Prog rock is in short thrift these days, having somehow been designated as unfashionable and out of touch with today’s somewhat transient tastes. Where bands like Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Jade Warrior, Gentle Giant, and King Crimson once held a hallowed stature among the divergent musical strains proffered in the post British Invasion era, nowadays it’s left to bands like Marillion and Umphrey’s McGee to fill the experimental void. Granted, prog brought with it certain pretensions in its cosmic allusions and endless instrumental diversions. However, it also boasted a thoughtfulness and intelligence that basic forms of pop and rock often lacked in various degrees. It was also the mark of a certain age, where risk and non-conformity were enabled, and indeed encouraged, for the sake of fans’ fascination and artists’ selfish indulgence. Back then, it was fine to challenge listeners’ imaginations by venturing into realms where mainstream rockers never dared tread.
Enter Fractal Mirror, an ensemble based in the Netherlands whose enthusiasm for the sonic strains of late ‘60s, early ‘70s progressive music finds them emulating those bands referenced above. Their debut album, last year’s Strange Attractions, demonstrated their ability to fuse atmosphere and ambiance with eerie, elusive melodies and create a sound that’s still surprisingly accessible. They adhere to prog’s well-established template, utilizing rich, drama-laden vocals (think Greg Lake or John Wetton), extended instrumental passages, and a decided air of mystery and gravitas. The result is music that may not be of the hummable variety, but sounds that are strangely beguiling all at the same time. Their sometime producer and collaborator, veteran prog prognosticator Larry Fast, certainly affirmed their credibility and the fact that their instincts were cooly correct.
Their sophomore offering, Garden of Ghosts, reaffirms that initial impression and makes a stunning step forward, one that ought to establish them as leading contenders in progressive realms. Granted, the premise is a bit precious: in the accompanying booklet it’s described as “a loosely connect (sic) set of songs focusing on three themes: connections and relationships in the 21st century, how pervasive technology affects our relationships and how our memory and perspective changes over time.”
Hmmm… heady stuff. Happily then, the music conveys that gravitas well. On songs such as “House of Wishes”, “The Phoenix”, and “Legacy’, that heightened sense of drama and determination fully comes through, allowing the band to make its case as genuine artistic innovators capable of a full symphonic sweep. It’s a challenging set of songs, one that shifts between melodic verse and extended instrumental passages that allow for a kind of celestial sideshow. To their credit, Fractal Mirror somehow manages to remain alluring and accessible, even despite the sophisticated settings. They mostly recall a combination of early Genesis and King Crimson, and fans of that classic, if archaic, style will likely latch on to them immediately. And with good reason. In this humdrum world of pop predictability, Fractal Mirror offer a most refreshing change of pace.