Shrouded Unity - Crossing The Line

Year of Release: 1995
Label: Drama Records
Catalog Number: ALJ56
Format: CD
Total Time: 62:02:00

This is one of four reviews in a series - ed.]

I've lived in Maryland for 12 years and am disappointed with myself. Disappointed because while I've been looking outward to find progressive music gems, a rich - if underground - culture of imaginative progressive music has developed right in my back yard.

So to catch up, this will be Maryland week - and I'm posting reviews of at least 4 Maryland bands you may never have heard.

The oddly-named Shrouded Unity is based in Maryland's capital village of Annapolis and is the brainchild of Arnold Jerrell. It isn't a one-man show, and the influences of the other band members is clear, but the biggest influence here is the classic progressive band - Yes. Guitarist Jerrell seems to have studied at the feet of Howe, and the keyboardist (Hmm - that's also Jerrell) channels an early Wakeman. This isn't a Yes clone band, though, and Shrouded Unity isn't even as close to Yes as Starcastle was in its day. But there are passages - or sometimes just individual notes - that could almost have been copied and pasted from early Yes records. Neither should you suspect that Crossing The Line is old fashioned - rather, it's a timeless, quality symphonic progressive rock sound that happens to be rooted in the '70s.

The vocals are nothing like Yes's Anderson, though, and it is the singing that will raise comment among many listeners. Two people share the lead vocals on Crossing The Line, and their style and timbre is essentially very similar. Both have an upper mid range sound, and although Larry Parson's delivery is more polished than Arnold Jerrell's, Shrouded Unity may want to invest some attention to this department. To Shrouded Unity's credit, their rather average vocals are somewhat diluted by several long all-instrumental passages, including the 7-minute "Cerebral Conflict" that stands as one of the record's highlights.

Along with very strong musicianship, songwriting is Shrouded Unity's biggest strength. Half of the 8 tracks are longer than 9 minutes - with some of those rolling into one-another leaving the impression of long and winding epics. Each track is built with interesting, complex structures that will effortlessly hold your attention for the full hour-and-a-bit runtime. The changes in tempo and key and meter are well managed, there's good variety from song to song and the music is constantly developing and changing. This is solid progressive music, in almost every sense of the word.

Opening track "The Border" is a good 9-minute epic that never stays in one place. Track 2 "Rifts" is very different - and is a bass-guitar, percussion and moog fest with constant vocals - some in chorus, some spoken - and with interesting ideas. Listen for the very strong bass work. It ends with a minute-long instrumental that blends elements of Yes keyboards, intense cymbals, and a jazzy guitar line. Track 3 is that instrumental piece, then "Sublime Cavalier" is a 10 minute piece that starts with a well played Flamenco-like solo, and after 2 minutes, enter the vocals - and this time they're nicely suited to the style of the song. It ends with a long, head-bobbing instrumental ... The point here is not necessarily to describe each song, but to show how different each one is from the next.

Crossing The Line would benefit from stronger production and attention to those vocals. But in light of the strong musicianship - which is probably better than 75% of the artists out there - those are small quibbles. It was the ideas that caught my attention here - the imagination, and the overall impression of simply 'a damned good listen'. Give them a shot - these guys deserve a break, and the right support might elevate them to a position where their great songwriting prowess shines through.

Musicianship and songwriting: 4.5 / 5. But those on-again off-again vocals: 3 / 5. Production: 2.5 / 5. But the final score isn't a simple arithmetic average because musicianship, songwriting, performance, and originality are more important. So...

Next >>

The Border (9:35) / Rifts (3:20) / Cerebral Conflict (6:52) / Sublime Cavalier (10:26) / Domine (9:44) / Nightmare Matinee (5:39) / Gregarious Seed (11:15) / Past Under Glass (5:09)

Arnold Jerrell - guitars, keyboard, lead vocals, background vocals, mandolin, effects
Mike Kirby - drums, percussion
Larry Parsons - lead vocals, background vocals
Michael Routh - fretted and unfretted basses

Crossing The Line (1995)
The I-Factor (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: January 29th 2006
Reviewer: Duncan N Glenday
Hits: 909
Language: english


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