PROG COLLECTIVE – Dark Encounters

Purple Pyramid 2024

One-man’s tenebrous exploration of soundscapes that see rock stars refuse to shine.

Dark Encounters

It may not have been so obvious previously, yet his current descent into the murk made it all too apparent: there’s nothing communal about this enterprise, which is a vehicle for Billy Sherwood’s compositions where he’s sharing sonic space with stellar soloists. But if, before, the American musician’s guests included quite a few prominent singers, the cuts comprising “Dark Encounters” are mostly instrumental, and just three numbers feature vocals; and while the lack of voices doesn’t seem to create an issue per se, the absence of fire in the performances does. The players, adding their parts to skeleton pieces, couldn’t envisage the entire scope of a tune and, thus, failed to ignite what one of the entries calls “Lonely Landscape” – even though some of them were able to offer more, under different circumstances, had they been given more than a structure to work with.

In order to see what would happen when a track is driven by a solid, solo vision, one should focus on the album’s centerpiece “The Quasi Effect” that Sherwood sculpted without external input and turned into an arresting series of cosmic passages – as opposed to “Between Two Worlds” in which his pale pipes fall in the shadow of Steve Hillage’s otherworldly lines. The same can be said about the otherwise wonderful “Dark Days” where Bumblefoot’s emoting until Patrick Moraz‘s ivories take over – yet Gregg Bissonette and Omar Hakim’s talents on these ballads as well as Pat Mastelotto’s groove on the nebulous “For All To See” are hardly heard in the gloomy arrangements, and only “Beyond Reason” rides on Chad Wakerman’s thunder. However, the sci-fi-sounding “Darkest Hour” and faux-symphony of “Ominous Signs” get high on, respectively, Steve Stevens and Steve Morse’s fantastic strings, and “At The Gates” flies on the wings of David Cross‘s soaring violin. Still, while “The Long Night” projects a glimpse of magic thanks to the delicately intoning Frank Dimino, the song’s lyrical details feel lost in the almost abstract melody – unlike in “The 11th Hour” which John Etheridge’s licks elevate to the skies, and in “Dark Money” which Joe Bouchard’s bass tethers to the ether.

The ether that’s, indeed, dark, devouring the enterprise’s original intent and suggesting it may be time to retire the collaborative effort altogether.


April 11, 2024

Category(s): Reviews
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