DarWin - A Frozen War
November 21, 2020

This is a fine progressive rock album and its ecological message fits nicely with the times.

DarWin (centre) with Bissonette (left) and Phillips (right)

You may be thinking ‘Who is DarWin’? Having listened to this fascinating album I’m still thinking ‘Who is DarWin?’ myself. That is because in Banksy style, Mr DarWin prefers not to reveal his name. All we know is that for this album the gentleman who goes by the name of DarWin is joined by two highly experienced collaborators – Simon Phillips (drums, Toto/Joe Satriani/Judas Priest) and Matt Bissonette (Elton John, David Lee Roth, ELO). The trio get further occasional support from Billy Sheehan (bass, Steve Vai/Winery Dogs/Joe Satriani), Guthrie Govan (guitar, The Aristocrats/Asia), Greg Howe (guitar, Michael Jackson/Rihanna), and Derek Sherinian (keyboards, Dream Theater/Black Country Communion/Sons Of Apollo). Sorry, let me take a breather after typing that long list of famous bands! One can only assume that DarWin has very good connections in order to be able to rustle up that level of support. The band’s web site is registered in Iceland but I suspect that might be another red herring rather than a hint that our hero is Icelandic!

From the first track Nightmare Of My Dreams it is clear that we are dealing with quality musicians. There’s a strong melodic vein in the vocal sections including the very catchy chorus line and that is mixed with plenty of good progressive metal guitar moments. Now, progressive metal can sometimes feel predictable but that doesn’t happen here as around the half-way mark we get an acoustic interlude along with a string quartet! Lead vocals are from Matt Bissonette, better known for his bass playing, but showing he can step up comfortably to give a convincing singing performance too. Lyrically, the nightmare of the song title is the fear of waking up surrounded by fire and is a direct reference to the tragic wildfires in Australia earlier this year. Both DarWin’s previous album, Origin Of Species, and this new opus have a strong ecological vein, often painting a picture of a dystopian world to come if we are not careful.

While progressive rock will be the label most often attached to the band, that might well give the wrong impression. The focus of the album is much more focused on melody and well-constructed songs rather than any complex or overtly technical playing. Sometimes, these elements might sit a little uncomfortably together such as in Eternal Life which is a fascinating and quite commercial acoustic-led song but has a middle section with a blistering guitar solo from Govan which sounded slightly out of place to me. A Frozen War has a more typical classical rock sound to it, perhaps closer to a classic Yes boogie (with some very Wakemanesque keyboards right at the end). Closing track, Another Year left me a bit stunned.  After the surprise of female vocals in the acoustic-driven verse, the song launches into a chorus of pure cheerful pop. It struck me as something that George Michael might have written at the time of Wham! It’s actually a very infectious song and almost impossible to listen to without smiling cheerfully. No better way to end an album full of heavy concepts I guess.

At just 30 minutes and five songs, it’s a little difficult to judge this album and artist. It’s rather odd that it follows a debut album that was itself unusually a double release too. In any case, there’s clearly a desire by DarWin to avoid being pigeon-holed and he’s certainly been successful in that. This is a fine progressive rock album and its ecological message fits nicely with the times.