Unified Past - Tense

Year of Release: 2009
Label: Triple S Records
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 67:36:00

In preparation for RoSFest 2017 - which I was not able to attend - I had fully intended to fill in some of our "blanks" ahead of the festival to help feature the artists in the lineup, but t'was not to be.

Quite by coincidence, it was almost 17 years ago to the day that I published my review of Unified Past's From The Splintered Present Surfaces.... While I liked the music, the weak spot for me was the vocals. In 2009 (or thereabouts) I was sent their 4th release, Tense. Some 8 years later, I'm finally getting around to listening to it. To be as honest as I was then, I'm not fond of the vocals overall (though some are growing on me). Mind you, I could not do them better, so I'm not being pretentious here. At times it seems as if Calovi is trying too hard and it comes across as strained.

So, what about the music? There is no doubt that Unified Past are a progressive rock band. All the requisite elements are there: complex arrangements, tempo shifts, shadings of light and dark, tinkling keyboards, expressive or soaring guitar solos, and vocal harmonies. In a very broad sense, it is Progressive Rock even as it doesn't necessarily explore new musical territory in a progressive sense. That is, for the most part, it will settle in nicely with one's expectations of Progressive Rock. Which is not to say it is Progressive Rock by numbers; it's not that at all. But if you have a "comfort zone," this will fit in it. The band's name and intention at the outset was to acknowledge the past, as I noted in that earlier review.

Part of that comfort-zone feeling is varying "classic Prog" elements that are brought to bare. You get vocals that sometimes recall Jon Anderson (parts of "The Return Of The Profit" and "Oh My God."), though at other times I thought of Alice Cooper ("Really Under The Influence") (neither the reason why I don't care for the vocals). This may either indicate Calovi's voice is more flexible than some of the off-key, flat parts suggest, or it is because Speelman is singing lead. But Yes as the complete unit come to mind with certain parts of the opening track "The Return Of The Profit." Not at first, as we begin with crunchy rhythms, hard rock-styled vocals, and soon wild metal guitar pyrotechnics... but by the 2 minute mark, we get something approaching a bit heavier Yes. At just over three minutes, it packs a lot in. Yes also comes to mind in the classical guitar intro to "The Earth's Energy," which is otherwise churning rock that taps into a classic rock feel. Here the vocals are rough and scratchy, which actually suits Calovi*; the recall Rod Stewart or Hot Chocolate's Errol Brown (think "Brother Louie"). As elsewhere, drums and percussion dominate the mix (Victor Tassone), giving this and other tracks a very propulsive feel. To a lesser degree a bit of Yes (and more so GTR!) can be heard in "Under The Influence." A rather nice guitar solo is featured here, somewhat but not entirely Howe-like. It goes off in other directions, and I won't play "spot the influence" (but I hear more than just Yes).

There are aspects to "Oh My God" - the interplay of bass and drums, some of the keyboard and guitar atmospherics, and guitar soloing that reminded me of Marillion (Fugazi-period). "Ice Melt" transitions between rock and pastoral, and back again. Not unlike Genesis, but while Genesis did have that dynamic, it would be disingenuous (disin-genesis?) to suggest that it in anyway sounded like Genesis. "Ice Melt" is one of the longer tracks, and, as you might expect from something that transitions from dark to light, runs through various tempo changes.

On their first release, I noted an element of Rush. Well, a bit of Rush can be heard in "Cellular Chaos Pt 2," in the throaty bass of Speelman (he plays guitar, bass, and come keys on this release). Also Rush is detectable in the bit eccentric "Cellular Chaos Pt 3," where it's the bass again, more moody than throaty here. It's not a strong track, though there is some interesting guitar soloing. Rush comes to mind also in the dreamy "An Outer Body Experience" (vocals and drums in the first part). This latter is a short track and seems as if it's trying out different styles in that compact amount of time; not to chaotic effect, but in a "little something for everyone" kind of way, instrumentally speaking.

"They Know" is throbbing, pulsating, with a metal-like ferocity, that seems to pull in some Metallica like touches - vocal cadences a la Hetfield and a recurring guitar arpeggio that seems lifted from "Unforgiven"; though the driving rhythm becomes almost middle-Eastern at times. A middle-Eastern sense returns with the guitar bits that open "Cellular Chaos, Pt. 1." You'll also find this instrumental track also runs through flamenco - containing a call and response section where the response is "cartoonish" and mocking (not sure if that was the intention, but it is how it seems).

"Really Under The Influence" is a bit more unusual, a bit quirky, a bit angular, acidic guitars over languidly throbbing bass.... that gives way momentarily to a very light and lyrical guitar passage before it transitions to a searing guitar solo... and then back again to where we started. While at this point the vocals sound a bit Alice Cooper-like (not sure if this also Calovi, but it works), at about the 5-minute mark, this song sounds like they're covering Soundgarden's "Outshined" listening to the cadence and phrasing of the lyrics.**

"My Name Is Stephen"... is the oddest track, and odd in a Frank Zappa kind of way, if Cooper were on vocals. Serious music, not-so-serious lyrics, all centered on the correct pronunciation of his name - someone has a chip on their shoulder; Speelman not Calovi, methinks. (It's "Steve-n" not "Steph-n," for the record; or Mr. Speelman if you're nasty).

This album was produced and engineered by Speelman. While there is separation and so it is a clear mix, the production seems a little soft. Solos come through clearly; vocals seem a bit forward in the mix.

Just a note: with their upcoming album due in late 2017/2018, the vocalist is Phil Naro.

*if it is he and not bandleader Stephen Speelman, who also is credited with vocals)
**this comes quite coincidentally to the passing of Chris Cornell, though it is not something I noticed on the first several spins of this CD more than a few weeks before his death.

The Return Of The Profit (3:49) / They Know (6:58) / Cellular Chaos Pt. 1 (2:54) / Ice Melt (9:46) / Oh My God (5:24) / The Earth's Energy (8:26) / Cellular Chaos Pt. 2 (3:38) / Under The Influence (4:11) / Really Under The Influence (6:27) / Cellular Chaos Pt. 3 (4:14) / An Outer Body Experience (7:34) / My Name Is Stephen! (4:08)

Stephen Speelman - guitars, bass, some keyboards, vocals
Victor Tassone - drums and percussion
Steve Calovi - vocals
Vinny Krivacsy - keyboards (5, 11, 12)

From The Splintered Present Surfaces... (1999/2001)
Power Of Existence (2008/2009)
Breaking Up The Atmosphere (2009)
Tense (2009/2010)
Observations (2011)
Spots (2013)
Shifting The Equilibrium (2015)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: May 31st 2017
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.unifiedpast.com
Hits: 3751
Language: english


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