IQ was one of those sleeper bands I took a long time to warm up to. My passing exposure made me think they were a dead-ringer for Marillion (that’s only a good thing if you are Marillion.) Closer inspection made me realize that this was band with their own identity, and from an instrumental standpoint, they're always on the top of their game. Despite frequent lineup changes, they have consistently gathered amazing musicians who seem to mesh with grace and skill.
IQ is not exactly a prolific band. They've only released nine studio albums in their near thirty-year history. What they lack in productivity they certainly make up for in quality. IQ has consistently released great albums, reaching their pinnacle with 2004’s stunning masterpiece Dark Matter. This, their ninth, is once again a fine collection of songs. On first listen to Frequency, I was feeling a lack of emotion and power. I base this largely on my saturation with Dark Matter, which is a tour-de-force and sets the bar very high. Once I settled into the disc, however, I was far from disappointed. Frequency, like most IQ albums, is highly conceptual, but other than a theme of communication (or lack thereof) in some nebulous future, when the concept eludes me, I couldn't care less. Peter Nichols’s lyrics are, as usual, highly abstract and illusory, more color and texture than linearity. His excellent range and evocative style makes him a near-perfect prog-rock frontman, running the gamut of emotions and voices to present his wonderfully surreal imagery.
The title track kicks things off on a dark note with a malevolent-sounding riff courtesy of guitarist Michael Holmes and bassist John Jowitt. New keyboardist Mark Westworth trades the melody back and forth with Holmes, weaving in and out of the heavy groove. “Life Support” evolves from a dreamy piano ballad, slowly ratcheting up the intensity to a heavy groove. Holmes really shines with some searing leads on this track. The first half of the album has some powerful moments but is fairly restrained for these guys. They turn up the intensity about halfway through with “Ryker Skies,” a brooding “us against them” intro to the albums showpiece, the thirteen-minute opus “The Province”*. The album closes in style with the anthemic power ballad “Closer.”
I was really pleased once I settled into it. I’d love to see more non-proggies get exposed to this. IQ is one of those bands that had a lot of appeal as a strong, melodic rock band as well as (in spite of?) their progressive leanings. These guys sound as good as ever, and new keyboard player Westworth is especially notable. His tight, reserved style works perfectly, providing strong melodic support while giving Holmes long legs to run with his excellent guitar leads. Nichols’s voice sounds as good as ever, and their secret weapon, drummer Andy Edwards, is positively phenomenal. Another great offering of modern prog from one of its better practitioners.
[* On the promo disk, the track is listed as “The Province.” I've seen mention of an alternate title “The Province Of The King,” which is how it will likely be listed when it's released. Your mileage may vary.]