Album Reviews

Issue 2017-017: Resistor Special

Resistor Special

Resistor - The Box Set [6CD]

Resistor - The Box Set
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 52:10, 78:43, 58:29, 78:58, 59:25, 39:19
Track List:
Resistor: Reincarnation (5:50), Jethro Fan (3:47), Restless Angel (11:46), Fair To say (6:21), As Of Yesterday (3:43), 222 (5:52), Moondog (7:00), Waiting To Believe (7:47)
Rise: The Secret Of The Open Sky (7:00), Masquerade (4:40), Spaceghetti (5:19), Ether (5:43), Mimosa (16:04), Changing Sides (0:33), The Land Of No Groove i Prologue (3:43), ii Dusty Plain (3:23), iii Jagged Mountain (4:59), iv Land's End (3:48), v Off To Sea (2:36), vi Sea Monster Battle (5:29), vii The Isle Appears (2:17), viii Convincing The Islanders (5:01), ix Sailing Home (3:07), x Groove Revolution (4:55)
The Secret Island Band Jams: Voyage 7 (4:01), Picadora (5:00), Piezo Fury (5:24), All Systems Go (3:30), Dream Of The Arctic Tern (6:12), Santa Anna (8:15), Quirk (3:47), Sleepytime (7:10), Double Ascent (15:07)
Live at RoSfest: Reincarnation (5:46), Spaceghetti (5:38), Mimosa (17:03), To The Stars (11:14), The Land Of No Groove (39:16)
To The Stars (remastered): To the Stars (11:46), Random Values (2:58), I, of the Hurricane (4:33), Train to Tucana (7:08), Atlantis' Final Flight (6:07), Little Lie (5:20), AnnihilExcavation (8:37), The Boy With His Brain Out In Space (12:51)
Sideband Transmissions EP: The Inquisitor's Jig (8:37), Certified 93:09), Stranger (3:54), Trance-Incidental (improv) (8:27), Ubasti's Dance (improv) (5:17), Arrow Shot through Space Into The Core Of The Ancient Sun (improv) (9:52)
You know how it is when you are wondering what music you want to listen to and you are searching through the collection dismissing things as being too familiar or something you are not quite in the mood for, finally picking a title at random, sticking it in the player and are blown away at just how great an album it is and wonder why you don't play it more frequently? No? Is that just me? Well that is just how I felt when immersing myself in The Box Set by Resistor over six hours of music that compiles their entire back catalogue up to the end of 2016. Four studio albums, one live album and an 'EP' (one hell of an EP with a running time of 40 minutes) of new tracks and improvisations.

The majority of the material has previously been reviewed on DPRP so for fuller reviews of the first four albums follow the handy links that we have thoughtfully provided. So this review will largely focus on the material not previously covered on the site which, coincidentally, are the CDs that have not previously been available, at least not in the version included in the box set!

It is rapidly approaching nine years since the debut album, Resistor was unleashed and it has lost none of the power or majesty that first beguiled me on its initial release. The tightness of the band, the twin lead guitars, the glorious riffs and diversity in styles and the sheer quality of the material still makes this a standout album, even when considered against all of the albums subsequently released, and I don't just mean by Resistor, I mean any band!

The debut was followed up two years later by Rise, the double album on one CD that, if possible, showed an advance in the compositional skills of the band, with great tracks such as The Secret Of The Open Sky, the brilliant Mimosa and the fun Spaceghetti. Of course the 40-minute The Land Of No Groove was the big talking point, an amusing and somewhat self-deprecating tale that still holds its novelty value amongst the fine collection of musical pieces that bring the 'concept' to life.

Part of the story of The Land Of No Groove involved the band joining a group of musicians who had closeted themselves away on a mysterious island to indulge in performing real music that received no exposure, out in the everyday world. So what better way to bring this part of the tale to life than by releasing an album comprised solely of these fantasy musical collaborations? The Secret Island Band Jams did just that, combining six totally improvised jams, edited down to exclude anything considered too repetitive or superfluous to the overall feel of the piece. We also had three composed pieces, recorded live with some later overdubbing of solos. The experimentation worked superbly, with All Systems Go hailing back to the heavy riffing that dominated the first album, and the mighty 15-minute Double Ascent making it all seem so natural and effortless. And you don't get much more of a prog title for a piece of music than Dream Of The Arctic Tern!

As the band don't get to play live all that frequently, it was no real surprise that they released a recording of their biggest gig to date. Live At RoSFest was a neat summary of their career thus far, with the focus mainly on the Rise album. Successfully pulling off a full version of Land Of No Groove, without the aid of any crib sheets and adding a new beauty to Mimosa, Resistor proved they could hold their own against the more established names at that year's festival, even including in their set a number that was still in gestation, the complex To The Stars.

And that brings us to the album of the same name, which, with apologies to the band, didn't get a review on DPRP at the time of its release. Not a conscious omission, or one bought about by it being considered of poor quality, it just happened to slip through the net as some things often do. For The Box Set the album has been remastered to give it greater dynamism. Impressive as it was on the live album, the track To The Stars is in a different realm as a polished studio master. The two guitarists really shine in their individual styles, especially with each of the guitarists pouring out from their own channel, ah the glories of stereo! I, The Hurricane blends Eastern musical stylings with some epic prog rock, chunky guitars and vocalist Unruh hitting a note that I am sure he doesn't reach very often without the aid of testicles being slammed in a door. Train To Tucana is along the same lines as Spaceghetti on Rise, a superlative, chugging instrumental featuring all the musical talents of the band with flute and violin solos adding to the guitars. It is a brilliant piece of music.

Atlantis' Final Flight shows that the band are willing to try something different in how they arrange their music. The piece is about the end of America's space shuttle programme, with the spoken interludes giving impressions of the take-off and return of the shuttle Atlantis. The words are minimal, allowing the focus to fall on the music which, as expected, takes different hues for the launch, space flight and re-entry.

Little Lies is the slow number of the album, with a magnificent, slow-burning guitar solo. AnnihilExcavation again takes a slightly different approach to previous material, being a blending of musical genres. With some excellent lead guitar playing, both individually and in combination, the harmonised sections are literally spine tingling. The Boy With His Brain Out In Space is another slower number, with more of a focus on building and maintaining an atmosphere. It is a more 'mature' number that derives from an innate confidence and understanding between the musicians.

An exclusive bonus to The Box Set is The Sideband Transmissions EP, a collection of new, previously unreleased material. With the exception of the acoustic guitar motif in the opening section, The Inquisitor's Jig is far removed from anything folk-related. Again, the piece demonstrates the willingness of the band to play around, making maximum use of the multi-instrumental capabilities of Unruh. It offers a good lyrical tale as well, and for once a reference to Jethro Tull is apt, but not because of a flute, which is not present on this piece!

Certified brings back the riffs and could be an update on Black Sabbath's Paranoid, except that in the Resistor world 'certification' doesn't apply to a mental imbalance but to a lack of organic certification on the bulk of food available in supermarkets. The lines: "nothing is organically certified, when I die I will be mummified" gets my vote for couplet of the year.

Stranger is a radically modified cover of an Electroshock tune, and no I have never heard of them either! i did find a video on YouTube though and as it states in the thick accompanying booklet, the Resistor version is radically reworked from the 1979 original and, in my opinion, much improved. The final three tracks are all improvisations, which match the quality of those on The Secret Island Band Jams album. Ubasti's Dance is the cream of the crop, featuring fuzzed-out guitar and some frantic drumming.

There is simply nothing that can compete with the value of this set, that is selling for just $25 plus postage. The booklet features all the artwork from the original CDs, with the discs themselves also having the appropriate cover printed on them. With all the crap that is happening in the world at the moment, you need this set to enable yourself to escape for hours at a time. It is a truly fine collection, from a band that never disappoints, and undoubtedly the best value for money you will encounter this year.
Mark Hughes: 10 out of 10

Resistor - Underground

Resistor - Underground
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 77:31
Track List:
Arrival (7:44), Cathedral (4:02), Wire (3:30), Killers and Activists (4:11), Discovery (7:00), Running into Walls (6:03), Atonement (5:34), Transcendence (6:03), Blackout (9:07), Halls of Home (24:11)
Three years in the making, Resistor's fifth studio album sees the band, once again, tackle that most prog of endeavours, The Concept Album!

Based on a very bizarre dream experienced by guitarist and lead vocalist Steve Unruh, the story is a sort of hybrid of The Prisoner and IQ's Subterranea: except in a reverse of the latter, the protagonist (handily named Protagonist) finds himself transported into an underground world where he discovers a strange community he has to try and integrate with. Although the album is split into ten tracks, this is somewhat misleading as the album is essentially a single piece, with the track titles equating to chapters of the story. To help, the story is fully reproduced in one of the booklets included with the album.

Stepping away from the music for a moment, it is worth noting that this is one of the most sumptuously packaged CDs I have seen in many a year. A triple-panel digipak with three inserts, handily labelled story, band and music. The first two are booklets and the third, obviously, containing the CD. Illustrated by Ed Unitsky, an artist who is as synonymous with prog in the 21st century, as Roger Dean was during the classic era, it is clear the band has put as much thought into the presentation, as into the music.

But, to paraphrase a Peter Hammill lyric, is the cake worth the candle? Oh yes, indeed it is.

Although we are only just at the start of the year, I confidently predict that Underground will be one of, if not the album of the year in many December polls. It takes something special for an album lasting over 77 minutes to be totally gripping all the way through, and once it is over, to want to immediately play the whole thing again. Layers upon layers are to be discovered within the ten tracks, with an excellent mixture of musical dynamics, brilliant arrangements and a tremendous variety of styles, making use of the band's inherent musicianship as well as a more prominent use of vocal harmonies and even different lead vocalists.

Although I have never been one to equate the length of a song to its value or importance on a prog album, the epic concluding song, Halls Of Home, does have just about everything: twin guitars playing individually and collectively, flute and violin solos, syncopated clapping, musical and vocal harmonies, riffs, light and shade and even a recorder!

Great as the epic closing number is, it does not take the plaudits as the album's standout track. For me that honour falls on Discovery, one of the three songs on this album that are slower and mellower (the others being Atonement, a song that sounds the least-like anything Resistor has previously released, and the dramatic Atonement). Discovery possesses a lovely melody, some wacky violin and a wonderful vocal harmony section, all of which hit the right buttons for me. Any flute playing on a prog album will bring forth the name Ian Anderson, yet it has to be said that the opening bars of Killers And Activists, with its acoustic guitar, flute and folky flavour, do resemble a band named after the inventor of the seed drill, although the Tull comparison ends with the intro.

The pacey Running Into Walls has violin galloping along at full pace and put through a variety of effect pedals to, at times, lend it a psychedelic feel. The interspersions of cheeky bass fills is a novel and clever trick, and the three-part harmony vocal section could easily grace any album by Gentle Giant.

There is not a single superfluous second on the nine-minute Blackout, another contender for track of the album. The usual splitting of the guitar tracks to Fran Turner in the left channel and Steve Unruh in the right, really pays off (and heard to best effect over headphones). Given the often adventurous arrangements, Underground would be a prime candidate for a 5.1 surround sound mix, much more so than numerous other albums that have had that treatment, either concurrently or retrospectively applied. There are plenty of sound effects and snippets that would sound fantastic coming from locations. A great example of this would be on the opening track Arrival where the backing vocals, Barry Farrands' solo bass drum fills, acoustic guitar and swirling violin would light up the sound spectrum.

Normally each day I take a couple of different CDs to listen to on the journey to and from work. But Underground stayed unaccompanied in the car for the best part of a week, and on more than one occasion at the end of the journey, I sat with the engine running until the song that was playing had ended (okay, not the time I pulled into the work car park with nearly 20 minutes of Halls Of Home remaining!). Even after such immersion - and it is very, very rare for me to play the same album twice in a row, let alone multiple times - I found myself coming back to the album again and again. Yet I still don't believe I have unlocked all of its secrets.

This is a very magical album that tops the already impressive Resistor catalogue of releases, plus, as a professional writer, how could I not relish in the use of the word 'whence' in Wire?! Exceptionally good.
Mark Hughes: 10 out of 10
Album Reviews