New World

Raptor Trail

Independent release, 2016

http://www.theraptortrail.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/01/2016

At one point or another, pretty much every Vault writer has expressed their gratitude at being exposed to a large variety of music, many from small promoters and up-and-coming or underground bands that standard radio would never play and that take some seeking on Spotify. It's a big perk of this gig, and bands like The Raptor Trail is the reason why (at least for me).

This is the trio's second album of modern progressive rock and a stunner of a disc. The guys are all music veterans of at least two decades in various other projects but all knew each other somehow, so working together meant that both chops and chemistry were in plentiful supply, and it's obvious from the assured, multi-layered songwriting throughout this 78-minute disc.

Like any power trio you care to name, this collective works best when the three parts are allowed to be equal, and so there are no moments here of ridiculously expanded drum or guitar solos, vocal histrionics, or tricky time signatures just for fun. The players coalesce their talents into a whole on each of the 12 songs (most of which run between six and eight minutes). The end result is a richly detailed, melodically endowed piece of work that deserves a larger audience. Larger, anyway, than the small clot of prog-heads that read sites like ours (love you guys!), post on Yes fan boards, and took the recent death of Keith Emerson personally.

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"Four Times" kicks ass out of the gate, with Johnny Meyer playing the shit out of the bass like a lead instrument against Gene Bass' cymbal/snare-led drumming and Matt Mayes' raw power chords in the chorus, which are toned down during the verses to allow the rhythm section to shine. Turn your bass up for this one and the song rockets to life. Better still? There's no easy comparison to make to another prog band, and I was too busy enjoying the song to even try.

"Whoville" slows the tempo with acoustic guitars, bringing to mind The Church's Starfish album, at least until the electric chords pick up during the chorus. It should be noted that both Mayes and Meyer, who wrote the songs, both play guitar on the album; Mayes also plays a "guijo" (a Fender Strat/banjo cross) and Meyer plays both "key things" and "secret things." Funny.

"Going To Dublin" is a hard-edged gallop, one of those songs that plays a few chugging bars then pauses briefly for a cymbal crash, kind of like Bo Diddley meets Rush, but better. It's also the longest song here, featuring a slower midsection, an instrumental reprise of the main theme, a bass solo of sorts and a band jam at the end. It's one of the few times that the trio just lets loose with multiple jams and solos, and it's a blast without seeming indulgent.

Honestly, a track-by-track review almost seems unnecessary here, as each song is a highlight, and even the more standard rockers like "Stone By Stone" and "The Fall" are quite tasty. "Let It Go" is a highlight, what I imagine an Alan Parsons Project/Rush jam written by Dream Theater would sound like. It, like most of these songs, takes a few listens to pick up everything that's going on; the first time, you hear the main melody, but later you notice the acoustic underpinning, then Meyer's bass work, and then you hear it all come together and realize these guys are good.

There are no real missteps, although the title track comes close, with its computerized vocals and repetitive nature that don't quite justify a seven-minute runtime, but the driving '90s alt-rock of "Time Slides Onward" makes up for it. From there, things hit a rut – too much of a good thing, really – with "Blue Highway" and the hard but overlong/overslow "Wheel." Things close with an instrumental called "Desolation" and the obligatory acoustic final track "Grace," which is the most straight-ahead track here and consequently the least essential, even if it sounds quite good.

Whomever the current arbiters of prog are need to allow space at the bar for the Raptor Trail. This disc alone – at least, the first eight songs – is more than enough to warrant their inclusion into any discussion of modern prog rockers you need to hear.

Rating: B+

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