(All Album Reviews by jgprogbear)
Unified Past is a Long Island band consisting of Stephen Speelman on guitars, bass, vocals and keys, Victor Tassone on drums and Steve Calovi on vocals. Tense is the band's first disc in nearly ten years and mines a familiar vein of hard rock and progressive metal.
Things get off to a jarring start with a short and grating a cappella intro to "The Return of the Profit". While Brian May-influenced guitars create dense and intriguing layers of sound, the vocals are just so cringe-worthy, that you wonder if two separate bands are at work here. The instrumental interplay of Mr. Speelman (with a masters degree in classical guitar performance from Stony Brook U) and Mr. Tassone is at times spellbinding. The drums play clever, off kilter rhythms around the multi-tracked guitars, each one seeming to play in a different yet complimentary style. But then there are those vocals. When Steve Calovi isn't reaching for his metal/screech voice, things are just fine. But that doesn't happen too often. Which is really too bad, because the songs are by and large smartly written, full of the requisite time signature changes and virtuoso performance that are the hallmark of prog.
The first instrumental track - "Cellular Chaos Pt. 1" - shows what this band is capable of, spotlighting Mr. Speelman's classical guitar chops. The lyrics are sharp enough (with the exception of throw-away track "My Name Is Stephen"), covering topics as wide-ranging as Wall Street, astral projection and global warming. When delivered in what would appear to be Mr. Calovi's natural voice, songs like "Under The Influence" manage to pull all the pieces together. However, in his more histrionic moments, Mr. Calovi sounds rather like Ian Lloyd (of Stories fame) being torn apart by a pack of wild animals. If you can get past the vocals, there are gems galore in the musicianship on this disc. Mr. Speelman shows why he deserves that degree on track after track; from beautiful soaring leads to dense metallic crunch, no guitar tone is left unexplored. The songs themselves never overstay their welcome, most in the five minute range, the two longest tunes at nearly 9 ("The Earth's Energy") and 10 ("Ice Melt") minutes.
Tense is the sound of a band finding its voice. But it seems to me that voice should be an instrumental one. The guitar melodies are solid enough to carry these tunes, bringing to mind bands like Genesis, Queen and Dream Theater. And in spite of my obvious lack of love for Mr. Calovi's voice, I find myself drawn to this disc again and again. Sometime the power of a well written song expertly played is enough.