Published on 17th July 2021
Evership – The Uncrowned King: Act 1
American progressive rock band Evership plunge us back into the pomp/prog-rock era of the ’70s with their third album, and it’s a concept one at that – the first half of an allegoric journey in search of truth, full of symphonic rock anthems, instrumental flourishes, quality vocals and melodic passages to please any fans of classic retro-prog.
Whisper it quietly, but if you are a prog rock aficionado of a certain age – even if you love both the vibrancy of the modern breed of prog or the comfort of dipping back into the classic era of the ‘Big Six’ – you might well have had a soft spot for that mid/late-’70s era of US bands such as Kansas, Styx, Starcastle and Boston. A time when Leftoverture and The Grand Illusion nestled next to Seconds Out, Going for the One and Moonmadness in your teenage record collection. When you never heard the question ‘Is it Prog?’ but you knew instinctively what ‘pomp rock’ meant and how it differed from ‘progressive’. Welcome to the world of Evership!
Formed in 2013 by multi-instrumentalist Shane Atkinson and boasting the excellent vocals of Beau West, the band have been able to both capture that ’70s zeitgeist and yet produce their own, fresh, signature style of progressive rock, which doffs its cap to the giants of the past whilst looking forwards to the present. Their first two albums, Evership (2016) and Evership II (2018), were well-received, especially in the USA, and The Progressive Aspect reviewed them both back in 2019.
2021 sees the release of their third album, The Uncrowned King: Act 1, an ambitious concept work based on the 1910 book of the same name by the American author Harold Bell Wright. The story is an allegory about the pursuit of truth and is part The Pilgrim’s Progress, part A Christmas Carol and part The Prince and the Pauper. In many ways it is a work which almost demands a prog concept album, and here Evership have given us the first half of the story, whetting our appetite for Act 2 in due course. Those familiar with Neal Morse’s The Similitude of a Dream and The Great Adventure might find the concept familiar, although any Christian message is much less obvious here.
We follow the journey of a pilgrim in search of truth and wisdom, through the Desert of Facts to the gates of The Temple of Truth, where he is told that whilst he has ‘fulfilled the law’ and ‘paid the price’, to understand the reason for his pilgrimage, he must rest in The Quiet Room and hear the story of The Uncrowned King from a series of four visiting voices to gain a true understanding of his spiritual journey (akin to the ghosts who visited Scrooge one Christmas).
The album covers the first two such voices and we hear of the twin princes, ‘Really-Is’ and ‘Seemsto-Be’ from the ‘Land of Allthetime’, who one day see the beautiful, gleaming city of ‘Sometime’ in the ‘Land of Yettocome’ from the high tower, vowing to leave their comfortable, easy-going existence to visit it. They find a land of beauty, love and contentment that they are reluctant to leave, but news of the death of their father, King ‘What-Soever-Youthink’, forces them to make the return journey and claim the Magic Crown… but that’s for Act 2 to reveal (I hope you’re making notes out there, by the way!).
Well, that’s the concept – but what’s the music like? Rather good indeed, it has to be said. You’ll find a melting pot of influences, such as Kansas, Styx, Rush, Queen, Yes, Genesis, Boston and Camel amongst others. Yet whilst the result might not be particularly innovative or break any new ground, the resulting synergy is refreshing and undoubtedly Evership.
The opening track, Pilgrimage, starts atmospherically with synthesisers, along with desert winds and haunting Eastern instrumentation before a gradual build-up of keyboard sounds, a piano passage and then full-blown, swirling, retro-prog keyboards, guitars and a driving beat, producing an overture-like explosion of sound. The introductory lines from the book – “Eyes blinded by the fog of Things cannot see Truth. Ears deafened by the din of Things cannot hear Truth…” – are chanted, Queen-like, before Dream Theater-style ensemble work introduces Beau’s clear vocals over delicate acoustic guitar lines and eventually complementary piano themes. The Kansas influence is strong and continues as soothing vocals and classical influences take our pilgrim through to The Quiet Room.
Bird song introduces The Voice of the Waves as ominous, other-worldly effects take us into distorted, melancholic vocals as the tale begins. However, it is very much a transitional track designed to create a musical tension before we are introduced to the real heart of the album, Crownshine / Allthetime. Majestic keyboards fight with powerful guitar riffs and propel the song into Styx-like harmonies with an echo of Rush percussion patterns thrown in for good measure. The track alternates in tempo and style, ebbing and flowing through its melodies with synthesisers highlighting soaring guitar soloing in an indulgent instrumental prog confection. Beau’s high-register vocals takes up the story and runs through the complex lyrical content (although you might want to have the lyrics to read through while you listen to keep up with the narrative).
The Tower starts as a more mainstream classic rock track, with piano-led vocal harmonies leading into a spritely, bass/drum rhythm with guitar chords driving it forward. Uplifting keyboards contrast nicely with the dense lyrics. The pace relaxes nicely before the lead guitar takes flight, only stepping aside as the song glides serenely to its conclusion.
The Voice of the Evening Wind provides the second transitional track, beginning with Rush-like wind chimes and effects that take us into Xanadu territory, prior to some lovely vocals from Poem Atkinson over gentle acoustic guitar shading. More successful than the earlier ‘voices’ track in providing a musical contrast, it has a lot of ethereal charm.
The longest track on the album, Yettocome / Itmightbe, has a myriad of twists and turns befitting its length and once again you have lovely, melodic, proggy passages, the intertwining of keyboards, guitar and strong, clear Steve Walsh-style vocals – acoustic and electric glowing light and ominous shade – and tempo changes as the princes ponder their thoughts and feelings in the new city that surrounds them: “But is there some principles I’m to embrace, some mode of accomplishment or sacrifice? Some kind of cause that I undertake, to travel to another nation. Or is it nothing and there’s just no… God, I need a revelation!” Lots of diversity: a peaceful piano interlude here, a classical guitar motif there. Stratospheric guitar solo one minute, keyboard pyrotechnics the next. It is another album highlight which the listener can sink into and let it warmly flow over them.
The messenger’s abrupt cry of “The King is dead!” heralds the start of The Wait, and a dancing piano theme accompanies the regret of Prince Really-Is at not having time for further shared thoughts and discussions. Some excellent guitar playing adds great poignancy to this final and accessible track, which clearly signals that the story will continue into Act 2. Unfortunately, we are just going to have to wait!
This is a powerful slab of retro-progressive symphonic rock – in that ‘American prog’ style – that will delight fans of that genre. The quality of the vocals and musicianship is high indeed and the conceptual themes work surprisingly well, despite the complexity of the language and lyrics. Whilst some might see much that is derivative here – and there is no doubt that Shane wears his influences on his sleeve for all to see – it has a surprising freshness to it in its entirety and is a warming comfort blanket in these strange days for listeners who like melody and bombast to their prog rock. If you are new to the band, the first two albums might be an easier place to start, but if you like your concept albums, then this latest release will give you much to enjoy.
01. The Pilgrimage (10:38)
i. Desert of Facts
ii. The Temple of Truth
iii. The Quiet Room
02. The Voice of the Waves (3:08)
03. (a) Crownshine / (b) Allthetime (10:50)
04. The Tower (9:47)
05. The Voice of the Evening Wind (4:23)
06. (a) Yettocome / (b) Itmightbe (16:42)
07. Wait (5:12)
Total Time – 60:40
Beau West – Lead Vocals
Shane Atkinson – Keyboards, Drums, Vocals, Percussion, Theremin
James Atkinson – Lead Guitar (tracks 3b,4 & 6b)
John Rose – Rhythm, Classical, Acoustic & Lead Guitars (tracks 1,3a,4,6a & 7)
Ben Young – Bass
Matt Harrell – 12-string Guitar (track 1)
Poem Atkinson – “The Voice of the Evening Wind”
Mike Priebe – Additional Backing Vocals
The Charles Heimermann Choir
The Adriatic Sea – Sea Organ
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 21st May 2021