Zegnotropic, 2013


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Right away, HB3's new album Ragnarok gets prog rock points. It has no vocals. It features an oddball instrument not often used (in this case, the piccolo bass that HB3 uses on all his albums). It has a fantasy/sci-fi/mythological theme (the Norse story of Ragnarok, the "twilight of the gods," a tale of battle and rebirth not unlike the book of Revelation). And two of the eight songs are over seven minutes long.

Actually, the whole album is only 40 minutes, split neatly in half just like the vinyl days of yore; side one features the piccolo bass in various settings and side two tells the actual Ragnarok story through music, with the piccolo bass returnign for the final number. It is HB3's seventh album and the final in his current "mythic trilogy."

If you're still reading, that means you're interested in progressive rock (good for you!) and are the core audience for this one. "Machines Of The Sky" is an extended and not terribly interesting opener, with only fits of intensity, but it establishes the themes heard within. The title track is far better, with the piccolo bass playing the guitar parts and a Moog playing the bass parts, alternating between hard rock passages and arpeggiated picking interludes. The piccolo bass gives those would-be guitar notes more gravity, making them sound a bit more sinister, and the overall effect is excellent.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Three Hearts And Three Lions" uses electronic drums and spaghetti Western-style picking but doesn't do much besides set a mood, while "Ragnerian" is a piccolo bass solo (and a darn fine one at that). "Nightwind" is a pulse-pounding number with cheesy synthesizer effects, sounding a bit like Wolfmother filtered through Patrick Moraz's keyboards when he was with Yes (side note: does anybody remember Relayer? Can anyone get through it in one sitting? Not me).

"A Passage To Arms" is a tribute to Deep Purple's rhythm section (specifically, "Highway Star") that continues the excitement of "Nightwind;" both pieces together represent the oncoming storm and ensuing battle. Things then chill out with another bass solo, "Level 7," that is supposed to represent the war's aftermath. The story clsoes with "The Remnant," which is equal parts aggressive guitar and chugging hyperkinetic rhythm section; the song puts the foot on the gas and does not let up for seven minutes, ending with a brief guitar-god solo and fading into the ether. Rebirth.

It seems odd to call an album Ragnarok and only have half the songs concern the story directly; surely, the story is sufficient to warrant a complete telling. On the other hand, doing so would probably have pushed this into standard prog rock fare (imagine if there was a narrator) and lessened its impact. HB3 lets the music do the talking, using a non-standard instrument not as a gimmick but a legitimate means to convey the emotions and story. The result is a prog rock album that does not take itself seriously – a rarity for the genre – and is a fun, interesting minor gem with balls of steel.

Rating: B

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