Southern EmpireAnother World (2023)

 

What do you do as a band when your charismatic frontman, guitarist and co-composer leaves the ship? (where have I heard this before?) Because that's how it went with the Australian superpower Southern Empire. Danny Lopresto could be called the poster child of the band in which master keyboardist Sean Timms remains as the main composer. The album Civilisation (2018) is proof to me that Southern Empire is one of the best prog bands from downunder. On this album there are four long tracks that are all of great quality. Cries for the Lonely is one of my favourite songs ever. Well, back to the question at the beginning, what are you going to do?

Well that becomes clear with Another World, they have found a new singer/guitarist in the person of Shaun Holton and he proves to be a great singer. And yet I secretly miss Lopresto who for me has a little more personality in his voice and also offered more counterbalance to guitarist Cam Blokland by alternating soloing. Blokland is very technical and Lopresto was more on the melodic side. Luckily there are still some backing vocals from Danny that complement the voice of Holton and make for a lot of nice harmony vocals throughout the album.

On Another World there are seven songs, four of which are fairly modest in length, but also three long songs with White Shadows as a super epic of almost twenty minutes. As we are used to, we get a fascinating mix of styles, from prog metal to jazz and from orchestral pieces to pure prog but there is clearly a different atmosphere and approach and that sometimes works out very well but, as far as I’m concerned, the level of Civilisation is not reached. So is this a bad album? No, not at all because we are talking about musicians who are all very skilled and can play really virtuoso. This playing technique is sometimes a bit more prominent and especially the often lightning-fast solos of Blokland are good and Timms is simply an excellent keyboard player. It is purely the tracks themselves that touch me a little less and the chosen melodies stick a little less well. The proportion of jazz also seems to be larger and that does not really appeal to me, especially when the saxophone is raging. Now there were always jazzy pieces, especially on the debut album, but they were less "in your face" than they are now.

Reaching out, Hold on to me (ballad sung by Blokland) and When you return are good songs with the necessary variety but do not stand out from the crowd. The closing track Butterfly is a very cheesy sweet song in which at most the guitar solo stands out.

For me, the strength of this empire lies in the longer songs and they are wonderful again. Face the Dawn lasts more than twelve minutes and starts with a solid staccato rhythm and soon you hear a wonderful vocal line from Holton. Dream Theater is a name that comes to mind but with more melody. Blokland plays some heavy riffs and then suddenly there is a beautiful resting point with violin by guest Steve Unruh and a beautiful piano piece by Timms,  this man is soooo good. After some samples there is a jazz solo on saxophone and that is not for me but then Blokland comes with a fusion solo that turns into a wonderfully lingering solo and I am completely back. Unruh also gets to enjoy himself on violin and duels with Blokland and the ending is very euphoric and beautiful.

Moving through Tomorrow starts with some electronic tunes but soon the chopping guitar falls in and a somewhat clichéd rock piece begins and the background choruses villains some direction towards Yes. This is again good music, but here too the melody can't quite grab me despite Timms' beautiful solo. Good song but still missing something.

As already mentioned, the album contains a real epic in the form of White Shadows and that is entirely according to the recipe from the kitchen of the Australians. After a very nice piece of piano follows an orchestral part that is brutally broken down by an electronic rhythm and heavy guitar work. Here too the saxophone is taken out by guest Marek Arnold but that is much more digestible for me and the melody is easy to follow. At the halfway point, acoustic guitar and flute take over in a very calm piece where Holton's vocals really come out and that's really beautiful. You can already feel here that we are going to a finale full of drama and that is true, but here too a piece of pure jazz is inserted with super swinging bass work from Jez Martin and drummer Brody Green  shows his talent , Timms and Blokland are soloing fiercely and yes, the saxophone is also participating. The ending is as you would expect from a real epic and is genuinely beautiful with quite a violent Dream Theater ending. As far as I am concerned this was it and the song Butterfly had not served as the closing song.

If you already know Southern Empire, this is a great follow-up to their first two albums, but with the caveat that things have changed. Just because it doesn't stir up the emotion of Civilistion doesn't mean Another World doesn't do anything to me, it's an album you just have to try because it certainly deserves it.

 

Music 79

Cover 81  The spaceship is on a continuous journey.