the Earth’s population struggling to eke out their existence and to survive in the wake of the decimation that has occurred. It also comments on how mankind uses technology to address the issues and challenges that the people who have survived this turmoil, now face.
This tale is set ten years into the future, in 2028, but with the current state of the world, the scenario is all too frighteningly possible, unless we seriously address these matters.
The music is generally fairly hard-edged rock with lots of rock stylings and tendencies, this of course means lots of impassioned vocals, lots of over the top solos and the use of suitable dynamics. This album does not preach at the listener but seeks to inform that a change must happen to avoid what could befall humanity if we fail to heed and take appropriate action.
That said, this is a very well developed concept, and with the legendary Simon Phillips involved as both performer – he plays drums and keyboards throughout – and executive producer, arranger and engineer, which gives a real continuity and an expansiveness that sounds epic and yet remains very organic sounding too. This in itself is rather exceptional and makes for a rewarding listen, although how wide an audience this will actually garner is another question.
One of the more pleasing aspects of this album is the very fine voice of Matt Bissonette, who has spent his years as an in-demand bass player with the likes of Dave Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Ringo Starr and more recently Elton John. He wields a classic rock voice with a good range and phrasing, the vocals are both clear and strong and, as I say, a real treat to enjoy and the icing on what is already a very tasty cake.
The album has seventeen tracks spread over two discs, opening with a brief spoken introduction on For Humanity, in which it states, “We have sufficient computational power to establish control over all networks and computers on Earth, according to our models we can return Earth to equilibrium in 27 years. Approval to initiate plan requested.” Whilst this spoken part is given to a backdrop of synths and flute played randomly before a crunchy guitar riff is added on repeat and the first vocal from Matt is introduced, and the scene is set for adventure. This first song is pretty radio friendly with some great harmony guitar work, a strong chorus and that memorable riff before leading into the next song.
The Last Chance has nature sounds interspersed with those of the city, then a delicate motif before another fine crunchy strident riff and more clear vocals. Third track Taking Chances opens like a self-help song with instructions on clearing your mind, this continues the already established routine of a catchy song with a harder edge but with sincere vocals and good use of melody to fuel the song along.
I have to say I’m really impressed with what I’m hearing here, a day when a lot of modern rock leaves me a bit cold, this is actually rather good stuff and bodes well for a bright future. One hopes this is not just a one-off project and that more can come to light in the coming months, of course only time will tell, but the indications look promising.
Good use of acoustic guitar adds to the dynamics. It seems that Simon has learnt a lot from his years with Toto in particular in the dynamic production, and one can only commend him for that as he uses these skills to formidable effect here.
This album seems to plough a similar furrow to the recent United Progressive Fraternity album, which also has an ecological message and theme.
Escape the Maze follows, opening with gentle piano and a string section playing with some lovely flute before a brutal riff is added, ushering in a gentle emotive vocal from Matt. This is a really strong song and it certainly makes a fine impression as Matt sings of finding a way to escape the maze and see inside the mind’s eye, it really hits the mark for me as the emotional level is ramped up and it reaches higher, before a string section takes centre stage at four minutes and a piano solo ripples over the top. This is all very impressive, especially as this song uses great dynamics and classical overtones before the inevitable guitar solo at 5:40 that plays out superbly with the strings leading to the final refrain and vocal segments. A most impressive track.
Walk Away From the Earth follows and this is a song that calls for radical solutions to the problems and for relocation to another planet or cosmos. This has great synths and a good wah-wah guitar break too. Gummy Bear is a far more lightweight song with a reggae -type beat that adds nothing of note, except another great vocal from Matt Bissonnette. Forever is a bit of a power ballad with strings and cowbell from Mr Philips and a tasty saxophone solo from Karisse Buckingham to conclude Disc One.
Disc Two opens with War Against My Mind which is another hard-edged song with some strong lyrics and vocals. It has a terrific chorus, “War against my mind / No one left behind” that works well and sounds epic. The song talks of how people are having their minds played with. It has a fantastic guitar solo from Greg Howe too and is followed by the equally muscular Artificial with a lyric that talks of the revolution that will come in waves and how masters become slaves as the world’s systems collapse and make everything artificial.
New Horizon opens with strings and a gentle vocal from Matt, this is actually rather a tender song and one that has optimism woven throughout its grooves, and also a tasty guitar solo from DarWin, I believe, with good interplay between the strings and the rock instruments making this another standout track.
Modern Insanity has ’80s sounding synth bursts driving it along with a great beat and good vocals, it’s another good song that even a rap segment can’t ruin. Cosmic Rays follows and this is a female-fronted song, very soulful and a change of style from what has gone before with a great vocal. Another excellent song with another suitably epic guitar break that takes it to another level.
The remaining songs all follow what has gone before to some degree but they certainly are all worthwhile and worth hearing. There is a lot of talent on display here and whilst it might be heavy listening at times there is real imagination and creativity at play with some great tunes, melodies and musicianship. In fact, I find much here to applaud, challenging and drawing the attention and I recommend it to all as it is really first-rate stuff – great production, great performances and great music and words.
01. For Humanity (4:08)
02. The Last Chance (5:42)
03. Taking Chances (4:42)
04. Escape the Maze (7:25)
05. WalK Away From The Earth (4:45)
06. Gummy Bear (5:13)
07. Forever (5:44)
Time – 37:39
01. War Against My Mind (4:44)
02. Artificial (4:45)
03. One Horizon (5:14)
04. Modern Insanity (5:26)
05. Cosmic Rays (4:50)
06. Life Is A Mystery (4:20)
07. Slowly Melting (3:57)
08. Rise (4:54)
09. Just One More Day (3:23)
10. Prologue – For Humanity (5:28)
Time – 47:01
Total Time 84:33
DarWin – Guitar, Music & Lyrics, Production
Matt Bissonette – Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals
Simon Phillips – Drums, Keyboards, Percussion, Loops, Sounds, Production, Engineering, Mixing
Greg Howe – Guitar (tracks 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 & 2.8)
Amy Keys – Backing Vocals (track 2.5)
Ernest Tibbs – Bass (tracks 2.5 & 2.9)
Katisse Buckingham – Flute (track 1.6), Soprano Saxophone (track 1.7)
Dennis Hamm – Keyboards (tracks 2.7 & 2.8)
Jeff Babko – Keyboards (tracks 1.2, 1.4, 2.3 & 2.5)
Koko Rhods – Vocals (track 2.5)
Robbie Wyckoff – Vocals (track 2.9)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 20th February 2019