Privileged to have been sent this album by Chris Malmgren to review ahead of its release. Full disclosure, I’ve given Blurring the Lines a 5 star review, and StarStuff 4 stars, so I’ve gone in as a fan of the prior two releases, although not with fresh listens to them in mind! I’m also not a pro reviewer, nor is my musical vocabulary much cop…
Anyway… my review of the fifth studio album by American instrumental prog band Ovrfwrd. First thing to reference is the album cover, a zoomed in shot of an hourglass, which is great in its relative simplicity. Time, moments etc. The other point to make is that Ovrfwrd are one of that great number of bands that shouldn’t be pinned down to a single genre. Yes, generally heavy prog, but you’ll find Jazz, Space, Classical, and many other influences throughout. After all, the title does promise nothing ordinary...
Red Blanket – a really strong opening track, and a perfect example of where Ovrfwrd sit in the middle of a Venn diagram of Heavy and Jazz Rock. Someone with better musical ears will need to tell me whether there’s guest wind and brass instruments or whether they’re programmed in. The initial five minute section of this track is mid-paced, and really tight, with bass and keys playing almost the same melody alongside some really tight drumming. Guitars and the wind/brass instruments weave in and out throughout, the end result being quite the toe tapper! The pace get slightly faster for the final two minutes or so, in a passage more like a ‘standard’ heavy prog instrumental, before fading into a few trumpet notes. Very good start.
Eagle Plains – A notable track for how it takes a swirly, spacey opening into a short passage from 3 minutes which makes simple but brilliant use of the far left end of the keyboard in in combo with some deep growling guitar.
The Virtue Of – A good example of Ovrfwrd can bounce between styles but without it feeling like its happening just for the sake of changing it up. At the start of the track we have a slow building winding river type of atmosphere, which then goes through a couple of complex time signatures (complex for my daft brain anyway), before we end up almost in post-punk revival territory. Half expected Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand to pipe up with some surprise vocals.
Flatlander – Possibly the closest thing track to a ‘standard’ heavy rock instrumental thus far, and in that respect a bit of an interlude.
Tramp Hollow – One track that does actually stick to the same pace and style mostly throughout, and perhaps because of the variety that came before it I sort of expected it a gear change that never really came. A great guitar solo though. Notes of the Concubine – Here is the gear change. After a couple of minutes of drifting guitar, we’re treated to some avant-jazz, deliberately slightly jarring and awkward.
Eyota – the longest track on the album. I often take the time to review albums filed as Zeuhl which probably explains why I’m making this reference, but the opening two or three minutes here wouldn’t be out of place in an early Magma album, led by keys and drums and bouncing between beautiful atmospheres and more ominous sounding passages. Following that, the track ebbs and flows through a rich soundscape of ‘classic’ instrumental prog, complete with Floydian guitar solos, but never settling for too long in a single style.
Chateau La Barre – the transition from Eyota into this short track and then out into Serpentine is a little clunky if I’m honest. Chateau La Barre is a short electronic track, compared to the heavier sounds either side of it, which makes it seem slightly out of place.
Serpentine – That said, the heavy rock opening of Serpentine does get you going. The track alternates between heavier sections (still with some organ involved) and more complex jazzier passages.
The Way – A really nice track to finish too, starting with a great jazzy jam but drifting into a spacey sounding atmospheric finish.
Overall, a great album. Loved a lot of it, but being hyper-critical I wasn’t as into tracks 4-6 as the rest, and I’m still a bit confused by Chateau La Barre's place in the album. But, I always think an instrumental has to work harder to stand out, and so a lot of credit needs to be given as in many ways it does – there are indeed no ordinary moments! At the high end of 4 stars in my humble opinion.