And so Queenslanders Opus of a Machine, another in Australia’s seemingly endless production line of prog rock bands, return with their first output since their 2014 Simulacra debut.
The sheer number of bands from Down Under peddling this sort of music must be reaching tipping point by now, and the dispiriting thing for the listener is that most of them sound so similar that it’s impossible to tell them apart. Opus of a Machine are pleasant, clearly talented, and obviously sincere in what they do. But is that enough to raise them ahead of the similarly-aspirated pack?
We’ll come to a definitive answer to that poser later, But for now, the music; Opening track Strength in Stone is a woozy, somnolent opening statement of intent, where jazzy guitar meets pleasing melodies in a style not too far away from the sort of music Toto occasionally release. It’s not a bad start but things really get going with next track Up. Out.
Zac Greensill and Mitchell Legg (who also adds the laidback lead vocals throughout) really get their axes working here, with some fluid soloing and nice riffwork. The song’s urgent mid section really gets the pulse racing, with Trevor Gee giving his kit a good working over. Full of drama, well-executed melody and, perhaps best, a clear intent to rock out, this is marvellous stuff.
Third track WILD // UNKNOWN reverts to somnolence, segueing via birdsong into the title track, which builds nicely through several gears before reaching a jangle-heavy guitar plateau and remaining there for the rest of the song. Some nicely controlled soloing adds piquance to the mix.
Penultimate offering Rudi’s Song obviously serves a purpose as far as the artists are concerned but as a listner I can do without this somniferous instrumental; however closing track Beacon drags the album back from the bring of niceness by once again adding real guitar punch and a superb grasp of dynamics. The track advances and retreats repeatedly over it’s ten and a half minutes, Legg’s at times almost catatonic croon holding it’s own as the guitars become more jaggedly pronounced. The counterpoint works well, if only because the vocalist doesn’t feel the need to constantly resort like most of his peers to anguished screeching as the intensity of the music around him builds and threatens to swamp him. Used with restraint, as here, the harsher vocal carries more impact.
And there, perhaps, is Opus of A Machine’s point of difference. Their use of restraint, the employment of force only to underline the relevant musical themes, and the sheer class and self- possession sees them rarely falling into the trap of self- indulgence so many of their peers fall prey to.
If you only buy one Aussie prog album this year, you could do no better than make it this one.
Stray Fire will be released on August 3rd.