A Billion Years Of Solitude

Sky Architect

Galileo, 2013


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


The cover art and song titles give the impression that this is some sort of "space rock" journey, but that seems to be only a framing device for this Dutch progressive rock band's third album. The music is right from the prog-rock playbook – the opening track is 18 minutes long, for example – and direct influences bordering on homages appear to classic proggers like Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, early Genesis, Jethro Tull, and especially Gentle Giant.

That's not to say the album sounds retro, as the creativity and sprawl of these seven songs is head-spinning and thoroughly modern sounding. But it is that sprawl and bevy of influences that is the album's undoing. Like many prog artists before them, Sky Architect seems more interested in being different and complex than in being catchy or enduring; it is the rare prog album that can pull off both.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One of the band's typical tricks is to change a song mid-tempo or mid-groove, which can work in some cases but not on every song. It prevents any particular tune from getting lodged in your head and helps the tracks all run together; without seeing the running times, there's no way to know where "Wormholes" begins and the 10-minute "Elegy Of A Solitary Giant" ends. There's also a brief song called "Tides" in there too, supposedly, but this portion of the album is one big clump of half-finished ideas thrown together like raw cookie dough. Tasty, sure, but not terribly good for you.

The moments of reckless abandon show what the album could have been, like the middle of "Elegy"and the closing part of "Revolutions." The brief instrumental "Jim's Ride To Hell" is actually a perfect sampler for the album as a whole: it farts around for a minute setting up, dives into a killer Dream Theater-esque hard groove, stops for an irritating twee tempo change, offers a bass solo, hits the groove again, another tempo change and then fades out. All of that in 2:24.

"The Curious One" is the 18-minute opener and it is interesting, taking its time with sound effects, keyboard and random drum blurts before getting to the meat of the song, stopping for (surprise!) a dorky tempo change and then, around the eight minute mark, settling into a very good, rather complex bass groove (thanks, Guus van Mierlo) while the band jams above it. It's the best four minutes on the album and a promise of what could have been. The song then moves into a slow piano section and then closes with another very good jam session.

Approach this one with caution. Start with "Jim's Ride To Hell" first and, if you like it, imagine a full album of the same nature and listen to the rest. There are enough individual moments to make A Billion Years Of Solitude interesting to prog rock fans new and old, and it is evident the band has talent and ambition to spare, but the album never achieves that hurdle of cohering the great ideas into a killer set of songs outside of "The Curious One."

Rating: C

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