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Knight Area - "Nine Paths" (CD)

Knight Area - "Nine Paths" CD cover image

"Nine Paths" track listing:

1. Ever Since You Killed Me
2. Summerland
3. Please Come Home
4. Clueless
5. The River
6. Pride and Joy
7. The Balance
8. Wakerun
9. Angel's Call

Reviewed by on March 4, 2012

"For vintage prog nerds and classic rock fans, this album is a must."

Don't let the name fool you -- there's nothing medieval about this prog rock act. In fact, the less you think about the name, the better. Much more akin to modern acts like Marillion, The Flower Kings, and modern Saga, this Netherlands-based five-piece's third album, "Nine Paths," was released on October 25th, 2011. With a nod to classic pacing and a fine and full-bodied sound, Knight Area makes a very cogent argument that music that unfolds itself naturally is more fulfilling than music affixed to a certain structure.

Mixed by noted producer Neil Kernon, a bright and airy sound kicks off the album in "Ever Since You Killed Me," an eery revenge piece from the perspective of a departed spirit. The beginning of the song sounds a bit like Trans-Siberian Orchestra would if that group had written about something other than Christmas or Beethoven for once. It's a wonderland of sparkly prog, absolutely drenched in reverb for a very "live" feel. The entire album is practically floating in reverb, reminding of the type of production popularized in the 1980s. In some moments, the reverb is so heavy that it might put some listeners to sleep. It's a good thing the bass guitar is punchy and up-front in the mix to counter it.

Mark Smit's vocal style is traditional and equal parts Journey-era Steve Perry and Saga-era Rob Moratti, only with less vibrato than either of them. He is joined by Charlotte Wessels of Delain fame to sing "Please Come Home," a song of desperate longing in which the bitter ache is tangible. Keyboardist Gerben Klazinga packs each song full of piano, vintage synthesizers, and B-3 organs. This will be a good point for prog nerds, but may be a reason for others to turn away. Nevertheless, the piano takes a refreshing spot high in the mix while the guitars hang back, giving it a Billy Joel-style energy.

"Summerland" boasts Mark Vermeule's best guitar solo, firing on all cylinders and building in an alternate picking fury towards a climax. His solos are played with expert feeling and no hesitation, and he shows a bit of restraint when called for in the songs. "Clueless" is an upbeat piano and bass-driven number that clocks in at 4:20. Showing the band's prog endurance, this is the shortest complete song on the album. "Clueless" and "The Balance" both have lyrics addressing the "festival of fools," which is how the band refers to the religious. "Pride and Joy" is not the Double Trouble/Stevie Ray Vaughan song, but instead is a keys/guitar solo showdown with some positively Ayreon-like backing performances from Gijs Koopman on bass and Pieter van Hoorn on drums.

Van Hoorn's drumming is well-placed and technical, but in the workingman style rather than the showman. He has admitted to being a student of Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison, which makes perfect sense. "The River" caps a 5-song series at the beginning of the album in which the choruses hit the hardest, with Klazinga blazing a couple of heavy synth leads during the latter half. "Wakerun" is a bit adventurous and has some oddly-placed lyric emphases, but still ends up finishing well. "Angel's Call" ends the album dramatically, involving effective multi-layered vocals.

The only scuffs on this otherwise polished album are the oddly-placed vocal lines and the choice to make the reverb effect an instrument unto itself in the mix. Also, the solo drums that end the album after a long bit of silence are completely unnecessary. With "Nine Paths," there are nine tracks and nine experiences to have. For vintage prog nerds and classic rock fans, this album is a must. Explore it with an open mind and a pair of headphones to get the full effect.

Highs: "Please Come Home," "Summerland," and "The River"

Lows: A lake of reverb and vocals in places where they don't need to be.

Bottom line: Where prog meets great pacing and an emphasis on coherence.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)