|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: 10T Records||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Supernal Endgame|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 77:43|
In a way, Supernal Endgame and its 10T Records summer of 2014 sophomore album Touch The Sky - Volume II represents a page from the 70’s progressive rock hymnal: Eschewing the verse-chorus-verse song structure common to popular music in favor of lengthy compositions (often in excess of ten minutes) characterized by complex time signatures and extended instrumental passages. Also sidestepping stylistic boundaries through applying a wide array of styles, with musical interludes bridging the gaps between different sections to establish thematic unity overall. Ultimately creating a listening experience much more challenging when compared to other forms of music. The progressive genre, in other words, is not just a sound, it’s a mindset!
Supernal Endgame got its start in 2000 when Rob Price (lead vocals & drums) and John Eargle (guitars & keyboards) came together with the goal of forming a band ‘with a spiritual emphasis’ that ‘fuses symphonic progressive rock with artsy power pop’. The groups pair of Touch The Sky albums, starting with its 2010 debut Volume I (on Progrock Records), expand upon this by accenting a progressive basis while also exploring AOR, Celtic folk, ambient music, classic rock and worship rock territory. Yet, Supernal Endgame, a name painting a picture of our ‘high calling’ or ‘divine purpose’ of our lives, enhances its diverse but cohesive sound through the use of violin, mandolin and woodwinds along with more traditional tools of rock music. The upshot is the group’s influences that include Yes, Rush, Kansas, Transatlantic and Genesis (Vertical Alignment, SYZYGY and Neal Morse deserve mention from the Christian side of the fence).
Volume II reinforces the more pronounced progressive slant when placed alongside Volume I in featuring four epics that exceed ten minutes as opposed to just one. Eleven minute “Different Stage” epitomizes everything that works with Supernal Endgame, starting with the delectable lead guitar that carries its instrumental first minute but also includes slower moments with a light and airy feel and others in which a more steadfast direction are taken. Interspersed throughout are periodic instrumental interludes. The immediate impression left is the rich and warmly tinctured mid-register vocal abilities of Price, who meets expectations of a progressive genre that demands superior vocal performance.
“Eden’s Song” reflects a jazz-fusion feel for its two and a half minute instrumental opening as violin, piano and keyboards lead the way. Slowing to an atmospheric crawl as acoustic guitars lace its first verse, the song picks up momentum upon acquiring an inspired chorus interwoven with layered vocal melodies. A second instrumental section gives rise to an ambient flavor as acoustic guitars and keyboards uphold the jazzy feel at hand. Another stately guitar driven instrumental passage at the end helps carry things out to fourteen minutes. The standout quality to “Eden’s Song (outside the gorgeous melody) is the refined keyboards, which proves another necessity when it comes to progressive music.
“White Flag” approaches things from the more upbeat standpoint. Another lengthy instrumental stretch opens things, this time running the gamut from heavy rocking riffs to calmer, orchestral overtures. The song represents by far the albums heaviest (albeit shortest of the epics in coming in at ‘just’ ten minutes) in moving forward with guitars not afraid to play a pronounced role, particularly for the stauncher verses and driving mentality to the stark refrain. Subsequent instrumental moments include flashy guitar soloing. One thing to appreciate about Supernal Endgame is how it performs guitar driven progressive rock as opposed to the keyboard driven variety, keeping in mind the group does not fall within the metal or hard rock categories but present with enough guitar to appeal to those whose tastes trend either way.
“The Endgame”, albums longest at fifteen minutes, brings its share of variances. The song runs the gamut from atmospheric passages in which piano, acoustic guitar, violin and mandolin hold sway to others in which tempo picks up for a more forthright rhythm guitar presence. Back and forth, back and forth and back again time signatures all the while Supernal Endgame proves generous in highlighting its instrumental sound, with the final five fiery guitar minutes standing out best. If anything, Volume II allows the group to shine in this capacity, as instrumental heavy moments go hand in hand within a progressive framework.
Supernal Endgame, at the same time, is not afraid, to deliver a song of ‘normal’ (i.e.: five minute) length. My favorite is opening instrumental “Supernal One”, which hints of Kansas with its use of violin. Otherwise, the song displays a fusion feel with its swirling keyboards and distinguished milieu overall. “Again And Again” embodies the group’s artsy power pop side, with slower but palatial verses and stauncher refrain of an airy capacity. Abundance of engaging hooks is the result. Lyrically, this one mirrors the group’s spiritual side: Oh, what a joy to understand. Nothing can take me from Your hand. You’ve given all good things to me. Purchased my life upon a tree
“S.O.S.” lightens things with its worship rock slant. Layered vocal melodies play a profound role, texturing the lushly done chorus, as do scintillating guitar harmonies, standing out during the textured verses. Again, a worshipful meaning can be found in its lyrics: Lord I cry out to you in the night You have never forsaken me. Lord have mercy on me. That I may glorify you with my life. Glorify you in my heart
Album tempers further for “Immutable” and “Swim In Your Ocean”, sublime ballads in which woodwinds and acoustic guitar lend a medieval flair. Former features an inspired lead guitar run and latter a near commercial melody. “Immutable” maintains the worshipful lyrical leaning (Cause You never change. Though heaven and earth pass away, the Word of the Lord shall remain) while “Swim In Your Ocean” makes a faith based statement (I am reaching out to embrace what I cannot see. Taking the plunge as Your mercy flows over me).
Production shines in allowing the abundance of instrumentation to rise above the mix. Credit Supernal Endgame in this capacity for not only its skilled musicianship but also volume of instruments performed (see musician credits below). Guitars, in particular, are ably done by John Eargle and John Craft along with guest guitarists Carl Baldassarre (Syzygy) and Dave Bainbridge (Iona). Former guitarist Dan Pomeroy contributes to four songs as well, in addition to co-writing “Different Stage” with Price and Eargle. Lead guitar complements the music at hand in not coming across overdone to the point of ‘wankery’ (as can happen in progressive music). Keyboard work of Eargle and Jett Cheek shines as well, although as noted not to a fault in that an even mix of keyboards and guitars is presented.
Similar to Volume I, Touch The Sky: Volume II comes in at a satisfying 80 progressive rock minutes. Back in the vinyl days, Volume II would fall under the heading ‘double album’ accordingly. Nevertheless, Volume II fails to come across trite or overdone despite its length or length of individual tracks. Fans of the previously referenced progressive rock artists, as a result, will take delight here. Supernal Endgame, however, is not just progressive in that the albums versatility manifests itself in how the group explores other musical territory as well. In the end one of the finer progressive rock releases I have heard this year.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Supernal One” (4:40), “Different Stage” (11:30), “Again And Again” (5:00), “Eden’s Song” (14:06), “SOS” (5:26), “Immutable” (5:31), “White Flag” (10:02), “Swim In Your Ocean” (5:46), “Orwelled” (:30), “The Endgame” (15:12)
Rob Price - Lead Vocals, Drums Percussion, Loops & Keyboards
John Eargle - Electric, Acoustic & Synthesized Guitars, Keyboards, Loops, Bass & Mandolin
John Crafton - Electric, Acoustic & Classical Guitars
Jeff Cheek - Keyboards
Tom More - Bass, Keyboards & Midi Pedals
Carl Baldassarre - Guitars
Dave Bainbridge - Guitars
Dan Pomeroy - Guitars