Forward Motion 2020
Homage to a progressive rock father figure turns into a promising project to stitch time and carry on reigning.
It was always unfinished business with EMPIRE – the ensemble formed by Peter Banks, when he had left behind both YES and FLASH, and Sydney Foxx – which searched for perfection in the ’70s only to see their three albums shelved for more than two decades so, as the release of "The Complete Recordings" showed, there still was a need for creative closure after the guitarist’s passing. That’s why from the ruins of the old collective a new one arose – masterminded by the erstwhile line-up’s last drummer Mark Murdock and PB’s aficionado Fernando Perdomo who dreamed of stepping into his idol’s shoes for a long times and covered a couple of classic melodies along the way but didn’t have the chance to walk an entire mile. Until now. With Marisol Koss at the microphone, the two more than managed to resurrect the spirit of yore – they give it a different lease of life.
Not a concept opus per se, this record presents a new context for a few of Banks’ staples, updating arrangements and titles to make pieces such as “Another Lifetime” and “Knights Of The New Empire” – originally found on, respectively, sophomore LP by FLASH and Peter’s solo debut – explode into harmonic space, yet fresh cuts that drive it all sound just as gloriously. From the impressive orchestration of “The New Empire Overture” where Koss’ vocals send a choir down the powerful groove, to the lyrical, soulful finale of “Faraway Friend” which is a straightforward reference to the group’s founder, there’s hardly a moment to reflect on how ideas planted many years ago could flower so impressively – because, futuristic as they were, these ideas emerge as something very much relevant today.
Yes, “Out Of Our Hands” may feel too faithful to its earlier version, save for an inclusion of a Rossini quote, yet Ms Foxx is back to deliver most sublime “Foundation” that was initially laid as a wordless number and first fleshed out with voice on "Mars Tapes" to be ultimately polished here. It’s defied in the beauty stakes once the passionately progressive, acoustically tinctured flamenco of “Sky At Night” – another EMPIRE gem – flows into focus and leaves the listener flabbergasted. Alongside these, a swagger-infused reading of YES’ “Looking Around” seems lightweight but, with Murdock’s attack opening the gates for Perdomo’s fluid licks on “Lost In Time” and placing a light edifice on heavy riffs, the trio go for a cosmic drama and explore stereo panorama.
Throughout the album, Fernando is cleverly setting his path apart from familiar sonic canvas and rocking hard in a strictly individual way, while Marisol dances around Mark’s percussive bursts. Whether it’s a majestic instrumental “Life After Life” which constantly expands to the sway of Murdock’s symphonic strings and welcomes Dave Kerzner’s synthesizer solo, or a sultry blues of “Slow Burn Rising” which spiritually soars over Perdomo’s guitar figures, piano splashes and bass runs – that will float to the surface in the Julianne Spicer-sung “The Journey Of Mankind” further on – before dissolving into crackling of embers, there’s the sensation of the band’s embracing their past to flesh it out in here and now and infuse this flesh with blood. The sensation of a new start running beyond the tribute to a fallen hero.