Reviewing a band you have followed and enjoyed from the beginning is always a dicey proposition. You can’t help but wonder if this is the one where it all falls apart, or has the band forged ahead to reach new heights?
Kinetic Element is the brainchild of keyboardist Mike Visaggio. Other than drummer Michael Murray, who has been with the neo/symphonic prog band since debut album Powered By Light, the band has gone through a series of personnel changes. Bassist Mark Tupko was added for breakthrough album Travelog, and then for the third album, The Face of Life, guitarist Peter Matuchniak and vocalist Saint John Coleman. The addition of Coleman seemed to these ears an odd choice, as his voice appeared an uncomfortable fit for the band, like he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to sound like. However, the subsequent album, Live From New York, was a revelation, showcasing Coleman’s vocal ability as an unmitigated strength. I am happy to report up front that new album Chasing the Lesser Light is the sound of a band that has found their footing and created the album of their career so far.
Chasing the Lesser Light is a concept album exploring man’s short history of space travel. Opening track First Stage enters with symphonic grandeur, courtesy of Visaggio’s synths, to tell the tale of humankind’s learning to fly. Matuchniak’s guitar chords add depth and resonance before the rest of the band kicks into high gear. The sound is crystal clear, shedding light on Coleman’s maturity as a vocalist and confirming just how comfortably he now fits into the band dynamic. This is especially evident when the vocals are multi-tracked, giving Coleman’s voice a smoother edge that fits with the music’s grand ambitions. The instrumental interlude of this relatively short piece brings to mind Gentle Giant, particularly in the bass parts. The song beautifully captures the awe and magnificence of early space exploration. The synths and piano anchor the song, but it’s the guitar that makes it soar.
The first of two epics, Chasing the Lesser Light is a great example of an uncluttered arrangement, leaving sonic space for each member of the band to shine individually and collectively. The song begins with a lone bass until Visaggio’s Emerson-inspired organ takes command of the song, which addresses the Moon landing and the wonder of looking back at Earth. The near-chanted chorus beautifully complements the strong melodic verses. Even though this piece is clearly Visaggio’s show, listen to Tupko’s bass runs; they are what push the song forward and lift it up. Matuchniak’s riffing is strong without overpowering the song, interjecting slices and slabs of six-string glory as appropriate. His playing on this and the rest of the album is a textbook exercise in playing to the song rather than showboating for the sake of technique, a welcome approach in these days of overplaying. The electric piano at around eight-and-a-half minutes lends the tune a jazz fusion feel, again augmented by rubbery bass runs. The highlight of Visaggio’s contributions, though, is the Tony Banks-inspired synth solo that dances over the final minutes of the track. Murray’s drums are never fussy, instead adding movement with almost melodic fills. Chasing earns its nearly twenty-minute length by going through numerous changes that consistently challenge and engage. The true talent here is that these guys prove just how capable they are by performing as a band, not five soloists.
Radio Silence sounds like it could have been recorded during prog’s golden age. Recounting the dangers of space travel and its emotional impact on an astronaut’s son, Coleman rises to the challenge of evoking the child’s hopes and fears. He inhabits the character and breathes life into such lines as:
It’s a dream he was destined to follow
But now his voice just flickers in vain
Momma wears her Sunday best
The white fox pressed across her chest
Praying ‘Lord let us see him again.’”
The electric piano wonderfully echoes the emotion of the vocals which conclude with a heart-rending “I want to hear Daddy’s voice one more time”. It’s obvious that some thought went into both the composition and arrangement, resulting in a magnificent piece of art.
If you want a great headphones song, We Can’t Forget is it. Looking ahead to a manned flight to Mars, the tune is upbeat and hopeful. The ascending chord patterns reflect the idea of traveling farther than man has gone before. The instrumental break at about 6:45 entwines a sense of foreboding with a certain joie de vivre. While the tubular bells help heighten the tension, the rollicking organ solo brings the thrill of exploration front and center, abetted by Murray’s joy-infused drumming. The lyrics again are positive and affirming, claiming “the Moon is just a start”.
The final epic in an album full of them is fifteen-minute closer Door to Forever. Another home run, this one finds the band firing on all cylinders. Acoustic piano and slide guitar provide a brief quote of Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky, the first of many Floyd references. This band is too smart to be clearly imitative, but give just enough of a sly hint to entertain. A myriad of ideas find their way into the song, but it never sounds disjointed. Credit to songwriter Mike Visaggio for filling fifteen minutes with music that is consistently catchy as a pop tune while being as clever and adventurous as any of the prog giants. Once more, Matuchniak’s slide guitar is simple and breathtaking throughout. His guitar tones are impeccable, especially as he layers various acoustic and electric axes for a thick but distinctly clear rhythm.
I might have approached this release with some trepidation, but Kinetic Element have delighted and surprised by delivering an album which satisfies on every level. Granted, its early in the year, but Chasing the Lesser Light is already on my short list for one of the best of 2023. If you are a fan of symphonic prog full of sumptuous melodies and songs unafraid of stretching out, buy this album.
01. First Stage (6:15)
02. Chasing the Lesser Light (19:50)
03. Radio Silence (9:55)
04. We Can’t Forget (11:35)
05. Door to Forever (15:18)
Total Time – 62:53
Mike Visaggio – Piano, Organ, Synthesisers
Mark Tupko – Bass
Michael Murray – Drums
Saint John Coleman – Vocals
Peter Matuchniak – Guitars
Record Label: Melodic Revolution Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 20th March 2023