Touches of pop, avant-garde, and Euro-jazz rub shoulders on latest from formerly metal-driven unit.
Germany’s Dark Suns returns with a double LP of delightfully dark progressive rock that takes inspiration from the classics (Yes, King Crimson) while advancing the state of the art. The collective’s metal roots remain evident in the music’s epic nature, but the palette has expanded to include elements of Euro jazz and the avant-garde.
The jazz flourishes are evident from the start. Opener “The Only Young Ones Left” kicks with horn-y excitement thanks to Evgeny Ring (sax) and Govinda Abbott (trumpet), while keyboardist Ekkehard Meister sneaks in Steely Dan-esque flourishes that’ll have you blowing smoke rings and reaching for that glass with three fingers of scotch. Those instruments share sonic space with guitarists Torsten Wenzel and Maik Knappe, who create intricate, weighty passages that are often disquieting but always moving. “Spiders” allows many of these intricacies to shine as the group channels Jaga Jazzist, Porcupine Tree, and even bits and bobs of Frank Zappa.
The trail of influences doesn’t matter much in the face of the musicianship displayed across those tunes or the 10-minute “Morning Rain”. The record’s penultimate track, "Morning Rain" beautifully ties together the various arrows this group has in its quiver: Save for its length, there are tendencies here that align quite perfectly with pop; save for its predilection for pop, it’s a perfect progressive masterpiece. The intricacies of Niko Knappe’s drumming are fascinating throughout but here take on new subtlety and nuance beside Meister’s jaw-dropping maneuvers on the black and whites. It’s a perfect enough distillation that one is inclined to suggest that releasing it as a stand-alone track would summarize, quite eloquently, the full majesty of the band. If Dark Suns never recorded another note, this piece would certainly suffice.
Naturally, there are other things to love here, including the melancholy and meditative “Monster” with its Floydian flourishes and aching, haunting horn passages. “Codes”, with its crushing riffs and teeth-gnashing rhythms, offers not only a dynamic edge but a reminder of the collective’s origins even as “The Fountain Garden” and “Torn Wings” drift about as far from metal as one could imagine.
None of that is eclecticism for eclecticism’s sake. The parts move and fit quite perfectly, making for a journey that carries the listener seamlessly from one shore to another. Certainly one might read the cover of Tori Amos’s “Yes, Anastasia” as an unnecessary reach. But that’s unfair because it's ultimately the perfect choice for inclusion, the kind of song that traverses the same distances that Dark Suns can travel in the 10 other pieces.
This is a long record. It plays out over the course of more than 80 minutes but, remarkably, not one second is wasted. There are no excesses here, and the measures move seamlessly one to another as the listener becomes immersed in the magical landscape the group (rounded out by bassist Jacob Müller) has so carefully created.
Is it hyperbole to say that Everchild sets a new standard for progressive rock? Only if one doesn’t recognize the perfection evident here.