Topical, if sci-fi-slanted, album that will take progressive idiom to the orbit of a new planet while anchoring it to earth via virtuoso delivery – or deliverance.
Our world is in dire need of a hero: wallowing in ecological and moral morass, it’s doomed unless humanity has a leader to follow on the course to liberty which might lie in a different solar system. DarWin must become the piper showing us the way to dawn – only no one knows where this artist came from to steer his songs towards a record, or rather outsource the double album’s recording to Simon Phillips, and stay behind the legendary drummer with a guitar in his hand. There’s a lot going on for the “Origin Of Species” concept, the project’s website an interactive simulator of the planet’s resources management allowing the listener to immerse in the experience, and a video to one of the pieces a cinematic introduction to the whole story told in genuine prog terms.
Snippets of news and other spoken word interspersing and complementing musical passages wrap the record in fantastic narrative given a circular structure in which “Prologue” – set as an optimistic finale, the exit from this mortal coil – harks back to the start, where Matt Bissonette’s vocals and DarWin’s harmonies, rather than riffs, create a sense of impending doom. But heavy rock ‘n’ roll that will drive “The Last Chance” has reckless rapture attached to its arena-targeting choruses, spiced up with percussive accents to become a battle chant, yet – ticking suggesting borrowed time, outlined dramatically in “Life Is A Mystery” later on – there’s also defiance at the folk-flavored fore of “Taking Chances” whose sway is filled with a different sort of abandon.
It’s despair turning into hope that the orchestral sweep behind “Escape The Maze” should be fathomed in, while “Gummy Bear” exudes a comfortable. domestic vibe, a sensation far removed from the overall space slant, before the majestic balladry of “Forever” – with strings welcoming a soaring sax solo – takes the listener beyond the events horizon. Weirdly, once tranquility was hinted at, “War Against My Mind” will detour to angry, if fusion-tinted, metal, but the rage in “Artificial” feels rather futile in its large AOR-shaped splashes and aimless shredding. Same can’t be said about “Modern Insanity”: a plastic funk tune – retrofuturistic and featuring rapped stanzas – that fits the album’s theme surprisingly fine, as fine as “Cosmic Rays” – soulfully voiced by Koko Rhods. Yet the heartbeat-hiding acoustic shimmer of “Slowly Melting” unfolds to reveal a shiny, steel core, although the momentum is deliberately hindered here for the romantic “Rise” to delicately march to a fresh dawn, away from the old planet’s sunset.
Sensual, albeit elaborate, arrangements – involving three orchestras, and the members of Simon’s PROTOCOL project: bassist Ernest Tibbs, guitarist Greg Howe and keyboard player Dennis Hamm – banish false notions of apocalyptic epicness from the songs’ scope. Still, such a magnificent effort stresses Phillips’ phenomenal versatility as player, producer and… composer? Blinded by his drumming dexterity, many a fan forget that he’s a multi-instrumentalist – first “Protocol” album was literally a solo effort – so the elusive DarWin may not exist as an entity beyond this band and simply be its mastermind’s alter ego. If so, there’s much more to “Origin Of Species” than meets the eye: it’s a whole new world for the seasoned hero and those he’s willing to save.