(All Album Reviews by gsk42)
I am somewhat surprised this album has not attracted greater attention. While the sleeve notes are vague as to the membership of this band, it might appear it is a solo outing from a Michigan-based instrumentalist by the name of Bradley Styes, who is also assisted by none other than Matthew Parmenter (Discipline) and Chuck Mitchell, who also authored the cover art. It has an obviously full-band feel, with standard outpourings from guitars, bass, drums and analog keyboards.
The music on Skyward resides comfortably in the symphonic realm, more in feel with its 70s antecedents than with the neo prog style, which tends to dominate today. The music borrows not only from the genre’s “golden age” but also owes a slight debt to the AORish style, as exemplified by the likes of Rush, Triumph and Zebra – guitar heavy alacrity and many intense passages of trade-offs with layered keyboards and an energetic rhythm section. For those fearful of comparisons to an often-tried and generally failed style, the nods to AOR are reserved for the two opening tracks, and afterward, the band settles into a more refined and acceptable groove.
“Transcendence” bounds with numerous tempo changes and abrupt dynamic shifts, which are accented – and propelled – with flourishes of mellotron, Hammond, piano, and analog synthesizers, contrasted with some acoustic guitar plucking or other electric-led outbursts and, regretfully, some limp vocal parts, which fortunately are not featured very often. The ebb and flow of this piece is developed well, save for an ill-conceived twist midway where the music takes a blind alley of strangeness but is rescued by a return to the leading motifs introduced during the beginning but adjusted towards the coda.
In a similar but more convincing manner, the album’s closers (two of them suites) meld dynamic shifts with evolving development, emphasizing a capable amount of instrumental chops, most notably the passages of electric guitar. He plays in an aggressive style, sounding like no one in particular but faintly similar to many of our guitar heroes, old and new. The use of keyboards will please the most hardcore analog freaks, for not only are there copious amounts of mellotron and organ, but they are integrated in surprising and clever ways. During some quiet passages, moments of piano contrast with the guitar assaults which came just seconds before. Perhaps my favorite and most unexpected surprise came with “Cul-de-Sacs Of Venus”, which is a bridge and dreamy segue between its grandiose bookends. It features a guest appearance by Parmenter on violin, and the use of strummed electric guitar, set amidst dense choral mellotron is like something straight from 1973.
I’m looking forward to more from this entity (a band or sole musician?). Despite my reservations over the vocals, I can recommend this to fans of Spock’s Beard, Little Atlas, Eyestrings, Seldon’s Inquisitor, Liquid Scarlet, or any other band where the symphonic element is imbued with a decidedly more aggressive (modern) edge than what was the norm so many years ago.